Thursday, 3 August 2017

I Could Have Danced All Night

Time was when me and the better half would dabble a little in the local Bouzoukia while in Greece on holiday. In such diverse places as Leros, Kefallonia, Athens, Skiathos, Samos and Poros we've been known to strut our stuff well into the small hours.

Well, all right, coming clean, the beloved has done so, whereas I more often than not have stood like a wallflower and watched her getting on with it. 

See, the thing is, as one gets older the desire to begin one's social evening at some time after midnight in a club packed to the gills and throbbing with music so loud that you feel it in your stomach rather than hear it through your ears does tend to ebb somewhat.

I was prompted to write this post after a couple of recent conversations with guests on my excursions. Someone asked me the other night, as we sat outside the Top Three bar at around 11.30pm and the town was buzzing with life, full of beautiful people all dressed up to the nines (what does that mean by the way?) "Is the town always like this?" The street was full of people all just stepping out for the evening and there we were waiting for the coach to take us back 'home' down to the south of the island after an evening in Rhodes Town. The girl who asked this question was actually well impressed and I could tell that she kind of wished that the town where she lived in the UK could be like this. 

It may not be everyone's glass of ouzo, but I'll admit that it is rather appealing to be out in a bar on the street at such an hour feeling the gentle breeze against your skin with the temperature at around 28ºC. The bars, all outdoors of course, are simply bursting with life. Young folk dressed in impossibly tight clothes and, in the girls' case, not much of those either, are meeting up and talking excitedly about where they'll be going soon, after the initial drink and chat that's just to get the evening off to a flying start. The whole scene is, well, life-affirming if you get what I mean. Yes, this country's in crisis, but that hasn't stopped the culture from carrying on regardless. Greeks know how to let their hair down without resorting to an excess of alcohol or aggressive behaviour. The Bouzoukia culture demonstrates this admirably.

One of the meanings of that word Bouzoukia is to describe a music club where traditional rebehiko and laika music is played, often by a live band, while singers sing songs about hearts being torn asunder by unrequited love, or being jilted or perhaps even being torn away from the motherland owing to economic migration. Once the show gets under way at something like 12.30am, the singers simply parade on and off of the stage or even dance floor and the music never stops. The musicians just progress on from one song to another, occasionally involving a change of tempo and key, while one singer goes backstage to cool down and the next one assumes the position at the microphone.

The assembled throng of people having a good time are dancing all around the singer(s) very often (thank goodness for the invention of mikes without leads) and the dance floor can often be so tightly packed that if you don't know the dance or can't get the rhythm right you're in serious danger of sustaining an injury from going up when the crowd is going down, or left when they go right. 

My guests was enquiring too because I think she was wondering how come the town was so alive at so late an hour. Of course, there are all-night clubs in the UK, but they'll usually be playing disco-beat stuff and there certainly won't be that vibrant buzz outdoors along the streets from the sheer numbers of people in the café-bars or strolling along with arms linked together as they talk excitedly about how their day has been or whatever. 

I found myself explaining that the Greeks split the day up in a rather different fashion from how the northern Europeans do it. The morning lasts from dawn until 12 noon. Mesi meri (literally 'the middle of the day') lasts from around noon until about 5.00pm. Then the afternoon runs from then until around nine. Tell a Greek you'll meet them 'this afternoon' and they interpret that as some time in the early evening. It has to do with the working hours of course. Certainly the retail stores are all open from 5.00pm until 9.00pm and thus the staff don't get home until about 9.30pm or later. Once they've showered, changed, perhaps eaten, they can't be out on the town much before 11.00pm anyway. The fact too that by and large they sleep from around 3.00pm until 5.00-ish (in the 'mesi meri') means that they don't need as much sleep during the night as we northern Europeans.

Thus it was that, a few decades ago when I could live it up with the best of them, we'd be going out a little before midnight so that my better half could tsifteteli her way through the small hours while I stood there and felt my insides vibrate. I didn't mind really, I could, of course, do a bit here and there, I can do a tsifteteli in that way the men do when their female partners need a hand in the small of their back while they contort themselves over backwards. I know how to wave my arms and click my fingers (flaming hurts that too!) like the Greeks do so as not to make too much of a fool of myself. If they play a Kalamatiano (which they only seem to do rarely these days) I know all the steps and even quite enjoy that one. 

If, back in the days when we used to be able to stay up during all those unearthly hours, they'd played either the kalamatiano or perhaps the hasaposerviko for the duration, then indeed I could have danced all night.

These days, though, give me a good book and a comfy bed. I'll leave it to those young whippernsappers to carry on the custom of going home as the sun comes up.

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