Today’s episode from The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek island gives my take on some of the colour of Greek island life and comes from a chapter called, “Squawkapalooza.”
“Are you afraid of thunder?” asks the young woman at Roula’s. “I am,” she adds before I even open my mouth, “… very.”
Her name is Niki, she’s always here at the café these days and I’m glad. “We have spinach pie today,” she’ll say because she remembers that I asked for it last time and they didn’t. And, “Do you want sage tea?” because she knows that I order it often.
Last night’s storm did rouse me, but it was the lightning I noticed first, a flash that made me jump despite my still closed eyes. A furious, though short-lived, rain followed and fierce wind. This all, she says, happened around four a.m. I didn’t know that for I fell back asleep before I thought to check the time.
As for the thunder, I don’t really mind, I tell her and it’s true. In fact, I quite like the Sifnian version. It’s nothing like what we have at home – a loud crack that, depending on how far away it occurs, makes people jump and shy dogs cower, and then is followed by a few seconds of clatter. Any thunder I’ve heard on the Aegean has begun as though in a whisper somewhere far out at sea and, like a huge tumbling rock, rolled toward us louder, louder, louder still. It’s never stopped, never slowed and rumbled on past and into the distance until finally it faded out of earshot. I timed it once and got to a whole twenty seconds. It’s clear that Zeus still reigns on a mountaintop somewhere near here.
When I’ve given Niki my order and it’s been delivered to the kitchen, she sets to bustling about with a broom over what last night’s storm left behind, the bougainvillea petals and grape leaves that litter the terrace’s floor. She’s half finished this task when a loud noise erupts that puts an end to the bits of conversation we’ve been having while she works.
Not thunder. This din comes from somewhere more earth-bound. The source of the ruckus is one of those car-mounted loudspeaker systems that I see around here from time to time. Dreadful things. Greek drive-around advertising, I call them and this one arrived two days ago. It works this way. You stick a pair of crackly loudspeakers atop whatever vehicle you’ve got, crank the volume up to Harangue and, while cruising along at little more than walking pace, spew your message onto every street of the town. Then when you’ve been everywhere, in the remote case there could exist someone who didn’t hear the first time, you drive the same route once again. And again. Whether it would annoy me more if I spoke Greek and could understand what’s being said, I’m not certain, but I can’t imagine it would be less bothersome.
My first exposure to one of these contraptions, the vehicle on that occasion bedecked with blue and white flags and multiple copies of the same poster, was two years ago at the height of what I had learned was the municipal election campaign. It was followed moments later, whether coincidentally or not I was never entirely sure, by a man in a suit who came into the taverna where we were eating that night, shook hands all around and generally tried to impress everyone there. This year’s version – I’ll call it the Squawkmobile – is a white van plastered with amateurish decals of alligators and other like creatures.
“What is that all about?” I ask Niki in one of the less raucous moments.
She listens. “Theatre … for children … in Artemonas tonight. 7:00 o’clock.”
“I don’t think I’ll go.”
“Me, neither.” She giggles.