Gordon G Hall
Writer and Neo-Philhellene

Short Stories about Greece
Springtime in Greece

It is not an event so much as a slowly growing realization of change. Perhaps similar to watching the hour hand of a clock, that seems never to move and yet somehow manages to complete a revolution once in every twelve hours. In fact that is not a great analogy for springtime in Macedonia because the changing of the season is certainly not a gradual or incremental process but a series of forward forays into the freedom of Summer and hasty retreats to the safety of Winter. It entices the eager to shed overcoats and boots, only to retaliate the following day with cold and rain.

It would be tempting to suggest that the resumption of direct flights from the UK to Thessaloniki might be some form of official recognition of the end of winter, a harbinger of the heat to come. However such schedule changes are but a ruse occasioned by Aegean and Easyjet to tempt the unwary English into thinking that by the end of March the sun is shining, the sea is warm and the beach ταβ?ρνες are open. This was the hazy notion in my head before I disembarked from the warm but cramped aircraft at Thessaloniki and emerged into a biting north-easterly that threatened rain or worse. So this was April in Greece? Perhaps I should have been alerted earlier by the glorious view at 25,000ft from my starboard-side window of a snow-laden Mount Olympus, but the sight had been so dramatic that I just reveled innocently at the grandeur of the scene before falling into wondering whether the Olympian Nymphs were, at this time of the year, inclined to disport themselves in ski pants whilst cavorting in the  snow fields of the Perivoli.

On the airport bus it was easy to distinguish homecoming Greeks wearing their thick coats or Puffa jackets from the transient Brits dressed in light trousers and sun hats. I had at least resisted an almost overwhelming desire to don a pair of shorts, but more because of the scant protection they would have offered to my white knees at 5am in Manchester airport than to a serious understanding of the vagaries of springtime Greece. Fortunately, or more accurately as a result of the inadequate airline baggage allowance, the excess of clothes that I was wearing made up in the quantity of their layers for the paucity of their protective qualities.

Meeting me in the arrivals hall Hara had no such problem. Winter, to her mind, was still firmly established and she greeted me wrapped in a fleece that would not have disgraced a small polar bear and boots that looked as if they might have high-kicked themselves all the way from Texas.

The highway towards Χαλκιδικ? was easy driving and Hara’s small car made good time. There was very little traffic on this normally busy highway to the best holiday destination in northern Greece. “I suppose all the visitors must have arrived on Saturday?” I hazarded.

“What visitors, when do you think the season starts?”

I lapsed into a contemplative silence.

Half an hour later Hara turned off the main road and took the seaside route in the direction of Sani, her small car happily negotiating the ridges of blown sand and carving its way through the fallen pinecones. We came to a flooded area. I could just make out the muddy looking bottom of this small inland lake that had once been the beach road

“Best go back.” I said. “I’m not sure you can make it through here. It’s pretty deep.”

An astonished glance, selection of first gear, and a liberally applied accelerator and we were through.

“Greek road,” she said.

“I thought they would have cleared the place up before the start of the season, but it is still an awful mess.”

“They will.”

I wondered if her understanding of English was a bit deficient in relation to the conjugation of verbs. I said nothing, but noted with concern, rising to alarm, that the bars and taverna along the beach were firmly closed.

Hara’s apartment was right on the beach, but already the sun was slipping down leaving just the very peaks of Olympus in its golden rays, and I was hungry. It was a pity, for every Englishman wants to head for the beach as soon as he is within striking distance of sand and sea, but sadly I had to restrain myself. It was time to eat.

“Not much open,” I said. “Is it early closing day or something?”

Hara looked at me a little oddly. “Come on, bring your jacket, and I’ll drive you to the best psaritaverna in town.” So saying she picked up her small polar bear and led me outside. It was already cool enough to warrant the wearing of a light sweater. Just a short drive and in a few minutes we were sitting at an outside table with the sea lapping in a fond manner almost at our feet.

Hara ordered for both of us and as water then Greek Salad, then Tsipoura, Scallops, and Shrimps were placed before us we chatted away. The blue waters beside us turned dark and just a little threatening whilst the hitherto gentle breeze from the northeast began to gain in strength that which it lost in warmth.

The meal was indeed excellent and the red country wine rough but undemanding on the palette. The wind curled around the side of the ταβ?ρνα, stronger than ever and cutting at my back, insistent and decidedly cool. Hara donned her fleece. She looked cuddly, happy, and warm.

“Best put your jacket on,” she said, “it’s getting quite chilly. I’ll go and get it from the car. You wait here.”

“No, no, no. I didn’t bother to bring it. I’ll be fine, it’s just wonderful sitting here.”

“That was very stupid.”

Greeks do not mess about with platitudes, nor do they eat very fast, liking to take their time over a meal, two or three hours being par for the course. Thus it was that by eleven o’clock we were still lingering by the now wintery shore whilst my back progressed from somewhat cool, to downright freezing. Finally the nerve endings gave up hope of survival and relieved me of all feeling. I was numb with cold. Eventually we finished what was indeed a lovely meal. I staggered slightly as I tried to get to my feet.

“You OK? You must be cold.”

“No, hardly at all,” I said trying to repress the chattering of my teeth, “just a tiny bit on the cool side.”

It is unusual for me to sleep in, but it was nine o’clock the next morning before the sun streaming in from the balcony window awoke me, inviting me to come out and play. I donned my swimming trunks flung a towel in what I hoped was a rather rakish manner over my shoulder, tripped lightly downstairs and flung open the French windows better to savor the scene prior to skipping across the beach. Rather hastily I shut them again.

“What on earth are you up to?” said Hara from the kitchen.

“Just an early morning dip.” I replied, “but perhaps it’s a little too soon for this time of year, best let the sun get up to warm the land.”

“Do you know what the time is?”

I consulted the kitchen clock. “Eleven o’clock, it must be wrong, my watch says nine.”

“I think you must still be on UK time.” Hara, wearing a thick dressing gown and warm slippers sat me down on the sofa gently prizing the towel from my grasp and draping it as a warming shawl over my bare shoulders. “Look, this is Χαλκιδικ?. It is late April. No one swims here before the end of May. Don’t be silly. Go have a warm shower!”

My dreams of Greece in the springtime were rapidly fading as I stared longingly out the bathroom window across the beguilingly bright blue Aegean Sea. It might have been the sound of distant thunder from the North, but more likely it was the laughter of the Gods on the far-off snow-capped Olympus as Zeus regarded the antics of this misguided Englishman.


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