Yaya's Last Night


I come into the house at dawn and then search fruitlessly for twenty minutes for the fly-swatter after I see an army of the bothersome creatures on the inside of the screen massing for an attack. When I can't find it I go for a walk and watch the early morning sun on the sea. There's a couple white-washing one of the large houses and another old man carrying a can of fuel for his boat, but no other action. I walk home past the chickens and there I realize why we have so many flies. They have been crowded out of the chicken coop and we are the closest livestock available.

I go home and sleep again. The next time I wake up it's to the sound of Elaine and the old woman who owns the house next door trying to unlock the door. I lay in bed and play the, "Should I or shouldn't I Help?" game. As Elaine's desperation mounts and the sound of metal on metal becomes louder I realize my nap is over and go out to help. It's obviously the wrong key. It's shaped different from the hole but I try it a couple times before giving up.

Chrysanthos joins us for coffee. It's a real surprise. Maybe he likes Elaine. It would be a good match. Good for her anyway. We talk about fishing and Takis, the former owner of Tracodero who died last winter. Andrea takes part. Elaine complains about the price of houses and property. Finally the girls leave and we talk about what he is really interested in: Basketball. Just a couple of guys in an old house drinking Greek coffee and talking sports. I think I understand every word he says. He tells me Dominique Wilkins is coming here next season. Walter Berry played here the last four. Each year he played with a different team. Each year his team won the national championship and this year they went all the way to the European finals. Now, he is moving on to Italy. The conversation goes back to fishing and he tells me that the small rofos I have been seeing around will weigh several pounds by October. I thought it took years for them to grow that large.

I walk to the small beach south of town and start swimming from there. It isn't as rough as the day before but turning the corner still makes me a little nervous. Since this is to be Elaine's last night we are going to have a big fish dinner. The first fish I catch is a sargos so it seems that I might have a good day, but for some reason there are not many fish around. I had started an hour earlier than usual. Sure enough as the sun is setting behind the near mountain the fish start coming out from wherever they hide in the daytime. As I swim towards Agios Georgios and calmer water I realize that the wind has blown debris into the cove. I am swimming through a film of seaweed, dust, plastic, and other artifacts. It stops bothering me after awhile as long as I don't run into any large objects like pieces of wood and garbage bags. When I do, I panic, thinking I have been grabbed by a giant octopus, Portuguese Man O'War or a smerna. I pass the church and swim towards the lighthouse. When I reach the point of the peninsula I come face to face with the biggest kefalo I have ever seen. It's about three feet long and is swimming with a school of smaller kefalo, like Baby Huey of the sea. I actually have two shots at it because it behaves exactly as they do, swimming back and forth like target shooting ducks at an arcade. Each time my spear seems to go in slow motion and I miss badly. It might be divine intervention or maybe the strong current coming from the open sea. Eventually, the fish realizes that he has the whole sea and doesn't need to hang around in the same vicinity as me. I follow for awhile, but it's too rough and I turn back vowing to return the next day of calm waters. I start home, keeping an eye out for Andrea who said she might walk the path and meet me at the church. I catch a few more fish, and lose a couple that wriggle off the end of my spear. I also pass a couple of smerna and octopus, all of which I leave alone. I'm getting cold. I have been in the water for almost three hours and as I get closer to the beach, fresh spring water is pouring through the fissures making the sea even colder. Plus, my mask is too tight, giving me a headache. I remember the lesson of the barefoot walk and apply it to the cold. Sure enough it's all in my mind and just looking at it directly makes it disappear. It also follows that if pain is in the mind, so is pleasure. I start thinking about when I was a teenager and my friend and I were walking up a steep incline, complaining as we went. I said that if he leaned forward and pretended he was going downhill he would find the going much easier. I wasn't really passing on a time tested technique. It was something that came to me right then and sure enough we both tried it and it worked. Just by pretending to be walking downhill we had convinced our bodies it was true. But, even with this information I am still reluctant to walk up to Vrissi as Andrea has done several times. My mind over body method is easy, but certainly not as easy as hitching a ride.

