Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Living in Greece

May 2018

Spring has finally arrived, thank goodness, and now it seems to be roses, roses all the way. The gardens seem more beautiful and colourful than ever this year. The bottle brushes, which were unknown in Greece when I was first here, are blooming in mad profusion, and wisteria is draping itself over many a wall and pergola. The aforementioned roses are mainly of the old-fashioned variety: you don’t see too many of the scentless purple ones around. I can never decide whether I like purple roses or not, but I do like the ones of various colours that remind me of the gardens of my past. Granny, my paternal grandmother, for example, was very fond of a rose called Masquerade, which consists of yellow, pink, and red flowers. And there is a flourishing bush of Masquerade just along the road.

I realise now that flowers, apart from being a pleasure to look at, induce a sense of nostalgia in me. Granny also loved Iceland poppies and azaleas, especially the pink and white ruffled ones. Pink hollyhocks always remind me of Nana, my maternal grandmother, and I still remember the red-and-white striped petunias that were blooming on my mother’s porch while she was dying in hospital: I remember being very upset at the thought that she would never see them again. Guelder roses, aptly nicknamed the snowball tree,grow well here, too, and I can never sight one without recalling the house my family and I lived in in suburban Melbourne when my children were very young. The tree, covered in white spheres, used to drop its petals over the drive for weeks on end.

Easter is behind us, but was almost immediately followed by the feast day of the Life-Giving Spring, which is one of the Virgin Mary’s many titles. A church of that name is not far away, and on the day in question it was almost impossible to get through the crowds: even the police were there to keep an eye on the traffic, and it occurred to me that this was the first time they had been present on the day. There were far too many people to get into the church itself, which was decorated with bright bunting. By the time I was returning, the service was over, and the priest and his wife, who live conveniently very close by, were dispensing hospitality in their garden.

In contrast to these quiet bucolic pursuits, there is plenty of conflict elsewhere. Turkey and Greece are wrangling again, in what is described by some as the worst atmosphere in twenty years. Greece views the surprise Turkish election of next month with trepidation, and it is not the only country that fears yet another move on the part of Erdogan to consolidate his personal power. In the meantime, Greece has purchased two French frigates; I’m sure I’m not the only person wondering what good they will be.

Among other problems in Greece, that of the presence of refugees in great numbers continues. Such people continue to have a very hard time, trapped in shockingly sub-standard camps as so many are. As I write it is only 48 hours since right-wing malcontents attacked refugees who were peacefully demonstrating on the much-tried island of Lesbos. Then there are matters economic: Greece has the fourth largest illegal economy rate in the EU. While ‘grey economy’ activity in Europe as a whole has gone down, in Greece it has risen. One explanation for this is the high rate of taxation. The average 4-member family in Greece pays nearly 40%, while Europeans pay tax rates hovering around 28%. There are also high rates payable as VAT/GST. And of course inequality persists.

As I write it is The One Day of the Year, Anzac Day. I have just learned that PM Malcolm Turnbull is in Villers-Bretonneux., and that his speech has not been considered of the same calibre as that of the French PM, Edouard Philippe. Philippe quoted from All Quiet on the Western Front,and spoke of the dreadful loneliness doubtless experienced by Australian soldiers so far away from home and things familiar. Villers-Bretonneux fell to the Germans on the 24thof April 1918, but within 24 hours had been recaptured by the 13thand 15thbrigades of the Australian Imperial Force. At least 1200 Australian lives were lost, and since that time, the links between Villers-Bretonneux have remained strong. Robinvale in Victoria is the twin city of Villers-Bretonneux.

I note that the usual controversies about Anzac Day continue. I have never regarded the anniversary as being an occasion for the glorification of war; rather, it is an acknowledgement of great sacrifice. So many lost young people we may now consider to have been misguided, but at the time they believed they were doing the right thing in enlisting, without having much understanding of the likely consequences. They risked their all.

Lest we forget.

Gillian Bouras


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Gillian Bouras 2018