Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Living in Greece

December 2017

It’s that time again, and the old Puritanical soul is in overdrive on observing that Christmas, yet again, has been hijacked by the general forces of capitalism and the specific forces of appetite and greed. I am still reeling from the shock of discovering that in Britain it is possible to buy, of course at great expense, an erotic Advent calendar: I ask you. My grannies are doing cartwheels in their graves. My grandchildren will be getting very modest offerings, if any, to mark the Festive Season. I’ve already made a present of a few Australian dollars to my Big Boys, now 11 and 9. With their parents, they will be in Melbourne for three weeks over the Christmas-New Year period: excitement is running high.

November is always a busy month: three family birthdays and a name-day. My diary keeps me informed of name-days, which is just as well, as it is impossible to remember them all. Having said that, however, I now recall that I once knew an old villager who could reel off the names faultlessly when any random date was mentioned. As I write it is St Andrew’s Day. St Andrew is an important saint made much of in Greece, where he is known as The First-Called. On the 13th of November I happened to be in a bus that passes the Bishop’s palace. I noticed the whole place was en fete. After arriving home, I checked: sure enough, it was the Bishop’s name-day, the feast day of St John Chrysostom, the name His Grace took on his elevation. Said St John (there seems to be a great number of them) was an early and much revered father of the Orthodox Church.

Greece goes in for serious rain: none of this English-style drizzle, and not too much of the legendary Scotch mist, either. When it rains, it pours: it rains chairs or chair-legs, as the Greeks say. And the deluge often goes on for days at a time. This occurred in the Corinth area during the month: floods were so severe that 21 people died. This distressing turn of events need never have happened, apparently, for much of the flooding took place because of illegal building in places like stream beds.Plus ca change.

My Army son experienced his own little drama. He lives and works in the affected area, and was trying to get to work in the dark one morning when floodwaters knocked him off his motorbike. He played the episode down when recounting it later, but I still get shivers down my spine when I think about it. He was eventually able to get back to his vehicle, and managed to place it on higher ground, from which spot an Army truck retrieved it later. The bike was badly damaged; I’m pleased and relieved to report that my son was not!

The press, and not just the Greek press, is pushing the story that Greece’s financial crisis is more or less over. Or if not over, showing signs of lessening: there are noises about steady improvement and light at the end of the tunnel: the familiar comforting messages. But tell all that to the man in the street. Kalamata now has its very literal example of this way of living, if you can call it that. I have recently seen a homeless man, a sight I’d never actually seen in Kalamata, although it is a common one in Athens. This man, a person clearly past middle age, had settled himself down in a spacious doorway in a street well tucked away from the main thoroughfare. He had made himself a bed out of stout cardboard and was sitting up drinking either coffee or soup. At that stage the weather was still relatively mild, and he certainly had nothing to fear from aggressors of any sort, although stray dogs might have been a problem. But now we have entered a period of sharp frosts, and I don’t like to think of what he is enduring in the wee small hours. I’m also thinking rather ruefully of the Bishop’s very large palace.

I suppose it is fair to say that many Greeks like to gamble. Lottery tickets are always on sale: vendors wander around the streets, the all-important tickets pegged to tall poles. In the betting shops any number of games of chance can be played. One of these is called the Joker, and my sons and I agree it is aptly named. I don’t often buy a ticket, and have won the princely sum of one euro fifty only, and that over quite a long time.

When I was a child attending Presbyterian Sunday School and Church, drinking alcohol and engaging in any sort of gambling were verboten practices. But I confess I buy a Joker ticket every so often. I did this yesterday, and emerged from the Kalamata betting shop still clutching said ticket. And immediately came face to face with the village priest, who was very friendly and chatty. I thought afterwards about the changes wrought by time, and thanked my lucky stars that he wasn’t an old-style Presbyterian minister: my name would have been mud, and I would have been readying myself for the imminent thunderbolt.

Gillian Bouras


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Gillian Bouras 2018