Home > 2011 Posts > The Puzzle-Solver of Mykonos

The Puzzle-Solver of Mykonos

It’s the party playground of the Cyclades. And a great base from which to explore the fabled island of Delos.

Dazzling white structures form the picture-perfect town of Chora on the Greek island of Mykonos. It’s a beautiful place with a wonderful little harbor. Thousands of young people from all over the world flock there to experience the wild abandon that Aegean nights seem to induce. Sadly, many of them are so busy trying to hook up that they never take the trouble of boating a few miles to see one of the most ancient and fascinating sacred places in the world: Delos, an entire island of classical ruins and layer upon layer of gripping history.

My wife and I, having long-since hooked up ourselves and also being archaeo-geeks of the first water, were in Chora because of Delos. You’ll read more about both islands in later posts, but this story is about a small archaeological museum and a blind man who spent his life resurrecting treasures from a shattered, buried antiquity.

Early one morning at a quay-front café in the Little Venice area of Chora, my wife and I sipped our strong Greek coffee and quietly appreciated the dozens of colorful wooden boats slowly rocking on their anchor and buoy lines. These brightly colored vessels ranged out in a panoply across the better part of the calm, turquoise harbor. And we were taking it slow. This was a ‘down day’ for us after hiking miles through the ruins of Delos the day before. As we waited for breakfast to arrive, we were studying our map of Chora town, deciding what to see and when.

A big, friendly Greek gentleman who sported a bushy, gray mustache and had thick salt and pepper hair was sitting at the next table. Tentatively, he offered some local wisdom. “You may want to roam around the harbor area in the morning. The young people will be nursing their headaches and upset stomachs until about 11:00. But then they will begin to stumble out in noisy packs, buying rude tee shirts and taunting each other even more rudely. The Australians are the best at it if you like that sort of thing. Even if you do though, it soon gets tiresome. That’s when you may want to go to the museum. It’s small, but there are many interesting things there.”

The burly man’s name was George, and we asked him to join us for breakfast. As we ate, he talked about his life growing up on the island. Things had changed a lot since he was a boy; back then, Mykonos had been far less prosperous, and not at all a destination for partiers from all over the world. As part of his story, George described his first job.

At nine, he had inherited the position from an older brother who’d just gotten some ‘real’ employment. George’s work was to help a middle-aged blind man named Cyr get around town.

Even then, Cyr had already been working for a long time as a technician at the Chora’s small archaeological museum. Each weekday morning, George would escort Cyr, who was always dressed in a neat suit and vest, from his house to the museum and then lead the blind man to his workbench. On it were always hundreds of broken pottery bits scattered several inches deep together with five or six partially reconstructed vases or bowls or cups. Cyr would thank George for his trouble, then take off his suit coat, don a long lab smock and set to work.

It seems that the archaeologists in charge of excavations on Mykonos and its nearest neighbor island would regularly send Cyr hundreds of pounds of broken pottery pieces recovered from sites that appeared to have been quite important. Out of the jumbled pile of debris and by touch alone, the blind man would slowly, patiently and almost magically separate the pieces of one vessel from another. Then, he would solve the often maddening puzzle of how each piece must fit with another, carefully gluing them back in place to become complete, resurrected artifacts.

Some of these pottery items, the vases especially, had marvelous designs and pictures on them that the blind man would never see. For the archaeologists, though, they yielded valuable insights.

After a few years, young George had passed the job of helping Cyr on to a still younger brother. But in his time together with Cyr almost every day, our tablemate had come to respect and love the kind, steady man. So, George had visited him often at his work over the decades, until Cyr finally died at 83, having never retired.

“If you go to the museum today,” George said quietly at one point, his eyes starting to get a bit shiny, “please take a look at the pottery. It’s the life’s work of a good man.”

So we did.

And it meant immeasurably more to us than it ever could have if George hadn’t spoken up that morning, telling us about the dedication and skill of his friend Cyr, the blind Puzzle-Solver of Mykonos.

  1. June 5, 2011 at 7:43 am

    What a wonderful story. It really is all important to chat to the locals and get to know what is going on. Going to a foreign country and chatting to the many interesting people living there makes a huge difference. I plan to write about a family we met in Turkey- very soon – off the ‘beaten tourist trail’.

    • June 5, 2011 at 8:46 am

      Glad you like. Thank Heaven we have met folks who speak English well. My spoken Greek is awful and my Turkish is worse. Italian is not so bad, but no where near good enough to pick up nuance.

  2. June 5, 2011 at 7:45 am

    By the way – we’ve been to Myconos twice but have not had such an interesting time as you have. Our trip only lasted a few hours, on a cruise ship!!

  3. June 17, 2011 at 10:42 am
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