XI Marching to Parnassus

When I tour India, I always sense that the goddess Saraswathi is with me. In the same capacity, over here in Greece, I wonder’d which of their classical deities I would call on for assistance. The choice was easy, for as I’m a raging Gemini it just had to be fleet-footed Hermes (or Mercury to the Romans). My new god with me, I set off from my breezy nest over the Sanctuary of Olympia. A couple of hours & a couple of bus rides later I was back in the port-city of Patras. It’s a busy place, clean & airy, & somewhere one could imagine living. I paused there awhile in the offices of the big local newspaper… chatting to a middle-aged female journalist about my Phorcys story. I soon realized, however, she was more interested in telling me about the great debate that was swinging around Greece about whether Homer’s Ithaca was modern day Ithiki or Cephalonia, & being in a hurry she didn’t even look at the photos I was trying to show her that basically settles the issue. Still, I got some interesting nuggets of stuff my book, & as for the announcement of my great discovery, I will take consolation from the great Gary Barlow, when he sang, “Have a little Patience, my friend!”
I was now heading for Mount Parnassus, the home of the Muses, & some place I’d longed to visit since becoming a poet. Indeed, back in October 1999, in Brighton, the first tryptych I ever composed for my epic poem, Axis & Allies, was an invocation to those nine sisters of inspiration, & set at the foot of an imaginary Mount Parnassus;

There is a glade in an ancyent forest
Where pools lie glitteraund molten azure,
I wade within the one most moonbeam blest
To bathe in blissful dreamtimes gleaming pure;
Attended by
The nine naked maidens
Like a lost lullaby lilting throʹ loveʹs garden.

She harps a song, she summons stars,
She waltzes round the waters,
She treats these tender battlescars,
She paints the floating lotus,
She strums the summergold guitars,
O loxian daughters!
As thro the wood was cast a flood of light,
I pluckʹd & dipp’d reed & ‘gan to write.

The muses weave their tryptych tone,
O rich enchanted chime,
The music of their mystic moan
Inspires my soul to rhyme,
Thus clutching hopes of poetry Parnassus’ slopes we climb.

Since etching those dreamy lines I’ve composed over 1200 tryptychs, of which 800 or so will form the final version of my A&A. I’ve also been to Italy 12 times, from Trieste to Sicily; spent 13 months of my life in India from Kanyakamari to Kanchenzonga; toured through Sweden, Estonia, Holland, Malta, Austria, Germany, Belgium & even accidentally been to France six times – or seven if you count my visit to the Basque country when I crossed the Pyrenees from Spain via the pass of Roncesvalles. I’ve toured practically every corner of British Isles in that time, from Galway to Cape Wrath & the Tor of Glastonbury – but never, in all my days, have I made it to Greece. Well I’m here now!

I walked through the suburbs of Patras for a few k, before reaching a huge Queensferry style bridge formed from the giant, gleaming white skeletal wings of flesh-stripped birds, spanning the gulf between the Peloponnese & Sterca Hellas. I began to walk the couple of k across the wide bridge beneath a cloudless sky (it hasn’t rained since I got to Greece), the Corinthian Bay curving lucidly to my right, & far out on my left the fading shadows of Cephalonia at the mouth of the gulf. Far below me a series of ferries were chugging at a pedestrian pace between the shores. On reaching the far side I realised why – to cross the bridge it was 20 euros per car, forty for a large lorry & 60 for a coach!

A couple of walks & a wee lift later, in the dying of the day, I put my tent up by a massive castle high on a hill over the pretty town of Lepanto. From Patras to Corinth I was presented with a vast panoply of lights that threatened to usurp the very stars themselves from their podium of illuminating beauty. I also had a mind-movie to play out, for it was in the very waters below me that a mighty naval battle took place between a combined force of Venetians, Spanish & the Maltese Knights of Saint John against the Turks. It was a victory for the Christians, as vital as El Alamein was in WW2, the highwater mark of the Ottoman Empire.

