THE STRANGEST OF PHOTOGRAPHS

The next post will be on or before Sunday September 3rd

THE STRANGEST OF PHOTOGRAPHS

Photographs can be remarkable for numerous reasons, but when they seem highly improbable or downright incredible representations of reality, it is usually because they are hoax pictures, made all the easier these days of course by sophisticated digital editing techniques, now standard items on every smartphone. Apropos which as unwitting jester and inevitable Tech Buffoon, I promise you that a year ago I didn’t even know what that word ‘selfie’ meant, and those preposterous telly antenna things I once observed amongst numerous Japanese tourists on the road to the Parthenon, I thought might be something to do with their roaming wifi capacity. Clued up folks like yourselves will however be aware that with a selfie pic you can swiftly iron out the deplorable wrinkles and frown lines of middle or old age by deftly fiddling around with a button or two. But now turn sharply if reluctantly from 2017 and behold one of the most original and striking photos you will ever see. Note that it was taken in antediluvian pre-digital 1953 in Loutra, the northern coastal resort on Kythnos, and it hangs up in the Paradisos café in the port here. It is one of a series of commercially produced prints available from the gift shops in the Hora, copies of vintage black and white photos of the island, in a standard landscape format, but maddeningly this particular one can rarely if ever be found among the dozens available, whilst all the other much less original copies are there a-plenty.

THE PHOTO

Seated in the primitive 1950s kafeneion at 2 tables are 6 handsome islandmen all in their mid-forties, every one of them with a collarless striped shirt similar to those referred to as the grandad shirts of the early 20th century, and which were the favourite choice of those aged around 20 in 1970, viz of a lackadaisical student radical such as myself born 1950. Strangest of all is the way 4 of the 6 men seem to creepily duplicate each other as either identical or damn near identical twins. One set of ‘twins’ has short groomed black hair and neatly shaped moustaches, the one smack in the centre of the group and the other ranged far right. Twin 1 is staring inquisitively, even challengingly, at an acute angle and upwards as if looking shrewdly at the camera man, while his ‘double’ Twin 1A is looking slightly down his nose into deep if dour reflection. However, they are definitely not the same person, even though they look as if they might be, because not only do they sport different sandals, one of them has a shirt with tight lateral stripes and the other with a notably more open pattern. All 6 gents have tidy long shorts just covering the kneecap which lends them a rather decorous Edwardian sportsman aura. As for the rest, aside from different coloured shirts, 2nd from left Twin 2 and 2nd from right Twin 2A differ principally in that the first has downcombed and parted hair, while his doppelganger has it upsloping with even a little tuft sprouting perkily from the crown of his head. Note that both sets of twins could well be cousins or at least part of the same clan or sub clan, and it is worth emphasising that all four of them look deadly earnest, even slightly stunned by the august photographic occasion, or possibly just by the shock of finding themselves inescapably situated in isolated and poverty stricken mid-century Kythnos.

Between Twin 1 and hypothetical cousin Twin 2, sits a conspicuous loner as he is twin to no one, and possibly in line with that, immediately strikes one as having a mean and aggressive side to him. His lips are downturned ever so slightly and his eyes seem narrowed and ever so faintly suspicious. He looks the image (if not the identical twin) of Gianmaria Volonte (1933-1994) when he played (adopting the odd pseudonym Johnny Wels) the Mexican baddie in the spaghetti western A Fistful of Dollars (1964). His hair is shorter than all the rest, always a worrying sign if like me you are an unreformed ultra-left hippy from 1970, and he also looks as if he is brooding about an act of past or future vengeance. He sits at an oblique angle to the last man in the group, conspicuous as he holds a walking stick, and is also the only one wearing a hat, and a handsome and sizeable panama at that. This hat and stick man is on the far left and facing right, and would appear to be the only one actually looking at another member of the group, viz the one ranged far left who is Twin1 A, the one looking down his puzzled nose into dour abstraction.

Thus it is that you have 6 strikingly handsome Greek men, all born around 1907-1910, four of them who might or might not be twins, and possible cousins, 5 of them staring at bizarrely staggered and oblique angles, and thus, deliberately or not, avoiding each other’s gazes. Nor for that matter is it even certain that the man with the hat and the stick is looking at Twin 1A, he could in fact be looking slightly to his side. The simplest way of describing the wholly weird frozen tableau effect of this very strange 50s cameo, photographed on an obscure and forgotten Greek island, is that all the men look to be turned to stone pace the famous wholesale Narnian petrifaction in CS Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (1950).

But why I ask myself, and those of you not living here on Kythnos might also ask the same, why on earth would that be?

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THE MAD MONTH

THE MAD MONTH

The next post will on or before Sunday September 3rd

A couple of nights ago on a roasting August evening I witnessed two scenes so diametrically opposite they might have been intended as morality lessons devised by whatever it is that lies behind the seemingly hallucinatory surface of all mundane things. I was taking the rubbish out to the row of skips which lie on the main road between the port and Dryopida and to do so I had to stagger up some steep steps. Just before the ascent I could hear the wild and joyish yelps of 2 dogs playing together and there behind the metal gate I beheld the mother, a black and obese and comically amiable retriever cross with its swollen paps, frolicking with a pup of about 3 months old. It was a beautiful pup and it stopped to lick my hand through the gate and then decided better and nervously retreated. Then mother and son resumed chasing and fooling again and it occurred to me what while pups only existed to run after each other, I had never once seen a mother dog playing like this with its child. Perhaps, I decided, that is what they always do when they only have the one, and feel obliged to imitate being a young one themselves, rather than deprive them of something as urgent as their play.

