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30 avril 2012 1 30 /04 /avril /2012 15:13

 

Old Wounds

In March to Athens on 29 April 2012 at 21:27


March to Athens
Day 174-C, from Ερυθρές to Παλαιοχώρι, 23 km.

 

Palaiochori, April 29

Dear people,

This evening many of us wanted to kill me. All because the destination of today’s leg didn’t exist.

We went up into the hills, and down into a splendid valley full of vineyards, sacred to Dionysos. Then we went up a second slope, and down into another valley. The road just went on and on.

Our destination would have been the village of Thea. It was on the map, it was on the internet, but on the ground it wasn’t there. All my fault. Some people among us even accused me of sinister manipulations. They even insinuated that I had made the village disappear on purpose.

There’s nothing else to do but walk on. We climb another hill under the hot sun, we go over twenty kilometres, and at the first signs of habitation, we stop.

Leaving Erythres

 

Lunch break

 

There’s a tavern along the road, a place that doesn’t seem to have changed look over the last sixty years. The old lady who runs the place cedes to all her motherly instincts when she sees us arrive. She can’t offer much, but we’re not allowed to refuse. We must eat.

There’s no square here, so for first time in five months, the march takes the meadow. Some of us are overjoyed, until they hear from the neighbours that the place is frequented by snakes.

This is Greece, there is the hills and there is the sea. The country has two faces. Tomorrow we will return to the sea.

For us westerners the history of ancient Greece is also our own history. It’s a the root of our culture. But the history of modern Greece is only a branch of it. It doesn’t quite have the same impact on the world, and so outside of the country there are not many people who know the ins and outs.

Me neither. It took me years to get a general idea of all the intrigues and dark alleyways of Italian contemporary history, so I didn’t expect to get a good understanding of modern Greece in one and a half months of marching. But still, I know about the key events. It’s important to be aware of them before we march into the metropolitan area of Athens.

 

 

What Greece has in common with Spain and Italy during the 20th century is civil war.

For Spain it happened before WW2, in Italy it was a part of it and in Greece it happened after the war ended.

In all three cases it was an armed conflict between the left – mainly communists – and the right.

In early 1945, when the defeat of Nazi Germany was only a matter of time, the allies and the Soviets drew up the map of post-war Europe in Yalta.

Eastern Europe and the Balcans would go to Stalin, but Greece and Turkey would go to the west.

The Greeks themselves were not asked for their opinion.

When the Germans retreated later that year, the communists of the KKE seized the occasion to start an armed uprising against the national government.

It became a full scale civil war, and it lasted for years. The nationalists held the coast, the communists held the hills. Finally the rebels were defeated with the support of the British first, and the Americans later. Stalin didn’t care, he had relinquished his potential claim to Greece at Yalta.

The Greek civil war was the first conflict in the context of the cold war. It left its mark on the society that emerged from it. As a result, the country never found a stable peace. Tensions continued. And the ever present possibility of a new uprising, or the fear for it, were the principal reason why a group of colonels staged a coup in the late 1960s.

The repression, the cruelty, and the fact that it was all blessed by the king and tolerated by the west, has left another mark on Greece.

The countries in the north of Europe, and America itself, have all known civil strife, but by now those conflicts have been buried in the history books. In Greece, like in Italy and Spain, not yet. Because even though most people didn’t live the years of civil war, the memory of violence between citizens of the same nation is hard to extinguish. If the old wounds don’t start to bleed again, it can take a lot of generations before they finally heal.

Greek comrades

 

Arrival at Palaiochori

 

Pushing the shopping cart through the meadow

 

 

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29 avril 2012 7 29 /04 /avril /2012 11:13

An Irreducible Village

In March to Athens on 28 April 2012 at 15:36


March to Athens

Day 173-XCIX, from Θήβα to Ερυθρές, 13 km.

 

Acampada Erythres

Erythres, April 28

 

Dear people,

 

We are on our final approach to Athens, and reinforcements keep arriving. From Italy this time, three comrades who had already participated in the march from Rome to Naples. Like lost sons and daughters they come flocking back to the tribe for the grand finale. Hopefully, they won’t be the last.

 

The atmosphere in the group has been very calm in the last few days. We don’t fight, but neither do we jam. It’s like everyone is coming to terms with the idea of the march ending and the family splitting up.

Another thing we have stopped doing is holding popular assemblies, or even really trying to organise them.

If there were enough interest from the public, I’m sure we would do our best to create a dialogue. But there’s a time for words and a time for deeds. And one for apathy as well. Clearly, this isn’t the time for words.

On our way through Greece we have never lacked sympathy and moral support. But only on a few exceptional occasions have the locals participated in an assembly.

 

What’s left to decide is our entry in Athens and the square to take. We will be in Eleusis for May day, where we’ll hold our last scheduled internal assembly of the march. From there we have four days to enter the city.

Where do we go? The general spirit of the group is pretty clear on this. Primary objective Syntagma. For its symbolic value, and because we marched for months to get here. It’s not very likely we’ll camp there, if only because it’s reflection day before the elections and any political manifestation is banned. But on the other hand, we are mad enough to try.

