Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Isle of Hydra, misleadingly, does not have any magical creatures

I left Alberobello, Italy with a stuffy nose but happy to know I was meeting up with my sister Whitney in Athens, Greece in a few days. After traveling alone for over a month it was so great to see a familiar face, though I felt bad for making Whitney carry twice her body weight to Europe and back with things I had forgotten or wanted to send home. We tried unsuccessfully to eat "Greek" food in Athens and headed first to the island of Hydra, a two hour hydrofoil ride from Athens. Our definition of Greek food might have been skewed though, and it was probably more similar to an American going to Spain and demanding a Nachos Supreme with extra sour cream.

The isle of Hydra is very small in size when compared to most other Greek islands and is unique in that it does not allow any motorized vehicle transportation at all [excluding the three garbage trucks that are used to maintain the entire island]. Even bicycles aren’t used, though we could never figure out if it was just due to the frequent elevation changes or if they were actually outlawed, though I would guess the former. The latter sounds like a bad anti-public transportation "Big Brother" mentality. So the modes of transportation available on land come down to your own two feet or a donkey. The removal of the automobile has had drastic effects on the makeup of building on the island as well as the infrastructure. Besides having slightly more feces on the ground than a North Carolina State Fair, it is also completely devoid of asphalt [the material needing a heavy steam roller to be done properly for roads]. Breaking the heavy shackles of car reliance has allowed the streets and stairs of the island to become one and the same; a marriage of ramps, portals, bridges, and landings.

When you first get into the port you assume the donkeys to be a quick way to make a few bucks off of foreigners, but in reality, they are an extremely integral part of the movement of goods and people. All building supplies for new structures or repairs are carried in large bags on the sides of the four-legged trudging animals. Eyor, one of the best characters ever created [in my opinion], aptly sums up donkeys, as they all seem extremely depressed. Just looking into their eyes makes you want to cry, and I’ve heard they have the second highest suicide rates under dentists. Most of the density of the island happens near the edges of the water, as the higher you go, the more difficult it is to move materials. There are only three main villages and the rest of the island remains basically uninhabited near the center. Whitney and I went for a hike into the interior and only saw one unusually nice monk, eight dirty sheep, and 112 hoboesque cats the whole day.

Besides its raw untamed landscape though, the real beauty of Hydra lies in its connections between buildings. Since the car is taken out of the equation, the paths are freed to move with the topography and morph into each other. Many of the large streets that run up the hills also double as a rudimentary storm water drainage system. Instead of channeling the water underground, the entire street is lowered about two feet below most other paths and brings the water out directly into the ocean. Some roads split as if a fissure opened up the earth separating them in two, many times to create one steeper stair for humans and one lower grade one for donkeys.

In his book on stairs, Charles Moore talks about the importance of the spaces of circulation to not only move people from one point to the other, but to create spaces for gathering and inhabitation. Streets slowly become ramps, which in turn go higher and transition seamlessly into stairs, with some places incredibly hard to define because of their complexity of grade change. The late and great Louis Kahn regarded the street as the room of the city, with the walls being the buildings and the ceiling the sky, and Hydra looks to be taking that comment seriously.

Thoughts on Traveling #8 : Kids in Southern Europe do not wait for holidays to dress up in costumes. They do it during the day, and they do it often. Check out Zorro about to snag this guy.

1 comment:

Tasha said...

You went to Hydra!! It's absolutely beautiful isn't it? I stayed there with my family up on the hill for a week. We counted the steps to get up to our place once. I think it was somewhere in the 300s...