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Ithaca has given me space to develop A walk and talk with Ester van Zuylen

I don’t know what exactly made the changes in me, maybe the place, maybe my age, but I’ve learned to go with the flow, accept things more. There were a lot of problems to adapt, to interact with the people and find a place for yourself here. So I found my place by walking, by taking people for walks and hikes in the mountains and all around. And I thought of this on my own... I thought, “I can do this. This would be good to do.” This has meant a lot to me. I feel very lucky.

The environment is what keeps me going here. What you see around you, the mountains, the sea, the rocks, the nature, I feel very connected with it….more than with the people. Of course you connect with the people as well, automatically, but this is why I started walking.

I’ve always had it in me, even as a child. I remember when I was small, I would go outside and play around by myself outside and felt happy. In my life, I’ve been living in cities and all over the place, so when I came here, I re-found this connection with nature. And I think it’s a very important thing for every human being to feel this connection./you can enlarge the images by clicking on them /
Almost right away, I felt grounded here, an affinity with nature. You know….the dramatic change of weather. Some say they like nature, but they don’t like the extremity of it, its dangerous. We have earthquakes here, really severe storms here, but I feel safe even though nature can be threatening./you can enlarge the images by clicking on them /

When I came to Ithaca 13 years ago I started doing guided walks, because I love walking and the island is good for that. Ithaca was always known as 'the home of Odysseus' and people I walked with asked me about that. I immersed myself in the Odyssey and realized the importance of it. Not only for Ithacans and the Greek identity but also for every individual, as the story of the Odyssey is symbolic of the life journey. I made a special Homeric tour to bring the story alive and to show people how archeologists in the past have been looking for proof that present day Ithaca is actually the same as the island Homer describes. Some Ithacans actually believe they are descendants of Odysseus.

There are indications, considering the finds in the archeological museum of Stavros, that there was a cult on Ithaca, until the 1st or 2nd century, of worship to Odyssey./you can enlarge the images by clicking on them /
/you can enlarge the images by clicking on them /

The big mystery about the excavations at Homer's School' is that the findings have never been published, as far as I know. Except from one article in an archeological magazine about 12 years ago. After the announcement in 2012 by prof. Papadopoulo, the archeologist, there was much excitement. She was convinced that the palace of Odysseus had been found. Everyone was awaiting her publications. But apparently there was no final proof. I was very interested in her motivations, why was she so sure? Her story has always been that the description of the palace, the part of the return of Odysseus and the killing of the suitors, fits the location and surroundings.

I want to show you a photo of a stone that has been found by the team of archeologists from the university of Ioannina, and a short article: 'A possible linear sign from Ithaki.' The image shows a man tied to the mast of a ship, and a sign that looks like a fork. The linear B was the script used by the Myceneans for trade transactions. In the article they keep to the facts: the stone is proven to be from Mycenean times. And the fork is possibly a linear sign. Archeology is very wary of interpretations, it is a science after all. I don't know where the stone is but it's a very important find. The image could be of Odysseus sailing past the sirens, one of the episodes in the Odyssey.
There is not a lot to see, but there is a lot to experience. /you can enlarge the images by clicking on them /

People who visit the site will expect some explanation, about what are these ruins? There isn't one and that's why I'm doing this tour. The excavations have stopped since 3 years and the professor died. Another mystery is that nobody ever continued. My guess is that there is some kind of power struggle going on, not only a question of money. Hopefully someday we will find out more. So if we consider this the home of Odysseus, it's the experience of being here, with this incredible view of the bay, over which Penelope looked out waiting for her husband to come back.

Of course I have connections to the locals who have lived here all their life, but they belong to another world really. There are things I can share with them, but I’m a stranger here and always will be. However, it doesn’t matter to me anymore. I feel at peace with myself and the way I live. /you can enlarge the images by clicking on them /
It has been difficult here in the sense that I don’t connect with everyone in the same way. To talk about things openly here is not very easy because people are like closed families. In Holland, we would have friends and we would discuss everything. /you can enlarge the images by clicking on them /

Some of the things I do don’t resonate with the local community, like my art. I don’t get much response here I’ve had several expositions here, in my garden, in the community center, in galleries….I put posters everywhere to advertise….but the locals were not very interested. They didn’t no how to deal with my art. But I got a lot of response from visitors. You don’t want to keep it all to yourself. You want to show it.

