air is cool in the mountains tonight. We can smell people's wood-burning
stoves. It's a smell I remember from my childhood. A smell I have missed
until now, and not realized it. We walk through the upper village. From
the doorway to an enclosed house and garden, a girl steps out and greets
us in English. We are surprised. Her accent is strongly Australian. Her
name is Christina and she lived in Sidney until she was six years old.
She is now twenty. We ask what she does in the village. "Nothing!" she
exclaims. There are no jobs and her parents won't let her leave so she
watches TV all winter long. She says that she spends two months of the
summer with her older sister in Erresos. We urge her to escape and have
a life, or at least come to the cafeneon with us, but she's not allowed
to go to the cafeneons. "It would be a scandal" explains Andrea. "And then
they could never marry her off. She'd be tarnished goods if she were seen
in the cafeneons." It's a sad story. Christina is tall dark and beautiful.
People talk about the decline in American society because of the decline
of the family, but here is the other extreme. Because her parents want
to protect her Christina is denied a life of her own. The closest she will
come to freedom will be the few short months between the betrothal, and
the wedding, when she might be able to go to Kaloni for a wedding dress,
if she doesn't have to wear her mothers.
Avglaia's there is something extaordinary brewing. There are foriegn visitors
unconnected with the village. He's a German named Olf who owns the Vesuvious
bar in Erressos and she's Eleni, a Greek social worker from Megara. She
asks if I know where her town is."Of course. That's where all the chickens
come from". She laughs. I know because I remember driving past Megara
on my way back from the Peleponisos and marveling at the mile upon mile
of chicken coops. Avglaia is setting serving after serving of salad, fried
eggplant and lamb liver and spleen, before them, and they don't know that
until they tell her to stop, she will keep giving them food. It's not my
job to tell them either and if he's got a bar in Erressos, he can certainly
afford it. By now I am allowed to serve myself ouzo from the giant bottle
on the counter. I don't know if Avglaia is keeping score. It will be difficult
because if I am too slow to pour for myself, Panayotis does it for me and
that usually means it's on him.
is delicious, not that I was at all hungry, but it serves it's purpose
of soaking up all the ouzo. I don't seem to be getting drunk, though I
probably finished off a quart or so, but I'm feeling good and having fun.
So is Andrea. She is animated and roaming around the cafeneon like a stand-up
comedian, mostly because it's too painful for her to sit. One by one as
it gets later the old men excuse themselves because they have to work early,
before sunrise, until the only one left is Adonis.
"Don't you have a job?" I ask him.
He tells me to come to Pterounda tomorrow to see
his job. He owns an olive-oil factory and they are preparing it for the
harvest. I tell him I will be there. The door suddenly opens and one of
the men drops a hedgehog in my lap. It's curled in a ball with only it's
long fox-like nose showing. We go to take him home so we can show Amarandi
in the morning. We stop to show Thanasis who pours a handful of salt
on the poor creature's face."If you put salt on a skadjofiro, he cries",
he says, but I don't see any tears, just a terrified hedgehog that now
has salt on it's face. We take him home and put him in the courtyard, while
we watch him from the house. When he is certain we are gone he uncurls
himself and scurries around, exploring and looking for a way out. I think
he's too big to fit under the gate but when I wake up to go to the bathroom
a few hours later, he's gone.
There is an ever present tension between Andrea, Pam
and their relatives. Pam says it's because the villagers are jealous because
their family moved away to America and had easy lives. Then she tells me
the real reason. Whenever Andrea's grandparents would come back to Greece
to visit from America, they would stay with her cousin Mitsos for anywhere
from a month to six weeks. One day her grandfather asked Mitsos why they
never ate meat. It was too expensive he was told. "Then I too shall eat
beans and rice", he declared, rather then offer to repay his hosts hospitality
by buying meat which he could easily afford. But the grandfather was not
the problem. It was the notorious Yaya Stasa, Andrea's Grandmother. A twisted
version of Robin Hood who stole from the poor to give to the poor in order
to appear generous. One day Mitsos could not find his good shoes. He looked
everywhere and asked everyone but nobody knew. That evening his cousin
from Skalahori came for a visit, proudly wearing Mitsos good shoes. "Where
did you get those shoes?" asked Mitsos.
