Festival in Therma is a moving collection of stories that attempts to find the past and try to make sense of it by renewing connections with the culture of the Aegean islands, to experience that which seems lost for following generations in America. The stories in Origins are told with the haunting sadness at having come to this journey late to puzzle out the meaning and the displacements of one’s ancestor’s lives. The mystery of time passing is poignant and at times told with humor at the odd turns such a journey takes.
The quirky stories in Encounters are Beckett-like in their sense of irony and subtle humor as they deal with the existential dilemmas in human interactions, which echo that sense of lost connections in modern day America.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Last night I dreamt of a dark plain that had once been ocean, and over it the shapes of my parents, now part of the night from which they had once sheltered me, each trying to be remembered, each repeating my name as if to summon me, one soft and lilting and carrying an expression of pleasure in expectation of beholding me, the other hard and deep and demanding an accounting.
My mother was born in 1908 on the Greek island of Ikaria in the village of Arethusa, named after a nymph who had fled the river god to preserve her chastity and transformed by the goddess Minerva into an underground stream to escape him, only to have his waters follow and finally merge with hers.
My mother died in 1990 in Pasadena of complications from a massive brain hemorrhage that had left her paralyzed and without speech, her eyes stabbing randomly at objects about her, uncoordinated and unfocusing, feeding back dizzy images to what remained of her brain. I had asked her to blink if she could hear me, hoping she couldn't. She could. She blinked in the exaggerated manner of a child trying to show that it was not sleepy.
I talked to her as to someone trapped underground who could never be brought back into the light, of how good she had been as a mother and of how I loved her, and of how terrible that this thing had happened to her. I wondered whether my words only pained her, forcing her to attend to matters in a world she could never again be a part of, interfering with her natural descent into death. I began to visit her less frequently, finally scarcely at all, and she died one afternoon when no one was there.
I had listened from childhood on as she and my aunt talked about Arethusa painstakingly assembling memories, filling in missing details for each other, patching and working and cross-comparing recollections, till they for that day fell into place as clear and vivid as their life in the America around them.
When my mother died, it left my aunt as the last who couldn't do it alone and the whole thing came undone and with it my connection with their island origins.
I went to Arethusa to find it for my mother, who had been a loving and constant figure for me while she lived and had become utterly mysterious to me after her death, reminding me of my childhood dream of her merging into the wallpaper across from my bed to return as a person unknown to me.
Ikaria is an island in the southern Aegean, too small to be shown on many maps and too undeveloped to draw many visitors there, the name deriving from the legend of Ikarus — a youth who had ignored his father's warnings about flying too close to the sun, which would melt the wax in his wings, and had fallen into the sea. I heard it again as a parable about origins and separation.
The island is a mass of mountains that forms a central spine along its length, wrenched by cataclysms and fissured by streams that run down its slopes to the sea on all sides. Small mountain villages lie nested within its folds, hidden from the view of pirates of earlier centuries and largely unchanged to this day. Arethusa is one of them, high in the mountains and enshrouded in fog much of the year.
I had called ahead to Philip, an elderly cousin who lived there and who had known my mother as a child. I had not seen him since he had visited in America some years back and was surprised now that I had grown up to see how small he was. His wife Emily was small too, as was their house. They appeared like kindly elves in a children's story, delicate and softly mannered, vulnerable, yet strangely safe in this wild terrain. I bent my head down as I went through the door and entered a small green kitchen, which seemed to be the whole of the house and wondered if the furniture could hold me. I wondered also if in this tiny unreal place I could come to understand anything real about my mother.
Through the window I could see the giant face of a mountain, an awesome protective presence that helped keep Arethusa hidden and inaccessible to sea pirates and other marauders. I fixed on it till I felt disoriented by its great mass and began to lose my sense of connection with anything here, as Philip softly reminisced about his youth with my mother here, speaking of her in a manner I heard no other man speak, about how beautiful she had been as a young girl running along these mountain pathways, and I could tell that he had loved her, that she had gotten away and that he sought now to share his memories of her, but along a path that was his own.
Mine was of my mother as an old woman doing evening watering, standing waxen and still, worrying not to track wet into the house, separating outside from inside shoes, frozen in the image of her drying her hands by drawing them spread-fingered along her arms, hands that were age-softened, pink, and caring, her head tilted forward as if beckoning me to go on in and visit with my father, he a frozen figure too, sitting at a table in his wheelchair, bibbed like an infant for feeding, yet maintaining an accustomed severity made neither more nor less by disease, and wondering what had become of me, if anything.
