Conversations with My Father’s First Cousin

Panayiotis is the son of my father’s mother’s sister, Christina. He was born between my father and me, and was my father’s most important family connection in Greece, and the only real cousin I adopted in Greece. All my first cousins are in South Africa, Australia or the USA.

Panayiotis is the sort man that will drive four hundred kilometres to share an ouzo with you, then drive back at midnight to work the next day. He is a great guy that has built a small empire in his suburb of Athens, the Forest of Xaidari. The only forest that remains is the olive grove that covers his property, which is the only garden with a house amongst neat apartment blocks. He has green fingers and plants vegetables alongside the olives and has a driveway lined with winter and summer orange trees. The summer trees  are in blossom as spring unfolds in Athens.

I have not seen in him in a year but it is as if we have not called since yesterday. He exudes a genuine caring and he has a mystic mix of spirituality and capitalism. His spirituality comes from annual sojourns to Mount Athos where he fasts with monks and his capitalistic streak emanates from his mother, who, when they were small used to go out at night and move the boundary stones of their Athens  property. Notwithstanding the real estate gains, he started building apartments around the house and now has a collection of non government employees paying rentals. In anticipation of the economic crisis that hit Greece he reduced his rentals in 2010 by twenty percent and again by a further ten percent this year. He has kept all his tenants and they seem t be paying the rent. He delivers basket of home grown produce to each of the apartments as he harvests. His daughter, Dionysea, named after her grandfather Dionysius, and also the god of wine by the same name, knows all the tenants by first name and can list them as if she is repeating the alphabet. She is only seven years old now.

Panayiotis came out for my brother’s wedding. He arrived with a beautifully cut suit, specially tailored for the wedding. In the days before the wedding my mother arranged for the suit to be pressed at the dry cleaners and my father then substituted one of his own suits with the same fabric, carefully placed under the plastic cover with the tag attached. Panayiotis left the suit in the plastic till the day of the wedding. When he dressed he was dumbstruck that his pants were too long and the waist too narrow. He accused the drycleaners of messing up his suit and was so upset he shouted at my father through closed doors that he could not attend the wedding. My father was silently laughing, but egging him. “Imagine what people will be saying: I brought my cousin from Greece for the wedding and he did not want to some because his suit would not fit! Perhaps, Panayiotis, you should try another suit?”

“How will you find one to fit me?”

“Try it anyway”, said my father, proffering it through the crack  door.

As he fitted it he exclaimed “this is just like my suit!” and then he realised he had been duped.

Until he got his own back. Many times. The Greeks call it plaka.

Panayiotis in his garden

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