Dimitris Arapis

We lost Sue’s great uncle last Thursday.  He was 99 years old.  Our family owes him a great personal debt of gratitude because it was he who repeatedly insisted that his son, who was stationed in NYC at the time, find his deceased uncle’s family in the US, and make contact.  With no help at all from us, Nikos was successful, and that led directly to our living in Greece half the year.  More importantly, it reunited Susan and Andrew with a part of their family previously thought to be as lost to us as the European relations of most American families tracing their roots to a forebear from the Old World.

It’s not possible to summarize a life in a blog post but ever since I first met Theo (uncle) Dimitri, I’ve marveled at the changes he saw during his life.  He was born in the deep Mani during WWI, in which Greece’s great historic enemy lost their empire.  As a child, his parents (his father was an Orthodox priest) relocated the family to Piraeus, the port of Athens.  As a pre-teen, he witnessed the sudden doubling or trebling of the population of Athens when 1.3 million christians  were forced out of Turkey by a “population exchange” treaty imposed by the League of Nations to stop the genocides in formerly Ottoman territory. (The treaty also required about 355,000 muslims to return to what had become Turkey.)  Theo Dimitri entered the Athens police force, and served as a policeman during the years of the Nazi occupation, when at least 40,000 Athenians died of starvation.  He and his wife raised five children, all of whom have survived him.  His wife died decades ago.

He was a fine head of the family, love guiding him in all things.  He was also a fine singer and he sang when he was happy, as at virtually every family gathering we attended.  During his homily, the priest at the funeral service said that whenever he heard that Theo Dimitri was back in the Mani, he would call to ask him to chant during Mass.  I made a video of Theo Dimitri singing what I call The Mani Song — simply a love-song to his homeland.  He was very proud of his Mani roots, and, beginning in the 50s, every summer he took his young family on a ferry (there was no road) to a then-abandoned seaside village in the deep Mani, not far from where he was born, from where he first went to school, and from where he rests today.  The ferry voyage took about 24 hours back then, having made stops at seemingly every bay and cove between Piraeus and Messinia. The family and all their supplies for the stay had to rowed ashore in the ship’s boats. Theo Dimitri  began by renting a house from an absentee landlord but eventually he bought the place for the family.  In doing so, it became the first re-inhabited house in the village.  Today all of the houses in the village are re-inhabited, at least in the summer.

Theo Dimitri loved to tell stories and he told us about walking across Mani at night with his father, about the unforgettable aroma of the fruit from one small area on the slopes above Porto Kayio, and about how he kept perishable food in Mani’s August heat without refrigeration or ice. Perhaps my favorite is the last I heard while he lived, relayed through his son.  When a person dies in Athens, the next of kin turn his identity card in to the police to obtain a death certificate.  The first line on the back of the Greek identity card, until it joined the EU, was religion.  The German looting of the countryside for food to feed their troops led to mass starvation in Athens, and identity cards were being turned in faster than they could be registered. So Theo Dimitri and some of his colleagues would pocket the occasional identity card and give it to a Jew trying to hide from the Nazis.  The recipient would have to open the lamination and move the photo from the old card to the new one but then he would have a very proper-looking identity card for a person of the Orthodox faith.  When Nikos told us this story he said it was the first time he’d heard it.

Go with God, Theo Dimitri.  We miss you already.



Karagiozis is the popular name given to the Greek shadow puppet theater.  The protagonist in all of the plays written for this theater is a small, humble Greek peasant called Karagiozis and so the genre is simply known by his name. In this centuries-old type of theatre, the flat, articulated shadow puppets are pressed against the back of the screen by puppeteers hiding below it, and a light shining through from the back provides the magic for the audience out front. The “set” of the plays generally consists of the palatial house of the Turkish overlord on one side of the screen and the small shack of Karagiozis on the other. All of the action takes place between these two set elements, and if you think in terms of Punch and Judy you’ll have a good idea of the sort of action that occurs. There are something like 200 Karagiozis plays but the plot in all of them revolves around Karagiozis’s drive to put something over on the tall, regal Turk. Generally, a ridiculously small sum of money is involved – a fraction of a cent – but for Karagiozis the important point is that he comes out ahead of the Turk. This drives the action through all of its absurd twists and turns, and, of course, Karagiozis always comes out ahead.

Karagiozis is considered a national treasure – an elemental part of Greek cultural heritage – and so the state supports a couple of puppeteers who travel the country each summer, staging shows for holiday-making Greeks. Each year, one of these troupes arrives in Sikya and sets up its theatre-in-a-trailer in the plateia just beyond our balcony. The puppeteers spend the day setting up benches, screening, a popcorn machine, a souvenir booth, and then circulating through the surrounding villages and towns in a loudspeaker-equipped car, drumming up business. The show starts after dark, and it is always SRO, packed to capacity. I thought of going the first year but quickly determined that only kids and the parents of kids too young to be left alone were in attendance. The other parents sit outside in the plateia and dutifully buy snacks for the kids before the show and souvenirs after.  The next morning, its all been packed up and taken away to the next village.

The Karagiozis arrived in Sikya this year on Tuesday, and the howls of laughter and shrieks of delight that erupted from the compound proved that the puppeteers still know their audience and that the audience still appreciates the efforts of Karagiozis to prove himself the better man. In a movie-, TV-, and video game-jaded world, it’s just wonderful to see kids enraptured by shows that have traveled the countryside since long before the arrival of automobiles and electricity, long before independence.

My appreciation for the Karagiozis is due entirely to a wonderful section of Henry Miller’s The Colossus of Maroussi. Miller was a true hellenophile, and his ability to communicate the wonder of this land is an inspiration for this blog.

It’s good to be just plain happy; it’s a little better to know that you’re happy; but to understand that you’re happy and to know why and how . . . and still be happy, be happy in the being and the knowing, well that is beyond happiness, that is bliss.

– Henry Miller, The Colossus of Maroussi

The Blue Flag

The Blue Flag

Every year, a group called the Foundation for Environmental Education awards “Blue Flag” status to the cleanest beaches in Europe and beyond. Each year since we’ve been here, the beach at Sikya has enjoyed Blue Flag status — until last year. We don’t know the issue but this beach and our neighboring beach in Melissi didn’t make the list. We were happy to see that both beaches were reinstated this year. The award status runs from July 1 to June 30, and on Thursday the flag was hoisted again over the beach. Had this been our first year here, we might have wondered why the responsible official waited until the 5th to raise the flag. With the benefit of 5 years experience, however, we just laughed.


Sunset all over again

Sunset all over again

That fuzzy sunset photo a couple of posts ago bugged me enough to (download and then) read the camera manual. Turns out, the problem was I had the “Servo AF” box checked. Go figure.

Anyhow, I was on my way home from Melissi again last night when Hλιος (Helios, the sun god of ancient Greek mythology and the modern Greek word for sun) was standing on the horizon posing for his photo before retiring for the night. I went down on the beach at the Akrotiri taverna and grabbed these snaps of the Sikya cape.