Saturday, January 23, 2021


After enduring twelve years of my devoted patronage, my local café is closing its doors, as it is being merged into a conglomeration of a soon to be constructed faceless monument to superseded architectural brutalism. 

This is a source of great grief for me, for its well-appointed blue and white interior colour scheme, and its apparent nautical theme, provide a supportive environment for a tri-weekly perusal of Neos Kosmos. Ordinarily, I purchase said august publication, ensconce myself in my favoured seat under a conglomeration of ropes that seem not to comprehend whether they in fact belong to the wreck of a ship or the Gordion knot. Then, having scanned the death notices, invariable, a quadriad of stunningly adorned, immaculately coiffed ladies arrive and take their seats opposite me. At this point I lower the paper and what for the show to begin. This segment is called: “Real Greek-Australian housewives of [insert aspirational suburb here]. 

On one particular morning, three of the ladies arrived only to find that the fourth member of their party was missing. Lady A, she of the blonde highlights and dazzling teeth picked up her phone. 

- Where are you μωρή; 

- Maybe they matiasied her, Lady B, she of the leather handbag matching her leather pants both in sheen, colour and smoothness, opined. 

I wanted to interject that given that Lady D is wont to wear a multitude of Sue Sensi ottoman blue eyes about her lithe personage, she is sufficiently warded against the ethereal onslaughts of the evil one, but that would blow my cover, so I remained silent. 

- Κάποιοth χιόνιthε, Lady A lisped down the phone. Her interlocutor evidently registering  

mystery as to the exact meaning of her communication, Lady A continued: Isn’t that what you say when you haven’t seen someone for a long time? 

- That’s ένας φούρνος γκρεμίστηκε, μωρή, Lady C, she of the Dolce & Gabbana Vintage Design Rhinestones Purse with Kiss Clasp in Pink (the real one, not that one from Ebay), croaked. 

- What the f… does a φούρνο have to do with it? Lady A exclaimed. Turning to the phone she pronounced into the receiver: 

- “Shut up μωρή, if you had one, I would blow it. Now get your κώλο down here! 

I am in love. 

Patronising a café is difficult for me, for although I generally imbibe little anything else except for Greek coffee, I am, in the quest for optimum Neos Kosmos scouring, compelled to order a latte. Two management changes previously, while in the process of so ordering, I was once slipped a little piece of paper entitled "Cupping Notes." While examining it, I was astounded to discover that the beverage I was consuming, was a generous, almost whimsical, full flavoured Guatemalan single origin bean, with overtones of chocolate and afterthoughts of vanilla. 

All I could taste on the other hand, was the ennui of bitterness and burn. 

"Cupping notes?" I asked the waitress. 

"Yeah I know right?" she responded. "At first I thought it had something to do with bra sizes.” 

By the time I revealed to her that the first person recorded to have brewed coffee in England was an international student named Nathaniel Conopios from Crete, who was studying at Balliol College, Oxford, that his simple act, which happened in May 1637, was recorded by both scholar John Evelyn and historian Anthony Wood and that shortly afterwards Conopios was expelled from college, she had already taken my glass away. 

Reading Neos Kosmos in one’s local café provides an effective means of identifying the Greeks in one’s local area. For example, if it were not for this most distinguished media publication, I would not know that the dapper, blue eyed and placid elderly gentleman smoking a cigar outside every morning, with his son was in fact Greek, if it were not for the fact that seeing me read the paper one day, they both approached me in order to make the following observations: 

Elderly gentleman: Τον Νέο Κόσμο τον διευθύνουν οι Εβραίοι και οι μασώνοι.... 

Son of same: What's Neos Kosmos on Saturdays anyway? A glorified good food guide? 

When I interjected so as to politely point out that Neos Kosmos is the glue that binds our community together, the only means of us known what each other is doing, a unique forum where, a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought content, in the absence of which they would have nothing to complain about the elderly gentleman spat: 

- Είσαι πούστης εβραιομασώνος και θέλεις να διαλύσεις το έθνος μας. 

Unable to regain my lost composure, I dispassionately confided in the two gentlemen that the city of Trogir in Croatia, was known in Byzantine times as «Τετράγγουρον» ie Quadriple Cucumber. Subsequently, I suggested to them the breathtaking possibilities of such an urban conglomeration. 

