In the main town of the Cycladic island of Paros, I found a quiet place on a familiar yet unexpected spot. On the southern end of the bay, slightly elevated over the rocks reaching into the sea, lies an old windmill that has been converted into a lovely spot called Alexandros Cafe, which overlooks the small harbor. Unlike the busy port at the other end of the bay, this tiny marina is sheltering the wooden kaikis, traditional boats fishermen use all over Greece. Swaying on the gentle beat of the Aegean blue, the boats patiently await their next journey.
Sitting with my eyes closed, I try to imagine this place as it was a hundred years ago. The town, then as now, is called Parikia, and had no more than a few sleepy houses around the old Venetian castle in the middle of the bay, mostly tinted in a light orange (a relic from before the 1930s, when they started being painted in today’s iconic white). And in front of me, an empty beach where fishermen would return at dawn, pull up the kaikis and fan out their worn-out nets to dry.
A lot has changed in the hundred years since. Buildings have popped up all around the bay. The small river flowing into the sea next to the marina has been paved over. Bars, clubs, and restaurants clutter a lively boardwalk. Winding, narrow streets are buzzing with cheerful tourists. And at the end of the bay, the windmills offer their frozen sails to unrelenting cameras. Only a few remaining fishermen seem to resist the changes, but most are getting old and these days the catch is seldom big enough to sustain themselves, let alone a family.
Paros has become the most visited island in the Cyclades after Santorini and Mykonos. But unlike the other two islands that attract visitors seeking luxury and exclusivity, Paros is a place for everybody. You can rent a villa with a private swimming pool for hundreds of dollars per day, or keep it simple and go camping; dance the night away in a pulsating nightclub, or enjoy a quiet coffee in a small village surprisingly unblemished by modern times; meet people from all over the world, from all over Greece, and from every walk of life. What a change for a tiny island that hardly had a visitor until foreigners started discovering the Greek islands in the 1960s and 70s!
Truman Capote was among the lucky ones to see Paros before it became a cosmopolitan hotspot. After finishing “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” he was looking for a quiet place to work, and in the summer of 1958, he spent four months in a hotel a few hundred meters south of my windmill perch. Today his former residence is no longer a hotel but houses the local city administration. The building sits atop a small hill and offers an impressive view of the blue horizon, precisely where the sun sets in the Aegean. Since there were no foreigners in Paros in Capote’s time, he became an attraction to the locals. This didn’t seem to bother him, as he spent most of his time writing and exploring his new home. Sad to leave, Capote would often think back on this small island in Greece, where he encountered nothing more than “sea, sun, and serenity.”
And eternity, one is inclined to add.
In the end, the changes over time have only been superficial. The crescent bay, the tan of the dry soil, and the horizon that fuses sky and sea together will always be the same. Sitting on the rocks by this windmill, I’m sure that anyone experiencing this very spot can’t help feeling its timeless nature.