So, its the final day of my Odyssey & hopefully tonight I shall be with my lady friend in London, just as Odysseus returned to Ithaca & his wife Penelope. I say hopefully for unbelievably a massive fog has just dropped onto Thessalonika & there are already delays! I was up at 6AM this morning (loud tannoy) & jumped a bus a few k into the ghostly city to spend my last 80 cents on a baguette to go with the wee bit of food I have left! It was kind of romantic last stroll of the many I have undertaking on my recent poetic quest!
So its hometime! Greece has a really relaxing vibe & I’ll definitely be back to explore more. The country is one epic painting of mountains, islands & lucid waters, & has been a joy to wander thro. Everyone’s pretty friendly & have decent levels of English – its compulsary from 10 years old to 18. There’s not a hint of racism – unlike the Italians – & the only tension is the graffiti war played out between fans of Olympiakos & Panathanaikos, one of which is represented by Gate 7 & the other 13. Everywhere I go in Greece those two numbers are there, often superimposed over the rival number! O & the dogs, big nasty fuckers which seem to be left to rot in the gardens & bark aggressively at every passing stranger!
At the boarding school on Sunday night there was a massive crash somewhere in the building & I got bit spooked, so left the next morning. I spent the rest of the day simply strolling down hill for a few k, getting tanked up on red wine, & enjoying the sunny vistas from view to view, basically setting up camp when I whiteyed. Then the next morning I said goodbye to old faithful – my home for more or less the last two months – & with a lighter bag finished off my walkings with a few more k to the airport. I slept here last night, & am killing time using the free wifi they have here to sit through the 22 episodes of the second serires of the very hilarious Cougar Town, which I was getting into just before I left.
Returning to Britain is an exciting prospect, I feel. Axis & Allies is all over, bar the shouting (& typing up) – plus my book on the Homeric Question has taken massive strides forward… & of course, there’s the chips & curry!
You wait 2 months for a decent matress, then 2000 come at once! Tonight I am staying in an abadoned boarding school on outskirts of the posh town of Panorama, in the hills over Thessalonika. The last signs of life – a tv magazine in the office – are from 1997, the 15 year decay evident in the wooden playpark in the school grounds. Being here this afternoon had an eerie feel, like being in 28 Days Later, but it was cool getting some physical & mental respite from the rigours of the road snuggled under 5 blankets on a 4 matress combo. I’d got these from the hospital area in the higher reaches of the school, where I made a little bedroom, whose balcony was protected from view by thick trees. Neaby were cabinets full of medicines – including delicers for the kids – & I wished I could read Greek so I could take some stuff home & make a fortune down Haddington!
My journey here was inspiring. The coach from Lamia began as a pleasant cruise up the coast, pass the great island of Eubea & into a vast plain. Then, just above a ridge, I thought I saw a rare white cloud… yet as we reached the ridge I realized it was no cloud, but the snowy tops of Mount Olympus many, many miles away, The mountain literally rises from the plain, a great edifice, & the highest mountain in Hellas. From the south it appears a huge, smooth mass of stone, but as we drove to its east & the seaward side, it became the ‘Olympus of innumerable folds’ I had avout. A gorgeous, gorge-filled landscape with the peaks set in a mighty semi-circle, you could see how it was declared the homeof the twelve Olympian gods. I was dropped off at a motorway exit & had to make the 5 kilmetres to a town called Litorocho on foot, helped most of the way by a freindly hitch. It was a lovely habitation, winding streets all set at the foot of the mountain, & as I passed through it found a sofa-settee which provided me with a matress. I set up camp in a slightly decaying woodman’s hut at the very edge of the town, right at the entrance to the national Park, & waited eagerly for the next morning.
