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December 2018

Dear Friends of Kythera,

I wrote a Christmas newsletter on the plane to Australia, but the draft has disappeared and, considering all the other things which have to get done before Christmas, it was a real body-blow to have to start over. So if this all sounds a bit slap-dash and reconstituted, it is due to my lack of vigilance in backing up my drafts and my current lack of time...
Above: picture of Kapsali from 1971 and 2018 by visitor Diana Stratigos Garvey.
Diana Stratigos Garvey from the U.S. has sent me a report of her October trip to Kythera after an absence of 47 years. It's a great read and reminded me of many things which happened when I arrived on the island for the first time, like the abundance of possible relatives at every turn of the island's windy roads...

A Christmas church service which was held in Mitata in 2014, with the Bishop in attendance. Photo by Stephen Trifyllis.

The second text below is a piece celebrating the life of John Gianniotis, who sadly died earlier this month. He and his brothers used to kick around with my dad Vic back in the 1950s, and, right up to the end, Dad's eyes would brighten whenever any of the "Gianniotis Boys" and Bessy, their sister, were mentioned. Even my Grandmother Eleni was friendly with their mother Diamanta, so we go back quite a way. Dad and John were born in Australia to Kytherian-born parents, so it was both natural that they would have met through their Kytherian link and that, often unwelcome in many Anglo-circles – although they were Australian-born they were shunned as "wogs" by many locals – that they would hang-out with other young Greek-Australians, going on weekend jaunts or to a dance at the Paddington Town Hall or the legendary "Trocadero."
The Trocadero Club on George St. in Sydney, one of the venues where, from the 1930s to the 60s, Australians of all backgrounds went for a dance.
The next generation, to which I myself belong, still received our regular dose of Greek-Kytherian culture, at the very least at Easter when we went to pick up "Yiayia" at church and then go back to a big lamb, pastitsio, keftethes and vleeta feast with a dozen cousins who usually shared our christian names. Like so many 3rd generation Kytherians, we didn't speak Greek fluently or at all, unless we happened to have been under the watchful eyes of our grandparents for the first few years of our lives! Many of us had lost our hellenic heritage in the melting pots of the U.S. or Australia, and Kythera was just "the Old Country" which our grandparents either raved about for the sweetness of the lemons and the consistency of the summers, or disparaged as a barren backwater with barely a flush-toilet or decent hair salon to call its own. 
From the collection of Fofo and Brettos Sklavos, Mitata
If your reading this then you obviously still have a strong link to the island, so I'm guessing that, if you have any school-aged children or grandchildren in your family, they're at least aware of Kythera and have possibly even visited. Their cousins probably aren't all of pure Kytherian stock and the chances that they speak much Greek - mine don't! - are pretty slim. That is probably the way of most Diaspora communities. Dilution. At the same time, the efforts of some parents, grandparents and associations to keep the fire burning even when the ranks of first and second generation Kytherian-migrants are thinning out, have inspired many of us to make it back to the island. Some of us have even made Kythera our home. Or at least our home away from home. John Gianniotis' nephew Nico and I met on Kythera years ago, and although we never (to our knowledge) met as children in Australia, and despite the fact that we have now become migrants ourselves - Nico in Japan and me in Germany - our common base is Kythera, where we both have houses. It's nice to think that our grandparents might have been proud of our reconnection to their island.

I hope this Christmas is a time of connection for you all with your families and friends. Wishing you all a wonderful festive season and a happy, healthy and successful New Year.

James Prineas (

Searching For My Family on Kythera

by Diana Stratigos Garvey

My husband and I spent three remarkable days in Kythera October 13-15, 2018. I hadn’t seen Kythera since 1971, when I visited as a teenager with my parents and three sisters. Back then, 47 years ago, we rode the weekly ferry from Piraeus to visit my grandfather’s birthplace and meet his sister Kiriakoula, who stayed on Kythera in Mylopotamos her entire life.

