Summer Nights: Ikaria, Greece

The Greek island of Ikaria is named after a boy who, according to myth, died after trying to fly with wings made of wax. Modern islanders aren't as ambitious but they do live longer — Ikaria is said to have the highest percentage of 99-year-olds in the world. Locals attribute the longevity to a low-stress lifestyle that pays no heed to time.

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Finally this hour, the latest entry in our series Summer Nights. Today, we take you to the Greek island of Ikaria. It's named after a mythic boy with wax wings who died after flying too close to the sun. The island's real inhabitants commonly live into their 90s and they credit their longevity to a lack of stress.

Joanna Kakissis traveled to the mountain village locally known as Christos. It's a place where the nights are often days.


JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The village of Christos begins to stir at six in the evening. A 78-year-old tailor named Nikos Karoutsos pushes a wheelbarrow of lettuce to his hungry goat. These are kind of like his morning chores. In about four hours, at 10 p.m., he plans to open his tailor shop for business.

NIKOS KAROUTSOS: (Through translator) I'm open until two or 3 a.m. Those are the hours my customers show up because that's what they're used to here. Even the Greeks who come here on vacation know we're on a different schedule.

KAKISSIS: It's a schedule Karoutsos has kept as long as he can remember. He's heard it dates to the eighteenth century when pirates terrorized the island. Villagers only ventured out after dark to avoid being seen.


KAKISSIS: Greek cookbook author Diane Kochilas, a New Yorker whose family comes from Ikaria, spends her summers on the island. She got married in Christos in 1984. A taxi driver in a weathered Peugeot station wagon drove her to the church.

DIANE KOCHILAS: And I was two hours late and the priest hadn't arrived yet, so end of story. Ikarians don't get stressed out about time.

KAKISSIS: My friends in Athens call this attitude the Ikarian way. Time does not exist, they say. Enjoy the sea and the pine-scented mountains, but don't make plans. And if you do, don't get upset if people stand you up.


KAKISSIS: And by 10 p.m., I've already been stood up several times. I walk into a shop in the village square that's just opened. It sells vintage photographs and CDs of traditional music from around the island. (Greek spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Greek spoken)

KAKISSIS: (Greek spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Greek spoken)

KAKISSIS: I try to talk to the middle-aged man behind the counter, but he's not interested. He's still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. So, I head down the stone path that's the main drag in the village. A cheerful grandmother named Lemonia Kohila has opened her patisserie. Parents drink iced coffees as their children play nearby. Lemonia says austerity has cut her business in half since last year.

LEMONIA KOHILA: (Through translator) People still come here but they buy much less. They used to order both a dessert and a drink. Now, people will just order coffee and sit here all night.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Greek spoken)

KOHILA: (Greek spoken)

KAKISSIS: By one in the morning, the dinner crowd is out. Sterge Kalogeris, an electrical contractor from Pittsburgh, is eating grilled pork chops. He vacations on Ikaria every summer.

STERGE KALOGERIS: When I go home, I'm like at peace for - it takes like a whole month for me to get all jittery and start yelling at people and get back into the grind. I like to think I'm going to live longer probably because I come here at least one month a year.

KAKISSIS: Maria Karoutsou is not so relaxed. She's working the register at the village's Women's Cooperative, which sells locally made sweets, jams, soaps and rugs. She says the store is open day and night in the summer because in the winter, there's just no business.

MARIA KAROUTSOU: (Through translator) Maybe the older folks is relaxed with the traditional schedule here but times have changed. I'm stressed. I have this job, and I want to make it work, so I want to be here on time and help customers.


KAKISSIS: Maria takes a pan of walnut cake out of the oven then looks outside at the growing crowd. It's 4 a.m. The customers will keep coming until sunrise. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis.


BLOCK: Opa. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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