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Poutsonissi
with Dr. Aristotelous Liverides

When my friend George at Fantasy travel suggested that I return to the island of Poutsonissi because the article I had written about it on my website was dated I first took offense. When I re-read it and realized I had gone there with my daughter in a baby carriage and that she was now 24 I had to admit that he was right. But while googling the island to see if hopefully nothing had changed and I could avoid an update or rewrite, I discovered that Poutsonissi was the island where Dr Aristotelous Liverides, one of Greece's most controversial 'intellectuals' was living in self-imposed exile after yet another of his projects failed to gain the respect of his peers, (or even some healthy criticism). Liverides, according to the article, now makes his home on the island where he "continues to write, engage in his passions of hunting and eating octopus, drinking retsina, and trolling people on Facebook." If I could combine an information gathering trip to Poutsonissi with an interview with Dr. Liverides it might be worth the trip.

The Works of Dr Aristotelous Liverides

Dr Aristotelous LavriridesOne problem with the collected works of Liverides is his belief that every word he has written is of the utmost importance to humanity and must therefore be spared from editors who are incapable of understanding his work no matter what their credentials are. And so we are asked to consume works like his ILLIAD: A MODERN SEQUEL, a plodding and ponderous 'epic' of some 6000 pages of pretentious speeches and people being hacked to death that begins with the Trojan war and continues until Greece's 2004 Euro-cup victory in Portugal. Or his THUS SPAKE ZARETHUSTRA which he claims is a translation from German to Greek of Frederick Nietzche's well known book, though it is four times the length of the original and most scholars describe it as incomprehensible. This could possibly be explained by Liverides later admission that all the German he knows he learned by watching Wings of Desire and Das Boot.

Liverides-Garden of EdenHis endeavors in music are no less controversial. Classically trained, he claims to have studied under Theodorakis and Xarhakos though neither remember him (and both hung up on me when I tried to interview them about him). He put out several albums in various styles, none of which sold, until in defiance he put out his 12 CD musical 'epic' which he called 'In the Garden of Eden', a symphony for orchestra and bouzouki which raised more than a few eyebrows in the small world of Greek Classical Music, especially when it was pointed out by a young musicologist that the entire work was a variation on the theme of Iron Butterfly's 'Ina-gada-davida'. (The drum solo is 2 CDs long and I use the term 'drum' with suspicion since much of it sounds like someone beating on a table top and running it through various effects). Lyrically, the album attempts to lay forth the philosophy of Liverides, that the world is screwed up beyond repair and we are all doomed. And just in case the listener does not 'get it', (a common problem with much of his work), each CD comes with a series of original paintings, done of course by Liverides in a style that might be called childlike, if anyone wanted to take the time to label it as anything besides bad art. Needless to say the album bombed.

Most people know Dr Liverides from his letters to the editor and opinion pieces that have appeared in many Greek newspapers, mainly because he complains so passionately about things that nobody else cares about; the slowness of supermarket checkout lines because of the over-prescribing of anti-depressants, how wearing motorcycle helmets actually causes brain damage, why Athenians don't eat pigeons and other nonsensical subjects. Most people believe that the reason Dr Liverides gets so many of his articles and letters published is because they distract people from real news. Eventually even the newspapers stopped publishing his letters and Liverides in a fit of childish anger declared that the whole country was too stupid to understand his works and he was going to America where genius and talent is appreciated. It was there in the USA that fortune finally found Liverides when an American publisher of children's books discovered and translated into English the educational series that he had written in the eighties with a grant from the Greek government, when his best friend happened to be the Minister of Education.

Liverides Book

Though the US sales were just OK he did receive a nice advance and with that money he bought the house in Poutsonissi where he now lives.

Preparation and Journey to Poutsonissi

He insists people address him as Doctor, but the school which he claims to have received his degree, University of Missichussets, does not seem to exist. As he later explained to me, it is a little known branch of Harvard University located somewhere in the southern USA, he forgot where exactly, because it was a long time ago. But through Google I did manage to find an Aristotelous 'Harry' Liveridis who had a Business degree from Deree College in Agia Paraskevi, who liked fast girls, loose cars, and Porto Fino Pizza and from that I was able to track him down. Getting an interview with Dr Liverides was not easy. The first 6 times I called him he screamed at me to stop bothering him and hung up. The seventh time he called the police who actually came to my apartment and arrested me. I had to appear before a magistrate and prove that I really was a journalist and I really did want to interview him. It took two weeks of paperwork and visits to different government offices before I got a paper that cleared me of the charges which I could show to the police if Dr Liverides tried to have me arrested again. I could also show the paper to him to prove my intentions and that I was not some stalker or crazed fan. It seemed like going to Poutsonissi to see Dr. Aristotelous Lavirides was more difficult than going to Mount Athos or going to Rome for an audience with the Pope. However the next time I called him, to my surprise he sounded genuinely pleased to hear my voice like I was an old friend he had not heard from in many years. He even invited me to Poutsonissi so he could show me the island and tell me about his latest projects. I was beginning to think he thought I was someone else and I did not want to ruin it by telling him I was the guy who called him six times who he had arrested. I decided I would just be whoever he wanted me to be and get the interview and the tour of Poutsonissi. And if he freaked out when I showed up and wasn't who he thought I was, I had the paper from the police which at the very least was like a get out of jail free card.

