Alexis Zorbas: A Corfu Experience

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Anadi and Pari, directors of Alexis Zorbas in Arillas, Corfu (Greece), tell us the story of the place

As the summer season in Corfu is stirring again, I recollect the time I met Anadi and Pari when last year’s season was winding up. It was October and we sat at the Sunset Bar under the shady and vine laden pergola, the kitchen and outdoor eating area of Alexis Zorbas; since then “meet you at the Sunset Bar” – conveniently placed at the crossroads between the road down to Arillas beach and down to the Alexis Zorbas house – has become a catchphrase.

The two directors couldn’t be more different from each other. Anadi is soft-spoken and quiet as if resting within himself. His words are accurately placed one after the other so that I can take note of them very easily. His pale yet delicate facial features are framed by very blond hair. Pari’s olive complexion and pitch black hair (some grey in places add to his charm) tell of his Mediterranean origins. His captivating and well articulated sentences rush out at supersonic speed, so much so that I am grateful for my little tape recorder.

View onto the sea

View onto the sea

Morning singing at Alexis Zorbas

Morning singing at Alexis Zorbas

The secluded octagon

The secluded octagon

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Arillas is a village on the west coast of Corfu, just off Albania, thus one of the most northern points of Greece. For centuries it was part of the Venetian ‘empire’ which still shows in the architecture and people tending the olive groves which cover most parts of the hills. Two more holistic venues are located in two neighbouring villages, which is rather unusual. How did all this happen?

There had been a small Osho commune in the late seventies in another nearby village called ‘Sadhana’, offering meditations and seminars with widely known therapists like Veeresh, Margot Anand and Somendra. It had attracted Peter Stolz, a travel agent by trade with a deep interest in self-discovery. Together with the centre leaders he had the brilliant business idea to create a holiday place linked to a travel agency, enabling people to book travel, accommodation and groups all with one phone call. “Nothing like this existed in Europe at the time: a place in the sun where a woman could go for a holiday all by herself, where you could meditate and receive sessions and which was just a hop away from the rest of Europe,” says Anadi.

In December 1988 he replied to a newspaper advert in the Rajneesh Times which read ‘Body worker wanted on Corfu’. “I knew immediately: this is it! because after the Ranch I couldn’t really find my place in Germany. I drove to Munich – and we came to an agreement immediately. Kali, my girlfriend at the time, and I gave sessions in the beginning, but it became quickly obvious that they also needed a manager and I became that already during the first season.”

Next enters Pari: during a Mystic Rose Meditation in 1989 in Pune, he had an insight that he needs to open a centre in Greece. Although originally from Greece but having lived so many years in Germany, the message comes as a surprise. He follows the calling, hops from one island to another (Lesvos, Samos, Thassos) in search of the right place – without success – and, before returning empty handed to Germany, he decides to visit his long-time friend Anadi in Corfu.

Through Anadi’s presence, sannyasin group leaders came to give workshops and sessions; many sannyasins came to the island either just for holiday or as participants of the workshops. He says, “Pari offered his first therapy groups which were called ‘Zorbas Camp’, and Kali and I conducted Rebalancing trainings. This all led to introducing Osho’s Meditations, not only to the participants of our groups, but also to holiday guests.”

Gradually the gap between the more conventional guests and the sannyasins – with their laughter, exuberant behaviour and loud meditations – became so wide that it was better to part company and Pari, Anadi, and Kali decided to create their own place. On their way back to Germany after their second summer season, they looked over the sea from the ferry heading towards Venice, and the name of their new place became clear. It was going to be ‘Alexis Zorbas’.

