Another Perspective

- You Poles are hopeless. - Panayotis finally quit messing around in his garden and sat next to me on the stairs. He lit a cigarette and continued what he does best - winding me up. - All you care about is romance, honour, honesty and other nonsense. Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool, - he added hurriedly seeing my anger building up - it’s just purely impractical. Those long years of communism have killed your survival instinct, you know.

- What on earth are you talking about now? - I couldn’t believe my ears.

- Alright, you fought for your freedom, I’ll give you that. I know, I’ve heard and read about it all and I’m impressed. - he put his hands up.

- Our entire history is one gigantic fight. We’ve fought everywhere to be free, including Greece!

- Okay, calm down, lady. I know your patriotic madness. What I was trying to say is that your Shakespearian outlook has distorted your vision of reality blinding you from the way it actually is; bleak, boring, and grey. Put down your sabre and your golden armour my friend because the romance is dead!

- My goodness, Panayoti, cheer up much? - I wiped his spit from my face. - What are you getting at anyway? - he'd lost me.

- At your critical attitude towards one of the characters from Joanna Karystiani’s novel.

- Are you taking about that rotten, old hag? - seeing Panayotis' bitter expression, I rushed with a follow-up — I meant the character, not the writer.

- Why do you blame a lonely mother for trying to secure her daughters’ financial future? You should know that at the time Greece suffered from terrible famine - what’s wrong with trying to ensure your child's wellbeing? - he asked innocently.

- Sure but not at all cost. She sold her daughters like donkeys for money. - I explained.

- What do you mean? - he stared at me blankly. - Look, she meant well but it all went tits-up, okay? You know, the captains were a desirable commodity; if one was single, you had to grab him before someone else did. It was a ticket to a comfortable life. As the mother used to say ‘no money, no honey…’

- What about happiness?! - I objected sharply.

- It depends how you define happiness... - he answered blankly staring into the horizon.

- Did you marry out of love? - I asked suspiciously.

- Luckily, yes. - he answered.

- Was she loaded? - I kept harassing him.

- She was! So what? - he hit back in defence.

- And what if she wasn’t? - I asked arrogantly. I’m ashamed to say I enjoyed torturing him.

- We both had money and it's thanks to this fact that we’re both still happy. Poverty can ruin even the greatest love story. - he mumbled somewhat embarrassed by his own pragmatism. - Greece is different nowadays. EU membership has opened many doors and the younger generation thinks differently. Yet money is still one of the leading agendas of many families today who still live by the ‘old rules’. They see the family as a business and thinking with one’s heart too much as a threat to its success.

- And what about personal fulfilment? - I wouldn’t back down.

- That's a whole different and rather controversial matter. Do not think that some of those nautikoi didn’t fulfil themselves somewhere on the other side of the world… And their wives… well… it worked both ways…

- That’s so sad… - I hang my head in disappointment. Maybe I was a hopeless romantic after all?

- Yes, drama was an integral part of those people’s lives. But in the end every ship always calls at its port, if you know what I mean. - Panayotis took a drag of his cigarette and inhaled deeply. - Regardless of everything, those people’s fortunes became legendary. The whole thing was kind of poetic; the brave seamen at the element’s mercy and the Penelopes patiently awaiting their husbands’ return. To ensure a safe homecoming, the sailors often made a deal with God: ‘If you bring me back in one piece, I’ll build you a chapel.’ which is why this place is so full of them. There’s around six hundred churches in Andros! - Suddenly I remembered my bus journey from Gavrio to Mesaria. So that’s why the passengers crossed themselves obsessively at every corner…

- It’s worth adding that being within those circles and not marrying a sailor was seen as a disgrace. - he added in a serious voice.

- What about your rigid morals? It seems four hundred years under the Turkish rule has left an imprint on the Greek society? - I questioned him ruthlessly.

- The occupation has definitely left its imprint, though I assure you, this has little to do with the Turks. This rigidness originates from the era of Dorians and applies exclusively to women. I know what you’re thinking and yes, the younger generation is more emancipated but the older folk is still on the conservative side…

- Do they respect these conservative rules? - I continued.

- Officially, absolutely! Unofficially, well, let’s just say they tend to do their business on the side, if you know what I mean. - he chuckled.

- That’s madness! It’s like putting yourself in chains and throwing firecrackers beneath your feet! - I screamed outraged.

- True but that’s our DNA. We still live in the culture of shame. We tend to attribute our weaknesses to supernatural forces because it’s easier to say ‘Panagia mou, what possessed me?!’ than admitting one’s fault. We don’t fear God as much as we fear public opinion…

- So in other words, Greeks are always right, fair and innocent?

- Bingo! - he exclaimed and laughed out loud. - Living in denial has it’s positives and is the secret of our high spirits. - he said cheerfully opening his arms. - We’re half Christians and half epicures; life’s too short not to enjoy it so eat, drink and dance like there is no tomorrow. Our traditional dance is not some folkloristic nonsense but rather a meaningful prose, an encoded message which we send to those who can read it. You can bet your bottom dollar that if you play your comb a Greek will dance to it! We love doing it and you foreigners come over from all corners of the world to watch it, even though you don’t understand a thing about us. You wish you could afford this kind of unapologetic freedom but you can’t. You’re the ones in chains, not us.

Touché! He might be annoying but it was a hell of a comeback, I’ll give him that. Although his punchline left me wondering about my future love life here in the Balkans, it was interesting to get an insight into the values so different from the ones I knew.

- Don’t think too much of it. Come upstairs and have a glass of wine with me and my wife! - he run upstairs all excited mumbling a tune to himself.

It was almost dawn. The golden hour had faded and the previously sun-splashed mountaintops gradually dissolved into the twilight. As Meltemia calmed down the buzzing of cycades in the distance became more prominent. The night had come. I guess Panayotis was right - it was time for a drink! Opa!

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