In the end, I think comrade Mary is right when she tells us not to worry. Like with all other important decisions, the answer will manifest itself when the time to talk about it is up.

 

Today we leave Thebes and we don’t look back. The road goes winding up again. In the distance we see the village of Erythres at the foot of the hills. We will have to cross those. On the other side there is the sea, and the great metropolis of Athens.

The clouds are hanging low over the peaks. To the west there is the battlefield of Plataea.

Plataea

Plataea was the last of three decisive battles between the Greeks and the Persians, the appendix of the second Persian invasion.

You can imagine the dynamics of the battle from the configuration of the terrain. The Persians outnumbered the Greeks three to one. They wanted to give battle in the plain, a perfect space of manoeuvre for their cavalry.

The Greeks knew the risk. They didn’t move from their camp up the slopes. Only when the Persians menaced to encircle them did they faint a retreat. The entire Persian army went after them into the hills. At that point, the Greeks stood and fought on their own terrain, and won.

 

We arrive in the friendly village of Erythres. When we take the square, we are made to feel at home. People bring us food, invite us to coffee, and tell us about the depression. Life was good here, only a few years ago. Now there is no work, no money. The terraces of the village bars around our camp are empty.

Erythres will see better days, surely. The villagers go proud of their hospitality, but they warn us that things could get rough in the square. The people of Erythres are said to be stubborn as the Greeks who resisted the Persians, and as a small tribe of Gauls who resisted the Romans.

“Sometimes this place is like the village of Asterix and Obelix.”

 

In the square at Erythres

 

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28 avril 2012 6 28 /04 /avril /2012 17:33

 

A Tragic Town

In March to Athens on 27 April 2012 at 18:39


March to Athens
Day 172-XCVIII, Θήβα.

Remainders of the temple of Apollo in Thebes

Thebes, April 27

Dear people,

The episode of the sphinx and the riddle comes from the story of Oedipus. The answer is man. As a baby he crawls, as an adult he walks upright and as an old man he uses a cane.

Oedipus gave the right answer and slew the sphinx. Thebes was liberated from a big nuisance to her traffic, and Oedipus was hailed as a hero. He married the princess, he inherited the throne, and they lived happily ever…

Or did they?

Thebes has a very prominent place in Greek tragedy. As a matter of fact, the ancient city was cursed from the moment that its founder Cadmus killed a dragon that was sacred to the war god Mars. He, and all his offspring, would suffer for it.

The three great ancient playwrites have dedicated various of their plays to the tragic history of Thebes.

Only a couple of dozen of their works have survived, but still Aeschylos, Sophocles and Euripides (in that order) are at the basis of theatre, and by extension cinema. Building on the ancient poet who sings the exploits of great heroes, they added more characters, a choir, and in doing so they invented a whole new way of storytelling.

Today their works stand out for their narrative force and inventiveness just like they did when they were written. They are truly ‘classic’, in the sense that they are perpetually contemporary.

Of the three, Euripides is probably the most appealing author, because of the profound humanity of his characters, and his timeless insight into their motives, strengths and weaknesses. They say that Sophocles himself admitted to this. “I paint my characters the way they should be. Euripides paints them the way they are.”

Banner representing the march

The Oedipus Rex by Sophocles tells the true story behind king Oedipus’ apparent fairytale exploits. Not in a lineary fashion, as they happened, but in restrospect.

The public knows the entire story from the start. All events are in the past. There is no way to avoid them.

The real tragedy of Oedipus Rex is not the horrible facts as they were foretold and consumed, but the way the main protagonist slowly finds out about them.

Oedipus is king. Thebes is subject to a horrible plague. Before they will lift it, the gods demand that a certain mysterious murder which happened years before is solved. It’s the start of a reconstruction of the facts.

Step by step, Oedipus begins to realise that all the years of apparent happiness were only an illusion. As a spectator or as a reader you suffer along with him while he becomes ever more desperate to cling on to any hope that the truth isn’t true. Finally, when the last shred of doubt has evaporated, he goes mad, he blinds himself and wanders off ravingly into the world.

Oedipus was born the son of the king and queen of Thebes, and the oracle had predicted that this unlucky prince would kill his father and marry his mother.

Fate is the central theme of Greek tragedy. No-one can escape fate. Not even the gods. Tragic heroes are those who try to do so nevertheless. In the end they realise that their effort to avoid fate was exactly what made fate accomplish itself.

When Oedipus’ parents learned about the curse, they abandoned their child to the wolves. They didn’t have the courage to wait and watch. So they didn’t know that the child was saved by a shepherd and brought to Corinth, where he grew up as a prince.

One day, Oedipus finds out about his fate. He decides never to go back to Corinth, because he is convinced that his step parents are his real parents.

Instead he goes to Thebes. On the road he kills a man that had failed to give him the right of way. Then he slays the sphinx and marries the princess.

During the reconstruction he finds out that he was a native of Thebes all along, that the man he killed was his father the king, and that the princess was his mother.

