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Ida & her Magic Camera - Part II
by Nikos Laios
2016-04-23 09:52:57
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Ida & her Magic Camera - Part II
Road Trip

It was a beautiful evening and the sky glowed a soft orange with long fluid wisps of purple clouds streaking the horizon which took Ida's breath away as she walked slowly along the promenade. Dapples of glistening light dancing on the waves of Thessaloniki harbour as the sun slowly dipped over the horizon. The metallic dark-green painted antique street lamps along the promenade casting long shadows onto the cobblestones and the slow meandering couples. She had walked from the White Tower along Leoforos Nikis road collecting her thoughts as they mingled with the floating aromas and flavours of the street corncob venders; how she remembered these moments as a young girl. Her father taking her on long walks along the Harbour-side promenade with the yellow corncobs glistening under the light, the flavour of corn and butter vying for attention with the nearby tavernas; grilled lemon-scented fish, melting halloumi cheese and the curling tendrils of aroma and smoke rising from the rows of oregano scented chicken and lamb souvlakia up into the air as though they were offerings to the Olympian gods themselves. She remembered as a girl being lost in a reverie as she held her father's hand: 'those were simpler times,' she thought, these selected personal experiences where the few that made her feel sentimental on occasion these days.

She turned right and headed to her apartment in the Ladadika area and the streets suddenly became narrow and quaint, and the flower pots and ferns started appeared in greater numbers from the small neoclassical balconies on most of the first floors of the apartments when a hint of pungent smell wafted from an uncollected garbage bin nearby in an adjacent alleyway. While the succulent mouth-watering flavour of grilled Octopus emanated out from the upstairs French doors of the apartment of Mrs. Angela on the other side of the street. She reflected on the morning breakfast she had with Stavros, Father Achilles and Joubert at the Iguana Cafe:  'how that man frustrated her,' she thought.

The heels of her shoes echoed loudly as she walked up the stairs to her first floor apartment when she heard the loud voice of her neighbour Professor Caruso: ‘heathens! .....heathens! ...you pagans!.....damn pagans.....song of songs....song of songs....Solomon, Solomon, he'll show them all.......heathens, heathens.....fathers of the European Union......fathers of the European Union I tell you....heed their words you pagans,' he said in a demented voice.

nikos01She heard this as she arrived on the landing of her apartment and could imagine Professor Caruso's left eye twitching nervously and raping the fingers of his right hand on the table as he continued with his daily sermon to the neighbours. She felt sorry for him, everyone thought he was eccentric, but she knew better, there was a sad melancholy about him, a nut job, a man who had lost his soul and descended into madness and who sought the guidance of his imaginary Beatrice. By the time she had arrived in her apartment, the scrolling thunderous clouds had moved in from the west and only pockets of orange shone through patches and gaps in the dark grey clouds gilding the edges gold like a haunting El Greco painting.

She called a number on her iPhone as she lit a cigarette blowing smoke upwards; 'Joubert darling, how are you my dove?' She asked, as she skilfully unzipped the zipper on the side of her dress letting it fall around her in a heap as she stepped out of it.

' Mon Dieu, I was just thinking about you, I found some absolutely marvellous records that I think you will relish, The Doors, Rolling Stones and Daft Punk,' he answered.

'Are they there?' she asked.

'Who? .....Stavros and Father Achilles? He responded.

'Yes, yes....are they there?'

'No, no, they left just after lunch, but it's all agreed huh? Where we are all to meet in the morning for the road trip,' he said.

She pressed the end button to the call, dropped the phone on her mauve coloured velvet couch and waked around in her silk slip with her naked feet scrunching the cool black and white check patterned marble floor underneath her feet as she loosened the elastic band from her blonde ponytail and ran her hand through her hair; taking another drag from her cigarette blowing a jet of smoke up into the air. She grabbed the remote control to her mini stereo system and the opening musical prelude and lyrics of David Bowie's song 'Let's Dance' started playing: 'Let's dance, put on your red shoes and dance the blues, let's dance to the song they're playing on the radio....'
She fell backwards onto her couch stubbed out her cigarette and picked up a short joint and lit it up inhaling a deep drag into her lungs. The marijuana molecules diffusing though the permeable membrane of her lungs and flooding her red blood cells as she felt like a warm melting piece of cheese spreading out on her couch, a warm flushing smile spreading across her face, as she reclined back looking up at the walls whilst listening to Bowie.

