Saturday, January 04, 2020


“I must ring Πίτα,” the middle aged lady remarked, outside church, “and wish him a Happy Nameday.”
“Πίτα;” I askedtaken aback, “Γιορτάζουν σήμερα οι Πίτες;”
Yes,” the lady responded. “Είναι της βασιλόπιτας, σήμερα. Γιορτάζουν οι Βασίληδες και οι Πίτες.”
Μεγάλη η χάρη της,” I whispered, devoutly making the sign of the cross over myself. “Why don’t you call Hermes as well?”
“It’s Hermes’ New Year, this Year.”
“I have no idea what you are talking about. Και του χρόνου,” the lady declared, walking away.

I didn’t blame her. In order to understand what Hermes has to do with the New Year, she must have been privy to the events of the day before Christmas Eve, when, seated at my office, I received a phone call from my six year old daughter.
Μπαμπά, I just read that the polar ice caps are melting.”
“Yes they are.” (Mental note to self – get the girl some decent literature to read. Something to lift her spirits like Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol. Science articles are so ungrammatical and syntactically uninspired).
“Will Santa get to us before his home is under water?”
“Don’t you worry about Άγιο Βασίλη…”
“No, I’m not asking you about Άγιο Βασίλη. I’m asking you about Santa.”
“What do you mean. Aren’t they one and the same?”
“You’re confused μπαμπά. Don’t you remember that Santa comes at Christmas  from the North Pole and Άγιο Βασίλη comes at New Year from Caesaria? Which is further, the North Pole or Caesaria?
“From where we are, the North Pole is further.”
“Maybe Santa should move to Caesaria. Then he won’t get flooded.”
I pondered the suggested relocation to the land of Erdoğan and his subsequent likely appropriation with concern. Και δεν μας καταδέχεται indeed…. After all, such matters were mooted in Wikileaks.
Μπαμπά, don’t forget to send my Christmas cards,” my daughter’s voice startled me from my musing. Gathering the cards she had written to our relatives in Greece, I ran across the road to the post office, where I waited in a queue almost as long as that which I had joined years ago, (without my will, I must add), at a Sfakianakis concert, of blessed memory.

Reaching the counter, a sprightly, ginger-haired, bearded homage to Van Gough beamed at me:

“Merry Christmas, to you, or if you don’t celebrate, sorry if I’ve offended you.”
“No, you haven’t offended me,” I reassured him. Do you celebrate Christmas?”
“No,” he scoffed. “I’m not into rampant materialism. I celebrate the summer solstice instead. You got to give back to nature, don’t you know?”
“Really?” I asked. “You do realize that the summer solstice is a key contributor to global warming don’t you?”
Van Gough appeared shocked. “What do you mean?” he lisped.
“Well, you are celebrating that time of the year when the sun is melting the southern polar ice caps at its most intensity.”
“Oh, I’ve never thought of it that way,” Van Gough gasped, touching both his cheeks.
“Why don
t you celebrate Hermes instead?” I offered.
“Excuse me? Herpes?” he asked.
“Hermes,” I repeated, “not its rhyme. The ancient Greek god of postmen, faxes and emails. He is the one who makes Christmas and New Year happen.”
“How?” Van Gough leaned forward.
“For starters,” I elucidated, “he is the one who makes sure that you guys deliver the presents and Christmas cards to the right addresses. Also, if you happen to get stuck in an elevator while on the job, you can call on him to prise you out, as he 
rescued the god Ares from Otis and Ephialtes. Furthermore, during this stressful time, you will be pleased to know that he is the god of chill. If it all gets too much for you in the sorting room and you fear that you are reverting to your animal nature, he can always give you a magic herb to chew, as he did Odysseus, protecting him from the wiles of Circe.”
“Cersei? What has Game of Thrones got to do with in. Oh my God I LOVE her. She is such a diva,” Van Gough swooned.
“The other Circe,” I continued. “And should you tire while delivering cards and presents door to door, remember that properly invoked, Hermes always gives rest. As Anyte of Tegea wrote in the third century BC:   
“I Hermes stand here at the crossroads by the wind beaten orchard, near the hoary grey coast; and I keep a resting place for weary men. And the cool stainless spring gushes out.”
Van Gough clapped his hands and emitted a squeal of delight. “What does he look like?”
“Well he generally wears aerodynamic winged sandals and a winged cap, to enable him to deliver the post on time. Here,” I quickly retrieved from my telephone, a rather muscular but nonetheless aethereal Hermes, as depicted in the now destroyed “The Elevation of the Great Elector into Olympus.”
Scanning the image appraisingly, Van Gough exclaimed:  “Yum yum. Definitely wouldn’t mind worshipping him. What’s that rod he is holding in his hands?”
“That’s a Caduceus.”
“A what?”
“A herald’s staff consisting of a rod around which are entitled two snakes.”
“Ooh, I wouldn’t mind entwining my snake around his rod,” Van Gough licked his lips.
Time was pressing. I thrust the Christmas cards in his direction. “Do I have to lick the stamps and post or will you handle that?” I enquired
“No I’ll do all the licking for you,” Van Gough informed me, eyebrow raised.
“That is so kind.”
“Oh no,” Van Gough explained huskily, “I’ll do anything for you. Just take it in your stride.”
This being a expedient point to take my leave, I wished him: “Happy Hermes.”
“Shouldn’t it be Merry Hermes?” Van Gough sought clarification.
“Hey, no judgment here,” I reassured him, departing.
“Hey, you didn’t tell me why Hermes is the god of the New Year!” Van Gough called out but by then, I was already passing through the automatic doors and did not respond.

