Saturday, 24 May 2014

Bouzoukia, Beards, Butterflies and Bounding About, Oh, and some White Flowers.

John and Wendy, our landlords, have just planted two new gardenia trees in their garden. We, of course, are charged with watering them and so I was busy the other day piping them into the watering system. Gardenias are sometimes called Cape Jasmine and they produce a deep shiny leaf and a wonderfully blousy white flower which is very waxy in touch and appearance and smells simply wondrous. Whilst I was working around these plants and the heady aroma was drifting past my nostrils I was transported back to my wife's uncle's home in Kato Patisia, Athens, circa late 70's. 

I haven't been back to this particular house since 1982 and have been told that the area has changed much since then. But in the late seventies it was a respectable suburb of Athens with a handy station on the Electriko [underground] for easy access to the city centre. We always used to stay with cousin Kristina and her husband Taki (who crop up regularly in Feta Compli! by the way) and my wife's uncle Theo lived just fifty metres along the road.

We'd walk along to cadge a cold drink from Aunt Vaso, Theo's wife, and, on arriving at the gate, would walk through their "avli" to the veranda. The "avli" was chock-full of Gardenia plants, since uncle Theo grew them for a living. I still remember the first time I had the exotic experience of walking among these lush shrubs, which were head-height in uncle Theo's yard. You'd have to brush the plants with your shoulders as you threaded you way to the veranda and hence the front door of the house.

"How come they have all these plants of the same variety?" I asked my wife.

"Uncle Theodorakis grows them to sell," she told me. If you've ever either seen the inside of a Greek Bouzouki club on TV or actually had the experience of a session in one you'll know the culture here when it comes to expressing approval of a particular singer, dancer or musician. Bouzoukias [Bouzouki clubs] don't get going until well after midnight, something that regular readers of my ramblings will probably already know. Time was when I'd fancy a knees-up until dawn with the rest of them, but these days it's all a little too much bother I'm sorry to admit. But at least I had a pretty good dose of it all when I was younger. 

The floor in front of the band is where the singers will stand and usually they will sing alone or in pairs and, whilst the music continues unabated at earsplitting volume, they'll pass the mike like a baton to the next pair or solo artiste and leave the floor for their break, before relieving still others when they return later. All the while the band plays on and dancers will often completely surround the singer or singers. There's hardly a table without a couple of female dancers girating on top of it and plates (though not so much these days) and flowers fly everywhere...

Vasilis Karras, one of Greece's top singers, in action. Courtesy of

Huge amounts of cash are spent by the revellers on flowers and Champagne during a typical Bouzoukia evening. If you're listening to a singer who particularly pleases you, then you'll gesture to the ever-circulating waiting staff and one of them will approach you, whereupon you'll order up a bottle of Champagne at an obscene price and point at the singer (or dancer) who's currently impressing you. The waiter/waitress will then disappear, then turn up in a few moments carrying a fresh bottle of bubbly. They'll walk right up to the singer (or maybe dancer) you've pointed to and pop the cork, foam spraying liberally all over the place. They'll pour a little Champagne into a glass, hand it to the singer and point in your general direction, so the singer will get an idea who's sent him (or her) the liquid compliment. The singer will take the glass, raise it in your direction, pretend (more often than not) to drink a sip, and then hand the glass back to the waiter, who'll then speed off to the kitchen as soon as he or she can to quoff a few gulps of gratis bubbly, none of which you'll get to consume, by the way!

As can be seen from the photo above, though, it's not just the gesture of appreciation with the bubbly that goes on in great abundance at a Bouzoukia evening, oh no. Staff continually move among the tables carrying little baskets of flowers, often red, but just as often white. If they're white then they're probably Gardenias. You raise your hand when some dancer or singer has entranced you sufficiently and they'll sell you a basket of flowers - also for a crazy price - which you'll then take with you while you rise, mount the dance floor yourself and pour the lot over the head of the person you admire, thus signalling your approval of their performance.

Hence we get back to why my wife's uncle grew Gardenias for a living. In Athens there was (and probably still is) a constant demand for the Gardenia flowers so that they could be poured over some singer or dancer in the wee small hours in one of the many Bouzoukias to be found in the city.

I don't think the flowers on the plants I just piped in will suffer such a fate though. But you never know...

