Where the spring wanders in the forests of olive

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“Lesvos is a vast olive trees forest”, that’s how an article begins in the official site of Lesvos municipality. The dominant cultivation of the island, with the corresponding impact in the life of local people, is the olive trees and that is what this article tries to represent us. Almost 11 million of olives have covered the place since people replaced the vineyards because of a disease. Lesbians worked hard by sculpting the mountains to plant olives for saving the place and their lives. As a consequence was the creation of olives monoculture and of a tradition around this tree which is alive and evolving until nowadays.

Once the wild olives of the island were spread by the birds even across the borders to the Asia Minor coasts, the author mentions and makes me wonder: Why those birds didn’t spread the seeds from Asia Minor to this Greek island or it was like the cultural seeds of the “Lesvos’ spiritual spring”?

(Screenshot of the site)

In this island where poor hard working people lived most of their lives into the olive trees forests, a spring occurred. In the years between 1910 until 1932 a big open cultural phenomenon appears which was known as “Lesvos’ spiritual spring”. The following snapshot refers to a trailer of a documentary created recently (2017) for this unique to Greek province phenomenon. This documentary tries to highlight and inform us about, as it is not a well known phenomenon for most of the Greeks, even for most of the Lesbian people, from my own experience. In this period of time in Lesvos many important littérateurs created a movement and through publications (newspapers, magazines, books, etc) exerted influence all over the Greece and to the Asia Minor coasts. This spring wasn’t only in literature but in a variety of creative fields like essays, theatrical plays, poetry and arts generally. Maybe the most important impact of this movement was the spread of the type of Greek language, the one we use today. The documentary shifts between historical documents, nowadays interviews and sight views of Lesvos, lined with music of the local tradition. This trailer intriguing you to see the full movie and makes me wonder where I can find it…  

View of the old Mytilene
(Snapshot of the trailer)

The local music tradition is one of the basic cultural ingredients to feel the place and the people of the island of Lesvos, as it springs from the experiences and the feelings of them. Hence, the very favorite for locals and representative listening of the island, at the link below, historically born when the first motorized olive mill constructed in a Lesvos’ village named Agiaso. The name of this instrumental track is “ta ksila” (the woods) because it played spontaneously, in the streets of the village, to celebrate the placement of the woods that supported the roof of the construction. Along with the music alternates a narration of local traditions and Greek history through the paintings of a very important painter of Greece who originates from Lesvos. The name of him is Theofilos and I wonder: had Theofilos ever danced this music?

The woods
(Snapshot of the music video)

So let’s see the established brief story of the most well known painter of Greece who lived between 1968/71-1934. He born and lived his first and last years in Lesvos. He was a left handed weak child depressed from his family and excluded from others. Hence, he gradually isolated and found a shelter in painting which he learned from his grandfather. He escaped at a very young age in Izmir where he developed his painting style and shaped his themes. He finally worked as a painter inspired by the antiquity of Greece, Byzantium, modern history and people’s everyday life, until the Greek-Turkish war at the end of the century, when he removed back  in Greece to Volos city. Because of his traditional dressing and his odd behavior people were teased him but he stayed there for almost thirty years working as a painter who paints houses, stores and getting as payment just a plate of food. After a great ridicule he decided to leave and return to Lesvos. That period some Greek intellectuals discovered his talent and gave him painting orders for maybe the most important of his pictures. He unfortunately died on March 24 in 1934, a year before his recognition, in an exhibition with his works in Paris.

Those information become from a site that its posts is about what happened every day of the year and represents Theofilos with the most accepted and dominant profile. However, this profile for other researchers does not represent him adequately and just serves the model of the artist that justifies and satisfies his heroisation in a society that needed to cover a gap for Greek painting production of this period of time. Nevertheless, what we can accept is that he was a controversial personality. Only his paintings bear witness to the wandering of his life and I do not wonder about those words that are referred to as his own:

“I do not know the history like the teachers from the books do. I know it as the place and its songs spell it. The history is a wind that you can understand it when you breathe it”

The gathering of the olives
Theophilos Hatzimichail, 1933

This last document of my search appears as the very first result of the English key words “Lesvos immigrants” and it is posted in the Guardian’s official site. It is an article that refers to the creation of a wooden shelter into the olive groves of Lesvos, for all those refugees and immigrants (around 10000), who are still arriving in the island from 2015. The article comments on both the generosity and the fears created to the local people since this human movement, the largest of humanity since the Second World War. The given support focused to the people of Middle East and Africa, arrived in the island and neglected the needs of the local people. This management caused polarization between the refugees and the local population which was also needed support in this situation. Through testimonies, are presented incidents that make us aware of the sufferings for both sides. The article seems to have the purpose to present the ideas and the activity of a Dutch humanitarian group of independent business “Movement on the Ground”. This movement focuses on the creation of a structured environment, on new jobs positions and on the promotion of the idea of collaboration. The main goal, as it is presented, is to enable fraternization between all the people who live in Lesvos and replicate their approach in other places of Greece.  

The Guardian
(Screenshot of the site)

Following the advice of Theofilos I spent a year in the island to “breathe the air” with a focusing on the cultural impact of this situation. What I saw was a great meeting of cultures, regardless of the reasons that led them to meet. People from all over the world try to create and apply new models of multicultural living, exerting influence not only on Greece but internationally. Old houses repaired to host the new residents, new places opened to cover new needs, musical events organized, theatrical plays, music events, artistic collaborations, flavors’ exchanges, documentaries, international summer schools and many more cultural exchanges are carried out since 2015. From my own point of view, apart from the drama of the refuges and looking at the cultural wandering of the place through the history, what I can see is another cultural spring of Lesvos, which makes me finally wonder:

In the island where birds are transferring seeds between continents, where the spring wanders in the forests of olive, where music narrates the facts, where paintings describes the life, where cultures from all over the world meet to invent future models of living….. who really nowadays walk its many paths?


  1. Jennie Gubner

    Paliotsios, what a beautiful multimodal essay you have created. What is so strong about this piece is how you guide us from one time period to another, taking one detail from each thing you found to lead us to the next and switching modes of representation from writing to music to painting to photography/writing again. It reads like an adventure, a sensorial, experiential walk through a city, but instead of using your feet you were virtually exploring history and place. I agree with Emma that having the music on as I continued to read about Theofilos and then about your experiences in Lesvos really enhanced my experience of the essay. This exemplifies so well the multisensory layered production of knowledge capable through multimodal scholarly works that combine writing with images, sounds, maps, etc in creative ways. We can easily just stick a picture of song into a text without thinking of how the reader will experience this, or we can try to craft experiences for our readers, drawing on artistic and creative sensibilities, that allow for an enhanced experience of learning.

    I loved Theofilos’ quote about breathing history, it speaks to the kind of embodied and sensorial knowledge produced when we push past the representations of history and current events that are fed to us through dominant mediated narratives. It also speaks to the legitimacy of different kinds of histories, history as plural not singular, as produced through perspectives of individuals who perceive things. Thank you for your work!

  2. Paliatsios Georgios

    Great!!! We can exchange our thoughts and generate a more advanced approach. Moreover, for me the collective creation is much more advanced than the sum of individual, as I believe that the core of a creation is the process and what we exchange in it. We are planning with Ero to arrive a few days earlier in the island…

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