Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Living in Greece

January 2018

It feels strange to be writing the above words when there are still a few days to go before the New Year is upon us. And it’s a strange business, anyway, the whole business of thinking about the future. I don’t think it’s a good idea in general, although some plans are necessary, I suppose, as a sort of guideline to life. But you can bet your boots that those plans will often be upset. Life can change, for better or for far worse, in a fraction of a second. Still, it behoves us to be optimistic, as far as we are able.

I went to Athens for a few days last month, and my plans were certainly altered: the centre of the city, to kentro, as the Greeks call it, was in lockdown for about three days. There was a political protest in which so-called anarchists played a prominent part, and then President Erdogan of Turkey came to call, the first Turkish President to visit Athens in 65 years. Your average Joe Blow or Spiros Pappas was not sure why he had come: I certainly wasn’t, but my Athenian son said that the analysts were guessing that Erdogan was trying once again to get Turkey into the EU. I can’t see that this will happen unless he does something about cleaning up his human rights act: he’s arrested at least 47000 people since the failed coup, and I, for one, do not like to think about what is happening to these hapless individuals.

My son and his family live in the northern suburbs, and handily close to one of the best bookshops in town, and also close to where a poetry group I am associated with meets. I attend when I can, and always enjoy meeting old friends and new poetry. So I entertained myself very successfully despite being unable to get into the centre. And when I was able to get in there, I made my annual visit to Marks and Spencers. It’s a cheating sort of visit, because there I buy items I am not prepared to make: Christmas puddings and mince pies. I do, however, make a Christmas cake, by dint of combining various recipes and improvising when I can’t get trad ingredients: I still have not come across Parisian essence in Greece, so my Christmas cakes are always pale; I have no idea whether or not they are interesting, but they always disappear regardless.

When I was finally able to get to the centre, and had done the shopping, I joined an Australian-run tour of Athens’ First Cemetery. Often compared with the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, and London’s Highgate Cemetery, as they are all garden places, Athens’ First Cemetery, which dates from 1837, is the last resting place of many of the Greek great and good. Melina Mercouri is buried there, for example, as are various Archbishops, Prime Ministers, benefactors, literary giants and musicians. But some people found their way to this cemetery quite by accident. One of these was T.H. White, author of, among other works, The Once and Future King. White was a resident of Alderney, one of the Channel Islands, but was on his way back from a lecture tour in America when he died of heart failure on board ship in Piraeus Harbour. And there is at least one Australian buried there. Born in Adelaide, ‘darling Willy’ was buried in Athens in 1982. I wish I knew his story.

Of course there are many stories to be learned in such a place, and a great many tomb inscriptions to be translated and images interpreted. Death was a major preoccupation for the Victorians, and wealthy people spent a great deal of money on elaborate memorials involving broken columns, figures from classical mythology, and reproductions of family groups: it was clearly a boom time for sculptors. A memorial service was in progress when we were there, and very well-attended it was. A brass band was also present and, somewhat to my surprise, it played Finlandia. On a mild winter’s day, protected from the noise and bustle of Athens, the cemetery certainly seemed a setting in which souls could be still.

And now Christmas Day is over. A good time was had by all, thanks largely to the presence of Orestes, who is nearly 5, and Natalia, who is nearly 17 months, going on 7, it seems to me. They were pleased with their modest presents, their parents and I having agreed that extravagance is OUT, for all sorts of reasons. And they ate heartily, although neither likes smoked salmon. And we’ve been to Kalamata and to the Christmas fun fair, where they found the adult-sized Mickey Mouse very intimidating (I couldn’t blame them), and the dodgem cars and merry-go-round good clean fun.

In the meantime, part of the family is visiting Melbourne, and in the cold and wet I am envious when I see my other grandsons in their shorts and sandals. They’ve been to Sovereign Hill, the Zoo and the Aquarium, and have seen kangaroos in the wild. Christmas Day they spent in Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens, the lucky things. And there have been other adventures besides. I look forward to hearing about it all, but I wonder how they’re going to settle back into the Greek winter and the school routine. Time will tell: it always does.

And, before I forget: HAPPY NEW YEAR and CHRONIA POLLA!

Gillian Bouras


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Gillian Bouras 2018