Knowing that the island is now visited by tourists and has numerous hotels, wireless internet and even an airport, I didn’t expect it to be the same as half a century ago, but I was pleasantly surprised that time and tourism hadn't yet tarnished the old-world charm and rugged beauty of this unique Greek paradise. Kapsali hadn’t changed much at all. The beach was practically empty and the water was still crystal-clear and shimmering blue, just the way I remembered it. 

Kapsali Bay, photographed by Stephen Trifyllis.

This time I arrived by airplane and my husband and I set off at once in our rented car to begin exploring the island. We drove from the airport to Potomas and then back down to Avlemonas, where we had reserved accommodations. The island roads remain primitively narrow and down-right dangerous. Driving through the curvy mountain roads, we’d catch our breath at a magnificent view as we rounded a curve, only to find a view even more breathtaking around the next.

We explored as many areas of Kythera as we could, despite our limited time on the island. During our stay in Avlemonas, we visited nearby Paleopoli Beach, reputed to be the birthplace of Aphrodite, where we searched for the heart-shaped rocks claimed to be there.

The beautiful Kaladi Beach on the east coast of Kythera. 

We also found beautiful Kaladi Beach and were impressed that so many summer visitors must navigate the steep stone steps to reach it. We assume they must have younger, stronger and sturdier legs than we do.

Skandia Restaurant, still open in October, close to the legendary Paliopoly Beach. 

We enjoyed delicious meals at the two nearest restaurants still open in mid-October, Skandia and Solitas​, ​and bought a few things at the handy mini-mart where I was astounded to see bottles of wine labeled “Nikos Stratigos.” My maiden name stuck out to me like a neon sign. Nikos Stratigos Winery was one of the pieces of our puzzle as we began the scavenger hunt to explore my family roots on Kythera.

Local wine from a name-sake of the author. 

My husband is the genealogist for the family and enjoys piecing together links on Our purposes for this trip were to see Kythera, search for a living relative, or find any additional evidence or family links. We also hoped to find the grave of my Great-Aunt Kiriakoula, whom we heard passed away not long after we visited in 1971, when she was probably in her 70s. The Stratigos family originates in Mylopotamos, as everyone on the island repeatedly informed me, although we already knew this.

So of course we drove to Mylopotamos, as well as to Kato Hora and Piso Pigadi, because we knew that is where my ancestors originate. We were somewhat disappointed to find the area so deserted with many places closed up for the season. However, the emptiness added a solemn tone that allowed us to feel we were traveling back in time.

The old and in Winter almost deserted streets of Piso Pigadi, where ruins often outnumber occupied dwellings...

And 'back in time' is where we went as we drove randomly through the narrow empty roads and happened upon an old cemetery in Piso Pigadi. The small cemetery stood on high ground at the edge of the ancient village, shaded by trees and filled with four to five rows of marble tombs with ten or so tombs in each row.

We wandered with our smart phone cameras ready, looking hopefully for signs of my Great-Aunt Kiriakoula's grave. Not being able to read Greek made this task difficult. Fortunately, my clever husband realized that the many rows of tombs engraved with “ΣΤΡΑΤΗΓΟΣ” all said “STRATIGOS.” We began snapping pictures of all those marble slabs and also those that contained the other names listed way back in the family tree​ – Karidis and Megalaconomos. We knew we had stumbled onto something, but we still had not found a gravestone for Great-Aunt Kiriakoula.

Throughout our stay on Kythera, the weather was perfect - brilliant blue skies and pleasantly warm temperatures. Some areas we noticed were a lot windier than others, particularly up north in Agia Pelagia where the waves were rougher, but still the season was noticeably over and the beaches were all empty. We tried to explore as much of the island as we could and my husband took on a personal challenge of driving on as many of the island roads as he could, highlighting them proudly on the map as he drove a new route. We saw the evidence of the 2017 fires​ – charred tree trunks and exposed stone walls. We saw the barren rocky cliffs and drove on the winding switchback roads, barely wide enough for two cars at once. We saw lots of churches, some even tucked into the sides of mountains. We saw crumbling stone houses. We saw lots of fruit trees. And olive trees. Always, the beauty of the island astonished us. Although random exploring was interesting, we knew our mission was about my roots, so we continued to share that purpose with people wherever we went, and everyone was always understanding and wanted to be helpful. Despite a few suggestions that led nowhere, we continued to collect snippets of information to add to our puzzle.

