17 AUGUST 1985, Page 35

High life

The fatherland


Zante anteante is the most southerly of the Ionian islands, north-west of the Pelopon- nese and the nearest point to it, a little less than ten miles away. There are 30,000 inhabitants, most of whom have no Tur- kish blood running in their veins, a rare phenomenon among modern Greeks. The reason for this is that the Zantiotes did not live for 400 years under Turkish rule, so they escaped the Levantine features and tastes of their fellow Neo-Hellenes. The island is the birthplace of Greece's most important poets, Solomos and Kalvos being two examples, as well as Italy's greatest bard, Hugo Foscolo_ More impor- tant than that, however, is the fact that Taki's father and provider was born there 77 years ago.

Zante's history would make a soap opera to end all soap operas. Every pirate west of Bora Bora seems to have passed through and taken a shot at the place, and many have left their influence on the island, even Cervantes. The Spanish writer lost his leg off the western coast while serving as a seaman on a galleon that was attacked by pirates. The Venetians and the English were the two powers that stayed the longest, although the Brits have left very little behind to remind one of them, with the exception of recalcitrant civil servants and a funny game called kriket that no one plays any more due to the fact that England is run by a woman.

What I used to love about Zante was the way people dressed — men in white suits ladies with parasols — and the way the townfolk used to promenade up and down the main square at sunset. In the house of Dionyssis Romas, a poet and friend who is now dead, I used to look at portraits of his family and mine, people whom the Guar- dian would label exploiters, and an honest man, nobles. The costumes were made of silk. The men wore wigs and were clean- shaven. The ladies wore long trains, and black veils. In 1821 many of those people in the family portraits became members of the Filiki Eteria, or Society of Friends, people who gave large amounts of money to free Greece from the Ottoman yoke. At times, when my bar bill at Annabel's begins to resemble the Soviet investment in the European anti-nuclear movement, I wonder whether it was worth it; when I'm in Greece, and hear the shrill anti-Western rhetoric of the clowns that run this place, I become convinced it was not. But when in Zante I change my mind. The people have not as yet become completely tourist- minded, though the signs are there.

The whole town of Zakynthos was flat- tened by the disastrous earthquakes and the subsequent fires of 1953. Almost every great and noble house of the Venetian period fell. The new town began in the old pattern but then the greedy types took over as they always do. The houses now resem- ble the Greek style, the modern one, which makes Zante a pretty ugly place to be in.

Three quarters of Zante is covered by low mountains, and the island is green, full of pines, orchards, vineyards, and olive trees. My papa's lands are mostly inland, although we do own a large beach called Alexandra's on which we plan to build yet another modern horror in order to make enough money to support our lifestyle. This will be the first Taki-owned land to go commercial in over 200 years, something I'm hardly proud of but last time I tried to pay in a nightclub with an olive tree it was not appreciated. And in view of what I saw taking place last Sunday evening in the main square, Solomos Place, frankly my dear I don't give a damn any more. There I was, waiting to sail off into the night with daddy's stinkpot, when I be- came aware of some activity in the square. I wandered off to see what all the noise was about. It was a communist youth rally, a concert of sorts, one that gave away free books by Lenin, and free books by any writer who believes America to be the most oppressive and fascist state in the world. There was also a picture of Moscow on the screen and underneath it, 'Moscow, peace capital of the world'. I went back to the boat and told my father that I wouldn't give a damn even if he built a Hilton-like hotel on our beach. His eyes lit up. It seems there are ways communism can make someone happy.