In March to Athens on 11 April 2012 at 18:05
Day 156-LXXXII, from Ναύπακτος to Μαραθιάς, 17 km.
When I say that the two major nationalities in our group are French and Spanish, that is not completely correct. I should say French and Catalan, because all but two of our Spanish comrades are from Catalunya.
In practice they only speak Catalan when they are angry at each other, but when there are reasons to be proud of it, they are all Spanish.
“Come on, Chino. Let’s take a picture of Cervantes…”
On the old harbour walls of the fortress of Nafpaktos there is a statue of Spain’s great narrator Miguel de Cervantes, author of the adventures of Don Quijote.
He is here, not because he holds a place of honour in the history of world literature, but because he took part in a famous battle. The battle of Lepanto, which took place right off the coast of Nafpaktos.
Ever since the Greco-Persian wars, and maybe even since the mythical days of Troy, conflict between East and West has been a recurring motive in history.
The battle of Lepanto, 1571, was one of the major expressions of this conflict. It was fought between the catholic naval powers of the West and the Ottoman Turkish empire.
At the time, the Turks were a great power on the rise. They had absorbed the last pieces of the old Byzantine empire a century earlier, and now they ruled over an enormous territory which curled around the eastern Mediterranean like a half moon, from the Balcans through the Middle East to North Africa.
At sea, they were a major menace to the western marittime powers. Spain and the Venetian Republic formed the backbone of the ‘holy alliance’, that was formed to fight the Turks at sea.
On the day of the battle Miguel de Cervantes had fever, but he insisted on participating. He fought heroically, he was wounded three times, and he lost his left arm. For the rest of his life he would remember his part in the battle with pride.
The Ottoman defeat here at Lepanto meant the end of the Turkish power at sea. The Mediterranean would continue to be dominated by the West, even though the strategic centre of gravity had already started to shift away from the Mediterranean towards the Atlantic Ocean.
So far on our route, Nafpaktos is one of the few places which conserves an air of old, because the fortresses still remain, not because any other old buildings are left. This town has a soul, but it’s buried deep beneath the façade of shops and bars.
We walk through the streets announcing the assembly. Two of our lovely female comrades hold the banner, Nicolas is playing the flute, Mary is juggling, and Max is shouting like the messengers of yore.
Max is an icon of revolution. He has been talking and talking all the way through Italy, but when he arrived in Greece he suffered an existentialist crisis, because he wasn’t able to communicate anymore. Those days are over. It’s priceless to hear him shout in Greek, rhythmically and with theatrical gestures as if he were on a stage.
“Πορεία!! Πορεία με τα πόδια! Γαλλία, Ιταλία… στην Αθήνα!” The people in the bars lift their eyebrows. Max stops in front of them, he raises his arms and shouts. “Δημόσια συνέλευσι! Τώρα! Τώρα! Πλατεία!”
People understood. We walk on, every now and then we burst into laughter. “It has taken me about a month, but I finally learned some words in Greek. I can talk again!”
“You should add some κόσμου επανάσταση to your repertoire,” I say.
“ΚΟΣΜΟΥ ΕΠΑΝΑΣΤΑΣΗ! Τώρα! Τώρα! ΠΛΑΤΕΙΑ!”
I start to understand why people think of us as a bunch of hippie gipsies. Truly, we are adorably ridiculous.
Despite the efforts of the difusion parade, the popular assembly was cancelled because nobody showed up. The town of Nafpaktos may be beautiful, but it’s not a friendly place. It’s rich, even though it might not be rich for long.
In between the hip bars and fashion stores I spot a lot of empty spaces for sale or for rent. Some of them were abbandoned a long time ago. Some others were selling expensive purses until last week. The solution won’t come from us, clearly. The people who can still afford it, sip their cocktails and shake their heads.
Today we march on into Focida, to the beach town of Marathias, dubbed ‘Dogville’ by some. When the first marchers try to camp on the church square, a handful of elderly inhabitants rudely send them away. “Go to the sea!”
So we put up camp along the sea. Minutes later, among the sympathisers who arrive to offer their apologies, there’s the mayor. “You have to understand that next week is Easter. Some people here are very traditionalist.”
That’s okay, but already we look forward to moving on.