Conversations about Work and Corners

The Greeks use the word work to mean labour as well as to mean trying to pull a fast one. They say the only work left in Greece is the work where you pull a fast one on your neighbour.

Sitting in the lounge at Oliver Tambo Airport after an intercontinental flight is far removed from arriving in Athens and driving into the city. Some stores are flashy and new, like the Zara, while behind it lies a burnt out facade of a building destroyed in riots or set fire by the owners so that they can claim from insurance.

A night in Athens remains, a drive through the ghetto inhabited by Indians and Pakistanis and Chinese, drugs changing hands under furtive glances along dirty side walks with cars parked on and off, crammed and dirty as well. They hover outside windows of stores that hold a foreign nation’s goods, strange in Greece were it not for the fact that Greece had Gypsies before.

After the ghetto we drove out to Paxi, a small village on the Attiki coast between Athens and Corinth. It was filled with young people drinking coffee and cocktails. Some arrived on scooters, some on superbikes and quite a few in Porches. The psarotavernas, the fish tavernas, were empty except for one, where three tables including us enjoyed a meal like we would have had ten years ago for ten times the price. Some of the taverns had been turned into new Russian looking club cafes and were full of designer clad youth.

The next day I left Athens and wondered through Corinth up  to Nemea, through Mycenae, Tolo and Astros and ended up in the village where time seems to have stood still. The road past the house has quietened down, with much less traffic than before. The priest across the corner is never home during the day since his wife died, and in the night the lights are on as he struggles with the insomnia brought on by loneliness. The empty house on the corner remains empty, except for one year when one of the sons used to peep out from shutters even though we continued to park our car on his corner. The remaining corner has a ramshackle house with stables and chicken coups facing our house. She has been moved into a home because of dementia. Our part of the village is made of corners. No where else are there four houses neatly laid out on the corners of a crossroad. Three the same age, with the priest’s new house built in the eighties on the odd corner.

That is about the only sense of order there. All the villagers are working, but not all of it is labour.

Looking into Arcadia from Mycenae

Conversations about Divides

The Corinth Canal divides Attica from the Peloponnese. It is over 6 km long, hewn into solid marble. It was dug at the end of the 19th century.

When we first crossed the canal in the late sixties there was a single railway bridge of metal framework and a concrete road bridge with a single lane running either way. There was a toll as you left Attica, even in the early days, the only toll in Greece for a long time. I seem to remember that we would stop on the Corinthian side, in Peloponnese, to stretch our legs, have a cool drink and ham and yellow cheese sandwich on sterile bread. There was a curio shop that sold miniature Corinthian bronze warriors alongside beach bags and hats.

It was an event to cross the canal in those days. One would marvel at many aspects of it. The bright light reflected off the steep white walls of the canal, the blue ribbon of water shimmered at the bottom and the ships passing almost touched the edges. The ships looked so small so far below the bridge. The old bridge had an expanded metal pedestrian walkway which was nerve wracking. I always felt pulled down as I peered over the rail into the canal.

From the canal the next landmark was the ruin of Mycenae above the Argolid plains. A divide between modern and ancient times. A divide between Indo-European culture from 2000 years B.C. and the Greek civilisation..

From Mycenae the central mountains of the Peloponnese rise, sharp, rocky and sparsely covered, towards Arcadia. The Artemision Tunnel now funnels traffic through to Tripolis, almost 100 years after the canal separated the Peloponnese from Attica.

Now the trip from the new airport to the village is a two hour drive. In the sixties we needed to stay a few days in Athens to acclimatise, then drive through and stop at the canal. From there to Argos for souvlakia and to avoid the high mountains, before the tunnel was built. Now we rush through and sense nothing was we speed through the dry landscape fringed by sea up to the mountains.

There was no air conditioning on those days. Some of the trips were undertaken by train , some by bus, until my father organised a taxi to collect us and deliver us home.

Why the divide? Geographic. Cultural. Chronological.

The Corinth Canal circa 1970