When I lived in Greece with Peter in the l980s, his neighbour Vassiliky was wary of me. She was in her 80s, I was in my 30s, and Peter was in his 50s. As she looked me up and down she was definitely skeptical: dyspistos.
Note: You have to love the Greeks and their simple marriage to phonetics, after all they invented the word: phonetikos. Translating into English, the Greek words are spelled the way they sound. Vassiliky. dressed head to toe in black scarfs, boots and wooden riding skirt made her point emphatic: emfatikos — as she glared at me in shorts and halter top.
Simply; Vassiliky was in love with Eios Petros. It literally means Saint Peter. When I showed up that one day in the street: dromos — leading to Peter’s wind mill, I was scared. Very scared.
She was on her donkey, looking down with a scalding look; betrayal in her eyes. But in this photo, Peter caught the light of her baby blues and if you take an index card to cover up the broken teeth — she was in her late 80s at the time with no dentist in sight since Hippocrates 2300 years earlier. In the photo one can imagine what was once a formidable beauty.
Peter told me she and the other women dressed head to toe in black would gossip and laugh about the Italians who invaded in l941, when Mussolini fell in love with Rhodos. Apparently the dictator devoted one million Italian lire to fix up the Knights Templar Castle - one of the best kept historic castles of antiquity.
I was transfixed by this story of long, lasting lust, or ‘amore’ as Vassiliky would say giggling to herself. It was that giggle — nevriko — that made me less afraid for my life…until….
…One day Petros asked me — without obviously thinking of the consequences to my safety — to go to Vassiliky’s and trade our black kalamatas for her lemons. He did it all the time he told me. I looked at him as if he had two heads. Didn’t he realize this woman was in love with him? And that I was fifty years younger and anything could happen? No. He didn’t.
Armed with not much confidence but a whole lot of determination, I knocked on her blue door to the courtyard. Everyone had the same enclosed courtyards in the small village of Lahania. One could not see in from the outside. In my naïveté I wondered if it was to keep out the amore…or, perhaps to keep that amore…in.
What happened next took my breath away.
As the blue door creaked open, there she was, without her black scarfs.
Golden light forced my eyes to open wide. She had just washed her hair, and the sun bounced oﬀ her dazzling and brilliant: lampros. It was her blonde hair, just slightly turning grey. I looked hard into the luminous sun that was her face, dripping with the last remnants of water. Her smile was bright. Her eyes bluer than blue; the true aquamarine of a Dorian goddess. I felt very puny. mikrokamomènos.
Although I showed her Peter’s olives and adequately stated my lemon intention in Greek - it was all beside the point - as one long index finger led me into her home as if on a secret quest. Beyond the spartan belongings we then entered her bedroom. She pointed to the end of her bed. I was agog with disbelief.
Remember this is long before the internet or cell phones: hell, it seemed there were still only four television channels in all the world anyone would have access to. No streaming, no instant communication on any level at any time anywhere. So, how could…?
There in all its splendour — megaleio - just like in any North American bedroom so you could watch Johnny Carson — was - a television set. Complete with rabbit ears.
She clapped her hands and laughed looking at me as if I got the one word I knew established Greece forever in my heart.