Everything comes back to the Archipelago. Everything returns, winging over it, spinning round in dreamless sleeps, haunted by nostalgia. Why this nostalgia? Without knowing the past or the ghosts of those standing next to me, I can sense the moment they feel its chill. Nostalgia is felt and created: it makes flesh of its own stuff.
I hear this stuff: enclosed island squares, like stages in theaters, from whose mouths adolescents suddenly rush forth into the world. Swimming all day long, skin tanned and polished, canvas shoes. Transient afternoons—unbearably sweet in the early evenings, the twilights mauve—spread out in the harbor under little lights. Gazes meeting on the quay, the scent of hair, freshly-washed shirts, traces of white flesh untouched by the sun’s caresses. Young men, girls, fractured blues from hoarse-voiced cassette-players. People, people, gazes, images long melted into air, now return, fragrant, and deceptive. The stuff of nostalgia.
The borderland of the stuff, the passage between the luscious, single-boned Past to the multivalent spineless Present, the protean image of Pirandello, on the beach in Sicily…The mare nostrum awaits, invites; people arrive, breathless, on the sands—they rush to the ceremony of salt water.
Stuff of nostalgia: what we remember, what we lived, what we think we remember, what we need so much that we relive it again and again. A fabrication? It doesn’t matter, indifferent.
There it is, somehow we sense the traces, the roots of our origin in the Archipelago, a damp womb—cool salt water, dry walls, infinite sky above and around. The Meltemi blow, the surrounding isles are azure shadows: every island alone, yet all together. We all have roots in the Archipelago, either because we were born there, or we grew up there, or because it was there that we first sensed our adult, love-stricken, free, alone self. In the Archipelago we felt our stuff, our substance and the measure of it, the thirst of the flesh and its satisfaction. In the islands we first understood the relationship of small to large, near to far, ephemeral to eternal. On the bare islands we wondered “Why do people choose to live here?” as we lay naked on a dazzling white beach…
This deep-hidden astonishment returns less and less often, as the years settle upon us like dust: a flash, nights of the Perseids, nights when the noise of the tourists abates for a little, allowing the memory to rush back through the cane fences. One happy moment, sometime between July and September, a breeze arises, stirring numbed bodies. In the softness of a lane, looking across at vineyards and olive groves, whitewashed paving stones gleam in the dusk…
Nikos Xydakis is a journalist, art critic, curator and—most recently—left-wing politician.