The next post will be on or before Tuesday April 25th
THE GLAROS CRISIS
Regular followers of these pages will have noted that there has been no reference recently to my very favourite café, office workplace, and effective devtera spiti or second home, the Glaros, which should you wonder means ‘seagull’ in Greek. Sad to say this vibrant, tumultuous and unique kafeneion where I penned my 10th and most recent novel, and most of my 300 plus blog posts, is in a state of crisis, which is actually a laughable understatement given that many folk use that word to describe the electric being off for an hour, or their favourite TV show usually hosted by Stephen Fry ceasing for all of 4 weeks for the summer break. At the end of February, just as I had been living on Kythnos for exactly 3 and a half years, it all exploded when Marianna aged 52, one of the 2 sisters who run the place had a row with her partner and vamoosed to Athens to stay with a relative. It must have been one hell of a row, as she stayed there for first a week, and then 2 and then 3, and before long we learnt she had found herself another café job, so this was apparently serious and irreversible stuff. And yet there was always a reasonable if fond amount of hope to cling to, for those who missed the virtuoso café banter, the wild jokes, the crazy card games with best friends hurling insults at each other amidst accusations of covert cheating, growing ever more deafening and furious, until murder or at any rate justifiable manslaughter seemed a working option, whereupon at the vertiginous brink they both relented and started kissing each other’s hairy fizzogs and forgot their lethal ruckus within seconds. The vestige of hope lay in the fact that Marianna and 50-year-old Chrisoula who hail from the north of Greece, meaning they are perennially to be regarded as outsiders, had been running the place for 20 years, and never once had it been managed single handed. It just didn’t make sense that the Glaros, the nerve centre and pulsing heartbeat smack in the middle of the island port, this last of the old fashioned kafeneia on Kythnos, and more to the point, the cheapest place for wine and coffee and everything else on the island and possibly in the whole of Greece, that the revered Glaros should conceivably function without capable and tireless albeit often exhausted Marianna. Added to which Holy Easter was on the horizon and with droves of cheerful Athenian tourists assured, surely if her truest spirit were guiding her properly, she would return to her first and choicest home never mind my own Kythno-Cumbrian second home.
Meanwhile Chrisoula had had to keep the place going alone for 7 weeks and without a day off, and the severity of the strain had become increasingly evident. First of all, she began opening 2 hours later than usual, at 9.30am, meaning all the fishermen and Albanian builders’ labourers rapidly went elsewhere for early coffees, and I perforce had to relocate to the Paradisos to start my day’s work at a quarter to 8. Out of loyalty and friendship I took to going back to the depleted Glaros for a lunchtime beer but now affectionate and humorous Chrisoula was suddenly woodenly edgy and at times downright bizarre. She who had never given a toss about the stray cats that hang around her tables opposite the harbour, had become fanatically obsessed. When Marianna had been here, it was the older sister had desultorily chased them off, seen them come back 5 minutes later, then shrugged her thin shoulders and gone on bantering and teasing with the customers. Greeks on the whole, children included, don’t like stray cats, but they live with them and if one of them gets on their nerves they shoo it away and stamp their feet. Conversely anyone who has eaten outside an island restaurant knows that hungry street cats are de rigeur and the waiters smile and let the foreigners feed them delicate tidbits of costly melanouri fish, and know it’s good for custom and they will be paying an arm and a leg for the sea bream regardless of whose throat, feline or otherwise, it goes down. What’s more if you are looking for a nice present for the folks back home in Basildon or Oslo or Stuttgart, on your last day you are likely to buy a gorgeous calendar of island cats where the photogenic darlings look at their most fetching sat frolicking inside a gaily painted plant pot or yawning luxuriously on top of a battered old olive oil tin.
All that went out of Chrisoula’s frantic head as she began day after day to run out indecorously bawling gamo to! (literally fuck it! but in anglophone terms more like bugger it!) in order to fling water at them from a flower vase, or worse still toss a large pole affair that rattled and clanked on the ground by the tables, or even worse sizeable stones she must have garnered in her fretting indignation from the beach, not little pebbles by any means. Unfortunately this also brought me, the present writer, unhappily into the picture, as being a celebrated and notorious feeder of the strays, she, hysterical Chrisoula, seemed to be imagining I had led them there deliberately Pied Piper style. And just to restate and underline the shifting realities, hitherto with Marianna in confident charge, Chrisoula had never been bothered by the strays but now was behaving as a sporadically violent lunatic. And thus it was in deference to her new and strain induced paranoia, I stopped feeding any cats anywhere near the Glaros, though even that, it soon became apparent, did not satisfy her exponentially soaring irritation. As stark illustration, a couple of weeks ago, there was myself and no one else sat outside the café sipping a beer, with 3 small handsome cats lying snoozing and harming no one, not even thinking about begging, the rest of the flock having wandered off to hustle elsewhere. I was feeling more or less relaxed and after a hard morning’s work even moderately eesikhia-style euphoric, when suddenly Chrisoula’s hideous witches’ pole came whizzing next to the cats and then far worse those stone missiles the size of an alarm clock went hurtling alongside!
In a state of icy shock, I could stand it no longer, so got up and shouted:
“What the hell are you doing? Throwing big stones like that is bloody dangerous, Chrisoula! It’s bloody mad and it’s bloody dangerous.”
There was a prolonged and anxious silence, and like a little child she played deaf before scuttering off towards the Glaros door. Incensed at being so ludicrously ignored I repeated the admonition for good effect, but she kept on walking as if she hadn’t heard. I scowled and muttered and finished off my beer then walked off to Martinakia beach, all too ironically being closely followed by a small and good looking ginger cat with an outlandishly grubby nose who I call Jakie. Jakie is very attached to me and behaves exactly like a dog, as he regularly follows me to Martinakia where he lies on my naked stomach like an outsize paperweight as I sunbathe. He was sat plonked there today as I lingered and brooded on the imminent closure of my adoptive second home, because rumours were growing fast about a massive backlog of extortionate Glaros rent, perhaps one more very urgent reason for Marianna to flee her home of 20 years.
Soon Chrisoula wasn’t opening the cafe until 11, abruptly closing it at 10 when normally she would have stayed open till midnight. Then yesterday on what we call Maundy Thursday and the Greeks call Megali Pempti , always the colourful start of the bustling holiday season, the usually heaving Glaros was without a single customer, both inside and outside. The Ammos adjacent had got all of its impatient not to say irritated customers, and the defeat was stark and shocking to behold. I knew for a fact that deaf Chrisoula didn’t want me, once her close friend, to be at her tragic cafe any more, even if I were to be the only customer. For I, she believed in her madness, was the uncontrollable force that peopled her world with begging and yawling and hair dropping cats, when only 2 short months ago, cats tame or wild, small or large, had never entered her handsome head, not even in her dreams. I did some quick and sombre calculations and decided that in my 3 and a half years here, and going there every day of the year, I must have spent at least 10,000 euros in the Glaros, more than a year’s wages for the likes of Chrisoula. But now that meant nothing at all. did it? I simply frightened her as if she was a child with an inexpungible nightmare, and there was nothing to be done for she would have closed the Glaros and departed within a month or two.