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Greece 11: Tinos Island as a Gorgon's Head

Tinos was originally known as Ofiousa in Greek, which is derived from ofis, the word "snake."  At one time the island was overrun by snakes (or perhaps still is), and legend tells that Poseidon sent out a myriad of storks to clear it of snakes. Now Tinos is overrun by snake-eating cats.  Most cats on the island are feral. Goats are mostly feral too it seems, or wild anyway.  Little owls that sit by the side of the road sometimes function as glowing lane markers when their eyes light up in car headlight beams at night.

In November some of the shrubs on the island's hillsides appear dead. From the road, or any other fair distance, the terrain seems to be easily accessible.  Even the mountainsides are terraced with rock walls that look low and surmountable.  Up close however the landscape turns unfriendly.  The small dead-looking shrubs are as sturdy as oak trees.  One would not tread on them anymore willingly than one would put one's foot in a bear trap-- that is, after once having made this mistake.  The particular shrub I am thinking of is rounded and has the branch structure of a miniature tree, but is only about a foot tall.  I now call it the Gorgon's Head, but have no idea what its real name is, except to say it is like a firmly rooted and stocky tumbleweed on steroids.

Unfriendly also is the rock rubble that covers the hills and litters the spaces between shrubbery and massive stone (sometimes pure marble) outcroppings.  No step can be taken without forethought. Hiking is slow and feels unsafe even in the flat areas.  The rock walls that appear small in the distance are 4 to 6 feet high, and hiking up a mountainside terraced with a dozen such walls quickly becomes exhausting. A little driving and a little calculating suggests that the rock walls on Tinos took centuries of manpower to create.  Compared to climbing a modest mountain on Tinos, the climb to the top of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh is literally a walk in the park. 



( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 10th, 2011 05:31 pm (UTC)
As one who probably isn't going anywhere anytime soon, I particularly appreciate this vivid piece of writing.
Feb. 10th, 2011 06:31 pm (UTC)
Thanks! The interesting thing about your comment is that I didn't plan on going anywhere soon either at that time. I was more or less compelled to travel there. My lack of preparation turned out to be quite unnerving at times. For a person who likes to pre-visualize events, there were just too many imponderables. However, almost a year and a half later, I am glad to have gone.
Feb. 10th, 2011 06:36 pm (UTC)
And I for one am glad you have been writing these installments of the narrative. I've enjoyed each and every one of them.
Maggie Ross
Feb. 24th, 2011 02:38 pm (UTC)
Ofiousa used to be the name for Tinos. Ofis is snake in Greek. Tinos is the name of the proclaimed first inhabitant. Some bloke who went there and claimed it as his island. Also Poseiden was the protector of Ofiousa and sent storks to clear the island of the snakes. My guess is that he didn't send enough storks, or maybe they let the cats take over.
Feb. 24th, 2011 02:55 pm (UTC)
Re: Ofiousa
Thanks for the clarification Maggie mou. Shows you how carefully we tourists listen!

Reminds me of hearing somewhere that the Kangaroo was mis-named by an explorer because that's what his aborigine guide told him when he asked for the name. But Kangaroo in the guide's language supposedly means "I don't know." Sounds like the creative pipe dream of an ironic historian who is a frustrated fiction writer, but I don't know-- I could never pin down the truth of the matter.

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Cydonia photo: ESA

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