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I decided to visit Karpathos on my first holiday trip, for fairly trivial reasons.
- Karpathos is renowned in Greek linguistics for its archaism and its diversity of dialects.
- I had written a paper on the dialects of the Dodecanese, in which Karpathos had played a starring role (Nicholas, N. 2004a. Η γεωγραφική ιστορία του «ίντα ‘ν’ που» [The geographical history of inda ‘n’ pu “what it is that”]. Ελληνικά [Hellenika] 54. 311-343.) So I at least had seen the village names of Karpathos before.
- Karpathos, and its smaller neighbour Kasos even more, are borderland areas between the cultural dominions of Crete and South-Eastern Greek. Linguistically, they align with Rhodes and Cyprus; but culturally, specifically in food, music and dance, there is a lot of influence from Crete.
So I wanted to check out how those places ticked.
I’ve expressed the same vague notion of being interested in how the Heptanesa tick, and I am in fact going to Corfu in a month. And I was justly put in my place about it at the time by my friend George Baloglou: as a tourist spending a week on an island, I’m not going to see a thing. That kind of cultural observation, now that the culture has gone underground in the face of Standard Greek identity, needs three months and trusted locals.
And he was entirely right. There were no community folk dances, for me to note the variant tunes played; there was a wedding, and when I walked past it, they were playing Elvis. Hearing even South-Eastern intonation was rare; in a week, I may have heard three or four people do something dialectal in their phonology, and one, at her most unguarded, do something in her morphology all of once. From the exceptions I did encounter, I’m pretty sure the dialect is alive out there, but it was going to take a lot more hunting down than a tourist with no local ties was going to manage.
(I have a cousin who was a schoolteacher in Kasos a decade ago, and another cousin who delivers kitchens to Karpathos; but even those tenuous ties would have required a lot of preparation. I just have to trust that Michailidis-Nouaros and Minas and Sofos and whoever else has recorded the dialect of those islands, back when it was more of a going concern, did a good job.)
There was one cultural hybridisation I got to experience viscerally. Literally.
On my last night in Sitia, as I reported here, I had skioufichta, a pasta dish I had not had since childhood, which was a delightfully light, white mac and cheese: twisted penne, broth, big heap of grated salty cheese (anthotyro).
As I was warned, there is a very similar dish here, makarounes. Except the favoured topping here is grated salty cheese…
… And burnt onion.
Light is the one thing the Karpathos variant is not. After two separate dinners of it, the smell of burnt onion would send me running.
That aside, I feel into lazy holidaymaker mode in Karpathos quite readily. I limited myself to taxi rides to get a glance of what the villages are like (and a day trip to Kasos). I ate out, and ate too much. I strolled a bit, napped a lot, and felt more chilled out than I have in maybe a decade. My main task was to dump photos onto my Facebook feed. (And in truth, these posts following are reworkings of Facebook stories.)
The main town of Karpathos, Pigadia, was the harbour of Aperi, which was the main town when the sea was where raiding pirates came from, and you’d be a fool to actually live there. The front three streets of Pigadia are wholly set up for tourists, with tavernas and souvenirs and gelati shops—although when I went, the season had not yet officially kicked off, and the only tourists to be seen anywhere were Dutch. (Possibly something to do with the timing of school holidays, but most of the tourists I saw were elderly.) But the touting is still low key, and Pigadia is still a relaxed place.
Olympos, I post about separately. I did a travelogue of the Southern villages of Karpathos:
- Karpathos is a linguistically archaic place, and that means that the inflection of the village names is a trap for the unwary. Othos is neuter. Menetes is feminine plural. It’s singular Volada, not plural Volades. Pylés is accented finally.
- There are no cafés in Aperi (astonishingly, given it was the former main town of the island), Volada, or Pyles. But Aperi and Volada are still going concerns: school with basketball court being used in Aperi, cultural association and supermarket in Volada.
- Othos had a souvlaki taverna and a cafe opposite each other, barely in competition at all (“I cooked some great pasta last night, where were you?”) Cafe owned by Karpathians home from the States: you hear a lot of New Jersey-accented English in Karpathos.
- The villages are all in eyesight of each other: you can see each village from the next. I’m not used to that from Crete, where they are much more scattered. (And Olympos and its port of Diafani are in splendid isolation up north.)
- The one village you can’t see from any neighbouring village (because the mountain gets in the way) is Pyles, and that’s the one village that is pretty much dead. People clearly do still live there, and the 2011 census says that Pyles should have almost as much people there as Volada or Othos (216 vs 264 and 265 resp.), but Pyles was the one place I did not see a soul. Apart from the Dutch tourists that were following the same route as us.
- The beachside village of Arkasa was doing quite well for itself, with a lot of tourist accommodation already in use, but also with several cafes open. The one we alighted at had a lively and rapid-fire card game going among the locals.
- Menetes is very picturesque, with lots of colours, and a cosy café (juicer currently under repair). Village clearly prosperous and confident, all the more as it owns all the up-and-coming hotels and rentals in nearby Ammoöpi. (And you can see Pigadia from Menetes, which brings the southern village tour full circle.)