Making music

For Thebes it was only the first of many other tragedies to follow. Aeschylos, in his Seven Against Thebes, had already narrated the sequel. The two sons – and half brothers – of Oedipus inherited the throne and decided to reign alternately, a year each. At the end of the first year, Eteocles refuses to step down in favour of his brother Polynices. To claim his right, Polynices scrambles an army to attack Thebes. Each of the city gates is assigned to a great hero, and on the seventh gate the brothers confront each other in person.

They both die in combat. The throne befalls to their uncle Creon, who decides that only Eteocles has the right to a decent burial. The body of Polynices is to be left to the dogs. Those who try to bury him are to be put to death as well.

Only one person challenges cruel Creon’s supreme disrespect for the dead. Antigone, sister of the two fallen brothers.

In the homonymous play by Sophocles, the stubborn pride of Creon and the brave disobedience of Antigone finally lead to the complete and utter destruction of the royal house of Thebes.

All the while, blind Oedipus wanders the world. Everywhere he goes, people chase him away as a bringer of bad luck. Much worse than death, his divine penalty is a long life of sufferance.

Just before he died, Sophocles wrote a sequel to his Oedipus Rex. It was called Oedipus at Colonus, and it was first represented posthumously. It’s a touching piece about aging, remorse, madness, and love.

The true heroin of the play is once again Antigone. She is the only person in the world who hasn’t abandoned Oedipus. With loving dedication she guides her father and half brother through the darkness to his final resting place. Colonus, where Sophocles himself was born.

View of modern Thebes

Apart from the legend, also in history itself, Thebes is a cursed place.

She sided with the Persians against her great rival Athens during the invasion of Xerxes, and she would pay for it dearly. It was only due to the subsequent rivalry between Athens and Sparta that Thebes was able to regain importance, and finally live a brief season of dominance under her great general Epaminondas in the twilight years of the city state.

Finally, the fate of the city was sealed by Alexander.

After the decisive defeat of the Greek city states at Chaeronea, the Thebans still dared to rise up against their Macedonian overlords.

Alexander decided he would turn the city into an example for all of Greece. He ordered Thebes to be razed to the ground. According to tradition, the only building he wanted to be left was the house of the poet Pindar.

In modern Thebes, you can still find some lone rocks here and there with a sign that says ‘archeological site’. It doesn’t amount to much. Alexander’s troops did a good job.

The new city is built on the same hill as the ancient one. In the absence of significant landmarks there are no tourists. Instead there is a quarter with some old houses and a lot of immigrants. The place feels authentic. It’s a city on a human scale. But even though true misery isn’t directly visible, Thebes is definitely suffering.

I see countless empty shop windows all over town. Shoe stores, fashion stores, grocers, bakers. For lack of customers with purchasing power they have all closed. What remains is a sign that says ‘for rent’. ‘Ενοικιαζεται’, you find that word wherever you go.

The middle class is fading away, the downtown shopping district is slowly becoming a wasteland and foreign-owned discount malls are sprouting up like sphinxes on the outskirts of town to cash in on the crisis.

Thebes has suffered disasters of much greater magnitude in her long history. But always people kept faith that a hero would come along to save the day.

Nowadays, it seems like people here have lost all hope that something or someone can still save them.

Internal assembly under Liberty Tree

Max and José Miguel

 

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27 avril 2012 5 27 /04 /avril /2012 15:41

spaanserevolutie

The Road to Thebes

In March to Athens on 26 April 2012 at 19:09


March to Athens
Day 171-XCVII, from Αλίαρτος to Θήβα, 21 km.

Comrades Mami and Mary

Thebes, April 26

Dear people,

Aliartos is a ribbon town. It used be built along the shore of the Boiotian lake. Now it’s built along the road. When the hills fade away in the dark, it feels a bit like Holland, if only for the murmur of the poplars in the wind.

It’s a dreary place, and so it’s good to move on.

Before we did, I called for a briefing to rally the troops, and because this particular route could harbour an unexpected pitfall.


“Dear comrades,

Today we march on glorious Thebes, city of Seven Gates!

It’ll be a long walk, and a potentially dangerous one. Because, even though it’s not very likely, it’s always possible that today you will encounter a sphinx.

If so, the sphinx will block your way and give you a riddle.

If you give her the right answer she will let you pass.

Should you fail to do so she will devour you in a single gulp.

Now, I don’t know what riddle the sphinx could give you, but I can tell you of a famous one.

Undoubtedly many of you know the answer. Do not utter it until you have found refuge within the sacred walls of Thebes, so that the people who don’t know it have a chance to find out.

This is the riddle.

‘Which creature moves on four legs in the morning, on two legs in the afternoon, and on three legs in the evening?’

Think about it. And if today on the road to Thebes you do encounter the sphinx… then for heaven’s sake give her the right answer! Bon route.

Comrade Chino arriving

It was hard. The valley proved that she can be a very hostile place. There was a blistering sun and hardly any shadow along twenty kilometres of national road.

“The worst leg in Greece,” several people agreed. The final entry into the city was all uphill. We suffered, and it was good that we did. It boosts the spirit.

So we made it to Thebes, we took the citadel. The sphinx never showed up.

