Excerpt from Elias Kulukundis’ upcoming book “Bold Coasts”
[…] I have been eternally irritated by the romantic concepts of Greece that were prevalent in the 1960’s, the assumption of the non-Greek public that Greece and Greekness were a continual celebration of freedom and spontaneity, and all Greeks were an incarnation of Kazantzakis’s hero Alexis Zorba. Since I was Greek—and I certainly looked Greek—my non-Greek friends seemed to expect me to jump up on the table and burst all the bounds of inhibition at a moment’s notice.
But I was very far from doing that. By nature, I was much more like the character in the film played by Alan Bates, the young uptight Anglo with the boarding school accent who came to Greece to discover his heritage but needed Zorba to teach him to dance.
Then, some years later, I had a chance to turn people’s Zorba fantasies to my own advantage.
Just after I went into our family business, my brother Stathe told me about a shipping course given by Galbraith’s the shipbrokers. The course had an organized curriculum, with lectures given by the faculty of the Plymouth Maritime College with guest speakers from every aspect of the industry. The students were junior level employees from shipping companies all over the world. That was ideal for me as Stathe may have realized with some wistfulness, for no such course was offered when he went into the business some fourteen years earlier.
On the first day, we were each asked to stand up and say something about ourselves. I got a ripple of applause when I said, “I may be one of the oldest in this room, but I’m the youngest in shipping. In my company, I do what other people don’t have time to do, that is, visit the ships and think of new business.”
I wasn’t trying for effect. I was just telling what I did. But after the audience’s reaction, I could do no wrong.
My persona took a further leap (literally) when we all went out to a pub near the hotel in Dorset where the course was being held. In that part of England’s West Country, there was a local custom of drinking “a yard of ale”, the yard being contained in an enormous thermometer the size of a glass trombone. The dreaded instrument was being handed round, filled with an immense amount of the local brew, and you had to drain the flagon to the bottom. It was a barbaric custom, but there was no refusing it. Drinking is a revered pastime in Britain and tee-totalling is not admired. I had to do something to escape my fate, so before the trombone came round to me, I jumped up on the table, snapped my fingers and started doing Zorba’s dance.
That stopped the show. I had gone one up on the thermometer. When the news reached the course’s administrators, they hired a bouzouki band for the last night of the course; and although I knew no Greek dances, I was well aware of what was expected of me. I rose to the occasion and danced all night, often with the head of the course, doing a combination of Zorba’s dance and the Charleston, while the Greek bouzouki players shaded their eyes. To hell with them. I wasn’t dancing for them. […]
“Bold Coasts” is about to be published in Greek by Potamos Publishers with the sub-title, “A Life’s Adventure in a Greek Shipping Family”. It will be available in English later this year.