The Greek Island Summer School

May 14th will mark my quarter century of living on the idyllic island of Lefkada in Greece. I left behind my London life, my day job teaching English in a private school in Marble Arch, an impossible relationship, all my belongings and all my old ideas. Some said I was brave, others said I was mad. I didn’t feel as if I were either, all my life I had known I would someday live abroad, and the time was right. I arrived with a rucksack and the tools of my true vocation – my Ephemerides (the astrologer’s bible of planetary movements), a pack of tarot cards and the conviction of the incurably optimistic. I was 36, the antithesis of “risk averse”, I knew two English people already living here and didn’t speak a word of Greek.

The acute businesswomen amongst you may recognize in this brief introduction the hallmarks of the entrepreneurial personality. At the time I had no such view of myself and so much of my business has grown from things that have seemed just like “a good idea”. I love ideas. They are gold dust, not just for your bank balance but for your soul. And when you are living the life you’re supposed to be living, and making that living from your passion, you are never short of inspiration. One of the best ideas was to start The Greek Island Summer School, study holidays for astrology and tarot students from all over the world. I now sit here watching my 19th season being snuffed out like a candle.

Did astrology predict this? Yes, up to a point. For the last couple of years major formations have been taking shape up in the heavens, and astrology works on the “as above, so below” principle. In other words, if it’s heavy going up there, then it’s bad news down here. The astrological media has been full of dire warnings, but mostly about the economic and ecological climate. Nobody saw this coming in the shape of a viral pandemic. Nobody predicted devastation in terms of human life itself.

As I write I’m conscious of the quietude. Our local airport was due to open in eight days time and this is normally what I call the “banging and hammering” time of year, when the “take it to the wire” Greeks throw off the taverna dust sheets and go into a frenzy of noisy activity to get everything pristine, spirits high under the promise of a new summer. Business here is seasonal. The island relies almost completely on tourism and, by March, everyone is counting down the days to getting back to work. And counting their last Euros as they limp through to the end of another winter with no earnings.

The silence speaks volumes. Absolutely everything is shut. Not a single bar, café, taverna or shop remains open, no yoga group, no gym, no hairdresser, no dentist, no salon, no garage for car repairs. Even the farmers market with their mountains of organic fruit and veg that happens every Saturday morning, come rain or shine, has disappeared. What has happened to all that produce? Nidri high street is spookily quiet, with just the chemists, supermarkets and bakeries allowed to open. I’m an integral part of both the expat and Greek local community here and in normal life it can take an hour to “pop out” to the shop as everyone you meet wants to know your latest news and to tell you theirs. Now it’s a wave from across the street as people hurry about their necessary jobs and go home. The friends with whom you were playing whist just the week before keep their distance. Social life has totally disappeared, and this on an island where there are, so far, no coronavirus cases. But the fear is palpable, it hangs in the air and in every stilted conversation. There are guards posted on the hospital doors, no visitors allowed, a cultural shock as the norm here is for families to be clustered around the sickbed. A friend of mine with two children is barred from being with her husband as he dies alone from bone cancer. Heartbreaking doesn’t even cover it.

I live alone and after just three days of not seeing anyone apart from a petrol pump attendant and Eleni at the local supermarket I realized that I wasn’t going to survive on dog walking alone. We are pack animals and the psychological impact of isolation, a life against nature, is becoming an increasingly important theme for every community in lockdown. I now arrange to meet other dog owners for walks and I’ve mostly replaced messaging with phone calls. And on the subject of animals the island’s rescue organization, run by expats, faces their own crisis. Over the last two years alone they have flown over 300 stray or abandoned dogs to forever homes in Germany and Holland. Now all the airports are closing and ferries sit idle in abandoned ports. Nobody and nothing can get in or out. Not even a dog.

With regards to my own business I am just starting to emerge from professional shellshock. I spend a significant part of the winter marketing and filling up the courses here in Greece, and my highest earning period of the year is May and June. Nearly 50 students are booked to fly out but I have to accept that, barring a miracle, none of them are going to make it. Even if our airport reopens in time, which is highly unlikely, the chances are that nobody in the UK or anywhere else in Europe will be allowed to take holiday flights anyway. Everyone here on Lefkada can only pray that the island will still have some kind of season even if it starts late but, again, I think we have to accept that it’s unlikely in the extreme, especially as the real August riches come from the Italians who usually arrive in their droves. Greece was teetering on the edge of financial recovery but I fear now will plunge back into the old abyss.

Last week I suffered from an overwhelming lack of motivation, a most unfamiliar and unwelcome visitor whispering “what’s the point?”, but now survival and my warrior spirit are kicking in. I know from the experience of a great tragedy in my life three years ago that my network of wonderful friends is my safety net, but work is my true savior. I have to do what I know I’m here to do. I now have to reinvent myself for 2020 and switch focus to promoting my online courses, work I usually do only in the winters, alongside my individual client work. I’m getting back in touch with magazine editors and looking at feature writing, to keep my name out there. I count myself as blessedly fortunate that I can explore these other avenues of generating business and income, and yet again am reminded that the internet and Whatsapp really are the best things since stretch jeans.

Ruth asked those of us writing on this subject to include our long lasting prediction on the situation, to offer our thoughts on how the world might change? I smile wryly, being in the prediction business, but I’m not known for sugaring the pill. I always teach my students, “Say what you see. Your clients can go to their friends for tea and sympathy, they come to you for the truth.” What is that truth now? It’s not great. In my view the worst of this Plutonic pandemic will last until November.

Life is already changing so fast, beyond recognition for countless millions, and the world is in shock. Yet already, at another level, we’re all uncomfortably aware that it’s taken this catastrophe to reveal to us how we’ve been destroying the planet. The world out there is eerily quiet, but in our inner worlds is there a new noise, the first rumblings of real understanding? Can we carry forwards this new awareness of how modern life can be slowed down for the sake of controlling pollution and climate change? And can we honour our shifting priorities, stay in true and meaningful connection with our loved ones rather than always being ridiculously busy? Rebirth is never easy, individual or collective. Transformative change is a long and often painful process, not a magic wand. We’re all in this together and from my heart I wish you all the best possible journey. Kαλό ταξίδι – see you on the other side.

Joanna graduated in English and European Literature. A lifelong interest in astrology led her to The Company of Astrologers in London for whom she then became a tutor in 1991 and then moved to Greece in May 1995. Years of doing readings resulted in two books, Tarot for Today and Astrology for Today (2003, Carroll and Brown). These titles have been translated into ten languages, are available in fourteen different countries and have sold over 100,000 copies. Her latest title Be Your Own Astrologer was published by Cico Books 2015.

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