On the square it turns out we have competition. It’s the communists. They claim the public square, as if it were theirs! They are building a stage for a rally tonight, and their information point is just closing for the siesta. We don’t need an assembly to claim the public square as our own. When the communists return, they find their information point under siege.

It’s an amusing scene. Old worn out tents around a wooden shed with red pamphlets all over it. The communists don’t like it. They don’t want us to put up banners. They threaten to call the police.

Communists under siege

Hilarity among us. That would be just fine! We put up a couple of cardboards with symbols of anarchy and direct democracy. We don’t like the communists either.

In practice, we’re just teasing. Our ideology is love, peace and harmony. We soon retreat some of the tents and respect each other’s claim to the public space.

But on the other side there is the church. Our tents are in front of it, and the clerics don’t like it. Police come, they say we have to move. In the meantime the communists, old, young, and in between, start to assemble for the rally. We break part of our camp and occupy strategic positions all around the square. A handful of tents remain to guard the church, the others have surrounded the small crowd of communists in the center.

Comrade Blanca and the old communist


Loud speakers have been put up. Classic marching music is sounding over the square, complete with recorded applause at the end. Red flags are handed out. They feature the hammer, the sickle and the ‘KKE’.

We dance to their music. A cleric steps out of the church. He notices the ‘666‘ on one of the tents, he raises his arms in horror and quickly turns back inside. In the midst of everything, we enjoy ourselves.

The communists start their ritual. It’s made up of sermons, music and chants. I walk around the square and I wonder who is most ridiculous here. The clerics in their long black robes, the communists with their red flags and marching music, or us with our tents and our slogans on cardboard.

For some reason, I don’t think it’s us.

Guarding the Citadel and the Sacred Walls of Thebes

 

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26 avril 2012 4 26 /04 /avril /2012 12:07

 

Paradise Lost

In March to Athens on 25 April 2012 at 16:57


March to Athens
Day 169-XCV, from Λιβαδειά to Αλαλκομενές, 13 km.
Day 170-XCVI, from Αλαλκομενές to Αλίαρτος, 14 km.


Aliartos, April 25

Dear people,

We have entered the fertile valley of Boiotia, the clouds have finally gone and now the sun makes it feel like summer. We march to the tiny village of Alalkomenes, where you see more tractors on the street than cars.

There is one bar which looks like it has closed twenty years ago. Next to it there are the remainders of a gas station from the nineteen-sixties. The old homes of the peasants are either in ruin, or in use as hen houses or sheds. The former water tower is being consumed by creepers. In between it all, there are modern concrete homes, slowly supplanting the old village.

Opposite the ancient gas station, and right next to a rusty tractor, there is a little square where we camp.

Arriving in Alalkomenes


Of all places, this is where a car stops and two hitch hikers with bag packs get out. They are from France, and they come to join the march.

After a couple of days of meditative silence in the group, it was exactly what we needed. Fresh blood.

“How did you find us?”

“Easy. The route was published on the internet.”

Indeed it was. Something is working out well with our march, and it bears fruit. In the March on Brussels we had a dozen people working in ‘Communication’, but no-one on the outside really knew anything about where we were or where we were going.

Comrades José Miguel and Max

Comrade Leonidas making coffee

I take a sunset walk through the fields.

The variety of beauty in Greece is really overwhelming. The valley of Boiotia is another example of this. It has a splendid natural configuration. You can imagine it as a giant pussy.

The valley has a long oval shape, it’s dominated on the far end by Mount Parnassus and it’s closed by two ridges of mountains visible from all over the plain. You can see them converge in the distance. Over the mountains, on both sides, there is the sea.

Fresh water comes running down the slopes into the valley. There is no lack of it here. In fact, of old there used to be a lake in the center of the valley. We are walking across its former shores.

The lake was drained at the end of the 19th century by a British company. Back then, just like today’s bridge to the Peloponnese, the terrain was private property of the foreign investors. Only in the 1950s the polders of Boiotia were returned to the Greek government.

View of Alalkomenes

Sundown behind Mount Parnassus

It has been ten days, and still Mount Parnassus is visible in the distance. When it has absorbed the setting sun, I return to the village. In front of one of the houses there is a family enjoying the evening cool. They wink me over, a daughter called Freedom speaks English and translates. They want to know everything about the march, about Holland. And they tell me about old Boiotia.

It takes all evening. A bottle of tsipouro and homemade spinach cake are brought to the table. They induce me to eat and to drink. They are proud to speak about the valley.

The history of this place is so vast that it goes way back beyond everything we know from written records. You almost get the feeling that this is where things started.

Ancient tales speak of a golden age when man lived peacefully and happily in harmony with nature for countless generations. After the golden age came strife and war and corruption, followed by the great cataclysm, when Zeus ordered the waters to swallow the world and only Deucalion and Pyrrha could save themselves on the peak of Mount Parnassus.

The lake was one of the remainders when the waters retreated. And all around it, the valley flourished again.

The Boiotians claim the great hero Hercules to be their own, as well as Cadmus, founder of Thebes, of whom they say that he brought the fruit of the forbidden tree of knowledge from Phoenicia to Greece – the alphabet.

