Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Living in Greece

June 2016

Summer has got off to a slow start, but it is here now, and two days ago I had my first swim of the season. Greeks count their swims; it took me years to get used to this habit, but now I count my plunges and paddles, too. The old belief was that the more swims you had, the better off you’d be during the following winter. Sand baths were also considered very efficacious in the battle against arthritis and rheumatism, but so far I haven’t had to worry about these problems. Touch wood. I’ve a lot to catch up on in the swimming department, as this time last year I was readying myself for a winter in Melbourne, which turned out to be the coldest for 26 years: just my luck.

My first braving of the briny this northern summer took place in an idyllic spot: an unspoiled beach, water that had become nicely warm because it is quite shallow, and weathered sandstone cliffs. My friends and I were the only people there, which was good, as I become quite misanthropic in beach crowds, having been spoiled in childhood: my siblings and I virtually had our own beach for years. There was no bravery involved two days ago, really: the sea was like a mill-pond, as my Grandfather would have said; the Greek expression for a flat, calm sea is ‘like oil.’ One assumes the reference is to the olive variety.

In other news, as they say, it looked for a short space of time as if the Chelsea Flower Show had come to Kalamata. The main park, always a pleasant place, was suddenly full of summer flowers in all their bright glory. When I first came to this area, it was extremely difficult to find anything resembling a nursery. But it wasn’t too long before the locals began to hone their undoubted talents as gardeners, and now plants, garden furniture and all sorts of supplies are big business. I also like to think in terms of therapy in troubled times (and the times in Greece have been very troubled for as long as I can remember): you can really lose yourself and all nagging worries when involved in potting and digging, planning and planting, browsing and buying. It was famous Elizabethan/Jacobean essayist Francis Bacon who wrote that ‘God Almighty first planted a garden, and indeed it is the purest of human pleasures.’ How right he was.

It will come as no surprise to learn that I have been gadding about again. But it may come as a surprise when I mention the Australian Archeological Institute at Athens, as many people are unaware of its existence. The British, Germans and Americans have all had ‘schools’ in Athens for about 100 years, so Australian archaeologists were relative newcomers, establishing the Institute in 1980. It is connected with the University of Sydney, and of course there is a lot of academic coming and going between Australia and Greece. Field works are conducted in Torone, Zagora and Kythera in Greece, and in Paphos, in Cyprus.

The Institute also has an energetic collection of Friends, and it is with this very interesting group that I try to raise my own cultural tone and level, so to speak. I have been on many excursions with the Friends in the past, but this latest was the annual three-day jaunt. First stop was the mighty Chlemoutsi  (or Clermont) Castle, which is situated on the westernmost tip of the Peloponnese. Castles are usually built on high spots with a view, for very sound strategic reasons, and Clermont is no exception. It is visible for miles around, situated as it is on a large rock outcrop.

It is a Frankish castle, built in the years 1220 to 1223, and has had a chequered history, like the Peloponnese itself. Clermont was in a convenient spot for trade with the West, as the Ionian islands are not far away, and it was also a symbol of power, being quite simply vast. The outer walls are in remarkably good order, despite the bombardment inflicted on the whole complex by Ibrahim Pasha, scourge of the Pelops in the mid 1820s, and a person who certainly got around.  Nikos Kazantzakis wrote that ‘fortresses exert a mysterious fascination on one’s soul,’ and he wasn’t wrong. Just the thought of the lives lived within that huge compound is fascinating.

Another tour highlight was a visit to the Temple of Apollo Epikourios, about 14 km from Andritsaina. The temple is situated in dramatic landscape, and is forbidding in its isolation. I first saw it more than 35 years ago, and am now pleased that I saw it before it got its protective aluminium tent. I was also pleased that I did manage to see it, because then it was a nightmare drive to get there, and I was worried that I never would. But I did, obviously.

Interested parties can check both Temple and Clermont via Google: it is worth the effort.

And may inspire your own visit one day.












Gillian Bouras


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Gillian Bouras 2018