My Yaya's House
The entire village is sitting at the bar, on the steps, on the curb, against buildings, like the sea is a big screen and the arrival of the ferry boat Theseus on it's return to Pireaus, is the film projected on it. I think of taking one of those group shots where you have the silhouettes numbered so you can identify all the people. It would come in handy. Whenever I hang out at Katina's with Vassili the Greengrocer I ask about the people who walk by. "Who is he? What's his story?" Vassili is obliging and informative but keeping track of everybody is difficult especially when half of them are named Panayotis.
So the boat comes and goes. Exactly one person gets off and a hundred get on including Monemos, Greg and Panayotis, whose last words to me are, "I will return in two days and then I will fish for kefalo every day. This is the best time to catch kefalo." I tell him the only ones who won't be sorry to see him go are the fish. As the ship sails off, the remaining people linger as if reluctant to end the party. As Andrea and I walk through the bar, the owner, Yannis Rovatsos, asks what's going on with the house. We explain how my hands are tied because of my father, and Andrea tells him the whole story about how we had gone to see our friend Nikos Papapavlos, the lawyer in Molaos and he had given us the papers we needed to begin to clear up the mess. My father had found out and accused me of "showboating" and conspiring against him, and refused to let me do anything with the house. Yannis says that we have to do something or they will tear down the house and that will be the end of the story. Talking about it incites my anger about the whole stupid situation and I think about what action I can possibly take from my position of helplessness with a view. I can sue the entire family, father, uncles, cousins, for control of the property and challenge them to hire lawyers and face me in the Greek courts, or make a commitment one way or the other, to become involved in the restoration, or sign away their claim. Another option would be to illegally restore it and move in and challenge the relatives to get me out, if they even realized I was there. It's a ridiculous situation. Nobody cares about the house enough to do anything and yet there is violent opposition to my efforts to restore it.
Inspired by these thoughts, we go to Vassili's everything store to buy locks and a chain to close up the house so that no children will fall in and get hurt. Vassili is by far the strangest man in the village. His shop is in the basement of his big house and contains boxes of all different sizes, most of them older than me. He knows where everything is, though sometimes he has to scratch his head and think about it for awhile. He is meticulous beyond belief and as Andrea put it "If you're not in the mood he can drive you crazy." Everything is wrapped and tied and must be dusted off before he puts it on the counter, which also must be dusted off before and after each item is placed upon it.
When we ask for the chain he isn't sure exactly what it is we want, but once he figures it out he goes straight to the far corner of the store and comes back with a rusty old dog chain. He places it on the old-fashioned scale he uses and fiddles with the weights until he gets it exactly right.
"A hundred and twenty drachma." he tells us.
Andrea asks how much rusty old dog chain costs by the gram and he doesn't know. I guess he just likes to weigh things before they leave the store for the last time. Maybe he has a ledger of the entire weight of all the contents of the store, down to the last gram and one of his joys is to keep it up to date. With the sale of the 325-gram rusty dog chain the store now weighs a total of…… Nothing about Vassili would surprise me. Andrea doesn't like him. She thinks he's a rip-off because his postcards are 160 drachma instead of the sixty they cost in the most expensive tourist shops in Athens.
"He's got a monopoly here and he takes advantage." Maybe so, but we just paid about fifty cents for a piece of chain that could be the first step in getting the house, or getting disowned by my father. A bargain.
Unfortunately the only locks he has are industrial size and we tell him we aren't interested. I hate to disappoint him by not buying something he shows me. He goes through so much trouble to find it, unwrap it, clean it, weigh it and figure out how much it costs, that I feel bad saying no. Then I have to watch him clean it, wrap it, tie it and put it back again. Then the process is repeated. You can really only buy one thing at a time when you shop there, unless you want to spend the day with Vassili.
We walk across the street to Yannis Zaferis store and find the locks right away. When we pay his wife she doesn't know how much they cost. Yannis was right outside but she says he doesn't know either, even though it is his store. Nobody knows what anything costs except Yorgo, who is not around. She tells us we can pay later.
So we lock up the house once again. Every time I do anything with the house my father hears about it in New Mexico. I'll probably get a nasty letter when I return to the states telling me that the village wants to have me arrested for putting locks on the door. One time he heard that I had taken a broom and a wheelbarrow and cleaned up much of the debris that had fallen from the roof into the house. He told me that the village police had orders to arrest me if I set foot into the house again. This seemed odd since the only police in the village was Niko the cop, who had been a constant drinking and eating companion that summer. It seems he would have mentioned it if he had orders to arrest me. It's just my father's way. "They all hate you in Kalohori." he told me one year. "Don't fool yourself."
Actually, the villagers seem to have opened up this year. Many of them have just realized they have been seeing me around for years and have finally asked the question, "Who are you anyway?" I overheard Christos Rovatsos, the informal patriarch of the village trying to figure out my relation to the Colombotos family. They all ask me if I'm the son of Yannis, the teacher from New York. No I'm the son of Niko and the grandson of Vasiliki and they all say "Yes, of course." Like now it all makes sense. And now they all say Hi to me on the street and they want to talk about the house and come by for coffee. And they love Amarandi. She's the Great-granddaughter of Vassiliki Colombotos who left Kalohori in 1915 when her family drowned because the kaiki bringing cows from Spetsi sank in a storm. My grandmother had been sent to live with a family in Alexandria, Egypt, and then immigrated to the United States where she married my grandfather, Yorgos Economopoulos. And Amarandi acts like it's a homecoming. She has never been happier, at least not this summer. She couldn't care less about the water. She seems to fear it in some way, but she loves the boats, the fish and she especially loves playing at Katina's with her distant cousin Panayotis.
