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The Other Greek Isles

LEFKADA
Lefkada's most renowned celebrity is the poet Sappho, who is said to have leaped to her death from the barren cliffs of Cape Lefkadas. But in the mountaintop village of Karya the local celebrity is Brenda Sherry, a Brit who came on vacation and decided to stay. Now the co-owner of the Café-Bar Pierros, she is famous for her "toasties," or grilled sandwiches. Sitting under the plane tree in the main square, I asked Brenda if she earned enough to survive. "I had a great computer programming job in England, but I chucked it all to come here," she responded, watching an old lady in traditional dress hobble by. "I'm much happier making toasties."

Brenda extolled the clean air and slow pace of village life, but I suspect that what drew her to Karya is its Twin Peaks mood. This is a town whose favorite daughter is Maria Koutsohera (a.k.a. Hollowhand), a one-armed woman who created the decorative Karsanika stitch in the early 1900's, turning Karya into a hub of the embroidery industry. Her school is now the Folklore Museum, where the owner, Theodoros, praises the woman who taught his mother to sew. "She was short, ugly, and handicapped," he exclaimed to me. "And look what she did with the gifts God gave her!"

The rest of Lefkada is just as idiosyncratic, except for the touristy windsurfing destination of Vassiliki, and Nydri, the starting point for boat trips to 10 tiny satellite islands. After wandering the pedestrian lanes of the town of Lefkada, which are lined with a jumble of chapels, tavernas, and cottages, I found my ideal spot in Agios Nikitas, a vertical village rolling into a small beach that offers few diversions besides watching kids splash and fishermen cast their lines off the rocks. Lefkada connects to the mainland by a causeway, so it's popular with vacationing Greeks. As I sat at a beachfront café, eavesdropping on chain-smoking matrons reciting a litany of scandals, Lefkada suddenly switched from Twin Peaks to Peyton Place.

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