When I come out of the water and begin to clean the fish, Andrea arrives. I continued to clean them, surrounded by hundreds of bees while she happily swims in the sheltered cove. When I finish we walk back to town. The little path that begins at the ruins of the old police station and ends at Agios Georgios is one of the most beautiful walks in Greece. It's a level path about twenty meters above the sea. In the morning and early afternoon when the sun is directly overhead it is quite hot, but in the late afternoon it is on the shady side of the mountain and with the sea breeze, is wonderfully cool. There is a small pine forest and there is thyme and oregano on both sides of the path. There is one spot that lacks only a comfortable stone or a park bench, to be the most perfect spot on earth. "That can be your gift to the village when you become a millionaire." Andrea says.

We join James and Joan for ouzo at the bar. While we are talking we notice a small boat drifting away. I point it out to Ester who has already seen it and told us her father-in-law is going out to get it. I realize that one of the old fishermen that I have been saying yassoo to every day for years, is Yannis the bar owner's father. I also realize they look exactly alike and I had to have been blind to have never noticed it before. It's a revelation of sorts and I watch him ride out in a small caique, rescue the stray boat and then return to the dock where he picks up all the little children and takes them for a boat ride. It's a beautiful sight in the softly fading light.

At dinner knowing we have plenty of fish I order one portion of kontosouvli for the table. Katina's daughter Dimitroula returns with a big plate. The fish keeps coming in installments and we end up feeding everyone in the restaurant like Jesus had. Everyone is thankful, more so than the people at my table who just complain. James says they are too difficult to eat and not worth the effort. Andrea calls the skaros a "soup fish" which is an insult to a fish that is delicious fried or grilled. Nobody else even says thanks, but when I walk back through the restaurant all the Greeks say it was very delicious. The old men drinking wine toast me. Even the old woman washing dishes happily munches on a kefalo as if it was a banana, bones and all.

James Crispy joins us. He has been depressed the last few days and makes no attempt to hide it. I would love to cheer him up but he had made me so self-conscious about my making light of his troubles last time he came to me for consolation that there is nothing I could say. I had made him see the funny side of his problems and he had even laughed and taken an "Oh, well. that's the way the ball bounces" attitude. Then, he had gone home and thought about it, deciding that I hadn't really made him feel better and that I was a typical cold-hearted American who takes other peoples' problems lightly. Perhaps it's true but I also take my own problems lightly. It just seems to me that it doesn't matter if you dwell upon them or ignore them, they seem to go away either way. Andrea complains about the same thing. Something will be bothering her and I will make light of it and tell her that in a matter of weeks, days or hours it won't matter and being upset just makes the time less bearable. If you get upset with everything that goes wrong then your life will be a living hell. Rather than get upset about your problems and setbacks, change the way you see them. You realize that the problem is not the problem. The problem is that you are upset about what you perceive as the problem. Maybe you can't change the problem but you can change the way you see it. You can decide that there is another way of looking at the problem.

But, back to James Crispy's "problem." The Athenian has been calling him and putting him through the ringer. If he wanted to be cheered up I think I could have done it, but not wanting to be called a heartless fascist again as he had labeled me, Mitch, and Americans in general, I sit quietly and let brother James and Andrea shower him with praise and questions about his art and his big exhibit on Thursday. Brother James tells him he is truly sorry that he would miss the show, with a kind of awe and respect in his voice that I reserve for chance meetings with my favorite rock stars and baseball players. James Crispy explains that it isn't a serious exhibit but one he does just for fun and for the villagers to know he wants to be considered one of the boys. His 'real' exhibits are in London, where he actually sells paintings. I suggest why not have it catered with mezedes and free-flowing wine and turn it into a fun party.

He counters "Why, because of your obsession with food?" That brings a laugh from my loving family. Apparently James is harboring some bitterness towards me.

"No," I explain. "If you're doing it for fun, make it enjoyable for everyone."

