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Monday, July 2, 2012

At the Top of the Muletrack


Langada is a white hill village on the Greek island of Amorgos in the Eastern Aegean. No foreigner had lived in it until Carola Matthews arrived there in 1966 to complete her first book, also on Greece, The Mad Pomegranate Tree.

Having come to know its people and feel at home among them she returned two years later to write about whatever still seemed to make sense after she had walked to the top of the muletrack leading up to her house. She discovered that there is less complication and more humour attached to life than she had thought.

I discovered this delightful book, a 1971 Travel Book Club Edition, in Ulladulla at the bottom of my own muletrack. It reminds me so much of my own eighteen months spent in Piraeus; my apartment overlooking Marina Zea from where I could jump aboard a 'Flying Dolphin' to escape to the islands; my cafenion where I spent many hours sitting in the sun and clicking my kombolói without a worry in the world; and my taverna where I indulged in the delights of Greek cooking.

Marina Zea from the air

I might as well have continued living there. My landlord thought I would when he offered to sell me the apartment at Marina Zea for what was then the equivalent of two months' salary; my Saudi boss thought I would when he kept pushing more and more work onto me. The break came when I discovered that one of his trading partners had 'forgotten' to pay him an almost-a-million-dollar settlement dating back several years before my arrival. I was able to recover the money plus interest but all my boss said was, "What took you so long?"

All mountains are built of molehills; all storms originate in tea-cups; the Trojan War might never have been fought had not Laomedon cheated Apollo and Poseidon over their payment for the building of the walls; and I might still be living in Greece today had it not been for those words "What took you so long?". I knew that my Saudi boss, stuck in Jeddah - as I had been for the previous two years - , envied me my life in Greece because no Arab loves the desert but this time he had gone too far. "I'll be going back to Australia in April", I told him, perhaps unwisely, and so I did.

"I am a part of all that I have met", said Ulysses, to which I want to add "... and all that I have met is part of me" because after Greece, philanthropy means literally 'love of man' to me rather than sending intermittent cheques to orphanages, and a metaphor is as much a Greek removalist van to me as it is a figure of speech. After Greece, everything is Greek to me!

Hérete! (literally: Be happy!)