The next post will be on or before Friday July 21st
PANOS AND THE TURKS
Panos the Kythnos egg farmer was in the mood for fooling about yesterday, or rather acting like one of those Zen masters who like to confuse their far too earnest students with their onerous questions by offering a baffling paradox. To start with, I asked him why he was on his own here at the Paradisos Cafe, and where his very nice wife Sotiria was, and he sniffed and said they had just got divorced or no no, wrong word they were whatsit, they were recently separated. This was apparently since I had last seen him laughing and teasing with her, and slapping her back affectionately, all of 2 days ago. He said it po-faced but I snorted at the idea of his doting wife of 50 years having suddenly run off with the goatherd, or of Panos himself feeling the urge to roam like a second roused and restless goatherd in search of fresh pastures. That in turn reminded me of my own ever faithful parents, who both died relatively young in their mid-seventies, and by association my Dad himself as a poultry keeper magnate. In the late 1960s he had so many hens in his 3 allotments he had to sell their eggs via the Egg Marketing Board. For this he was paid a risible pittance but nonetheless he was proud of his legendary quantity of 100 pampered hens. That connection prompted me to ask Panos a gnawing and crucial question, and to see whether he or my father over a 2 millennium half-century period was Overall Pan-European Poultry Baron.
“Panos, how many hens have you got out there on the Rema road?”
He stared at me, as if I were some buffoonish jester and an unlicensed English version at that.
“What kind of a question is that? I’ve no bloody idea. They are beyond count.”
I glared back at him. “I don’t believe you. You must have some basic idea of how many. To the nearest 10 or 20 or 50 hens.”
“Well as it happens, I haven’t a bloody clue. To quote the Bible, as many as are the hairs on your head. Or rather, no, I mean as many as those that are on mine.”
Touche. I am half bald and though Panos is 71, he has a wonderfully full head of hair that looks as if made of barbed wire, it is so tough and hardy and seemingly ironic and disdainful of all things hairless.
I persisted in my search for quantitative certainties.
“But what about losing them to foxes or to thieves? If you really don’t know how many you’ve got, you wouldn’t even know if any had been eaten or stolen.”
He guffawed. “Call that logic? There are no bloody foxes on Kythnos, just as there are no rabbits here come to that. And no bugger goes stealing hens in a place with a population of 800. They would be noticed and followed and battered senseless within half an hour if they tried it.”
We were sat outside the Paradisos and he was hungrily knocking back a big square of tasty ekmek kadaif cake. Apropos which, anyone, even if they don’t know a word of Turkish, knows that as with baklava, here you had a charismatic Turkish sweet that had been adopted by an erstwhile part of the Ottoman empire. Ekmek, with its clacking double k, and the snappy rhyme accompanying, could not possibly be a Greek word, for it was Turkish to the core.
I couldn’t resist telling Panos this.
“You know that ekmek kadaif is Turkish, Panos? The two words that is. And that Turkey is the origin of the dish?”
He squinted at me in the sunlight, then muttered, “No, it isn’t.”
I felt a sudden buzzing in my left ear, a symbolic somatic reaction if ever there was, to this autopilot stone walling by an obstinate old Greek. Mythical divorces and his myriad hens never being subjected to a census, I could just about swallow, but denying the historically obvious was something else.
“Of course ekmek is Turkish! So is bloody baklava!”
“No, they aren’t!”
“They bloody are! I’m bloody telling you!”
“No they bloody aren’t. No bloody way…”
“Eh? You are just crazy, Panos. Really cracked. OK then, listen, what about aubergine imam? Short for imam bayeldi. I suppose you’re saying ‘imam’ is a Greek word, and ‘bayeldi’ meaning ‘fainted’, is a Greek word too, are you?”
“No. Granted. But they probably stole the dish from us two or three hundred years ago, then gave it their own fancy Turkish name.”
“Bollicks! If they did that, then the Greeks must have had their own name for it before that. So how come the Turkish name has stuck?”
Panos shrugged and said he was fucked if he knew, and it was obvious he was massively unimpressed by my oh so decadent and superfluous Anglo-Saxon logic.
“You Greeks,” I reproved him, “are all the same. Egg farmers or TV producers it makes no bloody difference.”
He sniffed. “Oh yes? How’s that?”
“Last night on the Greek TV news, it reported a heat wave in the capital of Turkey and the fact everyone was hitting the beaches there. You know what the capital of Turkey is, I presume?”
“Too damn right. Constantinopolis.”
“Exactly. That’s what the TV called it too. The rest of the world calls it Istanbul and only the Greeks call it Constantine’s Town.”
“Well the rest of the world is wrong. It’s the seat of our Orthodox church and the seat of Byzantium and it was always bloody ours.”