A helpful man at the Platanos cafe in Mylopotamos trying to decipher my family tree.

Our host at the Anemes Hotel in Avlemenos, Pascali, knew we were searching for living Stratigos relatives. He contacted a taxi driver named Stratigos, but we still don’t know whether I’m related to him or not. Pascali knew I wanted to find the Nikos Winery, so he made a few phone calls and learned the winery was closed for the season, but they were busy distilling tsipouro, the local spirit, now. So off we went to find not only the distillery but the little area near Mylopotamos called Stratigadika, which we affectionately dubbed “Stratigos Town.”

We followed the directions to turn at the Athena Hotel sign and follow the road to the end, which is where we found two large homes with smoke curling up from behind one of them. It was the tsipouro​ distillery.

Nikos of wine and fire-water distillery.

And fortunately we happened to arrive while an English-speaking taxi driver was there to help translate. Translation was never quite clear but “Nikos” ( not sure of his real name) was related by marriage to the late Nikos Stratigos, to whom we still don’t know if we’re directly related. And apparently the other home is also owned by a Stratigos, maybe the brother of Nikos. It might even be owned by the family of the famous Dr. Stratigos, the Athens dermatologist mentioned to me more than once. The first time I heard of Dr. Stratigos was when I had to make an urgent visit to a doctor in Epidavros because of a raging herpes outbreak on my face. The fact that a woman named Stratigos was visiting him for a dermatological problem was an interesting coincidence to the MD, who couldn’t wait to tell me about my famous namesake, the renowned Dr. Stratigos. Another puzzle piece we still don’t know where to place in the family tree​ – i​f at all.

We watched the distillation process with fascination, although Nikos was way too busy to be interrupted for long. Nevertheless, he was extremely friendly and seemed thrilled we were there. He gave us a taste of the tsipouro, we snapped pictures, and the taxi driver translated it all for us, as best he could. The work requires careful tending and involves hot steaming copper pipes and dripping liquid and measuring and pouring and moving of numerous buckets, so we stepped outside to wait for the arrival of Mrs. Panagiota Karidis, whom Nikos or the taxi driver had summoned.

Mrs. Karides lived nearby and spoke fluent English because she had lived in Tasmania for 35 years. Unbeknownst to her, we could even be related. We have many named “Karidis” in my tree, but it all hinges on names of grandfathers, great-grandfathers and knowledge of names of their siblings or children. Finding family links is a very intriguing puzzle and requires accuracy and proof to be credible and truly rewarding. My grandfather left Kythera in 1903 for America and sent for one brother shortly after. Two of his siblings stayed on Kythera, and his uncle left for Australia, which I understand is where many Kytherians reside. Why some emigrated to America and some to Australia is an intriguing question. What were the “selling points” on these choices? Why did family choose to go to different parts of the world?

Interestingly, Mrs. Karidis married into the Karidis family and her husband passed a few years back, but she has a sister, married to a Stratigos, who lives in Chicago. She gave us her phone number, but so far we’ve gotten no response to the voicemail message we left. Another puzzle piece. Possible dead end. Possible link. She told us how to find the “other” cemetery in Mylopotamos and off we went.

The other cemetery was also filled with lots of Stratigos’, Karidis’ and Megalaconomos’​ - all names frequently found way back in my family tree​ - so we again snapped photos of all the marble slabs, but still no sign of Kiriakoula’s grave anywhere.

