In 2002, Martyn and I went to Leros to celebrate his 50th birthday. As usual, we stayed at Studios Happiness and had fun with the Varnas family, Mixailis, Eytychia, Despina, Takis, and micra – little – Eytychia (granddaughters being named after their grandmother). This was before Takis met his beautiful partner Eglantine and set about fathering his two charming children, cousins to micra Eytychia.
We love walking and often went on the long hike from Pandeli and round the bay from Aghia Marina to Dio Laskaria, four or five kilometres at least. On one particular day we never made it there as we were stopped just beyond Milos restaurant (see left). “Kalispera” boomed a voice from a balcony above the path. It came from an impossibly old-looking man, who put me in mind of the Ancient Mariner – Methuselah, even. He introduced himself as Phanes (the diminutive of Aristophanes) and insisted that we come up to join him and his friend, Michael, an Australian writer and regular visitor to Leros to research WWII history.
We spent an – unusual – afternoon, drinking retsina made by Phanes and eating cheese made by his mother (could she possibly still have been alive?), during which he invited us inside to inspect the photos of his many ex-lovers (whom Michael verified, were not simply our host’s wishful thinking) – all Scandinavian and extraordinarily beautiful – mothers of the occasional tow-headed Lerian we’d noticed, presumably? Another surprise was his living accommodation which housed a glass-fronted cool counter, a fitting from his late brother’s shop. We had met an island eccentric.
Down in Pandeli, there was a disused building with its name ‘Diana’ attached in long-dead neon lettering . Wrong on at least one level as Diana is the Roman copycat of Artemis the Huntress, the Ancient Greek goddess associated with Leros. The building, we learned, belonged to none other than our retsina-toting host, Phanes. But it had been shut for years. We were surprised and delighted, therefore, to see this post by our friend Takis, this week. See, the neon ‘Diana’ is back?
He didn’t say whether Phanes had anything to do with this, so we must investigate further.
In the six (seven?) times we have returned to Leros since then, we haven’t encountered Phanes again. His balcony is empty, no-one seems to have an update on him (most unusual in small Greek communities) and we fear the worst. Of course, he may have met another blonde beauty and relocated to Malmo or Copenhagen. We hope that is the case.
Just as Symi and Leros inspired much of the writing in my first novel TERRIBLE WITH RAISINS, Phanes has influenced my writing, like so many other of his compatriots. He doesn’t actually appear in JIGSAW ISLAND, but if his presence isn’t seen, it is definitely felt.