earthquakes sparked massive migrations of people from the island, and the population now stands at only 2,500. For many of the natives,
Ithaca has become their holiday home, and the population dwindles to about 2,000 in winter, when many return to Athens. Of the permanent
residents, a large number are pensioners. There are few options for breadwinners here, and a large percentage of the men turn to the sea.
Sophias father was one such. Captain of Aristotle Onassis Olympic Champion, he died on a voyage, of a heart attack, in 1972. He never
had the opportunity to return home.
I am meeting Sophias family. "You speak Greek?" asks her cousin Dino in broken English.
"No" I reply, "just galatoboureka, baklava, dolmades, slovakia..."
"No thats a small Eastern European country!" Sophia reminds me, "souvlaki is the meat on a stick!"
Dino was Sophias fathers protégé. First working on Olympic Champion, and now himself a ships captain, he is away for months at a time.
Gratefully now he is back to spend the summer with his wife Despo, and sons Alexandre and Yanko. He is also the closest thing to a father
that his sister Katerinis two twenty-something daughters know. Katerinis husband, too, died while away when her daughters were young.
Also of a heart attack.
Katerinis husband has been gone now for fifteen years. Until just two years ago, she wore only black.
Dino regales us with stories of Sophias father, George: "He was a strict man, but fair," he remembers fondly.
He had been like a father to Dino.
While sorting through Georges personal things a few days later, amongst his Latin American dance records, Sophia came across his Star Finder
and Identifier, issued by the US Navy and Hydrographic Office. It states: "Owing to the imperfect nature of the survey, this plan must be used
I ask thirteen-year-old Alexi what his favourite subject is at school. History, he says.
"What are they studying in history?" I enquire.
"Mythologia" he replies. Mythology is history I wonder? But this is Ithaca.
"Does Alexi like to read" I continue. "No," he says,
but he likes to watch television. Cartoons. I notice that hes wearing a Mickey Mouse t-shirt.
"Whats mouse in Greek?" I ask. "Pontiki."
"Mickey Pontiki!" I say. We laugh.
"Aunty Smiles" (as Sophia calls her), a neighbour from a few doors down, invites us to dinner. She wears the customary black of the Ithacan
widows, and her home is cluttered with mismatched pictures on the walls, family photographs, and porcelain ornaments. "Next time you come back,
you must come with your husband," she tells Sophia.
"Tell her," I ask Sophia to translate "that these days women are less concerned with finding husbands,
and more caught up in their careers."
"Yes" she responds, "but its nice to have a companion."
On this we three agree.
The little 'islet' Lazareto, across the bay from her house, has a long history. Once it was a leper colony.
Later it became a prison. But in the earthquakes of 1953, the prison was