Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Writer
Living in Greece

It's Still Greek to Me!

 

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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November 2011

One of the many advantages of a crazily peripatetic life is the way in which said life ensures that you meet a wide variety of people. And of course you see some marvellous places. Santorini, from which island I have just returned, quite simply dazzles. I flew in on this, my second visit, but the first time I went there, I went by ferry, and thus had the pleasure of experiencing one of the great arrivals of the world. A distant view is a black-and-white one: jet-black cliffs covered by a thin line of white. As the ferry draws closer, the black resolves itself into rather mysterious deep purples and charcoal greys, with the mass of mountain, jagged outcrops, and crags supporting rows of cube-like white houses, some of which are gouged and carved out of the rock itself. The closer view suggests, more than anything else, a surrealistic wedding cake with a layer of icing on its top.

 

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October 2011

October is the time in which the weather breaks, usually mid-month, with the change of season evident in the piles of cloud that start to build in the middle of the day.  They start, brought by the wind called themeltemi, in the east: sometimes they are benign heaps of cotton-wool fluff, casting a few shadows on the mountains, but at other times they are a deep and threatening black. Then we have violent storms. And it is in this month that the swallows gather for the migration.

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September 2011

The peripatetic life continues, and so does the struggle with the divided heart.
A week or more ago I said goodbye to my eldest son and his wife, who are newlywed, and to my brother and his family; I’m told some people become used to saying goodbye, but I never do. Instead I try to concentrate on the next thing, and so I prepared to say hullo to my other sons and to my grandsons.


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August 2011

I’m still here in Melbourne, the city of my birth. That’s the theory, anyway, but the fact is that half of me is still in Greece. August is holiday month, but I wonder how many carefree spirits are at the beach this year, for Greek hearts must be burdened with worry right now; 

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Gillian Bouras

 

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