It is not the traveller that chooses Tinos, but Tinos that chooses the traveller.
DAY THREE: UNDER THE LINDEN TREE
Successive metamorphoses of paradise.
The eye tries to interpret the enigma of beauty
while Delos is slowly emerging in the horizon.
Summer feels like an eternity.
The poem begins to invent itself
the moment he turns his face to the light.
(The moment the imagination,
freed from the sensation of the blazing white,
vertically rises in the sky.)
August Meditations – Haris Vlavianos
A TRIP TO TOWN
We decide to take it lightly today before meeting a friend of Dimitrios, my host on Hydra, for a trip to the Linden Project, an artistic retreat in of the most unique valleys on the island. Nilufer, the custodian, is coming all the way from Athens to show me her own refuge on Tinos. Before then, however, Yann promises to take me to the port for a quick tour of the main town.
The first thing that I notice is its diminutiveness. It is nonetheless equally as lovely as the others due to its inherent quaintness, as it lies a tumbling footsteps fall from the water, beginning and ending at each extremity of the bay.
Here, furthermore, one has the pleasure of meeting and greeting one’s neighbours, for the Tinians are both kind and gregarious as well as welcoming.
The winding streets lead away from the water have a charm of their own nonetheless, with their brightly colored stone facades, ornate doors and quaint features. Unlike Mykonos looming on the horizon however, there are only a few shops and those mostly for practical needs.
THE LINDEN TREE PROJECT
The restaurants as well, while stylish, are more for meeting up with friends or having a quick meal. In other words, Tinos is the opposite of a tourist island. Here it is about nature, a place to retire, which brings us to our next destination, (a valley between the villages of Kampos and Loutra with olive trees and orange groves, vegetable patches with seasonal vegetables, artichokes and potatoes, and a cottage which is rented seasonally.
This agro-touristic project is known simply as ‘Under the Linden Tree’, a property lovingly nurtured by Nilufer. She is a warm, welcoming and stunningly intelligent woman, whom we meet at a lovely bar in town. On the drive there, she tells me of her own long-time love for Tinos.
I sometimes think that it is not the traveller who chooses Tinos, but Tinos that chooses the traveller.
she says. This thought stays with me as we arrive at the property, deep in the olive groves of the Loutra Valley. Its roof can be seen from the road as we wind our way along its slowly meandering curves. Once we begin our descent however, it disappears behind and then is gone.
We stop and park. At once, Nilufer proceeds to lead Yann and I through the olive grove, to the foundations of two old stone houses they are preparing to renovate into accommodation for future visiting artists, then the wine press and thresher, before finally taking us through the innocuous door that opens up onto a veritable Garden of Eden.
The house, hidden until that moment by the trees that surround it and a large stonewall, is suddenly revealed to our wondering eyes. Restored with sensitivity to its original dimensions, it now stands in guard over the blooming terrain lying below. A natural spring, filled with peach water lilies, bubbles with life. The scent of orange trees fills our senses as we gaze upon the orange grove filled with prickly green leaves and ripe fruit.
This is a divine place to be in may because of the smell of the oranges and the smell of the Linden. This is the only Linden tree on the island to the best of my knowledge, planted some hundreds years ago by the Ursulines, so it is our axis mundi. It is under the anchoring and protection of this beautiful tree.
The Linden tree stands to one side, once the only one on though island, although Nilufer explains how she hopes there will soon be two, having given a cutting to the neighbor next door as a gift for his aid with the renovation project.
It is considered a sacred tree in many cultures and that is no exception here on Tinos. Both Horace and Virgil mentioned its virtues in their work and Ovid, the story of Philemon and Baucis, changed respectively into a linden and an oak when it was time for them to die.
We return to the house for a quick tour and both Yann and I are impressed by how lovingly it has been restored.
The house has always been here. It’s where they brought the children for picnics when they were gathering the linden blossoms and the fruit from the orange trees. It was their day trip, as it was only a twenty-minute walk from the school.
Nilufer explains, and due to their loving renovations, the house remains almost exactly the same as when the nuns came to harvest the olives and the oranges they served as treats to the children.
We didn’t do much to it. It is exactly as it was and is probably where the children slept at noon to escape the hot sun.
The only modern touch is the carmine color, which has replaced the once ruined stones.
As we step once more into the garden, the smell of myrtle, rosemary and Thyme also fill the air along with the buzzing sound of bees and cries of low-flying hawks. Here, Nilufer proudly points to their newest recent renovation.
This year we added an outdoor kitchen with a wood-oven where we can bake pies and a table where we can also accommodate a large group of people. We inaugurated it in July with local wine, oven baked vegetables and goat under the shade of this beautiful oak tree.
A second house lies on the property as well at a short distance, in which one whole wall is made of the immense boulder behind which it was built. In front, lies a garden with a stone encircled seating area blooming with Cyclamen. There is also a mulberry tree growing along the path in the back garden filled with ripening fruit and a small patio area with a view of the ochre hills and pigeon houses above.
At that moment, Nilufer points up and there in the distance, I see a hawk flying high overhead, its cries the only sound that breaks the peace.
All in all, an extraordinary view of the stunning architecture of the houses on the island and the beauty of their surrounding landscapes. I embrace Nilufer affectionately in gratitude for her having made the arduous trip from Athens and appreciation for introduction of me, a stranger, to such an incredibly special place. After agreeing to meet up with another friend later on for dinner later, Yann and I set off once again on our own way.
On the drive, we pass the Monastery Koumaros, renovated by one of the island’s well-known resident artists. Yann tells me about a bit about the art scene on the island and the history of sculpting with local stone and marble and though there is not enough time on this trip to visit some of the museums dedicated to the practice, I add it to my list of things to do when I next return.
As my last full day is tomorrow, we rest before heading off to Hugo’s in the town of Hatzirados. Arriving at night, it is too dark to see much of everything. Yet, beneath the howling wind, one can feel the history that still seems to haunt every crook and nanny of its space. There is the church for example, which looms smack in the midst of town as if to guard over its residents.
Hugo’s home is as warm full of charm and a welcome hiatus from the bitingly cold wind, which struck seemingly from nowhere. Hugo opens a bottle of Kanenas, which means no one and laughingly tells me an interesting story about Odysseus and his battle with the Cyclops Polyphemus, after which the wine has been named.
Nilufer arrives shortly after and a night of laughter, mingled with politics, life and Tinos, at once commences. For dinner, Hugo has chosen a heavenly treat of traditional Greek fare from To Agnanti, one of the Tinians favorite restaurants on the island. It is a wonderful end to our time together and Hugo’s and Nilufer’s last evening. One after which we all leave with warm hearts and full bellies.
Yann and I are a both silent on the return, pondering sweet memories of new friendships and the day’s experiences as the lights from the villa, shining high up on the hill, lead the way home.