“True enough. The Greeks are right and everyone else is wrong. So when a foreigner is talking to a Greek they play the game or else the Greek gets shirty and sometimes enraged. Ditto with the country that calls itself Macedonia. The Greek TV calls it Ta Skopje after the capital and the Greeks even campaigned to have it called FYROM, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia…”
“Damn right. The fucking nerve. There’s only one Macedonia and it’s bloody well Greek.”
“Such matchless logic. When it was a province of Yugoslavia you Greeks didn’t give a shit it was called Macedonia. But when it became a country, you Greeks did give a shit about it using that same name. Where’s the sense of that?”
“You can’t steal a fucking name for your country is the sense of it!”
I rounded on him by an elliptical route, that of appealing to any refined or unrefined sense of personal dignity he might possess.
“Look, how would you like to be called Fyrom instead of Panos? It sounds like a suppurating boil on the arse or like a type of bleach.”
“Tough shit! Call themselves Eldorado or Shangri La or Never Never Land if they want. But not our Macedonia.”
I downed the dregs of my coffee, then went back on a more measured assault.
“Don’t you see the laughable phoniness of it? When the rest of the world is talking to each other they say Istanbul and Macedonia. If a Greek enters the room they hurriedly switch and say the words that please them rather than get a volley of indignation and abuse. But as soon as they leave the room they switch back to the grown-up adult words.”
“Eh? What’s adult got to do with it? Grown-up be damned! Lies and distortions by people always wanting to conquer us and put us under their bloody thumb!”
“Oh yes? You really think that titchy Ta Skopje wants to walk in and conquer Greece? My arse. Listen to me, Panos. The Greeks rightly condemn what Israel is doing now in the former Palestine, where the West Bank is a kind of tyrannical open prison ruled by the Israelis who control everything that goes in and out, life-saving medicines included. But the Israelis respond by saying it’s OK to behave like heartless monsters, because in the Old Testament Palestine was theirs, and the OT is full of horrendous and arbitrary massacres much worse than anything the Israelis ever do. This thus makes them by historical comparison, really exemplary and far-sighted liberals. ”
Panos blinked at me and then responded with unexpected energy.
“But we the Greeks have never colonised or controlled anyone! Never in the memory of man. We’ve been colonised by every other bugger of course: the Turks, the Nazis, the Italians, the Brits, the bloody Yanks.”
I said, “To your credit. Good for you and your country. But nowadays you are rather like kids who ought to have stopped believing in Santa Claus, because you are all of 10 years old, you are no longer 6. However the grown-ups, meaning the rest of the world, don’t want to upset you, so they keep on saying to you that Santa Claus is real. Then when you leave the room they laugh at you behind your back and ask themselves how old you will be before you stop believing in Father Christmas.”
Panos looked as if he was about to turn purple and wade in with fists flying, at me and at my spiritless obsession with rationalism and logic. The first thing he would say was, you try living under the Turks for hundreds of years, and see how far logic takes you, and how appropriate it is to remain twitching and pulsating from the shock, and to be lastingly and unshakably paranoid when the buggers have been ousted and have gone. They weren’t social democrats you know, weren’t the Ottomans, they didn’t have courts of appeal and civil rights bodies and neutral arbitrators called Lord This or Lady That. And what’s more and by the looks of it, that bully boy Recep Tayyip Erdogan is gleefully going back to exactly how it was if not worse.
Instead of which he grinned with a look of perverse mischief and said:
“Guess what I’m going to do right now?”
I smirked, much relieved I hadn’t offended him to the core nor indeed to any notable extent.
“Maybe going to embrace your wife by the look of you? The one that you are separated from.”
He guffawed as if I had made a salutary reminder.
“No. That’s for later, that’s for 8 o’clock tonight. Leg over first, then brisola and chips. Not brisola and chips first, then leg over, that’s bloody bad for the digestion. Remember that, sequence is everything. No, no, try again. What you do you think I’m going to do right away, once I get home?”
“You’ll be watching the blockbuster Turkish soap that everyone’s watching. Black Rose.”
He actually beamed at me then as if I had pressed a vital button on his soul.
“I watch the omnibus at the weekend. It’s bloody great. The wife goes bloody mad for it. For Black Rose, that is.”
I smiled and said, “No doubt. OK. I give in. I’ve no idea. What are you going to do, right away, Panos?”
He stuck his huge nose about an inch from mine then cackled:
“I’m going to count my hens. Haw! Haw! Haw! Inspired by you I’m going to get down on my hunkers and count my fucking hens. 117,118,119, oops start again. Where was I was I now? 219,220,221. Here chucky chucky! Haw! Haw! Oh, you’ll be the bloody death of me you will, my dear old Englishman, my dear old, dear old boy.”
Then he walked off slapping his thighs and bellowing with hysterical laughter, and I felt a real if passing anxiety as he sounded as if he would never ever stop.