Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Aerial and Miaoulis photos courtesy of GNTO, Melina and me photo courtesy Lagoudera Marine Club
Memories of Hydra.
The success of two films, “Boy on a Dolphin” with Sophia Loren, Alan Ladd and Clifton Webb and later on “Phaedra” with Melina Mercouri and Anthony Perkins catapulted Hydra, from being a quiet sleepy Greek island with a distinguished naval history to becoming, in the very early 1960s, the playground of the Athenian upper class and a “must visit” location for the international jet set.
The picturesque horseshoe shaped harbor, all of a sudden became crowded with yachts and multi-masted schooners and the houses climbing the steep hillsides became rental residences for the crème-de-la-crème of European and Greek intelligentsia taking their summer vacations; with a few artists and writers becoming year-round residents.
The waterfront is still guarded on the left by a circular cannon emplacement tower on a promontory that has guns from the 16th century. There are crenelations on top and a stone staircase connecting the emplacement to the town through the customs building next to it.
A statue of Miaoulis, a local naval hero of the very early 19th century on a pedestal stands guard in the middle of the terrace and the peripheral road to the Mandraki village along the island’s Northeast shore still curves around the bottom of the fortification.
Along the harbor’s inner perimeter coffee shops and restaurants with tan or blue awnings line the way. In the summer, there are tables and chairs in front of them so one can have coffee, pastry, ice cream or a grilled cheese and ham sandwich al fresco, looking at the colorful fishing boats the locals keep moored at the quay. The sea-captain mansions that overlook the harbor were adapted to becoming mostly season-long summer rentals.
Storage spaces for fishing boats at the bottom of these stone mansions had been converted to shops with tourist merchandise or bars and night spots.
On the right side of the harbor, under another promontory, was the “swimmer’s cave” a large and deep cave the sea had carved out of the side of the island. It was thought of as the city’s beach. Left and right from the cave’s entrance were cement platforms, where swimmers could use to get to the water and some of the more adventurous would jump off the top of the cave to the water, which was deep enough not to present any danger to the jumpers. On top of the cave was another 16th century gun emplacement which was also the veranda of a coffee shop and restaurant.
The best internationally known bar was the original “Lagoudera Marine Club” located in one of the converted boat storage spaces on the ground floor of one of the stone mansions near the entrance of the harbor. It was a long, two-story space, with a colorful fishing boat hanging from the rafters, and another ½ boat cut at the length was used as a bar.
A wooden staircase on the right of the entrance led to the second floor which was used for storage and office. It was also, initially, the bedroom of the owner Babis Morres, a brilliant businessman that was instrumental in catapulting the sleepy island onto the world stage.
Brigitte Bardot, Elizabet Taylor, Aristotle Onassis, Jackie Kennedy, Maria Callas, Leonard Cohen and many other international personalities were frequent visitors of Lagoudera. Of course, the Greek artist and literary community especially Melina Mercouri, were also present from Spring to mid-November.
I found the above photo of me and Melina in an envelope with images from Lagoudera during a recent trip to Athens. Melina was a young but already very well known, very talented Greek actress.
Records of popular English, American and French songs were constantly spinning.
The very thick stone walls kept the interior cool no matter what the outside temperature. Right next to the entrance was a large window with a wide and thick windowsill that allowed a full-size mattress to comfortably fit in the opening.
That mattress became my perch from which I observed the world, brandy snifter in hand.
I started going to Hydra with my, at that time, girlfriend for weekends of swimming, dancing and having fun.
There were a number of nice 2- and 3- star hotels in town but it was less expensive and a lot less intrusive to just rent a room in someone’s home; and there were quite a number of good rooms available. The problem was that hotels required registration using one’s national identity card or passport, and the Greek government frowned on a man and a woman – or a boy and a girl in our case – sharing a room if they did not have the same last name! The villagers that rented rooms in their homes mostly did not care, unless they were highly religious (Greek Orthodox) at which point one might get a refusal to rent and a lecture about “fornication.” But that was indeed rare!
