"The isles of Greece, the isles of Greece
Where burning Sappho loved and sang..." George Noel Gordon, Lord Byron
Although I became interested in Greek history many years ago when I was a teen-ager, it took me until the late '70's before I actually met any Greek people, and not until 1979 did I make my first trip to Greece.
Around '76 a friend introduced me and some other girlfriends to a local Greek taverna called the "Greek Village". It was the first time I'd ever seen Greek dancing, with plates smashed under the dancer's feet. The dancers were mainly Greek sailors on leave in town, and the GV was a veritable gold-mine of handsome men which appealed us single gals. It soon became a regular hang-out.
Through my several years of visits to the GV, I became friends with a number of Greeks, with whom I kept contact by mail. Often they would make returns visits to my city and we'd get together. Through them I learned a great many things about their country, and even started to learn the Greek language.
By the time I went to Greece for my first visit in 1979 I had already established a couple of friendships. I stopped first in Thessaloniki, because I wanted to explore Alexander's world and then took the train down to Athens. It began a long a wondrous love-affair with that country, and in particular with that city.
"Maid of Athens, ere we part,
Give, oh give me back my heart..." Lord Byron
By 1982 I knew I must go to live there, so the following year I went back for good. For nearly five years I lived there in the old Plaka district, teaching English to young children, and living the zoe.
It was one of the best times of my life. I was writing travel articles at the time, pounding them out on a little portable Brother, and selling every one to a newspaper back in Canada.
And I was working on an Alexander-themed novel too.
A Greek family I knew from home (they also operated a taverna where we used to go), invited me to their village in the mountains of Evvia. It was Antonia who allowed me the use of the little shepherd's cottage where I lived on and off for the next two years. And that's where I became friends with my very special shepherd, Mitso.
Those early days of the GV provided me with an open door to a whole new world, one that has become very much a part of my life, and provided me with opportunities that I'd never have had otherwise. Because of my Greek connections I have been able to research my current w.i.p. and have met many wonderful, interesting people along the way.
Now I return to Greece sometimes for six months at a time to write and visit, once in awhile making shorter trips, always returning to my old neighbourhoods in Plaka and Koukaki. I have established friends there, and Athens has become my second home.
This weekend I got together with two of my girlfriends who were part of the good times at the GV. Both of them married Greeks. I didn't, though I had a serious relationship while I lived in Athens which ended when I moved back home, and later I was 'proposed' to by
my shepherd friend who has since passed away.
We hellenaphiles connected again during last summer. It's been fun getting together again, reminiscing about the good old days of the GV and trips we've made to Greece. As J. said the other night "There'll never be another GV" And there won't be.
Yesterday I had lunch with a friend and she gave me a beautiful calendar of Greece which prompted so many lovely memories. Oddly, this weekend I also received phone calls from two of my Athens friends. One is a woman who now lives back in England who was part of the ex-pat crowd who used to hang out at a place we called "The Dirty Corner" at the corner of Vironos and Lysicrattus Sts. in Plaka. (I lived on Odos Vironos -- Byron's Street). Then,
today I had a call from my sweet friend D. who lives in Plaka. Both of them are hoping I'll make it over this summer for a visit. My plan is to head for England before the end of May, then go down to Greece for awhile. And since all the cards seem to be falling into place, it appears that it's time for me to start planning. Greece is calling me again. I am feeling the ache of homesickness.
"Enclose in your soul Greece...and you shall feel every kind of grandeur." Dionysios Solomos