Conversations on Chest Pain and Chestnuts

The platea (square) in Tripoli is edged by chestnut trees. In early winter the fruits fall to the ground and are roasted by vendors over charcoal fires. The aroma takes the change out of your pocket to nibble on these delights. Simple flavours burst open hinting at the lazy summer that has just passed in Greece.

My father would always buy chest nuts at least once a season, but not every time he was in town. He did it as an acknowledgement of the end of summer and the beginning of winter.

When he used to walk in the mountains nearby, at a point where he would stop at a spring to taste the sweet water, he would rest to ease his chest pain. He had a silent myocardial infarction in his forties. I recall him mentioning this later in his life: a fact confirmed by the cardiologist report at the time of his bypass as a 67 year old.

Why am I telling this story?

I wish the peace of eating chestnuts in Tripoli could ease the chest pain. Mine too. But it does not.

The same trees line the platea in Levidi, the closest big village to ours. Winter evenings are bustling when they have a panigiri (fair) and the streets are lined with stalls selling counterfeit Greek music CDs and cheap Chinese trinkets. They also sell roasted chestnuts over coal fires on the corners. Eating them does not help the chest pain.

Over the last 15 years my father used a taxi driver whose name was Stavros. He lived in a neat house with his wife and 3 daughters and a vegetable patch in the road just up from the main square. He parked his Mercedes Benz W123 under a car port next to the vegetables. A few years ago he got a new E Class. He was not the greatest driver, but was better than Alekos. His speedometer did not work but we all knew he was speeding by the swaying we felt and nausea that rose in our throats.

He had a great relationship with my father. He was his right hand man, like Don Quixote’s Sancho Panza. He would fetch him at the airport and take him home to the village. He would take him to meetings in Athens and wait for him to finish and drive him back. The trip was about two and a half hours long, each way. They did that in a day, with a bank board meeting in between.  I am sure Stavros cleared my father’s mind on these occasions with some simple Greek philosophy.

A while after my father died, Stavros called my mother to ask what he should do with the money my father left him. My mother did not understand? Peter had left it in case he arrived in Athens with no money and needed to be picked up. He never needed it. So my mother told Stavros to keep the money.

I guess he can use it to buy chestnuts in winter. It’s just that they do not help with chest pain.

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