I like Mondays because Monday is when the farmer’s market (the laïki agora), comes to our neighborhood, on the street just around the corner. There are plenty of drawbacks to living in central Athens—endless construction, garbage, pollution, traffic, strikes, protests, the eternal Kafka-esque tangle of bureaucracy, more protests—but this is one of the plusses. One day a week, every neighborhood gets its turn at a farmer’s market, and produce trundles in from all over Greece at 4 in the morning, with the Arcadian or Peloponnesian or Cretan or Euboian dirt still clinging to it, like etymologies to the roots of words.
I am not a nature poet, but I’m not exactly an urban poet either—I don’t find car alarms and graffiti and motorbikes on sidewalks conducive to that state of literally being able to hear myself think which I need to write. I do manage somehow to write in a nearby café and tune out the latest Greek pop song and the click clack of backgammon. But I miss being in contact with the seasons, and I love the farmer’s market for this.
Today was a good day for grapes, for leeks, for herbs of all kinds (the first crop of coriander, hoorah!, and I spotted some purslane—which is known here as glistrida--"the slippery plant"--and is supposed to loosen your tongue), the watermelons are long gone, but the apples are here, and the quinces. The eggplants are starting to look small and stunted; I think we have seen the last of the late figs. Tomatoes are still going strong. (Oranges, I think, will be dear this year since so many acres of them burned in Laconia.) And my favorite made its appearance—the pomegranates, which, at the height of their season I will put on everything—salads, salsas, sauces, desert. The pomegranate of course is a longtime symbol (originally pagan, then adopted by Christianity) of fertility and resurrection. Each household smashes one on New Year’s eve for good luck.
Greek is a language of formulae, of ritual greetings and responses. Today, which is the first of the week, I will wish everyone “kali ebdomada”. Or, if it is also the first of the month, I could vary it with “kalo mena.” When the weather changes, everyone will wish each other “kalo cheimona”—good winter. Autumn, phthinoporo—"the dwindling of fruit-time"—is less a season than a transition. Soon the outdoor summer cinemas will shut, and the basement winter tavernas—the koutoukia—will open. Greek is one of those languages where "weather" is the same word as "time."
So many of lyric poetry’s tropes are tied to the seasons, and poets continue to use them as a shorthand for mortality, for our own cycle in life. Do we take them for granted? When was the last time you read a seasonal nature poem that gave some adumbration of concern for the seasons themselves, of the changes that seem to be already underway—drought, fire, flood? I don’t mean that nature poets are obliged to be political, only observant, but isn’t this part of observation? Are some of our oldest human metaphors (the generations of men as blowing autumn leaves in Homer, for instance, or the souls in Virgil) also deciduous?
Maybe I am just missing the full glory of the changing season here in the city. But at least I have a bowl of pomegranates to pry open, to savor seed by seed.
A. E. (Alicia) Stallings studied classics in Athens, Georgia and has lived since 1999 in Athens, Greece. She has published three books of poetry, Archaic Smile (1999), which won the Richard Wilbur Award; Hapax (2000); and Olives (2012). Her new verse translation of Lucretius (in rhyming fourteeners!), The Nature of Things,...