X: Olympia at Last

On Monday just gone, me & Paul spent our last couple of hours together in Argostoli. Apparently, the chill nights & the frugal existence had become less a novelty & more a burden, & so he decided to live it up large in Athens for a week before catching an early flight home. So, we sat by the harbour a while, & with a flurry of man-hug-loving said adieu as he caught the coach to Athens (via the ferry). I hung on a bit longer in Argostoli, hoping to catch the local newspaper with my Phorcys Cave story – but they must have opened up & closed in about twenty minutes. ‘I’ll just have to go to Athens & find a newspaper there,’ I thought, & set off on my adventures.

I was alone for the first time in weeks, but solitude is the wet-nurse of poetry, & the lines began to flow. It was kinda daunting, to travel about 400 miles to Thessalonika, via loads of mad places, with fuck all money & mostly on foot. Still, I’m here now innit? From Argostoli the road climbed & climbed, & tho’ the views were glorious my hitching attempts terrible, until, that is, a PE teacher in her late 30’s stopped & took me the 20K I was hiking to Sami! That night I camped in a camp site, empty for the winter, & wrote poetry by the harbour drinking beer. Sami itself is a calm, lushness of a place, full of high verdant peaks, as across the silvery waters of the bay the island of Ithaca lay.

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Next morning I set off studying the topography of the place – I’m sure it’s where Odysseus had his palace – then was picked up by a giddy, young-looking, silver-haired yet middle-aged truck driver who took me 26K down to Poros & as I was with him I got a free 10 euro ferry ride to the mainland! He was a cool chap, a little camp, which was confirmed when after asking his limited English which places were cool in Greece, he very excitedly went on about this gay island with a ‘do-you-want-a-blow-job’ glint in his eye. I never bit, but I did help him unload his out-of-date milk products on to a truck that arrived at Killini a few minutes after us that had arrived from Cephalonia’s neighboring island, Zakynthos. I had landed back upon the Greek mainland, surrounded by all things Greek & those curious Phoenician letters of theirs. It’s cool though – the Greeks seem more laid back than the Italians – & darker skinned – there’s orange trees full of nicely ripened fruit growing everywhere, & public transport consists mostly of plush coaches. On the downside, the dogs here seem all to be guard dogs & bark furiously as you pass them, & being a rural place there are cockerels everywhere. Trust me, the pre-dawn operatics of dog & rooster are not good for a hangover!

So my new best gay mate – Constantinos I think his name was – drops me off at exactly the same stretch of motorway where me & Paul got off on the way in to Killini, & a set up camp for the night. I was up with the dawn – only 50 k from Olympia, the main reason for me doing this ‘insane quest’ (to quote Victor Pope) in the first place. The idea is that as a British poet with histrionic pretensions, I’m gonna write some victory odes when the games come to my ‘hood. A little pilgrimage to the home of the Games would hardly go amiss, so after catching a couple of buses, thro’ the refined city of Pirgos, I’m here. On arriving, I wandered round a bit, through a savagely ridged countryside, toward these watchtower things which I presumed overlooked the site. The sun was beating down as I passed a guy hunting with hound & gin, then little pockets of olive pickers with their nets spread below the trees… & suddenly, I’d made it. Below me I saw the oval track where the idea of competitive sport began. It’s a bit like Burnley Athletics club without the chimneys, where orange rooved museum complexes snake from the centre. That night I chilled out in my wooden watchtower, a great wind creaking & groaning it all over the place – but I held my nerve & listened to music well into the wild night.

The next morning I was up with the rose-pink dawn, & descended into Olympia itself (via a hop over a fence). It’s an absolute wonder of a ruin, from the gigantic columns of the Temple of Zeus, which were scattered by an earthquake in the 500s, to the Stadion itself, where of course I did a one-man running race along the length of, which I won). After an enchanting couple of hours wandering the Sanctuary I’m now in the lovely town of modern Olympia, shopping for food & doing free wi-fi in a cafe over a cup of thick & tasty Greek coffee. Soon I’m gonna retire to my hilltop enclave, gush out some more lines & munch on my collection of foodstuffs, herbed up with the wild lavender prospering eagerly around my tent.

Olympia
24/11/2011

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