I left them and at the top of the steps looked right for traffic and my eyes rapidly glimpsed the red faced old lady who sits outside her house every evening staring always with concentrated bleakness at the traffic and at passers-by. She has a face of I’m tempted to say pure misery but it is more complex than that. Behind that stony and unrelenting mask there are elements of anger, of disbelief, of bitterness, of seemingly depthless and inexpungible melancholy. I don’t know who she is or whose relative she might be (there are about half a dozen principal clans and sub clans in the port) but as she always sits alone she must surely be living on her own, nursing in public and with scorn some colossal grievance manifest as a historical deceit or outrage in the form perhaps of a sudden and brutal bereavement or other cruel loss, a pitiless blow which not only cut her in two but hurt her once substantial pride, then turned her brain and took not only the wind but the fabric itself out of her sails.

The next day and for the second time only I visited Kythnos’s prime tourist attraction, one which appears on nearly every postcard of the island: Kolona, a beautiful elongated sand spit which markets itself as that splendidly surreal phantasm of one’s dreams, a ‘double beach’. It is a 15-minute sail from the port, and two little boats which proudly call themselves sea taxis compete for the trade. Inexplicably both taxis have just halved the fare from a reasonable 10 euros return to a meagre 5. I asked the ticket seller why, and he said there had been pressure from the council but was unable to elaborate further (those clans and sub clans again, just possibly). It left me for the first time in my life feeling sorry for a private transport system when the poor buggers are obliged to charge less for a single trip (2 and a half euros) than you would pay for most fairground rides in the UK. At any rate, en route we passed the island’s busiest and therefore most oppressive beach, with its booming by which I mean absolutely deafening disco bar the Poundaki. Off season massive Episkopi bay is an unpeopled dream where Ione my daughter and I have dawdled luxuriously with retsina and tiropittas twice in consecutive Decembers and in doing so more or less forgotten that the rest of the world exists. In August it is wall to wall recliners, beach tennis and the choice spectacle of fat blokes chainsmoking and using their phones in the sea, only pausing to shout hilariously at their noisy pals. After Episkopi is an even bigger bay at Apokrousi which while populous in high summer maintains some studied self-respect, even though there is a brand new beach bar called Coconuts, replete with decorated oil drum tables, which does its best to spoil things. From Apokrousi there is a very bad dirt road to Kolona used only by 4-wheel drives and pick-ups and the truth is if there was a decent asphalt road here the sea taxis would have much less trade, and the sole taverna possibly ditto. As it is the taverna owners seem also to own access to the whole of Kolona, as out of season the route to the villas that sit opposite are gated and padlocked, so that no one can drive there, nor can any pedestrian get easily onto the double beach itself. However I managed to clamber over the gate in April 2015, and was delighted by the total absence of tourists and there was but a single yacht bobbing up and down compared with the 20 or so of last week.

We were the very first flotilla of passengers arriving at 11am and the beautiful and massive sand spit was almost deserted. Most of the day trippers carried colourful parasols retailed at a uniform 10 euros in the port, to protect themselves from the heat, the wiser ones employing elaborate tent peg appurtenances and even attaching sizeable pouches containing heavy bricks to withstand the notorious Cycladean aeras = Strong Seasonal Winds. It is the quaintest thing in the world to be simultaneously roasted whilst having a ferocious gale blowing around you, often creating a vicious sand storm which can be painful to your pouting and incredulous face and your sadly unprotected arms and legs. Alert to which laughable contingency, a proud old Greek in his sixties with a permanent and exaggerated frown, accompanied by his relaxed and smiling wife, stood with a large brick battering in his parasol to a great depth. He then surrounded the pole with about 20 more supportive stones from the beach until he had a minor mediaeval fortification, doubtless impregnable. Prudent defences swifly seen to and with his wife beaming admiringly at the fact Kostas here never smiled at anything no matter what, Hunter Fisher Athens Man strode severely towards the briny and set about exploring the perfectly sandy bay before setting about some truly expert swimming.

He had just executed a majestic crawl the considerable length of the whole of Kolona and back, when there was a loud shriek from his wife as his erstwhile subjugated parasol went blowing with such appalling insolence into the Cycladean ether. It rose up and aloft and kept on magically going and finally it settled far off on the other side of the gate that guarded the dirt road up to Ag Loukas chapel. Kostas hesitated a whole half second and then snapped at his wife to go and get it, and as she dawdled  excessively at getting off her deck chair, he berated her at Episkopi beach bar volume, and she even seemed to bristle and thrill at the public castigation for of course only she knew that it was Kostas’s principal way of showing that he really cared about her.