ESIN

European Small Islands Federation

Archive for People

French esprit and Scottish bravery

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Camille Dressler, chairperson of ESIN, lives on the small island of Eigg (30 km2, 80 residents). “I was living in France studying English, and my boyfriend’s mother found us this place on Eigg for a winter let so we came to spend the winter here to study, write and paint!”

The islanders took ownership of Eigg in 1997.  Looking back on her time as a director of the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, she said “Before the buyout we were just surviving. After the buyout, we could look ahead and build a solid future. Ten years later, we have put together the first renewable energy system that integrated sun, wind and water and our young people are coming back. This just shows what can be done if you give power to the community.”

Camille is devoted to community empowerment and community energy, as well as heritage and the arts. She is studying energy arts such as qi gong and dao yin yoga, also writing and making arty crafty things. A Gaelic learner, she has established a small croft museum modelled on the Spinster House she visited in the island of Huksara, on one of the ESIN inter island trips to Finland.  She has also created a bilingual crofting trail to go with it. Her first project was a shoe-string presentation of the island’s history, geology and wildlife in the the island’s former shop, involving the island children in creating the artwork as part of the Eigg Primary school Green flags. Having spent much time recording the older inhabitants of Eigg,  she became the island historian, writing the tale of her island: “Eigg. The Story of an island” published in 1998, from which I quote: …”a new sort of Gall has come to the land of the Gaidheal. I am one of them”…

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As a Director she helped build the organisation that owns and runs the Isle of Eigg, experiencing at first hand the benefits of working in a co-operative way. She has seen the role that creative thinking and learning as a group can have in improving community dynamics.

Now, she is the chair of the Scottish Islands Federation, representing the Small Isles Community Council (the islands of Eigg, Rum, Muck and Canna) on its board. She was also elected as Chair of the European Small Islands Federation in September 2016 for which we are very happy.

You must be brave to live on such a small, remote island as Eigg, you must be brave to go all the way to Brussels with your propositions, and you need to be witty to overcome the people who disregard such propositions with the ever-prevalent buzzkill phrase, “it can’t be done.”

It can be done. We can do it. Camille and her fellow islanders proved it. On Saturday 21 January, they were marching in solidarity with the US women, the Eigg march being the second smallest in the world wide event!

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First baby born on Ouessant since 1986

lampaulOn the French islands Ouessant (Ushant), the new year begins well as little Leane was born on 3rd of January. She shook up her parents, the medical services and the island statistics to become the first baby to be born on the island of Ouessant for a good thirty years.

The future mom ouessantine was about to take the Monday 16:30 boat to Brest, in anticipation of her imminent delivery, not wanting to quit her job at the local supermarket too early. The unborn baby decided otherwise while her mother was still on the Stiff landing stage.

The firefighters and the island doctor were called, the future mother was placed in the fire truck and taken to the airfield, waiting for the arrival of the airborne mainland medical services. It was there that Leane was born, around 5.45 pm. “It was in the open air and everyone brought blankets,” says an islander.

The last birth on the island dates back to June 18, 1986. A little girl, too. And, wink of fate, the brother of the young mother, born on October 6, 1985, was the penultimate birth to Ouessant. He was born at the motherhood of the island, which has since been transformed into a youth hostel.la-mairie-22017 is starting off well on Ouessant which just got its 879th inhabitant. Happy New Year!

Top ten island books?

Which books, songs or poems have had the strongest influence on our common image of what an island is?

Is it Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe”, George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” or Ernest Hemingway’s “Islands in the Stream”? Is it Lucy Maud Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables” or Enid Blyton’s “Five on a Treasure Island”? Is it Paul Simon’s “I am a rock, I am an island” or is it John Donne’s “No man is an island”? Is it Jules Verne’s “l’Ile Mysterieuse”, Walt Disney/Carl Barks’ “Floating Island” or Hergé’s “L’Ile Noir”?

Which literary contribution has had most influence on the human concept of an “island”?

Viktor Builds a Bridge

In 1974, Swedish illustrator Jan Loof published a small book called Viktor bygger en bro (it exists in English: Viktor Builds a Bridge). I am very fond of it, I read it to my children when they were small, I have started reading it to my grand-children and I am now showing it to you. Please enjoy.

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Title page

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Once there was a man called Viktor. He lived on an island. His only friend was a tame gull.

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It would be nice to see some people, said Viktor. Krrr, said the gull.

 

Songs from an island

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I disembark a ferry in the port of Hydra in early spring 2005 and take the street to the right of the clock tower. The street bends to the left then to the right past a supermarket. I keep going till I come to an open area with a taverna on the right and tables across the street on the left. Right after the taverna I turn right and go up the steps, turn left onto a street which is mainly steps going up, keep going till I come to a street named A.KRIEZI (unusually there is a street name sign), turn right and walk till I come to the Four Corners yellow-painted supermarket. Turning down the narrow lane on my right at the side of the supermarket, I take the lane to the left and then quickly right and end up in front of Leonard Cohen’s house, with a double grey door and a large hand knocker.

