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Kea and the Rise of National Socialism

I didn't always love Kea. My first couple visits to the island were rough. But back then there was no Rolandos, no Yiannis, and I did not even have a car. But that was twenty years ago before I even had a website.

An excerpt from "Spearfishing in Skatahori" by Matt Barrett which you can read in full at www.mattbarrett.net/spearfishing

Kea-August

I seem to have lost my inspiration to write. Either that or else the fact that I have done nothing but read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich since we arrived would explain my lack of effort in continuing this journal.

Within ten minutes of arriving here I had gotten the big book off the downstairs shelf and started reading it. I wanted to read it last year but didn't think I was capable of plowing through it in three days and I didn't want to have to carry it around with me when I went to Kyparissi to finish the holidays. This time I decided I would devote my stay to reading this book and attempt to understand why people do the terrible things they do sometimes.

Andrea's ancestral home is on top of a mountain in the village and the temperature is very comfortable with a continuous breeze blowing through the big house. I considered renting a motor bike and seeing the island as I had done in previous visits, but I am happy to sit in my castle and read about the crimes of Hitler and National Socialism. It's so fascinating that I haven't even turned on the TV, a luxury we usually take advantage of when we come to the island that cuts down on our ouzo consumption.

It's not a bad way to spend a few days. I can see all the way down to the port and the
Cava D'Oro, where freighters and ferries pass continuously. The wind has been blowing hard and steadily and even from here, miles above, I can see whitecaps on the sea.

Every half hour the clock on the church steeple, right next to our living room window tolls loudly, except late at night and the hours during siesta. At first it startled me. Now I barely notice it, until the early evening when I count the tolls waiting for seven-thirty, the time I allow myself to go to the cafeneon to drink ouzo. If there is one thing this village has that is truly agreeable to me it's the cafeneon. Owned by a young man named
Andonis who serves not only ouzo from Mytilini, but sardines too, which he seasons in his own special way with oil and vinegar. I have been plotting with myself to leave here and make my way to Sifnos. Only this island is so isolated that you can't go anywhere without going back to the mainland. From the window I can see Karystos, on Evia where I know that our friends Lue and Ross and Lila are sitting in their house on the coast, not even twenty minutes away by speedboat. Yet it would take me the whole day to get there using the Greek transportation system. As for going to Sifnos, the twice weekly flying dolphin to Kythnos which would make that possible, has been canceled because of the Meltemi. The horrific ride we took on the dolphin to get here on Thursday was the last trip it made. So I'm a prisoner here. Not a bad prison.

The village called
Ioulis, is a dramatic cycladic town, built amphitheater style on the side of a mountain. It has a beautiful platia which was built by Andrea's great grandfather, who also built fountains, churches and roads during his stint as mayor a hundred years ago. There are a couple restaurants up here but the majority of the night life is down at the two ports that share the bay below, Voukari and Livadi. There are also several expensive bars up here that are empty until after midnight when they fill up with Athenian yuppies of which there is no shortage.

Ten years ago this was an undiscovered island, right underneath the noses of the Athenians who seldomly look at maps, preferring to go where they are told by magazine articles and daytime TV shows. Kea is the first of the Cyclades, but is on none of the boat routes. To get here one had to take a bus to the decayed town of
Lavrion with it's ruined factories and unemployment rate of 75%. A place not found on the tourist maps. From Lavrion there is a ferry that leaves a couple times a day, sailing past the notorious prison island of Micronissi, a bare rock in the windy sea where communists were dumped and told to fend for themselves during and after the civil war that came on the heels of the German occupation of World War Two. Kea was discovered by a few artists and expatriates who bought houses here when they cost nothing. Then someone let the cat out of the bag and the rush was on. An island so close to Athens with the culture and lifestyle of one of the more remote islands was a big find. Now that lifestyle has been wiped out. The villagers became greedy in record time. Prices for everything went up and the infrastructure began to buckle under the weight of too many cars and flushing toilets. There is a line of cars parked along the road for a hundred yards in each direction and the sound of loud racing motorcycles in the distance fills the late evening air. To say the people are mean-spirited would be unfair, but to say they were nowhere near as congenial as the people in Lesvos would be accurate.