Inhabiting a café for a protracted period of time, means that on occasion one is privileged, if not to play Cupid, than at least to follow the fate of patrons from their inception, to the early stages of new relationship, and finally to their inevitable conclusion. Resisting one afternoon, to race selflessly to the assistance of a couple whose tongues were more entwined than the knot of Gordion, I overheard the male of the species authoritatively inform the object of his affection that the word εἰσπνεῖν - "to breathe into" was considered first and foremost to be the lover's prerogative in ancient Greece, the moment when the lover would, as Plato held, breathe "intelligence and every other virtue" into the mouth and body of his beloved. Εἴσπνηλος - he who breathes into, was thus another word for lover. 

I felt a sense of smug pride, as I had imparted this particular nugget of knowledge to him the day before and his delivery was even more flawless than when we rehearsed it. Calamitously, it was met with the following riposte: 

“ So you think that you are more intelligent than I?” His lover rose angrily and left him mortified. Feeling responsible, I did what any self-respecting meddler would do. I quoted Aesop to him: Πῦρ γυνὴ καὶ θάλασσα, δυνατὰ τρία, “Fire woman and the sea, these are the three strong things.” 

Looking miserable, he responded in the strains of Oscar Wilde: 

“You make my creed a barren sham, you wake 

foul dreams of sensual life, 

And Atys with his blood-stained knife were 

better than the thing I am. 

False Sphinx! False Sphinx! By reedy Styx 

old Charon, leaning on his oar, 

Waits for my coin. Go thou before, and leave 

me to my crucifix.” 

I did not dare to enquire who was the Sphinx. Years later, I learn the couple are happily married and abiding in Israel, taking, pre-COVID, annual holidays in Greece, from where I receive happy snaps accompanied by such gushing Oscar Wilde quotes from their joint social media account as:  

“To be really mediaeval one should have no body. To be really modern one should have no soul. To be really GREEK ... one should have no clothes.”  

The messages are almost instantaneously deleted. 

I’ve presided over committee meetings of Greek-Australian community organisations in my local café, as I find that the presence of non-Greeks in the premises has the invariable effect of quashing any conflagration of smouldering resentment. At one such meeting, arguing over the form of wording for the Notice of Annual General Meeting that was to be provided to Neos Kosmos, the president propounded the view that Greek-Australian clubs are a unique development of the diaspora and are thus, his in particular, historically significant. 

Sadly, I felt compelled to dampen his exuberance by suggesting that clubs were a big deal for Greeks even in Hellenistic and Roman times, even without maintaining my conviction that the ancient Athenians invented the first frat house. We know of clubs for lovers of jokes (φιλοπαίκτορες), of joy (καλοκάρδιοι) of exuberance (εὐθεράπιοι) and of gladiatorial shows (φίλοπλοι). There was even an actor's guild, the Διονυσιακοί τεχνίται. I concluded by venturing that presidents of Greek-Australian clubs had to wait 2,000 years until the invention of SAE in order to gain a club of their own, and even then, that did not last long, and the current incumbent missed out on a free ticket to Greece, a coveted prize that, according to him, he was denied owing to the machinations of the treasurer (still in office), twenty years ago. 

The days are still long, but shadows of doom loom over my favourite haunt, as its time grows short. I finger the pages of Neos Kosmos lovingly, gaze nostalgically at the hempen entanglement of the décor and emit a long, wistful sigh, as I scan the letters page. Next to me, a bearded latte-sipping hipster dad opines that I would look much more contemporary with a full beard. I spend the next fifteen minutes waxing lyrical about a Bohemian artisan hand nostril trimmer in Ripponlea, whose family has been plying the trade since the Defenestration of Prague. He is so enthused I don't have the heart to tell him I am pulling his leg.  

The conversation takes this turn when he asks me who attends to my grooming needs. Upon discovering that I am an auto-didact, he proceeds to inform me that he gives his beard a daily nourishing bath in turmeric water, whereupon I riposte that I bathe my protruding nostril hairs in an infusion of old Neos Kosmos strips and φλασκούνι. 

I am going to miss that old place. 


First published on NKEE on Saturday, 23 January 2021