In 1804, the 34-year-old Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself empower of the French in the cathedral of Amiens. He literally did, taking the crown from the Pope just as his holiness had stretched out his hands, & placed the crown on his head himself. A similar thing happened to me the other day, on Kolonos Hill, Thermopylae. On that very spot, 2,500 years ago, the remnants of the 300 Spartans who had held the pass with King Leonidas, made their last stand against the 1,750,000 Persians attested to by Herodotus. They had been defending the narrow stretch of plain between the mountains & the sea that the Persians, led by the mighty Xerxes, had to pass if they were to invade the rest of Greece. On the hill there is a monument which has been there since time, reading, in Greek;
You stranger, go to Lakedaimonians & let them know that we lie here, faithful to their laws.
Well, just above the inscription I found a fresh leafy sprig of laurel. Two days before I had left the mountain of the Muses & I felt quite convinced that here was my reward. I quickly tied the branch together & in a moment of pure paganism placed it on my head! The rest of the day was lovely, for I got to drink wine lying naked (but for my crown) in the swift-rushing thermal spring… like a Jacuzzi with hot water constantly running… that gives Thermopylae (hot gates) its name. You can make out the line of the spring from miles away, from the steam rising from the water’s course. This also gave me a chance to wash my clothes, a rare luxury on my guerilla jaunt around the Med.
The journey to my coronation began at Amfisa, from where I must have walked 15-20 miles uphill. Fucking knackering, with every curve in the road revealing another up-sloping stretch, tho’ the views were ever & ever more immense. Mainland Greece is basically one big mountain range & my love of them was more than satisfied. Despite the effort involved, I was like, ‘C’mon Damo, it’s nice to exist at the extreme edge of human endeavor sometimes.’ My persistence in going that ‘extra mile’ was rewarded by Hermes, when just before sunset, & a moment or two after the road had finally began to slope downwards, I turned off the road & stumbled on a proper Tee-Pee…. with a comfy mattress inside! I had no need to unpack my tent that night, & slept like a baby. Rising before dawn, my muscles were not rested enough for another 20-miler, so I thought I’d hitch, being picked up after 5 minutes. It was a guy from Itea – who knew my hosts from the other night – & he drove me all the way to Thermopylae, a banging’ result.
It was an appropriate place to be crowned. I’ve always felt that writing an epic poem was more of a responsibility to my gifts, than a personal pleasure or even an expression of artistry. To be validated in such a fashion, at the ultimate monument to human duty, was kinda cool. I did not celebrate alone, for I was befriended by a band of handsome, yet obviously stray dogs. There’s quite a few camper-vans parked up by the springs – I guess it’s the hot water – & the pack must latch themselves onto the leftovers. It was sad, tho,’ when I was leaving, to see one of the dogs had just had its hind legs ran over & was dragging itself across the tarmac. There was nothing I could do, & I left his fate to Greece.
That was at the start of a 10-mile hike across one of the few plains in the country; an old sea bed that parts two humungous mountain ranges. I was heading for the city of Lamia, whose white houses sprawled up the hills on the other side of the plain. Reaching there I found myself in a busy town for the first time in a while, a shock to the psyche after communing with my Muses. I didn’t stay long though, choosing one of the heathy heights above the city to camp out in & ride out yesterday’s rain. Inbetween blasts I crept out to cook with the firewood I kept dry in my tent, watching the sheets of rain stroll phantom like up the valley to my south. It was fascinating to watch the clouds on all sides drift inexorably to the east – a multitude of shapes & sizes, mirroring the mountains below them, all tinted with hints of sunlight: a great spectacle, until, that is, a huge black thundering thing began to move above me & so I scarpered quickly to my tent. It was nice to relax under canvas (which survived the storm, but I’ve only 3 pegs left), pinned to my books & creating great tryptychs for A&A. Indeed, I have now only 25 stanzas left to write (of the 837!) & should have the fucker finished by Christmas! Although, admittedly, I did say the very same thing back in 2001.
This morning, after an epic dawn, I strolled back into a Lamia busying itself for the day, & have just bought my ticket for Katerina, at the foot of Mount Olympus. It is a relative stone’s throw from Thessalonika, where, in six days’ time I should be (Hermes willing) flying to Stanstead & the British Winter (ouch!). I could not delay it forever, I guess… all last Winter I was in India, & I’ve managed to miss the start of this one, but it will be Christmas soon, so ho-fuckin’-ho! First things first, however, the Lidl next-door to the bus station has some madly-priced beers, which means I’m in for a fun three hours on the coach (I hope there’s a toilet).