September 16, 2007

On board S/Y Bushido— I simply can’t understand why so many Greek women resemble Scandinavians. Everywhere I look there are blondes, fat blondes, short blondes, hairy blondes, but nevertheless blondes. Could it be the carbon dioxide emissions that causes this phenomenon, or is there something in the water that turns dark-haired women into fair ones? I suppose we’ll never find out.  Never mind. Greek ladies are hot-blooded, whereas Northern types have been known to snore at the wrong moment, hence Greek men get awfully turned on. Personally, I prefer dark-haired girls.

The first — and only real — Greek blonde I ever met was Raymon, my father’s girlfriend. It was during the war.  She was half French. During an air raid, and while a rowdy party was taking place in our house, the lights went out. When they suddenly came back on, my poor mother screamed. Apparently old dad was snogging her and was caught in the act. You can read all this in my book, On Gossamer Wings, if I ever manage to write it. But while I’m at it, I must tell you about Boboniera, the movie house in Kifissia (a northern Athenian suburb where chic people went to escape hoi polloi and Athenian heat; now, like everything else, a hellhole).

Back in those good old days, the better born and better off sat on canvas armchairs up front, and had marble-topped tables next to them in case they got thirsty. White coated flunkies went discreetly around offering their services.  Lesser earners sat in the back of the outdoor cinema, on straw chairs, and had to serve themselves at the bar. Boboniera had to be the most beautiful cinema ever, with a fountain, rows of jasmine and cactus plants.  Tall cypress trees encircled the place. That is where the truly poor sat, perched rather, once it got dark and the performance began. Tsabatsides was a slang word for the freeloaders, mostly street urchins, who festooned the trees the moment Leo the Lion roared. It was always the same story.  Once the film would start, the tsabatsides would revert to type. They would whistle and hoot and make rude remarks. For example: When Ashley Wilkes played hard to get with Scarlett O’Hara, the urchins egged him on long before it was evident he didn’t desire her: “Ela re malaka, filisetin!” (“Kiss her, you wanker!”)  More often than not, gentlemen in the front rows were appalled. Dropi! (Shame!), they would shout.  The lesser earners would get even more outraged. They would demand the cops do something. 

It never happened. There were two cops back then in Kifissia and I knew for a fact their children were among the most prominent of tsabatsides. Mind you, the fuzz would come running almost nightly following a scream, the sound of broken branches and the inevitable crash. The street urchins that turned the cypress trees into living organisms were known for getting over-excited during the movie and falling off. Other times they would fight over a better viewing branch with the inevitable results.  During the occupation we were only fed German or Italian made movies. The street urchins, or marida, as they were called, played their part to the hilt. They would applaud and cheer every time an Italian or German hero would do something heroic, to the extent that it became an issue with the occupiers. They knew the marida was taking the mickey, but what could they do? Arrest them for cheering the Axis side?

After a particularly noisy demonstration by the tsabatsides, an Italian colonel decided to shut down Boboniera, but it only lasted for couple of nights. Incidentally, Boboniera is still around, but the tsabatsides are long gone. The welfare state and all that. The good news is that this summer’s devastating fires may yet serve as a catalyst for change, although I won’t be holding my breath. The political elite finally appear to acknowledge the need for environmental protection, but it’s up to the Greeks to play their part. Greeks and Italians don’t seem to get it. They throw cigarettes out of their cars onto dry bushes, leave their garbage on the beach, cover buildings with graffiti, and burn forests in order to build illegally on them. Until now very few illegal houses have been torn down.

Still, it’s a beautiful country, especially the seaside, and I’ve had some wonderful sailing up and down the Peloponnese. This coming weekend is election time, an election that’s too close to call. Both major parties are full of you-know-what. I will be voting for LAOS, a party that wants to kick out illegal Muslims, which does guarantee it at least two votes. Mine and that of the party leader, Mr Karatzaferis. If we do win, he has pledged to demand a recount. But stranger things have happened in the birthplace of electrolysis and peroxide blondes.


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