Also Dionysos, the horny god of wine, and the cult of Mother Earth, are native of Boiotia, so they say. The locals even claim their valley to be the birth place of the men who are at the root of our written history. Doubtfully great Homer, and more realistically Hesiod, author of the Theogony, one of the first accounts of the genesis of the world, dating from the Greek middle ages.

“Boiotia far precedes Athens. The territory of Athens is dry and unfavourable to agriculture. That’s why they set out with their ships. Before the age of navigation, fertile Boiotia was the throbbing heart of Greece.”

Still, as I walk through the fields, I’m sad. There are only a handful of people living here to work all the terrain with mechanical means.

Sterile seeds from corporations, artificial fertilizers, pesticides. Miles and miles of plastic irrigation tubes which last only one season. Complete dependency on oil.

We have come to treat Mother Earth as a whore, I think.

For thousands of years the valley of Boiotia was worked by small communities of farmers, until very recently, only a generation or two ago. You can still see the traces of those days fading away.

I’m not at all against appropriate use of technology. But I’m convinced that part of this revolution should be the re-establishment of a direct link between human society and the land. This is where our food comes from. This is what we live off in the end. Money is just an invention.

Sustainability means respect and love for Mother Earth who nurtures us. And respect for the earth means respect for ourselves and for our offspring.

Acampada Alalkomenes this morning

Camping under Liberty Tree in Aliartos this afternoon

 

 

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25 avril 2012 3 25 /04 /avril /2012 14:37

 

On the Bottom and Digging

In March to Athens on 23 April 2012 at 23:17


March to Athens

Day 168-XCIV, Λιβαδειά.

 

Livadia, April 23

 

Dear people,

The appropriate word in Spanish is gilipollas.

‘Idiots’, ‘dickheads’, ‘assholes’. The word can also be used affectionately. But not in this case.

Some people among us are truly gilipollas. Not all the time though, only when they drink. Then they ruin everything for all of us, and for the locals too.

Yesterday evening it went down again. We had a fabulous party in the square together with a group of youngsters who had given us a warm welcome here in Livadia. They had brought wine and tsipouro, they had installed a stereo for music, and they put up a canvas against the sun.

At two in the morning most people had already gone to sleep and those who didn’t were having a good time. It lasted until two of our comrades reached the three conditions necessary for going wild.

One is a given quantity of alcohol, two is the predisposition to go mad under the influence of one, and three is a reason to serve as a spark. When one and two are present, three will follow. Anything will do.

This time, it was paranoia. Fear for police infiltration. Two of the French among us saw someone of the locals taking notes, and they accused him of being with the secret police.

It was complete bull shit. But it ended the party.

First thing, I wondered, why on earth would police want to infiltrate our march? We are much too insignificant for them, and we have proven that we are perfectly capable of ruining things ourselves. We don’t need infiltrators to lend us a hand.

Second thing, everything that was written down could be found in our flyer. The same basic info we want everybody to know suddenly turned into a reason to become suspicious and aggressive.

Third thing. Police had already come by when we put up our camp. They were most kind. They soon left us alone. And even if one of them were present at night, we could have just partied on, ignoring him.

No. We gave a most horrible image to a group of people who had been genuinely glad that we were there. When two of us started their little act, the locals shut down the music, they put away their stuff, and after a brief exchange of accusations, they left.

Then the agressors turned against the rest of us, mainly against the Spanish. They shouted racist insults for quite a while. Then one of them broke up his tent at five a.m. and left the march.

 

It has been one time too many. It makes me wonder what the hell I am still doing here. All I really want is to run off with my little princess from Agrinio and live happily ever after.

Then I encounter Max. He is close to tears. He has interrupted his studies in Brussels to put all his efforts into this march. Twenty-four hours a day, for almost six months.

Then I encounter José Miguel. He shrugs his shoulders. With the same patience as always he has tried to calm the spirits yesterday night. And today he starts all over, making copies of our flyers, talking to the locals, trying to organise a popular assembly.

I can’t leave these people. They are the true heroes of this march, and not only them. Most of us are.

We will arrive in Athens, damned. Even if we have to cross the Tartarus to get there.

View of Livadia

 

 

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24 avril 2012 2 24 /04 /avril /2012 13:20

Past and Present

In March to Athens on 22 April 2012 at 23:53


March to Athens
Day 167-XCIII, from Καρακόλιθος to Λιβαδειά, 13 km.

Max and Mount Parnassus

Livadia, April 22

Dear people,

It’s a marvellous walk through the shire of Boiotia, from Karakolithos down the valley to the little town of Livadia. The hills are curly green with forests, the valleys are chequered with patches of cultivation, the road is winding, and the sun has finally returned.

As we get are getting closer to Athens, the historical matter starts to thicken. Of course I could have written the chronicles of this march without any reference to history, but I’m sure the resulting narrative would be very pale. I like to see things in four dimensions, especially here in Greece. There is no other way to put things into perspective.

