The Sound of Chattering Greek Ladies

Inge Wallage

(Amsterdam)


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Hills, sea, tzatziki, ouzo, Guinness, monasteries and woods, this lyric essay is a collage of journeys in Greece, Ireland and home town Amsterdam. Throughout this mosaic piece, randomly numbered apart from the one thread that builds, the narrator shares her joy of travel, whilst struggling with the reality of the climate crisis.

10. She sits on the balcony of their hotel, overlooking the Palaia Monemvasia Bay. It’s early evening. She puts her book down. The sun is setting, shedding light onto the sea, the surface is glistening a yellowish tint. Music is coming from the café next door. The owner looks up, shows a bottle of Ouzo, grins, signals for her to come. She smiles, with her hand she gestures. She will soon come down. She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, senses the evening and what it will bring.

1. BBC, 27 December 2018, Climate change: Huge costs of warming impacts in 2018. Extreme weather events linked to climate change cost thousands of lives and caused huge damage throughout the world in 2018, say Christian Aid. The charity’s report identified ten events that cost more than $1bn each, with four costing more than $7bn each. Scientists have shown that the chances of heat waves in Europe were influenced directly by human-related warming.

8. Orange, lemon and olive trees, Bougainville and roses. Exploring the Peloponnesse, they visit tavernas, tiny market squares, countless coffee places, small souvenir shops.

18. She looks up from her book, glances through the window of the fast train, taking them from London Euston to Holyhead, where Stena Line will take them to Dublin. Along the journey cows smile at her. No sign of a nitrogen crisis. With every mile work feels further and further away.

13. Peloponnese, an escape. No meetings, no presentations, no corona stats, no regulations, polarised debates or demonstrations. No chores. Finally, reading incessantly. Interruption only for a dive into the gentle sea, lunch at the local taverna and a quick peek to check in on the latest news, prompting her of another reality, out there.

22. The doorbell jingles when they push it to step into Letterfrack’s bookshop. The world of County Galway welcomes them. Heaven for their hunt for guidebooks on walking trails. There’s more, coffee and cakes. True paradise, bookshops with cafes. A small terraced garden with a few places to sit down. The bench in shape of an open folded book begs them to sit down. It’s covered in quotes. She touches him on the shoulder. They read. ‘The stones so blue so calm–alas alas on on the skull–the skull the skull the skull–in Connemara’ – ‘Waiting for Godot’, 1952, Samuel Beckett. Whilst sipping cappuccino’s, they decide upon their hike in Connemara National Park.

2. CNBC, 17 July 2021: The World Meteorological Organization said Friday that some parts of western Europe had received up to two months worth of rainfall in just two days. Heavy rainfall and flooding have wreaked devastation across parts of western Europe, with rescue workers currently trying to prevent further damage.

9. Waking up to the sound of chattering Greek ladies, enjoying their traditional morning swim, before everyone surrenders – to the heat.

21. Busheries beside the roads, along the roads, away from the roads, into the mountains. Spots of moving white that are goats when they get closer. The tapestry is set within a frame of the brightest of blue – the sky, the sea.

3. The Guardian, 9 August 2021: The wildfires that broke out in Attica and Evia this week have burned more than 25,000 hectares. Pillars of billowing smoke and ash turned the sky orange and blocked out the sun above Evia on Sunday as a days-old wildfire devoured pristine forests and encroached on villages, triggering evacuation alerts.

30. What are they doing – here?

15. A pretty miserable summer. Temperatures way below average. Showers characteristic of autumn. Plants and trees showing stunning green leaves, their newly sown grass growing at startling speed. They needed sun. They talked, and talked. Spoke of their guilt of taking the plane, confessing their ‘flight shame’, booked flights to Greece.

23. Swiftly, she cycles along the canals. Manages to avoid crashing into the flocks of tourists exploring her home town.

27. In the boiling heat, armed with water bottles they meander through Mystras, “wonder of the Morea,” in the Southeastern Peloponnesian Peninsula, once centre of Byzantine power in southern Greece. An extraordinary example of the late Byzantine culture, which influenced the rest of the Mediterranean world and beyond. Inside the old remaining churches, they find cold shelter and wall frescoes, its gold, blue and brown colours striking.

4. Al Jazeera, 4 July 2022, Glaciers in Europe’s Alps are becoming more unstable and dangerous as rising temperatures linked to climate change are reawakening what were long seen as dormant, almost fossilised sheets of ice. Italy has been baking in an early summer heatwave, and in the Italian Dolomite Mountains tragedy struck on Sunday when a glacier collapsed on the highest peak in the range – Marmolada – killing at least seven people.

11. Across the road from their hotel in Dublin is Searsons, a local pub. The display exhibits an extraordinary amount of different whiskeys, seducing them to move away from their glasses of Chardonnay.

31. To the beach, into the Aegean Sea. She wants to dive, feel the coolness, feel the waves, taking her, tickling her, taking away anything that might be on her mind.

28. Another mile or two to their small AirBnB, set in the middle of nowhere in County Wicklow. After a five-mile hike through thicker woods, they step onto the road. Through the trees that lean across the road, forming an arch, she can see familiar farmland. Soon they will see the sheep, kept in place by the sheep dogs.

