Monday, 10 March 2014

Asclepios Points the Way

Nafpaktos town centre

I was exploring the eastern boundaries of Nafpaktos, following the bus route, to see where it goes. I find what is probably the last stop, where the roads converge (prior to that, they were in a separate one way system). This meeting point of the roads is only a few metres from the elegant shops and polished paving stones, but has quite a different atmosphere. The café's awning is a slightly stained beige, the chairs and tables are dark brown. On the corner there's a kiosk and next to it, two phone booths and a yellow post box with empty cigarette packets lying beside them, and a group of men in dark leather jackets standing between kiosk and café, talking, gesticulating, calling out a greeting to another one who walks past. These men don't look as though they are passing by, they are not on their way to somewhere else, this is their place, their territory, this is where they gather, communicate, pass on information, do business.

I've called this area the Balkan Crossroads because of its slightly unkempt and unpolished look and atmosphere, a kind of authenticity which always makes me feel at home when I come across it, whether it's in Albania, Serbia, Bulgaria or other parts of Greece. And this area turns out to have a magnetism all of its own as, when I look across the road I can hardly believe my eyes. A clear sign in both Greek and English declares that right here is a Sanctuary of Asclepios.

Now Asclepios is my most favourite ever god or demi-god. He's the god of healing dreams and he's often represented holding a staff with a single snake curled round it. This symbol, only slightly modified, can be seen outside almost every chemist in Greece and in other parts of Europe too. 

and, not changed at all it can be seen outside hospitals here in Greece,

and I even found it on the tube of the brand of toothpaste which I regularly use (which just shows how healing it must be). And since I've been fascinated by dreams for almost as long as I can remember, it's not surprising that I should love the god (or demi-god) who is helpful in bringing them to you.

I like the way that dreams are your own in a sense, even if belonging to the larger psyche rather than the rational everyday mind, and so encourage independence rather than dependence on any external god, especially those unpredictable beings who might choose to wish you well or act against you according to some whim of their own, despite all the offerings and prayers you might make to them. So in that way, Asclepios is very modern, he is helpful but he also says now it's up to you, he hands you responsibility. And he is modern also in that he is flexible, he can move through space and time he is not confined to an era of the past, or any particular place, even though he was a true child of Greece, he has never been stuck or rooted there. A great book to read that describes the workings of Asclepios in the present day is Edward Tick's The Practice of Dream Healing.

The Sanctuary is a small square of green garden with a rocky promontory on the left, olive trees and cacti growing between the rocks of an uphill path. And by the garden entrance, a bust of the god of healing dreams himself.

Another reason I like Asclepios is that he is down here on the ground, among us, not perched on some ridiculous pedestal that sets him on high so you have to crane your neck to see anything at all of him, the suggestion being that he is superior to mortals and we will never ascend to his heights. But that's not Asclepios' plan at all.  He is here, in the marketplace of human life, he is accessible, and his aim is to be helpful to human beings.

I follow the path up from the flat green square and only a few steps up, tufts of grass appear between uneven rocks, and there's the first level, a square of stones showing, I presume, the layout of his ancient temple or Asclepion.

The path ascends steeply between spiny grasses, bushes and cacti.

A fence marks the boundary between sanctuary and people's gardens but up at the top, beside the big rocks at the summit, the ground falls away abruptly, shrub covered but cliff steep. No boundary fence is needed here.

Emerging from the sanctuary I look left and see another sign. 
It's in the background at the right in the picture below

There is somewhere I very much want to visit (a dream of mine you could say) but getting hold of the information has been problematical. It appears that there is no centralised system for transport information in Greece if you want to travel from one district to another (which, apparently, I do). Unless of course you want to go to major cities like Athens and Thessaloniki (which I do not).  I'd been given contact numbers for the relevant offices but my lack of Greek proved an insurmountable barrier.  But I couldn't help thinking that if I could just speak to someone face to face, I could surely get my meaning across, times can be written down after all and figures, thankfully, are the same in all languages. And here, right next to the sanctuary of the god of healing dreams, there is this sign, which seems to be the coach company office (KTEL) for the region I wish to travel to (Fokidas), rather than the one I am in. Could it be possible that someone there might be able to give me the information I'm looking for?

 It's a small building on two floors and the office is on the ground floor. Its doors are almost full length glass and when I push the door open I enter a small room. The counter on the right is made of panelled wood, the walls painted  pale yellow and slightly scuffed with use. A couple of posters, depicting the glories of Greece – scenery and statues – are pinned on the walls, their colours faded, their edges curling slightly.  The room is bare of furniture apart from an oversized box, also a pale cream yellow, serving as a table, its only adornment a crumpled tin ashtray stuffed with dark brown cigarette ends. A young man is behind the wooden counter, gazing at a laptop.  I tell him that I would like to take a bus to Delphi, and it becomes clear that I have found the secret source of that most elusive of information – bus times to the oracle. Buses are not frequent, but they do exist, and he writes down the figures on a very small piece of fragile paper, makes a phone call to another source, to check the time of the last bus back, adds this to the tiny digits, and hands it to me with a flourish. I thank him, put it carefully into my wallet and make a mental note to copy it onto something more robust as soon as I get home.


three sea horses said...

Serendipity - is that a Greek God too?!! i wonder what the root of that word is - must look it up.
Gosh, I love it, M, am almost there experiencing it with you!
I look forward to your bus journeys to The Oracles :-)

Forest Dream Weaver said...

This all sounds most interesting and what a stroke of synchronicity coming across the you are following a divine thread of some sort.

dritanje said...

3 sea horses - serendipidy may well be a greek god, not sure - but glad you are enjoying the journey too.

and Ruby - it was quite a shock to see the sanctuary, so accessible, just there, part of the town, and my own dream god too!


Très beau travail. Un vrai reportage de pro avec de superbes photos. Merci


dritanje said...

Et merci Roger pour passer par mon blog et pour le commentaire