Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Writer
Living in Greece

It's Still Greek to Me!

 

November 2012

Anthropologists have a great deal to say on the matter of the differences between sedentary and nomadic populations. So I’m told, anyway. And I know which group I belong to. Forever wandering and junketing about, I am always trying to cope with the tyranny of distance, and regularly thank my lucky stars that I have not suffered the plight of my pioneering ancestors: just imagine posting a letter, knowing that an answer, if any, could take as long as a year to arrive. And just imagine taking months to travel in a vulnerable and ocean-toss’d boat. One of my great-great-grandmothers, according to family legend, gave birth during her voyage to Australia: what a picnic that must have been, I don’t think.

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October 2012

 

Late again; this time the excuses are archaeological. The Hebrew proverb states that God never made anything single, and that certainly seems true of archaeology in Greece, which has a particular way of slowing most things, especially public works, up. Or down, which seems a more appropriate turn of phrase and direction. People complain about the time taken to complete projects, but Greek law insists, quite rightly, that whenever finds surface from underground, then all work must stop until the archaeologists are called in to assess and record the discoveries.

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September 2012

 

I first started writing letters when I was seven years old, and that, dear reader, is a very long time ago. I had had to move away from my much loved grandfather, so from then on we exchanged letters until he died: I was 24 when that sad event occurred. I met the father of my children in the Mail Exchange, Melbourne, when I was among many students employed to cope with the Christmas rush: I can still tell you that Drik Drik belongs in SW 9 Country (Victoria.) I loved the whole business of looking at the envelopes coming from all over the world, bearing heraldic stamps; I loved the whole business of wondering about the people who had written them and about those who were about to receive them.

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August 2012

 Well, here it is August (kalo meena/good month, as the Greeks always say) and I have almost forgotten my New Year resolution. Almost, but not quite, for Nikos Kazantzakis is still very much with me: in fact he never really leaves me. So I’ve been going over some notes I made far too long ago.

I don’t know if people considered Nikos handsome or not. I don’t imagine the matter came up all that often. Women generally liked him; a number loved him, and like most Greeks he appears to have had great vitality; as well, like most people of genius, he was intense to a degree bordering on the feverish. Sometimes I wonder whether he had a relaxed moment in all his life, for I deduce a great restlessness of spirit. He was photographed many times, by both admirers and enemies, I don’t doubt. He made enemies: that was inevitable. Most people do not appreciate the questing spirit; those people who lack passion do not understand it in others. And Nikos was a passionate man, a forceful personality.

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July 2012

I am currently being Granny to Nikitas (6) and Maximus (4), who live with their parents in Megara, a town of 30,000 people situated between Corinth and Athens. The island of Salamis is opposite, and it is possible to visit the spot where it is claimed Persian King Xerxes sat and watched the tide of his fortunes turn very much against him: the Persians were unexpectedly but decisively beaten by the Greeks in the naval battle of 480 BC.

Megara was once a very powerful and wealthy place, able to colonise parts of Sicily, and has been inhabited for a very long time: round about 1000 BC the original inhabitants were either forced to flee or were extirpated by the Dorians, one of many peoples to invade Greece throughout the centuries of its history. In the local museum there is a faint list, inscribed on marble, of those who fell during the Peloponnesian Wars between Athens and Sparta: Megara helped precipitate this conflict, which started in 431 BC, by wanting out of the Peloponnesian League.

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June 2012

It is a difficult time in Greece, and that’s an understatement. But then Hellenic Hyperbole was never really my thing.

Two days ago I noticed, rather fancifully, that clouds had cast a huge shadow on a nearby mountain. This shadow looked exactly like an angel, be-robed and with wings outstretched. But Greeks, an outwardly religious people, must feel that the angels have deserted them. There’s not much protective action on Mt. Olympus, either. Instead, the Furies, wreathed with serpents, eyes dripping blood, are abroad in the land. Three goddesses of vengeance, they come from beneath the earth to punish whosoever has sworn a false oath. Well, there’s plenty of that about: the former Minister of Defence was imprisoned in mid-April after being found guilty of embezzlement and money laundering; judging by the number of scandals that have occurred over the past ten years, he ought to have a lot of company.

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May 2012

 

I’m late again. My excuse this time is my quick trip to Athens in order to attend the stirring Anzac Day service at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Phaleron. Both this cemetery and the one at Souda Bay, on Crete, were designed by the same architect, and very beautiful they are. But the ages on the headstones break one’s heart: there were several marked 18, and a great many more marked Unknown Soldier. I looked at my middle son, who is in a marine commando in the Greek Army, and his two sons, aged 6 and 4, and counted my blessings.

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April 2012

 

I was born a wanderer, I suppose, so it is an irony that I have lived in a Greek village for over thirty years. On and off, mind you, because I wander off regularly from here, too, much to the consternation of the locals, who show no desire to go anywhere very much, contented as they are with their patritha, their little bit of fatherland. My children do not live here now, but they know that their father’s family is traceable back to the end of the seventeenth century, and that their father wandered only from necessity, when poverty and the desire for opportunity drove him to Melbourne, where he lived for fifteen years, a long period in which I can no longer quite believe. In his head he never left Greece, and most of his friends lived in their heads as well.

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March 2012

 

 

I write with a degree of caution, but I hope I’m right: spring has sprung. All the signs are there: the canaries have started trilling (hooray) from their cages (alas), lambs and kids are gambolling happily in the fields, blissfully unaware of their fate, and the wild flowers have been blooming for the last week, their numbers multiplying rapidly with each passing day. Yellow dandelions came first, then white camomile, followed closely by the red anemones, which are often called poppies, the ones that grew in Flanders fields despite the wholesale slaughter and bloodshed of the First World War. But I can’t imagine they are growing in Syria at present.

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February 2012

 

Greeks have a wish for every occasion, so Kalo Meena: have a good month. But I confess I find this a pretty tall order in February, which is my least favourite month in this part of the world. My eldest son used to refer to it as suicide month, and I could see his point. Cloud descends and walls the village off from the mountains, and serious rain sets in. So in answer to the time-honoured question: If winter comes, can spring be far behind? I usually utter a disgruntled YES!  The winter of our discontent, and all that.

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January 2012

 

Here it is again, that time for review and resolutions. I can’t claim to be at all like our lady Queen, who apparently spends Christmas Day in seclusion, and passes the day quietly with prayer and meditation. I rather wish I could be, as I’m sure this sort of activity is very good for one.

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December 2011

I have a problem with time, and with the inexorable march of. Like the White Rabbit, I’m always late, late for various important dates. (And this piece is overdue: no surprises there, then.)

So it’s that time again, a fact that is scarcely to be believed. Of course time gathers speed as one ages, so that Christmas, as well as one’s birthday, now seems to occur every six months. That’s my experience, anyway, although said time is such a peculiar concept and commodity that it seems only a few years since I went rummaging through an old wardrobe in our very modest holiday house on the south-west coast of Victoria. The cupboard was in my grandparents’ room, and housed a variety of what they considered junk. In fact the stereo-optic photos, if that’s the word, which it probably isn’t, plus the two viewers, would fetch quite a lot of money in today’s antique shops.

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Gillian Bouras

 

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