Donaldus. We rented a car. Expensive, at times nerve-wracking, but efficient. Yesterday we decided to drive over to the western edge of the Peloponnese to see ancient Olympia, and then to visit the home of one of my favorite Homeric characters, Nestor. The modern highways of Greece are outstanding, if you don’t mind the heavy tolls. But the back roads are droll and romantic and primitive and at times unsafe. We took a winding mountain road to Olympia, the slow way, but “winding” does not do it justice. We passed through picturesque villages perched precariously on the side of sheer cliffs. There were hairpin curves so tight that I almost had to back up the car to make the turn. Thank goodness traffic was light, because to meet a bus or lorry on such roads would create some nearly insuperable challenges. Dogs lay sleeping on the sides of the road with their feet or tails directly in the traffic lane. It was apparently their view that we were smart enough to veer around them. We have warning beeps on all four sides of the VW. This would not amount to much in the US, but on these roads, it was like being trapped in a mad hatter’s pinball machine.
The GPS navigator the rental car provided is first generation, so no road work, detour, or impossible slowdown was indicated. We actually had to bushwhack over a road that had been completely torn apart at one point, and we both thought we would wind up high centered. And then there are the moments, in Pylos or Nafplia, when we get jammed in some puny side street going almost straight up, only to discover that someone has just parked a truck right in the road, and disappeared. Backing down a quarter of a mile with the warning beeps bombarding my frayed nerves was at times enough to make one long for a quiet day in Nafplia, sitting in cafes. But we never dented the car, never got so lost we couldn’t get out, never succumbed to our impulse to park the car by the side of the road, pour kerosine over it, and light it.
We saw citrus, pine, Arcadian rivers, springs, olives, olives, olives. In fact, we stopped in Kalamata to buy olives.
Pylos turned out to be closed, but we could see the megaron through the fence and we could see the sea to which Nestor’s men dragged 90 ships (the second largest contingent in the war). We even collected a little epithetic sand for our collection of Homeric relics. In the Iliad, Nestor is an ancient adviser. He has lived and fought in two previous generations, and now is only able to fight in a very limited way in the third, but he loses no opportunity to give counsel to Agamemnon, Diomedes, Achilles, Odysseus, Idomeneus, etc. He’s a delightful old goat. (The Achaeans did not really want to join Agamemnon in his quest to get Helen back. Achilles pretended he was a woman, dressing in a skirt and a scarf to avoid the draft, and Odysseus pretended he was mad. When the leaders came to Ithaca he was out plowing in an insane zigzag. So the leaders threw down his infant son Telemachus in front of the plow. Odysseus stopped the plow to avoid killing his son. This proved that he was a draft dodger not a madman, and they made him go to Troy.)
Speaking of goats, we came upon a goatherd on a labyrinthine mountain road, with a staff, and perhaps 50 goats, including some of the narliest Billy goats I have ever seen. He was wearing a modern sweatshirt, but we both marveled to think that we were observing a herding behavior that is at least 5000 years old, and perhaps much older.
We were exhausted by the time we got home at 10:30 p.m. But it was one of the great days of our lives, and we saw parts of Greece that most people never have the chance to see. We will have a quieter day today, and then tomorrow we depart for Delphi.