An Hellenic December

It was a December of bells. Not sleigh bells but sheep bells. Rattling and clanking across the fields as up to fifty animals are moved to better pastures, each one precious enough to have its own bell in case it gets lost. And each bell different and handmade. Brass, faded or glinting in the sunshine, decorated or too tarnished to show a pattern, long with a pretty chain or short with an old leather tie. But each one with that lonely plaintive sound, mingling together to form a cacophony.

 The afternoon is quite often sunny here and I take the opportunity to lie out in the hammock before the darkness falls. I read a bit and then invariably doze off, my dreams interspersed with the sheep bells as they are herded across the valley below, the cacophony becoming running water in my sleep laden brain. I wake and look around at the olive trees and the stillness.

I am reading James Angelos book on the Greek economic catastrophe. And I think what is this country I have come to. Full of contradictions and turmoil. Mirroring Ireland in so many ways but then seeming to walk itself into deepening chaos. The agricultural base, the years of domination by other powers, the stunningly beautiful country side, surrounded by water, all paralleling Ireland’s history. But it cannot seem to pull itself out of the economic mire. Is it the weight of the early Greek civilisation that they feel they have to live up to or is it that they feel they have nothing to prove given what their forbears did for the world.

The night is so absolute here. No glow from a town to dilute the starry sky. But the moon was in its crescent phase for much of the month and is only now giving us some light at night. It was a month of storms too. Storms that had no moon to illuminate the deep inky blackness. When lightning streaked across the sky it was the more intense for its murky background. So you make the most of the daylight  before going in to light a fire. Or there is always a welcome at the cafeneion where the Greeks keep company on the winter nights.

As we approach the shortest day of the year and move towards a new year, it is easy to see how Greeks can become distracted from the mundanities of life. With their wonderful, complex and intricate language, their commitment to φιλοχενια or filoxenia, literally love of the foreigner or hospitality, and the extremes of nature playing out all around them, what’s a few points on the stock exchange to make international bonds beyond the country’s reach.

The bell may toll on Wall Street to end a day’s trading but it will never sound as well as the bells that wake me from my afternoon nap!

Bells at Gardylades

Lemons so full of pips they are lumpy on the outside

The lovely Ropa Valley in the mist


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