A ‘Most Congenial’ Family

In his book, ‘The Cyclades or Life Among the Insular Greeks‘, Theodore Bent wrote warmly of the Lorentziadis family. Just over 40 years later, Vincent Clarence Scott O’Connor met Stefanos Lorentziadis in a ‘chance’ meeting while visiting Ios and wrote about it in his book ‘Isles of the Aegean‘. Both books can be downloaded for free from the website links above.

In parallel with Theodore’s book, Mabel wrote about her experiences and thoughts in her diary published as ‘World Enough, and Time: The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent Volume I‘. It can be bought online in print and PDF formats.

This webpage is an extract of Mabel’s writings about meeting the family. She refers to Theodore as ‘T’ and their ‘man-servant’ from Anafi, Manthaios, as ‘M’. The ‘Mr. Swan’ Mabel mentions was a mining engineer who was running the calamine mines in Antiparos; he encouraged Theodore to dig on the island resulting in a large number of finds which are mostly now in the British Museum.

Mabel is writing for herself and a small number of friends and family and, as such, her tone may at times seem to border on the insensitive.

Mabel writes on Santorini:

[Wednesday] January 23rd. This is 2nd day we are in waiting for the steamer. It is a lovely day but still so cold that I can hardly write. Yesterday we went to see the Eparchos Markos Mavrojenes (or black beard) and wandered about. The Eparch came to see us before dinner and the family da Corogna of Italian origin after. They are pleasant people and wished us to receive the son of 18 when he comes to England in May.

Today we have been to pay a visit to the Alexakis’, he very large and rich, though a tasteless house, and the Dekigallas’. Mr. Dekigallas a very learned old man with whom T has made friends. This island is very damp, or rather so dry that it does not absorb wet and everything, boots, bread, silk, etc. gets mouldy quickly. The Dekigallas’ or really de Cigalas’, spent the evening with us and we were called at 1/4 to 6 for the steamer ΠΑΝEΛΛHNION, the smallest and worst. (The Panellenion ran the blockade in Krete.) Very rough passage about 2 hours to los.

Ekaterina's costume
Ekaterina’s costume

Breakfasted at a kafeneion and sent our letter up to the Demarch Lorenziades, who at once came down from the town and told us he had no rooms for us to sleep in but we were to feed with him. The baggage and I were put on mules and we went up to the Khora. The family consisted chiefly of the Demarch, who has a little common 2nd wife very inferior to the rest but a kind little thing. I should have thought it unnecessary to marry her when there are so many other women in the world; his elder brother and 3 very pretty jolly girls Marousa, Aikaterena and Kaleroe, all tall and fat. A 3rd brother is the schoolmaster. All were quite like gentlemen and all in black frockcoats. There were at least 6 more people. They received us most kindly and were really the most congenial people we have met. We took a house consisting of bedroom, pantry and sitting room, where M slept, and a kitchen, and went for our meals to the Demarch’s. They did everything they possibly could to please and amuse us. The dinner party consisted of the three brothers, the wife, Marousa and we 3. The first day we had chicken soup boiled, and roast chicken; 2nd ditto kid, 3rd ditto fish, and 3 times a day did we get mesithra and honey. Mesithra is a sort of curd made of sheep’s milk in a basket, just like Broccio of Corsica. After dinner some of them dressed up in old costumes, of most splendid gold brocade and gold lace and embroidery. Such is the power of dress that we did not know where they had got the wonderfully beautiful woman in green and gold, and never found out till next day it was Aikaterene.

Next morning, Friday [January] 25th, the Demarch came to fetch us to breakfast, and, M having evidently informed about the English customs, we had 2 eggs, a glass of milk and some mesithra and honey. Afterwards we and the Demarch started to Plaketos at the other side of the island: 3 hours. We saw the supposed tomb of Homer who died here on his way from Samos to Athens and then went to a little hut of an old man where we lunched in a very rough way; wine in a large wooden basin and scooped and drunk out of a little gourd. The hut was very low, door 4 feet high and a bed built of stones with twigs and straw 4 feet square. Even in better houses the doors are often too low. We had cold fish and cold soft eggs and they are hard, whether hot or cold, to eat without a spoon. The 5 muleteers got very gay and led by the Demarch played a lot of games, all of which we had seen elsewhere. We got home at 4 and retired home soon after dinner.

On Saturday we had Marousa as a companion in our ride to Palaó Kastro, a mass of Italian ruins on a white marble mountain over the sea. It was very steep and Marousa was surprised I dared not to dismount, but I don’t care to walk as my leg is not well yet. At the top is a very shabby rough little chapel where Marousa incensed the pictures very gaily amid crossing and chattering and I was made to scribble my name on the wall and the tembelon, or screen, both in Greek and English: Μάιμπελ Βιργινία ‘Αννα Μπένθος, which I thought irreverent and vulgar. By the way, I go by the name of Virginia now as they cannot say Mabel, it is if they had something sticky in their mouths as they cannot say B. ‘Maimpr’.