Now she felt human, now she felt alive, now she could feel, woken from her numbing reality: 'Vain ...petty? ...arrogant? ... petit bourgeois? .....fuck them,' she thought! She felt drowsy as she sulked inwardly at her critics, but looked up at her walls that were filled with dozens of her own black and white photographic creations. She had recently won a minor prize in a photographic biennale in Berlin and started to take her own artistic efforts seriously. Her hero was that famous American photographer Annie Leibowitz, one of her many feminist icons; Ida knew what she wanted and didn't care if her confidence was mistaken for arrogance. She thought it was hypocritical that a man could be arrogant and be celebrated for it, but not a woman, and she fought this hypocrisy since she was twelve regardless of her shortcomings; it was her right. She fell asleep on the velvet couch as the rain fell outside with the silk curtains gently billowing and the aroma of oregano, thyme, roses and geraniums from the ceramic pots outside on her balcony drifting inside lulling her into a deeper sleep.

The next day, Ida met Joubert, Father Achilles and Stavros at Aristotelous Square and boarded this old retro blue coloured bus dating back to the sixties and she wore her dark glasses to hide her throbbing headache. She smiled at them except Stavros, she sneered at him:

'Bastard,' she said.

'Bitch,' he replied.



'Psycho,' he said, as they both burst out laughing she grabbing his left ass cheek pinching him as hard as she could ,as he grabbed her left nipple and twisted it as she gritted her teeth. They had a love-hate relationship, they went to the same schools as children and teens, grew up in the same neighbourhood and had a brief teen romance. But that was so long ago and they have grown apart, had developed into such opposite directions, yet they had much that linked them and they liked each other deep down inside more than both would care to admit. They sat in the middle of the bus as they settled in waiting for the bus to start moving. The bus was full today, their neighbours, some of Father Achilles's parishioners, charity groups and ordinary people wanting to help. The ancient blue bus started and drove up Egnatia Road across the city and past various suburbs; Neapoleos, Ampelokipon, Menemeni. They drove right through the heart of old Thessaloniki and on past the city limits and the old Byzantine city walls, with the ancient blue bus bumping along the road as dust clouds rose up from behind.

Ida screwed her nose and turned to Stavros asking: 'how did you get this thing moving?'

Stavros looked up from a crumpled edition of the poetry of Pindar - a toothpick playing on his lips and responded: 'a little elbow grease and determination, took me a good two weeks to repair this thing .....why, you scared?'

'...won't it break down....won't we get stuck?' She asked worryingly.

'Don't worry doll, relax....enjoy the journey,' he smiled.

The old bus rattled and made a steady droning noise and all the passengers fell silent lost in their own thoughts. Joubert curled up against the window with his black beret pulled down over his face, and Father Achilles looked intently ahead his mind focused, his right hand fingering his worry beads as he thought: 'so many people to feed in this country, so many battered and bruised souls that need tending to.' He knew that he couldn't change the fate of the nation, but he was going to try and change the fate of a few souls at time. He squirmed, trying to fit into his seat and at nearly six foot five tall, his wild ascetic white hair brushed the ceiling when he stood up, as the fingers of his left hand played with his white beard and the light through the windows shone on his steely blue eyes. They travelled through the countryside past the ancient city of Pella, the home of Alexander the Great, past the rolling green countryside and yellow shimmering wheat fields, dandelion fields that glowed a soft white like a dream. It would be a few more hours until they would reach Idomeni, and somehow this lyrical countryside created a growing tension within everyone in the bus at the apprehension of what lay ahead.

They had all either dozed off or were in a tired daze when the booming voice of father Achilles woke them: 'we're here, snap to its people, get ready.' They looked out through their windows at over 12,000 refugees that were spread out over a field right up to the border with F.Y.R.O.M.

'Oh my god!' Said Ida.

'Jesus...Jesus....this can't be,' said Joubert in a melancholy tone, while Stavros just looked on laconically around him as they all got off the bus.

nikos02_400An eerie fog rolled over the plain, wisps of fog wrapping themselves around the thousands of tattered and dirty tents, thousands of gaunt figures of Syrians standing around like an army of ghosts lingering on a muddied World War One battlefield that had been ripped up by artillery shells that created giant mud puddles and brackish dirty water. Hands would occasionally appear from tent flaps scooping up cups of dirty water, sad children sitting cross legged with their ribcages sticking out as their mothers would pick lice out from their hair, or the old man squatting behind his tent, pants down taking a dump in mud puddles. Tears rolled down Father Achilles's cheeks as he came up to the razor wire when he saw a ragged figure of a Syrian youth with his arms spread out, his sleeves had caught on the barbed wire forming the shape of a crucifix, his head hanging down in a despair. Father Achilles thought he looked like a Syrian Jesus at that moment, carrying all of the burdens of his people on his shoulders.

'Father, Father....' Someone called from the fog.

