Monday, November 15, 2010

Arcadian ambulations III

In my light sleeping bag, insulated from the cold stone of the café floor by no more than a thin foam mat, I slept surprisingly well. In order to offer us hot drinks and breakfast before we left Epidauros the café manager arrived especially early to open up.
That two days in close company was easing our initial reserve became apparent when, over our hot drinks and fresh pastries, Karin began to tell us something of her early life. She had been born in Liepzig, East Germany, in 1949. She had lived happily there until, when she was eight years old, her parents, unhappy with the system under which they had been obliged to live since the end of the war, left the tyrannies of Soviet Socialism for a free life in the West. Listening to her narrating her story I could not imagine how painful this must have been for her and her family. At that time the metro on which Karin and her family escaped was still running through both the eastern and western parts of Berlin. The Wall, and the murderous full partitioning that came with it, was not built until 1961. Compared to the risks taken by post-1961 escapees, Karin's family may have made a relatively easy crossing but the wrench must have been unimaginably grim, particularly for the children who, in an instant, had to abandon all they knew, home, toys, friends, everything, without even the chance of a farewell. Arrival in the West had also been difficult for Karin; Easterners, then as now, were not particularly welcome in the West. It was then that Salina remarked on how many similarities there were between Karin's story and her own. Salina had been born in China from where, when she was yet a child, her family fled with her to Hong Kong. I have never experienced the tyranny of totalitarianism. I have enjoyed a free life and taken for granted a right when dissatisfied to either speak up fearlessly for my beliefs or to 'vote with my feet', to hear the stories of less fortunate folk emphasised my good fortune, something about which I shall never be complacent.
Before leaving Epidauros we spent a couple of hours or so looking around the ruins of the ancient Cult Centre, visiting the museum and climbing the tiers of the magnificent theatre. Built in the 3rd century BC and further extended in the 2nd, the theatre can accommodate 12,000 people and is still in sufficiently good order to be used to stage several plays each summer. The theatre is famous for its acoustics; the ring of a small coin dropped onto the stone floor of the stage can be clearly heard from the highest tiers of the auditorium. It was early when I arrived at the theatre, only a very few tourists had yet arrived but one visiting couple were already on the stage singing a duet which rang beautifully and harmoniously throughout the theatre. I climbed the stone tiers. When I reached the top a young woman had replaced the singers. Dramatically and emotionally she was reciting a pleading speech of Isabella's from “Measure for Measure”; it was a moving performance!
We left the ancient site by the main road but soon picked up tracks that led us in the general direction of Argos, our next objective. The stroll was less dramatic than that of the previous day; more undulating than steep. We stopped for a while to eat a picnic lunch in an olive grove, allowing the heat of the middle of the day to ease a little before moving on. Later in the afternoon the sky clouded over and we argued the merits of staying for the night under the shelter of the terrace roof of a locked church at which we had stopped for a further rest. The well beside the church, its murky water further contaminated with an accumulation of detritus, was immediately dismissed as a source of drinking water. The church offered scant shelter and no fresh water. Thick clouds had gathered. Rain threatened. Afternoon would soon be passing into evening. A vote was taken concerning whether we should stay and make the most of what little the locked church had to offer or to move on to the next village, Arcadiko, and the possibility of finding greater comfort there. The four of us who voted to move on won the day.
On the outskirts of Arcadiko we came upon a large gated house that might have been a small hotel. Bruno, unburdened by the conventions that so inhibit Northern Europeans from making contact with strangers, rang the bell on the gate and was invited in to talk to a man who regretted, as he and his wife were but temporary custodians of the house while the owner and his family were away, being able to offer us hospitality there. The village had no hotel or taverna but it did have a café. The café, which at first seemed unlikely to be able to provide much more than 'Greek Coffee' or cold drinks was soon transformed into something at least of a taverna. In what appeared to be the owner's private kitchen his wife was rustling up souvlaki, chips, omelettes and salads, not quite perhaps to Michelin guide standards but a vast improvement on the 'hot-dog' dinner I had less than enjoyed at Epidauros the previous evening. As relays of plates of food were still being delivered to our café forecourt table the genial fellow who Bruno had spoken to earlier drew up beside us in a large and rather smart car. He climbed out, presented us with a large bag of groceries and fruit and began to get things organised on our behalf; apparently our chum had considerable influence in Arcadiko. Later in the evening a tractor towing a large trailer pulled into the café. This, we were told, was our transport to our sleeping shelter for the night! Loaded into the trailer we set off through the village to be dropped outside a fine, decorated, heated and carpeted church.  After being shown where to switch off the lights when we were ready our benefactors left us to rest for the remainder of the night. In a dark corner between rows of chairs I found a pitch for my mat and sleeping bag and made short work of climbing into it, installing ear plugs and, almost at once, falling asleep.
By so doing I missed a lot of fun. Not all of the villagers were happy with our using their church as a dormitory and, as I innocently slept, a deputation of dissenters had arrived at the church intent on removing us. Quite a row then ensued between some of my fellow walkers, dissenting villagers and a group of our original benefactors the outcome of which was that, rather than risking further trouble, we accepted expulsion from the church packed up and wandered bleary-eyed into the night. Earlier we had been offered use of the village schoolroom for the night so, having nowhere else to go, we first went there only to find a most unaccommodating janitor who had very obviously been briefed that we were on our way and who had no intention of letting a bunch of itinerant, non-orthodox, foreigners into the building of which he had charge. We wandered back into and through the village to an olive grove beyond, which had to serve us as a dormitory for what was left of a fortunately clear dry night.


Robin said...

Evokes such strong memories John!! The scene at the cafe and the expulsion from the church had me in stitches; beautifully described!!

Anonymous said...

Interesting tales. I wonder how I would handle a dose of Totalitarianism myself. I might have the courage to try to escape but I doubt I would have the courage to rebel and face the consequences. Death I could take. Imprisonment, deprivation and/or torture I could not. Does growing up in freedom make us soft? I hope I never get tested.