They are particularly hard on Andrea's family, despite the fact that her great grandfather did so much for this town, or maybe because of it. The family had left the island for many years, renting the big house to the local tax office. Andrea's two old spinster aunts returned to find that the village had built a slaughterhouse next to the church their grandfather had built at the entrance to the town. Then the neighbor across the street built another story on his house, cutting off their view of the village. The day we arrived we convinced Andrea's aunt, Amarandi to come with us to the cafeneon. An old man was there, the former owner of a taverna in the upper village. When he heard Aunt Amarandi's name he said, "Oh your father was the drunk," despite the fact that we were sitting in the square that bore his name, on the street that bore his name and in the building that also bore his name. Aunt Amarandi said that her father had been the doctor. "Ah, so you have a sister, Mrs. Penelope, or perhaps I should say
miss," referring to the fact that she had never gotten married.

Andrea was horrified but her aunt took it in stride though I doubt we'll be able to convince her to join us at the cafeneon for an ouzo again. I suppose it's a peasant approach to making acquaintances. They hit you in your weak spot so you realize they have the advantage over you. Once you realize they are top dog, the friendship can begin. It's also typical canine behavior.

So on this, our fourth morning in Kea, I break precedent and instead of laying around reading for several hours, I hitch down to the port. I buy a couple papers and watch the ferry leave. It's very rough. Any rougher and the ship would have been canceled. They seem to have some difficulty in lifting anchor and getting out of the harbor, but once they do, the ship sails off for Lavrion, rising and falling with the sea. Two small sailboats also leave which surprises me and restores my faith in small boats. It looks like a hellishly rough ride and I'm glad to not be a passenger, but in a way I admire their intestinal fortitude. I'm envious of it.

On the way back I'm picked up by an Athenian businessman with roots in the island.

"Don't judge Kea on what you see now," he tells me. "This is the worst time, with the holidays and all the people and noise. You need to come at Easter when everything is green and blossoming. It's a very special time. Not just Easter Sunday with the ceremony, but for the two weeks before. It's the best time to be here"

Andrea fixes a great lunch of lentil stew and salad. We had opened a can of sardines from Mytilini and have been suffering by eating them plain, but today I perfect the seasoning of them and they taste delicious. I think I will live on a diet of sardines and salad when I return to America. I have enough to get me through the year.

My baseball hero, Keith Hernandez, had a foolproof method for getting out of a prolonged batting slump. He would go out and get totally drunk. The next day he would play through his hangover and usually go three for four and hit the ball hard. The strategy behind it is that any kind of slump is psychological. If you can't think your way out of it, then you must go around it. By playing in the post-intoxicated state he was bypassing the negative thinking that had taken hold when his failure to hit the ball made him question his own ability to succeed. He was letting his trained mechanical ability take over without interference from his brain. This method never failed and until the end of his career he maintained a .300 average.

With that in mind I am sitting at the cafeneon at one in the afternoon trying to get out of my slump. It's not only a writing slump. I have to pull myself away from
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich to go outside and enjoy the beautiful cool breezy days that seem to follow one after the other. My mood has affected my attitude towards this island that I am beginning to really think of as a prison. It's the first time that I have had an afternoon ouzo that was not offered out of Greek hospitality. But these are desperate times.

Last night after six hours of afternoon reading we went to
To Steki, the better of the two restaurants in the upper part of the village. The food was not bad, it just wasn't that great. It was as if a bunch of taxi drivers decided to open a restaurant, picked a few popular recipes and followed them to the 't' until they could make the dishes with their eyes closed. Then they served those same dishes every night. More like institutional food then anything I would choose to eat. In this case they weren't taxi drivers but waiters from the other restaurant, who seeing how much money Koula, the proprietress was raking in, decided to have a go of it themselves. It's OK if you are here for a night or two but if you live here and eat out every night like we do it is only a matter of time before you start eating the anpkins and utensils just for the sake of variety.

But it wasn't so much the food that bothered me as it was the clientele. There were only Athenians, dressed straight out of a J Crew catalog. Even the old
yayas who in any traditional village would be adorned in black, were wearing polka-dot skirts and Nike's. Dinner was a fashion show as was the parade of young people on their way to the overpriced bars that had turned the quiet outskirts of the village into a wailing disco inferno. I didn't eat. I nibbled at my daughter's unfinished roast beef and soggy french-fries and told Andrea I hoped the aunts would sell the house so I would have the excuse to never come back here again, the lack of inspirational food affecting me in a serious way.

