December 10, 2015
As the host of the PBS travel series Islands Without Cars, I’ve spent seven beautiful years interviewing people who have chosen to live on remote islands that forbid transportation.
Nary a train nor a bus nor a Prius is given access to roam nor pollute the pathways of these tiny islands.
Scroll away with me as I share my seven favorite things that I have learned from hosting this fascinating series.
1. It Takes A Village To Raise An Island
On Sark, the first island we filmed on and the last feudal state in the Western world, every inhabitant of the island had at least two, if not four jobs.
My favorite cross-over was the bartender who was also the town jailer as well as the hardware store owner. He insisted he very rarely had to place patrons in overnight jail for excessive drunkenness, but we were only there a week. As he locked me in jail, it was tough to distinguish the Middle Ages from the current ages, which was both terrifying and oddly thrilling.
In a place unsupervised by the march of time and globalized corporate “progress,” everyone is divided naturally into skill and interest level. The horse-drawn carriage drivers are also the emergency service attendants. The lighthouse attendant is the town’s weatherman.
2. The Secret To Long Life Is Love, Wine, and Fish
On a wind-hewn Croatian island called Krapanj (pronounced in a delightfully similar fashion to “crap on ya”), I received the recipe for long life from an octogenarian fisherman’s widow.
Still outfitted in head-to-toe black despite being widowed for over ten years, she hugged me, grabbed my breasts and forecasted that I would find a good husband soon.
When I asked her what the secret is to her long life, she cried out in Croatian “Lots of fish, wine, and the love of a good man!” I think our translator sugar-coated that last bit, but regardless, I feel well-armed with knowledge for a long life now.
3. The Flirtation Secret Of Greek Men Is As Simple As "Pssst"
An hour hydrofoil ride from Athens is the Greek island of Hydra. As I walked along the port, ice cream cone in hand, with thoughts of baklava dancing in my head, admiring all the handmade linen clothing wafting in the hot summer breeze, I would hear “psst” every few minutes.
I finally had the chance to ask a red-nosed Greek painter what this meant. He let me in on the ancient flirtation secret of Greek men: the “psst” says they admire your backside and are interested in getting your attention, so you turn around, and they can see whether or not they love the front as much as the back. Charming, no?
4. Italian Men Are More Afraid Of Their Mothers Than Mother Nature
On the active volcanic island of Stromboli, we met a delightful half-toothless Italian fella in his 60s who used to be a fisherman.
His mother wrung her hands and called constantly, fearing for his safety on the dangerous high seas, and begged him so many times to quit that he finally obliged and became a postman instead.
When I asked whether or not she was terrified that his home was on an island where there are several ACTIVE VOLCANOS, he shrugged and said she had no problem with that, and so neither did he.
5. The Amount Of Gelato, Baklava, And Taramasalata I Am Capable Of Consuming Is Truly Astounding.
Say what you will but I consumed enough to rival any Italian king who had the benefit of vomitoriums in between back-to-back feasts.
6. Diving Suits Of Yore Were Inhabited By Absolute Nutjobs.
On the Croatian island of Krapanj, we were treated to a diving museum tour, and I was able to get up close and personal with the terrifying diving suits the islands’ fishermen and sponge divers wore before modern equipment rendered it a far more sane career.
The copper helmet and weighted brass-capped shoes together weigh up to 40 pounds, all to counteract the buoyancy of the air pumped into the suit by a man aboard the boat.
There were many, many fatalities and even more injuries sustained by men who came up too quickly, without giving their systems sufficient time to adjust to the pressure. And yet, they kept going down, because sponges have been one of Croatia’s major exports for decades.
7. People Will Do Anything, And Move Anywhere, For Love, And A Bit O’ Quiet.
On Hydra, we met a man who came on a day trip to the island in the 70s, bid his girlfriend goodbye at the port later that afternoon and has never once left the island since.
He felt the allure of the past, the heat, the isolation, and he stayed to write poetry on the island ever since.
Others came on summer vacations, fell in love with locals, and bid their fast-paced modern lives adieu, becoming island-wives and island-husbands, raising their children alongside the village that raises all the island children.
On the French island of the Porquerolles, most everyone goes shoe-less, and there’s no such thing as babysitters: everyone keeps a watch out for everyone else because it’s just too small not to.