2005 is the year when it becomes known that Cohen’s manager has stolen all his assets, which makes him tour the world again and sing his old songs some of which are written here, on this small island in the Saronic Gulf 2 ferry hours from Athens.

He comes to Hydra in from London in 1960 and buys this house half a year later, living here with Marianne Ihlsen who is typing at a table on Cohen’s battered Olivetti on the back cover of the album Songs from a Room (1967), smiling in half-embarrassment at the camera. Cohen writes his novels The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966), and the songs for his first albums which include the classic anthem So Long, Marianne, about their parting.

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In a letter to his sister, Cohen describes how gangs of carousing locals stumble drunkenly up the steps of his street, “their arms about each other’s shoulders, singing magnificent close harmony”. This inspires the line “like a drunk in a midnight choir” in the Bird on the Wire song, written on Hydra and finished in a motel on Sunset Boulevard in 1969. It’s origin is disarmingly literal: when he first arrives on Hydra there are no wires on the island. In the mid-1960s, the arrival of telephone poles and electricity means that wires appeares for the first time on the landscape, slung loosely across alleyways, including outside his house. At first Cohen is despondent but then he notices birds come to the wires. And the song is born.

Having got much criticism from his friends for the musical setting of his first album which included strings and horns, his second album Songs from a Room is much more sparse. The songs are immensely beautiful in their minimalistic settings, they have a singular integrity and are prior to none. I never zap or skip any of the tracks, always listening to the album in the way it was conceived. They are songs from a man called Leonard, from an island called Hydra.

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Leonard Cohen passed away on November 7, 2016, 82 years old.

Greek TV covers the small islands of Europe

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Greek journalist Kostas Argyros, seconded by Eleni Korovila and a film team, has been island-hopping around Europe, covering some of its small islands. On Sunday evening, the Greek television program “28europe” showed his 45 minute long report https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8AVzC1LvOCw

Wow!

Such great contributions from islanders Bengt, Lefteris, Tarja, Camille, Christian, Denis, Laurids and Maria. Such beautiful portraits of Skaftö (though Bengt seems a bit mislocated), Prangli in Estonia, Eigg in Scotland, the Åland Islands, Houat and Ouessant in France, Sejerø in Denmark and Tilos in Greece. But not just beauty – Kostas catches some of the important issues regarding life on small islands.

I especially like the interviews with Tarja from Prangli and Maria from Tilos.

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All in all: a fantastic portrait of ESIN (the only thing missing is English subtitles).

You can’t be an island on an island like this

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Georgia is a golden-haired, 18-month-old girl whose smile lights up the room. Being the first person to be born on Easdale for 80 years, she occupies a special place in the hearts of everyone on this rocky island lying east of Mull, close to the coast of Scotland.

It seems almost everybody of the 70 inhabitants played a part in her safe delivery into this world last July. She is the daughter of Lyndsay and Dave Munro and, as her time approached, a helicopter complete with doctors and midwives was scrambled to fly her to Paisley and the security of a consultant-led team. “However, she had obviously waited long enough,” said Lyndsay, “and decided to make an early entrance. The midwives and doctors simply decided to make the house a maternity ward as it became clear there would be no birth in Paisley that night.”

Her birth, it seemed, was like a sanctification of Easdale and some of those who witnessed it were profoundly affected. Lyndsay said: “I even received gifts for her from some Americans who were visiting the island that week and were caught up in all the drama.”

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Easdale belongs to the sprawling council area of Argyll and Bute. Mike MacKenzie, the MSP for the Highlands and Islands, has his home on Easdale, where he has lived for 36 years after being brought up in Glasgow.

“Easdale is a microcosm of what’s been happening in this part of Scotland for many years,” he said. “Now we want to address the situation and maintain this island’s long-term viability. I’m originally from Oban with roots in Argyll going back generations, like many on the island. But after being reared and educated in Glasgow, I knew I just had to return here to put down roots. I only got involved in local politics because I simply didn’t think the council properly understood how much potential we have here and how to develop it.”

This is a place that, on your first few encounters, seems to offer the prospect of gifts to requite the yearnings of any soul. With this though, comes a challenge to any sense of self-reliance or instant gratification. It calls for the humility of having to rely on others.

“You can’t be an island on an island like this,” says MacKenzie.

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Last month the islanders’ gentle Mayday message was carried into the world in a stunning eight-minute film called “Easdale – A wild Community”. It was shot and produced free of charge by Patrick Rowan, who works with the island outdoor activities firm, Seafari Adventures. Using time-lapse and pull focus filming techniques, it captures the beauty of this place in all its car-free glory better than mere words.

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