Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Living in Greece

September 2011

The peripatetic life continues, and so does the struggle with the divided heart.
A week or more ago I said goodbye to my eldest son and his wife, who are newlywed, and to my brother and his family; I’m told some people become used to saying goodbye, but I never do. Instead I try to concentrate on the next thing, and so I prepared to say hullo to my other sons and to my grandsons.

It took me thirty hours, but I arrived safe and sound, obviously, in a sweltering
Peloponnese, where temperatures of 35 plus after the cold and grey of what Melburnians had been calling ‘a real winter at last’ hit me like a wall, and delayed my giving attention to many things, the writing of this piece among them. And of course (not to appear too self-absorbed) there’s a kind of immutable irony governing my life in that Melbourne always looks its best when I am about to depart. It’s almost as if it is saying Don’t forget me. As if I could.

Back there the japonica and prunus had started to bloom, and streets were lined with bursts of white and pink blossom. And after rain, the parks and gardens were beautifully green. Here the bougainvillea keeps on blazing while most other plants droop in the heat; the red-brown earth is full of cracks, and grass, if you could call it that, snaps under my feet wherever I walk. And walking is what I tend to do first, as a means of distraction from separation anxiety and as a way of settling back into routine. Famous British historian G.M. Trevelyan was a great walker, and once said that he had two doctors; his right leg and his left one. I agree: walking is always good for what ails one.

And there is always plenty to be seen during my regular peregrinations. This village is still very much a traditional working one, and so the inhabitants are preparing for the winter. At present the hills are very much alive with the whine and scrape of chain saws, while wood heaps are not just heaps, but works of art with logs arranged and graded as to size. Yesterday I observed another routine when I came across two shepherds who were on their knees under a huge and glossily green tree. No, they weren’t praying, at least not as far as I know. They were gathering the tree’s fallen fruit of carob pods. Carob pods are your average donkey’s treat, often given as a reward at the end of a hard day in the olive groves.

When I was first in Greece and living with my mother-in-law, the redoubtable Aphrodite, giving the donkey his daily ration of carob pods was one of my allotted tasks. And I remember being struck by the name of them in Greek: xilokerata. Wooden horns, which is about as apt a description as you can get. I was also struck by the fact that the donkey had no name; indeed Aphrodite looked at me incredulously when I asked the relevant question. But my dairy farmer always named his cows, and he often had 90. So with striking originality I christened this charming animal Donk, and began to pay him quite a lot of attention. It wasn’t too long before he would bray at my approach, and lift his upper lip in a Colgate-ring-of-confidence type smile.

Carob pods are one thing; figs are another, and older villagers, on their knees again, are busily engaged in setting figs out on raft-like structures just above the ground. In the full blast of late-summer sun the figs dry out in no time; then they are sprinkled in oregano before being stored in earthenware jars. Often walnuts are inserted in them: now there’s a taste treat if ever there was one, and the combination is so good for you.

Some things never change: the chooks still go pecking along the edges of the tracks and roads, and large flocks of goats still leap up and down rock-strewn mountains. Most of the nannies are in kid, and will give birth in January, so that their poor offspring can have time to be a certain age and weight for Easter feasting. No, some things never change, but I wish this particular custom would.

Gillian Bouras


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Gillian Bouras 2018