June 2014

Sorry, Wrong Island


Mykonos is, I suppose, as lovely an isle as one could hope to see, if one's taste runs to the sun-bleached and Mediterranean. I myself prefer cool places where every living thing does not seem to be fighting a losing battle against drought. I'd prefer the heath of the Hebrides or, still better, the woods of the islands off the coast of Maine, even if that meant clouds and rain and more people appearing fully dressed.

I am not sure what men in Mykonos do now, besides tend bar. Once they must have fished, but there is no evidence of that beyond the fish in the tavernas, and they may have been flown in from the same factory ships that supply St. Louis and Milwaukee. Piracy no longer seems to be a career option, but I suspect it once was. Byron's Corsair would have found this a congenial spot. The piety business takes up a lot of land—there are votive churches everywhere, the fulfillment of vows by desperate sailors and their families. They are touching and beautiful in their own way, but I didn't see a single priest serving them, only the old ladies who lend skirts to the half-naked tourists of both sexes and make sure a euro has clinked in the box before a candle is lit. A few guys drive busses, and in off-peak times I'm sure white-washing a whole town employs many others, but mostly the local men are out of sight. Women staff the boutiques and do more than their share at the tavernas.

I’m told that male visitors can enjoy a gay scene, if Greek love is what they're interested in. For the heterosexual male tourist, however, there seem to be only two pastimes. One is standing outside the shops holding a lady's purse and packages while she shops for jewelry or trinkets or clothes in the over-priced boutiques. I saw retired construction workers and computer programmers and business executives from across the English-speaking world transformed into this sort of emasculated cigar store Indian and planted outside every shop in town. The other way a guy can spend his time ashore is to settle into a bar whose playlist features covers of lighter 60’s fare and get quietly or noisily drunk. Before you down more than a couple, you will have heard "Those Were the Days, My friend,” “Try to Remember the Kind of September,” and “The Fool on the Hill,” several times, along with, as instrumental interludes, several renditions of “Never on Sunday” and the theme from “Zorba the Greek.” 

Being a bachelor with a bad liver, and thus excluded from participation in even those activities, I didn't find Mykonos the most interesting place I have visited on my travels. I understand it was a pleasant simple island unfrequented much by outsiders until Jacqueline Kennedy and Aristotle Onassis brought the Jet Set here in the 1960’s. I'm sure it’s more fun for the truly rich, but I suspect that anywhere you go a part of the sad atmosphere of that era lingers. I was but a child in the 60’s, but I recall that the Kennedy era and its aftermath included not just tragedy (the assassinations, the wars), not just nobility (the civil rights struggle, the space program), not just childish rebellion (sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll), but also a brittle feeling that people were pretending to be having a great time but really were fending off a feeling of emptiness. That is part of what I always associate with the Rat Pack, with the part of “Camelot” that includes Marilyn Monroe at the President's birthday party, and the whole tawdry swinging, girl-watching, faux cool, medallions-and-turtleneck-where-my-tie-should-be atmosphere that pervaded the time as much as pot smoke and rock 'n' roll. 

I have no desire to revisit that era. I want to be where people wear their tuxes unironically or dress for a day of fishing. Or perhaps I'm just too old and too single to enjoy any place where you keep hearing a voice asking, “Is that lonely woman really me?” She’s not talking to me, but my only answer would be, “At least you can shop and giggle and swill the ouzo. I’m heading back to the ship.”