Up until now, I have limited myself to narrating certain historical events without any chronological order, whenever there was a good occasion to do so. But at this point all the facts and dates and stories could become a bit confusing without a general outline of ancient Greek history.

Undoubtedly, many of you know all this. For those who don’t, I’ll be brief.

The archaic history of Greece is centered on the island of Crete and the city of Mycene.

Crete was the first European civilization. Its most important town was Knossos, its most legendary ruler was king Minos. In our collective memory, it’s best known for its famous Labyrinth and the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur.

We know little about the Cretans, because their language – known as Linear A – is still to be deciphered. All we have to reconstruct their society are the archaeological remains. According to comrade José Miguel, these are very interesting, because in Crete there were hardly found any traces of either weapons or fortifications. Instead, the few remaining artistic representations of Minoan society, give an image of wealth and beauty.

The decline of the Cretan civilization was dramatically accelerated by the eruption of a volcano on the island Thera. It caused a tsunami which must have completely destroyed many settlements on the northern coast of Crete. According to some, this event inspired the legend of Atlantis, as narrated by Plato a thousand years later.

After the Cretan age came the Mycenian age. This is the period of the warrior kings narrated by Homer. The time of gods, demi-gods and heroes, and the great battle for control over Troy, the crossroads between East and West.

The invasion of blond haired, blue eyed Dorian tribes from northern Europe put an end to this civilization, and gave way to the Greek middle ages. The Dorians settled all over the peninsula. The most famous of the cities they founded was Sparta.

Like in the history of Europe, after the middle ages came the age of expansion. The little city states were growing, their inhabitants started exploring the seas and settling on far away coasts all over the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

The flourishing Greek city states were regarded as an easy prey by the enormous Persian empire, which had united all the known lands of the East. But a free man is a more worthy soldier than a slave, and the Persian empire got defeated twice, against all odds. It marked the beginning of the golden age of the city state.

It lasted maybe three or four generations, but it encompassed the most violent explosion of human genius in history. I could fill this article just by giving you the names of the great artists, scientists, philosophers and statesmen which marked the age, but I won’t. You already know them.

The leading city state, and the cultural heart of Greece, was the naval power of Athens. Its great competitor was the proto-fascist state of Sparta. In Sparta all the work was done by slaves, and all the citizens were soldiers.

In thirty years of warfare, Sparta managed to defeat Athens and become the dominant power of Greece. It was the beginning of the decline. Sparta would later be eclipsed by Thebes, and after that, the ‘barbarians’ came.

From the northern mountains, king Philip of Macedonia marched down the peninsula to unite all of Greece under his scepter. I look down the valley, on the other side of the hills to the northeast, at Chaeronea, the Macedonians met an army of Greek city states headed by the Sacred Band of Thebes.

The Greeks were decisively defeated and submitted by the Macedonians. Among the latter, the young son of king Philip gloriously withstood his baptism of fire. His name was Alexander. And for him, Chaeronea was only the beginning. After uniting Greece and inheriting the throne he would go on to obliterate the entire Persian empire in one of the most epic adventures of all time.

Arrival in Livadia

We arrive in Livadia, a modern town along a snorring mountain stream. The French among us are excited. Yesterday, the indignant Marches to Paris arrived in the capital to coincide with the French presidential elections.

I haven’t been able to follow them closely, but I have received some first hand news about them on various occasions.

At the March to Brussels reunion party on new year’s eve I first heard about the idea. Some of our comrades from Bayonne were active in organising something similar to the popular marches in Spain last summer. Afterwards, during Agora Roma, the idea got form, and at the beginning of March, people started walking.

There have been six marches in total, departing from Bayonne, Marseille, Toulouse, Lille, Angers and the banlieues of Paris.

A few weeks ago I heard from Jesus Christ, a veteran of the March on Brussels, who participated in the Bayonne march. He wasn’t positive about the revolutionary spirit of his comrades, and he later switched to the Toulouse march. But all the same, I think it’s extraordinary that something like this has been organised in France. And I’m proud of it.

Proud, because if people have been walking from various corners of the country to the capital, organising popular assemblies in the villages, that is in great part thanks to us who walked all across France to Brussels last summer.

So I wasn’t surprised to see some of those very same people with whom we danced around the fire at the stroke of the new year, being interviewed by Le Monde about their reasons for marching. Real popular democracy, instead of a recurring election mascarade.

It’s still early, we’re still very small, but last year’s seeds have started to germinate.

From Livadia, Greece, two weeks marching from Athens, I warmly salute all of our revolutionary brothers and sisters who walked to Paris to give life to something new.

Acampada Livadia

 

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22 avril 2012 7 22 /04 /avril /2012 21:51

 

Rocking on the Mountain Pass

In March to Athens on 21 April 2012 at 22:18


March to Athens

Day 166-XCII, from Αράχοβα to Καρακόλιθος, 22 km.

 

Comrade Nicholas in Boiotia

Karakolithos, April 21

Dear people,

On closer inspection the town of Arachova didn’t resemble the gate to the Land of Shadows. It looked more like little Switzerland. In fact, it has the fame of being a jetset ski resort.

