Loula S. Rodopoulos
They sit at the table on the balcony, stripping virgin vine stems of leaves, buds and stringy bits. Their voices, with the rustling of the sprouting pine needles, echo in the breeze across the platiea – until the final stem is stripped. Then the aromas of the boiling saucepan – aniseed, garlic, spring onion, olive oil dressing – that blends with the breeze.
She walks down the slope. A rugged vista of vineyards, wild grasses, yellow sparti, pine and conifer trees engulf her – lift her to the horizon where she floats over mountain peaks and sea until she finds herself perched on the cemetery rock where she penned her first poem.
Foreigners have purchased a village home for a pittance. They are building a house amongst the ruins of family generations who worked the land. Breathtaking views, solitude and silence swathe the village in concert with thrushes, swallows and doves, cackling rooster, braying donkey. Villagers report that the foreigners attended church, their children played in the square and the woman speaks Greek. They wonder whether the foreigners plan to settle or holiday in their village, or rent out rooms to tourists.
It is over seventy kilometers from Izmir airport to Kusadasi. Restless Greek tourists, strangers, jostle on the bus to secure a seat. They watch the unfolding landscape, severed by history, commenting from time to time about the similarities to the Greek landscape. Fewer vineyards. Fewer rock escarpments. Large level, geometrically prepared agricultural fields, budding crops, swaying wheat grasses, fig trees, fruit orchards. As the tour days unfold congeniality develops, confidences exchanged. Some are hopeful that in returning to Smyrna they will find vestiges of their family home and land. Bi-lingualism comes alive as archaeological sites, Ephesus, Pamukkale, Priene, Miletus, Didyma reveal a common heritage – Mosques and minarets, though, dominate the rural landscape – Greek orthodoxy erased in the population exchange of 1922. Tears of bitterness shed.
In May 2011 Avra and Panaghia ceased ferrying passengers, cargo, trucks and cars across the changing moods of the Corinthian Gulf linking Aghios Nikolaos with Vostitsa. Now shimmering seas are bereft of company. A lone freighter and fragile fishing boat occasionally confront the cantankerous rhythms of restless waters. This is a complacent township, shaken only by earthquakes and austerity measures. The mountains of Trizoni and Parnassus beckon me from my balcony.
Through the winding roads forged between the blood red bauxite cliffs we negotiated the heights beyond Myrovrisi. Around each bend, on the meandering slopes that flow down daunting mountain slopes, budding vineyards – wine and currant crops. An Albanian sprays the vines under the watchful eyes of the Greek landowner. We drive past the huts where families once lived at harvest time; the barns where horses once threshed wheat; the houses, yards and schools where life long friendships were formed; where families shared food and resources. As we drive down through familiar schoolboy tracks, reminisces and anecdotes – the haunted forest where the wolves danced; where a father killed his wayward daughter; the fresh water creeks where fish and eels once swam; the devastation of foreign invasion and civil war.
Then the dissonance and estrangement of the émigrés return – the barren fields he inherited now monitored from abroad through Google Earth, encroached on by the cunning siblings left behind.
Loula S. Rodopoulos
June 8, 2011