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Calm days in Nisyros (III)

The island is so small that after few days we have seeing almost all the characters.
There is one who follows us from bar to bar. The village idiot.
The doctor has banned alcohol and coffee to the village idiot. He jumps the coffee ban only every half hour. With the money from his pay, and sometimes without to pay, he spends the days sitting in bars and smoking nonstop. When his half-smoked cigarette switches off, he lights it with the huge flame of a lighter, constantly burning his eyebrows.
The madman is young and wears a beard. He talks endlessly and shamelessly. To a hard worker who stopped for a coffee he tells that he spends the day sitting at the bar instead of on the job. To a foreign girl that her swimming suit is so short that it is a sight to see.
On the island all somehow tolerate and respect him. They do not say the word crazy in front of him and they never answer to his hurtful comments. Just quietly, and without him to hear it, they ask you to not be angry, to understand that the boy has a problem. Was that how insane were treated also in ancient Greece?

As all these islands emerged in such a historically strategic place, Nisyros also keeps its thousands years’ treasures. The proximity of Minor Asia just gives a bit more of color. So much that the ships of Nisyros participated in the Battle of Salamis ... but on the side of the Persians! And this island, such as Kos which is its sister in historical matters, was always closer to Alexandria than in Athens.
It is to hear ‘Alexandria’ and Kavafis comes to the mind. Knowing it I brought his complete works and we take it to the hill overlooking the port of Mandraki, right where the ruins of the acropolis rest.
The cyclopean walls have stood the test of the past quarter century with all its grandeur intact. Huge basalt stones perfectly fitted to convey an impressive sense of strength, serenity and security.
By the time passing, just a bit below the ruins, in the caves of the cliff which protects the walls from the sea, some knights built their own castle. Later in the castle it appeared from nothing or from the magic and impressive monastery and the walls above lost all charm. Then almost nobody has ever bothered to stop by; during centuries; same for pirates than for tourists, if there is any difference. And the walls are still intact at the top of the rock.

We sat among the stones and read Kavafis, who speaks of Greek cities like this one and about youth and love. At the time of Pericles people saw from these walls afar arriving the Greek ships, or Persians. Or even Achaeans. When staring to the horizon in the mist of the summer can still almost be seen the red sails approaching in the distance.
It would be need a Kavafis poem to describe the nervousness in that moments; the hesitation of those boys in the Acropolis knowing that they will be attacked. It happened on these same stones. Young people in this tragic moment thinking on their fears, their priorities, their family or on a way out. According to the poet, also thinking on kissing, perhaps for the last time, the beloved lips. Before the battle.

That night was the last one in Nisyros and we drank few glasses of retsina and tsipuro at the narrow pier of Mandraki sitting in a taverna. There were waves and storm. To us came the sound of the waves breaking just below and the air was loaded with salt water.
The storm roared and the waves splashed up to the bar where a group of friends were practicing folk music songs. With a batzouki, a clarinet and several other instruments, singing louder than the waves, challenging the storm which lashed the place. As making it clear that little Nisyros does not cares for what happens off the island.

Calm days in Nisyros (II)

The happy days are so long and become so short!
In Nisyros we spend them in taverns or walking around. Hardly we find some time for more predictable things, such as swimming or fishing. In the port of Palli fishermen give us baits every day; as they see that I fish something every day they become more and more reluctant. The last day they tell us ironically: if you come back every day it is because you found a good site. You are going to be a competition for us. Casually that day they have no other fish to lend. But I used dried fish from the previous day, and fishes bitted again.

The fishes I fish are always of the same type. A fish of mud called here German. The name comes from the fact that these fish first appeared here as the Germans, in the sixties. You have to touch them with care and only by the gills as the rest of the skin has a strong toxin. The skin is tough and rubbery, but the meat tastes great, at least as it is cooked by the lady to whom we bring it every day!

Of all the bars on the island there is one that, besides all, is a bit our house. It is off in a village at the top of the mountain, just above the crater. It is the bar of Vassilis and the village is called Nikia. When we told him that we were sleeping in Mandraki Vassilis began to complain against big cities, telling that no one can live there; definitively he prefers smaller places and to be close to the friends. Mandraki has five hundred inhabitants. Nikia, forty-five.

When we got to the bar for the first time we ordered iced tea, because we had to drive. We got the tea and a glass of raki (distilled snapps) ice cream. We drank courtesy and then he sat with us and explained that the cold raki must be drank it all at once, to avoid it to get warm. And he filled again the glasses. I replied "No thanks." and he: "No, we said it in 1940! Drink and shut up!", so we drank. So it all started.

During the next three hours at the bar we just asked for water, tea and cola, but we also drank few glass of wine and not less than twelve pint bottles of fix beer. We also finished one bottle of raki and started the second.

In the middle of an alcoholic delirium, interrupted only by few matches of tavli with Manolis, Vassilis oldest son, we finished into the islands’ free verse.

In these islands in parties and paneguiris people often end up throwing little poems of four lines. Most are written in advance, many improvised or changed in the moment. Vassilis is a master in verse. The trick to success in these cases is to choose the right one for all times. Thus his first poem brought an air of Omar Khayan:

 I do not drink to get drunk,
and when I'm drunk I do not drink,
and when I'm in nice company,
 I drink it all.  

That series continued with few others under the general idea that, as he says, when fell thunder and lightening god decided to create the drunks. Then Vassilis brought us a plate of fresh pasticcio by his wife. The woman and the other son joined also the group. She even won a few beautiful verses devoted to her blond hair. We spent as a family a few verses about the natural equality, evoking this time JorgeManrique:

The sky and sea,  
have the same color,
rich and poor,
 terminate on the same land.

The private party was going with delicious ease and let us bring even some spicy verses. By then my knowledge of Greek had increased with a nice expression: gamato! It comes to mean 'fucking great' and when used to praise verses it always laugh friends
 Moon that you are,
 behind the clouds,
 be brave, fuck,
 that I can not wait to fuck!
It was a heartfelt tribute to his wife, who took it with a blush. But then the son Manolis, who also makes his first steps into the matter threw verses of adolescent love affairs:

 Under the moonlight
I think you and I cry,
I think it back
 and I say, fuck you.
That feat led to a nice literary expression in his mother, shame on you, he said. The moment of intense happiness broke because at that point we were unable to drive our motorbikes for forty kilometers of curves. Vassilis winked me each time to serve the so called last drink. Finally, profiting that he had gone to the bathroom his children and his wife helped us escape on the sly.

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