In September 2010, my son Blair and I made the road trip of a lifetime around the Peloponnese peninsula in Greece to film the television series, Lyndey & Blair’s Taste of Greece.
This was to be a series unlike any other. Though filmed in a popular location, Greece, it focused on an area off the beaten track, the Peloponnese. There would be glorious scenery but not of the Greek Islands. There would be food, wine and travel but also more: exploration of the archaeology, myths and legends of ancient Greece. And there would be engagement with local characters met along the way.
Not to mention the magic of a unique mother–son relationship. In Blair’s own words, 'Travelling and shooting a television program with your mother is a little out of the ordinary! ... The beauty of a mother– son relationship on camera is that you can’t fake it or replicate it; all the complexities have been built up over 29 years.’
The television series aired on SBS One in Australia in 2011 to great critical acclaim and is having the same success in the UK and New Zealand with broadcast to follow on a variety of channels across Europe and Asia. As an actor, Blair had worked hard, hoping for his 'big break’ and international fame and it seems it finally arrived. This is especially poignant because in the very early hours of 17 April, 2011, Blair passed away from acute myeloid leukaemia, only 3 days after diagnosis, and before the series aired. He was an extraordinary 29 year-old who lived life to the full and made a conscious decision to be happy every single day of his life. He brought joy into the lives of all he met and always signed off with the words, 'Good times!’
This book was to be our book: my eighth but his first, a joyful collaboration between mother and son. This was not to be, but I trust that the end result gives even greater depth to our journey than did the television series. The photos and memories are all there, as are the recipes we cooked or ate in Greece, Blair’s cocktails inspired by his night clubbing in Athens, and snippets about the archaeological sites we visited on our trip.
The success of the show is made all the more special because the series evolved as a matter of chance. My partner, John, and I had been discussing television shows with an old friend and colleague who is of Greek descent. John has a Master of Arts in Classics from the University of Cambridge and has a great love of archaeology and history, especially that of Greece. As the wine flowed, we talked about the type of television show we would like to watch and how wonderful it would be to create a new genre in an era dominated by 'reality’ shows. And the next morning in the clear light of day, it still seemed just as good an idea. I was no longer tied down by any work contracts, my friend was keen to be co-host and so our determination to make a series was born. We met with television networks and Greek government representatives in Australia, then John and I engaged a series producer and headed off to Greece to meet with government officials there.
Fast forward to 6 weeks prior to shooting: the trip was planned, crew engaged, permits sought, but my co-host had to withdraw. We were committed to the series and looked at the options. Should I go it alone, find another Greek–Australian personality or find a co-host in Greece? Hearing our dilemma, John’s best friend said, 'The answer is obvious – take Blair.’ What inspiration and, as it turns out, what a blessing!
Blair leapt at the chance and threw himself into the preparations in his characteristic wholehearted fashion. Suddenly, the style of the show morphed as, with a fit and active young co-host, an element of adventure entered the equation. No longer was it a Greek–Australian showing his friend his homeland, it was a mother and son duo discovering the country together, each with their own interests. I had been to Greece a few times over many years but Blair had only ever been to Corfu. However, he had links with Greece, having starred in Greek philosophy plays, The Philosophy of Freedom in 2005 and The Philosophy of Love in 2006, both for the Greek Festival of Sydney. It just seemed so right to be going together. And so it was. Blair was a joy on the road – enthusiastic, hardworking and uncomplaining over the long, arduous hours of shooting, great mates with the crew and the first to buy the bus driver a drink. Best of all he took a shine to the history and archaeology of this ancient land, asking John question after question, and lapping up the knowledge. He was my perfect foil.
I will never forget his bold bungy jump over the spectacular Corinth Canal – or my nervousness as I watched. Blair embraced all the flavours of Greece, relishing all the new experiences; except that is, for the tripe soup. Even garlic, vinegar and chilli flakes couldn’t make that work for him!
We owe the aphorism 'Whom the gods love die young’ to the Roman playwright, Plautus, but, like many Roman authors, Plautus was distilling an earlier Greek idea. The fifth-century historian, Herodotus, describes the early deaths of two young men, Cleobis and Biton. Their mother was a priestess of Hera and she was keen to attend a festival in honour of the goddess. However, the oxen used to draw her carriage were unavailable, so these stalwart youths put themselves to the yoke and drew the carriage for 'forty-five furlongs [8.3 kilometres] to the temple of Hera’ where 'they made a most excellent end of their lives’, presumably dying from exhaustion. 'And thus,’ concludes Herodotus, 'the gods showed by these men how it was better for a man to die than to live.’
So we have the concept that when we have reached perfection, we can leave this life.
Lyndey and Blair's Taste of Greece cookbook is available from SBS Shop.