We went to the pastry shop and sat on the terrace overlooking the village and the entire western horizon all the way to the lights of Lavrion. We let Amarandi have her pink ice-cream and I even carried her most of the way back even though I had told her that my carrying days were over. She has been well behaved lately but Andrea can't handle her exuberance. She's very happy in the big old house and she screams with glee and sometimes shouts unintelligible phrases in the new language she has made up. Andrea interprets this as needless screaming and puts her foot down sternly which usually leads to Amarandi crying. I understand her concern for the old aunts, but one is deaf and the other is usually the instigator of Amarandi's joyous outbursts.

Thea Amarandi smokes like a fiend. She's in her eighties, at least, and has the deepest most horrible cough I have ever heard. We sit in the dining room and hear her sounding like she's ready to give up the ghost in her bedroom. She walks past on the way to the bathroom, gives a polite, yet frightened smile and closes the door to the toilet behind her where the coughing fit continues. Today the Athens news announces Clinton's war on the tobacco companies at the same time as the Papastratos Cigarette Company announces plans to help the Tobacco Company of Romania increase production. This is what the Greeks call
foreign aid, when they proudly boast of their worldly accomplishments.

Yesterday was Sunday. On my way up the hill I heard the sound of drunken voices filling the village. I looked into the cafeneon. Inside it was packed with young and old men, drinking ouzo and singing at the top of their lungs. In the middle of the group was the village priest who had just finished his service an hour or two before.

"Now this is the Greece I love," I thought.

One ouzo down and I'm feeling much better. I can tell the boat to Lavrion is leaving soon because I see some Greek families loaded like donkeys with luggage, heading down the hill, their Phillipino maids trailing behind.

Andrea's grandfather died in this very cafeneon. I don't know the entire story but it seems like it would be a good place to die in.

I have been reading
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich for five days and in those days I have watched a group of confused men bring destruction on themselves and the world because they did not know what they were. They thought of themselves as Nazis, and as Germans and they felt like they needed to fight back against a harsh and cruel world that had treated them unfairly. Their air of superiority was a smoke screen for their insecurity and in their confusion they tried to destroy what made them feel insecure, the Jews, the Poles, the Russians, the British and everybody else. In the end they annihilated themselves because after all, it was just another form of self-hatred. There was no enemy. They were fighting themselves.

I have been doing the same. I have failed to realize that my goals are the same as everybody else's; to find love, peace and security. These things can't be fought for. They have to be realized. Part of that is the realization that if we all want the same thing, then we must all be the same. If I help you find it, I am also finding it for myself. What could be more simple?

Tuesday August 15th

Today is the celebration of the Virgin Mary. I have been celebrating in my own special way, by finishing
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and packing to go back to Athens tomorrow or Thursday. Last night was a sleep-lovers hell. Amarandi wanted to sleep in my bed. I find it difficult to sleep with her, so I wait for her to fall asleep and move somewhere else. First I slept with Andrea but as soon as my first dream began, Amarandi woke up crying. I traded places with her but she kept crying and within moments both she and Andrea were hysterical. She came back to the room we had started out in and fell right asleep. I tried to get over my uneasiness but it was no use so I went to sleep in the living room. I was wide awake and hot so I opened the shutters. Just as I fell asleep, a bat flew in and started going crazy trying to find the way out. Then he flew into Andrea's room as I was closing the door to Amarandi's room to spare her the horror. Andrea woke up in confusion, then realizing what was happening, hid under the covers. The bat came back to the living room and continued flying in circles, coming so close to me that I could see his little furry ears. Andrea yelled to turn off the light, which I did. Finally he found the window and flew out.

Now it was impossible to get back to sleep. My body was pumped from adrenaline. Andrea found use for it and had me massage her back and we talked for awhile before I climbed into bed next to her. Just as I fell asleep Amarandi woke up again. I ended up back in the original bed but it took hours to fall asleep. When I woke up it was noon.

I left the house once today to get fresh bread to eat with our eggs. Aside from that and finishing my book I have done nothing, though I did turn on CNN long enough to find out that Mickey Mantle had died.

The wind has stopped and the sea is calm. That means Athens will be hot as hell but I'm not too concerned. After a week of doing nothing but wait for the ouzo hour and then dinner I am ready for some real nightlife, even if I have to sweat a little. Despite my vow to never take the Flying Dolphin again, I may break it if the calm weather continues. It's so much easier then the ferry-bus-taxi route, and will save us about five hours at least.

