We live outside the village and our social relations are patchy. Take yesterday. In the evening we walk down the track with a bottle of wine to Herbert’s house. Six o clock and Venus is bright white over the bay. Nearby in the sky, another planet, Jupiter maybe. The fire is burning in the grate of Herbert’s tiny living room and he graciously finds us an English language news channel on his TV. He usually watches Austrian stuff, naturally.
Herbert has had someone staying with him these last months, Mikhail, an unassuming, frail looking man, a drug addict/alcoholic back in Austria, finding his way to a better life here in Greece. He works around Herbert’s place, gardening, helping with the animals, odd jobs, and the old man feeds him and gives him a bed. Mikhail seems very content and it suits Herbert too, I guess, having someone around to speak German with.We sit with a glass of wine and listen to the gossip. He tells us in his fractured but effective English that yesterday a man with a dog appeared on his land, Hervig, with whom he has had a nodding acquaintance for years.
Now Hervig is a German though he has lived for many years in Greece and is long married to a Greek woman, the eldest of three sisters, daughters of Kokonas, the old woman whose donkey, you may remember, was washed away by a flood and later found alive in a tree. Kokonas is ninety this year, and still riding the same donkey.
So the two men spend a long German afternoon together over cans of lager, and Herbert discovers much….
The new news, from last week, is that two brothers from the village, Sotiris and Giorgos, have been injured whilst felling a tree: a fractured skull in the one case and broken shoulder in the other. Sotiris is in hospital in Athens and the outlook is not good. We know the brothers only slightly, pleasant, open faced blokes, who help to run one of the village tavernas.
The old news, the folklore of the family Hervig married into years ago, is various. Herbert discovers, for example, that the second of Kokonas’ daughters was compromised as a young woman, by a local swain, and so her three brothers (Kokonas also has three sons) took their shotguns and went to make a proposition to the cad in question. Marry our sister or we kill you.
Sensible fellow, he agreed to do the right thing, and now, twenty years later, there are grown up children and husband and wife get on well, as far as you can tell. The husband of the third sister, Zanetos, is universally regarded as a Mafioso and a bad character.He is from the island of Samos, where they are all villains, so it’s only to be expected.
Well, anyway, Zanetos is in deep trouble with the law, having sworn an affidavit at the notary’s office that he owns a piece of land which is not, in fact, his.
The real owner turns out to be an Athenian lawyer. Bad move, Zaneto.
Herbert’s friendship with Mikhail lasted a few months. The young man would disappear for days, drinking in the bars along the coast. Finally, it was too much for Herbert. They quarrelled and Mikhail moved on.
I met him twice later, the first time in Kardamyli, where he seemed to be living rough on the beach. He blagued twenty euros from me, and I didn’t expect to see the money again, but months later I encountered him again in Kardamyli, running across the beach to give me back the twenty euros. A nice man.
Kokonas died, fell out of a window, aged ninety eight.