You guessed it. I’m back. It’s been nearly a year away from the Mani – so what’s new? Personally; a couple more grey hairs, slightly expanded midriff, and a much diminished command of the native language spring to mind. But as for this place, what’s evident is how very little has changed. The contrast between my hometown and this part of the world couldn’t be more striking.
In London, from my perch, I observe ‘progress’ in terms of architecture, technology, culture and consumerism. The pace of change – barely acknowledged by time-hampered urbanites – is breathtaking. Monolithic apartment blocks erect themselves in a season, annihilating familiar skylines. Cash is rendered obsolete on buses. 4G mobile broadband reads my thoughts before I’ve thought them. ‘Events’ rain down from billboards and social media, threatening to swamp my schedule (ultimately resulting in paralysis more often than not) Go is the word. Stop is anathema.
And breathe….. I am in a different world. Don’t get me wrong, there have been lots of goings on in the village. Our cousins are now making their own feta (delicious). The crazed, chained dog with the David Bowie eyes has disappeared (thank god). Our neighbours have adopted a forlorn, but stoic baby donkey (OMG cute or freaking what?). I could go on, but I hate to humblebrag. My point is, stuff still happens here in the sticks. But news here isn’t about a new branch of Nandos opening, or Foster’s/Roger’s/Piano’s latest phallic edifice, or Prince playing 72 consecutive nights in a secret location . Sure, less happens in Messinia, but does that make life less important?
One thing is for sure, in Mani, units of time are hewn from larger blocks. Whilst city life is all about speed, precision and consumption- move on or be stepped on, upgrade or die – here in our 1000 year old village (population: 129), where even the graffiti qualifies for listed status, the years are measured not by things by the ebb and flow of the natives.
Take our local beach for example. Attached to it’s rocky steps is a super-friendly, super-Greek taverna . The family run business has been serving ouzo and life-giving Mediterranean fare for over 40 years. Mother used to manage, now she stays in the kitchen whilst son, daughter and grandson serve and hold court . The village elders, including our ya-ya have been bathing here for at least 6 decades. But it’s not just about the oldies.
Every summer, sons and daughters, uncles, aunts, cousins and grandchildren arrive to breathe new life into this ancient mountainscape. On Friday was the panegyri, a local festival, which every village has their own version of. Everyone is welcome, strangers and locals, to eat, drink and dance. Summer brings all the families together so kids, way past their bedtime, fling themselves around before the real dancing begins. Incomprehensible lyrics and melodies fill the air, whilst plates of piglet and salad start to fill the tables.
Scanning the bandstand I spot an electronic keyboard. Slightly disappointed by the lack of authenticity in the ensemble, I quickly realise that this gathering has, in very similar form, been going on for hundreds of years. Nothing is novel here. The songs, the surroundings, the food, the folk, can all be traced back generations.
This is not to do with the new, the innovative or the cool. The geography, the language and the history of the Mani act like pickling agents, preserving the local traditions, and sheltering the local economy from the excesses of rampant commercialization. What some might consider a backward society, viewed from the inside, now seems not out-dated, or stuck in the past, but vibrant, life-affirming. The collectivist culture of mountaineous Mani is a reminder that in order to suck the marrow, we sometimes need to put aside the material, and the transient, and rejoice in those around us, before us, and after us. Here’s to the next 1000 years. Yammas.