Like many other frequent and long-term visitors to the island, I have been going to ‘Aerides’ bar and café ever since it first opened more than fifteen years ago. Situated in the peaceful main square of the Old Village, between the two churches of Christ and of Saint Athanasios, with seating widely spaced and taking advantage of the shade of old mulberry trees, it has long been my and others’ favourite place for morning coffee and evening whisky.
A couple of years ago it had to move out of its rented premises at the edge of the square, next door to the family home, when the lease was not renewed. For a year or so there was no ‘Aerides’, but then it triumphantly re-opened in premises in the family home, right on the square itself: things continued as before, or even, if possible, better.
Meanwhile another café and bar opened in the old premises, run by owners Christine and Jimmy. I must make it clear that I have nothing against these two, whom I have known for years; Jimmy, in his day job as computer expert, has been generously helpful to me many times. Understandably, the new bar, too, wanted seats in the square, and some confusion arose: people not in the know would order from one bar but choose seats belonging to the other. A gentle word of explanation usually overcame the problem.
Agreement on demarcation could not be reached, and eventually the Demos (Council) came up to ‘settle’ the matter. They arrived with tape-measures, a plan, and a big pot of paint with which to mark ugly lines on the natural slate paving.
Unfortunately the demarcation has been done in an incomprehensible and unfair way: suddenly there are ‘Roads’ (of which no-one had ever heard before) criss-crossing the square, cutting it up into little triangular traffic islands. Of course, tables and chairs may not be placed in these ‘roads’; ‘they would impede the traffic.’
Now, as heretofore, the only ‘traffic’ in the square is pedestrian, and perhaps the odd mule or two. ‘Traffic’ has never had the slightest difficulty making its way between the thoughtfully and elegantly placed tables. What is the origin of these ‘roads’? No-one knows. I asked in the Town Hall. (the Mayor himself was strangely unavailable). One of the people who works there suggested they might be the creation of ‘somebody’s’ imagination. A slightly odd imagination, one could be forgiven for thinking.
Then one looks a little more closely at where these ‘roads’ have been marked: exactly where Aerides has its tables, indeed one of them passes all along the front of the bar and the family home. They seem not to encroach much on the territory claimed by the new bar. The suspicion comes to mind that ‘somebody’ has not been as impartial as he or she should be: that, not to put too fine a point on it, person or persons unknown or at least unnamed wants to make life impossible for Aerides. The proprietor, Maria, is deeply distressed. Her mother Panayiota, who has lived on the square all her life, is in tears: she has in effect been forbidden to sit on the ‘Pezoula’, (the low stone bench at the base of the outer wall of most traditional Greek houses) of her own home. Our beautiful, peaceful village square has been turned into a jumbled mess of traffic islands and white paint.
I urge all who care for the Old Village of Alonnisos to go to the Town Hall to ask for explanation and justification.
Simon Darragh, 25th of June 2014.