Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Living in Greece

June 2017

Kalo meena, as the Greeks say: have a good month. Summer is supposed to be here, but we have had most odd weather over the last week: dramatic thunderstorms and torrential rain. This pattern did not do a lot for ageing adult enjoyment of a school excursion. I had arranged to meet Nikitas and Maximus, my elder grandsons, now aged 11 and 9, and their mother, in Kalamata. Last Sunday they travelled from Megara, the town between Corinth and Athens where they live, for the day, and were a small part of three busloads of primary school children: I felt weak at the sight, and weaker still at the sound of at least a hundred Greek children at leisure.

The bad weather started in gentle fashion with a spring-like shower or two, but then deteriorated into a full-blown storm, and the aforementioned copious rain. Peloponnesian rain is often a serious matter, unlike your average British drizzle, which is usually merely irritating. All we could do was shelter under umbrellas and awnings, and try to be thankful we were not in places like Sri Lanka. I’m told the children enjoyed the day: I managed to plead age and wet feet, and so made my escape at the end of two or three hours. We did manage a quick trip to the Military Museum, where the children were told tall tales and true of Greece’s legendary martial past: conflicts off and on for thousands of years. Kalamata is not far from Sparta, of with your shield or on it fame, the bracing pre-battle instruction given by Spartan mothers to their warrior sons.

On a much lighter note, the Kalamata Flower Show has been on. This exhibition is not quite in the English Chelsea league, you understand, with no design or landscaping competitions, no obvious rivalry between posh gardening experts, but it is still a pleasure to visit and gaze at, and is much less crowded than the Chelsea venue. I can remember the day when growing flowers as a leisure activity was very much frowned upon, as the old women of the village thought, with bitter experience as their teacher, that space and water should be given over to the growing of vegetables. And village vegetable gardens are still ventures to be proud of. Once upon a time a few geraniums flourished easily enough in painted kerosene tins: now all sorts of flowers are everywhere; so are garden centres. Like vets and pet food, these are quite a recent development.

And there are always surprises to be had. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I spotted a plant that should not have been there.  But sure enough: kangaroo paws! A long, long way from native Western Australia. I was inclined to be disapproving, as accepted wisdom these days rules against the introduction of exotic species to an unfamiliar environment, the reasoning being that one never knows when a plant is going to go rampaging out of control. Of course I often consult Dr Google about such matters, and was surprised to learn that kangaroo paws can now be found in the florists’ shops of Japan.

From flowers to food. One of my favourite newspaper columnists, India Knight of the Sunday Times, has been rhapsodising about a book called The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser. The book, which India claims has already changed her daily life, is apparently gripping, and ‘a work of exceptional scholarship.’ India is definitely not one of the ‘food is fuel’ brigade, and I have already read another column in which she said she reads cookery books as other people read novels. She owned 200 cookery books at one stage, but then she got ruthless and had a cull. She may have feared, as I do, that books reproduce under cover of darkness.

I have about a thousand books: I’m not sure of the exact number, as some are housed in unexpected places. A friend once looked in a kitchen cupboard in search of plates, and found stacks of books instead. It’s that sort of house. I know I have three cookery books; I also have assorted bits of paper from magazines. I must say I get more pleasure of reading such items than in actually cooking. India thinks that most people cook only about nine things, anyway.

And now back to books.  George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is continuing to sell like hot cakes. In 2013, in the wake of the Edward Snowden whistleblowing affair, Amazon sales leaped by 6000%. When Donald Trump was inaugurated the novel hit No. 1 position, and Penguin ordered a 75,000-copy reprint. On June 6 a team of speakers will read the whole book: Orwell’s adopted son, Richard Blair, will read the opening line: It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Everything an opening line should be, really. 

Gillian Bouras


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Gillian Bouras 2018