The next post will be on or before Saturday April 8th
A VERY RUDE BANANA
There was a comical incident last week here in the Paradisos, indeed a repetition of something that has been going on for months, and which prompted me in the kindness of my heart to intervene and spare Maria any possible future embarrassment. It happens to be approaching Easter, and before long the summer, which means that flocks of tourists will be coming to Kythnos, many of them foreigners, and for whom the only handy lingua franca will be English. Maria can manage a fair bit of the sovereign or maybe I mean despotic tongue, which serves her well as a waitress, as many café workers on this relatively quiet island barely know half a dozen words. She was the only one here this morning, and her worry was that someone would come in to order while she was out at the supermarket buying oranges and olive oil. My role then was to let them know as much and to ask them politely to wait patiently for her return. What Maria shouted at full volume to me, who was the only customer in the place, was a literal translation of the Greek erkhomai. She should, bless her, have translated it idiomatically, not literally, and should have yelled at me in English ‘I will be back soon’ or ‘I won’t be long’. Instead of which and she must have bawled the same phrase a dozen times since the start of February, she addressed me cheerfully with the interesting words.
“I am coming! I am coming!”
When she returned with her ladhi and portakali and there only being the two of us in the Paradisos, I told her gently that I really must have a word with her, and gingerly explained that that English phrase was generally only employed by a woman of her age to convey that she was enjoying a carnal climax and this was especially the inference when delivered at full Greek volume, given that Greeks make every sentence infinitely passionate whether it be about romantic love or boiled eggs or electrical plugs or toilet rolls. When I had finished, there was a climactic (oops) pause, and Maria who has been happily married to Kostas for 20 years, gaped and covered her mouth mock aghast, before erupting into hysterical mirth.
I pointed out like a concerned father (she is 42 and I am 66 so it is appropriate) that it only needed half a dozen macho and boozy yachties from anglophone Giggleswick or Chattanooga or Pretoria or Nova Scotia, to hear her shout, she was coming, she was coming! for them to fall about with violent merriment, and even to address her with unintelligible comments such as, Congratulations kid, or, What was it like? I was only saving her from embarrassment I explained, and no, no, it wasn’t her fault at all I added, it was the fault of the ridiculous English language.
Better still, and staying with the punning Carry On Up the Khyber motif, is an ingenious gag involving mistranslation that you get in Lawrence Durrell’s 50s novel Mountolive, part of the legendary Alexandria Quartet. The hero is a British diplomat in Alexandria and his jovial friend Pombal is connected to the French embassy. Because of a semantic ambiguity concerning the French word for ‘wave’, one day Pombal in all innocence talks not of happily listening to ‘a night-time broadcast on the (radio) short wave’…but of hearkening to ‘a nocturnal emission on the short hairs’.
Far more explosive (oops) no, more cataclysmic than that, was something unintentionally uttered by an eccentric looking foreign lady of about 45 at a genteel literary event I attended back in 1997, a full 20 years ago, I note with something of a gulp at the monstrous passage of time. Its focus was a huge birthday party being held for one of the writers present in this private hotel, and there must have been at least 100 guests. This unusual lady was called God love us, Banana, for she was Japanese (qv the US Japanese writer Banana Yoshimoto, born 1964) and she was the third wife of a much-respected English novelist in his late 60s who I shall call Bill Dashwood, also of striking appearance. Bill was ruddy faced, long haired, bearded and unkempt, and he looked the very image of the old-fashioned Bohemian such as you get in chattering 1920s Aldous Huxley novels. Banana had very long black hair, a very pale face, expressionless grey eyes, and her natural mode was a kind of default meditative silence, meaning her muted volume was almost always on. This was not because of the obvious fact that her English was not too strong, but her absolutely regular standby button whether in Tokyo or London or San Francisco (the New Directions bookshop being the legendary place where she had met her eminent hubby, Bill). Dashwood was a very likeable man with a track record of helping young writers as much as he could, but nonetheless he was a bit of a tireless monologuist and so comically vague about mundane behaviour he could at times have been stand in for vintage TV’s Mr Pastry = Richard Hearne (1908-1979). Once at some Litfest when we were both at breakfast together in a posh hotel, he took his place at one recently abandoned, and where for some reason the glass of orange juice with half a murky inch left had not yet been removed. Without a glance Dashwood assumed it must be for him, even though of only ludicrous doll’s house proportions, then knocked it back humbly and beamed his goodwill at all.
Tonight his helpmeet Banana was sat in the midst of the mega-birthday bash, not scowling nor hostile but simply as if permanently sited on another planet. Her pallor was extreme, more severe than ever, and her jet hair covered much of her face like a handy separating partition, for she never flicked nor tossed it peremptorily aside, as others might have. Instead of tucking into the sumptuous birthday buffet which as it happened was all vegetarian, Dashwood’s wife had her own jar of hallucinatory green organic seaweed paste that she was lugubriously sucking from a tiny teaspoon brought along specially.
There she sat beside Bill who with his hoary patriarch’s seriousness was patently oblivious that she might quite possibly be unwell. Tonight, it was not just a case of maintaining the usual reclusive equipoise but rather Banana seemed like an early and very bleak Kurosawa protagonist struggling with an irreversible illness or an impossible and tragic personal dilemma. At which point, a kindly woman poet from Ireland called Dora knelt down beside her and looking gravely into her eyes, asked her if she was feeling at all OK.
“No, “croaked Banana in a surprisingly audible tone. “No I but no am not well.”
“Ah?” sighed Dora, taking her thin little hand tenderly. “I am so sorry to hear it. What’s wrong, my poor Banana, if I might ask?”
Bill’s third and most junior of wives unmusically replied, “I ah been mastarbatin for whole of day…”
Dora gasped and instantly pulled her hand away. “You wh…?”
Banana Dashwood elaborated in slow and funereal tones, “Mastarbatin all of day. Yes, yes. Now too tired and so exhaust…”
Dora who was from Ennistymon, Co Clare gulped and then as if immediately regressing to her non-poetic and no nonsense working class roots, managed:
“Shite, as a feminist I’m all for doing what makes you…but I mean feck, doing it all bloody day long is a bit feckin…”
At length even blinking, musing puffin-like Dashwood awoke to this appalling exchange. Despite his always ruddy face, he visibly flushed and admonished:
“No, no Banana! No, no! Dear me no. Not that!”
His wife took a wistful yet defiant even rude little suck at her glutinous seaweed paste.
“But yes yes and too truly! I was mastarbatin in a bed, in a toilet, all of evywhere!”
Dashwood grasped her shoulders and exactly like a father restraining a child, he clamped them tight.
“Goodness no! Dear me no, no. Don’t you see? Surely you mean ‘menstruating’, Banana? ‘Masturbating’ really is something quite different. It is in fact another kettle of fish altogether.”
She stared at him in ageless awe and timeless silence as if for the first time in her life wondering who he was and what he was and why he was. At length and with a little hesitation Banana Dashwood politely besought him:
“Tell me what is diffence, please?”