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Thursday, 25 April 2013

In Arcadia

Monday, April 25th., "Flying Cloud", Nauplia.

The yacht dropped anchor yesterday at 1.25 p.m. off Getheon, far up in the Marathon Gulf, and we landed there about 3. Sunday. Shops shut, and no work being done. A crowd of over a hundred awaited us on the quay, all boys and men, not one woman or girl. A small town, whose main street is on the quay, with rows of houses above it.

Today we left the yacht at Getheon at 8.3 a.m. and motored to Sparta and Mistra. Sparta is nothing. Nevertheless you have an extraordinary, mysterious satisfaction in being at Sparta - you are at Sparta, and in a month's time, in London, and for ever afterwards, you will have been at Sparta. The feeling illustrates one of the deepest and finest instincts of mankind. It is a feeling as universal as sin.

Palace of the Paleologues
Only a few miles from Sparta, and much higher up in the world, is medieval Mistra, for three hundred years the seat of government of those despots the Paleologues. The town of Mistra is enormous, built of rough stones reinforced with thin bricks. Mistra makes a formidable spectacle of desolation which cannot easily be equalled on earth. There are far more nightingales than tourists in the astonishing region. Mules must transport your food for you. Nuns, who are ladies, will see that you eat in comfort, and they make admirable Turkish coffee for you, and thank you for drinking it.

Then begins a hundred mile drive across the Pelponnesus Peninsula to Nauplia. A crow would measure the distance as forty miles; the odd sixty are made up in loops and hair-pin turns. The scenery is consistently stupendous. This region is the original Arcadia, where the Athenian met the great god Pan and concluded a bargain with him. Considered as Arcadia the countryside is not in the least what it decently ought to be. A few small poplar trees of tender green, some olives, some cypresses, some belled goats, but in the main untilled and very desolate slopes! Plainly many groves must have vanished since Pan helped to win wars, because he could not possibly have stayed in a province which as it now stands must be excessively unsuited to the happiness of persons of the Pan temperament.

The Greek landscape was classical before Greek literature and architecture and sculpture. It is the origin of the Greek spirit. Its secret is that there are no trees bigger than shrubs to niggle and fuss it all to pieces. It is grand, simple; more concerned with fundamental structure than with ornamentation; it gives the light a fair chance to produce large, calm effects of beauty ....

The Gulf of Nauplia is a revelation in the late afternoon light. And that town under you, nearer than Nauplia, is Argos - name rivalling Thebes, name needing no embroidery of description. Argos! A brass band is enlivening the fag-end of the Easter holiday in Argos, and the streets heaped with dust and veiled in dust are full of people sitting out on chairs and stools to enjoy the evening dust.

We dined very well in Nauplia at the Hotel Bretagne.

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