On a much smaller scale, here in Kiotari the modest and cozy Ekaterini Hotel has now begun its regular "Greek Night" for the season, which it stages every Friday evening. We went along for the first time just last week and, thankfully, the hours for the action tend to run from about 9.00pm until some time approaching midnight, nice and manageable for an ageing old fart like me you see. Although things began with around six people on the terrace, it soon developed into one of the better shindigs, with quite a lot of locals, both Greek and Albanian, arriving and getting in on the action. See what I mean with these rather poor quality pics taken with my budget smartphone...

My better half never fails to get some of the action. Saves on aerobic classes you see.

This rather poor quality video nevertheless give you an idea why we rather like it there...

Around the terrace at the Ekaterini there are quite a few mature geranium plants. These have already lost a few flowers following the event the other Friday evening. By the time the season's half-way through, I doubt there'll still be a flower on any of them within reach of the terrace.

Changing the subject completely; I hesitate to mention Naxos at this point, 'cos I still have yet to complete my summary of the whole experience there [bit remiss I'm afraid], but something came to my attention whilst we were there which must be worrying for both Gillette and Wilkinson Sword, to name but two companies that produce shaving products. 

Actually, to do this subject justice I have to go back to when I was watching the RBS Six Nations Rugby Tournament back in February/March. As the players came on to the pitch for the first Wales match, I found myself wondering if they'd been sending talent scouts to the Amish community of North America. At least one Welsh player and, as the tournament progressed a fistful of players in the other teams, sported beards after the fashion of those worn by the above-mentioned particular religious group. Even those not wearing decidedly bushy beards, still wore one although slightly more closely cropped.

It was the first time I'd noticed what seems to be a trend that's sweeping the planet; well, Europe at least. I say this because, engaging in our usual sport of people-watching whilst spend the hours that we did sitting in cafés sipping frappés and other liquid delights on Naxos for 22 days, we began to realize that probably 75% of young males seemed to be wearing beards (and not a few of the females), and not only beards, but bushy Amish-type ones. In fact Y-Maria told me that she thought that an unusually high percentage of the young men on Naxos seemed to be training to be priests. That was before we realized that it's simply the latest trend in male grooming.

Since coming home here to Rhodes over 3 weeks ago we've been watching and observing and, sure enough, it's rampant. beards are taking over!! On one rather inane panel game which is based on Family Fortunes [Family Feud in some countries I hear], which is currently running nightly on weekdays here, the teams don't have to be family, they simply need to be a team of friends or workmates, and each time there's a team of 5 young men, usually all five have a beard. 

I'm not even going to mention the Eurovision Song Contest.

If you have shares in Gillette folks, my advice is  SELL, SELL SELL!

Finally, this afternoon, as we sipped our Earl Grey tea after a light lunch of tomato and onion salad, prepared with locally produced olive oil, Balsamic dressing and dried oregano, into which we dipped our fresh bread from the local bakery as we sipped a chilled Rosé and gazed at the magnificent view, our Lantana bushes received a visitor...

He (or she) is a beaut, eh? it's a "Two-tailed Pasha" and they have two broods a year. They're classed as a tropical butterfly, but we're glad to say that some risk living on the North rim of the Med and thus give us a chance to admire them. They're quite large, often almost large enough to cover the palm of your hand with their wings open and their larvae feed on the "Strawberry Tree", known to Greeks as the Koumara, of which we have an abundance in the hills around our home here. 

This chap (or perhaps chap-esse?) was gracious enough to hang around while I dashed inside to get the camera, but he wouldn't open his wings while at rest for me, boo hoo.  If you Google it [pasha butterfly] though you can see some shots of the upper wing surface, which is quite different from the under-wing seen here.

Off to bed now, it's almost 2.30am. Wot - you not sleeping either?


  1. Having observed your wife's dancing, and your own, I think the gardenias in John and Wendy's garden might well be in danger!
    What a great evening that was. I'm determined to learn some steps for our next visit, though where and how I'm not certain.

    1. A lot of people find they can do Greek dancing after a fairly liberal amount of Ouzo has been imbibed. Maybe cheaper than lessons!

  2. That's rather a good idea, is that what you do?! I've found a tutorial on Youtube which may come in handy.

    1. An Ouzo-imbibing tutorial eh? This I've gotta see.

  3. No no, it doesn't mention ouzo, that was your idea! This one just shows the steps for various dances.