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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • Best Rhodes Guidebook

    The best Rhodes guidebook is undoubtedly the A-Z Travel Guide to Rhodes, including Symi, with a new revised and updated edition for 2022.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Monemvasia Book Review

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

  • 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.

  • 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

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

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. Traditional Pies from the Windy Aegean Isles

    Islanders make a huge variety of pies. They roll out sheets of pastry like silk or make fluffy pockets of dough, and fill them with wild greens and delicious cheeses.

    Read More

  2. Discovering “Handcrafted Crete,” a New Coffee Table Book

    A new coffee table book by travel writer Isabella Zambetaki presents the enormous variety and wealth of Crete's handicrafts, past and present.

    Read More

  3. Mini Guide: Essential Tinos

    Read on for the best summer hangouts on charming Tinos, from village cafes and tavernas to spectacular beaches and cultural tours, in one mini guide.

    Read More

  4. Multifaceted Greek Experiences From Delphi to Nafpaktos

    From lush and historical natural sites with jaw-dropping views to shopping, dining and fun activities, this route offers a cornucopia of things to discover.

    Read More

  5. Kythnos: The Outsider of the Cyclades

    Even though close to Attica, Kythnos knows how to stay under the radar. This carefree island is the ideal destination for our first summer excursions.

    Read More

  6. 5 Amazing Spots To Enjoy Sunset In Athens

    When thinking about summer in Greece, one of the first things that pop into your mind, except for the sandy beaches and turquoise waters, is the unsurpassed sunsets of the Greek islands. Indeed, sunse…

    Read More

  7. Rivers In Greece That Offer An Incredible Swimming Experience

    Sun-drenched beaches with crystal-clear waters and fine sand are what Greece is mostly known for all around the world. And, justifiably so, since Greece has a coastline of a whopping 13,676 kilometers…

    Read More

  8. 15 Fun Holiday Activities To Enjoy With Your Kids

    Summer is already here, and the summer holidays are fast approaching. So, if you plan to enjoy them with your family, it would be great to have some activities planned. As you know, children (and adul…

    Read More

  9. 11 Shipwrecks Now Accessible to Divers

    Greece’s Ministry of Culture announces its decision to make 11 wrecks accessible to divers, under the supervision of the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities.

    Read More

  10. Monemvasia: Europe’s Oldest Continuously Inhabited Castle Town is in Greece

    Monemvasia, on the southeastern shores of the Peloponnese, Greece is Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited castle town. Founded in 583 by inhabitants of the mainland seeking refuge from the Slavic an…

    Read More