Fate and Toothache

Steeple (watercolour)
Steeple (watercolour) © 2015 Daphne C Alexopoulou

I hear the voices of stories lived long ago.
Church bells sound a halting song
from the belfry next to my house.
The priest is teaching the boys the ropes.
In the end he can’t help himself
and gives an impromptu recital
just for the heck of it.
This is how it’s done, this is the sound of pure joy.

I spend time watching the goings on
in the courtyard of the church.
The lives of others.
I see blue and white balloons.
They are baptising a baby boy.
The parents walk slowly in their best clothes,
the father holding the prize,
the mother adjusting and re-adjusting
till it’s all perfect:
a falling shoulder strap, the baby’s hair,
the father’s thoughts.
Two people with huge cameras
are recording the ritual proceedings.

Inside, they will undress the baby,
they will immerse him fully in warm water,
they will anoint him with oil,
cut off a tuft of baby hair,
dress him in wonderful white clothes
to symbolise renewal,
taking photographs all the while.
Some people think the terror and the crying
is cute and funny.
Maybe it is inevitable,
like fate and toothache.
All of us have gone through it,
it’s a shared blueprint
we Greeks
carry to every corner of the earth.

Band Parade © 2015 Daphne C Alexopoulou
Band Parade © 2015 Daphne C Alexopoulou

Into the Metro

Daphne and Mother in Athens, mid-1950's
Daphne and Mother in Athens, mid-1950’s

On turning on the computer in Greece, a window pops up with all the names of the Saints whose holy day it is. They are also displayed on screens in the Metro in Athens. Often the saints are so obscure, I have never met anyone with that name. It’s a litany of K names, or A names, it can be poetic and surprising, like everything in Modern Greece. The old and the new live side by side. The people who lived in these same places make their presence felt all the time. There is a wall  at Syntagma Square Metro Station where five thousand years of plumbing mark the spot behind glass. Everywhere you dig, it’s an archaeological site. People have been here for a long time. Athens, the city of my birth, has been sacked and raised to the ground many times. When I walk outside, there is a silent protest on the square from displaced Syrians. Tell us where to go, say the banners. I was told they were moved away for Christmas. Austerity be damned, people were shopping for Christmas, an imported custom. They didn’t want to be reminded of people facing worse nightmares than them.

Dafni Station © 2015 Daphne C Alexopoulou
Dafni Station © 2015 Daphne C Alexopoulou

At any time, whenever my uniqueness, call it eccentricity, is pointed out to me, I am acutely aware that only Greece could form me. They say you have to go away to find what you left behind. I’m constantly looking for meaning in everything. What makes me uniquely me? Food, yes. Memories growing up in an empty city full of promise? Endless summers, hot skies, lazy holidays at a time when very little felt like plenty? We are a small nation but boy, do we make a lot of noise. It’s a fascinating, yet rather exasperating place. Poetry has helped me make sense of it, poetry is always present. When I was growing up, songs on the radio were written by many of the great poets living in Athens at the time. The radio was playing and we would swoon. We still sing those songs, even the young people, even though we have our own rap. Recently, we had a flash mob enacting the Ancient Greek comedy “Froggs”at the metro station. It was posted on social media as it happened. Sitting at my laptop in London, I was there.