When I was little my mother used to tell me fairy tales about handsome princes who traveled to isolated parts of the world so they could live like simple humans. ‘They just needed to take off their expensive clothes and walk barefoot on the sand,’ she said. But, actually, it was not a fairy tale she had in mind. It was an island, whitewashed under the Greek sun. It was Mykonos.
My mother first visited the island in the ’70s, when she got engaged to my father. At that time, the ships would not go to any port. The people were transferred from the coast to smaller boats, and the first thing they saw were rocks and some small, white houses. Fishermen and donkeys carried the flour from the windmills. At that time, nothing on the island reminded anyone of parties, lights, luxuries, or drunk people on the streets. It was just nature, pure, beautiful, and great in its simplicity!
This simplicity was exactly what gave Mykonos a sense of freedom in all its aspects. Local people, small boats, white streets, and a way of life very different from that of the big cities caught the interest of the young Athenians. Intellectual and bohemian personalities of the period arrived at Mykonos in search of an alternative way of living. Politicians, businessmen, and other people that later became powerful spent their summers in Mykonos during the 1950s, partying, falling in love, and discovering their own paradise in post-war Greece.
Very rich people like Aristoteles Onassis and Stavros Niarchos began to arrive in Mykonos in the ’50s with their personal jets. In 1954, Queen Frederica organized a cruise to the Greek islands for the princes and princesses of Europe. All of them were impressed by Mykonos, and for the first time, the foreign press wrote about this small Cycladic island which was full of charms. Rumor has it that on that trip a wounded, almost dead pelican was found. The bird was transferred to the center of the island and nursed back to health. Petros the Pelican became famous and was established as a symbol of the island’s magic.
The cosmopolitan magazines and the famous newspapers around the world began to mention Mykonos as a unique destination. Pictures of popular actors like Marlon Brando, Grace Kelly, and Richard Burton together with the Greek actress Melina Mercouri, showing how much they enjoyed their summers in Mykonos, made the best publicity the island could ever dream of. Jackie Kennedy visited Mykonos, too, eventually, in 1961. It was, of course, love at first sight! Aristoteles Onassis, owner of Olympic Airlines, constructed the first airport on the island. Konstaninos Karamanlis, the young Prime Minister of Greece, also fell in love with Mykonos back then. Until the end of his days, he returned every summer to spend his holidays in the simplest way, together with his beloved Mykonian friends.
In the 1970s, gay couples discovered Mykonos. On the island, nobody judged them. The people there were so easy-going that even Elizabeth Taylor or Rita Hayworth could walk by them in the streets and they would not pay attention. Rich people, like Soraya, the so-called ‘sad princess,’ used to come to Mykonos to ‘feel free’ again. Poets, singers, fashion designers, actors, and models… they all loved Mykonos for this liberating atmosphere and made it their own shelter in the middle of the Aegean sea.
‘You would see the most beautiful girls and boys of the world here, with magnificent bodies, messy hair, passing by almost naked. They may have been princes or businessmen or Hollywood stars, but here they were walking around like the poor, totally care-free, totally happy.’ My mother still remembers those days as among the best periods she has ever witnessed.
Whenever I read about the crazy prices of the restaurants, the cheap entertainment, the people that open bottles of champagne for low quality singers, and the young ones, often dragged, screaming ‘Mykonooooooos,’ I wish I could travel back in time. I wish I could stroll around the beaches of Mykonos with a donkey, among charming foreigners, with no more luxuries than the sun, the rocks, and the big blue…