On New Year’s Eve, I was in my favourite nut shop, purchasing the necessary ingredients  for our Vasilopita, when I heard a low gravelly voice growl around the corner of the macadamia display. In timbre and intensity, it reminded me of the voice of the hundred-eyed giant Panoptes, tasked with watching over the heifer-nymph Io in the sanctuary of Queen Hera in Argos. When not watching Io, did it watch over assorted bar nuts? I pondered.
“Liam,” the gravelly voice grunted. “Liam, stop touching the bloody nuts re.” A young boy rounded the corner, holding fistfuls of pistachios, pursued by the bemused shopkeeper. He collided with me, sending me reeling onto the shelf against the wall, causing plastic packets of mastic, mahlepi and dry Turkish yeast to cascade down my coiffure, onto my shoulders.
“Liam,” roared the voice. “Look what you’ve done you γαϊδούρι! Look at me when I’m talking to you! Full body communication! Liam!”
An immensely proportioned lady loomed over me as I prised packets of cardamom from my shirt collar. Her eyes were as dark as the Hades into which Hermes, as psychopomp, led the souls of the dead. Her fleshy arms wobbled pendulously as she stretched out an impossibly large hand. I flinched.
“Liam. Get over here re you massive γομάρι,” she growled, completely oblivious to my existence. “That’s it. No Fornite for you for a fortnight. You’re grounded.” Glancing carelessly in my direction, she attempted to stride off, only to have her Nike M2 tekno sneakers slide off the sheen of a packet of star anise. Just before she hit the ground, her fall was broken by Liam’s foot. He yelped, as he held his afflicted foot in one hand, swerving from side to side in agony on his other foot, in a manner akin to Hermes Stropheus, this being the socket in which the pivot of the door moves, in his role as protector of the doorways.
“Shut up Liam you little…”
«Εσύ σκάσε,» the razor sharp cadences of curt diction eviscerated the psychopomp’s words. A miniscule, intensely trim elderly lady, marched decisively up to young Liam and took custody of his free hand. «Έλα εδώ εσύ Ερμή, και άσε τη μάνα σου, ντάλυ μου. Δε τελειώσαμε το σόπυ ακόμα.»
«Ερμή το λένε το παιδί;» I was unable to restrain myself.
«Αγιου Γκρικ,» the elderly lady observed. «Ναι, Ερμή το λένε σαν το μακαρίτη τον άντρα μου.»
«Πότε γιορτάζει;» I enquired for one never knows when one may be called upon to which a Hermes a happy nameday.
«Εμείς την Πρωτοχρονιά τον γιορτάζουμε, μαζί με τα γενέθλιά του.»
«Το Liam από πού βγαίνει;» I enquired further.
«Liam is Hermès in English,» the psychopomp modified the frequency of her bellow so as to convey to me the fact that this, and his relationship with a variety of Parisian leather goods was bleedingly obvious. As the undertones of her mastodontic trumpeting began to vibrate beneath my feet, I made a hasty retreat.

At quarter past midnight, while trying to balance champagne glasses on my head, my New Year’s signature party trick, I received a phone call.

“Happy Hermes New Year,” a voice slurred.
“Who is this?” I demanded.
“It’s Desmond.”
“The guy from the post office. I got your number from the express post envelope you left with me. I hope you don’t mind..”
I accepted this piece of information in astounded silence.
“Anyway, just wanted to say that I figured it out.”
“What?” I gasped, assisting a champagne flute to achieve equilibrium upon my head.
“Why Hermes is the god of the New Year.”
I had scant idea what he was talking about.
“Well, apparently, Hermes is the god of boundaries, so he guards the boundaries from one year into the next. And what do you think the ancient Greeks set up as boundary markers? Herms! Great pillars depicting nothing but Hermes’ head and an erect penis! Happy New Year all round indeed!” Desmond Van Gough hooted across the optic fibres.
“I have to go,” I muttered. “I need to get some sleep. I have church in the morning.”
“Did you know that Hermes is responsible for bringing you dreams while you sleep?” Desmond continued. “What do you dream about? How long are you off for? When are you back at work again?”
Having been startled by the underhanded acquisition of my telephone number, I wanted to intone a litany of terms of disapprobation by way of riposte. Instead, I remembered that as Dolios, Hermes was also the god of stealth and trickery. As master of boundaries, he transcends them at will, in order to confound their definition.
“Good night Desmond,” I sighed resignedly. “And a Happy Hermes New Year to you too.”


First published in NKEE on 4 January 2020