View of Arachova

The ascent up there was much easier than we thought. I had spelled complete doom over both legs up the mountains, so as long as it didn’t rain it could only be better than expected.

The vanguard was told that we couldn’t camp here anywhere, because it’s a town of people with money. On top of that, the only real square was occupied for 80% by the lounge chairs of the bars. Two reasons for us to defy authorities and squeeze our camp on the remaining twenty percent of public space.

The police officer on guard came to tell us that we had to go. We ignored him and continued to put up our banners and tents. Finally the man went around to the local bars to inform them that we weren’t dangerous, and that we would leave the day after.

In the original route proposal we would take a day off in Arachova because of the ascent, but upon arrival people decided that it wasn’t necessary. We are fit enough, we will march straight on into the valley and gain a second day of margin.

Vegetation borders and rocky mountains

It was a logical decision. One night would suffice in this hip little mountain town. And we sure made it a good one. We rocked all evening, singing revolutionary songs and jamming in the square. Friends from Preveza and Agrinio had come to meet us, and a small group of locals was attracted by the vibe as well.

So at least yesterday morale was on the rebound. We were on the highest point of our route in Greece, and we marked it appropriately with a beat.

Acampada Arachova

Today we descend into Boiotia, land of cattle, home of glorious Thebes!

It’s a smooth descent. For over twenty kilometres, left and right, there is nothing but high walls of rocky mountains. The most impressive among them is Mount Parnassus, which had appeared to us from its veil of clouds every now and then since Galaxidi.

There is hardly any traffic on the long declining straights, and so once in a while you can see a trolley whizzing by…

 “So long, marcher! See you in the valley!”

At half way I walk along with comrade Rashid when a big Chevrolet pick-up comes by. He stops, he turns around, he pulls up. The young man behind the wheel asks us where we are going.

View of Karakolithos

“All the way to Athens? Wow.” He reaches for his pocket. “Do you want a spliff?”

A spliff is what the Americans call a joint with weed and tobacco.

“Sure. Why not.”

He hands us a prerolled spliff, and drives off. “Have fun!”

Later, much much later, we arrive in Karakolithos. It’s by far the smallest village we visited. It isn’t even a village. There are two taverns and two houses, of which one is abandoned. I’m amazed that this place even has a name, and that it’s indicated on the map.

 The people from one of the taverns don’t want us to light a fire, but since we are out of gas, they let us use their kitchen for cooking.

After dinner I walk around, I go up the slopes to see the sun set behind Mount Parnassus. Then I go to sleep early. I have a strange presentiment that I will be dreaming of cherry pie, and whip cream.

Comrade Mary, reading.

 

 

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21 avril 2012 6 21 /04 /avril /2012 16:36

A Sledgehammer Called Reality

In March to Athens on 20 April 2012 at 17:41


March to Athens
Day 165-XCI, from Δελφοί to Αράχωβα, 12 km.

Internal assembly in Delphi

Arachova, April 20

Dear people,

We could have seen it coming, and many of us did, but only since yesterday it’s official. As far as Athens goes, we don’t have any illusions any more.

Our comrades organising the International Agora have been very silent lately. And even though in general ‘no news is good news’, Greece is different. News or not, it’s bad. And yesterday evening comrades Getafe and Laurentina showed up in Delphi to bring us the bad news in person.

There is no Agora Athens. For two months, ever since they left the march in Salerno they have been trying to organise something, together with local movements. Yesterday they admitted defeat. Reality has dealt them the final blow.

Athens is a city of five million inhabitants. Many of them are depressed or even desperate. It’s a city under shock. If we had arrived last summer, when Syntagma was occupied and there were oceanic demonstrations in front of parliament every night, we would have found it to be a warm bath. Now we are only the distant echo of a movement whose brief season has already ended here last autumn.

From a different perspective

People don’t believe in popular assemblies or demonstrations or peaceful resistance any more. They have no hope, and if they take the streets to demonstrate it’s mainly for the adrenaline kick.

In two weeks time, when our march will arrive, hardly anyone will notice, and those who do will shrug their shoulders. Especially with elections being held the day after, we definitely won’t make any difference.

Our liaison comrades, and others before them, told us that there is no lack of resistance movements in Athens. In fact, there are far too many of them. According to Getafe, twenty-five different anarchist movements have been trying for two years to establish common objectives. By now only five of them are still talking to each other, the others have gone their separate way. And that is just the anarchists. The fragmentation among communists and other groups is much worse.

Pacifism is frowned upon as useless by most movements, even if relatively few of them actively profess urban guerilla. Those who do are invariably manipulated by the mainstream media. On tv the acts of violence are highlighted at the expense of the underlying motives.

All we can do in this giant maelstrom is what we always do. We go, we take a square, and after that, we improvise.

With hindsight, the auspices for the organisation of an ‘international agora’ hadn’t been favourable from the start. In Belgium or in Italy, the word ‘agora’ may recall the ancient public square where people met and exchanged ideas, but in new Greek agora means ‘market’. It might be a bit confusing for some.

