Samos’ White Night

The annual White Night on Samos delivers a long evening of late-night shopping, street music and al fresco dining. The main roads in the town are cordoned off and pedestrians throng the streets; restaurants fill the alleys and waterfront with extra tables and chairs; DJs and musicians compete for audiences with fusions of traditional, ethnic, modern music.

All along the port, crowds revel under the stars: a cosmopolitan mix of locals, tourists and asylum seekers. It seems a night without divide, without cause for segregation. It is, even, a chance to build bridges and find a moment of commonality amongst the families, young children and teenagers from around the world, strolling arm in arm along the promenade.

Local businesses have set up booths to sell their wares; the fire service plants oversized helmets on young children to the flash of the parent’s cameras; the kiosks and shops do a brisk trade in snacks and drinks.

In the central square, under the stretching palm trees and watchful gaze of the immense stone lion, a DJ commands the square’s paved dance floor of pulsing, moving bodies. This is the heart of the town; the heart of the evening.

The hours go by and the air around is a dome made hot by the sweat of frenetic dancing. The bodies here do desperate kinesis. As if the night, quick to pass, were to bleach into dawn that very second.

The first night I’ve felt happy on Samos. Spoken in a heave of wholesome respiration by one dancer, cavorting out of the crowd. 9 months here. We love this. Who organised it?

For so many, this is a night for the heart and for the release of repressed emotion. The mania of a festival and libidinous carnival unlock this rare performance.

Then how cruel, how mightily hard to come crashing down from such a high; an expression of human need under the sea’s stars on an island in the Aegean.

The music is cut; aural vacuum. A nobody appears on a meaningless moped and causes silence. Then a pause that is broken by the enraged strains of his voice that echoes the desperate flailing of the dancers but down a phone that exhorts police to tear up the scene. I organised this and I can unorganise it too, it seems to say.

The scene is shattered; groups make off in haste; groups linger waiting for what was not expected, for the imposition of routine paper checking that underscores difference and social division. The officers, too, have a manner of reluctance, seemingly disheartened by the untimely termination of the evening.

Elsewhere, the White Night continues and the strains of music just reach the main square.

The stage of discord, where there’s no winner, not even one.