Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Living in Greece

May 2014


The first of May is a public holiday in Greece. I don’t suppose too many of the locals have heard of Alfred Tennyson, the nineteenth century English poet, who penned, among many immortal lines, the not-so-memorable “I’m to be Queen o’ the May, Mother.’ But the locals, many of them, anyway, still keep to the custom of gathering ‘knots of flowers and buds’ for the making of ‘garlands gay.’ My late mother-in-law never missed making a May Day wreath, and it is considered bad luck for a house not to have one. Alas, I have taken this risk for many a long year.



I didn’t notice any wreaths on doors during my early morning walk, but by ten o’clock some were in evidence. The wreaths are of course hand-made, and very pretty: alternating red and white flowers are a popular pattern, and remind me of the maypoles of my childhood: I imagine the custom of dancing around the maypole has largely died out in Australia, however. And it appears that the wreath custom will go the same way eventually. In a walk of about a kilometre, I counted fourteen wreaths, which is not very many, considering the number of houses along the way.

April was a busy and rather schizoid month, at least for me. Western and Eastern Easters coincided this year, as happens every four years. On Good Friday, which Greeks call Big Friday, I trotted along to a tiny church in order to watch local women preparing the epitaphios, the wooden bier that is borne through neighbouring streets in a kind of recreation and commemoration of Christ’s death. Flowers again, and again a proliferation of red and white, most often roses and geraniums: the bowls and buckets full of spring offerings just kept on arriving. There wasn’t a man in sight, and the older women were patiently instructing the younger ones in what is quite an art, for at the end of the procedure there is no wood to be seen at all.


Easter Day was quiet, and the weather not very clement, but various families were doing the traditional thing and roasting lambs or kids or both on sundry spits. Even after all these years here, I still cannot understand how one can raise an animal and then eat it, but I know my attitude is weak and hypocritical, to say the least. But this Easter Day I did not eat meat.


Quietness ended happily late in the afternoon with the arrival of my youngest grandson, Orestes, who is now 14 months old. Much of his first year was spent in and out of hospital, but he is in good health now, thank heaven, and is making up for lost time. He is walking independently at this stage, but loves the speed he can get up to with his wheelie walker gadget. Greeks love noise, and O is no exception: for a change he bangs the walker up and down and screeches at the same time. I’m trying to teach him that Stan Freberg blast from the past: ‘Too piercin’, man, too piercin’.


In no time at all it was Anzac Day, and my older grandsons, Nikitas and Maximus, appeared. They are now 8 and 6, and have been subjected to Australian propaganda for much of their lives, and of course Anzac Day was no exception. Needless to say, I flew the flag. In actual fact, I pegged it to the gate, but still; no doubt the locals were mystified. Again. I wore my matching T-shirt, but the big boys missed out on Anzacs because their uncle Alexander, Orestes’s father, had eaten most of them by the time they visited.

Having Nikitas and Maximus around sends me on a walk down Memory Lane, for they are now exactly the ages their elder uncle and father were when we all unexpectedly migrated to Greece. And their father speaks English to them all the time, as I did to my sons. Two little boys, two languages, two cultures. A walk through time, but also the knowledge that a certain wheel has come full circle. So I thought that day, not for the first time.


And that same day, the boys’ father told me he had finished reading Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel Kapetanios Michaelis. All 500 plus pages of it. He read it in Greek, but we discussed it in English. The English title of the book is Freedom or Death: perhaps appropriate subject matter on the 25th of April.

Gillian Bouras


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Gillian Bouras 2018