Peel Me a Lotus

Peel Me a Lotus by Charmian Clift is a Hydra travel writing classic, describing her family’s life on this tiny Greek island near Athens in the 1950s.

Peel Me a Lotus is the successor to Charmian Clift’s excellent book about living on Kalymnos, Mermaid Singing. That book began in 1954 when she and her husband, and their two children, left London to live on Kalymnos in the Dodecanese. The follow-up takes up their story after they have moved to Hydra in the Saronic Gulf Islands near Athens, where a new baby arrives and they become part of a growing community of writers and artists.

Hydra would become more famous a few years later when a Canadian poet named Leonard Cohen went to live there, and people including Eric Clapton, John Lennon and various Rolling Stones all visited. By then more tourism had also began to change the island, although at the time of Peel Me a Lotus the only visitors were Athenians arriving for the weekend.

Another Hydra resident is the British author Polly Samson and her husband, the Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour. Samson provides an entertaining introduction to Peel Me a Lotus where, amongst other things, she reveals the names of the real people who appear in the book under pseudonyms. One was ‘Ursula’, the wife of the artist Sidney Nolan, and she was so offended by her admittedly rather wicked portrait in the book that she ended her friendship with Clift.

HydraHydra

Another character, ‘Jacques’, is an extremely pretentious French artist. It adds an extra layer of interest to the book when you learn from the introduction that he and Clift eventually became lovers, despite her cruel depiction of him, and it triggered the end of her marriage. 

One of the more interesting – if depressing – sections of the book is when an American film crew descends on Hydra to shoot the 1957 film, Boy on a Dolphin. They tear the main town apart – literally, in places – but pump much-needed money into the local economy. Especially the bars.

Mermaid Singing

The book is one of contrasting moods. The antics of the Bohemian crowd of artists and writers can be hilarious, with the author keeping an objective distance and painting a punishing portrait of them. On the other hand, there is much more introspection than in Mermaid Singing, with the author frequently in a melancholy mood. 

Another difference between this and the previous book (reviewed here) is that while the first one describes the fascinating and often surprising lives of her poor Greek neighbours, here the focus is very much on the ex-pats, whose lives aren’t as interesting as they think they are. We’re all familiar with pretentious artists and struggling poets, but knew little about the lives of sponge fishermen before reading Mermaid Singing.

HydraHydra

Hydra Travel Writing Classic

Despite these drawbacks, it’s still fair to call this a Hydra travel writing classic, to go on the bookshelves alongside A Rope of Vines by the Welsh author and artist Brenda Chamberlain. Chamberlain must have arrived on Hydra not long after Charmian Clift left, and a back-to-back reading would be interesting.

Peel Me a Lotus is published by Muswell Press and available from their website, as well as worldwide on Amazon.

Other books pages

  • Greece Book Reviews on the Greece Travel Secrets website with reviews of the best guidebooks to Greece, the Greek Islands, Athens, Crete and elsewhere.

    Greece Book Reviews

    Greece Book Reviews on the Greece Travel Secrets website with reviews of the best guidebooks to Greece, the Greek Islands, Athens, Crete and elsewhere.

  • Greece Travel Secrets reviews the Greek cookbook, The Ikaria Way by Diane Kochilas, containing 100 delicious plant-based recipes.

    The Ikaria Way

    Greece Travel Secrets reviews the Greek cookbook, The Ikaria Way by Diane Kochilas, containing 100 delicious plant-based recipes.

  • There are many great Greek poets, with two authors winning the Nobel Prize for Literature and names include Sappho, Cavafy, George Seferis and Odysseus Elytis.

    Great Greek Poets: Cavafy, Sappho, George Seferis, Odysseus Elytis

    There are many great Greek poets, with two authors winning the Nobel Prize for Literature and names include Sappho, Cavafy, George Seferis and Odysseus Elytis.

  • A Thing of Beauty by Peter Fiennes describes ‘Travels in Mythical and Modern Greece’ and places the Greek Gods in the context of modern-day Greece.

    A Thing of Beauty

    A Thing of Beauty by Peter Fiennes describes ‘Travels in Mythical and Modern Greece’ and places the Greek Gods in the context of modern-day Greece.

  • The Lonely Planet guide to the Greek Islands is a thorough and helpful guide to all the Greek island groups, with Athens included.

