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Thursday, 6 September 2012

The oldest olive tree in the world (Το πιο αρχάιο ελαι'οδεντρο του κόσμου)

The oldest olive tree in the world is found in Crete, in the village of Vouves, quite close to where I live. Even though it is near my home, I never got the chance to visit it, until only recently. You don't just pass through Vouves; you make a special expedition to get there. The village is tucked away inland, south of the easy coastal road, among hills and dirt tracks, which is probably why this olive tree has managed to survive for so long, due to its relative isolation.
The oldest olive tree in the world is believed to be as old as 3,000 years or even more, according to different estimates. But age does not seem to affect this tree's reproductive ability, as it still produces some fruit every year, debunking the myth about old age and fertility. Wars and earthquakes, fires and floods, accidents and technology have not crippled its survival. Its immortality does not wane with time.
When we hear about something that is very very old, we often expect to see something that is considered so holy, so fragile, so easily harmed, that we may only get a small glimpse of it as we peer over other people's shoulders to snatch a glance. We probably expect it to be under cover so that we may not be able to see it from up close, and we certainly won't be able to touch it because it is considered sacrosanct. For if we touch it, we may spoil it in some way, and it may erode over time by being touched too often, so that eventually, it will cease to exist. And like all old things, the noise level must be kept at a minimum lest the old item be perturbed by too much sound: like old people accorded with this kind of respect, we expect the oldest olive tree in the world to enjoy some peace and quiet. 
But when we come to visit the oldest olive tree in the world, we find that its three-metre base is wide open and welcoming to visitors. It is under no cover, completely open to the elements - most people visiting it will be coming in the hottest months of the year - and it is touching to see it continue to thrive despite so many people coming up close to it, their hands feeling its bark and their flash cameras clicking away. It particularly likes children, treating them like its own grandchildren who climb over its branches to sit on its lap. If it feels any pain in its joints while the children scurry up and down it like goats, it makes no sound, no moans of complaint of feeling its old age. 
We pay homage to the tree by visiting it to touch its branches, as if we are shaking its hand and wishing it Χρόνια Πολλά (a Greek birthday wish, meaning "may you continue to enjoy many more years"). It smiles as we leave, its branches swaying in the light breeze, as if waving goodbye to us, while it reminds us: "You now know the road, so come again soon!" We somehow have the feeling that we will not be coming here too soon, but we expect that the oldest olive tree in the world will still be here even when we have gone away forever.

The oldest olive tree in the world can be visited all year round. There is a museum affiliated to it on the same site, as well as an old open-air olive press and a little cafe for snacks and refreshments.

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