Illegal Dancers at the Panigiri


Surf's up again. The waves got bigger and bigger all day. James and Joan arrived on the 12:20 dolphin which docked in town, but it's the last dolphin able to land for the next few days. James tells me all about his trip to Zarafona and I don't let on that we had been there yesterday. I ask him questions innocently.

"Does Niko still have goats?" I ask.

"Yeah he does." Says James

"Does he still keep them in the field in front of his house?"

"Yeah he still does." James still suspects nothing.

"Are there five of them?" I ask.

"Yes there were." He is slightly suspicious.

"Are three white and two black?"

"No they're not!" he snaps back. This questioning has clearly antagonized him in some way but he can't figure out why. He wants to tell me all about his trip to Zarafona and all I want to talk about are the fucking goats in the garden. Finally after tiring of torturing him I inform him that indeed we had just returned from there. He drops the conversation like a hot potato.

Andrea, Mitch and I go body surfing on the big beach until we're exhausted. We are invited up to James Crispy's house for cocktails but when Elaine and Andrea leave us to be there by eight, Mitch, James, Joan and I sit on the dock and watch the waves get bigger. There is a corner of the dock right in front of the bar where the waves hit and then reverse direction because there is nowhere to go. We absent-mindedly watch as every so often a large wave hits the dock and lands in the street. An extra large wave catches my eye and I say to the others "watch when this one hits." The wave hits the dock and a wall of water rises forty feet into the air. All the children ooh and aah it as it comes down. When the water hits the base of the wall in front of the bar it rises up again and the entire contents of the wave land on all the people sitting at the cafe tables on the patio. All the children, us included, laugh and laugh. It's like a scene from a Charley Chaplin movie. The people in the bar are all soaking wet. Many have to go home to change. We wait for the scene to repeat itself, but in the end realize we have witnessed the wave of the year and now we have to start up the road to Vrissi and the Panagiri.

When we arrive at James Crispy's house, Andrea, Elaine, Niko, Cora and James are drinking gin and tonics on the veranda listening to some kind of medieval Spanish church music that is so ponderous that all I can think about is the Inquisition. Andrea is furious that we are late and Elaine comments that the three beers we have brought with us are hardly a generous offering. Then with barely a word Elaine, Andrea and Amarandi leave me with James Crispy's music and memories of their anger. It's not a pleasant combination and while the others talk, I wait impatiently for the appropriate moment to get a word in that will permit me to follow my family and save what's left of my relationship with them. It's very difficult because Cora is more than eager to fill in any gaps in James Crispy's oratory. Meanwhile, Mitch and Niko are off on a magical journey of their own, discussing free-market economy and telecommunications, which leaves me in a kind of limbo, battling recent memories of my family and their anger. Finally I can take it no longer and tell them that I'm leaving. James Crispy insists I stay longer because the panagyri won't start until after ten, but I have already made up my mind and in fact I'm already out the door and half way up the hill. When I get there all the tables are full and Elaine and Andrea are fighting for a place in the food line while dealing with a demanding Amarandi. When they see me I am given instant penance, provided I stand on the food line for them. Recognizing a bargain I wade into the fray.

The dinner is a choice of chicken or goat. The girls want goat. There is also cold french fries, salad, feta and bread, all provided by the generosity of Lefteris Taverna who are charging a hefty sum. There is no wine, only cans of Amstel Beer. The new blood of Christ. I carry the huge tray to the platia where Elaine has captured a newly arrived table that has been placed between the party of Mister Octopus and the large table belonging to the new generation of beautiful Greek-Canadian girls. Panayotis, the fisher of kefalos is also next to us with his family. We could not have asked for better placement had we made the seating arrangements ourselves. We are close to the dance floor, which takes up half the platia, in front of where the band is set up but not yet playing. The katsiki (goat) is delicious, though by the time we reach the last few pieces the fat has congealed and is inedible to all but the most carnivorous member of our party. Andrea has relaxed her hostility towards me and Elaine, who never really holds a grudge, brings me back into the fold with a few comments and criticisms of our friends and neighbors. I'm home again.

Eventually Andrea leaves and the band starts. While his father sits silently, fiddle in hand, Kosta burst forth a staccato of bouzouki fire that blows out the eardrums of the old men and women sitting closest to the speakers. Each member of the band begins the doodling that will eventually lead into the first song, if it isn't already the first song. Kosta begins to sing, loud and unintelligible, his bouzouki drowning out the rest of the band, sending a message. It had been his father's band for a quarter of a century. Now he was old and frail. It is time for the next generation to step forth insuring a continuity in sound of what could probably be called the worst village band in all of Greece. While Kosta thunders through several almost recognizable tunes, his father sits patiently and awaits his turn. When it comes he does not disappoint the hundreds of fans who had taunted and laughed at him for fifty-five years, as they had his father, and his father before that. A squealing screaming, screeching cacophony of sour violin notes greets his friends and detractors with such force that they fall off their chairs with laughter. Old Mitsos is back for one last show. He is going to give them an evening they would never forget.