Wednesday August 16th

I Wake up to an overcast day which is perfect for our travel plans as long as it doesn't get too overcast. We don't want to be standing in the acid rain of Lavrion trying to find a taxi or waiting for a non-existent bus.

Last night's
Panagiri was long and loud. We went to the platia around eight. They had rid the square of cars and motorcycles and had filled it with tables and chairs. Andrea sent me to Argiri's, whose restaurant was one of two serving food even though it had been closed all year except for an occasional Sunday. Then we went to the cafeneon and ate lots of mezedes while Andonis, the owner kept our glasses full of ouzo. Around nine-thirty we walked back up to the square but the tables were still virtually empty. We walked down the hill to the small restaurant at the entrance of the village and while Andrea took Amarandi for a walk to see if she could stop her screaming, I sat and first drank my ouzo, and then hers. Andrea's friend Rosemary joined me and I lectured her on the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich while she stifled several yawns. Andrea returned with a somewhat less distressed Amarandi and we went back to the scene of the panagiri. This time there were a couple tables where people were sitting so we took ours. Gradually the square began to fill up and Andrea decided the time was right for ordering our food. A waiter magically appeared and recited the special menu of the evening. We ordered roasted goat. When the food came we had to search for the meat underneath the french-fries. Realizing the possibility of a shortage in protein we ordered some bakaliaro (fried cod) with skordaya (garlic sauce). The cod came but the waiter explained "We don't have skordaya tonight." When would they have it? They're open one night a year and they don't have the garlic sauce, the only thing that makes the salty fish edible. In the meantime Amarandi had become impossible. She had refused to take a nap that afternoon and was completely agitated. She began screaming but as luck would have it, right as the music started. The down side was that it was so loud that not only could we not hear Amarandi's screams, but we couldn't hear each other. The group was a duo. One man played guitar, and the other violin. The violin player was Antonikis Zoulos, famous all over Greece, Andrea told me proudly. As what, I wondered. It sounded like they were playing different songs simultaneously. They could have given Mitsos and his Kyparissi orchestra a run for their money. There was a big box on the stage which would be filled with money by the end of the night. In previous years there had been a zither player, who was not with them tonight. Perhaps he had died, Andrea said. "Or more likely a two way split is more to their liking. Let's see how many guys are in the band next year." I was feeling hyper-critical, not realizing that Zoulos was just getting warmed up and would more than earn any money he made.

Unfortunately we could take it no longer. While Zoulos could obviously play, his partner was having trouble getting in sync and it was so loud it was impossible to talk. We looked around at all the other tables which were now completely full. You could see the Greeks half-heartedly listening to the cacophony on the stage but you could tell they were chomping at the bit, waiting for the brief respite between songs so they could unleash their torrents of conversation in the few available minutes they had before the next twenty minute tune began. We were the first to leave and for a very long while, the last. As we went to pay we ran into our friend Judy Eftasia, who had just arrived from Athens for the last two weeks of the summer. We sat down and she introduced us to her friend Andy, a writer from New Orleans who was doing a book on the film-maker Angelopoulos, considered the leader of Greek film by many. Andy told us that Angelopoulos had received the longest standing ovation at Cannes for 'Ulysses Gaze', his film about searching for the roots of Balkan film. It was a film about a filmmaker making a film about a filmmaker. They couldn't film it in war torn Sarajevo so they used nearby Lavrion instead. It sounded interesting, but having seen his last movie, an endless pointless epic of over-extended camera shots that turned 15 minutes of plot into three hours of misty and murky images we awaited Ulysses Gaze's heralded arrival on video. (When we finally saw it, true to form it was a misty, murky collection of images and even Harvey Kietel could not rescue it for me. Of course I am no movie expert and the blurbs on the box called it a work of genius.)

Andy said farewell. He was to wake up at six the next morning to go to Athens where he would interview the famous director.

"He doesn't like to give interviews but we are old friends" Andy informed us.