Dark clouds over Arachova

All the while the march is in the mountains. Today we had another 500 meters of ascent to do. Looking up from Delphi, we see the town of Aráchova high above, guarding the mountain pass. In the early evening, when dark clouds gather around the peaks, the town sounds and seems a bit like the gate to Mordor.

Even without hope or illusions, we will have to pass.

Me personally, I’m a bit relieved. The march is one thing, Athens is another. We need to concentrate on the road now, show strength and carry on. Cueste lo que cueste.

Yesterday I talked about the situation with comrade José Miguel, the archaeologist. He has been with us every day from Rome, he has put up with all the shit that has happened along the way, and he always kept working for the group, cleaning the square, doing difusion with charm and with a smile.

“How do you manage?” I ask.

“Look,” he says, and he takes a business card out of his pocket. “This is from a mister Georgios Kristopoulos. He has a jeweller’s shop here up the road. Just now I told him about our march. I gave him our flyer, and he cried. All because of this lousy piece of paper which explains our reasons for marching. He cried out of gratitude for what we’re doing. That’s why I’m still here. I’m doing this march for mister Georgios Kristopoulos.”

On the square in Arachova

 

 

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20 avril 2012 5 20 /04 /avril /2012 15:03

 

Reflections of Old

In March to Athens on 19 April 2012 at 13:04


March to Athens
Day 164-XC, Δελφοί.

Representation of a Greek tragedy in the theatre of Delphi, 1930

Delphi, April 19

Dear people,

The modern town of Delphi consists of three parallel streets along the mountain. In general, one is for hotels, one is for restaurants, and one is for souvenir shops. On the edge of town there is the archeological area with parking space for touring buses.

When we arrived yesterday evening, the mayor brought us lunch and assured us that the march could visit the old ruins for free. It was the least. We merited it.

On the square of modern Delphi, this morning

Everyone agreed yesterday evening that the ascent was worth it. The topographical position of Delphi is “magnifique”.

Of old there used to be a shrine dedicated to Mother Earth on this site. Later on, the town became holy to Apollo, and Delphi came to host his most important sanctuary, the oracle.

One of the things that remained from the archaic cult was the link to the earth. On the place of Apollo’s temple there was said to be a deep crepice. Toxic vapours walmed up from it. If you sniffed them you could go into a wild trance, you would hear the voice of the god.

Only one person was allowed to expose herself to these vapours. Pythia, the priestess of Apollo.

The temple of Apollo, home of the oracle

She would do so whenever a traveller sought the advice of the god, and she would give his answer in the form of a completely incomprehensible ramble. The male priests of Apollo would translate this into more or less coherent language.

Usually the answer was cryptic and often ambiguous. This way it almost always fitted with what happened afterwards. And so the oracle reaped great fame of wisdom. People flocked from all over Greece and beyond to interrogate the Pythia. It became business, because without offerings the god wouldn’t answer.

In her darkest hour, when freedom loving Greece was about to be enslaved by the greatest empire the world had ever seen, an empire that had assimilated the peoples of the East and of Egypt under the single scepter of Xerxes, king of kings, the Delphians themselves interrogated their oracle. They wanted to know if there was any way to avoid doom and defeat the Persians.

The answer of the oracle was unambiguous this time. She told the Delphians to ‘pray to the winds’ and to have faith in the ‘wooden walls of Athens’.

The Persians were invincible on land. They were defeated at sea near Salamis, thanks to the Athenians and their wooden navy.

Comrade Mary and the theatre

In the morning of April 19 the March to Athens enters old Delphi. The town is exposed to the east, to the mountains. From early one, hordes of mainly middle aged and elderly tourists walk the paths between the ruins, taking photos. There is no spirit here, like in the theatre of Stratos, just old rocks.

Most of the remainders are from the Roman period, with a few cosmetic reconstructions. For me, having all the big belly tourists around it’s hard to imagine what this town was like. But still I try.

I reconstruct the roads and the buildings. I’ve seen this image before. There are mainly hotels, taverns, souvenir shops and restaurants. Near the entrance there are the banks of Athens, of Corinth and of other important towns.

I see Delphi in the last stage of its decline. It has become a luxury holiday resort. The banks used to be little sanctuaries where the citizens from those towns left their offerings. In later times they turned into pawn shops.

A lot of money must have gone around here in Delphi. Under the Romans people came here mainly to enjoy themselves, to visit the theater, to watch a game in the stadium, to buy their souvenirs and to go out to dinner or to a brothel.

The end came with emperor Theodosius.

Known as ‘the great’ by christians, Theodosius was the man who liquidated the symbols of classical antiquity once the old faith had lost its meaning and christianity had come to be the only officially allowed religion of the empire.

Theodosius had closed the Great Library of Alexandria. He had extinguished the eternal flame in the Temple of Vesta on the Roman forum, he had ordered the panhellenic games at Olympia to cease.

When he came to Delphi in 393 AD to put an end to the cult, the oracle spoke for one last time.

“Tell the king the fair wrought house has fallen. No shelter has Apollo, nor sacred laurel leaves. The fountains are now silent, the voice is stilled. It is finished.”

Classical Antiquity. Do not touch.

 

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