Mirror Magazine

4th November 2001

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"I grin -I can't help myself"

A whipered oracle, the cheesiest of cheese puffs, breathtaking sunsets....Ruhanie Perera continues her journey the navel of the earth.
By Ruhanie Perera
On my last evening in Greece I watched the sunset. I knew that hereafter every time I thought of Greece, this breathtaking sight before me, my last 'mind picture', would be the first I'd recall.

I was sitting on the lower deck of the 'Hermes', the cruise boat named after the mythological Hermes - son of Zeus, which had taken us on quite an adventure. The itinerary for the day included stops at three islands in the Saronic Gulf; Poros, Hydra and Aegina, a grand lunch aboard the ship and of course the little extras our merry band made sure to include like cookies by the dozen, the 'fresh-est' of fresh fruit yoghurt, bags of pistachios and scoops and scoops of ice cream. 

On the sea routes between Attica, Argos and Corinth lies the island Aegina. Famed for its pistachios and almonds, figs and vines, the island in ancient times was home to Greece's most ambitious seafaring merchants. The inhabitants of the island were also the first people to produce coins, which remained in use until the Roman ages. The origins of the islands are infused in mythology, as are all the sites in Greece. The island was originally called Oinone. It was named after the daughter of the river Asopus whom Zeus kidnapped and brought to the island, where she gave birth to a son, Eacus. It is said that Zeus turned the ants on the island into humans so that his son would have many subjects to govern. 

The furthest of the islands, Poros, with its rows and rows of shops was not just a picturesque spot but also a shopaholic's delight. Especially the type that likes to spend hours in shops poking around and admiring every little delightful discovery stumbled upon. My favourite stop, however, was at Hydra. There is no beach at Hydra just rocks and inviting cool, blue-green water that just calls out to the swimmer in you. The sea is frighteningly deep, but so dense that a person couldn't possibly drown. And it is so clear that goggles were not missed when gazing at the pretty pictures of underwater life. 

One of the places I couldn't wait to visit was Delphi, the home of the Oracle of Apollo. I was fascinated by the Oracle, whose prophecies came in the form of riddles, which played a significant role in the history of Greece. I felt like an ancient Greek, maybe an Oedipus or a Themistocles, as I went to Delphi hoping there may be a special riddle for me.

"Delphi, blessed by the gods and chosen by both gods and man as the centre, the navel of the earth was the place where the good fight was fought," reports Evangelos Pentazos, director of the museum of Delphi. Delphi is situated in the mountain range of Parnassus in mainland Greece and was completely self-sufficient with its own temples, theatres, gymnasium and stadium, in addition to the buildings and statues that came in the form of offerings. They were bestowed upon this sanctuary to commemorate significant events, making the building site of Delphi a historical record in itself.

Before every significant event the Oracle was consulted. The will of the Gods came from the mouth of the Pythia, a priestess, originally a young virgin, but after the kidnapping of one such virgin, women of good repute (over 50) were selected. Visitors had to form clear questions, but the riddled answers were usually obscure leading to many a misinterpretation. Fortunately the message whispered in my ear was crystal clear (I hope). 

It was at the lunch stop in Delphi that I sunk my teeth into the cheesiest of cheese puffs. My best lunch, though, was at a café in the rocky, mountainous area of Meteora. There, guests are hustled into a huge, warm, smoky, food-smelling kitchen where you grab your plate and cutlery and examine the 'cauldrons' of food before you make a choice. Soon my plate was filled with flavoured rice and I tried to decide which meat to settle for when the nice lady at the café smiles, "No, dear you don't have to take just one. Would you like beef, chicken, mutton and pork?" Arrgh! 

Epidauros is the sanctuary of Asklepios, the God of Medicine. Today it's famous for the grand theatre, proclaimed as the "most harmonious to be found in all of Greece". It was built to celebrate the Asklepieia, the feast in honour of Asklepios celebrated every four years with musical and dramatic performances. Still in use today for performances in summer, it is the best-preserved building on the site. 

The sitting area of the fan shaped theatre, originally comprised 34 rows of limestone seats divided into 12 sectors by stairs and seated 6200 spectators. It was later enlarged with an addition of 21 rows of seats divided into 22 sectors seating nearly 14,000 spectators. We made our way to what was in the days of old 'the best seats' and were treated to recitation from the Iliad given by our guide. The acoustics were fantastic and the words vibrated within the theatre, so much so that the other tourists who climbed their way up to the last row of seats stopped to listen...and they heard every word. 

Eager to prove ourselves as performers, some of us stepped into the playing area where we did our little bits of theatrics; somehow I got the feeling that maybe it wasn't as inspiring as the great works performed there, but it was entertaining. 

The city of Corinth was fought over by Apollo, God of Prophecy and Poseidon, God of the Sea, who settled their dispute with a compromise: Apollo would get the Acrocorinth, the rock that dominates the valley and Poseidon, the Isthmus, the stretch of land connecting mainland Greece with the Peloponnese. There was a plan, which even Caesar is said to have pondered on, to open up a passageway that would shorten naval routes and in the nineteenth century the Corinthian canal was built. Around the canal, today, the area is a gay, time-stands-still kind of place where trinket stalls dominate with different goodies like colourful scarves, mugs with designs of ancient orgies and hosts of dainty items of costume jewellery. The place, obviously influenced by the writings of St. Paul, is still very much rooted in their faith and it's evident even in little things like the necklaces where the crucifix dominates every design on the rack.

Back home now, I flaunt, once in a while, some of the treasures I brought back with me and people stop to admire them. Just this morning one of my friends said, rather distractedly, "Sorry I wasn't listening, I was looking at your chain. Is that Greek as well?" I grin (I can't help myself) and say rather nonchalantly, "Yes, it's from Corinth." 

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