The Magic of Pyrgi, Greece

Blog#173- 9/26/23

Richard Davis

On the island of Chios, Greece- Travel, on any level and in any place, can often be a life-altering experience. Merely breaking your daily routine and seeing unfamiliar people and vegetation can freshen the mind better than most forms of therapy.

Once you allow yourself to cast aside as much baggage as you can, you move into new places where you have the potential to become a new person, either for a moment or forever. All of this is a preface to a description of what happened to me and my wife Roberta when we visited the town of Pyrgi on the Greek island of Chios.

There are rare moments during travel when something magical and mystical happens. I think a person would be lucky to have two or three of these moments during a lifetime of travel. When Roberta and I entered the town of Pyrgi we were immediately immersed into a world where children of all ages play unattended in the streets, running with more joy than will ever be experienced by any American child in a lifetime.

We could feel the joy as children as young as four or five ran by us on their foot-powered scooters or were briskly led by the hand by siblings and friends a little bit older who could guide them through the streets of their town as locals sat at cafes and tourists slowly ambled from store to store.

Pyrgi is described as a medieval settlement with a population of about 800 people located in the southern mastic region of Chios. Chios is the third largest Greek island. Pyrgi is a painted village. All of the buildings are decorated with a black and white motif. The streets are narrow and you have to leave your car at the foot of town. There are plenty of motor scooters but most streets are too narrow for cars. Pyrgi does not need to legitimized by the outside world but it is on the List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO sites.

Mastic is a substance harvested from trees that only grow on Chios. It has a variety of cosmetic and medicinal uses and much of the commerce and agriculture on Chios centers around the mastic industry. The mastic trees are cut in August and the sap that oozes to the ground is harvested in September. When you drive through areas where the trees are growing you can smell the unique aroma of mastic.

Words are inadequate to describe how a person might feel as they wander around Pyrgi. Sure, all of the trappings of the world of 2023 are visible, and the ubiquitous cell phone even grabs much of the attention of locals. But it seemed to me that as I tried to engage with local people that the older residents did not lose their grip on the world around them because of a cell phone addiction.

Roberta is one of the most gregarious people I have ever met and it would be an understatement to say she has a natural talent for engaging with strangers. It is a gift that makes travel a joyous event. As we entered Pyrgi there was a group of five local women sitting at the corner of a small town square and taverna.

Greek women wear black dresses for life after the passing of their husbands and four of those five women were of the widow variety.

They checked us out when we first walked by them and then I returned to ask them if I could take their picture. They were willing and then happy to see the result on the little digital screen.

But that was not enough of an effort to get to know these women so Roberta asked if she could sit down next to them and have me take a picture of all of them. As I was framing the scene one of the women told Roberta that her dress was too short and Roberta tried to pull it down as best she could.

As we walked more streets in Pyrgi we spoke to a number of local people who at first seemed circumspect but soon warmed up, first to my magnetically engaging wife, and then to me. We dined on local food in a large open square and I gave the waitress what amounted to a 40% tip. The food was cheap but I had stepped into another world where everything I ever thought I knew didn’t matter any more.

That feeling lasted for a few hours and we have two more days on this island and we will have to go back to Pyrgi to get another dose of whatever it is they have that the rest of the world has lost.

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