By Eirene Hogan
I was born in Australia, in a fishing town in South Australia. You can probably guess where that might be. I am descended from German ancestors, despite my English name of Wood. The Germans came from my mother’s side. They came out here in 1848, which, if you know your German history, is a somewhat significant date. The main family of them came from Silesia which at the time was in the Prussia Empire but had spent plenty of time inbetween both Prussia and Austria. My ancestor had been in the Napoleonic Wars (in the Blüchers) and when the ‘40s came along with its Weavers’ revolts and such Luddite like events, and his boys were grown up, he decided, ‘Es ist Zeit zu verlassen!’ ie, it’s time to get out of here. No more fighting, no more war; I don’t want my boys in the army. So he hopped on a ship and left the crazy despotic world of the German Confederation in its various formats, and travelled to the glories of the colonies of the newly emerging democratic constitutional monarchy of Great Britain. Yeah, it wasn’t a full democracy until the 1880s (or even 1928 if you include women) but it was massively better than Prussia! Am I ever glad of my great ancestor Carl’s decision. Silesia today is in Poland…
Because of my German ancestry, I watched the ‘Cabaret’ movie and loved it, and wanted to travel through the lands of the modern Germanies; ie, Austria, Switzerland, West – and maybe East – Germany.
But, I also loved Ancient History, and so began my overseas trip in Greece.
It was 1983. I had finished my honours degree at university, in Ancient History, and was having what would later be known as a ‘gap year’. Well, I guess I had done that already when I worked in my family photography business the year before, living for free at home and saving the money my parents paid me. But now I wanted to find the world. I managed to manipulate it so I got a job at an archaeology dig in Italy, via my uni, and so planned to spent the northern summer there before I returned to my family business, then start my Masters degree the next year. Or some sort of plans like that. I sort of wanted to move to Melbourne and hang out with the cool crowd too, but didn’t quite know how to manage that.
Again, as they would say in Australia twenty years later, whatever.
So early one May day – just before the winter chill hit the Australian air – I hopped on a plane and 22 hours later got off at Rome. What a mind blowing place. Totally in love with it. It has everything! All the history of the western world, totally beautiful art, and totally beautiful men.
But the archaeology work was back-breakingly dull. Well, we never found anything. And while the Italian men were stunningly gorgeous, their attitudes to women left a lot to be desired.
After a few weeks of this I managed a two week break (no pay) and I boarded a boat to go over the sea for a visit to Greece. That is my spiritual homeland. Much as I love modern Italy, I love Ancient Greece more than the stuck-in-the-mud, we-must-organise-the-whole-world world of Ancient Rome. Let’s face it, the Ancient Romans preferred Greece to Rome too.
Yeah, modern Greece is a bit of a come down to modern Rome, but after awhile spent in Olympia just chilling (another word not yet used at this time) I started to get the flavour of it. Wandering around the empty town in the early afternoon while everyone else was snoozing was an interesting time, and it allowed me to be with me, far away on the other side of the world in a land which spoke a weird version of the Ancient Greek I knew (and let’s face it, I didn’t really know how to pronounce Ancient Greek, I only ever read it) with totally different customs (no front yard to your house!) I began to find myself again, and realised in the process, that the modern Greeks do have an affinity with the relaxed easy going nature of modern white Australians.
I went back to my hotel room, had a coffee and ouzo, and went to sleep, with images in my head of Olympian Apollo pointing to me and instructing me to, ‘Know thyself’, much better advice than anything the totalitarian christian god has ever given me.
I soon headed off to Athens to check out the centre of our modern understanding of the Ancient Greek world. Modern Athens is a white wash of the ancient city. It was quite depressing. So many plain modern white houses, no trees, ordered planned road network. Almost no indication of the old city that once was there. Athens has had a long and fractured history. Unfortunately little of it physically remains. But I made my way into the centre. There you can find the agora where Sokrates used to gather with his youths. Beside it rose the hill which is where the archaic kings had their palace, and which was later taken over by temples. Yeah, I mean the acropolis. Behind that stretches out the Pnyx, the open air ground where the democracy used to meet. I headed up the acropolis, following all the other tourists, on my pilgrimage to the icon of Ancient Greece. The Parthenon is yet another Greek temple, in decay and almost falling down. But sitting in front of it, staring into it, was different. It is not just another Greek temple. Is it something about the optical illusionary way it is designed, or the size of it, or its position on the top of the hill, or its position in the centre of European culture? I don’t know, but I sat and stared at it in awe.
