Conversations as I look past my feet

There is a photograph that was stored on my father’s small Olympus camera. He was in the alone in the village and had taken a whole lot of pictures of the house, the village, the mountains and the plain filled with red poppies. He was alone because from the time my mother had her spinal surgery travel became difficult for her  and she tried to limit flying because of the discomfort it caused her. So she went with him in summer for a few weeks, but stayed away in the colder spring, autumn and winter when he went to Greece to attend Bank of Athens board meetings.

He was very proud of this appointment and I believe he contributed to the bank and board in his stern principled manner. But secretly he was proud because now he had an excuse to go to Greece four times a year and instead of staying in a five star hotel in Athens near Kolonaki, he would stay in the Patriko, in his father’s house in the village of Kakouri.

On the day of  the board meeting he would arrange with his taxi driver Stavros, who was from Levidi, a bigger village nearby, to take him to Athens   and drop him off at the bank. No doubt he introduced him proudly to all the other board members. He was, after all, a sort of batman for my father. Stavros was also connected to important people. When he first met my father and started taking him to Athens, his cousin was the Head of Interpol in Brussels, and then took over as Chief Security Officer at the new Eleftherios Venizelos Athens Airport.

They would have left at 7 am from the village and got to Athens at about 9 am for the whole day board meetings. My father would have done his homework, studied all the papers and documents before hand, and after the meeting would return dead tired to the village, sometimes at 9 pm. Noula, who looks after the  house for us with her nieces, would have left a simple salad with cheese and bread for him to eat on his return. He would also sip some homemade Retsina.

Then he would crash into bed. He had chosen the south west corner room. It had windows on each corner wall, one with a view of Mainalon and the other west looking over the adjacent almond grove to a small hill and further on towards the little church he built, Agios Nectarios. The room was simply decorated, a typical village modern functional dresser, built in cupboards and the bed. On the bedside tables rested pictures of us, his children, and all six of his grandchildren. There were always magazines nearby, and the obligatory few comics for light entertainment. There was no television in that room.

So he took this photograph one day. He was the happiest man in that room, in that house, in that village.

17 May 2008

Conversations while Looking at a House

No 45 in Kakouri lies on the southwest comer of the intersection of a small tar back road from Tripolis  to the bigger village of Levidi and a road that goes up into the village and down into the planes to the even smaller village of Simiades, in the  shadows of the tallest mountain in Arcadia, Mainalon.

The intersection is criss crossed at roof level by a Zembetiko dance of telephone and power lines. My father always used to look up and say:

“See how clean the air is here. The wires have been up for years and still shine”. Somehow it was true. I can still see the spirals in the cables clearly.

The main gate to the house cuts a small corner off the property. The old gate was a rough wooden plank affair, with an old cement slab between two columns. A vine used to struggle to cover this from the village side. The original wall was of stone, roughly put together and low. It was whitewashed every year. A few years ago when my father finally sorted out ownership of the adjoining property amongst the cousins, he build a garage where the family stables were and over an old threshing ground. He build a smart low wall with a metal balustrade, and made a gate of the same. The cobbled stone front courtyard suddenly looked neater and quite suburban, and the grapevine made way for a struggling rose or two.

The house is two storeys, made of stone. There are small holes in the masonry that held the rough wooden scaffold as they built the house which was completed in 1936, the year my grandfather John came back to the village to marry his bride Marigo. The red village tiles rise in a simple quadrangular cone above the lines, so that if you were on the roof you would have an uninterrupted view of Analipsi to the north and Mainalon to the south, and a great swath of summer blue sky between. From the street and even the first floor verandas, the view is as good but the sky loses impact with the black and silver lines.

The lower floor which would have held the animals in winter is above the cellar which still holds wine barrels and would have stored earthy potatoes and luscious red apples that seem to increase in flavour in winter until they were brought up cold and refreshing as dessert after a rich winter stew for lunch at any of the villagers houses. At the entrance to the cellar is a wine press whose drain aims into the stairwell, so that buckets can be placed to catch the freshly pressed juice.

The wine press is under the steps that lead outside to the first floor veranda and main door. We seldom use that door, but the concrete structure has been clad with stone tiles to make it look less modern and the cement slab that shades the veranda from the fierce afternoon sun has a pine ceiling to cool it off. The original would have been of wood, planks thick enough to hold the weight but thin enough not to cost to much. They never lasted, as can be seen in any of the older neglected houses in the village, where sometimes only the beams and struts remain.

No 45 Kakouri at Night