Drinking coffee on Dorsfore Street.
In our world were most people are oblivious to their immediate surroundings, it comes as no surprise that most of us pass each other in the street without noticing what any one is wearing let alone doing. Half the time we are unaware of the buildings we pass, the colours of the environment, or the activity of the street, we are so absorbed in self as though in a dream. It is as though we have forgotten how to see, how to appreciate the world and people around us, each of us live our life in this wonderful world full of variety, a world in constant flux.
A few years ago I spent a delightful few hours sitting at a street café on Dorsfore Street, Lefkade. Historically, Dorsfore was a Dutch archaeologist, who attempted to prove that Odysseus on his return from Troy on a Phaiakians ship landed on the Lefkade coast near here. His evidence for this theory will be found in a Homer passage in the Odyssey, the story tells us that Odysseus awakes in a caves facing east of which there are many on this island. The details of this event need not concern us here, but rather that Dorsfore Street, presents a microcosm of Greek island life. The reason I was sitting there was that my wife had injured her eye and had spent the best part of the night in a state of pain, and was now upstairs in a doctors’ surgery. Like many streets in small Greek towns the mornings are full of great activity. All sorts of people seemed to be coming and going, intent on their business and taking the opportunity to exchange gossip with their neighbours.
Sitting here at my table waiting for my coffee among locals as they click their worry beads, I became aware of the large number of elderly ladies dressed in black, who keep appearing and disappearing from a narrow side lane opposite. Old men were also appearing bent over walking canes as they moved very slowly, with great determination down the road towards their destination. In hot pursuit a white beard priest also appeared waving a sheet of paper in the air in their direction as though trying to gain attention. I have no idea where this mysterious lane goes, or what roll the priest is playing out in the morning’s theatrical activities, but a lot of people kept appearing and disappearing from within the lanes iron clad walls. Lefkade’s buildings are built of galvanized iron, the upper stories painted in soft pastels colours due to the frequent earthquakes in this part of the world. Shutters are painted in complementary colours creating a most pleasing vista. The last major quake causing damage was in 1948, when the citizens decided on this novel strategy. It seems to have been successful as the earthquakes of the 1950s caused little heartache. The street is lined with all sorts of shops, some selling fish lying on tables, meat hanging from hooks out on the pavement, other trying to sell cloths, hardware, food or whatever you could carry away. Lined up outside many of these shops are a number of unique tables, varying size and condition compete for attention. The one opposite me outside a rather rundown shop with an array of American Express, Visa and Master card stickers, groans under a load of door mats and towels. The shops are very catholic in their stock selection, but this wooden table barely remains erect, with its broken leg held together with metal straps and wire, another leg requires the support of a house brick to gain extra height. This shop however sells jewellery along with floor mats, pillows and towels, and heaven knows what else. This is very much the Greek way, no matter what a customer asks for you are required to find some other product as a possible alternative.
The parade continues up and down, rotund women with black scarves securely tied beneath their chins, darting fashion conscious young women in tight smart pants and jackets with arrays of gold buttons, or colourful tops recently purchased in Athens weave in and out through the crowd. Others with designer bags slung over shoulders stand out in marked contrast to the older inhabitants of the town. One young mother with flashing eyes pushes her prams past me with her mother guarding baby while she stops to exchange gossip with friends. The old men of the town for the most part appear to have little to do at all, they simply walk slowly up and down, stopping for a chat every so often to discuss politics with passer bye or to a driver slowly driving down the street with his window down, and animated arm movements as they go. Some are more commercially minded and arrive with the odd plastic milk carton full of lemons and other objects I am unable to identify. One gentleman squats on the pavement plucking feverishly at the odd leaf in his box of eggplant in an attempt to improve their saleability.
My ice coffee has arrived as the church bell chimes eleven, the waiter has his complimentary cigarette butt hanging out of the corner of his mouth, everybody smokes here lighting one after the other in rapid succession. Customers at the next to my table discuss the football match ball by ball showing on the TV as though they are broadcasting to the world at large. Every now and then patients appears from the doctor’s door behind my chair, still no sign of my wife, eventually she appears, and informs me that the doctor told her blue eyes are very beautiful, but not very practical!
Back Street, Lefkade