XIV Meet the Olympians

You wait 2 months for a decent mattress, then 2000 come at once! Tonight, I am staying in an abandoned boarding school on the outskirts of the posh town of Panorama, in the hills over Thessalonika. The last signs of life – a tv magazine in the office – are from 1997, the 15-year decay evident in the wooden playpark in the school grounds. Spending time here this afternoon had an eerie feel, like being in 28 Days Later, but it was cool getting some physical & mental respite from the rigors of the road snuggled under 5 blankets on a 4 mattress combo. I’d got these from the hospital area in the higher reaches of the school, where I made a little bedroom, whose balcony was protected from view by thick trees. Nearby were cabinets full of medicines – including de-licers for the kids – & I wished I could read Greek so I could take some stuff home & make a fortune down Haddington!

My journey here was inspiring. The coach from Lamia began as a pleasant cruise up the coast, pass the great island of Eubea & into a vast plain. Then, just above a ridge, I thought I saw a rare white cloud… but as we reached the ridge I realized it was no cloud, but the snowy tops of Mount Olympus many, many miles away. The mountain literally rises from the plain, a great edifice & the highest mountain in Hellas. From the south it appears a huge, smooth mass of stone, but as we drove to its east & the seaward side, it became the ‘Olympus of innumerable folds’ I had read about. A gorgeous, gorge-filled landscape, with peaks set in a mighty semi-circle, you could see how it was declared the home of the twelve Olympian gods. I was dropped off at a motorway exit & had to make the 5 kilometers to a town called Litorocho on foot, helped most of the way by a friendly hitch. It was a lovely habitation, winding streets all set at the foot of the mountain, & as I passed through it found a sofa-settee which provided me with a mattress. I set up camp in a slightly decaying woodman’s hut at the very edge of the town, right at the entrance to the National Park, & waited eagerly for the next morning.

Back in 2003, on the Croatian island of Rab, I completed 12 tryptychs in a day – 240 lines – my record for Axis & Allies. However, being at the home of the gods, my day’s poetry thunder’d through 250 lines, & they are all pretty fucking solid. My thoughts were with the Olympians, whose existence was confirmed every now & again by these strange sonic booms which thundered from the mountain-tops. It brought to mind the exclamation of a female slave in book XX of the Odyssey, who shouted, “Zeus, lord of heaven & earth, what thunder from a starry sky!” Walking through the Olympian palace inspired me, especially at one view-point where you can almost touch the peaks they are so close. It was there, after testing the chicaning gorge for echoes, & hearing my voice on several sides, I decided to read out potions of Axis & Allies to the gods themselves.

On my walk back through the park I stumbled across a fellow traveler – a middle-aged guy with a beard & a white cat who had set up a cheap ten-pound tent & filled it with oranges & lotus fruit. Back in the town, slicing salami in a store, I met another musical victim of the economic crisis; a cool, silver-haired jazz drummer called Giannis Zikiropulos. Meeting him came with a pleasant surprise, for usually, when people ask me where I’m from, I say Manchester, which all the time this trip has been greeted with ‘United or City.’ Then comes the confusing moments when I show them the Burnley badge on my jacket & try to explain that kids were kicking a leather casey along the cobbles of Burnley long before the Mancs knew what a football was. But instead, Ziki goes, ‘Ah Manchester, the city of music,’ & we were friends for life.

The next day was a Saturday, & despite the beauty of Olympus, I decided to move on. It is a good few hundred miles from Athens, & somewhere on the coach north the temperature had dropped, which didn’t help when being in the very close proximity of a mountain. So I set off at dawn, walking for twenty miles through a pleasing agricultural landscape, past the delightful ruins of Dion, & on to the modern city of Katrina. I now caught the 3pm bus all the way to Thessalonika, 4 days before my flight home. It is a vast city of white houses sprawling up a mountainside & approaching it gave the illusion of seeing the white cliffs of Dover from the English Channel. Once I had reached the second city of Greece, chasing the sunset, & with Hermes in my heels, I caught a couple of busses into the hills. That night I slept in an outhouse of an abandoned farm, using empty sacks as a mattress, before once again setting off at dawn, where a few k down-hill I came across my school. I kind of always fancied a stint at boarding school, & this is ideal – no teachers doing mi nut in, & no prefects to fag for, meaning I should remain a heterosexual from the experience!

11/12/11
Thessalonika

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