We head for Athens tomorrow (Wednesday) after four weeks in the southern Peloponnese. It has been a superb introduction to Greece for me. We’ve explored the marine caves where a Neolithic civilisation flourished 7,000 years ago. We’ve entered the once opulent palace of Nestor, built more than 3,000 years ago, and the tombs where its ruling family were buried. We’ve walked the site of the vast city of Ancient Messini, a product of classical Greek culture at its height in the fourth century BC, and wondered at its magnificent amphitheatre, stadium and temples.
We’ve stood on the ramparts of great Venetian and Byzantine medieval forts on the west coast; seen where the Greek wars of independence began in Areopoli in 1821 and where they climaxed in the great sea battle of Navarino six years later; and visited the beaches and hills around Kalamata where Greeks and Australians fought side-by-side against the Nazi occupiers as the Allies retreated in 1941.
I leave with an indelible impression of a resilient people who’ve endured centuries of wars, occupation, resistance and forced emigration, and still retain a powerful sense of their culture and a warmth of spirit that are astonishing.
WHAT I’LL MISS
Here are some of memories that will remain with me:
- The Taygetos mountains of the Mani. Stark and sunbleached by day, as evening falls they yield up their colours: ochre, rose, purple and blue.
- The terraces of ancient olive trees that speak of generations of labour, their fruit slowly ripening in the sun.
- The local cuisine – so simple and fresh, full of flavour and goodness.
- The stone villages of the Mani – like the people, tough on the outside, delightful within.
- The Gulf of Messenia, with its rocky beaches and gentle breezes.
- The port of Kalamata, with its farmers’ market and bookshops.
- And more than anything, the people with their boundless hospitality and generosity, all the more remarkable in these tough times.
There’s been a round of goodbyes with our neighbours and at our favourite tavernas. And this evening, our last here, we are invited to dinner on the balcony of a family house by the cathedral in Kalamata. It promises to be a night to remember.
CHILDREN OF EUROPE
There’s an issue as to who is governing Greece, as Alex reports – it seems to be the banks rather than the elected government. Meanwhile conditions in Spain are dire, worse even than here. No fewer than 53% of young people are now unemployed, while overall unemployment is one in four. My Sydney Spanish friend Maria is back in Castile visiting her family this summer. She emails me to say she has just been in Madrid, and saw the poverty there growing worse by the day, poverty she’d never even seen growing up in the last years of the Franco dictatorship.
Throughout Europe there are young people like the couple who’ve been our neighbours here in the village. They are both of hard-working stock, kindly and always ready to offer us help. She tends the garden; he keeps himself occupied with maintenance around the place, working with pent-up energy and concentration. But there’s no paid work for either of them. Their future is totally uncertain, and sometimes, for all their pride, you see that in their faces.
It’s the story of a generation – our children’s generation. This is what capitalism has to offer them, and it’s time for a better way.