Arrival on Poutsonissi

George's tavernaAfter getting off the ferry from Pireaus it took me awhile to find the house of Dr Liveridis. The directions he gave me were terrible. If he had given me directions for NOT finding his house they would have been better. I was not sure I was on the right island. Not one street, not one landmark existed. Finally I gave up and started asking directions to the house of Kyrio Liverides but people either didn't know or wouldn't tell me, like they didn't want him to have visitors. I made my way back to the port and sat at Pseftikos Taverna and ordered a Mythos. I asked the waiter if he knew Dr Liveridis and he ignored the question. It was hopeless. I decided to have lunch and then explore the island on my own and catch the last ferry back to Pireaus or Aegina. I ordered some grilled sardines, throwing the bones to a cat, who was joined by a stray dog, one of those streetwise dogs you see all over Greece that look like Tramp in Disney's Lady and the Tramp. I handed him the skeleton of a sardine which he ate happily. I patted his head and noticed a name tag on his collar. MY NAME IS MITSO. PLEASE RETURN ME TO DR. ARISTELOUS LIVERIDES.

MitsoSo all I have to do is wait for Mitso to get hungry or bored and then follow him and hopefully he will lead me to Dr Liverides. In that case I better not feed him anymore sardines. But as soon as I stop giving him food he moves to another table where a Greek-American family are eating paidaikia. One of the boys tosses a bone to Mitso. Oh no! I could be here all day. I go to their table and ask them to please not feed the dog. They ask me why not.
"He has allergies" I tell them. It was the only thing I could think of.
"He has an allergy to lamb chops?" Asked the little girl.
"Yes" I replied.
"What about pork?" Asked the little boy gnawing on the bone of a hirini brizola.
"Yes he is allergic to pork too. He is allergic to meat".
"Can I give him some bread?" Asked the girl.
"No. He has Celiacs disease. Please don't give him anything. Not even water. And don't pet him. He has mange" I said, looking directly at the mother.

Just as I turned to go back to my table the owner of the taverna came out with a giant bone. "Yia sou re Mitso" he yelled and tossed it to the dog.
I turned to the family. "He's not allergic to cow's feet. That's the only thing he can eat."

Mitso the dogMitso must have spent two hours on that bone before finally getting up. I followed him hoping he would lead me to Dr Liverides but it became obvious that he was walking around town showing his giant bone to every dog he knew. Then when he ran out of dogs to impress he started looking for somewhere to bury his bone. But every time he found a suitable spot and started digging he would see me watching him and pick up his bone and go somewhere else. It was a completely hopeless situation. I was following this dog so he would lead me to his owner but the dog thought I was following him so I could steal his bone.

Unfortunately Mitso was my only connection to Dr Liverides so my only chance was to keep following him and hope he got tired of digging and just went home. In fact this was exactly what happened and though the dog tried to lose me I eventually found myself in front of a gate with a hand painted sign that read THE FAMOUS DR A LIVERIDES PH.D. Entering the yard right behind Mitso I was astonished. Those who live in the USA probably know what I mean when I talk about having neighbors that nobody wants to live next to. You know the people whose yard looks like a construction site with trees that died before they ever got planted, six cars in the driveway with two on cinder blocks and the rest with flat tires or being used as outdoor closets, and a dog that barks all day tied up in the yard where the grass is three feet tall and several lawn mowers were left where they died. Dr Liverides had the Greek version of that with dozens of dead plants in pots, old broken farm equipment, machinery rusting next to the tools they were being fixed with, a dozen or so cats missing fur and/or body parts and a strange vehicle that looked like a bicycle which had a normal front tire but the back was a tread, like a tank.

I was about to turn around and go back to the ferry when the front door opened and Dr Liverides appeared. "Ahhhh hello Mitso. You have brought a friend home. And what's this you have in your mouth?"

I started to introduce myself but Livrides began swearing, chasing the frightened Mitso around the yard. "Gamoto vromoskilo! Give me that Goddamn bone!" He managed to corner the dog and wrestled the bone out of his mouth and threw it on the roof of the house.

