Meet the Olympians

Mount Olympus

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!



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