Day 171-XCVII, from Αλίαρτος to Θήβα, 21 km.
Thebes, April 26
Aliartos is a ribbon town. It used be built along the shore of the Boiotian lake. Now it’s built along the road. When the hills fade away in the dark, it feels a bit like Holland, if only for the murmur of the poplars in the wind.
It’s a dreary place, and so it’s good to move on.
Before we did, I called for a briefing to rally the troops, and because this particular route could harbour an unexpected pitfall.
Today we march on glorious Thebes, city of Seven Gates!
It’ll be a long walk, and a potentially dangerous one. Because, even though it’s not very likely, it’s always possible that today you will encounter a sphinx.
If so, the sphinx will block your way and give you a riddle.
If you give her the right answer she will let you pass.
Should you fail to do so she will devour you in a single gulp.
Now, I don’t know what riddle the sphinx could give you, but I can tell you of a famous one.
Undoubtedly many of you know the answer. Do not utter it until you have found refuge within the sacred walls of Thebes, so that the people who don’t know it have a chance to find out.
This is the riddle.
‘Which creature moves on four legs in the morning, on two legs in the afternoon, and on three legs in the evening?’
Think about it. And if today on the road to Thebes you do encounter the sphinx… then for heaven’s sake give her the right answer! Bon route.”
It was hard. The valley proved that she can be a very hostile place. There was a blistering sun and hardly any shadow along twenty kilometres of national road.
“The worst leg in Greece,” several people agreed. The final entry into the city was all uphill. We suffered, and it was good that we did. It boosts the spirit.
So we made it to Thebes, we took the citadel. The sphinx never showed up.
On the square it turns out we have competition. It’s the communists. They claim the public square, as if it were theirs! They are building a stage for a rally tonight, and their information point is just closing for the siesta. We don’t need an assembly to claim the public square as our own. When the communists return, they find their information point under siege.
It’s an amusing scene. Old worn out tents around a wooden shed with red pamphlets all over it. The communists don’t like it. They don’t want us to put up banners. They threaten to call the police.
Hilarity among us. That would be just fine! We put up a couple of cardboards with symbols of anarchy and direct democracy. We don’t like the communists either.
In practice, we’re just teasing. Our ideology is love, peace and harmony. We soon retreat some of the tents and respect each other’s claim to the public space.
But on the other side there is the church. Our tents are in front of it, and the clerics don’t like it. Police come, they say we have to move. In the meantime the communists, old, young, and in between, start to assemble for the rally. We break part of our camp and occupy strategic positions all around the square. A handful of tents remain to guard the church, the others have surrounded the small crowd of communists in the center.
Loud speakers have been put up. Classic marching music is sounding over the square, complete with recorded applause at the end. Red flags are handed out. They feature the hammer, the sickle and the ‘KKE’.
We dance to their music. A cleric steps out of the church. He notices the ‘666‘ on one of the tents, he raises his arms in horror and quickly turns back inside. In the midst of everything, we enjoy ourselves.
The communists start their ritual. It’s made up of sermons, music and chants. I walk around the square and I wonder who is most ridiculous here. The clerics in their long black robes, the communists with their red flags and marching music, or us with our tents and our slogans on cardboard.
For some reason, I don’t think it’s us.