I arrived in Helsinki via Finnair, early on a Saturday…
Coronovirus has sabotaged planned holidays and travel restrictions and economic collapse looks likely to jeopardise future plans. Unable to travel in real life, the only option was to take a trip into my memory and photos of Milos.
It was suggested that Milos might be too tame for my punk sensibilities and lifelong inclination towards the nightlife. The solution? Spend 4 days on the lash in Athens. After a toxic and deranged disco binge, we could then withdraw to this tranquil island and dry out in peace. Everyone’s a winner. Yin and yang. Good cop, bad cop. Rave and rural.
Athens was ridiculously wild as usual. Every night was spent inhaling cocktails with the gorge kids at ultra-cool Klouvi. Nearby, is the disco district Gazi, where we’d plunge into dead-by-dawn gay nonsense, minimal techno and lively street culture.
This patch of Athens makes Soho look square and Dalston seem dull. When we found ourselves falling into the airport, for the Milos flight, we’d barely slept for days. Our actual spirits (and various items of clothing) remained in the after-hours we’d just left.
How we got through security and onto that plane is a mystery to this day. Curse of the 3 Ds; duty-free, drinking and Diazepam. Landing at Milos airport was like dropping into another era. Opened in 1973, not much has changed since. As it was mid-October, there were barely any travellers. Luggage was quietly collected from a wooden shelf. No carousel. No retail outlets. No stress. Just a sunny fog of sleepy calm.
We hired a car, quickly and easily. That may have been down to the downers. Or maybe ‘cause it was the only vehicle in the car park. Everything was dusty and deserted. We drove off, as dusk kissed the sky. Cares slipped away. Hangovers evaporated to a fading memory.
We’d hired a studio in the port of Adamantas. Spitting distance from Papikinou Beach. The town’s name comes from the Greek for diamond (αδάμας). Unswayed by this glittering moniker, we ditched bags, donned bikinis, jumped back in the car and raced to Sarakiniko Beach. Plans for a nap were suddenly swayed away by adrenaline, ouzo and curiosity.
Situated on the north shore of the island, Sarakiniko is possibly the most Instagrammed beach in the Aegean. Waves have weathered volcanic rocks into cream-hued, trippy shapes that swing from snow globe to moonscape.
As a photogenic gem, hunted by hipsters and beach bitches, Sarakiniko usually pulls in the crowds. Out of season, as the sun set on the lunar panorama, we had the place to ourselves. There’s a tiny burst of sand that acts as a beach, but it’s largely about lounging on undulating rocks and using them as curvy platforms for diving into spookily blue waters.
We’d been awake for 36 hours, but swam, splashed and galloped like giddy kids. Dali-esque visuals, tranquillity and gobsmacked gratitude proved very healing to our weary souls.
I’m your Venus
Milos is largely known as the birth place of the Venus de Milo (The Venus of Milos). It’s without doubt the world’s most famous sculpture. It’s got a gamely iconic status, but she also embodies a torrid tale of geopolitics, pride and PR.
She’s certainly not Venus. Probably not Aphrodite either. She’s likely to be Amphitrite, the sea goddess worshipped on Milos, back in the day.
While en route to the Ancient Roman Amphitheatre, it’s possible to visit the spot where De Milo was discovered. There’s little fanfare for her ‘birthplace’. It’s literally a weathered sign on a stony pathway. No knick-nack shop or pop up cinema.
It was in 1820, when Marquis de Rivière (French Ambassador to the Ottoman court in Constantinople) presented the de Milo statue to King Louis XVIII. He’d bought it off a priest, who’d bagged it from a farmer. Louis gifted it to the lucky Louvre, where it dazzles to this day
The French ‘needed’ an antique cultural trophy as a mood booster. Obviously, robbing, then parading indigenous art was sport and a source of national pride to marauding imperialists. Spoils of empire. Souvenirs of war. Though prolific, the British weren’t the only dogs in that fight.
The British Museum boasted the Rosetta Stone AND the Parthenon Marbles. Still does. Following Napoleon’s fall, the French were forced to return his extensive colonial booty. The Louvre alone lost 2,065 paintings, 130 statues, 150 bas-reliefs and busts, 289 bronzes, 281 sketches, 105 ivory vases, 75 vases in precious metals, 16 Etruscan vases, 37 wooden sculptures, 471 cameos, and 1,199 enamels AND the Venus de’ Medici. Testament to their history of haulage is the fact they still had a banging museum.
