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The Maniot of Monemvasia – a Travel Short Story

October 2, 2013

DSC_0895The path was steep at times and dangerous in the darkened corners of the craggy centuries-old rock steps of Mystra, so I should have been more careful as I aimlessly wended my uncertain way to the heights of Byzantine history. Looking up to one of several remarkably well preserved churches instead of down at the rubble and stone that once formed a highway for soldiers, oil merchants, vagabonds, and the occasional scoundrel, I suddenly fell to the right and tumbled into a solid wall of porous grey ramparts with patches of red pottery which served as chinking.

My first instinct, foolish as it might seem, was to protect my camera; to lose it would be to sacrifice weeks of stunning photographs of the ancient places, now in ruins, that have lured travellers to Greece’s Peloponnese for millennia. My second instinct was to brace for a severe pounding around my right arm and rib cage. Then a hand steadied me, braking my fall to the rock-hard ground below. It hurt to breathe and I could feel the searing pain of a badly scraped limb.

Nothing compared to the brave three hundred who had long ago fought and died in hills like these far north of here, thrusting swords tauntingly at thousands of Persian soldiers as only Spartans could do. It was a ridiculous comparison, I knew, for images of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza might have been more appropriate. After all, my injuries were negligible and self-inflicted. But for a moment the blood oozing from my arm made me think incongruously of what was arguably the most famous last stand in history at the Battle of Thermopylae.

At first the punishing Grecian sun blocked my vision; I saw only what looked like the silhouette of a giant raven. On closer inspection it might have been some strange prehistoric monster, a pterodactyl perhaps. Then, as I shaded my eyes, I saw that it was a nun who had come to my rescue with her fully loaded donkey in tow. The two seemed melded together in silhouette until my sight cleared and I peered into the partially covered face of an old woman that made me think of the three crones in the opening scene of Macbeth.

“Are you alright?” she asked in a slightly distant British accent, possibly Midlands or even Welsh.

The Maniot of Monemvasia

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