in which the traveller visits various archaeological sites and reflects on the transience of life OR hot-footing it around Macedonia

We’ve arrived in Thessalonika for a week’s stay after hot-footing it around Macedonia with an archaeological group that Alan is connected with. It’s good to stop and take a breath, but I also have novel revisions to finish and send off. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to write about travel and the idea that you never really understand the journey until well after it’s over. There’s something daunting about seeing new places and cultures; it takes time for them to really sink in and take some kind of shape, so there may be more of that, later. But for now …

The last ten days have been a mixture of friendly locals, archaeological experts, astonishing landscapes and ancient sites, some dating back to the sixth century BCE. We’ve wandered around huge areas of erected and fallen stones, trying to imagine how a square of low stone wall was once the butcher’s shop, or the potter’s shop, or a pile of broken pillars was once a temple.

All of this has me thinking about the strange mixture of transience, and the resistance to it, that I found in these places. Earthquakes or some other catastrophe and the settlements collapse, are deserted, the townspeople move on somewhere else. Or they’re invaded and others take over, reuse their stones to make different buildings, walls, streets, temples.

Zonê Site

But still, even when the original settlement is gone, signs of them remain: inscriptions, signs in the ground and on the stones of what they once had, and in the museum, rescued artifacts that fill in the picture a bit more: cooking pots, jugs, coins, small statuettes, fine gold earrings, and glass beads. I began to fill in the picture that the stones outlined, to imagine the people through the things they owned or wore. The display case that always drew my attention was the one with kids’ toys: clay figurines of people, dogs, even a monkey riding a rooster, a Knucklebones from Pella  boy riding a goose, puppets with jointed limbs, and knucklebones just like I had as a kid. I was surprised to see that quite a few of the academics in the group were also drawn to these, but it makes sense, I suppose; the toys are some of the most poignant examples of how much we have in common with these people we know so little about.

Byzantine AmphoraeThe group worked hard: up early each day, off in a bus to one, or two, sometimes three sites under clear skies, hot sun. But they also knew, thankfully, how to have a good time: wine-tasting and nibbles in the garden of a hotel built overlooking its vineyards, then on to the sea; late dinners at tavernas on the seafront in Thassos; a dinner on the final night high up in one of the mountains of Samothrace. Oh, and did I mention the food? Seafood, eggplant cooked just right, great salads, really good olives and way too much feta cheese and yoghurt. And beer that seems just right for the hot weather. So we haven’t suffered too much …

                                                                 Ride-a-Cock-Horse2

3 comments on “in which the traveller visits various archaeological sites and reflects on the transience of life OR hot-footing it around Macedonia

  1. David Burgess says:

    A world away we brace for an election where we will be force fed a diet of permanence, security, “prosperity” and certainty. Inoculation against fear will be delivered at the end of the banquet. Give me the impermanent hands of a little girl holding a child on a goose, a landscape full of ancient whispers and the sin of abundant feta.

    • Ah David, lovely words. I read snippets of what’s going on in Oz, and I think it might be better to stay away! We’ve seen such a mixture of ancient and new, beautiful and horribly pragmatic, creative and politically cynical, and I suppose Australia is no different. It feels to me that we will need to hold onto the creative and beautiful as a defence against all the politicians promise.

  2. Di says:

    How right you are…eggplant, greek salads, tavernas, Alfa beer, feta cheese…we loved it all, and the ‘roons’ (ruins). And the heat, the dry heat. Now we’re home and it’s all a memory. Di xx

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