In winter I could travel because I don’t do my walks with tourists, but finances are very limited. So, I use my time well here. I do my art. /you can enlarge the images by clicking on them //you can enlarge the images by clicking on them /

I lived in different countries as a child and tried to find similarities in people everywhere. My idea is that we’re all connected. The organization of a country doesn’t matter to me. As long as I can be with the people, on the same level, it’s ok. The friends we have had mostly lived in foreign lands. They speak English and may be of Greek heritage but also have other influences. They have looked around, have been around. Those are the people I can relate to more.

I hope to become old and maybe even die here. If I can be independent and not suffer from disease - of course all people hope this. My fear would be to be 83 and have to go back to Netherlands and live in a home for old people. That would be dreadful. There is one elder home on Kefalonia. I’ve seen some older people from here, living alone and becoming helpless and they go to that home because they don’t have any family. But I’d rather die than live in such a home. My fear is that I would become dependent because we are foreigners. If you live here and you are Greek, you have your family. It’s very family orientated and they will never let each other down. There is always support. We don’t have that, it’s just the two of us. We have very good friends who are very helpful and in emergency situations our friends and neighbors have been helpful. But you can’t always depend on that. People have their own problems. /you can enlarge the images by clicking on them //you can enlarge the images by clicking on them /

Ithaca has given me space to develop. I’ve created my own way of life here. I’ve always felt living in an overdeveloped country like the Netherlands is very limiting. The rhythm of life wears you down. Here everything is slow. I definitely have learned to be aware of things, to be and to live in the moment. This is a big lesson we all need to learn - not to worry about past, the future. At some point I decided I wouldn’t worry anymore. It has been financially difficult to survive here. But I said to myself, “I have survived up to now….with all the difficulties we’ve had….and I’m still here. I’m not hungry, I’m not homeless.” So I said to myself, “Trust. Worrying too much will ruin your life.” This is a basic fear of people - not to have enough, to go hungry and be poor. But I never feel poor here because there’s always something to gather and pick…we have olives, we have almonds….and I make use of that. I’ve always liked to make something out of nothing. And here, if you look around, there’s always something to be creative with and also to feed yourself. Nature is our mother, feeding us. And so to be in an environment like this gives you true faith. I’ve learned that. I wouldn’t mind staying here all my life.

Being surrounded by sea, I don’t know how to explain this. I spent some time here and then went back to the Netherlands and I noticed I missed the sea. Of course we have sea in the Netherlands, but here, the sea is very important. It’s a calming but also very changing thing, always changing. There’s a flow that makes you go with it. Though I’m not a sailor or diver, I want to be in the sea, swimming, that feels very good. So to have the sea close by, I can easily walk down to get to it. When I leave my door, I’m in nature. That is a luxury. I can be alone and silent and that gives me peace, space in my head and inspiration of course. In nature, I’m communicating and I feel at home.

/you can enlarge the images by clicking on them /

Some ideas that seemed harmful to the island haven’t worked. It’s difficult to build an airport. There’s no flat land and I’m glad about that. There are lots of Greek islands that are totally focused on tourism. And we also have a focus on tourism here, but there are still patches of villages and families living traditionally. They make their living a bit from tourist activities but they’re also harvesting olives, etc. I think it’s important that that continues. Any development that is not intrusive or harmful to the environment is fine with me. There are lots of villas with swimming pools and the tourism board says this is what people want. But there’s not enough water and the sea is just 5 minutes down the road.

Ithaca is and should remain a place where people come for peace and quiet, a refuge from the crazy world. This is why most people come here, because its peaceful and the people are very welcoming. This is what happened to us, we felt very at home here. A lot of people come back after their first visit because they are treated in a welcome way. That’s a tribute to the people who live here. The Greek character in general is very hospitable – it’s in them. /you can enlarge the images by clicking on them /

The future depends on how things go. As long as I’m healthy and can continue to do my work, I’d like to stay here… indefinitely. A lot of people dream about moving to an island like this and they ask me, “How do you do it? Aren’t you worried about when you get old?” Sometimes I think about it. I have had some health issues where I’ve had to go to a hospital and I thought, “I’m not staying here. It’s so depressing.” The doctors are good, but there’s not enough nursing or facilities. So, I thought, if I get sick, I’ll go home to Holland for treatment. But I don’t see myself moving back, and my husband feels the same way. When the crisis started, my husband said, “No way, I’m not gonna move. I don’t want to go back to Holland.” He was very adamant about it. There might be some natural disaster, but if that doesn’t happen, we’re staying.

Released by MED Land project / photography, audio conversations, editing: BB / self-portrait: Ester van Zuylen / on-location team: Ester van Zuylen, Marko Vodanović, BB / research: Nejc Jordan, BB / transcript:Diane Kulpinski / text editing: Gaja Naja Rojec / >>> Ester contact : http://www.islandwalks.com/

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