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  Nr. 127 - July 2009
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Taking Back the Peninsula

by Cynthia Cotts
Greeks have a tendency to go with the flow, avoiding any action that requires confrontation and a change of acquired habits. But drastic times calls for drastic measures, and on June 21, the night of the summer solstice, a group of environmentally-minded citizens gathered at the site of the former tavern on the peninsula of Aghios Ioannis Detis to celebrate the launch of the new environmental and cultural park. It’s a Herculean endeavor that when completed will surely be worth the effort.

The impetus behind the park goes further than preserving the natural beauty of the area and educating tourists about
its historical and ecological significance. Monastiri, long a hot spot for twenty-somethings who come to swim, tan, and hook up, is being transformed into the Ai. Ioannis Detis Environmental & Culural Park (lately known simply as “The Park”), a platform for public awareness. The park is symbolic of the environmental movement that is sweeping Greece, sparking a practical and philosophical dialogue about what must be done today to preserve the treasures of the Mediterranean area for decades – and centuries – to come.

I discovered the peninsula in 2003. It was my first trip to Paros and I’d read that some of the island’s best beaches were nestled inside Naoussa bay, with names like Monastiri and Kolymbithres. I rented a scooter and followed the road out to Monastiri, admiring the rugged silhouette of the headland and the turquoise tints of the bay. But when I parked at the end of the road and walked over the ridge, all I found was a packed beach and a taverna on the hill, blaring disco music. I said to myself, Where’s the beauty? That’s not for me.

A few days later, I took a caique to Monastiri. As we jumped off the boat onto the dock, most of the people headed left, toward the taverna, but a few headed right and disappeared behind a pile of rocks. Curious, I followed them and found myself hiking up and down piles of rocks and along a dirt path until I came to a sandy point.
I’d never seen such a lovely beach, with the rugged headland behind, the sky overhead, and the white houses of Naoussa visible across the glistening bay. A few yachts had dropped anchor in the shallows, and three boys had scaled a large rock that sat right off the point. Sea urchins swayed just below the surface of the water and the air felt electric, as though the ions were super-charged. Turning to face the headland, I smelled the scent of wild chamomile, then noticed a line of goats picking their way across a high ridge. Further up, a lone hawk was suspended in the sky, barely moving, surfing the wind. In my heart, I felt for the first time that Greece is a sacred place, suitable for the gods.

I returned many times to Monastiri, met artists and musicians, hiked across the ridge to discover the lighthouse and the spectacular mouth of the bay. The rocks have the power to magnetize my feet, and I always found my way back to the dock, avoiding the disco scene and grateful I’d had the sense to look past it.
As I prepared to return to Paros this summer, I was delighted to learn about the movement to reclaim Monastiri (you’ll notice that it is no longer called by that name, signifying that the days of “Monasteri Beach” are over!), asserting the power of the government to get rid of the trashy people and the trash they always seemed to leave behind. To be sure, there is another temperament, just as characteristically Greek as the one that is stubbornly resistant to change. It is the mindset of the idealist who, once committed, never gives up the fight. Two competing forces – the dreamers and the diehards – the way things have always been, everywhere.

On June 20, I found myself at the Archilochos Hall in Paroikia, where people had come from around the world to attend a one-day conference kicking off the new park and explaining its context. Speakers discussed the alarming rise in the consumption of energy in Greece, and the attendant rise in temperatures, especially in the cities. Architect Nikos Fintikakis, an expert in architecture and renewable energy sources, discussed simple methods by which ordinary citizens can contribute, such as buying a new technology air conditioner that runs on less energy. When someone in the audience questioned whether it wouldn’t be more economical to leave traditional island houses as they are, the architect replied, “The theme is not old or new. The theme is, Is it good for the environment or not?”

The next day, dozens of people turned out to attend the commemoration of the new park. The party was held on the spot of the former taverna, the renovation of which is still underway. For years, the beach and taverna were rented out to a private company which exploited the area for profit, serving it up as a hot spot for singles. Now “The Park” will be run by a conscientious group of environmentalists who have already planned a series of activities and events to be held here this summer (see poster below for the “Festival at the Park” concerts). As I listened to Greeks young and old greet each other and chitchat, I asked myself, Am I dreaming? Could it be a coincidence that I arrived just in time to help consecrate the rugged patch of Paros I love more than anywhere else in the world? I think not. I have worked hard to learn Greek so I can interact with the community, not just come for the sun and the sea. I felt I had arrived.
Just as the sun disappeared behind the ridge, everyone fell quiet, and the priest began to sing, swinging incense and blessing the new park. I could sense the slightest shift in the chamomile-scented air. After all, by simply rearranging and adding a few letters, inertia can be converted into resistance.
Photos courtesy Stavros Niflis.
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