Day 1 Melbourne to Sami
It’s 5.30 am and somewhere in the distance cocks are crowing. And while it is still dark outside, the gentle breeze wafting through the open shutters stirs my thoughts to Homer, Odysseus and of course to being here on Ithaca. To get to Ithaca, one really wants to be here. It has been quite a 21 century Homeric quest, that for me, started in Melbourne over a year ago when I met an Ithacan at a New Year’s Eve party.
With a deep interest in place and its significance in literature and in particular, Greek tragedy, I was compelled to make the metaphoric homecoming to this island in the Ionian Sea. In comparison to the ease with which much travel is accomplished, in many ways it has not been easy. Ithaca is not one of the big tourist islands. It is small and it’s inaccessibility,compounded by the Greek government austerities, make the journey somewhat epic.
Leaving the wintery squalls of Melbourne behind, the comfort of Etihad airlines provided me with many hours sleep on the Abu Dhabi leg, while the greater comfort of a sky bus into Athens, also afforded the opportunity of more relaxed companionship.
It is not surprising that many of the passengers were of the Greek diaspora, returning home. My seating companion was a first generation Australian of parents from Lesbos. He is undertaking a double degree in Engineering and Law at Monash. A vitally interesting young man with sound world views, a vast range of knowledge and a profound sense of purpose, he provided me with a sense of security for the future. Already on the Deans List, his humble background as the son of an immigrant Chicken Bar proprietor, evoked the manner in which the Greeks have traditionally dispersed their culture and values for the good of humankind. For deeply entrenched in Greek culture is the notion of living the best life and all that that entails. As an Anglo Saxon, it presents a very different perspective to me. Mine is a world of restriction, the Greek world seems to be one of expansion premised on aesthetics, hospitality, logic and trade. For without trade, Ancient Greece, like modern day Greece, could not survive. As a seafaring mercantile nation by virtue of its geographical location, Ancient Greece not only serviced its empire and beyond with goods, it also provided the culture of civilization and the ideal of the best life.
Enter Homer, with his fantastic tales of war, godly interventions and upsets, divine justice and right conduct. Written some 400 years before the great Greek tragedians immortalized the sagas and characters on the ancient stage, Homer is credited with shaping the Ancient Greek spirit of humanism, including the notion of honor and noble death.
Curiously, my reading material on the plane was Euripides’ Helen, the play I will be seeing at the Epidavros ampitheatre at the end of the week. Totally immersed in the reason for the Trojan Wars, the narrative depicts a fantastical ending to the saga with Menelaus finding Helen in Egypt – and I still have to find out who kills who at the end – a really great read!
But of course within that context is the Odyssey and Odysseus’ journey home after the Trojan War. Bearing in mind Odysseus’ initial objection to go to war over a woman, Homer places him in many ‘womanly’ situations which have led to much speculation over truth, faithfulness, duty and human urges. (Remembering that it was Odysseus who delivered the Trojan Horse.)
Continuing on from Athens in a light aircraft, the flight not only provided more examples of the Greek equivalent of Bon Accord, through the delights of the flight attendant, but the physicality of the flight took me across the Peloponnese with the starkness of the Spartan mountains (Helen of Troy was a Spartan) and deposited me on the island of Kephalonia. From there a 60 Euro taxi ride, up over the mountains and down into the seaport of Sami (of Captain Corelli fame). And then you come out of the mountains and see the sea and Ithaca is directly opposite. She looks like a shrouded jewel beckoning you.
That was Day 1, concluded by an evening meal at a taverna on the waters edge, a walk back to the hotel in the pitch black of night in a village without street lighting, and preparations for the early morning departure on the ferry for Ithaca.