By the fourth or fifth song the band is smoking. Mitsos plays the crowd like a violin, perhaps a little better as he winks at the girls and nods to his old cronies who try their best to ignore him.

Elaine turns and yells to me, "Just listen to that beat," clapping her hands hopelessly out of time, as is Michali the drummer. I listen for it but soon give up, instead scanning the crowd for Mitch or my brother to share with me the burden of all this traditional enjoyment. I notice that the dancers are few and far between, in fact the only people dancing are Mister Octopus and Elaine. Elaine tells me the terrible naked truth. You have to pay to dance. I don't believe her so she has Panayotis the Kefalo Fisherman tell me it is true. It costs a thousand drachma to get up and dance.

"Where are you going?" Panayotis asks me.

"To the bathroom, to dance." I say. As more and more people stand up and join the circle of dancers, I begin to notice the glares that are directed at Mister Octopus and his friends as they dance among themselves off to the side. They are bootleg dancers. Dancing Pirates. Freeloading the music that everyone else has to pay for. In a way, they are criminals and I can see in the eyes of the people who had paid for the right to express themselves, that is exactly the way they feel about it. Hanging's too good for Mister Octopus and his renegade dancers. I smell trouble and there in the middle of it is Andrea's mom. I find Mitch and grab Elaine.

"C'mon. We're getting out of here." and off we speed before the men can un-sheath their daggers. Mister Octopus can take care of himself, I know. He'd teach those ruffians a lesson, laughing while he tosses them around like sacks of corn. We'll hear all about it at breakfast. Right now it is my duty as a son-in-law to keep Elaine out of harms way. She'd been running with a rough crowd playing a dangerous game. Dancing without paying was no laughing matter. I can already hear my father's voice on the phone asking if it were true what he'd heard about Elaine from his reliable sources. Once again I have brought humiliation to our family. But I know that this time by acting quickly I have nipped it in the bud.

As we walk down the mountain I decide to spare Elaine the lecture she expects. Let her think about it on the way down. Sure, now she resents me from taking her away from her friends but by the time she reaches the bottom of the mountain and the safety of Paralia she will realize I have defused a volatile situation. Perhaps she will thank me by not speaking to me for a couple days.

When we reach the bar, Niko the cop is waiting, several drinks ahead of me. "I saw your wife had to push your daughter all the way up to Vrissi in her stroller," he lectures me. "Did you at least push her down?"

I choose my words carefully. "I can honestly say that I don't remember pushing her down. What I do know is that if you don't grab your gun and get up to Vrissi there could be a lot of bloodshed. Your pal Mister Octopus is dancing without a permit and it's only a matter of time before the villagers take him to task." That is all Niko needs to hear. He orders another drink and settles into a dark corner for the evening, thanking me for the information. I go outside and join Mitch at a table closest to the sea. We talk about the difficulty of maintaining a relationship with the women we are blessed with.

"The way I see it you have two choices. You can send your wife to a psychiatrist. Or you can go together and pretend that you need psychiatric help too, even though we both know neither of us needs it." We nod in agreement.

"Or you can bite the bullet." says Mitch and we happily toast each others misfortune.

After discussing fourth and fifth options we part company. Mitch is planning on leaving tomorrow for Kos and Turkey. He will need plenty of rest for the trip, and I will need plenty of rest to survive without him, at least until Jack returns.

I can hear the wind blowing furiously all night. At one point I imagine I am being eaten by ants, only to awaken and find myself actually being eaten by ants. I go outside and sleep on top of the cistern looking at the stars. I'm thinking about my life, my habits, my dreams and my lack of desire for material things. I wonder about Andrea with her heightened sense of beauty and appreciation of art. I wonder if there is a correlation between that and her sensitivity to the things that bother her: like the weather, or the way I smell, or her intolerance for things that are not in order or do not run smoothly. I think about myself, drinking, eating, carousing, telling vulgar jokes, killing fish and fearing for my life from the Bulgarian, and now the curse of the smerna. I am certainly made of coarser material than Andrea, but does it matter? If sensitivity makes her more prone to suffering then doesn't it make sense to accept the way I am? To enjoy life and not feel guilty for not feeling bad? If there is a God who loves all his children does he love the ones who suffer more or does he love us all the same? I fall asleep wondering what Katina will make for dinner tomorrow night.

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