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Paradise Lost

OUR FIRST GLIMPSE OF LINDOS CAME in 1961, when we were celebrating our honeymoon on the island of Rhodes. The bus took us through a long coastal valley filled with fructiferous orange and lemon trees, and began negotiating a sequence of steep hills culminating in a sharp right turn that revealed Lindos in all its glory. The eye took in white houses scattered like confetti on the flanks of a towering slab of rock crowned by an acropolis; a bay guarded by two tiny islands, fishing boats bobbing at anchor; a spit of headland with a windmill at its tip; and a blue sea stretching all the way out to where the mountains of Turkey loomed, 10 miles away.

The juxtaposition of sea and sky, village and acropolis, seemed so natural, so harmonious, that we fell in love with Lindos at first sight -- and ended up living there, full time, for the next 18 years. In 1970 we bought a semiruined house, parts of which dated back to Crusader times, and spent a year restoring it in traditional fashion: walled-in courtyard and garden, pebbled mosaic floors, high arched sala with painted ceilings, hand-carved sleeping platforms and cupboards.

After years of living without electricity or running water, we were now able to add those conveniences to the house, which had an upstairs "captain's bedroom" with five windows and a view of the sea.

In the '60s and '70s, Lindos was an artists' colony, with perhaps three dozen writers and painters living side by side
with 600 Greek villagers. The feeling was fraternal and communal. Life had two centers: the platia (main square), where families strolled and chatted after dark, and the kafeneon, or coffeehouse, where the men congregated to talk politics and play cards and backgammon. There was one bar, run by a man we called Shaky Kosta, and a couple of tavernas. Children were everywhere underfoot, running free if only because no cars were permitted to enter the village. By then, we had two kids of our own, a boy and a girl who grew up speaking Greek and English interchangeably, garnished with a little Italian and French.

We were obliged to leave Lindos in 1979 owing to family problems, but we still kept our house. By the time we returned
to it six years later, Lindos had undergone shocking changes. Mass tourism had not only driven out the artists, but transformed the look of things. Though high-rise hotels were still forbidden by the local archaeological society, the charming, cobbled streets of the village were cemented over; the beaches, including the one in St. Paul's Bay, where the apostle had once been shipwrecked, were an antipasto of pedal boats, water-skiing, snack bars and supermarkets. The platia was jammed with Pullman buses, taxis and hordes of people you had to fight your way through to reach the streets, now lined with tourist shops and decorated with garish signs in English proclaiming factory prices for ceramics, jewelry and sandals.

 

TODAY, LINDOS IS ONE OF THE FAMOUS Aegean tourist destinations, on a par with Mykonos and Santorini, a party town with 30 bars and four discos, all of which operate from dusk till dawn. The Lindians have got rich off the tourists -- something for which we are glad -- but in the process of acquiring wealth, much has been lost as well. Families avoid the platia because of
the continual coming and going of taxis and buses, and the crowds of visitors or donkeys galloping through the streets on their way up to the acropolis. The kafeneons have disappeared. You can't even get Greek food in the tavernas, which have been leased out to Brits and Italians. Locals still love to patronize Shaky Kosta's bar because his incipient Parkinson's causes him to pour triple shots for a single. (He is also an electrician whose wiring jobs often short-circuit the entire village.)

We still return to Lindos annually, but only for brief stays. Because we keep a car on the island we can escape the tourist crush during the day and find a white, uninhabited beach somewhere -- or rather, we won't say where. The mountain villages of Rhodes remain untouched by tourism, and offer authentic food, ambiance and music, especially when celebrating a wedding or religious festival. Above all, we love our house and having old friends over to dine alfresco in leisurely fashion.

But when dinner is over and we mount the steps to our captain's bedroom, we know the only way we'll be able to sleep is by stuffing our ears with foam-rubber plugs and switching on the Sharper Image white-noise machine.


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