We went then down to Agia Theodote near the sea and lunched on the grass, and afterwards went to see the church, which is a very rough Byzantine building. One aisle was filled up with stone-built benches and table where they eat at the pilgrimages. In one corner was a heap of immense pots and some large wooden spoons stuck in the wall. Everyone brings a contribution of food which is thrown into the common pots and cooked. The better class play all sorts of games in the church.

We had a delightful evening, about 30 people came, including a priest, and we had a constant succession of games in which I took part, also T. We actually stayed up till 1/2 past 10. First ‘Blind Man’s Buff’. Then a ‘Blind Man in the Middle’ and every one dancing around singing till he stopped us and put out a stick and touched one. That one having taken up the end of the stick and put it to his lips made some little whistle or buzz. If the name was guessed by the blind man he was released. Then 3 sat on pillows on a rug, side by side with legs out straight. The middle one had string put round under his feet and kept working about puffing this up and giving unexpected bangs with the back of his hands to the legs of the others who defended themselves with each a slipper, and if they hit they got the middle place. 2 people lay down on a rug with their heads on pillows and were covered all over with a quilt. Everyone went and gave them a bang with a knotted handkerchief on the most exalted part of them. They had to guess who. A person kneels on a pillow on the rug and is covered with a quilt; one after another people come and kneel in front of him with head also under the quilt and the confessor asks questions and imposes penance and at last when one comes who has never played this before the rug is lifted by the corners, the confessor slips off and the penitent is lifted in the air. These are a few of the most amusing, but there were many more.

Next morning, Sunday [January] 27th, Marousa came early to bring me a magnificent piece of red silk embroidered ‘to remember them by’, also her pocket-handkerchief with her name worked and some pine nuts. We were really sorry to leave these kind people and they pressed us to stay but ‘the ship was ready and the wind blew fair and we were bound for the sea’. So after breakfast, and giving them a few of the little presents we have with us, but nothing half as valuable as they had given me, we went down to the harbour with 2 mules and the 3 brothers and 3 girls. We sat in the kafeneion and drank coffee and ate sweetmeats and were given Kaliroe’s pocket-handkerchief full of sesame seed that we might remember Kaliroe, or Callirhoe I think is the English way of spelling the stream she is called after. After an affectionate parting we set sail and after much tacking got out of the deep and safe bay and made straight for Sikinos.

The Bents were forced by bad weather to stay longer than they’d planned on Sikinos and later Mabel writes:

February 1884— Folégandhros
Two days more we were storm-stayed in Sikinos and did nothing particular. The house was so damp that our clothes were quite wet and dew was on our boots in the morning. I had an awful cold and stayed shivering in the house most of the time and we also paid some visits. When our boat came, on the evening of the 3rd day, the sailors brought me a nosegay from Ios and the 3 girls had each written some verses to me of a flattering nature.

. . .

A great many people came to see us in the evening and a Mr. Mavrogene. Brother to the one (Epamisiondos) in Paros has said he wishes to ‘make a table’ for us this evening, so we sup there. He has also asked a passage on our ship to Antiparos, whither we hope to set sail tomorrow . . . The table was very nicely laid and we four and our host and 2 little girls were the eaters, but while we dined several masks came in and walked round and out. I forgot to say that at los also there were masks but they just walk in and out and do not stay a minute or say anything.

After Folegandros, the Bents planned to head for Paros and Antiparos but the weather intervened again and, after an horrendous voyage, they diverted to Ios where they once again stayed with the Lorentziadis family and met the girls for the last time.

Monday morning, 4th February, we were all out and ready while our sailors were still in bed and had to wait for mules too. Also when we got to the port the boat was not ready and so though we had got up at 6 we did not start till 9. No Mavrojenis (Themistokles) made his appearance, but an old woman with a big box did and stepped on board our pink boat with no leave asked. She was put in the hold and we set out for Antiparos.

But soon the wind changed and we spoke of Amorgós. Then we had no wind and found we could not get to Amorgós, so we would try for los. Mr. Swan had heard such a glowing account of the young ladies that he was dying to go. So we tacked and rowed and did all we could and it at last, about 4, got very rough and we feared we must go to Santorin. After that we nearly had to turn into Sikinos, but we hated the thought of the long way up to the town, the damp house and probability of being weather bound and no hope of help from the steamer, and when we got near we found how difficult it was to get in so we determined to make one more try for los and a good wind just came and helped us in after 10 hours on the sea. M and the woman quite shut down in the hold and very sick.

We went to eat in a kafeneion and sent a message to the Demarch. He did not come but Marousa and her father the Proendemarchos did and we heard that the poor little 2nd wife, Marigo, has been very ill ever since we left and that Kalhirhoe had had a presentation that we should come. How they all kissed me! We had some maskers in the evening and a good deal of talking and laughing but felt very sad about poor Marigo.

We all slept in that house and left by the steamer OMONEIA (harmony). We had a very rough passage and there were threats of stopping for shelter at Naxos, but the Omoneia being a large steamer we got on to Paros.

The extracts on this page are from Gerald Brisch’s transcription of Mabel’s diaries which is published in ‘World Enough, and Time: The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent Volume I‘. The transciption from the original hand-written diary is copyright ©2006 Gerald Brisch and Archaeopress. Reproduced here by kind permission. No further reproduction without explicit written permission from Gerald Brisch and Archaeopress.