Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Writer
Living in Greece

August 2013

Not so long ago I thought of my two worlds of Australia and Greece continually colliding, or at least grinding against each other. These days I tend to think they have blended and blurred into one another to become something more and much easier than a testing juxtaposition. Today, for example, I spent some time on a beach, a pebbly one. Not very Australian, but then the long line of gum trees was as Aussie as you can get, except that I believe they came to this part of the world from California. Never mind. The sea was like a mill pond, as unlike the Southern Ocean as it can be. The Taygetus Mountains towering over the whole scene would dwarf places like Mt Buffalo, but never mind that, either.

So there I was, taking it in turns to brave the unthreatening Mediterranean briny and read a very Australian novel. Mateship With Birds, by the extremely talented Carrie Tiffany, is set on a dairy farm near Cohuna, Victoria. More worlds blending and blurring as I read, for the novel is set in the 1950s, that long-ago time when I was a small child. And one of my uncles was a dairy farmer, although not in the Cohuna district. The descriptions of the rituals of milking as they were then made me feel as if I were entering some sort of time machine, and I remember thinking how strange the contrasts in my life were when I first saw the Greek village women milking one or two goats by hand: most of them had no idea what a milking machine was.

One recent Sunday morning I went walking in the aforementioned Taygetus. The first kilometre was very steep, and in one way I was doing something foolhardy, for before too long I was completely alone on a mountainside that was populated chiefly by olive trees. But my phone worked, and I tried to put thoughts of broken ankles, heart attacks, and meetings with mad hermits out of my mind. This was not hard to do, as it turned out, for the views were absolutely stupendous. And the higher I went, the more stupendous they became.

I could eventually see almost the whole of the Gulf of Messenia, a deep and shining blue. A slight breeze occasionally made the surface look like an endless expanse of shirred and ruffled silk; the huge bowl of sky, with not a cloud in sight, was a matching blue, while the mountains and the villages on the other side of the water were just visible through the heat haze. The city of Kalamata spread along one rim of land, looking for all the world like a collection of various-sized sugar cubes.

The bliss of solitude. I wandered along, intermittently pondering the wasteful folly of humankind in a world that contains such beauty. ThenI rounded a bend, and was solitary no more, for there was a farmer watering his olive trees, with his young adult son helping him. I broke into the mandatory greetings, and the young man nodded pleasantly. His father, though, was dumbstruck to the point at which I thought his affliction might be literal and permanent. His mouth hung open, and he stared for what seemed like an eternity, while I warbled on about the view.

Suddenly his eyes seemed to unglaze, and he took a deep breath before uttering the one word Germania? Germany. My reply was a vigorous OXI; I went on to explain that I was Australian, while not being at all sure he knew where Australia was. I walked a little further and turned back. The pair waved, and I waved in return.

The great Greek writer Nikos Kazantsakis expounded his ideas about landscape quite frequently. In 1937 he toured the Peloponnese and subsequently wrote: Would that the landscape were omnipotent---what bliss! This soil would unceasingly bring forth great masters. But creation is the result of complex laws, an exceptional balance between scores of visible and concealed opposing forces, an instant with no return! Only once in Greece—thousands of years ago—did this sacred moment flash. And it endured no longer than fifty years. The landscape, before and after, remains the same, but the soul that confronts it becomes confused.

But it was the sight of a foreign woman of uncertain age and origin wandering about alone in the mountains that confused the Greek farmer. I don’t imagine he remained confused for long, however, for to him the landscape is mainly his very predictable olive trees. They decide the routine of his life, as the twice-daily milkings decided the routine of my uncle’s.  

Gillian Bouras

 

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