Santorini - Echoes in the House of Love
Echoes in the House of Love by Glenn Steiner
Ancient red God’s eye lights my passage, and then impossibly, blinks, swallowed into clouds of blue, black and purple. I stumble on cobbled alleys, past white cyclopean walls studded with red and black pumice, through dank Venetian archways, towards the full red harvest moon that rises tonight between Mount Profitis Illias and the island of Anafi. The crazed magic of the Greek god Pan fills the air, a volcanic hysteria. The lights of FirAA pulse in syncopated rhythm. One longs to cry out, to scream; all but the deepest of laughs is stifled. I hold my breath, and listen to the arrhythmic earth-beat of my heart.
I pass gin joints and hustler heavens, the thromping techno of Enigma, past mainline Town Club, hard rock Murphy’s and the ever decadent, discretely walled Koo Club to the cave-like environs of the Kira Thira Jazz Club. The bartender, Giannis, smiles broadly at my appearance, his teeth glowing in the night against dark olive skin. Welcoming me warmly, Giannis pours me a special TsiPOURo, local island hooch, tasting delicately of anise and grape. “It’s made from Holy Water by the monks of Mount Athos,” he says with a wry smile. A hearty “GeiA MAS,” fills the air, amidst the delicate clinking of glasses. I take it neat in the Greek style, throwing it down with one shot. I feel the warm glow start to dispel the nighttime breezes, and my body starts to relax. Something has changed within the wall of Giannis’ cave. Lit by small candles behind illuminated bottles of Metaxa, Gin, Retsina and Ouzo, I see the walls of his cave bar have been fauxed, a delightful smoky addition.
I share the bar with a young Englishman, Ben, who waxes and wanes about his young Greek wife. Apparently, there will never be a mutual bridge of understanding between Greeks and the English. He holds it in British-style, and shall we say, she, being Greek, is more expressive during a conversation. Ben holds his apology present beneath his arm, and shares it with me. Just as he tells me about the wonders of sleeping alone in the local Thira Youth Hostel, in she waltzes arm-in-arm, a miniature blonde Greek goddess dressed in white and gold lamy dress, along with her two best friends, two married-at-the-hip Greek gays. A rapprochement is made. Xristina unwraps and accepts his gift, a towel emblazoned with a flying image of young Harry Potter. I look at Ben and Xristina re-couple. The arm-in-arm Greek gays to my immediate right look at me. Giannis sighs and pours me a MeTAXa five star brandy. “Love is strange.”
Plumes of swirling, acrid Greek cigarette smoke drive me out into the cold Firan night. The now deep yellow moon pops out for a second, winks at me and then disappears. I walk down Erithrou Stavrou, turn right at the Gyros stand onto Danezi and hike up the steps to the cauldron’s edge.
Fleeting light passes through sheets of clouds, puffy and striated, long shafts now of peach and then persimmon. Sikinos, Folegandros and Ios shimmer far off to the north. The hand of the Greek god of night stretches her immortal, ephemeral finger to touch soft blue sea and sky, suddenly merged yet separate.
I pass two lovers, two darkened seed pods illuminated beneath the entrance light of Archipelagos, kissing like those lost in the sweet throws of first passion. I hear life’s ether passing between them, the touching, smacking sounds of their kisses, grasping for air, sweet succulent suction, the ether of life. Their love lives within a vacuum, a continuum of time frozen, for time has surely stopped as they breathe into each other. I walk on into the night, alone.
Strong winds swirl and curl, lifting me on volcanic winds, sweeping me past the caldera’s edge to the Tropical Bar. Thromping, humping, bumping techno fills my soul for the moment. The Greek passion play is alive and well for the night. The Tropical is filled with souls starved for love and attention. Nikos passes me a prized Budweizer, one of the original “Buds” from Slovakia, which he hides beneath the bar. I take the cold one, slug down a long draft and fade into the wall.
Cruise liner passengers have left their $500 a night cabins for the night. Following Pan’s hedonistic call, they have invaded Fira by donkey and funicular, although not by foot.
Six middle-aged, overweight women-sans-husbands dance in front of the bewildered DJ. Everyone turns to watch the show. The six matrons are slumming for the night. Their hands and arms festooned with diamonds of the newly rich and newly purchased gold from Fira’s Ypapantis Street, are held high, for all to see, swaying, grooving to the Disco beat. Dressed in Parisian evening gowns, far too expensive and far too tight, they bump and grind, hippo-like, deep into the night. The dance floor growls and creaks in forced rhythmic torture, to matronly squeals of utter delight. Twenty minutes later, they fall dead. From my perch on the veranda, I watch them walk unsteadily, balancing their high-heeled shoes upon broken stone streets. They struggle en mass back up to the funicular, down to the well lit security of their gleaming, palatial cabins 700 feet far below.
