Aphrodite of Kasos

Posted by on Σεπ 7, 2016 in Blogposts, Books | No Comments

An excerpt from the new e-book «The Feasts of Memory» in view of the upcoming book «Bold Coasts» that will be published in Greek in the spring of 2017.

The ship set out at dawn. Beyond the eastern tip of Crete, we crossed the straits the sailing ships had crossed with cargoes bound for Egypt. That was the unprotected stretch of sea where during the Revolution every captain unfriendly to the cause of Greece cast an uneasy eye around him, dreading to see a speck on the horizon which would turn into a Kasiot ship under full sail, preparing to attack.But now the sea was empty. Crete was fading behind us, and ahead there was horizon all around, vacant and unbroken. I was on the bridge with Uncle George, waiting for Kasos to materialize.

[..] Suddenly, it was there. It had become, out of that obscurity of sky and sea, exactly the form of that first elusive vision. It grew more distinct, emerging from the heat blur on the horizon. As we came closer, we saw waves breaking on the rocky coast, marking the boundaries of the land with an unbroken ring of white, showing the sense of the ancient name the Phoenicians had given it: Kas, the isle of sea-foam.

[…]To get to my grandmother’s house, we took one of the two taxis on the island. Another clarion sounded through narrow streets. Chickens, goats, and donkeys fled before us. Children ran to stand beside their mothers, watching from doorways. As the town thinned out, the crumbling foundations sank once again into fields of rubble.

[…]At the gate an old woman greeted us. She used to be Uncle George’s nurse, brought originally from an orphanage to look after Eleni’s first four children. She had left the family just after the emigration to Syros, to live out her own xenitia in Alexandria.
Fifty years later, impoverished and arthritic, she returned to her adopted home in Kasos and lived alone in the house of the blue shutters. She called it “my Eleni’s house” though Eleni had long departed this life and she, the old woman, was its only mistress now.
At our arrival, she wore a bright, checkered robe, a white kerchief around her head, and thick, goggle-like lenses. Her name—no more appropriate to the plump and saucy island girl than to the wrinkled woman on bandaged and arthritic feet—was Aphrodite.

Uncle George in Kasos with Aphrodite (climbing the stairs) and Elias Kulukundis (sitting on the railing). Photo by Robert McCabe

Uncle George in Kasos with Aphrodite (climbing the stairs) and Elias Kulukundis (sitting on the railing). Photo by Robert McCabe

“So you’ve decided to come,” Aphrodite told my uncle. “And who are these you’ve brought?”
“Two Eliases,” said Uncle George. “Sons of my brothers. Elias of John. And Elias of Michael.”

Our lineage made no impression on her. She hadn’t known our fathers, for they were the last of Eleni’s sons, born in Syros after the emigration.
“So the two Eliases have come to Kasos too,” she said, and she went inside the gate. Two silent Eliases entered after her.

She led us through the courtyard, beneath the two white houses presiding over it, up the stone stairway to the terrace between them, with smooth black and white Rhodian pebbles, set by a traveling mosaic maker in the shape of a flower. From this terrace, which is like the bridge of a sailing ship, you could sweep your eyes across the Aegean Sea.
Aphrodite dismissed it with a wave of her hand. “You should have come to Alexandria,” she said. “There I had a house of my own to live in, and another one that I made into a boarding house with Arab servants to wait on me and call me Kyra Aphrodite. And then, my bad luck, I got sick so I couldn’t run the house anymore, and I didn’t have any money, so I asked your uncle what I should do and he said, ‘Go back to Kasos, go back to the old house.’”

“I said that?” said Uncle George. “On the contrary, I knew you’d be unhappy here but you insisted on coming back.”
“I insisted on coming back? Why should I come back to this pile of rubble?”

It was an old dispute between them. I realized the relations one forms in childhood can endure a lifetime, and so for Uncle George, Aphrodite was not an old woman to be indulged and pitied, but rather the sharp-tongued island girl who had once led him to the washbasin by the ear. That explained why they quarreled about everything.

Find the new ebook of  «The Feasts of Memory» in our e-shop here and read all about Uncle George and Aphrodite.

 

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