My mind this morning was in the lofty heights of Mount Parnassus, far from the dusty train that I was travelling in. Instead of the mingled aftershaves and perfumes, I had the heady aroma of wild rosemary baking in the hot sun, the dry, chalky smell that rises off the rough, white tracks that criss cross the countryside. The hills of Greece and the islands are covered in wild herbs – you’ve never smelled thyme until you smell it there. You come back from a walk and your clothes are saturated with the scent.
The people of the islands – the ones that I met anyway – have a quicksilver vibrancy, oddly coupled with a laid back attitude to life. The Hellenic equivalent of ‘soon come’ I would imagine. There is no hurry, no rush to complete anything which, while a blessing on one hand, can actually drive you mad after a while. I remember the mischievous, open adoration that Greek men can bestow on the unwary female traveller. I was spared this for a while because of my looking more like a native but then they found out that I was not only a single woman, and therefore delightful, but a British single woman, this seemed to make them even more determined. I did not give in, however, but they still stayed wonderfully hopeful.
One of the strongest memories I have of my time in Corfu is being driven down the winding roads at about 3am, chasing the moon as she sailed across the indigo sky, finally to hunt her down to a small bay ringed by olive trees. She shone magnificently across the wine dark water, casting a silver trail from the edges of the lapping waves to the far empty horizon. I sat on the rather ramshackle edge of what was possibly the smallest jetty in the world, and bathed my feet in her light. The night sounds rose behind me like a symphony and I was so happy that I felt my heart would burst. The water was as warm as a lover’s touch and felt almost as caring, almost that it didn’t want to let me leave. Perhaps Poseidon had plans for me that night but Diana dictated where we went, as we needed to get home before the clouds overtook her, for the car we were in had, in typical Greek style, no lights.
The car had other ideas and refused to start and, in fact, set its own engine on fire to entertain us. My friend shrugged happily, said that he could always get another car, and so we walked the 4 or 5 miles back to my hotel through the fragrant darkness, with the silvered rustling of the olive groves accompanying our steps.
“Be thou gracious unto me, thou who art king in the tract of the sea, wide-ruling son of Kronos, Girdler of the earth, and be gracious thyself, O Thalassa, and ye gods who in the sounding sea have your abode; and grant me to tell of your herds and sea bred tribes.”- Oppian, Halieutica 1.74