GETTING IT IN THE NECK BECAUSE YOU ARE GREEK

GETTING IT IN THE NECK BECAUSE YOU ARE GREEK

This blog posts every Monday, but my daughter Ione is visiting from Leeds, UK, and there will be no new post until Monday 14th March (in case you are wondering it appears today 28th February, a day early, as I am very busy tomorrow). You can always contact me about anything, especially Bargain Online Fiction Tuition at john@writinginkythnos.com. Among others, I have mentored the Cumbrian writer Clare Sambrook whose novel ‘Hide and Seek’,  published by Canongate, went on to be sold in numerous languages before publication

You probably read midweek that the Austrian government convened a meeting of the Balkan states, to discuss their joint fears of being swamped by refugees from the Middle East and elsewhere. They opted not to invite Greece, an outrageous and provocative act that no doubt they thought they could get away with, Greeks being a species of European pariah aka children who will not grow up and do adult things like pay taxes and so forth. Rightly incensed, Greece duly withdrew its ambassador for ‘discussions’. Talk about a nation state being between a rock and a hard place. Russia, and the US and its allies, dropping bombs on citizens like there is no tomorrow, between them are making life impossible for thousands of Syrians, and the USA plus allies are doing the same thing in Iraq. These sad and innocent folk are going to keep on flooding out no matter what, they refuse to stay in an incendiary hell with their children. They will all head west via Greece, it’s the only feasible way to go, and Greece is humane enough to let them in for their transit onwards. But Austria and the rest would wish the Greeks to return most of them whence they came, and because they won’t do that, they are keeping Greece out of their summit talks. So now Macedonia (Ta Skopje if you are a patriotic Greek)has closed the border at Idomeni, and because no one wants to go through Albania which borders with unsympathetic Montenegro and Macedonia, effectively Greece is now like a pressure cooker. It has all these desperate folk flooding in, in their uncontrollable thousands, and the likes of Slovenia and Croatia will now only permit a trickle to make their way through.  You’d think Croatia at least would remember a mere 20 odd years ago, when they were stuck in a genocidal inferno themselves, but alas it didn’t teach them much about a sympathy that is universal as opposed to partisan.

Meanwhile if you are unlucky enough to be a Dodecanese island near Turkey, you get it in the neck big style. I was in tiny Agathonisi in May 2002, well before any refugee crisis, and it had about five tourists and a hundred population and that was it. Now it is swollen with refugees and guess what, like the little island of Lampedusa, off Malta, it cannot cope. Greece was recently in serious crisis over EU membership, and now as well as all its economic problems and currency controls, it has exhausted refugees and their kids decanted from the heaving islands, dossing down in Piraeus or in Plateia Victoria, and making the world weep. But the overall dynamic, the endgame, is very simple and very cruel, and doesn’t fool, anyone, especially the Greeks. Whatever the Greeks do about the problem, they are always going to get it wrong, and will always be the fall guys. So much for glorious European solidarity and the EU. The only type on offer from Austria, Hungary, Macedonia etc, is that which excludes nearly all of those who are non-European.

On a lighter note, like to hear a story about someone on a Greek island who is colourfully bonkers? I was talking to Kostas this week who has a cafe in Loutra and was up in the port on an unwelcome mission. Someone had been reckless and done him a grave injury, and the fact the circumstances were farcical did not ameliorate his considerable indignation. Kostas is in his late 50s, stocky, well read, an Anglophile, an independent thinker, divorced with two sons and he keeps his cafe open 12 months of the year. Loutra in winter is more or less a ghost town, so most of the time his place is completely empty. That suits Kostas fine, as he is busy as an autodidact with his laptop all day, researching his idol Kazantzakis, until perhaps the odd pal turns up and he stops to chat.  There are only about half a dozen of these mates, and most of them have relocated to the Hora for the winter, so drive down specially for the high quality kaffeeklatsch. However one permanent Loutra inhabitant, is a decidedly eccentric and unarguably handsome woman called Maria. She too is mid 50s, also divorced, but in her case minus any children. She is a very good hairdresser and in summer is run off her feet with all the yachties seeking her expert attentions. Now she has no customers whatever, and she fills her days with swimming, sunbathing and stopping to talk to anyone who will indulge her hobby horses and pet obsessions. She comes from one of the obscurer North Aegean islands, and is fanatical about the superiority of all islands over the mainland, so much so she claims that island supermarkets work out cheaper than Athenian ones, which is palpable nonsense. Ferry transport costs alone make that an impossibility. Maria can talk for what seems hours about comparative prices of potatoes in five Kythnos supermarkets, and five comparable establishments on the mainland. She monologues torrentially and if you try to get a word in edgeways, you will fail. Kostas is her ideal listener, as he sits there pretending to listen, but is probably just counting her teeth, not at all a whimsical activity as she has a phenomenal number of them all gleaming white in her attractive if often sullen face.

Today however he was very busy, actually engaged in writing a learned article about Kazantzakis for an Athens literary magazine. It was commissioned, and he was being paid for it, and there was a deadline, and he had no time to chat. He spelled this out as kindly as he could to Maria, but she was so thick-skinned he’d have had to stand up and bawl, Bugger off, North Aegean baby! and have the same thing written in letters a foot high in red paint on a piece of flip chart paper to get her to understand. Nevertheless Kostas persisted at his studious literary task, and turned his back on her, and also poured himself a glass of tsipuro to steady his nerves against her stanchless flood of words. So much so, that even Maria noticed he was playing hard to get when it came to any amicable chat, and so it was she perversely decided to resort to a teasing playfulness. She happened to have a bag of oranges with her, just given to her by a farmer friend from Ag Sostis. Incredibly she chose to toss one of these at Kostas’s back by way of drawing his attention. Luckily she was such a bad shot it went wide of his table, and landed on a distant seat cushion, so he didn’t even know she was hurling those fruity and doubtless succulent torpedos.

The second orange came a few seconds later, and it hit him with force on the right elbow…

Kostas turned in amazement and beheld grinning, impish Maria hurling a third citron grenade in his direction. Naturally enough he exclaimed an obscenity, gamo to (fuck it!) and then that third aeronautic missile landed square on his glass of hooch and sent it flying all over his laptop!

At that point he went totally berserk, not least because his laptop emitted an electrical hiccup and promptly packed in, as raw grape brandy is a bit like foaming Coca Cola when it comes to metals and rapid astringence. Impressively, Maria kept on laughing with blithe unconcern, mainly because she didn’t know much about computers and assumed there would be no ill effects. Once Kostas started bellowing horribler obscenities, she stiffened, and resentfully announced that of course she’d pay for any repairs done by Antonis up in the port. Kostas bawled it might not be fucking repairable, and she tossed her beautiful auburn mane, but wasn’t remotely floored by that either. She told him impatiently, oh what a  fuss of a man you are! she’d buy him a brand new laptop if need be. He was tempted to rant at her then, before throwing her out of the cafe, and inform her that all his important writer’s work was on that laptop and might not be recoverable and that would be catastrophic. But the heartening truth was he obsessively copied everything onto multiple USB sticks and nothing that really mattered would have been lost, thank God above.

“All the same,” he mused to me in the Glaros. “That beats all. Flinging fucking oranges at a glass of brandy, and just because she wants to fucking talk. I wonder if she’d had a bag of potatoes, would she have done the same? Or rodis/pomegranates? Those buggers with their funny tops can sting like fuck if you get one across the earhole, re. Too fucking right they can, vre.”

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