Andrea also left us. I had to help her get Amarandi's stroller up the stairs since she was now sleeping, praise God. I met Judy at the platia and we went up to the Lion Bar to have a drink and get away from the noise. It was no quieter at the bar, the music was just different and we took a seat as far from the speakers as we could find. The waitress came to take our order. Of course they had no Greek beer. The price of Greek beer is controlled. What the bars do is understock it so they run out after the first couple customers and then everyone drinks the expensive imported stuff. We had a choice of Holstein or Badd. Judy ordered Holstein and I ordered Badd, thinking it was some kind of German beer and using the rationale that if it was called "Badd" then it had to be good. I was wrong on both counts. It was Bud. I paid five dollars for a Budweiser.

The subject that was foremost on our minds was spearfishing. I had gone diving with Judy last year near the ancient city of
Carthea and had been amazed at her hunting abilities. She was, after all, a native American. We exchanged stories. She had caught a smyrna with her bare hands, she told me. She was on the rocks rinsing an octopus that she had been beating when a fairly large smyrna grabbed it. Not wanting to lose her precious catch she yanked it and the eel out of the water and on to the rocks where it writhed in confusion until Judy put it out of it's misery. She told me about an encounter with a large angel shark in the waters just north of Kyparissi. I asked her what the correct procedure is when attacked by a shark.

"You have a gun. What are you worried about?" she said. "Just shoo him away".

"What a woman", I thought to myself as she talked. Artist, mother of a teenage daughter, hunter and gatherer of mushrooms when the winter rains had turned the hills of Kea a lush green. Judy had just turned fifty. To me she looked thirty. She had just gotten married this summer to another teacher who lived in Austria and was to continue living there while she lived in Athens.

"The perfect marriage" I told her and she agreed. Her husband also loved to spear-fish.

"It's so much more fun with two." she said. "It seems to catch the fish off guard when you can work together and when you have two sets of eyes it's difficult for the fish to hide".

I was jealous of her husband, swimming with this beautiful Pocahontis, who could dive deeper and stay under longer then anyone else could.

"Yes, Andrea comes with me sometimes. But as for working in tandem it's kind of hopeless. Andrea is so nearsighted that the only way she could be of assistance is if we were hunting whale." I admitted sadly. We continued to drink as slowly as we can and then left to find a quieter place where we could pay a lesser price for decent beer.

Our next stop was the sweet-shop with the balcony that overlooked the village. They wouldn't let us in. They were closing, they told us. We continued our journey downhill, through the
panagiri which was now jumping. People were dancing and the thousand drachma notes were piling up in the musician's box on the stage. There was not an empty seat except for those vacated by the dancers. We moved on, finally stopping at the snack bar at the entrance of the village where we bought a couple cans of Amstel and sat on the steps to talk about music, art, life and my alma matter, American Community Schools where Judy was teaching. When we were finished, we walked back to the square where the celebration had reached a fever pitch. We used her phone-card and tried to call my mother since the phone-booth was right in the middle of the panagiri, but I could not get through. We listened to the music which had noticeably improved. Then I walked her halfway up the mountain and said goodnight. I kept walking laterally through the tiny streets, in the direction of Andrea's house until I stumbled upon it.

I was still wide awake. No more
Rise and Fall of the Third Reich to lull me gently to sleep with it's tales of inhumanity and death. I picked up The Mermaid Madonna which I had bought to read to pass the days in Lesvos, while Andrea and Mary struggled with the house. I picked up where I had left off on the ferry and to my surprise it was much more enjoyable reading then Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I fell asleep to the sound of singing and violin.

Just as I had embarked upon my first dream Andrea climbed into bed with me and woke me up. It was five-thirty and the music was still going strong. We could hear people whistling and cheering. It was obvious that the party had not settled down yet. I listened to the violin player. He was incredible. I couldn't believe the sounds he was getting or the speed in which he played. He stayed right on the edge of music and insanity throughout his long solos. I realized that Andrea was right. Antonakis Zoulos had to be famous. Nobody could play like that and escape notice. On the other hand his partner was having a rough time keeping up with him. He clearly was not blessed with the same ability, but it didn't matter.

As Tommy Alexopoulos had once said, "The Greeks can dance to the evening news". I had to admit, this was much better. I could imagine the platia alive with dancing people as the sun was rising.

At eight-thirty this morning the musicians finally put down their instruments and they and the remaining people went home. Like us. Today we begin our return. We'll meet the taxi at the lower platia at three and scrutinize the sea before deciding between the Flying Dolphin to Pireaus or the ferryboat to Lavrion.

An excerpt from "Spearfishing in Skatahori" by Matt Barrett which you can read in full at www.mattbarrett.net/spearfishing

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