Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Living in Greece

April 2015

It’s been a long, hard winter, and everybody is moaning about it. March has resembled February in the amount of rain that has fallen, and cold winds are still blowing. Heavily symbolic they are, doubtless, of the current state of European-Greek relations. My friends and I are tending to draw a heavy veil over this matter, and over many others: the world is in a terrible mess, but we must strive for optimism, even if such striving becomes an exhausting struggle at times. Brave nature leads the way: the scarlet anemones have continued to flower through downpours, and have been joined now by bottle brushes and judas trees, while the little avenue of wattles along the beach road does this ageing expat’s heart good. Golden wattles, no less, and they are quite simply blooming in mad profusion: every tree is covered in the little yellow spheres.

But I am tired of looking out on grey days, cuddling my two hot water bottles, and wrapping myself in my ancient tartan rug. I am very fond of this rug, but it is made of mohair and sheds madly, so that little mounds of tartan fluff swiftly form in every nook and cranny. It was wet and cold in Athens on March 25th, Independence Day, and it rained on the military parade that is always a feature of the celebrations. The dignitaries froze almost to death under a blue and white awning, and every foot soldier was soaked to the skin. But loyal crowds turned out despite the inclement weather, and a very pretty sight the collected umbrellas made on my television screen. And for the first time that I can remember, the barriers that used to prevent ‘the people’ from getting near the bigwigs were removed, and traditional dancing took place in front of the Parliament building. Rain or not.

Yesterday I re-read part of an old diary. Old as in 1990. I was bemused to see that in the latter part of February and nearly all of March that year, there was hardly any rain at all. I recorded the fact that villagers said special prayers for rain at the chapel of St Elias. Of course it rained eventually, and I have a memory of an old neighbour standing outside and crossing herself in gratitude. ‘All of Greece has been praying,’ she said, ‘and the Panagia, the all-holy Mother of God, listened. That’s why it’s raining now.’

When I was a child, April Fool’s Day was made much of, and I remember my grandfather and his son-in-law becoming quite excited about a spoof TV programme that had something to do with certain success in fishing. Then there was the spaghetti farm item. But the best trick I remember occurred in my classroom. When I was a young teacher, the roll had always to be called each morning, and was supposed to be on the form teacher’s table at the appointed time. I’d not even registered the date, but was concerned to find the roll missing. ‘Where’s the roll? I asked more than once, and was sufficiently distracted not to notice a certain atmosphere. Suddenly a cupboard door opened, and a girl who had crammed herself on to a shelf, brandished some bread at me. ‘Here’s the roll,’ she announced through a paroxysm of mirth. Those were simpler times.

Orthodox Easter falls on the 12th of April this year, so spring cleaning and pre-Easter activities have been on the go for quite some time: in between showers, it has to be said. Some vegetable gardens are a triumph. Up the road there is a potato patch that seems set to be able to feed the Greek Army, and to make the Irish jealous as well. Spring onions are, well, springing in their neat little rows, and freesias and daffodils are making what my old Gran would have called ‘a glorious show.’ House and garden proud men are going mad with their weed-trimming machines: catnip for blokes, as a friend so succinctly and accurately says.

In the meantime, I battle the books. Of course I love books, and always have done, but I have far too many of them, in spite of a drastic cull about two years ago, and in spite of the acquisition of an iPad. Ditto papers, although I have become ruthless about the matter of destroying letters. But I am convinced that both books and papers reproduce under cover of darkness. At present I’m trying to read books I will never read again, and then give them away: how I long for the second-hand book shops of my Australian youth!

The book of the moment is The Ra Expeditions, by Thor Heyerdahl. I may have dipped into this volume about 40 years ago, but not since, and confess to being riveted by the sequel to The Kon-Tiki Expedition.  Heyerdahl’s theories about contacts between ancient cultures on opposite sides of forbidding oceans were always contentious, but one has to admire the passion and persistence of the man in the building of his rafts, and the welding of teams to execute the work and the mission. And his bravery, which continued to the last. He was 87 when he received his diagnosis; he then refused any treatment or nourishment. I like to think he believed he was setting out on another great adventure.

Gillian Bouras


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Gillian Bouras 2018