Meet Harley — an antiquated 50cc motorbike, top speed 25mph, who carried me on the backroads of Greece from the island of Evia to deliver the collected Jeeves and Wooster to a Moldovan monk on Mount Athos, a self-governing state run by monks.
The road trip is a journey through the heart of Greece to its soul. We pass sites and sights from prehistory to the present: a Mycenaean beehive tomb, 3500 years old; the body of a Russian saint, who teleported pilaff; a refugee camp in a chicken factory; and many other extraordinary places as well as tavernas, cafes, cheap hotels and anywhere else I can find conversation and a jug of wine.
We encounter the key moments in three thousand years of history that every Greek is familiar with and create their sense of who they are. Some are celebrated, for example the War of Independence from the Ottomans, others are no less powerful but unspoken, like the Civil War of 1946–49.
As we meander north we come across the different peoples that created today's Greece. Whatever their origins, Greeks are brought up to believe they are direct descendants of the Ancient Greeks whose language they speak. They also believe they are custodians of the one true religion, Orthodoxy, the defining characteristic of Greekness for two thousand years. Having travelled through time and space, I leave Harley at the frontier of Athos and plunge into a spiritual dimension. Wonder-working icons and relics are channels to the divine; everyday miracles are part of nature; the marvellous deeds of saints are facts not metaphors. Their reality permeates Greek culture and sense of self.
Greece is two hundred years old. Since the bloody revolution against the Ottomans, Greeks have resisted British, French, Russian, German, Italian, Bulgarian and American incursion, invasion or domination. The struggle continues for independence from Brussels, Frankfurt and Washington that control its finances. Through turbulence and disaster Greeks have created a vibrant, enterprising, European democracy with a unique identity. It is an extraordinary story of an extraordinary people.
Harley and the Holy Mountain is based on a lifetime's love of Greece. It is seasoned with experiences and memories, absurdity and humour, treats and discomforts, the terrors and boredom of the slow lane, and above all comedy. With a glimmer of enlightenment at the end.