Conversations on the Threshing Floor

When we first arrived at the village there was a threshing circle alongside the house, just behind the outbuildings which were co-owned by a cohort of cousins, including my father. Eventually he struck a deal, exchanging, I think, most of the land for a small strip which he enclosed to build a fourno, garage and to grow a vegetable patch.

With the arrival of mechanical threshers long before us in the village, the circular threshing floor remained unused until part of it was covered by the garage and the rest of it lost in the field that feeds the odd goat or sheep. The threshing circle was made of white stones from the nearby river, packed tightly together to form a smooth enough surface for the horses’ hooves to crush the wheat ears. I can imagine the villagers bringing their wheat in wagons or on the backs of donkeys to be threshed. I imagine everyone would have taken a turn, young and old, male and female, to toss the crushed material into the wind, letting the wheat fall to the ground and the chaff blow into the field.

At lunch time they would have taken a break, eaten some thick crusted chewable village bread with feta from their sheep’s milk. The village onions were like apples and would have made a perfect tangy accompaniment to this peasant meal. Perhaps they drank some retsina, watered down to allow them to continue to work. The Ancient Greek armies had rules of dilution for wine serving: before a battle they watered it down, a quarter wine and the rest water. After battle, if they survived and were victorious, they celebrated with full strength wine.

I do not know if they had communal threshing sessions, or if they each did their own. I suppose then, like now, there were family feuds and some families probably threshed elsewhere. Perhaps they would have a party afterwards, as the autumn sun fell behind Mainalon and cast a shadow across the flat plain. It is easy to hear a clarinet playing in those hills. The sound of the wind in the silence hints at this music when you walk quietly in the evenings down from the house, across the river bed and along the edge of the plain.

This threshing floor also had an old wagon parked on it when we were small. We would climb up and sit on the seat, making imaginary horse drawn expeditions into Arcadia. Until we lifted the wooden lid of the seat to find some treasure left behind and were stung by hornets.

It was just a circle of stones next to our house. If it that threshing floor was still there now I would go along at full moon and sit in the middle of that ancient circle with a bottle of retsina and bread and cheese. It would be obligatory to have some wild mountain music playing and I am sure the spirits of the past would visit me and allow me into their world.

The view over the site of the threshing floor

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