Owning ancient art wasn’t just a flash of power. Possession hummed with wishful reflection. De Milo was the pinnacle of beauty and civilisation. France wanted to wallow in those deep and flattering waters. However, de Milo’s status was accrued through spin, subterfuge and a search for esteem.
De Milo was falsely attributed to Praxiteles, the 4th-century sculptor who gave us the first Aphrodite nude and changed art for ever. The French craftily ditched de Milo’s original plinth and pitched the statue as a Classical Attic masterpiece, rather than the Hellenistic work that she is. The public deception, romantic dreams and global curiosity made the Venus De Milo at The Louvre the Victorian equivalent of One Direction at Wembley.
Being of a dramatic inclination, it was a thrill to swish across the stage of the Ancient Roman Amphitheatre in Milos. It’s located above the ancient port of Klima and below the settlement of Trypiti, cut into the sweeping landscape, overlooking the Aegean. Its position, flanked by plunging cliffs, and over the glittering sea was a technical ploy to achieve the finest acoustics in the Med.
It’s one of the best preserved ancient theatres in the Cyclades. Built during the Hellenistic period, it seated about 8000 spectators in its heyday. in high-season, you can still catch a show. Today it seats a more sedate 700.
We had the place to ourselves, so I threw down a soliloquy, improvised some interpretive dance and performed a Brechtian poem. It’s true. The acoustics are sensational. Had there been an audience for my show, they would have been totally overwhelmed.
I’ve been to the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem, believed to be the path Jesus walked en route to crucifixion. Obviously, I’ve had a vada at the Sistine Chapel in Rome and meditated in the shadow of the Glastonbury Tor.
Drawn to locations of religious significance, it was a surprise, and a crime that the Catacombs of Milos had never graced my To-Do List. The Catacombs date from the 1st – 5th century and are among the three most important in the world, together with sites in Rome and the Holy Land.
Niche-like graves (arcosolia) are cut into the side walls of the passageways. Tombs were cut likewise into the floors of the passages. Each burial place is graced with the symbols for Alpha and Omega.
Christians believed that Jesus Christ was the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end of the Greek alphabet. For Christians, Jesus is the beginning, as well as the end of everything. About 300 graves can found in these catacombs.
The graves weren’t meant for one body. They piled them up in each slot. It’s estimated there’s about 8000 skeletons, rattling in the volcanic rocks. Christians believed that like Christ, you could potentially come back from the dead. This holy venue was a spiritual chill-out area to preserve your body until resurrection.
Sadly, an army of skeletons didn’t spring from the rocks and dance malevolently, like extras in Jason and the Argonauts. It was creepy down there though.
You can’t be among the stacked and crumbling bodies of people from 2,000 years ago, deep inside a mountain and not feel humbled, unnerved and awed.
After contemplating the skulls of ancient sisters, we hiked up a hill between Trypiti and Klima to the chapel dedicated to Profitis Ilias (Prophet Ilias). It offered stunning views over the glittering Aegean and was tiny, exquisitely kept and slightly eerie.
There seemed to be peace and beauty as far as the eye could see. We’d passed no other humans and heard little but the sound of our own thoughts.
Travelling with a Greek native with Orthodox leanings has its advantages. Namely, celestial drama. Inside the chapel, he located matches, lit oil lanterns and fired up rose incense while whispering incantations to the heavens.
At that moment, I felt blessed, in every sense of the word. To be the present in a mountain top chapel, surrounded by villages and ruins of ancient civilisations is unique enough. Being with someone au fait with the rituals of the church made it utterly magical.
As rose smoke swirled around us, and the low murmur of ancient Greek prayer became my ambient soundtrack, it’s safe to say, I’ve never been more grateful to be alive.
Road to happiness
We spent the rest of the week roaming the island, enjoying its 70 beaches. Finding these patches of paradise would have been impossible without a car and highly chilled optimism.
There were roads that seemed unlikely to lead to anywhere, as we squeezed past deserted farm buildings on narrow lanes, but suddenly revealed splendid coves and stunning coastlines.
Sometimes we’d drive for 40 minutes and not pass another vehicle in any direction. Rocking up to stretches of golden sand and turquoise waters, and then having the beach to yourself seems impossibly idyllic and unlikely, but we had that experience almost every day.
There was nada to do at night and many of the restaurants were closed, but Milos offered a rare chance to forget the complications of life and embrace solitude, scenery and simplicity. I dream of it often.