The book's true nature,
however, is a lot richer and more complex than that. The Unwritten Places
can also be read as a work of art, a warm, lucid, superbly written piece
of literature that illuminates the very heart and soul of Greece. It can
stand with any of the best books about Greece written by foreigners--and
that includes such writers as Patrick Leigh Fermor and Lawrence Durrell.
Salmon is British but his experience in Greece dates back to the early
60's. He has lived and taught in Athens and at one time was married to
a Greek woman. He has a firm grasp of the Greek language and a sharp enough
ear to enable him to understand rudimentary Vlach and Sarakatsani (a Romanian-like
dialect spoken by some mountaintop shepherds). He is also a student of
Greek history and politics, which knowledge when combined with his deep
love of Greece makes for the formidable Hellenophile he is.
In the 70's Salmon turned to the Greek mountains for specific and important
reasons. In the flatlands the Greece he had first encountered and taken
into his heart was fast disappearing or being corrupted by tourism and
consumerism. A new Greece was springing up and he did not like it, especially
"Friendly, poor, working-class Plaka had been taken over by the nastiest,
sleaziest panders to tourism," Salmon writes. "Neo-classical
Athens, the gracious little capital that King Otto's Bavarian architects
had created for the new Greek state, had been buried like the olive groves
of the Attic Basin under acres of cement tombstones, jerry-built apartment
blocks erected without plan or design, the posher ones enlivened with
a bit of meretricious marble."
Greece, as pointed out, was (and still is) in the throes of a "painful
and confusing transition from traditional rural to modern capitalist society.
Knowing that can make you sympathetic on a good day, but it does not make
the prevailing materialism and acquisitiveness any less attractive."
So Salmon took off for the hills, "long the unassailable bulwark
of Greekness and independence, now the very last repository of those more
innocent values." Burgeoning political consciousness also played
a part in this decision; it was in the Pindos mountains that much of the
Greek civil war was fought; left-wing guerrilla bands operated from mountain
strongholds, fighting a last battle in 1949 on the heights of Mt Grammos
after which they withdrew into Albania, leaving behind them a country
in material and spiritual ruin.
Salmon also knew that the Pindos mountains were where the wartime resistance
movements had been based and that, in earlier times, the liberation struggles
of the klephts had originated in Robin Hood-like fashion.
Most of the places in the Pindos were so wild and inaccessible that during
the days of the Ottoman Empire the Turks couldn't reach them. Left off
the tax rolls for that reason, the mountains came to be known as Agrafa--the
Now Salmon has changed all that. He has put the Pindos on paper and given
its people a voice, a place in modern history. To do it, he subjected
himself to considerable personal risk, scrambling up mountain peaks on
his own, with no guidebooks or maps to aid him, hiking along steep, narrow
trails in the rain and snow, living in huts, braving wild rivers and packs
of unDisneylike sheep dogs.
Salmon found great beauty up here: "...sheer romance: remote and
trackless places, glens and forests..watermills and mule trains."
He also found "the sense of harmony and timelessness that goes with
it. You press God's own ground with your two feet...I feel, as I sit or
walk, that I am in a very direct kind of touch with my human forbears,
that I am part of a most bewildering, yet magical and courageous continuum."
But above all Salmon found a warm, pulsing human heart in these mountains--the
very heart of Greece. By dint of his many trips to the mountains, he began
to make friends with the highlanders, especially a family of Vlachs who
took him under their wing and shared their food, tsipouro, customs and
history with him.
The second half of "The Unwritten Places" focuses on Salmon's
friendship with this family based in the famous village of Samarina (it's
the highest in Greece) and culminates in a description of a dhiava, the
annual three-week-long pilgrimage the Vlachs make when it's time to transfer
their vast flocks of sheep and goats from winter to summer grazing rounds.
The equivalent of our old cattle- trains, the dhiava is a feat of endurance,
bravery and skill which few Greeks have been privy to, much less a middleaged,
Because of its unique slant on Greece, there is no other book quite like
The Unwritten Places." To read it is to learn about a whole other
Greece, the pure Greece.
(To order a copy, contact Lycabettus Press, POB 17091, Athens, Greece
10024. Tel. 30-1-674-1788, fax 30-1-671-0666, or e-mail: email@example.com)