I grew into my sixth year of childhood in the depression days of the early thirties on 154th and Kinsman on Cleveland's east side where we lived in a third-story tenement across from my father's restaurant, the Washington Lunch, whose name meant nothing to me then because we were Greek.
The restaurant was narrow, deep, and noisy, smelling of stale beer and squeezed between a small barber shop and an empty storefront with soaped-over windows. A long counter running along one side of it and ending at a kitchen door with a small diamond-shaped window from which the cook with a cigarette hanging from his lips could almost always be seen.
In the summer three small ceiling fans whirred with a noise that was the noise of summer and under it a veil of smoke and food smells that seemed never to move, which was all right with me, because I liked it, liked it because it meant I was safe here.
Safe even in the winter when drafts of freezing cold blew in whenever anyone came or left, bringing in the smell of dirty snow and people wearing two overcoats and coming in to beg for food, and my mother's warning to me to be careful because these people sometimes steal children like me and warning me also never to sit on the only toilet in the restaurant because, as she would moan darkly, it was used by "who else other than God knows who," which sounded doubly ominous in Greek.
Summer was my favorite when the noises were of people shouting and the screeching and clanging of streetcars stopping to let the conductors run in for a quick bite to eat, ordering something with a click of their fingers to get everyone moving, then eating faster than anyone else I had ever seen eat, and running back to drive their streetcars.
Our landlord, Mr. Toth, was one of them and had buttons pinned all around his black conductor's cap. Though he never smiled, he gave us buttons off his cap when he wasn't angry, and even let us watch him eat his dinner when Mrs. Toth said we could, when Mr.
Toth felt good enough to have anyone like us watch him eat, when he'd let me and my sister stand on either side of his chair while he ate and let us listen for the clicking sound he made with his teeth, especially when biting into the boiled potatoes Mrs. Toth had cooked for him, letting us do all that without his ever saying a word, or even smiling. My sister and I would later try to make that same sound ourselves by clicking our teeth especially when eating potatoes but the sound never came out like his.
Things would die there, too, on Kinsman Avenue, mostly animals but also my friend Bobby, who was seven and had been run over by a truck while riding the Christmas wagon he had been waiting for forever, which made Kinsman Avenue forever a dangerous place to be, where my mother said I too could be killed, and never letting me forget it.
I had found out about Bobby getting killed that afternoon with my father rushing into the house and telling my mother, in a voice not meant for me to hear that Bobby had been crushed by a truck while riding on his Christmas wagon into Kinsman Avenue like my mother had always predicted he would, and said it using the Greek word Yiosi, which meant something more horrible than crushed, like something alive that had changed in a second to an unrecognizable stain in the street, an image of Bobby in death that stayed with me for years.
The second worst was Mr. Toth killing his two geese after having let my sister and me watch for a month while he fed them, stuffing food down their throats while they struggled to get free, which was also something I didn't need to see, nor wanted to see especially that day that he took them out, the two of them, then cutting their heads off with a knife while they wriggled to get free, something I didn't need my mother to tell me never to forget that too.
But inside the restaurant I was safe because my father was there and he wasn't afraid of anything until his own father died and he cried over it, which I didn't want to see because it made me feel less safe being with him.
My mother's father whom we called Patera, which meant father in Greek but was used for my grandfather too, would tell us stories whenever we visited him, all beginning with Mia fora kai na kero, which is "once upon a time" in Greek, which he would say with a hushed breath that floated around the room and held us, making us hungry for what would come next.
My father never thought Patera was very smart and would tell my mother what a fool her father was and, though whispered and not intended for us to hear, it was clear enough to me. Maybe it was because my father worked too hard to be able to think about things that weren't true, while Patera would talk only of such things and made us see the world as a magical place like he did. In the end my father came to feel that my mother was a fool too and expected that we would someday come to believe so too. But her way was magical like Patera's and, unlike my father's way, hers was a world in which one was never safe because things you didn't expect at all could come out of it and in a minute steal or kill you.
I don't know why I still needed my father's not believing anything that he couldn't see, and his expecting that I would do so too, for he could protect me while my mother could not and for that I loved him too, though in a way that I felt forever separated from him, as if he were a guard on duty, and for that he could have been someone else's father and not mine.
Eye of the Beholder
Patera, my grandfather, my mother's father, a soft and entertaining presence in life, now dead for some years, and newly remembered. His last name was Horaites derived, as he told it, from his ancestral village origins, the word for village in Ikarian dialect, Greek is Xorio and the word for villager being Xoriatis, transformed, again as he told it, to Horaites in English when he came to America, as something to be believed, which, with reservation, I did.
