Mykonos wakes up at sunset. At 3 am, there are traffic snarls to get to Little Venice in the old town, where waves—turquoise in the day, now inky blue—lap against the pavement, wetting our feet, making the toes sticky with salt. (Oh, that indescribable shade of the Aegean Sea. Here is Nikos Kazantzakis in Zorba The Greek, far more eloquent: The sea, autumn mildness, islands bathed in light, fine rain spreading a diaphanous veil over the immortal nakedness of Greece. Happy is the man, I thought, who, before dying has the good fortune to sail the Aegean Sea). There are people all around, beautiful people. Chiselled, sinewy men in boxer shorts. Olive-smooth, sylph-like women in bikinis. As the labyrinthine lanes—with tufts of oleander and bougainvillea spilling out of courtyards—wind their way through discos, restaurants and designer stores, bursts of music and the aroma of fish on grills waft across. In this flow of people, any little oasis like a shop front or a bar porch is an impromptu dance floor. Mykonos does party all night. One morning, we wake up to see the sunrise. Soon after, there are brilliant fireworks in the sky. We ask later if it was some festival. No, it would have been a nightclub closing for the day with fanfare.
We are at Sea Satin, the traditional Greek restaurant famed for its lobsters and crabs, at the edge of the old town, with the water on one side and ancient windmills on the other. Till about midnight, it’s like a regular busy restaurant—long wooden tables laden with crisp golden-brown whole sea bass, sparkling wine glasses and salads in heaps. Then something snaps. The DJ plays the first strains of the theme song of Zorba the Greek, the Anthony Quinn film adaption of the book which immortalised these Cycladic islands, and half the people on the opposite table are on their feet. As the tempo of the infectious tune rises, two girls climb onto their chairs. Then more of them. Somebody clears the wine glasses from the table and now two of them are on it, jiving in rhythm to the song. In a flash, almost everyone is either on their chairs or on the tables, swinging the white table napkins in a frenzy, swaying with the sparklers the ushers have passed on. One Greek song after the other follows, everyone sings along. Amazingly, not a glass breaks, not a plate falls. It’s a sight to behold: everything is in motion, the waves lash outside the windows, bodies sway in tandem to the music, waiters move about refilling the glasses and placing the dishes carefully between dancing feet. When we totter out to the gates around three in the morning, there are guests waiting to come in.
The paint shade card in any Mykonos hardware shop must have only two hues: white and blue. All the buildings have to follow this colour scheme—whitewashed, rounded walls with blue windows and doors. There are many legends about how this started. The simple reason could be the sun shines so bright that the white keeps the houses cool. Most homes have a chapel—a little surprising for a place which doesn’t seem to unduly worry about the 10 Commandments—till we are told a chapel gets the builder a tax break. The terrain is barren and rocky, strangely reminiscent of the high-altitude desert of Ladakh—if you transpose a Pangong Lake or Tso Moriri, almost of the same hue, in place of the Aegean Sea. Our friend and guide in Mykonos, young and charming Alexis Galanopoulos, says the island is quite different from the rest of Greece. There are less than 10,000 inhabitants but over a million tourists every season, mainly in the summer months. Winter is cold and breezy. Greece’s economic woes of the past few years haven’t washed up at Mykonos’s shores yet. Here it is luxury yachts, cruise liners, tattooed tourists vrooming on quad bikes, posters for nightclubs saying doors open at midnight. We wonder if in this modern-day Arcadia of Greek mythology, ordinary things like courts, police stations, secretariats, schools and banks even exist. I can vouch there are hospitals in Mykonos. A friend in our group got a nasty allergy for which we had to go to a doctor (consultancy fee: 120 Euros). But the touristy DNA of the town seeps in to the waiting room too—the brochure I pick up to read is Gay’s Guide to Cafes in Mykonos.
We are on a yacht zooming towards the islands of Delos and Reneia, leaving a white streak of surf on the blue waters, like jet planes do in the sky. We have to get off the yacht and into a dinghy to go to the shore, which takes off as Dan, the captain’s assistant, presses the throttle. The little dinghy flies off the waves; it’s exhilarating but dizzying. “Hey Dan, go slower, none of us can swim,” we scream above the noise and the breeze. “Don’t worry,” he grins. “Neither can I.”Satish Padmanabhan, Executive editor, Outlook