Back in 2003, on the Croatian island of Rab, I completed 12 tryptychs in a day – 240 lines – my record for Axis & Allies. However, being at the home of the gods, my days poetry there thunder’d through 250 lines, & they are all pretty fucking solid. My thoughts were with the Olympians, whose existence was confirmed every now & again by these strange sonic booms which thundered from the mountain tops. It brought to mind the exclamation of a female slave in book XX of the Odyssey, who shouted, “Zeus, lord of heaven & earth, what thunder from a starry sky!” Walking through the thunder-gods palace inspired me, especially at one view point where you can almost touch the peaks they are so close. It was there, after testing the chicaning gorge for echoes, & hearing my voice on several sides, I decided to read out a tryptych to the gods themselves. Then I realized I could record it on my MP player, so here’s the result (click on link).
On my walk back through the park I stumbled across a fellow traveller – a middle aged guy with a beard & a white cat who had set up a cheap ten pound tent & filled it with oranges & lotus fruit. Back in the town, slicing salmi in a store, I met another musical victim of the econmic crisis, a cool, silver-haired jazz drummer called Giannis Zikiropulos. Meeting him came with a pleasant surprise, for usually, when people ask me wher I’m from, I say Manchester, which all the time this trip has been greeted with ‘United or City.’ Then comes the confusing moments when I show them the Burnley badge on my jacket & try & explain that kids were kicking a leather casey along the cobbles of Burnley long before the Mancs knew what a football was. Ziki then goes, ‘Ah Manchester, the city of music,’ & we were friends for life. As at Itea I found a you tube clip of him playing (though this time its soft rock). He slices a mean salami n’all!
The next day was Saturday, & despite the beauty of Olympus, decided to move on. Its a good few hundred miles from Athens, & somewhere on the coach north the temperature had dropped, which didnt help being in the proximity of a mountain. I set off at dawn & walked for twenty miles through a pleasing agricultural landscape, past the delightful ruins of of Dion, & on to the modern city of Katrina. There, I caught the 3pm bus all the way to Thessalonika, 4 days before my flight home. It is a vast city of white houses sprawling up a mountainside & approaching it gave the illusion of seeing the white cliffs of Dover from the English channel. Once I had reached the second city of Greece, chasing the sunset, & with Hermes in my heels, I caught a couple of busses into the hills, helped by a couple of funky students, one of which has a band called Dead Sheep – here’s one of their videos.
That night I slept in an outhouse of an abandoned farm, using empty sacks as a matress, before once again setting off at dawn, where a few k down-hill I came across my school. I kind of always fancied a stint at boarding school, & this is ideal – no teachers doing mi nut in, & no prefects to fag for, meaning I should remain a heterosexual from the experience!
In 1804, the 34-year-old Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself emporer of the French in the cathedral of Amiens. He literally did, taking the crown from the Pope just as his holiness had stretched out his hands, & placed the crown on his head himself. A similar thing happened to me the other day, on Kolonos Hill, Thermopylae. On that very spot, 2,500 years ago, the remnants of the 300 Spartans who had held the pass with their King Leonidas, made their last stand against the 1,750,000 Persians attested to by Herodotus. They had been defending the narrow strectch of plain between the mountains & the sea that the Persians, led by the mighty Xerxes, had to pass if they were to invade the rest of Greece (where they were eventually defeated at Salamis & Placaea). On the hill there is a monument which has been there since time, reading, in Greek;
You stranger, go to Lakedaimonians & let them know that we lie here, faithful to their laws.
Well, just above the insription I found a fresh leafy sprig of Laurel. Two days before I had left the mountain of the Muses & I felt convinced that here was my reward. I quickly tied the branch togethere & in a moment of pure paganism placed it on my head! The rest of the day was lovely, for I got to drink wine lying naked (but for my crown) in the swift-rushing thermal spring – like a jacuzzi with hot water constantly running – that gives Thermopylae (hot gates) its name. You can make out the line of the spring from miles away, from the steam rising from the water’s course. This also gave me a chance to wash my clothes – a rare luxury on my guerilla jaunt around the Med.
