Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Living in Greece

August 2017

The summer seems to be speeding by, as summers anywhere mainly do. My four grandchildren are all at the beach: the big boys are visiting the island of Spetses, where I have never been, and the littlies are on Crete, visiting their other grandparents. I have been to Crete many times, but I was sorry not to be there yesterday, as it was granddaughter Natalia’s first birthday: I’m sorry I missed seeing her enjoy her birthday cake, which was an ice cream one, I’m told. And she drank from a straw for the first time. Babyhood is disappearing fast, as she is now walking, although she likes to hang on to things while doing so. I can see the attraction of that practice at the other end of life, too! She is to be christened at the end of this month. I confess I do not look forward to the occasion at all, for Orthodox christenings, involving the ritual triple immersion, are an ordeal rather than anything else.

The meltemi is blowing strongly as I write. This is the dry north wind that sweeps the Aegean at any time from May to October, but is particularly likely to occur during July and August. It typically flows from a high pressure ridge over the Balkans: I might sound as if I have some grasp of meteorology, but I haven’t got a clue, really. I do know, however, that the proliferation of Greek islands and their topography complicate meltemi matters.  Yachting people delight in this wind if it is not too boisterous, but of course it can prevent sailing altogether: I was stranded on Kos once, because the ferries could not operate. And again on Mykonos. Both those occasions were only overnight, but one of my sons was once forced to stay on Kalymnos for 48 hours, a delay that did not please him at all.

Kalamata has a lively cultural scene, and July is the month of the internationally famous dance festival. This has been a fixture for years, but a newish development is what I call the Costume Museum. This is an abbreviated title for a fabulous collection of Greek traditional dress. The official title is The Victoria G. Karelias Collection of Greek Traditional Costumes. Mrs Karelias, who is not originally from Kalamata, but spent all her married life here, has made a great contribution to her adopted city. She has supported dance and cultural activities for many years, but the new museum must be her crowning achievement, and the result of 45 years of passionate searching and collecting.

One of Kalamata’s beautiful old buildings has been completely transformed by a distinguished architect. Spread over three storeys, the collection is of incredible richness, and it is sobering to try to calculate the number of hours and the vastness of the effort that went into the transmission of this particular part of Greek culture. Many of the dresses were made for brides, and very elaborate they were: it is only fairly recently that Western wedding couture has appeared in Greece, predictably spreading from the big centres of Athens and Thessaloniki.

Modern technology plays an important part in this museum. Touch screens in both Greek and English show close-ups of the dresses and provide important information about them, while much larger screens show sections of the costumes in minute detail, so that enthusiasts can examine every stitch in the various sections of cloth. As technology advances, however, so the old arts die. It is a sad fact that very few young people practise the art of embroidery these days: they are simply not interested, or do not have the necessary motivation and level of dedication. I suppose these facts are part of life and history, but I don’t have to like them.

A shock at the end of the month: ten days ago, to be precise. What my Grandfather always called ‘the old ticker’ decided to play up. But I don’t tick (!) the heart attack boxes, so to speak: every doctor I met in hospital, for example, asked if I am a smoker. I’m not, and never have been. I’m active, and not overweight. But the Fickle Finger of Fate occasionally pays no heed to such considerations. Intensive care, and the whole works, which included an angiogram. This showed no damage, so I’m relieved that I have got off so lightly. (Touch wood.) Now I’m with my youngest son in the pleasantly leafy Athenian suburb where he lives: I’m wearing my nitro-glycerine patch, and swallowing buckets of tablets. Well, not quite, but that’s what it feels like.

A wake-up call, accompanied by intimations of mortality. C’est la vie.

Gillian Bouras


Eureka Street

Gillian occasionally writes for

Eureka Street

(Type 'Bouras' into their search bar to find all her articles.)

Gillian Bouras 2018