By William J. Furney
“Are all y’all bonding over there?” the bearded, hulking figure of an African-American bellows into his phone as I walk past him in a narrow and cobbled Greek-island street.
Crowds of wide-eyed tourists throng the area, and almost elbow you out of the way, such is the thick mix of visiting people from around the world.
The pandemic is over — let’s party!
This is Mykonos, the infamous party island beloved of celebrities, and — audibly, at least — it seemed stuffed with more Americans than any other nationality of curious sightseer, many with enormous bodies straining to carry their heaving bulk. Practically all you could hear as you walked around the tiny harbour town that at one time was a fishing village was the pitched lilt of melodic American accents.
Whatever happened to the global health emergency that had us locked down, or up, for months on end? People here, including tourists, blithely saunter around sans masks, and have they been jabbed? While Greece — home to Aristotle and Plato and where the idea of democracy was born, in 507 — is open for global tourism, the usual rules of entry apply: full vaccination, covid test before entry or proof of recovery from the novel coronavirus infection that has tormented the world for close to two years. No one checks on arrival in Greece, and as usual, it’s up to staff at departing airports to make sure passengers have the required documents.
Meanwhile, I have to get to New York, for business and pleasure, but the United States remains off-limits to European travellers. American-European borders may open in early November, but while we wait, here, in Europe, is full of Americans.
The main town on this Cyclades tourist island — Mykonos Chora, or Town — is postcard-pretty and spotlessly clean. In the central Matoyianni Street and the surrounding labyrinth of ancient passageways of blinding white walls and stone pavements surrounded by more white paint, giving the surreal impression that it had just snowed, designer boutiques selling pricey clothing, bags and jewellery abound. Most of those shuffling through the dainty place peer and gawk at the trinkets but don’t linger long or dare to make a purchase.
It’s about 10 degrees cooler here than in roasting Cyprus, where I’ve recently arrived from, but it’s still warm, and even hot, with the mercury climbing into the mid-20s. I’m walking back from town to my hillside accommodation, in an apartment complex of compact studios — many things in this tiny town are small, and expensive — when a massive yacht floats into the Old Port nearby. Bearing a Maltese flag, the mulitstory hotel on water drops anchor and white-clad staff jump around, getting ready for shore. It’s a charter plaything for the super-rich, built by multimillionaire Paris Dragnis and his Athens-based Golden Yachts. If you’d like to rent the elegant vessel, it’s yours for €1 million per week, not including over €136,000 in weekly expenses, according to various luxury charter firms I looked up.
“Our aim is to build yachts like this. I imagine them in Greek waters, the birthplace of naval mastery, with every detail taken care of to the utmost perfection,” Dragnis enthused to Superyacht Times in January. “These yachts not only offer their guests an excellent stay, but the serenity of Greek nature too.”
Hellenic Navy sailors might surely relish a break from their spartan surroundings and spend time on an expansive craft boasting all manner of indulgences, almost certainly not experiencing anything of Greek nature from their dreamlike, cosseted state.
Greece is well known for rich men with big boats, and ships; the wife of a former American president married one, and there’s a popular bar in town, and associated beach bar and hotel, nearby, named in her honour: JackieO’.
I’m hot, from walking for hours, and have a gammy leg from a working or running injury, for which a friendly pharmacist gave me pills and a muscle-relaxing gel a short time earlier. I spy a waterside café beside the show-off yacht and ask the smiling, middle-aged waiter if there’s wifi.
Yes, he says, and I ask to sample the local beer. “Mykonos Brew,” the man says with delight and brings me what looks like a pint of the cloudy-yellow concoction. It tastes hoppy, and a bit fruity, and I later learn it’s made in an underground craft brewery just outside the town that used to be a bowling alley (and that it’s called Mikonu — “of Mykonos”).
I also discovered that one of the three owners of the Mykonos Brewing Company is a young Argentinian, Angelos Ferous, who learned his craft at BrewDog brewery in Scotland. He kindly agreed to let me see his subterranean operation — about a 10-minute drive from Mykonos Chora — and take some photos, but I didn’t get around to it.
The floating palace is still moored when I run past early the next morning. Massive men with pregnant bellies, smoking and still on balconies, stare as I zip past, surely wondering what it’s like to actually run, a joyous activity for me but seemingly not at all popular here, as there’s no one else doing it but me.
When I return from my jaunt, I turn a corner in my lopsided complex, where Americans are among the guests, and almost smash into one of the cleaning women, who already is making my bed and mopping my small floors. These hardworking women have creased, sun-baked faces and are so friendly and warm that this morning I entertain the notion of one of them adopting me (because I am currently parentless).
But then I’d have to visit, and she’d be trying to fatten me up and probably telling me that a vegan diet is not healthy, and so it probably wouldn’t work out.
But it gave me a bit of a glow, as I made breakfast of avocado, apple, goji berries, chia seeds and nuts. Hard bits of dried sourdough bread that are popular here I dipped in bottled water — tap is unsafe — and blasted in the microwave for a few seconds; then, they were soft, and I slathered the bread-bullets with teaspoons of scooped-out avocado, and I dipped slices of apple in a packet of chia, which is kind of like dunking an ice-cream in toppings, but healthier. And I made green tea I brought with me from Cyprus (along with half a sweet potato, bulgur wheat (to make tabouleh), quinoa and wholewheat pasta). The cups were too small to bother with, and there was no kettle; I improvised by using a saucepan to boil water, and a big, thick glass to drink from — Turkish-style, only grander.
There was no escaping the Americans. In a cramped supermarket called AB, which was more of a crammed corner store and where shoppers and staff were tripping over themselves like they were plastered during a late night out, a young American woman asked the cashier: “Do you have suncream?”
“There’s none here,” I answered on behalf of the checkout woman, who wasn’t all that interested anyway.
“Oh, thanks,” the American said. “Saves me looking.”
And they were on the rickety, old bus to the bereft seaside area of Elia on the southeastern coast (“Is this the bus to Elia?” one asked me, as I waited beside it in Mykonos Chora), where there’s not even one shop, but there were plenty of jellyfish, so swimming in the calm sea was out, but I swam, and got stung — and champagne at the sole beachside resort, for €340 a pop (Dom Perignon).
It was a total invasion, of land and sea, and time to get out.
And just when I thought there was no partying on this ostensible goodtime island, I stopped by a greengrocer’s (the one pictured above), to buy apples, avocados and orange peppers, and Michael Jackson’s Black or White was on the radio, and as I waited for the young, Greek shopkeeper with luxurious, black hair and flirty, olive eyes, I stretched out my back and did side bends, and she came and thought I was dancing and blasted the music right up and started gliding to the hypnotic beat, behind the wooden counter, and I felt like telling her I saw MJ in concert, in Ireland, and it was thrilling, but words were not necessary as we let the electrifying music move us.
- Title photograph, of Mykonos Town and port, is by William J. Furney