12. She’s meeting her friend Claire for coffee. Claire the true expert on tiny coffee bars in Amsterdam. She relishes their coffee rituals. They sit in the window of a coffee bar that up to now has not been discovered by the gazillions of tourists that visit her home town. Claire dives into her favourite topics, the circular economy, slow fashion and degrowth. These topics preoccupy both of them. Since they met some twenty years ago, at an electronics profit-making company, they moved onto jobs in the non-profit sector. With these moves their lenses on life changed. Their conversations shifted.

16. Bright blue skies, white traces of clouds, an almost empty beach. She dips her toe into the Atlantic Ocean Sea. She shivers, retreats, sits down on the sand, picks up her book.

14. In Tully Cross, the sign Paddy Coynes, Old Country Public House, catches their attention. Hanging flower pots, carrying white and pink Petunia’s, shape the street, that is characterised by traditional thatched cottages. Though slightly chilly, they take a wooden table outside, play cards, drink cider and Guinness, accompanied by cheese & onion crisps.

5. Nature.com, 2 August 2022, each year weather records are being broken around the globe; this boreal summer has seen heat records fall across Europe, America and Central Asia. These discernible effects of climate change cannot be ignored, as combined with global issues they endanger society and well-being.

24. Her brother raves about camping in Sweden. She tells him about her dreams to explore murals in Mexico. She’s been reading about the Mayan culture, how indigenous people in today’s Mexico have integrated century old rituals into modern day life. Having thrived on ceremonies with a Shaman in London, she craves a dive into a ritual closer to where it all originated, in the middle of the jungle. South America has so much to show, to offer, to teach. Her brother tells her to consider taking rowing lessons, so she can get to Mexico by rowing boat.

20. Blotches on the Peloponnese roads, along the roads, onto the beaches, into the sea. Stones, shells, dried up sea weed. Onto the beaches, into the sea. Plastic bottles, empty beer cans, crunched crisps bags.

6. The New York Times, 21 March 2023, Earth is likely to cross a critical threshold for global warming within the next decade, and nations will need to make an immediate and drastic shift away from fossil fuels to prevent the planet from overheating dangerously beyond that level, according to a major new report released on Monday.

26. Over a glass of wine at a small café in ‘De Pijp’, Claire tells her it’s Italy this summer. Their holiday is spending time with her husband’s mum in that small village near Milan. It had been a struggle to agree this trip. Claire had been keen to avoid this yearly pilgrimage, do something totally different instead, albeit travel by train. Train travel covers all of Europe nowadays. She tells Claire of her Mexican dreams and the accompanying stomach pain, generated by shame.

29. The gravel path takes them to the top of the hill in Connemara National Park. Lavender dots paint the hills a little purple. When they reach the top, they can see across County Galway. Down the hill, green changes into blue, the sea melts into the sky, covered in clouds.

17. Tzatziki, Greek salad, a glass of cold Kidonitsa, cafe frappe.

25. Letterfrack, small town in Gallway. Letterfrack – speckled hill. Gateway to Connemara National Park. The town marked by a history of colliding religions, corporal punishment, neglect, child molestation. Kylemore Abbey just outside town, founded for Benedictine nuns who fled Belgium in World War One. Today, it lingers its spiritual mission as a Benedictine monastery, luring tourists from all over the world. There is an energy to the tiny town of Letterfrack. Not just the trackers that come here to walk the hills. Not just the tourists that visit the monastery. Conflicting energies, perhaps. Secular hikers walking the grounds of pious forefathers.

29. They decide on truffles, embarking on a psychedelic journey, in a lush forest just outside of Amsterdam. Excited and a little anxious about this inner exploration immersed in nature with expert guides. No check-in lines, hordes of people pushing one another, no flight shame. A trip nevertheless.

7. Euronews.com/travel, 24 May 2023, Rainfall and burst rivers have devastated the region of Emilia Romagna. The region of Emilia Romagna in northern Italy has been devastated by floods which killed 14 people. 36,000 residents had to evacuate and 23,000 of these have still not been able to return to their homes…. The government may raise the price of tickets for state museums by €1 to help raise funds. The money would be earmarked to help pay for repairs to damaged cultural institutions.

19. An off-white linen Patagonia bag at the blue KLM check-in line. Red tanned people, dreadlocks, camisoles, flip flops, hiking boots. A skinny, scarcely dressed girl embraces a slim, tall, bold, immaculately stripy suited guy. An old couple fumble with their tickets. A teenage boy leans into his mobile phone. Whining children try to get attention from their parents, loading trolleys on the belt. She dives into her Kindle. He puts his arm around her. They’ll soon be taking off.

Inge Wallage

is a

Guest Contributor for Panorama.

Writer and change maker Inge Wallage writes poetry, lyric essays and is currently working on a novel. She has been writing for many years and has published various professional articles & blogs on international communications and change. Inge believes that story changes systems. She was recently selected to read one of her poem at a reading organised by Tint Journal and the IWC (International Writers Collective). She’s lived and worked in different countries, is Dutch and currently resides in Amsterdam.

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