"Stasa brought them for me from America".
it gets dark I make my way to Avglaia's with my sardeles pastes. I split
them up between her's and Thanasis cafeneon. She is surprised to see them
on the counter when she comes back from the butcher shop with some lamb
ribs, but she realizes where they came from and begins peeling and distributing
them to the old guys. I cross the street and join the crowd at Thanassis
and pretty soon Andrea and Amarandi come in. Thanassis explains to me that
in December everyone picks their olives and takes them to Adonis' factory.
Now I wish I had gone. He seemed kind of insulted that I had not shown
up and since he will be doing his other job as a carpenter tomorrow, I
am out of luck. We return to Avglaia's for dinner. I probably eat thirty
sardeens and have about ten glasses of ouzo, but I'm feeling so great that
I order a plate of goat. We discuss our big plans for Xidera. I tell the
villagers about when we were in the tourist-trap town of Batsi on Andros
and everywhere we saw these signs that said 'Come see the unspoiled village
of Katarini and eat in it's very inexpensive taverna'. We had gone
up there and though it was dark and we could not see how unspoiled the
village was, the food was excellent, simple and cheap. I tell Avglaia that
we can do the same for Xidera. I will drive around putting up posters in
all the tourist towns and get some action happening here. "Already Thanasis
is planning to change his cafeneon to a rock-club" I tell them.
I wake up at five in the morning and can't fall
asleep. My soul feels tortured. I love it here, I love this life but I
can't keep it up. If I drink anymore ouzo I will be ready for AA by the
time I get back to the states. If it only gave me a hangover or made me
feel somewhat shitty in the morning it would be easy to stop, but I awaken
refreshed and praising the glory of sunshine, or rain or even nescafe.
Pam wants us to help her with a list of things but I plan to tell Andrea
that we need to leave for Athens tomorrow. There are things I have to do
to prepare for my next trip here, not to mention friends I want to see.
"I love Athens", I tell myself, but leaving Mytilini seems like some kind
of sin against nature.
My thoughts are interupted by a strange noise in
the yard. Someone or something is lurking out there. Some demon attracted
by my mental anguish and confusion. I know that I am being watched, I can
feel it's eyes penetrate me. I gather the courage it takes to peer out
from under my blanket and face whatever it is that God or the devil have
in store for me. It's the turkey from the garden next door. Every morning
he apparently climbs up on the wall and takes a little walk around our
courtyard which adjoins his. He's making a strange clucking sound like
a one sylable gobble. I hear his feet walking across the frame of the metal
gate. He must be close to Pamela's window. I wonder if she realizes that
every morning this bird walks over and watches her sleep. Perhaps he is
in love. I hear him making his return trip as his little feet clatter on
metal again. Later when I emerge from the outhouse, I startle him while
he is trying to look in from the roof. He gobbles and I gobble back. The
excitement is enough so that I fall asleep finally.
...Andrea agrees to leave. We replace the newly
painted shutters and I organize the car. Saying goodbye is tough in Xidera.
Today Thanasis cafeneon is full of old men. As we walk in to say goodbye,
one at a time they stand up, shake our hands and wish us a good winter.
It's a beautiful ceremony made all the more touching because as I look
into the eyes of each old man, I don't know if he will make it through
the harsh mountain winter. Everytime I visit there is someone I don't see.
It's ridiculous to think that they moved away. They've died over the winter,
and probably some of these nice old guys, many of whom I don't know their
names, though they all know mine, will die.
We say our family goodbyes and drive out of town. I begin thinking about
Xidera, the old men, the cafeneons and Aglaia. Though they look like old
men, they are children at heart. Most have never lived anywhere but the
village, some have gone elsewhere but returned. They talk about simple
things and when they smile you can still see the children in their eyes.
Aglaia in her cafeneon, cooking food for them and serving ouzo and coffee
is like the den mother and they are a bunch of cubscouts. The cafeneons
are their club houses. There is no sign saying GIRLS KEEP OUT, because
it's understood. It's a boys life, and these are little boys grown old.
I should know. I'm becoming one of them.
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