Philoxenia - Love of Strangers

Another foal, spotted on my walk to work this morning.

It was very humid last night and we woke to low cloud rolling over the Vigla and adjoining hills.  There is a lot of thunder activity around and about and we see distant rain falling over Turkey but nothing on Symi.

Luminous lantana in a small garden on the Kali Strata. Very few houses on Symi have gardens in the conventional sense as the land is so steep and the houses are built into the hillsides and cliffs.  This house is one of a matching pair of merchant houses on the Kali Strata.  The gardens connect each house with the steps and give the impression of a pair of single storey dwellings whereas in reality, the houses are actually much bigger and face out across the harbour.

The mansion next door with its luxuriant plumbago.  The Greeks call plumbago 'blue jasmine' as it is similar in appearance and habit but it is actually a completely different plant and has no scent.  

When I first came to Symi in 1993 there were lots of herb sellers on the island, making a living out of gathering wild thyme, rigani (Greek oregano) and sage on the mountains and drying it to sell.  This is one of the last in the harbour and he sells all manner of herbs and spices, not just local ones.

When the Noddy train arrived on Symi a few years ago there was something of an uproar from the purists who felt it was out of character with the island.  In reality we have come to love it as it rattles round the harbour to Nimborio and back, playing kitschy Greek music with the passengers singing along and radiating happiness.  One cannot help but smile and wave as it passes.  In the day time it is used mostly by day trippers but in the evenings it is popular with the local children, particularly for birthday parties.

The peaceful pebble courtyard of St John's church, the most important church in Yialos as it is now the Metropolitan's cathedral.  During the war the church was seriously damaged when a bomb landed on it and fell through the roof.  Fortunately it failed to explode and it was possible to rebuild the roof.  Black and white pebble work is common in the churchyards around the island and also in the courtyards of some of the houses.  While in Lindos on Rhodes it is sometimes used as interior flooring, on Symi it is usually an exterior finish.  Patterns can be geometric and traditional but there are also some narrative ones up in Chorio, including images of the Gorgona (mermaid) pulling ships beneath the waves.  Greek mermaids are quite blood-thirsty creatures and have little in common with the lovesick mermaid of Hans Christian Andersen.

The clinic in Yialos is just off the cathedral grounds, in a quiet back lane.  We are fortunate to have two clinics on Symi. This one, in Yialos, and then another up in Chorio. The one in Chorio is not always open in the mornings but is usually open in the evenings, which is convenient for those who are working.

One of the two dentists on Symi. For a small community of 3000 souls we manage quite well health wise, despite the economic crisis.
It is a hot and humid day on the peaceful island of Symi in the Dodecanese.  Temperatures are around 30 degrees at midday, dropping to around 20 degrees centigrade at night.  Every day we see big thunder clouds build up over Turkey and the weather forecasts speak of thunderstorms and rain showers but they always seem to burn away without shedding a drop on Symi.  The long summer drought is with us and we are unlikely to have any significant rain again until mid October.

The season is off to a very quiet start and there are far fewer people about than usual.  Fortunately Symi has many loyal visitors who have been coming to the island for years, in some cases, decades but for islands that don't have such a high repeat rate things must be very difficult indeed.  When newspapers report stories, exaggerating the bad at the expense of the good, they forget the impact of their stories on communities and livelihoods.  Our banks are still functioning, we do still have food in the shops and tavernas - plenty of it and delicious it is too.  Yes, desperate refugees are arriving but they have been arriving on Symi for the past 20 years that I know of and they are welcomed and treated as they always have been, with compassion and to the best of the capabilities of Symi's police station and coast guard, and then leave on the twice weekly Blue Star to Piraeus to continue the long journey to their future lives.  This is nothing new.

Symi looks forward to welcoming all her visitors with the abundant hospitality for which the island is famed and we hope that you, dear reader, are not deterred from enjoying Greek 'philoxenia' (hospitality, literally the love of the strangers) by what you see in newspapers that base sales on sensationalism and fostering a sense of outrage.  Philoxenia is the opposite of the dreaded xenophobia, fear of strangers.  Let us try to spread the concept of philoxenia far and wide so this word becomes as well known as its dark antithesis.

Have a good week.


Joe Donnelly –   – (Monday, June 08, 2015)  

Well said Adriana. The Mail's reporting is scaremongering at it's worst and typically xenophobic.

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About this Blog

I sailed into Panormitis Bay, Symi, by chance one windy July day in 1993 and have been here ever since. The locals tell me that this is one of the miracles of St Michael of Panormitis. A BA graduate with majors in English, Philosophy and Classical Civilisation, the idea of living in what is to all intents and purposes an archaeological site appeals to me. Not as small as Kastellorizo, not as touristy as Rhodes, Symi is just the right size. I live on a small holding which my husband and I have reclaimed from a ruin of over-grazing and neglect and turned into a small oasis over the course of the past 22 years. I also work part-time for Symi Visitor Accommodation, helping independent travellers discover and enjoy Symi's simple pleasures for themselves.

This page is kindly sponsored by Wendy Wilcox, Symi Visitor Accommodation.

Adriana Shum

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