The next day was a real pleasure. Waking before dawn I was on the road by 7AM. A few shops were open in Lepanto, where I stocked up on what has become my staple fare in the past few days; a large tin of spam (1.25), a loaf of delicious bread (.75), 3 eggs (.60) plus a large fresh tomato & a few bits of veg (.40). This comes to 3 euros, & mixed with the oranges that are growing wild everywhere (& are just ripening succulently) I believe I have a decent diet… meat, wheat, fruit & the veg which I curry up on the night with some spices. That’s 21 euros out of my 57 euros a week (on current exchange rate), which leaves me plenty enough for travel, wine & internet. The simplicity of this life is wonderful, I think, no pressures of work, consumerism or following one’s peers to a party. Cooking on an open fire & cleaning in rivers, it’s just me, my poetry & the open road.

And what a road! After a few k of hiking on the Lepanto plain, I began my turn north into the mountains at a town called Efpalio. Not long after Hermes provided me with a lorry full of hay bales & a friendly driver who took me to exactly where I wanted to go. I’d picked out a large lake on the map, between Patras & Parnassus, & he was heading to a town on the far side of it called Lidoriki. The drive was immense, higher & higher & twisting & turning, all in a world of autumn-tinted giants. We stopped off for coffee (iced by the way) at this cool hunting lodge, ran by a tiny, chubby old woman who sat beside a roaring hearth underneath rows of salami. All round was a triumph of taxidermy; about a hundred stuffed animals of all kinds…. with still soft fur & still sharp fangs, including a little yellow chicken-chick!

Now then, I have seen some spectacular places on my sojourns around the planet thus far, but the mountains which rise from the deep azurity of the Mornos Lake are unpatrolled in the perfection & composition of scene. Wordsworth would have come in his pants, & I admit I felt the warm dampness of excitable ejecta spreading through my boxers as we drove through its awesomeness. I was dropped off in Lidoriki, a reasonably sized & quite charming mountain village, rolling up & down its slopes with views & air to die for. On the way to put up my tent I asked the last house in town if I could charge up my laptop, & they were very obliging. The son of the family – Niki – was also one of the star players of the village football team, who were kicking off a match against another mountain village team not long after I arrived. It was great being part of the small but lively crowd, where insults are flung to ones friends. I now know my third Greek word – malaka – I was taught to shout it at an opposition player & the laughs of the crowd indicate it must be of a humorous nature. Lidoriki won 7-0 by the way.

Next morning I saw frost for the first time since last November! I’ve got two sleeping bags at the moment – one being my girlfriend’s 80 quid one, not quite as snug as her loins, buts its doing the trick! So I stumbles out of the tent at dawn & its fuckin’ there, all white & that, proper frost… then come the cold toes & stuff, which I’d completely forgotten you could get. Up in the mountains the sun was gleaming on the nearby lake but not yet over the peak between us, so I hastily made a lovely wee fire. Eggs for breakfast, then, & a lesson learnt for Parnassus (stay in bed!). Later, after stocking up on water at the house of this friendly one-armed retired German, I returned to my tent for the day, the front open & the sun really sizzling. I think the shock of the frost had been too much for me. Besides, it was nice to have a holiday!

This morning my initial fears over the cold were proven when my water bottle was full of ice. Still, the dawn was spectacular & I watched it first skim the highest peaks in the area, then the golden light spread like a forest fire over the facing slopes, their beams hanging in the air just a few meters above me. It seemed like a peak to my east had a glacier of snow, before the sun burst out in all its glory & sent my shadow into ecstasy. After buying fresh warm bread from a guy who’d scored Saturday’s best goal, I set off once more. Hermes was again with me as a friendly guy drove me back to the coast of the Corinthian gulf – the mountains of the Peloponnese rising across the white waters.

After a hike of 10k & lunch in a beautiful bay, I was picked up by a guy called Jonny in his milk truck. He was a nice guy, a virtuoso classical guitarist/metal-head, who has been forced to deliver milk in the wake of the economic crisis. He was a musician in Athens, but the arts, it seems, are the first victim of the vast financial Greek vacuum. By the time he’d driven me all round the coast, pointing out the magic mountain of Parnassus to me as a great bay opened up, I’d blagg’d a DJ set at the Roadhouse venue in Itea on Saturday night. The band is more seventies rock, so I’m not allowed to do any disco, but it should be fun. Once in Itea, a real cool spot with sunbathers (still) & lemons & oranges hanging from very tree, free for all to pick, Hermes led me to the bass player of the band (Augelos) who are playing on Saturday. He told me the same story, that he was forced out of musician work in Athens, so I hope to cheer them all up come the weekend with some proper Betty Boo!


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