We have an early dinner. Elaine orders brizolas, which she believes is filet mignon, but Andrea enlightens her and informs her they are porkchops. We have chicken and rice while Amarandi sleeps through it all. Halfway through the meal I hear my name being called from the street. To my surprise it's my young cousin Yannis Colombotos, my rival for Maria's affections from the night before, with his wife and child. So my jumping to conclusions had turned into a missed opportunity for sexual promiscuity. What a shame because Maria has left for parts unknown, perhaps Mykonos, Ios and Santorini like most girls her age.
Our wine and beer is paid for by Niko the contractor from Egalion and when the girls leave right after dinner as they always do, I am invited to join the working class guys for beer and octopus. Most of the talk focuses on the Greek-Canadians who race back and forth between the bar and Trocedero Pizza on their motorbikes. Niko's irritation is growing as he refills his beer glass and mine again and again. The octopus is grilled perfectly and tastes like the filet mignon Elaine thought she was getting.
Just then two of the offending Canadians make an abrupt U-turn and disappear down the alley between Monemo's cheese shop and my Grandmother's house. Right behind them comes the Peloponnesian Police Patrol jeep on it's evening cruise through the small villages. Niko sends a girl after the police so he can complain about the motorcycles and the disco that plays loud music til six every morning. "Even though it's two miles away you can hear it like it's next door," he claims. The girl comes back without the cops and by this time there is what seems to be an argument between the patrons at another table, but what is actually people trying to see who can agree the loudest. The police vehicle does make a return trip but nobody makes a move to flag it down and they drive off towards Metropolis, probably to have a drink or two at the disco.
So I stumble home about two after finding nobody to talk to at the bar. The night is clear and cool and I climb into bed with Andrea. Her body language says to me "get the hell out" and that is seconded when Amarandi wakes and wants to sleep next to her mommy, which leaves no room for me. I crawl over to my bed taking the forty dollar underwater flashlight with me and read a few more chapters of "If You Really Loved Me," the true story of a guy who convinces his daughter to murder his wife. I dream of catching kefalo, skaros and a mistress for thirty years.
Another lovely cloud-filled day. Nothing but the sound of cicadas, the cackle of hens and the occasional war-plane flying over the village. I look at the mountains and I think that it would be really cool to be a pilot. I suppose after awhile it's just like playing a really good video game except there is nobody to shoot down. For some people they are either at war or practicing for war for most of their life. I wonder how they behave at home? Why do jerks like Oliver North and Gordon Liddy have beautiful wives and lots of girlfriends? Are women attracted to macho guys like that? Do they beat their wives and train them to look good and smile for the cameras? Is war a release for their hostilities that enables them to be perfect loving husbands and fathers? What about us sensitive peace-loving guys? Why is it so hard for us to score? Could it be we are not aggressive enough? Do we all need a war of some kind, enemies to grapple with, to defend our families from? If we cannot find or create these enemies do we turn our hostilities towards the people we supposedly care about, or ourselves? It seems that way. Especially with my mother-in-law. Sometimes I feel hostile towards her and I ally myself with Andrea. Sometimes it's the other way around when I think that Andrea is being the antagonizer. Sometimes I wonder how I could be stuck with two women who remind me so much of my Jewish grandmother that it seems like I am paying off some tremendous karmic debt. One thing is for sure. I can be as ill-behaved as either of them so I guess that answers all my questions, except one. Why am I thinking about this stuff so early in the morning?
Time flies when you're doing nothing. I walk to my grandmother's house and look at the garden and what cleaning it up would entail. It's overgrown by an old grapevine and a fig tree that has sent out shoots, cloning itself all over the yard. There are a lot of weeds and debris that can be tossed into the basement of the ruined house through the window. It's a beautiful area with a cistern and lots of space to sit and enjoy one's privacy if it were to be cleared out. The house itself could be one of the nicest old houses in the village. Judging by its location in the center of town it has to be one of the oldest. It makes me sad to look at it. it reminds me of unfinished business. I think of all the plans I have made that were never completed due to lack of motivation. I realize that fixing this house will not make me happy, as nothing material can really make one happy, except for a moment or two. But it's a project. It's a journey. It's a problem to be solved but I am denied the right to try to solve it and I am the only one who wants to solve it. This house will continue to fall and in the end it will be paved over and Katina's customers will be able to park their cars a few meters closer to her store.
The dolphin arrives and the sea is so rough that people have difficulty getting off. A wave comes and the wing-like platform that they disembark from rises six feet off the dock before falling. A couple of times the metal supports hit concrete as the boat comes crashing down. But nobody I know gets off, nor is likely to for awhile. Still I have nothing better to do at 12:30 every day.