Ms Smaragda Papastylianou is the sole resident of the historic Byzantine-era village Anavatos, in Chios island, known also as the “Mystras of the Aegean”. I met her during a trip there, hearing the locals speaking about the 72 year-old “guardian angel” of Anavatos. I found her enjoying her coffee at a cosy little tavern; I introduced myself and she began telling me her story, about how she ended up being all alone in a village 23 kilometers away from the island’s capital.
Smaragda was born in Piraeus in 1942. “Α Piraeus girl, born and bred”, she says with pride. Nevertheless, she decided to leave the port city as soon as she was 20, wishing to live somewhere less crowded and quieter. At first, she moved to Sfakia, in Crete, her mother’s hometown and worked as a decorator. “I had a place to stay there and it was away from the capital. Back then, it was tranquil”, she recalls. “But not for long”.
Explaining her decision to move for a second time, from Sfakia to Anavatos, she sighs. “I’ve been living here permanently for almost 23 years”. This place was familiar to her as a child, since she used to come with her parents and grandparents. “Every day here seems different”.
The old lady used to have neighbours in the past. They were only three and they eventually died, as years passed. “My companions have passed away long ago, but I do not feel lonely. You know, dear, I’m not keen on crowded places”, she stresses, “and that’s why I still live here”. Loneliness must be routine for Smaragda, so I ask her how does she cope with it. “I chose to live this way and I don’t feel alone. I have no many things to do that there is no time left to think about my solitude. Besides, I have my animals, whom I take care of constantly”, she replies.
Smaragda gets up early every morning, takes care of her animals, tends to her garden and cooks her daily meal. TV keeps her company, but she has also regular phone calls with people from other villages. Once in a month, she visits Chora (the main town, as it’s called in most Greek islands) to buy her groceries. Unfortunately, the bus stop near her area was removed, so, for the trip, “I usually have to pay for a taxi. But sometimes others share the fare to help me”.
The 72-year-old pensioner does not enjoy the best health either. A few months ago she had a mild stroke incident, which she came through thanks to the assistance of locals of the village Avgonima, about 4km from Anavatos. “Just a phone call and they ran for me. May they be well”, she says. In winter, in the weekends at least, several locals who own a country house in Anavatos come by. “They want to check on their properties and see if I’m ok”, she explains.
A remnant of the War for Independence
Today, Anavatos is an officially designated historical site, enjoying national protection. It was built on a rock, 450 meters above the sea, surrounded by steep hills from the west and south, accessible from the north. Of course, it has great history; Smaragda unravels a bit of it: “When the Massacre of Chios took place, in 1822, approximately 3,000 people lived in Anavatos. Those who managed to get away were saved, but many had fled here from several other villages as well. Many jumped off the cliff. Those who survived kept the village alive, till the catastrophic earthquake of 1881. My grandfather left and went across to Smyrna [Izmir, in today’s Turkey]. In 1922, after the Disaster [referring to the Asia Minor Disaster during the Greco-Turkish war] he took off to Piraeus. This is how I always remembered the village and my home; that’s why I opted to stay”.
Finally, I ask her whether she would ever think of residing to another, perhaps more populous, town of Chios. Her response is unequivocal, before saying goodbye: “I am happy up here. I’ve conciliated with reality and I enjoy my way of life. I would not change it at all”.
Published originally in Greek, 18 Aug 2014
Author: Vasso Asmanidou
Editing, translation: Alex. Moutzouridis