The lieutenant, Chrysanthos Xanthos (misleadingly winsome name) gave the miners five minutes to disperse, and when they refused, opened fire. Four miners were killed. Xanthos and another officer were lynched and killed. After this incident, conditions improved marginally. The mines finally closed in the 1960s.
There is a statue of Speras on the beach at the village of Megalo Livadi. It’s a melancholic place. Half the buildings are abandoned, including the handsome neoclassical headquarters of the mining company.
Abandonment is everywhere. It’s not just the monastery, it’s not just the mines. All over the island there are vestiges of terracing where once there must have grown grain and olives and lemons and almonds. Scarcely any of it is still used, only a few terraces of prickly pears and some of prostrate vines, from which the island’s curious amber-coloured wine is made. In fact, almost all attempts at agriculture have been abandoned. It is an island of rusting agricultural machinery, of disused shepherds’ huts, of derelict farmhouses, of empty hillsides.
The only game here is tourism, and most of the people who are servicing the tourists don’t even live here; they scarper back to the mainland at the end of September and don’t reappear till May. All the food comes by ferry.
But the island has a stark beauty: the white white houses, the brown brown rock, the blue blue sea. Above the port, Livadi, is one of the most beautiful towns I’ve ever seen, Chora, which spills off the hillside like sugar cubes tossed from a bowl.
And out on the mountainside, in amongst a low scrub of dry prickly olive-ochre vegetation which smells of curry and rum and aniseed, there is, apparently growing straight out of the rock, a glorious piece of magic: tiny wild crocus plants, and inside them their stigmas - saffron. Bend down, and there is that distinctive smell: honey, metal, grass, hay.
Curiously enough, Greek cooks seem reluctant to use saffron. I’m not.