I thought he had forgotten about me and started backing towards the garden gate when he greeted me.

"Hello there. I'm sorry about the ruckus. The villagers give him bones so he will come home and get sick and make a mess all over the house. It's intentional I tell you. They know Mitso is deathly allergic to beef."

I attempt to introduce myself but clearly he has no interest in who I am or what I am doing here. Liverides takes me by the elbow. "Come" he tells me. "I know you want to see my library. It is the best on the island". We go into his study. There is a large desk with a big ashtray full of cigarettes, so many that they are tumbling out on to the wooden surface which is full of cigarette burns. In the corner is a small office trash basket full of empty cans of Heineken, these too are tumbling out on to the floor like they are trying to escape. Behind his desk are his degrees. Sure enough one of them is from Deree College, though it is a 2 year associate degree in business. Next to it is his degree from the University of Missichussets though the word Doctorate is clearly written in magic marker over whatever word was whited out. He points to an impressive bookcase, filled with books, so many that like the cigarette butts and the beer cans they are falling off the shelves. On close inspection these are not the books you would expect from a man of letters like Dr. Liverides. No collected works of Plato. No classics. No histories or books on politics or philosophy. In fact except for the books he has written, his collection is the kind of stuff you find in a hotel that the guests have left behind because they finished them and were too heavy to carry home.

"Impressive", I tell him. "But where is your Kazantzakis collection?"

This was a mistake I realized right away.

"Kazantzakis?!! You call him a writer? I am ten times the writer Kazantzakis was!! My Illiad is six times longer than his silly Odyssey. And if the media had not turned against me my masterpiece would have put Zorba in his grave a long time ago."

I knew exactly what he was referring to. Liverides had written a novel that he was sure would eclipse Zorba the Greek and make him and his character more famous than Kazantzakis and Zorba. It didn't work out that way. Not only did the critics hate it before it was even released but it did not sell one copy in Greece. In fact people would steal it from the book shops and burn it. It is hard to imagine a book that could provoke such animosity from people who had not even read it. The fault was undoubtedly in the title which his publisher begged him to change to no avail: Alexander the Macedonian.

Around Poutsonissi with Dr Liverides

Dr Liverides at the beachDr Liverides asks me if I would like some tea or a drink. I would love a drink. I need a drink. But the kitchen sink is piled high with dirty dishes, and there are classes and cups on every flat surface. Some with cigarette butts in them, some with moldy substances that were probably once liquids, and some with cat food in them. Unless I can drink straight from the bottle I don't see how having a drink here would not be dangerous to my health.

"Actually I was hoping you could show me around the island. Maybe give me a tour of your favorite places after being here so many years out of the public eye. You see I am a journalist doing a story about you and I am certain your many fans would love to know what your life is like now." I lied. " And I think I have a pretty clear idea about your home life so I'd like to show them how you interact with the locals. And maybe we can stop for a drink on the way. My treat."

PoutsonissiDr Liverides said this seemed like a fine idea and as he searched his house for his wallet, or house keys or perhaps his other flip-flop he gave me a little introduction to Poutsonissi that sounded like it came word for word out of Wikipedia. While he was rambling on I checked my iPhone and sure enough it was the description of Poutsonissi on Wikipedia. Word for word including footnotes. Indeed he was brilliant or at least had a photographic memory. But could he give me the kind of personal information about the island that a local or someone who has chosen personal exile would know? This remained to be seen but if he could recite Wikipedia while hopping around on one foot then surely he must know something about the island that I would not be able to figure out on my own in the short time I had here.

"Did you have any trouble finding the place" he asked me. I chose to interpret this question in a way that would enable me to avoid telling him that I had spent a better part of the morning watching, waiting and following his dog.

"It was quite easy. I just looked at the ferry schedules and caught the first boat from Pireaus." I replied. "But I almost got off the boat on the wrong island, the one with the giant bronze statue of the Ancient Greek warrior that straddles the entrance to the harbor. As we passed underneath I looked up and wondered is this Poutsonissi? But then I saw all the venders selling those little tins of meat if realized it must be Spamos."

"Yes, that statue is the Colossus of Spamos. Many people get confused by it. But supposedly they are working on that a solution to that problem, though the ministry of culture is divided as to whether they should make briefs, boxers or the traditional Achaean G-string."

Skoumbri"Poutsonissi has two ports. Skoumbri is where you came in if you took the ferry, and Skatahori which as the name implies is the bureaucratic capital, which you would have arrived in if you had taken the Flying Dolphin. It seems kind of silly to have two ports on such a small island but they are only about 15 minutes apart if you are walking. Most tourists stay in Skoumbri which has plenty of hotels, many right on the beach though they are all pretty awful. For families with small children you can't really beat it though since the parents can get drunk within a few feet of the sea and hopefully save their children before they swallow too much seawater.

