Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Writer
Living in Greece

January 2016

HAPPY NEW YEAR! But of course. And have the Greek wish Chronia Polla as well: literally Many Years, but more logically Many Happy Returns of the Day.

In the benighted bad old days, children used to be asked to write a composition on the subject of What I Did in the Holidays. And indeed the gifted English writer and playwright Alan Bennett still keeps a diary along the same lines: the London Review of Books has just published excerpts from his work What I Did in 2015.

What I Myself Did in These Recent Holidays consisted of a thousand kilometre road trip. My middle son has just acquired a new car after driving his old and trusty vehicle for 15 years, and so was anxious to take it, as he said, ‘for a spin.’ Some spin. Off we set, two days before Christmas, on our journey into what I always think of as ‘the other Greece.’ My life here has been led in the Peloponnese, which began its ultimately successful struggle against the Turks in 1821.In contrast, Thessaly was not liberated until 1881, and Epirus could not be considered free until 1913. Mosques still dot the landscape in these areas.

First stop was Trikala, Thessaly, home of my daughter-in-law’s parents.Once this area was known as the bread basket of Greece, and there are still wheat silos to be seen, but now cotton seems to be the main crop, to the great grief of the environmentalists: cotton is a very thirsty plant. Trikala derives its name from the nymph Trikke, and is a very ancient place that dates back to prehistoric times, while Neolithic settlement was begun as early as 6000 BC. Trikala apparently sent thirty ships to the Trojan War, and like most Greek cities it has a layered and complicated history: it suffered invasions by Goths, Huns, Slavs, Bulgarians, Normans and Catalans, while still being at least nominally under the sway of Rome and Byzantium. The Serbian Empire controlled Trikala from 1348 until 1393/4, when the Ottomans conquered the area.

There is a well-preserved mosque in the city, but it is now used for various exhibitions. When we were there, it was presenting a fascinating display from the Museum of Ancient Greek Technology, brain child of one Kostas Kotsanas, a secondary school teacher. Later we also visited the Archimedes Museum in Ancient Olympia. Of course it’s never too late to learn: although every Australian school student of my vintage knew the Eureka story, I can’t recall that we were taught much else about the many-faceted genius that was Archimedes. And he wasn’t the only genius around: later giants such as Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz owed much to Archimedes and his contemporaries. Some of these were Heron, who devised the first steam machine in history, and Plato and Aristotle, who both invented alarm clocks. An informative leaflet shows the direct connection between some early inventions and the development of the internal combustion engine.

Speaking of which, another related invention is currently being tested in Trikala: the driverless bus, for which no tickets are required. Of course we had to have a ride in the small vehicle, which has, instead of a driver, a person who holds a small computer control, mainly in case of obstacles that upset the bus’s programming: at one point buttons had to be pressed so that the bus could edge around a car that was illegally parked. The bus has spent six months in France, and will move from Trikala to Spain at the end of February. The employee said that critics of increased automation have to realise that a large number of people are employed in design, research and maintenance of the fleet of six. Needless to say, grandsons Nikitas and Maximus, who are now 9 and 7, were thrilled by the experience.

They were also thrilled to be with their maternal grandfather, an ageing Peter Pan who plays endlessly with them, even to the point of being goal-keeper for the mandatory games of soccer. The Christmas dinner custom in the area is to have a pig roasted on a spit, so of course, being little boys, the pair was very interested in the thorough preparations of the corpse necessary on Christmas Eve. I can’t claim that I shared their interest, but hypocrite that I am I was very ready to eat the roast pork on Christmas Day.

I must say it was a pleasure to travel with the boys, who were very well-behaved, and asked intelligent questions about the sites and sights. The Greeks say that your grandchildren are your children twice over: I take this to mean that you are often able to re-live your earlier life with your children via your grandchildren. I certainly walk down Memory Lane quite often these days.

We arrived back to cold and snow, but cannot possibly complain, as we had perfect winter weather, crisp sunny days, for more than a week. We had more adventures, but as January is likely to be a quiet month, I’ll leave the account of them for later on. In the meantime, I’ve eaten several slices of vasilopita, the New Year cake, but did not find the lucky coin: my youngest son did. But here’s hoping for 2016: God bless us, every one!

Gillian Bouras

 

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