Monday, September 11, 2006


There is no Orthrus guarding the cattle of Geryon here. Instead you are met at the gates by two white pointers, their truncated tails wagging in anticipation. Yet let not the dissimulation of friendliness fool you. Your safe passage down the driveway is solely at their discretion, for they have been known to attempt to rip pieces of flesh from unworthy intruders and not even the commands of their master can deter them from barring the malevolent from their abode.
You proceed down the concrete driveway, past the herd of cars waiting their turn silently, in single file and you arrive at the gates of the Labyrinth. The garage door yawns open, emanating a chasm of darkness from within. Nothing can be seen and the sounds of clashing metal and signing steam fill the ears with trepidation. Gingerly, you proceed into the void and…into the workshop of Daedalus.
A multitude of tools hang listlessly from the walls, interlocking with each other as if a vast shimmering mirror of chrome, iron and steel. Your form appears distorted upon their surface; your prismatic reflection dissected and separated into its constituent parts reduces you too, into a mass of interlocking cogwheels, oils and lubricants. Subconsciously, you wince as you rub that recurring ache in your neck, lamenting that these tools cannot loosen the screws that have grown tighter and cross-threaded with age and that your oils have become clogged with the residue and refuse of subsistence but cannot be changed.
You brush past old exhaust pipes, gear boxes, seals and gaskets, all hanging neatly against the wall with the same precision and indifference as a butcher hangs the vital organs of a lamb from his ceiling under a sign "Lamb's pluck $2.00" These are the casualties of migrant living: A gasket blown while driving into the country to secure a supply of decent manure for the vegetable patch, a differential rebelling while driving to a wedding. If only these vital organs could talk and they do, for their erstwhile owners invariably return to them, offering their stories in supplication to the ingenious Daedalus who alone may extract them and transplant them with the precision of a microsurgeon, in order to safeguard his suppliants' mobility.
As you proceed further, your eyes adjust to the semi darkness. Looking up, you notice a message hastily written with black texta upon a side of a cardboard box: "Φίλε, αν δεν έχεις, να έρχεσαι να παίρνεις. Αν έχεις, να μην έρχεσαι να παίρνεις." Engrossed in speculation about the hidden meaning of this mantra, you stub your toe upon a transmission lying at your feet. This was one of the ones not even Daedalus could fix. It remains on the dank, oil-stained concrete below, its insides spilling seals and metal discs in a sorry metaphor for the inevitability of decay and futility of immortality. Now you know the meaning of the sign. If you cannot offer the worn and damaged constituent parts of your mobility to the entombed and imprisoned within his labyrinthine domain Daedalus, then there is nothing to be gained from entering his hermitage.
You pass rows and rows of shelves covered in old rags, festooned with nuts and bolts and rusty, superannuated tools. Above you another sign looms: "Ο δανειστής των εργαλείων λείπει. Πήγε να βρεί τα εργαλεία αυτών στους οποίους τα δάνεισε." For Daedalus cannot but offer the potentiality of mechanized salvation to all of mankind, even if this does result in a diminution of the subjects of his realm. They are merely a manifestation of his omnipresence and a rusted refuge for the ravaged refuse of time.
Finally, your reach your destination; the center of the labyrinth. A series of throat y grunts and the clashing of metal can be heard from a pit below your feet. Suddenly, the tread of heavy footsteps crunches up the stairs and he emerges, not the Minotaur but Daedalus.
The first thing you notice about Daedalus is that he is immensely tall. The second is his broad smile and his hands, which are constantly fidgeting; touching one tool or accessory after another as he speaks as if thinking is a tactile operation. Among the wasteland of untrustworthy mechanics, this Daedalus, who goes by the decidedly unmythological appellation of Jim, is a bastion of reliability and ingenious application. His life story too is full of the stuff mythology is made on.
Odysseus-like, the young Jim left his homeland of Samos and embarked on his own Odyssey, serving as a ship's mechanic, a worthy apprenticeship for a master of machines. Unlike Odysseus however and having despaired of returning to a land where no Penelope was there to await his return, he sought refuge in the isle of Calypso and has remained there ever since, his heart fixed forever upon the sea, his body ensconced the custom made labyrinthine workshop of his own creation, there to achieve the heights of technical impossibility by restoring implausible engines back to life.
To visit this modern day Daedalus in his labyrinth is a singular experience. For visitors not only come away with their cars resurrected but also a good deal of knowledge and philosophy to boot. The indefatigable Daedalus is quick to regale his companions, Homer-like with the saga of his own life, discuss the culinary habits of the ancient Greeks or the gardening practices of the Ottoman times. And what's more, such interests transcend the theoretical. A wine press stands in one corner awaiting the proper season for its use. A visitor to the labyrinth during wine-making season will not just sit by and chat idly while his car is being repaired. On the contrary, he will be expected to lend a hand, squeezing the grapes of ingenuity in the wine press of continuity and invariably, be called upon to savour the results.
Woodcarvings of Samos and ancient Samian ships upon the walls of the labyrinth, along with a large library incongruously wedged between spare parts attest to this Daedalus' polymathy. Most importantly however, he is the center of a greater labyrinth, winding its way across the twists and turns of the Greek community of the inner north western suburbs. The confused or bewildered compatriot who seeks a trustworthy painter or electrician has but to enquire this of the denizen of the labyrinth, who in turn, will invariably provide him with a list of appropriate tradespeople, word of mouth testimonials as to their skills as well as a complete history not only of where they have worked but of the chief events of their life as well. Such a recommendation is a guarantee of performance and it also ensures that a community, which is not as "in your face" as that which exists in various other parts of Melbourne, does not lose touch with its members.
In ancient mythology, Daedalus was imprisoned in the labyrinth for murdering his nephew in a fit of jealous rage after the poor boy was inspired by a shark's jawbone to invent the saw. In an inversion to this myth, the nephew of our modern-day Daedalus can often be seen entering the labyrinth requesting a loan of his chainsaw, in predictable violation of the embargo on borrowing tools. Further, Daedalus Jim was voluntarily immured himself in his labyrinth and shows no intention of emerging from it. If anything, his Minotaur is the ever-diminishing fear that there will come a time when an engine will be offered to him that he will not be able to fix. Fat chance.
In my last visit to the labyrinth, Daedalus Jim was expounding at length about his collection of authentic rembetika recordings and listing the differences in tonal modulations between the Asia Minor coast and the islands of the Aegean. Subsequently, he proceeded to analysedApodimi Compania's haunting arrangement of Ariadne's song, to be found on their Melisma CD.
I interjected, asking him whether he, like Daedalus before him would ever conceive of fashioning wings to fly far and way from his workplace. "Not a chance," he riposted. "When I turn on the radio and listen to rembetika, put a spanner in my hand and crawl into the pit to start work, I am already flying. Plus, what Samian would fly over Samos without stopping by. If Daedalus knew what he was doing, he would have landed in Samos instead of trying to fly to Icaria and his son's wings would not have melted." As he started to expound at length his views of aerodynamics and aeronautical engineering, setting out how the basic design of Icarus' wings could be improved, having regard to the working drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci and the innovations of the Wright brothers, I left him to perform his customary miracles upon my long-suffering vehicle, dodging the ball of string that his two dogs were intent upon disemboweling rather than unraveling, listening to the clichéd but passionate lyrics of Stamatis Gonidis issue from the recesses of the labyrinth's radio: "Έχω πετάξει μαζί σου.."

First published in NKEE on 11 September 2006