Each town has a restaurant with very good food and nice views that I go to regularly, the kind of island tavernas you can have a meal and spend the rest of the day drinking wine and watching the sea. In Skoumbri it's Pseftikos's, which overlooks the harbor all by itself. It is one of those magerefta restaurants where they cook everything in the morning and it is rotten by dinner time. And in Skatahori it's Vlachos, which has authentic Greek food cooked by illegal immigrants. Besides those there are two other places in Skoumbri that I love though they are seasonal. One is a Pizzeria called Mr Pizza-face which has better stone oven pizza and homemade ravioli than anywhere I have found in Athens in all these years. Try their squid pizza.  The other, called Toxicotis, is home cooking in a totally tourist looking place, with no view though. But that hardly matters because the food is spectacular cooked by Otis himself. Freshest octopus I have ever eaten. So fresh it squirted me with ink, grabbed my fork and tried to stab me with it. There is another village called Kleftohori which is about ten minutes drive from here. It's about as unspoiled a place as you will find and there are no hotels and not even a bar and it's not on the beach, and there is no reason you would even want to go there except it has a really great restaurant called Uncle Chin's. It's Chinese or Arabic or something.

Poutsonissi beachDr Liverides continued... "The beaches on Poutsonissi are beautiful. In my opinion the best of the Greek islands. You have the usual town beaches in Skoumbri and Skatahori where you can rent a beach bed and fry in the sun and you are close to everything, tavernas, cafes, shops and people if you are into that sort of thing. I walk by there and you can actually smell the tourists sizzling. But walk between the two towns and along the coast there are small coves with pebble beaches or smooth rocks for sunbathing and pine forests that come right down to the sea that not only provide excellent shade but also are very useful for hiding behind because there are no toilets in the area.

Gymnifilakia is a remote pebble bathing suit optional beach in a beautiful setting about a 20 minute walk east from Skoumbri. Just keep walking on the dirt road and follow the empty soda cans and you will find it. You may not want to bring your kids, unless of course they are practicing nudists. There are some pretty terrifying bodies there.  Luckily path that goes down to the beach is too difficult for old people or it would be much worse. Bring water. Archidia is another isolated beach on the road to Kleftohori which is great for snorkeling if you get out past the sea-urchins for which it is named. Beyond Kleftohori is another beach called Apoutsos which has umbrellas and sun beds and a small ouzeri for food and drinks. Below Kleftohori is this place called Meganazi where sometimes I go snorkeling in the morning. But often in the afternoon the windsurfers and jet ski people come and it can be kind of dangerous.

As we continued walking I noticed we were heading back towards the port and I was surprised to see Dr Liverides stop at the ticket booth and purchase a ticket. The ferry was blowing its horn and several people with beach bags were running towards it. We walked to the end of the dock as the ferry started to raise its ramp and inch away.
"Are you going back to Athens today?" I asked him, looking at the ticket in his hand.
"Actually no", he said. "But you are." And with one motion he stuffed the ticket in my shirt pocket and pushed me on to the ferry just as it pulled away. I stood there in shock and watched Dr Liverides, Mitso, and the island of Poutsonissi grow smaller until a message alert on my phone broke the spell.

It was from Liverides.

"And don't put Poutsonissi in your stupid Greece Travel Guide!!!"

Poutsonissi from Ferry

Poutsonissi Tourist Information

One of the most popular hotels on Poutsonissi is the Poutsonissi Club. It is the kind of place where guests come back year after year and feel like family. Peacefully located amongst pine trees on a cliff 50 feet above the sea, the Poutsonissi Club Hotel offers sea views overlooking the neighbouring island of Aegina. Services include free Wi-Fi, free port transfer and bike/car rental. The hotel has a restaurant and a bar and is a minute walk from the sea. The narcissistic beach of Gymnifilakia is a 5-minute walk through the pine trees, and the village centre, with shops, bars and tavernas, is just 1,650 feet from the hotel. They do get booked full very quickly so if you are interested you can see more photos and booking information on Booking.com's Poutsonissi Club Page

You can also find more hotels on Poutsonissi on Booking.com's Poutsonissi Page

If you need assistance with hotels and ferries you can use Matt Barrett's Create an Itinerary Page or contact any of the Athens Travel Agencies.

See my step by step instructions for going on your own to a Greek island at www.greektravel.com/lesson1

For Transfers to Pireaus for the ferry or from Pireaus to your hotel see George the Famous Taxi Driver

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