After Greece's party ended


The Corinth Canal separates the Peloponnese from mainland Greece.Thirty-two years ago I came to my husband's ancestral village for six months' holiday. The holiday got out of hand, as I am still here. A nomad without an ancestral village, I was made a present of one, and now find irony in the fact that I will soon have spent as many years here as I did in Australia.

For the first 16 months I lived with my mother-in-law, the redoubtable Aphrodite, who stood five feet nothing in her stockinged feet, wore daunting head-to-toe black, and could quell me with one basilisk glance.

She saw no necessity to change a way of life that had remained the same for countless generations, so I was the one who had to adjust to a set routine of feast days and fast days, to the demands of the Orthodox church, to the dictates of the seasons and the rural round.

The world of books and writing, so important to me, was closed to Aphrodite, who could just manage to sign her name on her pension cheques; she could not read at all. To her I was irremediably foreign, and I don't think she saw a black or Asiatic person in all her life.

Any life entails a struggle to accommodate change, and changes there have inevitably been, even in this small, slow-moving world. Aphrodite grew up in a world without phones or labour-saving electrical appliances, without bathrooms and without radio and TV: local gossip preceded the soap operas that have become so popular.

There were no cars, and buses were few. People often walked to Athens, or rode their donkeys: the journey took a week, and time was measured by the number of cigarettes smoked.

Roads began to be built in the 1950s, after the disastrous civil war had left not a bridge standing in the entire country. Last month a new section of the National Road was opened, toll stations and all, so that it is now possible to get from Athens to Kalamata in just three hours.

When I arrived there were few supermarkets and those that existed were small. It was difficult to buy a packet of corn flakes, peanut butter cost a king's ransom, and bananas were unavailable: with idiosyncratic Greek logic, they were not imported so that the apple industry could flourish.

Bank loans were almost impossible to acquire, and many young people still lived in a three-generation menage.

But in 1980 Aphrodite and I stood on the cusp of change: things were speeding up for everybody. Before too long Greece entered the European Community, a fact that seemed to guarantee unheard of prosperity, involving the ready availability of consumer goods and a much higher standard of living.

Banks seemed almost literally to throw money at every Tom, Dick and Spiro, and at Spirodoula as well. Loans were available for almost anything, and credit cards seemed to many people a form of modern magic.

Well, most of us know the end result of change occurring too suddenly and too drastically.

The Greek party is now over, has been over for a good five years: it perhaps comes as no surprise that older villagers, who have in the main lived their lives as Aphrodite lived hers, who never expected a party and so did not join in the spree, have survived the krisi in better shape than many others.

People these days think of the Glamorous Glitzy Greece of the touristy islands and the swank resorts: for 25 years this image was cultivated. Those of us who knew an older, simpler Greece were dismayed, and feared the loss that development threatened to bring.

Much has indeed been lost. And yet, it is still possible to find the Greece of 1980. It is still possible to sit quietly under a mulberry tree outside a tiny kafeneion, to sip a drink and iced water as the old men, who feel the extreme heat and cannot enjoy the siesta as they once did, wander in for their late afternoon kafethaki. They sit and draw on their cigarettes, secure in the place where they have always lived.

They sit, revolving many memories, and these days, so far along that rocky road I first set foot on in 1980, I revolve mine. 

Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an Australian writer who has been based in Greece for 30 years. She has had nine books published. Her most recent is No Time For Dances. Her latest, Seeing and Believing, is appearing in instalments on her website. Image: the Corinth Canal, which separates the Peloponnese from mainland Greece. 

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, Greece



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Existing comments

Yes, the people who do not embrace, or fully surrender to the new ideas; the new ways; the new abuses, seem not to fall as hard when the system finally collapses. Your insights are always interesting Gillian.
John Whitehead | 15 August 2012

Dear Gillian,

Chronia polla! Kai haroumena! And if I could raise a glass to you in a wee kafeneion in the shade of a mulberry tree, I'd gladly do so!

Jena Woodhouse | 18 August 2012 again,Gillian.I don't know how I missed this article.As usual, you have your finger on the pulse of life in Greece & I also agree with John Whitehead's comments.Going far back into Greece's modern history,there was barely breathing space to prosper & develop in- between wars,invasions & large scale emigration.I guess the beginning of the tourist boom in the 1960's meant change,work & profits for many Greeks.This did widen the gap between the 'haves' &'have nots'.Then came the shares boom in the 1990's,when playing the stock market was very much in vogue,with the accompanying swaggering.The fabled Mediterranian diet took a blow with the introduction of Fast foods & the ruinous CocaCola.Young mothers discovered easy packaged foods in the wondrous new supermarkets-"prosperity" had arrived. The rest of the story is well documented,so I need not elaborate.Do you see much of the bartering system which is appearing,Gillian ?That is a hopeful sign-at least people will eat fresh food & stay physically healthy.I hope the hopeless feelings will not cause introversion in a normally extroverted nation.My elderly,infirm sister-in-law tells me,constantly that the current situation is worse than when the Germans invaded Greece,during WW2.......the Greeks are a resilient people,let's pray hard for them.E.D.
evangelia dascarolis | 07 October 2012


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