Thursday, February 16, 2017


I knew what a τσιμπούκι was from a very early age. After all, one of them took pride of place in my grand-aunt’s living room. Its cylindrical shaft was incredibly long, approximately two metres in length and it was covered in intricately fashioned patterns of translucent mother of pearl swirls juxtaposed against geometric designs. For reasons best known unto itself, it was green in hue and at its base there were two large circular protruberances, upon which the entire contraption rested. I was fascinated by it but apparently, it was very old and very fragile, so, I was forbidden to touch it. Instead, I would experience it vicariously through the viewing of the multitude lithographs of the τσιμπούκι-obsessed Ali Pasha in Greek history books, for that Albanian potentate seems to have done little else than put his mouth around one, thus, Ali Pasha reclining on pillows in a longboat smoking a tsimbouki on Lake Lapsista, Ali Pasha reclining on pillows in a longboat smoking a tsimbouki on Lake Pamvotis, Ali Pasha reclining on pillows in his harem in Ioannina, smoking a tsimbouki….you get the general idea, though I suspect that one of these lithographs bearing a tsimbouki weilding Ali Pasha, placed next ot a photograph of Ali Pasha’s bloody decapitated body as portrayed at the Vrellis waxworks in Ioannina, would serve as a grand Ottoman health warning against smoking.
The revelation that the term “tsimbouki” had connontations other than a long, Ottoman smoking pipe, came to me at my first attendance at an Australian soccer match, back in the days when soccer was ethnic and reflected the dreams and aspirations of disaffected, hen-pecked migrants across all social and racial sub-strata. At some key stage in the game, a group of mullet-headed youths began to chant: «Πω, πω, πω, τι τσιμπούκι είν’ αυτό.» As they did so, their eyes gleamed with unworldy glee and they clutched at their crotches in ecstasy. I remember asking one of them whether tsimbouki was in fact, some type of migrant patois for “goal,” and my interlocutor rolled up the sleeves of his flanelette checked shirt tightly over his biceps, thrust his face uncomfortably close to mine and shouted: “It’s a τσιμπούκι ρεεεεεεεε,” before rushing off in search of a light with which to light some flares, for he had come unprepared and was completely disorganised. On the way home, my attempts to vocalise my joy at being exposed to such exhilliarating surrounds and linguistic polyvalencies, through the chanting of «Πω, πω, πω, τι τσιμπούκι είν’ αυτό,» were met by my father unceremoniously, with a backhander. I surmised that my father was secretly, an Alexandros fan after all, this being how we used to refer to a team that now identifies itself as Heidelberg United.
Somehow, after a certain age, the word tsimbouki seemed to have widespread intellegibility among the students of my school, Greek or otherwise, along with other expletives such as pousti and malaka, which in our corner of Essendon, were ingeniously conflated by the Aussie kids into the compound poustamalaka, a kind of taramasalata portmanteau that makes sense when one thinks about it. Going to school and being told that one’s mum is a poustamalaka is a heart-warming experience that shows just how multicultural the melting pot of vital fluids actually is. Incidentally, up until the ninenties, when people returning from holidays in Greece began to ape the mannerisms of the ultramarine Hellenes, malakas was an offesnsive term. Now, not only is it a term of endearment, it is a compulsory linguistic addition to the beginning of each and every sentence, if one is to establish genuine Neohellenic credentials. As one recently arrived Neohellenic friend observed not so long ago:
«Βρε μαλάκα, εσείς οι Αυστραλοέλληνες είστε κρύοι και λιγομίλητοι.»
“Yes,” I agreed. “That is because we tend to move our hands a lot less when we talk.”

It would have been at this point that some of the more nationalistic Greek students in the school, decided to assert their ethnicity by means of scatology. I remember one notable soccer training afternoon, whereby, having once more successfully utilised my powers of advocacy in order to excuse myself, I hung around long enough to hear some of the Hellenic soccer stars of the future (for every Greek Australian boy that undergoes soccer training is a potential star player for Real Madrd in his parents’ eyes), ask our beleaguered Chinese language teacher cum soccer trainer:
“Sir, do you know Jim Boukis?”
“Jim Boukis, sir. Do you know him?”
“Didn’t he train about two years ago?”
“Ha, ha sir, I knew you would know Jim Boukis. You look like just the kind of guy who would.”
“What is he doing these days?”
Spasms of laughter ensued and this ritual was played out upon soccer trainer upon soccer trainer with the questions varying from:
“Hey Sir, do you know Mal? Mal Akas,” to do you know: “Michael O’ Tripper, Sue Benny,” or when imagination exhausted itself “Sue Vgeni,” until the time when one of the main protagonists, a boy who modelled his speech directly upon Jim Stephanidis of Acropolis Now fame asked a new blonde, haired blue eyed, Anglo-looking trainer:
“Hey sir, do you know Travis?”
“Travis? Travis who?”
“Travis Boutsas, do you know him?”
«Τον ξέρω.
Θέλεις να ρωτήσω την μάνα σου πώς τον ξέρεις κι εσύ; Τράβα τώρα,» came the snarling response. We stood around speechless, for the common consensus was that Travis Boutsas was the schoolboy pièce de résistance of Grecoscatology, a work of the highest expletive genius, now deflated and rendered redundant until the next season by someone who knew exacly what we were up to. This trainer was not only Greek, he was pure evil. He pushed us hard, refusing to accept my impassioned references to the Magna Carta as pretexts for my non-participation in training and though I did not ever learn to kick a ball straight at the end of his tenure, I fantisized about kicking his own, countless times. What is worse, he adopted the use of the term Travis Boutsas as a collective noun to describe all of us.
It is for this reason, that when I graduated and obtained my first job, being mentored by a particularly sadistic Greek lawyer, that I raised my eyebrows quizically when he asked:
“Can you come here?”
“Do you know Tom Poustie?”
“Seriously? You’re going to go down this path now?”
“Answer the question. Do you know Tom Poustie?”
“No. Do you?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact I do. You want to see?”
Quick as a flash, he flipped his computer screen around to face me. There in front of me, an email from a colleague, who, and my chief tormentor had taken the trouble to look up his profile, was truly labouring under the applelation of: Tom Poustie. I glanced at the email and the look of sheer demonic delight on my torturer’s features. Shrugging my shoulders, I remarked:
“Βρε Tom Poustie,” as the rafters shook with my persecutor’s manical laughter.
Tsim Booky, the enigmatic taxi driver who appeared recently on the Commercial Networks, with that name, to comment upon the taxi driver’s protest against government policies must be viewed in the light of hallowed Australo-hellenic scatological tradition. The fact that he can convincingly pass himself off as an act of fellatio (which may or may not be symbolic of what he may believe to be the not-so-genuine efforts of the government to mollify his brethren and which could more likely be likensn to irrumatio instead), in multicultural Australia, proves that this man must be given his own television show or youtube channel, whereupon, tsimbouki in hand, he can comment upon the issues of the day. In this, and our continued delight in asserting our identity through smut and converting it into social protest, we ought to be immensely joyful.