In My Greek Island Home, Claire Lloyd has captured the essence of rural Greece. Salty air, sunlight on clear blue water, pomegranate seeds glistening like jewels, smooth, golden olive oil. This is the feast of the senses that lures the traveller. Living in Greece also means tasting vinegar as well as honey. It has always tested those who choose to make it home.
Artist, designer and photographer Claire previously had a successful career in London. But she was burned out by her life’s hectic pace, and contracted glandular fever which required a long recuperation. One day a chance conversation with a friend led her to the Greek Aegean island of Lesvos (also known as Mitilini which is the capital town), where she finally found what she was looking for – a sense of peace and the return of her creative drive. The memoir describes her journey to buying a house in Molyvos on Lesvos where seasons govern a way of life that hasn’t changed much over the centuries. Accompanied by Claire’s photographs, this story of reconnecting with nature and community, and finding beauty in the smallest details, is an honest and heartwarming one. Some of the most moving images are those of the weatherbeaten faces of the villagers, looking candidly into the camera lens. They’ve lived long and hard and this is what it damn well looks like.
While her partner Matthew bonds with the local men in the kafenion (where else?!) Claire steps into the aromatic embrace of the Greek kitchen. Greeks are very inclusive. In their their kitchens you will learn about the generosity of Greek culture. Because food and culture are inseparable. That’s where I learned my early important lessons about Greek life.
She makes the occasional slip-up – writing that the villagers ate spit-roasted lamb after the Easter Good Friday service. As far as I know Greeks stop fasting after the Saturday night service when they proclaim Kristos Anesti (Christ is risen) and then tuck into meat dishes which the devout haven’t eaten for the 40 days of Lent. But I’m sure the islanders won’t mind. She’s described so many traditions well, sharing the knowledge which has sustained Greek people through hard times and good. A key to their resilience is steadfast connectedness to their healthy Mediterranean lifestyle.
It’s not all plain sailing for Claire. Buying a house with a large wad of cash is unnerving, and like many other foreigners who have settled in Greece, she finds animal neglect and abandonment distressing. She quickly amasses a tribe of stray cats and dogs to care for. I know that situation well, for I did the same throughout my years in Greece (trying not to weep and rant each time there was a tragedy).
Learning to speak Greek is a tongue-twisting challenge that brings her to tears in frustration, but sheis determined to keep going, and becomes good friends with Elpida, her patient teacher. Elpida means “hope”- a very apt name.
The searing summers on Lesvos can be as testing as the winter is raw, with howling icy gales and hills coated in snow, and travel links dependent on the weather. Claire manages to travel part of the time, back to the Australian summer (where she has just launched the book) and to visit friends in England.
If you want to read about a slice of Greek island life with all its complexities and myriad ancient and modern flavours, then this is a smashing good read. It includes delicious recipes of Lesvos food using local produce. Ingredients can be found elsewhere of course – the essentials of good Greek food are all over the world.
“We have found happiness in our village,” Claire writes. “We feel warm, welcome and secure. Our friends have shared their traditions and given us their love.”
Serves 6 as part of a shared meal
340 g wild or thin cultivated asparagus
olive oil for frying
6 eggs, beaten
200 g fetta cheese, crumbled
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Snap the woody bases from the asparagus and discard, then break the asparagus into pieces approximately 4 cm long. Drop the asparagus pieces into the water and boil for 2–3 minutes, until just tender, then remove from the water and drain in a colander.
Heat a medium-sized non-stick frying pan over a high heat, add olive oil, then add the asparagus to the pan. Pour the eggs over the top and cook, uncovered, for 4–5 minutes until just set. Slide out on to a plate, scatter the crumbled fetta over the top, season with salt and pepper and serve.
At the end of her book, Claire says: “Please don’t forget the animals.” If you want to learn more about the rescue centre go to www.eresosforanimals.com and you’ll find Claire’s blog at http://clairelloydloves.com
*Book cover and asparagus images courtesy of the publisher.