    Lonely Planet Greek Islands

    The Lonely Planet guide to the Greek Islands is a thorough and helpful guide to all the Greek island groups, with Athens included.

  • The latest edition of the Lonely Planet travel guide to Greece is a comprehensive 750-page guidebook to the whole country.

    Lonely Planet Greece

    The latest edition of the Lonely Planet travel guide to Greece is a comprehensive 750-page guidebook to the whole country.

  • Lonely Planet Crete is an excellent and thorough guide of almost 300 pages to the largest of the Greek islands.

    Lonely Planet Crete

    Lonely Planet Crete is an excellent and thorough guide of almost 300 pages to the largest of the Greek islands.

  • The Bradt Guide to the Peloponnese is the best book on the Greek region which includes attractions like Mycenae, Epidavros, Olympia, Monemvasia and Nafplion.

    Bradt Guide to the Peloponnese

    The Bradt Guide to the Peloponnese is the best book on the Greek region which includes attractions like Mycenae, Epidavros, Olympia, Monemvasia and Nafplion.

  • A Rope of Vines by Brenda Chamberlain is an evocative memoir of the author’s time living on the Greek island of Hydra in the early 1960s.

    A Rope of Vines

    A Rope of Vines by Brenda Chamberlain is an evocative memoir of the author’s time living on the Greek island of Hydra in the early 1960s.

  • Wild Abandon by Jennifer Barclay and published by Bradt Guides is A Journey to Deserted Places of the Dodecanese islands in Greece, including Rhodes and Kos.

    Wild Abandon

    Wild Abandon by Jennifer Barclay and published by Bradt Guides is A Journey to Deserted Places of the Dodecanese islands in Greece, including Rhodes and Kos.

  • The Summer of My Greek Taverna by Tom Stone is a memoir of his time on the Greek island of Patmos in the Dodecanese, running a restaurant.

    The Summer of My Greek Taverna

    The Summer of My Greek Taverna by Tom Stone is a memoir of his time on the Greek island of Patmos in the Dodecanese, running a restaurant.

  • Taverna by the Sea is an account by Jennifer Barclay of her summer spent working in a taverna on Karpathos and a welcome new book of Greek travel writing.

    Taverna by the Sea

    Taverna by the Sea is an account by Jennifer Barclay of her summer spent working in a taverna on Karpathos and a welcome new book of Greek travel writing.

  • The Bradt Guide to Northern Greece is a detailed guide to Thessaloniki, Halkidiki, Macedonia, Thrace, The Pelion, The Sporades and the rest of Northern Greece.

    Northern Greece Guide

    The Bradt Guide to Northern Greece is a detailed guide to Thessaloniki, Halkidiki, Macedonia, Thrace, The Pelion, The Sporades and the rest of Northern Greece.

  • Greece Travel Secrets reviews the photography book Monemvasia with extracts from works by Yiannis Ritsos and Nikos Kazantzakis.

    Monemvasia Book Review

    Greece Travel Secrets reviews the photography book Monemvasia with extracts from works by Yiannis Ritsos and Nikos Kazantzakis.

  • Mermaid Singing by Charmian Clift is a fine example of 1950s travel writing about the Greek island of Kalymnos in the Dodecanese.

    Mermaid Singing: Kalymnos Travel Writing

    Mermaid Singing by Charmian Clift is a fine example of 1950s travel writing about the Greek island of Kalymnos in the Dodecanese.

  • Margarita’s Olive Press is a modern gem of a book of Greek travel writing, in which the author falls in love with and renovates a property on Zakynthos.

    Margarita’s Olive Press

    Margarita’s Olive Press is a modern gem of a book of Greek travel writing, in which the author falls in love with and renovates a property on Zakynthos.

  • Ikaria by Meni Valle, brings together the best and healthiest Greek recipes with an evocative travelogue about Ikaria, one of the world’s Blue Zone places.

    Ikaria Book Review

    Ikaria by Meni Valle, brings together the best and healthiest Greek recipes with an evocative travelogue about Ikaria, one of the world’s Blue Zone places.

  • Fire on the Island is a romantic thriller novel by Timothy Jay Smith set on a fictionalised version of the town of Molyvos on the island of Lesbos.

    Fire on the Island

    Fire on the Island is a romantic thriller novel by Timothy Jay Smith set on a fictionalised version of the town of Molyvos on the island of Lesbos.