Angel, one of Tropical’s owners, holds court by the bar. She deftly pours one of the Greek regulars another round with one hand, while wiping the wooden counter clean with the other. Brown haired, tanned, lean and statuesque, she looks, for lack of a better word, angelic. A spotlight, shining down from the ceiling, catches the back of her head, creating a halo of reddish brown fire.
The beat changes from disco to techno and the dancers seize the floor. Pandemonium fills the ears, as the primal heartbeat of Fira re-erupts in fiery paroxysm mirroring natural fury. Greek kamakia make their eternal pitch to blonde twenty and thirty somethings. One song pulses into the next in marked syncopation. At once, the dancers cease being individuals, assuming the aspect of one large, pulsing organism, with legs apart and arms akimbo, a hydra-like creature of many heads, bearing smiles of cool reserve , distant pleasure, hysterical laughter. I slide off of Tropical’s wall and shift laterally to the club’s marble veranda, high above the jagged caldera.
“Oh! Sweet oxygen!” I drink deeply, the soothing balm, which swirls up from ocean’s edge, a breeze fresh with saltine moisture, yet oddly laden with grit and volcanic pumice. The wind carries high above the cliff and then peaks, sweeping over the parties, the diners, the smokers, the drinkers, the night owls, and the ageless lovers of Fira, past the vineyards down to the Mirtoon sea, towards islands, black ships floating to the east.
Some Greek god covers ebon skies with small white puffy clouds, their striations backlit by the night’s full moon, a panoply of light, texture and shape. Artful dodger, the moon, blinks once again, and turns shyly, hiding behind lunar rainbows. Drifting, southerly winds: gentle, caressing, and warm, push palm trees in cyclic rotation.
The crowd separates and drifts apart into singular couplets towards darkened walls. Nikos lays a whiskey at my table. Smooth fire drifts down parched throat.
The single malt gives wings to my feet. I re-enter the miasma of Tropical, and dance alone to the R+B of Earth Wind and Fire’s “That’s The Way of the World.” Overhead bucket lights seem to flash on and off, as I alternate between shafts of lights and pits of darkness, within movements seen and unseen.
Fugitive years are stripped from my body, as I turn back the clock. There is a simultaneous sense of aloneness, and being part of “TA PediA,” as a social group in known in Greek. The song drifts with my favor into the Stone’s “Jumping Jack Flash,” and I shift into a faster rock beat, my feet and legs taking control of my body, tracing pre-marked footsteps across a floor awash with volcanic pumice and forgotten beer.
To my left, Vasillis, a young Greek American from San Diego, with bulging shoulders and fiery personality, has found his love for the night, a lithe Australian, poured into her black halter-top and jet black Calvin Klein jeans.
Raising my arms, I spin and complete the rotation to the beat, as if the days of San Francisco’s Filmore West had never passed. I step forward to the half beat, and then retreat, rotating backwards to the counter.
Since I dance alone, a certain selfish freedom exists. I do exactly as I wish, with no regard to a dancing partner. I dance my way through and around the crowd of Greeks and Europeans. In a way, I dance with an invisible partner, who moves like quicksilver. She exists as a wraith of silver light within my imagination, a synthesis of all the dancers with whom I have danced. She spins in front of me, and I follow with the footsteps straight out of a twelve-step waltz, moved from three/three time to modern four/four time, switching to a modified fox trot and back to disco.
I see a middle aged English woman, dressed in a red and black Versace blouse with a Hermes scarf and brown leather pants laughing in the corner, spinning dreams with a friend of somewhat younger vintage.
Darkened shapes leave the walls to join me at the center. The multi-headed Hydra again takes form in the middle of the floor. I become one with the beast. The spirit of Pan, the Greek Gods’ provocateur, refills my soul, even as the acrid smoke stings my lungs. I throw back my head and let fly a great coughing yell, which surely rings to Olympian heights. I dance. Through the window, I see the moon begin its inevitable, sizzling descent into the indigo maelstrom. I dance.
Although I began my night alone, I now find myself part of something greater, a throbbing mass of humanity dancing madly on the edge of a extinct volcano. Mirroring the words of Aesop to Pericles: “I have everything. I need nothing. I am free.”
The moon disappears beneath the turbulent waters of the Cretan sea. A bemused smile stretches across my face: “Dancing beneath the cycle of the full moon, we are lunatics, all of us.”