I can’t remember the exact spot where this photo was taken. Yet I think it was just before entering the Ropa Valley, the valley separating Corfu’s eastern and western mountain ridges. We’d just had a farmer’s lunch in the mountain village of Lakones and were driving south to visit former Austrian Empress Elisabeth’s – aka Sissi – summer retreat ‘Achillion’.
Click on the photo to enlarge ... it's worth the effort!
Dimitris was explaining that this was gypsy country. He sounded a bit apologetic and we soon found out why. Without being condescending, I regret to say that – in some spots – the place looked like a gigantic waste dump, with car carcasses and other unidentifiable litter spoiling the flat, yet pretty landscape.
It was then that Dimitris suddenly slowed down. A hundred or so metres ahead of us was this woman on a donkey, peacefully trotting down the road. Our driver pointed out that if we wanted to take a photo, we should do so now, before passing her. He also instructed us to keep our cameras out of sight until we were well ahead of her. It wasn’t easy taking this photo, because as soon as the woman heard the car coming up behind her, she started glancing over her shoulder, worried about her safety and that of her donkey, which was probably her most valuable possession.
As soon as we were well out of sight, Dimitris explained to us that some country people – the woman wasn’t a gypsy – were very superstitious and believed that when someone took their photo they were to die within the year. This superstition finds its origins in the post WWII days when many young men left the island to go and work on the mainland of Greece or even further away in the Europe*.
If they had the financial means, they returned to the island once a year to visit with their parents and relatives who had stayed behind. At some point they started bringing cameras and taking pictures of their relatives … just in case it was the last time they saw them alive … Just to be on the safe side; after all one never knew what was going to happen during the next 365 days! Later, with some elderly people dying within the said time span, the church – which is very influential in Greece – warned that having your photo taken, was like giving away your soul and death would therefore strike within the following year.
Of course, this was coincidentally confirmed by the demise of 80+ people after they had had their photo taken by a roaming grandson. Soon the superstition was largely embraced as a reality. Apparently it still lives on in the minds of some traditional communities; they are exceptions though and 99% of the Corfiots consider it as an interesting fact of the past.
(*) Thanks to these immigrants we can now enjoy Greek food right here in Belgium and elsewhere in Europe. Anyone for moussaka or a crispy and fresh Greek salad featuring delicious feta cheese?