Several folks suggested we go to Chora and the woman at the Municipal Office would help us by looking through the “records.” “She’s in the castle,” we were told. All in all we made three separate trips to Chora in search of this woman. Once we even hiked up the steep rocky path all the way to the castle, thinking perhaps we’d find this elusive woman on the premises somewhere. But, alas, we never found her or the municipal office, despite our three visits to Chora, and even once walking into someone’s private office because we couldn’t read the Greek on the sign posted on the door. It wasn’t meant to be, I guess. It will require another visit to Kythera perhaps. Not a bad idea.

We loved our visit and despite not meeting a single living direct relative, felt fulfilled by simply walking on the same roads as my ancestors.

So you can imagine our delight when we “found” Kiriakoula’s grave during our 10-hour flight home. Yes, there it was, amid the photos. One of the original marble slabs we found in Piso Pigadi listed her as well as her parents, my great-grandparents, and her siblings and sister-in-law, minus the two brothers who died and are buried in America. Kiriakoula died in 1981, ten years after we met her.

Diana Stratigos Garvey

Celebrating the Life of John Gianniotis
15.3.29  – 6.12.18

John Gianniotis was born at the Crown Street Hospital in Sydney in 1929. Son of Nicholas and Diamanta Gianniotis. Dad was the third born of six children: Bessy, George, John, Spiro, Peter and Paul. They grew up on a chicken farm in Blacktown, Sydney. Our grandfather Nicholas tended to the chickens until the family moved to Tullibigeal where they operated a business. They moved there for a better life, but it was here that our grandfather Nicholas had a shooting accident and his life was cut short. Soon after they all moved back to Sydney and the boys went to school on Crown St. Being a widow with six children was difficult enough, but the Great Depression made it impossible. Despite the help of the extended family, the children had to separated at times so they could all survive. 

As a result Dad left school at fifteen and started his working life. Family was everything and he wanted to help his mother support their family. Dad’s first real job was carrying fresh milk on his back which he scooped into cups and sold door to door. This sounds so strange to us, having to do what he did at such a young age. For many years Dad worked extremely hard until, in 1959, he headed off for an adventure: back-packing through Europe for two years. He often spoke of these good times. Part of this itinerary was a trip to Kythera. It was there that, while in Kalamos, he observed a stunning dressmaker putting the final touches on a wedding dress. It only took four months for Dad to court and marry this gorgeous girl, our mother Agapy. After they left Greece they headed to Dubbo, Australia. 

They had two children: Nicko and Diamanta. Whilst raising a family both Agapy and John ran businesses in Geurie, Wongarbon and Dubbo. Life in the country was beautiful. They had friends in all of the country towns. In 1982 they moved to Brisbane so Nicko could start University. The years between 1982 to recent times were very full. In that time Dad got to see his two children marry and have children. His grandsons; Kosta, Yianni, Ioanne and Alexi gave him much joy and he was so proud of them. He tried very hard to give them an easier start in life than he had. We have all shared many holidays and special times together. Even though Dad was getting older he was always young at heart. His one-liners, big smile and generous soul resulted in having many friends around the world, of all age brackets. Because both he and Agapy had family on Kythera, they have went back and forth more than thirty times. They shared a life many only dream of. Dad also shared his love for Kythera and its people with us, his children, and grandchildren. We will continue his legacy. 

In 2016 Dad’s health changed. We thank Mum for caring for him and we understand how difficult this was of late. Dad's smart comments and one-liners still flowed, although they didn't come as quick and fast as they used to. This is the fun loving man that we will all remember. He lived the saying “you get only one life, so do it all!” and as a result we all went on the ride with him and have countless memories of our life together. Dad passed so peacefully and ready. He knew he would be embraced and welcomed by his parents, brothers and loved ones up above. 

Nicko and Diamanta



The Meteo site is a great reference for the weather situation on Kythera.
The Kytherian World Heritage Fund presents:
There are dozens of great Kythera-related titles on 
sale from the Kytherian World Heritage Fund. All make
the perfect Christmas present!
Just download their
Copyright © James Prineas 2016

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