The next post will be on or before Sunday 25th March. If you want to read my new comic novel about online dating, The Lawless Book of Love, please go to the January and February 2018 archives, see well below and to the right.
SEXUAL BEHAVIOUR IN THE CYCLADES
Regular readers will be aware that I used to spend a great deal of my time in the port’s late lamented Glaros Café which closed down last summer, so much so that I often referred to it as my devtera spiti or second home. I estimate I must have gone in a minimum of 300 days a year, meaning at least 1000 times after I arrived in Kythnos in September 2013. Though women were always welcome, the Glaros was par excellence a man’s cafe, the last old fashioned kafeneion on the island, replete with motley objects stuck on the wall (odd bits of marine flotsam, ancient shepherds’ animal skin water bottles, at Christmas a complete outfit of Agios Vassilis’s/ Santa Claus’s clothes but, moderately unhinging to contemplate, no actual Santa Claus) not to speak of Marianna’s substantial collection of books, some of them unabashedly literary (e.g. Knut Hamsun’s Hunger in Greek) which made it an informal library or even as I once said to Marianna who bristled proudly at my suggestion a little Kythniot panepistimio/ university. Because it was the cheapest place on the island, the Glaros tended to be busy all the year round, regularly full to the gills with labourers both Greek and Albanian, fishermen, shopkeepers taking a break, farmers, builders, electricians and even very occasionally a fearless foreign tourist.
The relevant point is that all the staff were female, the two handsome sister owners Marianna and Chrisoula, fiftyish and late forties respectively, and a succession of seasonal waitresses as a rule in their early thirties, and all of them attractive by any standard. I used to reflect that if this had been a West Cumbrian or North Cumbrian pub, the nearest small community equivalent with which I was familiar, there would have been autopilot flirting by men of all ages, from their late teens to their early nineties, some of it loaded with that exquisitely English sexual double entendres supplied by that other informal UK university known as the Carry On movies. In case you aren’t familiar with this perennially popular entertainment and its more or less unchanging cast, it is all to do with rude punning about sexual and occasionally toilet functions, and even the film titles themselves can be puns. Carry on Up the Khyber is nominally about the 19th C Afghan wars but Khyber is also Cockney rhyming slang for Khyber Pass = Arse. Carry on Camping has campers innocuously ‘bunking up’ which is also jovial English slang for having sex. Believe it or not certain optimistic British cultural commentators have tried to argue for the artistic merit and creative content of the Carry Ons whereas veteran anarchic director the late Ken Russell (1927-2011) sensibly went public that they were in fact unmitigated rubbish. Notwithstanding, with the filmic doubles entendres mentality as watertight testimonial, in those Cumbrian pubs it would be absolutely standard for certain male customers to make usually low level but occasionally brash and overt sexual innuendo with the female bar staff. At least with some of the older women employees, they would even at times seem to be gamely encouraging it, though I wonder now how much that was rueful learned expectation rather than authentic flirting for fun and for possible maintenance of middle aged self-esteem.
Whatever the case, in my 1000 plus visits to the Glaros, to my surprise I never once saw any of the rough and ready men in there even mildly flirting or being remotely suggestive with its two proprietors, Marianna and Chrisoula, much less the seasonal younger staff, all of them apart from married Marietta being single and notionally available. A great many of these men were divorced or single and in their fifties plus, and it wasn’t that they didn’t have sex drives, as believe you me they were often asking me with no little desperation if I could somehow get them a woman from the UK, possibly by mail order. None of them spoke a word of English, but the fishermen among them would regularly tell me to instruct such eligible UK ladies that by way of enticement they could have any amount of lobster, and/or posh sea breams in the way of fangkri, dourada, sargos and other tasty and, if eaten in Kythnos restaurants, extortionate fish. Stranger still these mostly uneducated men were so polite, old fashioned and respectful, that if say beautiful Chrisoula was in a compromised physical posture on account of e.g. furious internal window cleaning when stood on a chair, with her shapely backside being only six inches from old or young or middle aged Kostas’s nose end (there were always at least 3 Kostases in the Glaros) none of these Kostas avatars would make jokes or naughtily pretend to reach out or even acknowledge that her rear embonpoint was there. Such a chaste scenario would have been wholly unlikely in the small town Cumbrian context, and if I have to scratch round for explanations, maybe the only feasible one is that even the roughest male Greek diamond of any age, even if they rarely go inside an Orthodox chapel, would still have old fashioned and always respectful religious instincts imbued in their bones. As evidence of which on certain holy days the young Horio priest would bustle businesslike into the Glaros, and give every man there (me the Englishman included) an individual blessing, and not one of them did not reach eagerly towards him and thank him warmly and emotionally for the favour.