As it was with the Ikarian creation story he told in apparent seriousness to account for what he described as an undue fear and wariness found in many Ikarians, was that there was a point in time long ago when a woman fleeing for her life from Crete had come by some unknown means to Ikaria, which she believed to be uninhabited and, seeking shelter in a plot of tall grass, came upon a man similarly trembling for his life and hiding, then together, recovering from the initial terror of being discovered by the other, came to produce the first inhabitants on the island.
The distinction between legend and fact blurred in these tales, as in all his tellings and, since told without challenge, stayed in place for years.
I remember him, by contrast, as so different from the men on my father's side, all fiercely grounded in reality and none of whom respected Patera, evolving an atmosphere I grew up in, and one in which I came to side with him.
And to believe him as he related how he had been a very important and respected person in his village, Arethusa, having overseen the construction of Ayia Marina, the village church assembled of rocks and boulders from the mountainside as a tribute to deity and a monument attesting to the importance of those who had built it. As I saw it, in America, he found nothing to replace it with.
Religion on the island, particularly in mountain villages like Arethusa, merged with the concerns of daily life and assimilated into it in a kind of crude pantheism in which God and the Devil competed with each other and with humans in everything one saw or felt, and in which religion interfaced with an underworld of occult beings who darkly manipulated the fortunes of the living to cause them grief and in which God was beseeched to counter them through the burning of incense, which hovered everywhere.
Independently of my grandfather's creation tale, the origins of the island religion seemed pagan, an afterbirth that Christianity in its more formal structure, could not begin to cast off and replace the dramatic and compelling account of occult mythic forces whose intricate machinations brought humans fully into play in the daily contest between good and evil, more compellingly than the dilute formal story of Christianity.
The mechanisms of the pagan world mysteriously issued from a cosmic design cohabited by both good and evil, each existing in equal force and presence, and equally involved in the affairs of humans.
The conduct of daily life was therein enacted as living theater, where human activity was determined by outside forces, caught in the contest for one's soul between God and the Devil. All one could do was avoid the evil eye as best one could, that targeted the hapless victim for the Devil to undo by someone's thoughtless praise of him.
My mother, my grandfather's first-born child and influenced strongly by him, pointedly sensed spirits about her all her life which were particularly active after my father's death that had widowed her, filling the otherwise empty rooms and left her with the leavings and signs of witches and angels about her, filling her waking hours and dreams.
My grandfather, at the end of his life, ritualizing his dying moments as theater, too, assembled his children and grandchildren, a dozen or more, to a makeshift bed set up in his living room as he lay dying, palpably exiting life before our eyes, beckoning each of us in turn to his bedside to look for him after our own deaths. When my turn as the first-born grandchild came to sit by his side, he held his arms up as if to the heavens, as if in prayer for me, then slowly lowered and rested them on my shoulders, pulling me forward to rub his coarse beard stubble along my cheek, and rasp in my ear, Petrakie, tha se pothemeso, Petrakie being an endearing diminutive term for Peter ordinarily reserved for children younger than me. He was saying, "I shall miss you," uttered as if, on my arrival to that other life, he would be waiting for me.
I took a trip to Arethusa long after everyone to whom it might have been important to have gone there with me had died, and found myself unaccountably grieving that they were not there to share their better years with me, to show me what they had left behind.
Everything in Arethusa seemed as unreal to me as my grandfather's stories of it, as if the village had been drained of the life that once had been there, far less real in my visiting than had been in their telling. The houses, scarcely more than stone and plaster huts, appeared as if in miniature, like a doll-house recreation of what they had described as having left, tiny houses strewn over rocky slopes, some crumbling back into the earth, their inhabitants tiny woodland creatures, fairy tale versions of what I had expected, and the church my grandfather had made so much of appeared to me small and crudely built, much more in my grandfather's eyes than it appeared to me.
Upon leaving I found myself oddly nostalgic for I knew not what.
Excerpted from "Festival in Therma"
Copyright © 2017 Peter G. Tripodes.
Excerpted by permission of Birchwood Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Eye of the Beholder 9
Birthday Shoes 13
Father’s Day Visit 19
Looking for Andy 25
Isle of Capri 29
Festival in Therma 33
Conversations in Ikaria 43
A Caretaker for Mrs. Kalosoma 79
Daphne and the Mockingbird 85
Millie’s New Man 99
Saying Goodbye 109
A Real Looker 115
The Girl at the Lunchroom 123
Park Bench 135
Matilija Road 141
Caretaking at the Anderson’s 147
Standoff with Leroy at the Creek 153
Wally Jordan and the Guys at Gus’s 161
Museum Guard 167
Eddie and the Cashier 175
The Man who did Faces 181
Drawing from the Figure 193
Retirement Luncheon 197
Chinese Exhibit 205