  • Eurydice Street, A Place in Athens by Sofka Zinovieff is an honest account of what it’s like to move to Athens and live as a foreigner, learning Greek customs.

    Eurydice Street

    Eurydice Street, A Place in Athens by Sofka Zinovieff is an honest account of what it’s like to move to Athens and live as a foreigner, learning Greek customs.

  • Greece Travel Secrets reviews the book Culture Trails by Lonely Planet, which has a section on Artistic Athens and 51 other perfect weekends for culture lovers.

    Culture Trails

    Greece Travel Secrets reviews the book Culture Trails by Lonely Planet, which has a section on Artistic Athens and 51 other perfect weekends for culture lovers.

  • The 2022 edition of the A-Z Travel Guide to Kos is the 15th edition of the best and most comprehensive guidebook to Kos in the Dodecanese islands of Greece.

    A-Z Travel Guide to Kos

    The 2022 edition of the A-Z Travel Guide to Kos is the 15th edition of the best and most comprehensive guidebook to Kos in the Dodecanese islands of Greece.

  • The very thorough A-Z Guide to Santorini by Tony Oswin is now in its 15th edition, a sure sign that the guidebook is both popular and kept up-to-date.

    A-Z Guide to Santorini

    The very thorough A-Z Guide to Santorini by Tony Oswin is now in its 15th edition, a sure sign that the guidebook is both popular and kept up-to-date.

  • Heaven on Earth is a collection of 19 travel pieces about Greece by Mike Gerrard.

    Heaven on Earth

    Heaven on Earth is a collection of 19 travel pieces about Greece by Mike Gerrard.

  • If planning a trip to Greece, what are the best books about Greece to read before you go, or to take with you, to give you a sense of place?

    Books About Greece

    If planning a trip to Greece, what are the best books about Greece to read before you go, or to take with you, to give you a sense of place?

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.

Latest Posts

  1. Greece Bans Sunbeds, Umbrellas, Bars on 198 Beaches

    Sunbeds, umbrellas, and all sorts of constructions have been banned on 198 beaches across Greece according to a joint ministerial decision signed this week by Economy & Finance Minister Kostis Hatzida…

    Read More

  2. 4 Guesthouses in Zagori that Are Worth Visiting

    Amidst the mountains and spectacular scenery, these four traditional guesthouses in the heart of Zagori, Epirus, offer the very best in Greek hospitality.

    Read More

  3. Greece’s 10 Highest Mountains

    From myth-laden peaks to rugged alpine trails, we explore ten of Greece's highest mountains, where untamed beauty and boundless adventure meet.

    Read More

  4. Paris 2024 Olympic Flame Lit at Ancient Olympia, Countdown to Games Begins

    The Olympic flame that will be burning for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games this summer was lit in Ancient Olympia on Tuesday, April 16. Located in western Peloponnese, Ancient Olympia is one of the most…

    Read More

  5. April 17 Greece National Strike to Affect Public Transport, Ferry Travel

    Public transportation in Athens as well as ferry travel in Greece will be disrupted on Wednesday, April 17, due to a 24-hour strike called by the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), the cou…

    Read More

  6. The Ikaria Way

    the-ikaria-way-front-and-back-cover-900.webp
    Greece Travel Secrets reviews the Greek cookbook, The Ikaria Way by Diane Kochilas, containing 100 delicious plant-based recipes.

    Read More

  7. Greece Announces Steep Fines for Beach Access Violations

    The Greek Finance Ministry announced this week that it would taking strict measures including fines of up to 60,000 euros to ensure that Greece’s beaches are always accessible to the public. Fines ran…

    Read More

  8. Cyprus-Greece Ferry Connection to Start on May 29

    For a third year in a row, the ferry service linking Cyprus with Greece is scheduled to resume operations on May 29. The Cypriot-flagged Daleela, which can transport 400 passengers and 200 vehicles, w…

    Read More

  9. Greece Aiming to Include Knossos on UNESCO’s World Heritage List

    The Region of Crete announced this week that all actions had been taken to include the world-famous archaeological site of Knossos on Crete on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

    Read More

  10. Two Top Floors of Athens Hotel Blocking Acropolis View Shut Down

    The Greek Tourism Ministry announced this week that it had sealed off the two top floors and the rooftop bar of a hotel in the center of Athens which were blocking views to the Acropolis.

    Read More