REVIEW by Willard Manus

At first glance, THE UNWRITTEN PLACES by Tim Salmon gives the impression of being a fairly conventional kind of travel book, the Greek equivalent of, say, "The Hiker's Guide to the Adirondacks." Salmon has spent a couple of decades exploring the mountainous regions of central and northern Greece, and his book contains enough description and advice to enable serious walkers and campers to follow in his footsteps. Anyone contemplating a tour of the Pindos mountains would do well to tuck this handy paperback into a back pocket and use it as a practical guide.

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 Athens.

"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 unwritten places.

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, ruddy-faced Englishman.

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: