Sunday, 27 February 2011

Agios Mataios

The driver of the bus to Agios Mataios has a divine plan, clearly. Dictatorship or bust. When I ask if this is the bus that is going to Agios Mataios he nods and points imperiously at the ticket machine while enunciating – ticket! I head for the machine, where there is already a gaggle of people, some trying to help an old man, others, it is revealed, who are only there as onlookers. I do my best but can make no sense of the listed journeys from here to there, none of them seem to say Kerkyra – Agios Mataios so I give up and get back on the bus. The driver comes round, prior to departure, to check tickets. A woman sitting opposite me is told to go to the machine. She seems a little reluctant, but goes. When he tries it with me again, I just shake my head, holding out the money. He is then obliged to go to the front of the bus and print me out a ticket. Actually I understand, as there is usually a conductor who goes round and hands out tickets and change, but for whatever reason, he does not have one. A woman with a Downs syndrome son gets on at the last moment and after she has settled her son, is summarily sent to the machine. It's like a purgatorial punishment – especially as her son, left on his own, looks a bit distressed when the bus starts up and moves towards the entrance, and his mother still has not returned. But the driver waits at the machine until she gets on, clearly flustered and stressed, not surprisingly, as there is now a large crowd round the ticket machine which she presumably had to fight her way through, but successful, brandishing a ticket.

Once the bus leaves the town and the various other small towns that form an unbroken attenuated suburban sprawl, the road heads for mountains, with forests full of needle cypresses like thin sky streamers, plunged into the earth's skin. The road becomes single track and rises in incredible serpentine curves. We are crossing the island, from east to west, moving up and down this ridge of mountains, that stretches from one coast to the other like a series of bony knuckles. Approaching one hilltop village, the driver keeps having to brake when cars come along, for there is no room to pass. The cars then duly reverse, until a place is reached where it is just possible for the bus to squeeze past.

There are no tourist billboards in this village, it has kept its quirky and organic atmosphere, its dusty-looking buildings with their small plots of land and sprawling trellises enlaced with wandering and twisting vine stalks which will sprout and give shade in the summer. In the main square a woman wearing a long skirt, faded jacket and a robust headscarf, carries a bundle of sticks on her head. This village is off the main road and after the driver has deposited his passengers, he turns around in the central square and heads back to rejoin the main road. I say main road as it's marked in red on the map, but it is single track, and consists of wild hairpin bends, at such an angle that it is impossible for the driver to make the turn and he has to reverse a little way, turn the wheel, and then continue. I change my mind about the driver's attitude as I have such admiration for the feat of managing an unwieldy bus up these impossible roads.

On my side of the road I look down into steep ravines of olive groves. The effect of the landscape is visceral – felt mostly in the belly, but sometimes too, in the heart.

I get off just past Agios Mataios, walk to Gardiki, signposted as the ruins of a Byzantine fortress of the 13th century. There is an ancient guardian olive just outside the curved archway entrance. And inside, this vast area of wild grasses, almost completely covered with daisies, mostly white, and a few pink, and a scent of wild flowers. After Gardiki, I find a path off the road and the most wonderful grove of olives, with patches of daisies. Scents of flowers, bright sunshine, light humming of insects, a rooster calling. I sit down here for a while. It is another of those magical places and times, where the landscape reveals its secrets.


Forest Dream Weaver said...

Lovely photos and descriptions,and the wild flowers look so beautiful.
I can imagine the ancient gods lingering around in this place.

dritanje said...

thank you! Yes, I think these remote or at least unpeopled places are where there are very special energies; could well be the old gods. Mx