The name has a deep significance for both of them. Pari remembers first reading Katzansakis’s book when he was 18: “He puts the human core to the fore, the humanity which unites us all. We don’t need religions or concepts.” Anadi adds, “It was also important that Osho had pointed this out to us, and we found it here; it is not just an idea in our heads. With each person, with every employee, every friend in the village, we always make the same experience. ”

Pari waxes quite philosophically, “If you live and love the Zorbas in yourself, you automatically turn the search into something deeper, more essential. I think that first we have to love this body, this world, this matter. Then arises a thirst – I have danced, I ate, I’ve lived, I’ve loved, I have children, family – but what now? Isn’t there something more? No need to philosophize but there develops a longing for the Buddha, nourished by our life experience. Osho too says you don’t need to deny ‘this’ to have a yes for ‘that’. A yes to this immediately opens the door to that.”

In fact, walking though Alexis Zorbas I never got the feeling of a ‘spiritual’ place. People come for holidays, enjoy the sun, the food, the company of other guests. Maybe then, or maybe not, questions may come up: “Who is at home here? Who am I? What is important in my life?”

That following spring they were ready to start their own business. With savings from family and friends they built the meditation hall, bought cutlery and kitchen utensils. Ten years later, in 2000, they built a second big hall: the Octagon.

Considering that in those days everybody was flocking to Pune en masse, they considered it a success to have bookings for 50 people in their two houses. Nowadays they can accommodate up to 120 people in 10 different rented premises. “We offer groups in the Octagon and in two group rooms, and we have a daily meditation and yoga programme. Guests come as participants of a workshop or for a holiday. They have the choice to go deeper into themselves or to enjoy the scenery – or both. It’s up to them to do what they want,” says Anadi.

I mention that tourism in Corfu has suffered badly from the economic downturn, losing up to 40% of the previous year’s income. “In our case it is a totally different target group. Those who come here want something else. It’s not only that the numbers will remain constant, but more people will be coming,” exclaims Anadi to which Pari adds: “From the economical point of view it is actually a ‘crises-proof product’ we are offering here. The yearning for more joy, more depth, truth and honesty cannot be quashed by the biggest economic crisis. The search for the essence doesn’t stop during economically difficult times, on the contrary, this is the moment when it starts. People spend their money for it because it gives meaning to their lives.”

Before I can ask Pari and Anadi about their music, which characterises not only their lives but also Alexis Zorbas’, a vivacious, blond woman enters and is welcomed with hugs and kisses; it is Kali. “Ah, we’ve just been speaking about you.” I am told she will celebrate her 60th birthday here in Corfu and has invited her entire family clan of 40-50 people for the celebrations.

“During the first years at Alexis Zorbas music was not relevant. But suddenly one day – Pari had just returned from India – we were all sitting together in the kitchen and suddenly we both had our guitars in our hands and were singing together.” The three of them, Pari, Satyaa and Anadi, sometimes accompanied by a fourth musician, played for many years at the Alexis Zorbas to the delight of their guests.

At some point their musical styles diverged and Anadi started singing on his own, sannyas songs, but mainly mantras, accompanied by drums and sometimes by a solo instrument. Satyaa and Pari met in Lucknow, India, where they sang mantras together. They have now seven published CDs with devotional songs and traditional mantras primarily with chants they composed themselves. They not only sing in Corfu, but go on tour in winter.

Although Anadi and Pari work together at the start and at the end of a season, it often happens that due to their family engagements, one or the other is not at the centre and one alone has to take full responsibility of the place. In that case whoever is at the reins will decide how to solve a situation, without the need to consult with the other.

“It is interesting to see the decisions Pari made during my absence. Then I realize, ‘Aha, this is another way to do it. I would probably have done it differently, but it also works like this – and maybe even better!’ It broadens our perspective and helps us not to give too much importance to our likings. In the end the decisions are not that different. I realise time and time again that even if I had another view, the end result is exactly what we both want.”

Pari smiles: “It is a present for both of us that we don’t have to ask each other about every little thing. It is clear that is presupposes a certain maturity, based on love and trust – and this is also what pulls people to come here.”

Text by Punya
Photos © Alexis Zorbas

www.alexiszorbas.com
www.satyaa-pari.com
www.songofheart.com

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