Conversations at Keza’s

Gia sou Vasili. Ela. Ti nea? Ti na sou keraso?”

Keza always greeted me almost like a son. Definitely like a nephew. His kafeneio is up in the village, a block away from the main square and church, in front of a triangle of roads where three roads meet in a low triangle.

“Your health, Basil. What news? What can I offer you?”

When I was younger I would ask for a gazoza, a carbonated drink. Now I ask for a coffee, metrio, and a cognac in the morning, or an ouzo in the afternoon.

The kafeneio is the heart of democratic royalists. Occasionally a visitor of another persuasion may attend, by virtue of a polite invitation, but most times the politics that is spoken is weighted on the right. In summer everybody sits outside, now around small metal tables and clean slatted chairs with rattan seats. The original furniture was rough wooden tables with village wooden chairs, the bases supported by tension wires under the straw woven seats. At one stage in the nineties when China flooded the market with cheap garish desire, the chairs worn chairs were replaced with ugly white characterless chairs. At least he recovered some sensibility in the local interior design sphere.

The long veranda faces east and is covered by a vine. The trunks of these are old and gnarled, the bark replicating the faces of some of the village men who sit in the shade of the translucent green leaves in the afternoon. The floor is simple cement and runs into a square interior through cream painted French doors. During the summer day these are closed with a beaded curtain keeping out flies as Keza delivers drinks to the customers under the shade. As the flies rest for the evening, the doors are opened but everyone sits outside anyway. In winter they huddle along one wall to play cards.

Opposite the veranda a counter runs the length of the shop. For most of its length the dark rough wood is empty, and in the corner is a glass fronted refrigerator with some beers, cool drinks, cheese and meat. Next to that is the old till and besides that along the end wall a two gas burner. Here Keza can make coffee in a briki, or boil up some lamb or goat stew to feed his customers.

He keeps a flock of sheep attended by his son; his son has not finished school and is challenged. As people die and their gardens are left untended in the village he can be found grazing the sheep in forgotten garden singing baritone klepht songs that are so beautiful they haunt you. The sheep stayed behind the house, next to the kafeneio. The smell of lamb and mutton, their droppings and rancid fat from carcasses hanging next to the kitchen added strong flavour to the air of this rustic kafeneio.

Xarika pou se eida, Vasili. As sto kalo. Xairetismata

“I am happy to have seen you, Basil. Go well. Greetings to all.”

Autumn with Keza standing next to my father in the Kafeneio 17 September 2007

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