It was not expensive to rent a room in Hydra. The most I paid in drachmas at the time was the equivalent of $5 per night for a very large room with attached bathroom; the least was $1 a night for just a room with access to a common bathroom down the hall and I would usually have the room from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon, since we took the Friday noon ferry to the island and the last Sunday ferry back to Piraeus. The trip going usually took about 3 hours from Piraeus and the return was only about 2 1/2, because that particular late ferry skipped a couple ports.
There were a number of organized beaches on the island and Vlichos was one of the better and earliest. It is about 2 kilometers away from the main town and you can walk to it along the peripheral road that connects the main town to other smaller towns or villages or take a “sea taxi” which is, most of the times, a fishing boat converted to taxi duty or a speed boat of one of the more affluent residents that make some extra money ferrying passengers to beaches when they themselves go to swim there.
I became very friendly with Babis and I helped him open Lagoudera one year. In exchange, I had an open tab plus Babis took care of my lunch while I was on premises. Lunches and dinners were cooked by Babis’ mother who was a very talented cook. All the work had to be finished by the Monday after Easter, the date that was the official opening of Lagoudera.
There was a number of very interesting women that would come to the island in search of inspiration for a novel, an article, a painting or, in some cases, to get a Greek lover.
I very specifically remember an American woman that was travelling the world with her daughter, living off residuals from some very popular ‘60s songs she co-wrote. She was in her late forties and her daughter was in her very early twenties.
The mother was beautiful, very well read and seemed to know all the right people in London, New York and Paris – she claimed she knew well Greg Corso and Bill Burroughs, Orlovsky and a few others of the Beat Writers. I knew all of them since my days at Mme Rachou’s rooming house (see Memories of Paris) and I’m sure she actually did know Corso and Orlovsky. She was married for a while to a “poet” that lived in New York City’s West Village and made a living by editing poetry for some literary magazines and selling on the street haiku poems, hand written on long, thin strips of paper. When I moved to New York, I met him and it was amazing to me how he and his half dozen teenybopper “disciples” that lived with him, managed to survive on food stamps and the proceeds of his poetry editing, readings and street sales!
The daughter was a sour-faced, sullen young woman that, even though she was in her early twenties and could be quite attractive if she put her mind to it, acted as if she was just a put-upon teenager. She disliked me and I equally disliked her.
Someone else that I found fascinating was a Swedish journalist from Bromma. She was in Hydra for the entire summer.
She smoked cigarillos, could drink half a bottle of aquavit or ouzo at a sitting without getting drunk and was, I thought, an exceptional writer. She was also a gorgeous blond bombshell!
She spent most of her day banging away on a small portable typewriter, writing tell-all articles for two Swedish newspapers and a magazine and four Danish magazines. The rest of the day was spent swimming and eating in the local restaurants and socializing with the “Greek locals” looking for stories.
There were hundreds of single foreign women, young, middle aged and older that came to the islands on vacation in addition to the famous visitors. Shop assistants and dentists from London, aspiring writers from Italy and secretaries from Switzerland, nurses and schoolteachers from the US, actresses and airline stews from France, hotel receptionists from Amsterdam, fashion designers from Finland… Many were very ready for all kinds of adventure.
At the swimmer’s cave I got to know Sally and Sue. They were traveling together, both in their late 20s. One worked as a publicist in a music publishing company in London, the other was a nurse in a hospital. They lived near each other in London’s Chelsea, had been friends since childhood and were in Hydra for their summer vacation.
I invited them to Lagoudera for drinks and dancing. Sally says she would love to spend the evening dancing with me but what about Sue? Do I have a friend that Sue can dance with? I’m thinking that Mike Absalom, a folk singer from England that I became very friendly with and brought to Lagoudera as a “featured entertainer” might be the perfect match.
Mike was traveling the world and I met him in a Plaka boîte where he was singing “bawdy songs and backroom ballads galore” for a small stipend, tips and drinks and an occasional meal. He was very good looking, had a wonderful voice, played the guitar well and, when he felt like it, was very good company.
I introduce the girls to Mike. Time for lunch and I fire up the grill.
Chicken quarters are sizzling in the flames very soon and Sally offers to make salad with what I had in the fridge. I open bottles of good Greek white wine I keep in the refrigerator and we have a feast!
It was a very domestic scene!
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