The journey to my coronation began at Amfisa, from where I must have walked 15-20 miles uphill. Fucking knackering, with every curve in the road revealing another up-sloping stretch, but the views were ever & ever more immense. Greece is basically one big mountain range & my love of them was more than satisfied. Despite the effort involved, I was like, ‘C’mon Damo, its nice to exist at the extreme edge of human endeavour sometimes.’ My persistence in going that ‘extra mile’ was rewarded by Hermes, when just before sunset, & a moment or two after the road had finally began to slope downwards, I turned off the road & stumbled on a proper Tee-Pee…. with a comfy matress inside! I had no need to unpack my tent that night, & slept like a baby. Rising before dawn, my muscles were not rested enough for another 20-miler, so I thought I’d hitch, being picked up after 5 minutes. It was a guy from Itea – who knew my hosts from the other night – & he drove me all the way to Thermopylae, a bangin’ result.
It was an appropriate place to be crowned. I’ve always felt that writing an epic poem was more of a responsibilty to my gifts, than a personal pleasure or even an expression of artisry. To be validated in in such a fashion, at the ultimate monument to human duty, was kinda cool. I did not celebrate alone, for I was befreiended by a band of handsome, yet obviously stray dogs. There’s quite a few camper-vans parked up by the springs – I guess its the hot water – & the pack must latch themselves onto the leftovers. It was sad, tho, when I was leaving, to see one of the dogs had just had its hind legs ran over & was dragging itself across the tarmac. There was nothing I could do, & I left his fate to Greece.
That was at the start of a 10-mile hike across one of the few plains in the country; an old sea bed that parts two humungous mountain ranges. I was heading for the city of Lamia, whose white houses sprawled up the hills on the other side of the plain. Reaching there I found myself in a busy town for the first time in a while, a shock to the psyche after communing with my muses. I didn’t stay long though, choosing one of the heathy heights above the city to camp out in & ride out yesterdays rain. Inbetween blasts I crept out to cook with the firewood I kept dry in my tent, watching the sheets of rain stroll phantom like up the valley to my south. On all sides it was fascinating to watch the clouds drift inexorably to the east – a multiude of shapes & sizes, mirroring the mountains below them, all tinted with hints of sunlight – a great spectacle, until, that is, a huge black thundering thing began to move above me & so I scarpered quickly to my tent. It was nice to relax under canvas (which survived the storm, but ive only 3 pegs left), pinned to my books & creating some great tryptychs for Axis & Allies. Indeed, I have now only 25 stanzas left to write (of the 837!) & should have the fucker finished by Christmas! Although, admittedly, I did say the very same thing back in 2001.
This morning, after an epic dawn, I strolled back into a Lamia busying itself for the day, & have just bought my ticket for Katerina, at the foot of Mount Olympus. It is a relative stone’s throw from Thessalonika, where, in six days time I should (Hermes willing) flying to Stanstead & the British Winter (ouch!). I couldn’t delay it forever, I guess… all last winter I was in India, & I’ve managed to miss the start of this one, but it will be christmas soon, so ho-fuckin’-ho! First things first, however, the Lidl next-door to the bus station has some madly-priced beers, which means I’m in for a fun three hours on the coach (I hope there’s a toilet).
The last few days have been memorable. Setting off from Itea I hiked through a vast olive grove, which looks like a wavy, green sea from up high. Pausing in steep wee Chrissos, I stocked up on supplies & carried on hauling myself ever higher, off into the rough country, past pack of very aggressive dogs (scary) & finally, with a breathless drop of my bag, hit modern Delphi. Its a compact little place, with not a few hotels & gift shops, but hardly tacky at all. I set up camp just to the west of the town, over a little rise so I wouldn’t be seen, with a magnificent view stretching all the way down to Itea, & then across the Corinthian Bay to the mountains of the Peloponnese. Below me lay a modern greek-style theatre, & behind rose the lower flanks of Parnassus – sheer & craggy they’ve been perfect for my morning scrambles. These were assisted by some quality nike air I found while ‘tatting’ for my camp – the best trainers Ive had in years (thanks Hermes).
Another bit of tat was a dead v shaped tree, rotted to nothing at the root, which I used as firewood. At first I had to burn away the v, then start burning the long arms in half, a process which took all my stay at Delphi. The nights havent been bad at all, i guess delphis much lower than Lidoriki, & the days have been lovely – 20 degrees every day with no clouds at all. Its a far cry from the 4 degrees & raining I noticed Edinburgh was experiencing as I looked up the BBC website to find out Burnleys score – a 2-1 win away at West Ham!
Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday were spent quite locally, cooking food on an open fire, lying naked in the sun, sampling the tasty-as-hell Greek kebabs (only 2 euros) & filling my water bottles at the Castalian Spring. This was a short walk away through town from my camp, past the ruins of Ancient Delphi, which were alright but not as cool as those of Olympia. The setting is magnificent; a great green gorge divides two plateauxs, with Delphi nestling on the northern slopes. Beside her are two precipitious cliffs called, by the ancients, the Phaedriades, & its between them that the spring flows. It is said to give its drinker powers of poety, so ive been glugging it like wine (as well as the wine). Here’s that pieces that ambrosial elixir helped create;
Well, this is the heart-swell of poetry!
From holy Parnassus, uprolling sheer,
What magi-waters of empyrean
Pulse down from such a theatre of stone
& somewhere, in the depths of my studies,
I see a sketch of those gargoyle faces
I think, perhaps, Hobhouse, in Byron’s ‘Life’
Who, too, came up to taste this ancient spring
& there began his famous ‘Pilgrimage’
Tho’ mine is ended here… I sup the mead
A hint of minerals, revitalised,
I swear to all the Muses I shall be
A poet still, & if they ride with me
To England, I shall build them temples there!
Ye Bards! this is what sunset should look like
From Delphi, blood-orange, immaculate –
I urge on ye to take this healthy hike
Up to the trench where Pegasus placed foot
& quench your thirst!
This Castalian Spring
Shall make ye poet first, & then a druid-king!
But only if ye persevere
Thro’ twenty years of training
Sing lyrics when the skies are clear,
Write renku when them raining,
Embrace the decades full austere
Ever be abstaining
From all the crude distractions of a life,
Whose only succor comes with thy true wife!
Deem women, where the muses dwell,
Heart, twinkle, touch & trust,
Art’s dewy dell more musty cell
When lusting them non-plussed…
My love lies with me as I write, without her I am dust!
A windy day, but yet again, no cloud on which to ponder
As hard past Hyampeia, yonder Nauplia, I wander,
As if I was Calondas with hot rejection burning
“You slew the Muses’ servant, fool, begone & no returning!”
By the gates of Grecian Italy & a stoumach-soothing spring
The rugs of crafting families were merrily hanging
Up well-built streets I pottered to the church which crowns the town
& there saw silver Parnassus on houses looking down
Of any poet-moment, man, nothing I’ve known makes par
For on these slopes Odysseus received his famous scar
& Lord Apollo brought a lyre for Orpheus to play
While visiting his aunties on a day just like today
Where one wee robin flutters, by trailing eight butterflies,
All on the winds of heaven to those snow-skiff’d slopes uprise…
I wrote that two days ago, over the town of Arachova, a gorgeous place, very Swiss, bustling with life & very steep steps. It’s a few k on from Delphi, & higher, & was as close to Parnassus as I was going to get. Her summit, I think, was a mile or two away, but she formed a wonderful mass of rising stone & seeing it was the long hoped for crown-jewel-moment of my Odyssey. Being here has enlivened my verse & given it a new purpose, which I will be fetching back to Britain with me. Till, then, though, I have to travel to the north of Greece, & Thessalonika airport, starting with my DJ slot down in Itea. The last time I was Dj-ing i got assaulted by four bouncers, but last night went swimmingly. The band were alright, a couple of hours of rock classics, & then it was me. Opening with Black Betty soothed my nerves & suddenly I was everyones best mate. The place is a members bar for rock fans – everyone chips in to make the 280 euros a months rent, but you get to bring your own booze in! They’ve also started up a festival in Itea & have invited Saraswathi along next August on the strength of our Linkey Lea video. The organisers, a lovely middle aged couple, even gave me a bed (& a fucking bath!) last night, plus bags full of food this morning. Then, a wee walk, glancing my last at Parnassus, & two wee hitches later I am on my way, at the mountain-backed town of…