It is my distinct honor to present as our guest blogger my colleague in Greek arms, the distinguished novelist Anne Zouroudi. Anne brings a gifted lyrical voice to the mystery genre, and to say that her detective, Hermes Diaktoros aka The Fat Man, is a magical protagonist tells only part of the tale.
Anne was born in the north of England, and after a business career that included a stint on Wall Street, she moved to the Greek islands, where she married and lived for some years. Anne now lives in the Derbyshire Peak District but her attachment to Greece remains strong, and the country is the inspiration for much of her writing. She is the author of the Mysteries of the Greek Detective, each based on one of the Seven Deadly Sins: “The Messenger of Athens” (shortlisted for the ITV3 Crime Thriller Award 2008 for Breakthrough Authors and longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize), “The Taint of Midas,” “The Doctor of Thessaly” and “The Lady of Sorrows,” shortlisted for the East Midlands Book Awards in 2010. Her most recent published novel is the sixth in the series, “The Whispers of Nemesis.” Book seven, “The Bull of Mithros,” will be published by Bloomsbury in June 2012. Anne’s website and blog are at www.annezouroudi.com
Welcome, my friend.
It’s not everyone who’d relish an enforced stint in the Greek army. Certainly I wouldn’t—the very idea of bunk beds and reveille, parade grounds and bossy, unsmiling men barking orders (orders? I don’t take orders) makes me shudder, and the indignities of communal showers and latrines would have me AWOL within hours.
But my son, it seems, is quite looking forward to it. Which is just as well, since at the end of this month, he’ll have his head shaved, be kitted out with khakis and heavy boots, and enter the Basic Training programme for National Service recruits at the barracks in Nafplio, a couple of hours drive from Athens on the Argolic Gulf.
He’s proud to be joining a fighting force with over 4000 years of history—a once-legendary army commanded by Alexander the Great and Achilles. Sadly, at this low-point in Greece’s fortunes, the army is feeling its share of the pain. With the military budget slashed, basic training has been cut from two months to two weeks; there are rumours there’s no ammunition for recruits’ firearms training, and few weapons for them to fire if the ammo were there.
A few months ago, I was invited to Athens by my Greek publisher. It was a memorable trip, not least of all because I was interviewed live, in Greek, on national television (Yes, it was terrifying. My Greek’s not bad, but it’s not up to that standard, not even close. But the gods were feeling kind, and somehow I got away with it). A book-signing was scheduled in one of the city’s huge bookstores, a splendid five-storey palace of reading overlooking Syntagma Square. The event went well, questions were asked and answered. We said our goodbyes, and my publisher led me out onto the square.
Revolution was brewing there. Tens of thousands of people were gathering to protest the latest Draconian measures the government was proposing (Draco was himself an Athenian, in around 600BC; his punishment for debtors was slavery). Athenian Greeks are highly political, and will readily strike, demonstrate or protest to make their point. But this was different. The atmosphere was calm, but touched with danger; these were people right at the end of their ropes, and had little to lose.
The Athenians I met on that occasion were close to despair. Knowing they were Europe’s whipping boys, each felt the disgrace personally; humiliated by the screw-ups of their leaders, they felt shame in their failure to thrive in what had seemed the Brave New World of the Euro. Like an army defeated, they were on their knees, and it was tragic to see them brought so low.
But Greece has been down before, and she’ll pick herself up. She’ll pick herself up, because at the heart of every Greek is a Zorba-like outlook on life which makes them flourish.
I recall a journey by taxi, on the island of Kefalonia—a beautiful island with glorious beaches. The taxi-driver was a genial soul called Manos; he offered his congratulations that we had mastered some of his language, and took our understanding as his cue to talk at length about his life.
“Look,” he said. “If the taxi business goes well, or if it goes badly, what do I care? I have a piece of land with a few olive trees, and every year I make my oil. I have my garden and my vegetables, I have a few chickens and I grow a few grapes to make a glass of wine. I have my beautiful wife, and my beautiful children, and we’re all healthy. What more does a man need?”
A wise man, indeed, and fairly typical, in my experience, of an attitude bred in that land of milk and honey. Greeks out in the islands will, I feel, weather Greece’s current economic storm much better than city dwellers, because they have the resources for subsistence close at hand. In the islands, you can still gather snails after the rain, and make a stew; you can pick wild greens, catch a fish, keep a few chickens or rabbits in the backyard, and many people do so. In many ways, the remoter islands especially have changed very little since Homer was a boy, and since the gods were bestowing gifts and wreaking havoc.
But what of those gods now, in Greece’s hour of need? Have they deserted the mountains and meadows, abandoned the rivers and the seas?
Let me end with a quote from the Messenger of Athens, where old Nikos is trying to persuade his niece out of an affair.
“There are no gods,” said Irini.
“Why so certain? Look.” Nikos gestured towards the hillsides, and at the open sea. “This is their terrain. They’re not far away. Some say when the people stopped believing in them, they ceased to exist. But this view’s still what it was when Jason built the Argo and the Minotaur was eating virgins in the labyrinth. Two thousand years, and nothing’s changed; and don’t think they’ve gone! Orthodoxy is just a facade, a veneer. If you look around, really look” – he pointed to the centre of his forehead – “using this eye, then you start to see. They’re here, and they’re watching.”
And taking a great interest in Greece’s fortunes, have no doubt...
Efharisto para poli, Anne.