Gordon G Hall
Writer and Neo-Philhellene

Short Stories about Greece
The Way Ahead

She lay, comfortable as you like, basking in the heat of the morning, and she was not moving for anyone. Strange, perhaps, that she should choose the tarmac. One would imagine that the dusty grass in the cooling shade of the nearby Holme Oak might have provided a more suitable, indeed quite desirable resting place. But no, this lactating bitch had determined that the highway was hers. Gingerly I navigated the small hire car around this immovable object and headed for Ormylia.

Greek roads, indeed Greek driving, has an element of the undiscovered, the unexpected, and the unexplainable, as do direction signs in Greece. The charming little town lies between the tourist hotpots of coastal Halkidiki, and the wilder uplands to the North. It is a sleepy place of lightly frequented taverna and flower-draped dwellings, of wide highways and narrow cobbled streets – and no road signs! One wonders if the municipality sets out with the purpose of confusing the visiting motorist, whether funds ran out at the crucial juncture, or if no one in the town quite realized that the world was not totally familiar with how to navigate from there to Polygros.

I suppose the critical point in my navigation came when the width of tarmac that purported to be the main highway split into a one-way system. In itself this would seem to pose no particular problem, save for the lack of signs, or even a vague visual hint of how to rejoin the opposing carriageway. Men don’t ask for directions, they clearly learned this when tracking Sabre Toothed Tigers and have failed to unlearn it in the succeeding millennia. Women have no such scruples, however I was driving so stopping was out of the question, whatever Maria thought. Anyway there was no one to ask. Ormylia had gone to sleep.

We cruised, gently at first around this undulating little maze. Occasionally a wider road would be reached. “This is it, this is a great road, bound to be the one for Polygros,” I would say.

Moments later it had petered out into a single-track cobbled street betwixt whitewashed houses with flowers cascading down their walls. Maria’s amusement increased as my efforts to find the route became increasingly desperate.

“What are you laughing at?”

“You! Your optimism so totally misplaced.”

“Better to travel hopefully than never to travel at all!”

We rounded an exceedingly tight corner, narrowly avoiding scraping the car on the wall of a house that, not unlike that dog, considered that it could appropriate the highway. And there in front of us was the start of the one-way system. We had achieved a very respectable circuit of Ormylia. Clearly what we needed was human aid. Thankfully this appeared in the form of a bronzed Adonis, naked to the waist and heaving sacks out of his truck in the mid-day heat.  Maria leaped from the car with startling alacrity to accost this handsome male.

There are clear advantages in travelling with a native speaker of the language. My grasp of the Greek language is rudimentary. I realize that words are long, and that phrases are extended, and that Greeks like to talk, but this simple request for directions seemed to involve just a slightly excessive amount of body language and an inordinate amount of time. Minutes passed. With much bidding of farewells and “Yasases” my friend slipped back into the passenger seat.

“Turn left at the T junction, Gordon, then right at the Nursery School”

“Is that all he said?”

“Gordon, this is Greece.”

We did as we had been bid. The right turn saw us embark upon a very narrow tarmac road with no road signs whatsoever. Ormelia was not going to go soft on us now. However within half a kilometer this humble road deteriorated into a dirt track.

“Not sure about this,” I said.

Maria looked at me in a pitying manner. Clearly I was not a connoisseur of the Greek road system.

The track got worse, much worse. Then we arrived at a spot where ancient bulldozers surrounded us and I was steering my way frantically around piles of rock and gravel.

“Autocross,” I said.

“Is it?”

“No, not the car, well it may be but that is not what I was saying,”

“Sometimes, Gordon, you speak gibberish.”

I was surprised at Maria’s grasp of colloquial English as I explained the rudiments of Autocross to her. Then, without any sort of warning, we were travelling on brand new, smooth, wide tarmacadam. Ahead of us stretched a beautifully constructed highway that gave the lie to all those potholes and encroaching verges that had taxed reactions and anticipation since we had left Thessaloniki.

The road may have been wonderful, but any form of sign tended to be deceptive, non-existent, or wiped out by graffiti. Junctions with the main road therefore not only gave little hint of the status of the side road, but no idea of its destination. It was thus more by good luck that any sort of clear planning that we found what appeared to be an exceedingly small byway that duly blossomed forth into the mountain road to Taxiarchis. The road climbed its way up the hillside and into the lush green of the forest.

In Greece there is always a degree of uncertainty about arriving at one’s destination, at least on time. However it is the journey to that destination that counts, both physically and metaphorically. Thus it is that I have kind feelings towards Ormylia, for it gave us an amusing half hour, and made me realize that Time and Place and Direction are, in this country, a sort of confused continuum!


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