When I first went to live in Fiscardo, back in the year dot (July 1976; – see what I mean?), I found the sleepiest village imaginable – just a row of picturesque, crumbling houses lining one side of a small harbour. There were no restaurants and one café neo, a place where you could get thick, sweet Greek coffee and local wine drawn from a barrel. No-one locked anything in those days and the owner, Rene, a friendly soul, magnanimously allowed me to draw wine, day or night whether she was there or not. Her patrons were local fishermen, the postmaster, the harbourmaster the policeman, Maria – my very beautiful Greek/South African girlfriend – and me.
One of the fishermen was called Babbie and he was a little worldlier than most of his fellows having served in the Greek army during the Korean War. Babbie spoke very little English and my Greek was almost non-existent, so communication was a fairly tortuous business replete with massive misunderstandings. But I was always a curious soul and I wanted to learn about the area and so slowly, and with many false starts, I started to gather information.
One of the things that always strikes me about Greece is how old everything is. In most places when you dig in the ground, you dig dirt. In Greece when you dig in the ground, you often dig shards of old pottery and unidentifiable bits of things that were clearly bits of something else in the dim and distant past. This is certainly true of Fiscardo, but the villagers were sadly ignorant of local history and viewed old things as a nuisance that got in the way when you wanted to build a road or dig foundations.
At this point I should explain that Fiscardo is flanked by sea and a dense, almost impenetrable forest. The forest is utterly beautiful and a source of solace for the soul, but it does a rather cover things up. So, when Babbie told me that there was a king’s throne hidden in the forest my imagination ran wild.
A king’s throne?
Yes, said Babbie, when he was a child, the forest was not as dense and he used to walk through it on his way to school in another village and often passed the throne. It was where the old king of Kefalonia used to sit with his courtiers and make decisions. Wow!
There was no way I was going to let this alone so I nagged Babbie until he agreed to take Maria and I on a throne hunt. I want you to understand that this forest is not for sissies. It is full of bushes and trees that learned over thousands of years that the best way to fend off goats, sheep and humans is to make life difficult for them; so it is full of prickly things, that snag and tear and sting. “Ouch” is the word of the day for any forest exploration. Nevertheless, off we went, Babbie in the lead, swearing fluently as we hacked our way to the area where he thought the throne lay. It was not easy to find and, truthfully, I was a little bit skeptical so it was all the more amazing when we found it. In fact, I think the appropriate word is stunned.
Once we hacked away the vegetation that almost completely obscured it, it was immediately apparent that this was … something. There it was, just as advertised.Obviously as old as, well, Greek civilisation itself, roughly hewn from rock; a three-sided … thing… with stone-hewn bench seats on two sides and an elevated seat in the middle.
I hoisted myself up into the seat and it was easy to imagine a king sitting there with his courtiers beneath and on either side of him and the populace gathered before him.
I was absolutely thrilled and told Babbie that this had to be reported to the archeological authorities. Not a chance, was his response, they were a meddling bunch of bureaucrats and besides it was too far from their cozy digs in Athens, they’d never come to investigate.
So, I made careful note of where the throne lay and decided that one day I would make sure everyone knew about it.
The last thing I did before we left was to take my Swiss Army knife and attack a sapling that was trying hard to grow in front of the king’s seat, in a bid to cut it down. But Babbie was in a hurry and, besides, it was a nice tree so I gave up.
Today, of course the “throne” is easily accessible; a short walk from the village and the land around it has been cleared. There is also a fading sign saying that it might have been a temple from the Golden Age of Greece, with no mention of Babbie’s more romantic explanation. The tree, substantial now but still bearing the scars where a much younger David had a go at it remains, a reminder to me every time I see it of my own Golden Age: when I was young and carefree and it always seemed to be summer.