"Listen darling," he answers. "I have to do this for a living, not for fun."

This conversation is going nowhere so I decide to drop out. With me out of the way James Crispy is able to field questions about various shows and the transport and framing of his work. Finally, he excuses himself in gentlemanly fashion and goes off to the bar.

Mister Octopus is serenading Elaine with passionate love songs. He gazes into her eyes and sings a line in his fine deep voice. Elaine in an effort to keep him at a distance turns to us and translates each line. Finally Mister Octopus gives up in frustration. He is singing to her, not the idiots at her table. He goes back to his wife and in-laws while Elaine sneaks off for a cigarette.

When it's time to pay, Andrea asks Katina why she has charged us for two kontosouvli when we had only ordered one. Katina says that I had insisted on two which was a total lie. She has done this several times before and I had accepted it with the explanation that she was just a little eccentric. Now it dawns on me that all the joking around about sneaking past her so we wouldn't have to eat there, and her trying to entice us with each evening's menu isn't because she loves us and enjoys us being here. It's the money. She is greedy and everyone knows it but us. That's why most of the others eat at the Hotel, Lula's, Tiri's and especially Trocadero. We assumed we were the smart ones getting the real village experience. We would see our friends walking to Trocedero and be amused in our snobby, traditional, condescending way. Now I realize that people saw us as the fools, trapped in Katina's web. Unable to eat anywhere else for fear of retribution. I remember the tiny chicken the night after we had eaten at Lula's. I had even given Katina one of my fish tonight.

By the time I get home I am depressed. I lay in bed silently, not wanting to admit to Andrea that it's bothering me. Still, if we hadn't gotten all that kontosouvli, I couldn't have given the fish to everybody because we would have eaten it all. There is no question that our neighbors had enjoyed the fish too. For people who take great joy in eating sea-urchin eggs mixed with olive oil, a whole fried fish must seem like a gift from God. I resolve the issue by telling myself that things have a way of working out. Katina wanted my money. I didn't mind letting it go. And everyone else ate fish. What a perfect world.

On the way home we passed Chrysanthos' house. It is one of the nicest in the village with a beautiful garden lined with old pottery. It seems obvious to me that he is interested in Elaine and I encouraged her to go for coffee, or even climb over the fence and crawl into bed with him. But my suggestions make her very uptight. "I've turned down ten proposals since my divorce. Why should I be interested in him?" she tells me firmly. Whatever that means. I point out that he's just a generous old guy, a little lonely, who would make a nice companion. Elaine wants to live in the village. She would have a friend. Plus, he has style. He dresses well. He's very interesting and amusing. (He taught me the skaros song). But Elaine is a hopeless case when it comes to men. She won't admit she's terrified of them. She's spent the last eleven years watching TV, avoiding them.

But I think the problem is that Elaine has set these ridiculously high standards so she has an excuse to not get involved. The men really are attracted to her but they are working class. She feels she deserves more, or at least it seems. We had thought Crysanthos was a retired sea-captain. When we finally asked, he said he was a retired third machinist. Elaine had seemed interested until that moment. She lectured us. "A sea-captain has a certain elegance, a grace about him that ordinary men don't have and...blah, blah, blah." Sure. Like royalty. Here is this nice old man. Handsome, charming, energetic and in his own way very sophisticated while retaining a playful childlike quality, trying to make friends with her. Elaine rejects him for not being up to her social standards because he's not a sea-captain, when the truth is she's scared of him. Well, that's only my interpretation and I could easily be wrong. But this morning when I suggest she have coffee with him, since it is her last day and what harm could there be in it she lights into me with a vengeance. Perhaps it's everything she's been suppressing for the last few months. When I suggest she do it because he is a lonely old man and this one kind gesture would make him very happy she goes into a tirade about how she has spent her whole life helping people and he isn't her responsibility and so on. She then chases Andrea and Amarandi out of the house so she can be alone to pack her bags and clean up.

I think she's in love. Too bad she's going back to America tomorrow.

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