There are always deplorable exceptions needless to add, even on tiny and unvisited Greek islands. 3 years ago, I wrote about the very awkward yet audacious young man, Mikhailis. a mechanic with a nasal and piercing voice of about 25 from Loutra in the north, who on New Year’s Eve 2014 plonked down opposite me in the Glaros with my daughter Ione adjacent, and tried to do a deal with me whereby I would enthusiastically encourage her to date him. Ione speaks Greek and understood fully what this reckless Lothario was proposing, namely that if I could urge her to go in his romantic direction he would reward me with a couple of nights with a desirable young woman of mid 20s in a deserted shack somewhere on the remote northern coast, and not only that but limitless doppio krasi (homemade wine), feta cheese and lavish quantities of (it was to be presumed organic) honey. Even assuming I hadn’t been stunned by his anachronistic feudal approach to courtship, I would have jibbed at the homemade wine. For even though all the Kythniots love it, to me it tastes like stale cold tea into which someone has drunkenly urinated. When I later told Marianna and Chrisoula about Mikhailis’s unusual offer they laughed uproariously and said he was a nutcase who knew no available young women, nor did he have access to a remote shack with unlimited cheese, wine and honey, whether organic or uncertified.
2 years later the same Mikhailis was to be observed, looking rather restless, in one of the noisy and overpriced bars at the far end of the bay. That night he and another man caused an outrageous ruckus even though they were not in league but engaged on quite separate enterprises. Mikhailis suddenly decided to beat up violently a harmless law-abiding farmhand with a severe squint from the Hora called Panos who he accused of making eyes at his girlfriend Zacharoula, a slim, dark-haired shop assistant from Horio. At that point Zacharoula shrieked her incredulity and said that not only was Panos not eyeing her up, even if he was confusingly cross-eyed, God bless him, but she wasn’t malaka/dickhead Mikhailis’s girlfriend anyway, as like everyone else on the island she believed him to be an idiot and acted accordingly. Self-evidently Mikhailis was a fantasist who wanted a girlfriend so much he ended up believing Zacharoula was his own, though she had never once cast her eyes less than uncharitably in his direction. Then just as everyone was picking up Panos and wondering whether he needed a doctor or not and urging idiot Mikhailis to fuck off before they rang the police, further mayhem originated from immediately next to the bar. A man of fifty called Dimitri who had no connection to Mikhailis and who was married, and a devout Orthodox Christian who crossed himself every time before he ate or passed a church, even if there were ten large and small ones in a row as he drove his farmer’s pickup from Ormo Skhilo, had suddenly acted grotesquely out of character. He had reached out and crudely pinched the behind of the twenty-year-old barmaid Anna, less than half his age, as she was serving drinks to a bunch of tourists and was stooping a little as she conscientiously mopped down their table. Anna was naturally outraged and shrieked abuse at him, but did not slap his face much as she wished to, because Dimitri was a serious body builder and had a lengthy history as a one-time casino bouncer in Thessaloniki up north. Anna stalked off and angrily complained to her boss 60-year-old Stamatis and after half a second’s deliberation he likewise decided not to reprove nor even confront muscle man Dimitri for his unpleasant behaviour. At which enraged and thoroughly betrayed Anna took off her apron and walked out never to return, and devoutly religious Dimitri sat grinning and insisting it had been a fun and wholly inconsequential pinch, and meant nothing whatever in the eternal scheme of things.
Sexual harassment of any kind is never a joke, though it is taking a very long time for a lot of men to wake up to the fact. The recent exposure of gross and abusive harassment by men in positions of power in the US film media and elsewhere, and the fact it has been an open secret for decades, makes for deep historical as well as present tense anguish in the hearts of all striving professional women in whatever career they are engaged. It almost invariably boiled down to a kind of disgraceful and disgusting blackmail, of powerful men and one in particular threatening to ruin young women’s careers if they mentioned the fact that the top honcho had met them semi-naked in his hotel room and was requesting masturbation for starters and everything else to follow. That kind of monstrous coercion is also the ugly motif in the harrowing sexual abuse of children where the child is threatened with everything from e.g. removal from its family, to the killing of its adored pet or even of the child itself if it squeals on the abuser. In the scale of things small children can be made to believe anything, whereas young women in the film industry are not usually threatened with personal extinction (though horrifyingly it is not so in e.g. the coercive international sex industry currently going on day after day in most large UK cities under our ignorant noses). The one thing that can be said about all sexual abusers and sexual harassers is that they are not functioning adults, but deeply infantilised narcissi wholly incapable of putting themselves in their victims’ shoes. The vicious lackeys and cohorts of sex traffickers, likewise can be encouraged towards psychopathic indifference to the victims’ fates by plentiful payment of copious non taxable dosh in the hand. Another appalling variation is where the abuser adopts a public persona where they are seen to be so outwardly virtuous that they cannot possibly be guilty of the awful crimes they are perpetrating in secret. For example the serial predator, UK TV celebrity Jimmy Savile (1926-2011) did epic, truly staggering amounts of charity fundraising, raised millions of pounds for good causes that is, which was surely his grossly alienated sympathetic magic tactic for dissociating himself from his multiple decades as a flagrant abuser. The eerie logic would run that if I do all this phenomenal amount of open public good, I Jimmy Savile cannot really be doing anything that amounts to a phenomenal amount of covert evil.
By comparison gormless Mikhailis the mechanic imagining he has a girlfriend when he has not, and beating up squint-eyed Panos for supposedly ogling her, is almost rustic innocence itself. That said, nobody likes being publicly assaulted in front of their friends, and least of all if you are a cross-eyed farmhand and looking at nothing in particular at the time.