Share this...

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Fulfilling a lifetime's dream...

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

As I was born in colonial East Africa of peripatetic parents, I am afraid travel is in the blood so if you think I have been missing in action for the last few weeks, you will be right. I have been travelling again. My friends now roll their eyes and ask "And where is it this time?" 

The Parthenon
This time it was Greece and Turkey. Primarily the trip was a 'pilgrimage" for both of us.... for my husband, it was to walk in the footsteps of his grandfather and the experience of Gallipoli (more about that next week) and for me it was to visit places I had dreamed of for 40 years.

It's no secret that the little girl in me really wanted to be an archaeologist. Digging up ruins in the Middle East or Europe was all I wanted to do. My father, ever a pragmatist, suggested I study law as "something to fall back on". He was probably right... I have yet to meet a fully  "employed" archaeologist.

The wall of Priam's Troy
As it turned out archaeology as a subject of study did not exist in Australia in the late 1970s (only if you were interested in ancient Australian archaeology which I wasn't) so I had to resort to the second best thing, a study of ancient civilizations. My history Major is in Ancient and Roman History and my Minor is in Classical Studies... and I write books set in the seventeenth century. (In fairness I started out in first year with sixteenth and seventeenth century history but it was so incredibly dry that I gave it away in favour of the classics!). The law degree had to be finished but I had the entry forms for the London School of Archaeology in my hot hand... but then I met a man... and I became a lawyer... and the dream faded. (My father probably heaved a huge sigh of relief!) 

But I have never lost that lust for ruins and finally after nearly 40 years I made it to the sites I had so assiduously studied in my youth. This was real "bucket list" stuff.  As the airport bus wound its way down into central Athens I got my first sight of the Acropolis between the buildings and, dear reader, tears came to my eyes. 

The Lion Gate at Mycenae
I was blown away by my emotional response not only to the Acropolis, but to Mycenae, Epidaurus, Olympia, Delphi, Troy and Ephesus... and all the other sites in between.  I have read and studied Homer's Illiad and Oddyssey and Virgil's Aeneid and there I was standing at the gates of Agamemnon's city or the walls of Priam's Troy.  It was not just the physical sites, the statuary, the vases and the people came to life for me. The Parthenon statues (those NOT in the British Museum!), the Delphic Charioteer, the statue of Zeus... I could go on but I won't. I think the pictures tell it all! Like lines between dots, each step on the journey intersected with another place and time and even my husband who had no background to ancient Greek history, picked up the threads (excellent guides helped of course!)

The Charioteer of Delphis
So many different senses to dwell over... the call of the Muezzin clashing with the bells of churches, the scent of wild chamomile crushed under foot, the taste of a rough wine drunk with a spinach and fetta pastry on a warm day looking out over Athens from a seat on the ancient wall of the city and the nodding scarlet heads of poppies among the worn and weathered stones.

And I got to play the archaeologist... at a crusader castle on the island of Lemnos where bits of broken roof tile, pottery and other "finds" litter the ground. In a country with so many ancient monuments to study and protect, a crusader castle is just a nuisance... In true time team fashion I gathered up the bits and pieces and drew my conclusions - a bit of 14th century pot, a cooking pot with its blackened exterior, roof tile... It was fun to muse and then return my "finds" to the earth.

As my grandmother used to say. "Good memories are like nuts for the winter... to be taken out and treasured in our darker moments."

We all have dreams that may be unfulfilled or places of the heart we must visit. I would love to hear of your experiences or wishes...
Wildflowers among the fallen stones of the ancient city of Athens

 PS And on my travels I met a man who was living my dream. After a lifetime in accountancy, in his retirement he has returned to study archaeology and is going off to dig on Hadrian's Wall over summer. Perhaps... one day...?