Father Achilles's blue eyes squinted as he looked around 'Mahmud my dear friend,' exclaimed
Father Achilles as he rushed forward to greet his old friend and then motioned to Stavros, Joubert and Ida to come on over. They all exchanged greetings and Mahmud invited them all into his small and humble tent. They all crouched in and sat cross-legged around a small gas portable stove that Mahmud had set up in the middle. He rubbed his hands over the flames as he looked at the faces arrayed before him; Ida in a Green Castro jacket, black jeans, Doc Martins and her blonde hair up in a ponytail; his friend Father Achilles in a camouflage hunting jacket, jeans and hunter's boots; Joubert with his beret and scarf wrapped around his neck with small glasses sitting on the edge of his nose; and Stavros, bronzed face, ginger spiked hair and short cropped ginger beard and green eyes with a short black sailor's coat with the lapels turned up.

'Greetings all, it's a pleasure to meet you all, any friends of Father Stavros are friends of mine,' smiled Mahmud. Mahmud was in his early fifties and was alone in the camp. He was presently a barber in the camp, was from Aleppo and had been a teacher of classical music at Damascus Conservatorium of music but had lost his tenure when the war broke out. He loved music as he loved languages, knowledge and meeting new people and hearing about the world around him. He had a kind, round fleshed-out face and eyes, bald on top except for a strip of black back curly hair on the back and sides. Though his kind face hid a deep melancholy, as he had lost his wife and son who had drowned off the coast of the island of Lesbos when they crossed over from Turkey to Greece; this journey of salvation had cost him much.

'My friends...coffee?' He asked rubbing his hands.

Father Achilles looked around at the rest and responded, ‘yes, yes my dear fellow, that would be grand, and here....I've brought this as you have asked.'

Mahmud rubbed the portable radio lovingly and tuned the knob to BBC classical FM and switched it on: ' thank you my friend, aah....'

'Without music, life would be a mistake,' exclaimed Father Achilles smiling.

'.....Nietzsche,' said Stavros.

'Yes, my young friend.......I see Father that you've taught him well,' said Mahmud with a smile.

Father Achilles slapped Stavros's knee and laughed: ' no Mahmud, I assure you, this one has a mind of his own, a grand mind at that,' he responded proudly.

Ida looked on uncomfortably wishing they would get on with it, on with this day, and Joubert daydreamed wishing how much he would like to be back at his haven at the Iguana Cafe, while Stavros looked on with an honest intent, absorbing everything.

'....why? .....if you don't mind me asking,' said Stavros, carefully studying Mahmud's face.

'You mean why this trip? ....why come over losing my wife and son in the process? Like all my fellow countrymen, I came over to Europe with an idealised vision of what life was like in the west. Safety, peace, security, free jobs and cars. Yet what we found was an illusion, a fake dream and what we found instead was death in the ocean and the death of our dreams on this muddied field, I despair my friends, I despair. Yet like your Pandora, I still maintain a shred of hope,' he said.

They cradled their cups of coffee, as tendrils of coffee bean and nutmeg floated up over them mingling with the haunting notes of Schubert's Ave Maria, Pavarotti's voice floating out through the flaps of Mahmud's tent and over the whole squalid camp at Idomeni, lending a poignancy and tragedy to the whole scene. They huddled in the tent and talked all afternoon as the rest of the volunteers distributed food, clothing and health packages; and these were by Greeks who hardly had anything for themselves, yet somehow found something to give to these poor and unfortunate souls.

It was the afternoon and time for them to leave, and Stavros gazed out through the flaps of the tent as he listened to Mahmud and Father Achilles, inhaling the smells of the garbage and shit surrounding the tents, and Mahmud's heroic, yet tragic optimism, and he felt a disgust within himself; disgusted with Europe and disgusted with humanity. He suddenly stood up, went over to Mahmud's radio and changed the station to a Greek folk station and they played Manos Loizos's Zeibekiko song 'The Zeibekiko of Eudokia,' peeled off his coat and started to dance solo with his eyes closed, head back and arms outstretched clicking his fingers and turning in slow heroic circles. At that moment he danced for himself, he danced for the camp, he dance for humanity. Every slow turn and snap kick drew him closer to their sorrow, their pains, their passions; he felt them deeply and intensely, for this was the only way.

Mahmud looked on and marvelled at the young man and said: ' you know, they say that the Greek people are poor, that the Greek people have no money, but what I see here instead is the wealthiest nation in the world .....Wealthy in spirit, wealthy in compassion and wealthy in humanity,' as they all looked on sharing this moment in silent communion.


Part I - Part II - Part III - Part IV


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