Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Writer
Living in Greece

December 2014

Kalo mina, as the Greeks say: have a good month.

Here in the countryside, seasons have their rituals, so now the olive harvest is well underway. Plumes of smoke rise from the fields as unwanted branches are burned. The hills are alive with the sound of chainsaws, and of olives pattering on to voluminous ground sheets. Olives are pattering in very satisfying numbers this year, as most trees are bent low under a bumper crop. As a result, farmers are in a rather odd state of exhilaration and exhaustion. They are pleased with the progress of the harvest, but are working very hard. And their wives are working harder. As usual. For they are the ones who have to feed the workers, so cooking has to be done before the women themselves go to the groves. Then there is the business of what we would call morning tea or a smoke-oh, with the attendant matter of getting supplies to the workers.

 

That chore over, the women are also expected to pull their weight in the actual harvesting process. The older ones wear old skirts and aprons, baggy jumpers, sun hats and rubber boots. My mother-in-law, the redoubtable Aphrodite, still wore her deep black while harvesting: her only concession was the wearing of brown galoshes. I dreaded the olive harvest, as I’m sure I have said before, and probably many times. Yiayia, as I always called her, because the children did, was then at her most tyrannical: I always felt I could do and get nothing right, mainly because she told me so. Quite often. But those days are long gone.

These days I find the harvest good exercise and quite a lot of fun. I’m recently back from a brief excursion to a picturesque mountain village on the other side of Messenian Bay. Eight workers were in the throes of harvesting 600 trees, and my friend, who shall be known as Alexandra, was cooking for the team and also joining in the stripping of the trees. I have been part of the ritual, in a very small way, for several years now, and we flatter ourselves, Alexandra and I, that we have got the business down to a fine art.  We leave the others to the taller, older trees, and concentrate on the small ones. This means stripping the olives off quite literally by hand, but we are well away from the chain saws, and the relentless beating with the long-handled and quite heavy plastic forks that are used to beat the upper branches.  It also means we can talk about all sorts of things, and endlessly without other people interrupting. The time passes very pleasantly.

Every night the men take a tractor-load of bags to the olive press; there they can watch their own olives being processed by very state-of-the-art machinery. But barely two generations have passed since donkeys and mules were doing most of the hard work of the press. Back home, today I pass the more traditional press at the top end of my street: here piles of hessian bags are neatly stacked, each in a pile labelled with the producer’s name. In a month the harvest will be nearing its end…until the next time.

And soon it will be Christmas, which does not have the prominence on the Orthodox calendar that Easter has, but is still a much-loved feast day and celebration.

&&

There was a time in my life when I followed cricket. Not the way I followed Australian Rules football, mind you, but I took an interest. So did my children: when we came to live in Greece, my eldest son, then aged 8, tried to teach his schoolmates the noble art, which their Australian grandfather always said was a game of infinite subtlety and finesse. But it meant nothing to the locals, and so my son had to retire in defeat.

Even though I had lost touch with cricket and cricket news, I was of course made aware of the death of star Phil Hughes. He was only 25, and the general outpouring of grief and evidence of shock was accompanied by general bewilderment that such a thing could happen, that a batsman could be felled by a bouncer that caught him on a vulnerable part of his skull. Pity the poor bowler, who did nothing against the rules, and was simply playing the game. Pity him deeply.

It is terribly ironic that cricketers are now protected by apparently ball-proof helmets. It is only comparatively recently that this has been the case. When I was young, batsmen protected other parts of their bodies, but certainly not their heads. And during the notorious bodyline controversy of the 1930s, when the British team bowled short balls that targeted the body, the danger was very real. A lot of ducking and evading went on, but nobody was hurt.

Time and chance happeneth to all. A thought which is of no comfort to those left mourning this talented young man who had barely started on his adult life. This is every parent’s nightmare, of course, and I cannot begin to imagine what Hughes’s family is going through. Perhaps there is a shred of comfort in the thought that he died playing the game he both loved and enhanced.

 

Gillian Bouras

 

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