A walk through Avlemonas, end to end, takes 3 minutes or 6 hours, depending on your disposition.
The harbor of Agios Nikolaos marks the eastern boundary of the village. During the 600 years or so of Venetian rule, this unassuming harbor served as the main port of Kythira. *
A few yards beyond the fishing boats stands the mansion of Cavallini. Locals claim the sundial on its facade has never skipped a beat. The mansion has gone through several incarnations: Austro-Hungarian consulate, Customs House, coffeehouse. The Italian family that now owns half the building completed a renovation of the entire exterior.
During their long rule, Venetians did little to improve living conditions for local Kytherians, but Venice’s indelible imprint, and the lion of St. Mark, are visible throughout the island — as are the descendants of Venetian Marchese Marco Venier.
As I stand admiring the Cavallini doorway and its Sword of Damocles sundial, my thoughts keep returning to a Carnevale in Venice, and dinner at the Hotel Danieli with 7 courses, 5 forks, 4 knives and 3 wine glasses, and Inez shamelessly flirting with the Russian husband of a poker-faced woman seated at our table. Magicians and jugglers kept us entertained during dinner, wandering to and fro, from table to table. When it came time for the masquerade to start, an Austrian orchestra appeared and 6 ladies in tutus leapt through the ballroom, their pink pointe shoes softly thumping against the wood floor.
Later, we sipped sparkling wine with peach nectar at Cafe Florian — Inez, so uncharacteristically prim and ladylike in her ivory Carnevale gown, and me, so self-consciously exposed in a costume that doubled my cleavage.
When Venice tucked itself in for the night, we danced on, clinging to the ghost of Fat Tuesday. In the Campo Santa Maria Formosa, I cried out apologies for trampling the feet of a Venetian dressed as Casanova as he whirled me around the square, humming Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, his black cape flying behind him. Aw, but he was the good sort. “Harder, ” he said. “Break all my toes.” In the middle of the campo, Mario played an imaginary piano as Inez fussed with her hair, her gown; resettling her plumage.
Casanova’s wine-warm breath turned to icy fog in the cold night air, his cheerful face grew serious. “I want to take you away on a boat,” he said, “to an island, so no one else can touch you.”
Casanova de Castello, guardian angel of my bodily virtue, may you live forever.
Halfway through Avlemonas, there’s a narrow bay with a small sandy beach. I stop for a swim and watch as young divers test their courage from the rocky cliffs. I was 17 before I ever dared to jump from a ledge, rocky or otherwise.
When I was just past the toddler stage, my own good father inadvertently gave me a fear of heights by taking me for a ride on the Vienna Riesenrad, one of the world’s tallest Ferris wheels. My early childhood is mostly a blur, but I can still vividly picture my father, backlit by the lights of Vienna, laughing and trying to make it better, his big hand over mine.
A polygonal Venetian fortress known as the Castello occupies a spit of land near the western end of Avlemonas. Lack of upkeep, salt, and wind have had their way with the deteriorating old structure. The Castello is officially closed, so I crawl through an opening to get a photo of its cannons, left to rust where they were abandoned hundreds (?) of years ago — the detritus and fate of empires.
My walk through Avlemonas leaves me longing for Venice — begged, borrowed, and stolen at the point of a sword and to the roar of a cannon. It’s the only place I can walk on water, from Tiziano to Bellini to Modigliani.
I start planning my next trip.
* Kythera, Cythera
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