We cannot count the days since we came to the island of Paros forty-five years ago in 1977 after three months of island-hopping, searching for an island where we could settle down and make a home. On a blustery November day we disembarked, weary and dishevelled, from the old Paros Express ferry with our two small children; Orla aged 5 and her sister Fiona two. The small town of Parikia opened up before us, almost unfolding its streets like pop-up pictures in a children’s book. We struggled down the gangway carrying our heavy rucksacks and holding tightly onto the hands of our little daughters lest they fall overboard into the waves.
Just to walk through the plateia into the narrow streets was a sort of a déjà vu home coming. There was a timeless air about the place, the hours seemed full of potential, here we sensed there would be time to enjoy the douceur de vivre, the pleasure of being alive and creative in a delightful place. We had left Ireland, our home, our families and busy jobs to give ourselves time and space to do just that.
How did you choose Paros of all the Greek islands? So many people asked me that question that I finally decided to write our story. On a Greek Island: was published in Ireland. Since then I have published two novels and many short stories.
Rory’s first poetry collection was written that first winter on Paros. The Sea on Fire was published in 1978 and won the prestigious Patrick Kavanagh Poetry prize. Paros has indeed given us what we were looking for all those years ago in terms of providing inspiration as well as time and space for writing. She has also given us a home from home here in Ysterni to which we return every year. Orla went to school in the proti taxi in the demotikon in Parikia. We celebrated her wedding here in Naousa in 2006. Both our daughters return each year to Paros and luckily their husbands have also fallen in love with the island.
Since the publication of his first book, Rory has written seven more collections of poetry in which many of the poems are inspired by our life here. He has produced five books in collaboration with artists living here on Paros. Sketches from a Greek Terrace, illustrated by Alice Mayer Wallace, is a small chap book locally produced. Sky Lights is based on a major painting, The Adoration of the Lamb by Euphrosyne Doxiadis (English and Spanish) Dancing with Luck and Alone in Amphitheatres are two beautifully produced books of poems in collaboration with the specifically created artwork of Rafael Mahdavi. The designer of these unique books is another resident of Paros, Peter Macken. Rory’s most recent collection, Days and Islands Hμέρες και νησιά is a collaboration with the Greek photographer Panagiotis Kalkavouris published by To Rodakio with Greek translation by Jeffery Carson, Nicos Sarris and Stella Angelika.
Paros as anyone who lived here in the late 1970s knows was a very different island. This was before the tsunami of tourism which has since engulfed, and to some extent improved, this island. Coming from a busy city, we relished the peace and quiet; the simple life of drawing water from the well in the garden; of reading by the light of oil lamps; of little or no traffic; donkeys; dirt roads; simple island grown food; time to spend evenings making parea with our neighbours, when we had learned the rudiments of Greek; cycling to school with Orla. I learned how to spin wool with our neighbour Maria and to weave with my friend Phillada. I made ceramic pots with a potter in Sifnos. We wandered along monopathi in springtime gathering herbs and flowers, went to the local paniyiri with our neighbours Zakarias and Maria. We lived like the islanders. There was much more connection with the local people when most of us travelled on foot, or on a bike, by bus, when there was no television where we lived as there was no electricity in many parts of the island. People, it seemed, had more time for each other.
Nostalgia is all fine and well, but nowhere should be a museum and no change is stasis. The changes brought about on Paros by development, by tourism, have contributed to a better standard of living to so many islanders; better roads, transport, health care, schools, sports facilities, more opportunities for young people to find work and not to be forced to leave the island to find jobs in Athens, Germany or Australia, as so many of their ancestors had been obliged to do. Of course, with change, especially rapid change, comes challenges, comes problems. We hope and trust that these serious challenges, such as overburdened and diminishing natural resources can be solved for the benefit of all the residents of this lovely island.
In the midst of all the summer season’s hustle and bustle we can still find quiet places on Paros. She still entrances us with her light, with her friendliness, with her charm.
Fionnuala and Rory Brennan