Some summers after my teenage years I spent in Kos. One of my childhood friends originated from the island and we went to his vacation home. So I have plenty of pleasant memories from this island and now that I photograph all over Greece, I could not neglect it. I know of course that the tourist industry has the upper hand since then, but like every place in Greece, Kos has a great tradition behind, which I was determined to discover. Among hordes of tourists looking for cheap blue and vitamin D, some residents try to preserve what may have been left from past times.
When I do not know where to start on a place's tradition, I follow a simple strategy. I start from the Lyceum of Greek women if there is a branch in the area, and then try local dance and cultural clubs. This process usually leads me somewhere. After all, more often it is the case that as soon as you catch the edge of the string, you find your way. So I found the Lyceum's phone number and spoke with the president, Argyro Katsili. Within a few minutes, I was already at her house, where she explained to me about their activities on the island and we agreed to get two girls dressed in the traditional outfits to make some images. Before I went away, she posed me for a portrait.
The day finally came, we met with Argyro and the two girls, Anthoula and little Maria at midday, where the light becomes sweeter. Where we would go was my own decision, but also Argyro's. She had proposed the ancient theater that sounded interesting to me, while I had suggested a point in the city that I had seen a traditional neighborhood, passing by accident. I was told that this neighborhood is one of the few remaining but also the only one of this type of architecture. So we did a nice walk and we discovered most of the city's traditional places.
Over the next few days, in the place I was having my coffee every day, I met a local photographer / graphic designer. I know him, because he rents the shop my friend has on his ground floor. This time, this friend of mine was hosting me, so I stayed over his shop. We had our coffee and I explained to him what I did and my interest in tradition. So he met me with the dance teacher Giannis Mastoros, whom I met a little later and we agreed to photograph some more outfits by using some of his dancing students as models. Fay, Isabella and Irene, also known as Julia. At our first meeting, we went to the abandoned settlement of Haichoutes, quite close to the capital of Kos. There is now a café / tavern and a small museum of folklore. This coffeehouse was probably the most beautiful shop I visited in Kos and has since become the place to go. Nearby, there also was the beautiful church of St. Dimitrios.
August 26, St. Fanourios eve, is a big celebration in Greece. It is the day of the famous Fanouropita, a very delicious cake, which comes in many different variations, similar to the Basil cake of New Year's Eve. It usually contains walnuts, raisins or petimezi (syrup from grapes). The custom says that before you go to bed on that day, you put a few crumbles under your pillow, and your dreams reveal the one you are going to marry. Also, many pilgrims make a promise to the Saint to reveal to them something or someone they have lost. Typically, this promise is a Fanouropita, which they bring with them this day to have it blessed by the priest. Thus, the churches of Agios Fanourios, during the Evening Mass, resemble bakeries, full of delicious cakes, the Fanouropites. It is perhaps the most delicious Mass of the year.
The St. Fanourios church that I liked the most on the island, was the little church just outside Mastichari. Mastichari is a small port mainly serving the routes to Kalymnos and the small island of Pserimos. I arrived at the church in the morning to see the preparations and get to know more about the schedule. The restaurateurs set up the tables where the people would eat, the priest embellished the church and the icons of the saint, while in the courtyard, the vendors had already set up the stalls with the merchandise, that now waited wrapped in their nylon clothes, the appropriate hour to be undressed. Each to his own.
The heat was unbearable, so I thought to go for a while to the beach since it was still early for the Mass. I returned after a few hours, because I went to a distant beach on the edge of the island that I really liked. It was a tropical landscape that would be very quiet if there hadn't been for the canteen-beach bar with loud dance music. Fortunately, the beach is really long, so you can go far enough to hardly be able to hear it.
When I returned to the church, everything had been prepared and waited for the people, especially the Fanouropites, to arrive. The crowd began to fill the courtyard, and the church, being rather small, was totally packed as if it were a bus during rush hour. The shelves that were in place for this purpose were filled with Fanouropites. They looked like the Babylon Gardens, but instead of vegetation, delicious cakes full of smell were hanging about. After the Mass had ended, the cake was shared all over the people that came, the musicians started playing and some were bold enough to find some space to dance, while early in the night, the feast came to an end.
The day after St. Fanourios is the eve of St. John the Baptist, yet another great celebration. While getting to my favourite beach mentioned above, I discovered the respective church nearby. I sat to meet the organizers, during the time they were preparing the courtyard. The pots were already in the fire, and tables were everywhere. I had my morning coffee under the big tree at the yard and after a while I went down to the beach.
In Kos there is a neighborhood of Muslims, Platani, where this community has always lived. I went to meet them and got inside Ayshe's house, where, along with her friends, they were filling and wrapping flowers of zucchini. They were preparing for a celebration and had to wrap hundreds of them. They offered me sweet watermelon, which was very tasty and for my bad luck I did not have enough time to stay for lunch where the flowers would have been cooked. There I met sweet Hatice, age 81, who invited me to her house that looked like it came out from another time.
The last photos I took on the island were with the three girls from Chaichoutes, Fay, Isabella and Irene. We went to the salt lake in Tigaki, a seaside settlement with plenty of tourism. The salt lake offered a surreal and yet characteristic backdrop for these photos. We walked long enough to reach the middle of the lake, on mud and hard salt. But the experience was very nice and the scenery was breathtaking, since we were there just before the sunset. A girl on a horse came to greet us for a few minutes. It was during her riding experience that she offers to tourists around sunset time.
Overall, I have met many interesting people in Kos and while I had the island as a pure tourist destination, I finally found pieces of tradition and some new places, which would definitely make a next visit very pleasant.