‘In the land of Dionysos’: María Belmonte shows the spirit of the most remote Greek Macedonia | Culture

Ruins of the sanctuary of Demeter, in ancient Dion.

María Belmonte squints, lying on a sofa in the bar of the Alma hotel in Barcelona, ​​and seems to be traveling several kilometers away, to the ruins of ancient Pella, the ancient capital of the Macedonian kingdom. “Alexander, Philip, Aristotle and Euripides have been there, and now I am; You can’t ask for more from a place, if it doesn’t overwhelm you…”. It’s the same magic of his new book, In the land of Dionysus, wanderings in northern Greece (Cliff), become one of the best-selling dyad of Sant Jordi in Catalonia: “I could not contemplate what Pela was 2,400 years ago, but its truncated beauty manifested itself as if it were the fragments of an ancient poem conceived at the slow rhythm of the centuries . It was up to me to bring them together again and imagine the old greatness,” he recounts in his new work.

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Again, as before beauty pilgrims (2015) and the paths of the sea (2017), the writer (Bilbao, 68) takes us by the hand through territories she loves, uniting the direct experience of travel with an in-depth knowledge of literature and history and prose exquisite. At your own pace and at your own pace, stopping where you want and what you like (his loves of travel, as Vernon Lee would say), traces its “intimate topography”: Dion, the Nymphaeum of Mieza, where Aristotle taught, the Tomb of the Palmettes in Lefkadia, Lake Prespa, a solitary beach in the old ruins of Stagira, the evanescent traces of the Canal of Xerxes at Nea Roda. Without obligation to explain anything that does not interest him (because Maria is good), Belmonte takes us on a very personal itinerary through this harshest, most unknown and even wildest, Dionysian Greece, yes, “where the Greek world merges with Eastern and Balkan sensibility. Of course, Vergina and its royal tombs (and the memory of the great Manolis Andronikos, who excavated them), Mount Athos and the city of Thessaloniki, three major stages of the journey, always described with the most absolute subjectivity of the writer: “That’s what I know how to do, I have no intention of giving a tourist guide.”

It is a route born from the “desire for the north”, from an “urgent need to discover the land of Alexander, Philip, Aristotle”, in search of Genius locithe spirit of the place, as Lawrence Durrell would say, with the author’s teachers in his backpack (“Uncle Durrell” himself, Paddy Leigh Fermor, Henry Miller) and his favorite readings, from Statius to Robin Lane Fox , Bruce Chatwin and Dalrymple of The Greeks and the Irrationals, of ER Dodds, to the tragedies of Euripides, in particular the bacchantes On the way, also an unexpected compass: the films of Theo Angelopoulos and the declarations of the Greek filmmaker that the north of his country, darker and more enigmatic, inspires him more than the south.

Writer María Belmonte in an undated image.
Writer María Belmonte in an undated image.

There is transcendence and high culture in the journey, and the epic (although he finds too much testosterone in Alexander’s military exploits, he is more interested in the cultivated and “globalizing man “behind the conqueror), but also space for humble detail and life. on a daily basis, for the dust of the road, the fruits of the earth, friendship with people (like the endearing hosts of the Liotopi hotel in Olympiade; hi from here, Dimitri!), and the time to marvel at the beautiful saffron flower. There is a lot of attention paid to nature: the Macedonian land is rich in turtles, badgers, marmots and beavers.

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As for the why of Macedonia, María Belmonte recalls that other parts of Greece are already very frequented by literature. “Mani, the southern Peloponnese, certainly made Paddy; the rest of the peninsula, Athens and Attica, the islands… the trick of buying me a house in one of them and explaining the problems to me with the mason is a classic. But there was this other much less frequented Greece, although there were also great works, like Roumel, of Leigh Fermor himself, and I thought I’d explore it”. He began by going through it physically, let himself be imbued with it and then distilled it into what he stresses is “my Macedonia”, faithful to Kazantzakis’ view that “one becomes the country one crosses”.

Ruins of Pella, ancient capital of the Kingdom of Macedonia.
Ruins of Pella, ancient capital of the Kingdom of Macedonia.

Paradoxically, the part of Macedonia that interests Belmonte the most and on which he writes the most in his book, Mount Athos and its 20 monasteries, on the peninsula of Chalkidiki, will always be forbidden to him because she is a woman. “I’m passionate about it, it’s an obsession, but of course I had to limit myself to seeing it from a boat because it’s a gigantic space for the male monastic enclosure.” The author describes some remarkable cases of women who slipped into it by avoiding the norm of slaughter, which has been in force since 972 and prohibits the entry of “eunuchs, beardless youths and women”. Between the invasive, Dalrymple’s great-aunt, who also starred in a threesome there, and Maryse Choisy, who had her breasts amputated and fitted with a fake penis to enter the community.

Belmonte keeps wondering about the future of Macedonia and fears that it will become a huge theme park. “Alejandro is a mine and the region relies heavily on cultural tourism”, he says, “hoping that it will be done with respect, and that as far as possible everything will continue like this”. May it continue to be, then, the land of Dionysus. “Dionysus is there everywhere, he represents our dark side and this barbaric and savage Macedonia, of which the ancient Greeks were so suspicious and which at the same time fascinated them so much.”

Dazzled by the Mediterranean

Until April 30, the exhibition is still visible at the active cultural center Les Bernardes in the city of Salt (Girona). Dazzled by the Mediterraneanbased on the book by María Belmonte beauty pilgrims. The exhibition, divided into several areas, includes a series of modules with approaches from several of the traveling authors in Italy and Greece that fascinate Belmonte, such as DH Lawrence, Norman Lewis, Henry Miller, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Kevin Andrews and Lawrence Durrell, as well as, in the space El exiled de Capri, photographs and objects of another of his pilgrims, Axel Munthe. Also on display is a collection of photos by Wilhelm von Gloeden, including some of his famous nude ephebes, under the title Arcadia Photographer. Among María Belmonte’s immediate plans is a long sea voyage to Capri which will undoubtedly lead to new travel pages…

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