With apologies to the late James W. Best for appropriating his image (from his 1935 Forest Life in India)

Saturday, 28 December 2013

See Delos and Die

Of all guides to the Greek Islands, this 1963 Collins offering is one of the first and best:

Bradford sailed a small boat around the Ionian and Aegean seas in the 1950s, before the days of mass tourism, and his love for the islands and their people is unabashed. As he puts it, 'The islands... are more than a geographical entity. They are a climate of the heart.' Mass tourism may have alleviated poverty on the islands, but it is hard not to envy Bradford when he talks about having the tiny island of Delos, the birthplace of Apollo at the centre of the Cyclades, more or less to himself, allowing him to soak in its atmosphere almost alone. Here is his description of the marble lions that guard the Sanctuary of Apollo there: 'Against a sky of blinding blue the lions shout into the wind...Their open mouths, in contrast with their white heads and bodies, seem like tarry caverns from which only the deepest of voices could issue. They roar above the shining ridge and their flanks lean to the dry earth achingly, as though they hungered for dampness and rain.' Visit Delos today and you must share it with hundreds of other tourists, and queue to climb the summit of Mount Cynthus, from where you have the most magnificent view of the surrounding islands and sea. The Sacred Way up to the summit takes you past shrines to the Syrian goddess Astarte and the Egyptian god Isis. Indeed the whole island groans under the weight of ancient temple ruins. Or as Bradford more eloquently puts it, Delos 'is a navel of light, where one can feel the pulse of life that sustains the world'.