I eventually came out of my revelry and wended my way back down the hill to my hotel. Again the awe of the silence (despite all the other tourists) worked for me. I happily made my way back to my hotel and decided I would try and stay in Greece. I would ring my university and see if I could manage to get some work here. The man behind the reception, helping me organise phone calls, amused me with his muted vowel tones and his assumption that – because I have an accent he couldn’t recognise – that I must be German. Aah, echoes of my ancestry, my ancient fathers calling to me. I went out into the tavern area for my afternoon ouzo before I would have a siesta – or the Greek equivalent.
There was a table near the outer door which led onto the inner courtyard. The sun shone brightly onto that table. Anyone preparing for Hypnos would not be sitting there as the sun would send them silly (too much Apollo). So the person who was sitting there was not Greek. He had the white blond hair of the youth singing in Cabaret. No, no. That person was just a kid. This one was, yeah, in his twenties, my age. He was writing on postcards, letting his shadow cover the cards. He was slender, well toned, yeah, all that. He was definitely the stereotypical Aryan youth. My God, I didn’t think such people actually existed? He must be Scandinavian; no such people actually existed in Germany except in the psycho brain of Hitler. I watched in fascination at his extreme blondness, having not seen a lot of that over here in the Mediterranean world, and, as I watched, the magic pheromones (did we know about such things then?) began to do their thing. This is the ancient world, no Christianity coming in to destroy the body’s love of physical pleasure – come on, say it, sex! As I watched, Aphrodite was doing her trick and the more I watched and the more the boy moved his body, the more I was hooked. By the time I was well and truly going ga-ga and if I were a guy I’d have a massive hard-on, then Aphrodite called her mischievous son over and he did his trick – the Aryan boy looked up, directly at me. I was a goner.
He looked down again and continued with his postcards, no doubt back to his lover – whichever sex– and I was ignored, if not even noticed in the first place. He would have been blinded by the sunlight and not have seen me. Me. Who am I? Nothing. I’m just a nerdy academic pretending I can find some adventure over in the mother-continent. I’m a nothing. This Nordic god would be incapable of noticing me.
I sat down with my ouzo and tried to ignore him, and concentrate on my plans to transfer my archaeology work to Greece and how to actually achieve that, but from the corner of my eye of course I couldn’t help but still watch him. Aphrodite, you are mean.
He stood up. Oh, good, he was leaving. I would most likely never see him again. Good! And I will ignore you Aphrodite when you whisper in my ear that such likelihood is devastating.
I finished my ouzo and left the room too, and returned to the front desk to see if I could make my phone call to Adelaide, before I went up stairs for my siesta. Standing near the desk was the Aryan man. What? He looked up at me as I came in, then he glanced over to Con the Greek behind the counter. He nodded to my blond German, and the German then turned back to me.
‘Entschuldigen Sie mich. Bitte, wo ist die Post? Ist es im Stadtzentrum?’
OMG. He was German. Weird. Fantasy hits reality. Big time. Like, like, I had studied some German at uni, mainly in order to read all those German academic writings on Ancient History, well, yes, and because of my Silesian ancestry, but as for language acquisition? Come on, I was still coping with Classical Greek!
‘Um. I, ich … ‘ I shook my head. He looked perplexed. ‘Ich weiss nicht. Ich bin Aus—Ich bin Englisch. Ich spreche Englisch.’
He laughed. ‚Oh. Sie sind Englischer.’ He looked over to Con behind the counter, who threw his hand up in confusion and did that weird nod which apparently means ‚no’ in Greek.
‘Nikos hier, he told me you would be German.’ Oh yes, Con – oops, I mean Nikos, did think I was German. Warum? ‘Tut’s mir leid. I am sorry. I can speak to you with English.’ That was nice. A strong deep German accent coming from the pristine white blond man. He had blue eyes too, by the way. Well, of course.
‘Can I help you?’ I asked. Like, I had to say something.
‘Know you where is the post office?’ It’s not like it was a hard request, and surely Con – I mean Nikos – would have been able to answer that. I looked up at Con and he nodded his head in question again, but smiled. Ok. Mmm. Matchmaking?
‘Well, I am not sure, but—I could help you find it.’ And his pale blue eyes smiled into mine. Who cares about the siesta.
And that is how it all started.