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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Comedy and Tragedy in #Paxos by John von Daler

                Karen Blixen once wrote that understanding only part of a story was not such a bad thing. I suppose she meant the reader can invent, imagine, create.
                Our trip to Greece certainly unrolled itself half-fathomed in many ways: just trying to understand the English translations from squeaking and squawking loudspeakers in noisy airports challenged us constantly to invent our own scenario:
                "Yasum...flightz in Athyns...rrrrr...onaboard...a rival Corfu...fight umber...think you...zzzzz...NOW!"
                That one made me get up and stand in a line, any old line, and it worked!
                Trying to find an illusive ferry at an unmarked dock I caught myself thinking, ... but in college Aristotle and Plato sounded so clear ... much more clear than my own beer-washed conjecture. But of course, it was silly of me; if you take a ferry once a week you know where it probably docks. Come back next week and you will know where to go, approximately. Much as I would like to, I will not be back next week, though.
                Now my errand is not to criticize the Greeks. They have trouble enough without my silly interference. Whatever is comic there has more than its share of tragic counterparts. Instead I want, along side Blixen's half-story theory, to remember Bergman's film, "The Silence", from 1963. A little boy is playing in the mystical corridors of a hotel in an unnamed country. He meets in a little closet in the hallway a waiter, an old, tall, white-haired man dressed in a black suit and white apron (ah, this is from memory!). The man sits in his closet on a little chair. In an obscure language he befriends the boy and drawing his wallet from a pocket begins to show him pictures of some solemn people at a funeral. Neither I, nor the boy quite comprehended the picture; yet its ordinariness struck a universal tone in us both.
                Last week on the Greek island Paxos, in Gaios the largest town, I went walking with my wife. We went into a shop with pretty dresses. The walls were covered with copies of frescoes from the palace at Knossos, 1600 B.C. While my wife was trying on a dress, I asked if I might purchase one of the pictures. The striking lady with dark blond hair (a color which always surprises and delights the Northern traveler, evidence as it is that Northerners have been here before) answered in small bits of English embellished with gestures and an expressive face that they were not for sale. She loved them and just wanted to look at them on her wall.
                I sat down on a chair and she began to take out some dolls, goddesses of the arts. I thanked her and showed her in mime that I play the violin and that I appreciated her sharing the artistic marionettes with me. Then she started to tell about the dolls and her connection to them, about the pictures from Knossos and about her family, especially one daughter who had studied around the world, but who now was having a difficult time.
                Now, damn Karen Blixen, I am sitting there only understanding half the shop lady's story. Of course I know that the suffering in Greece at the moment is great, especially in Athens. So I could guess slightly at what was being told. The beautiful lady was somehow deftly combining the arts, the priest from Knossos, her family and all of Greece and I was standing there not understanding, but only intuiting her story. I think a tear came to my eye, when suddenly she rushed over and took down the Knossos priest from his place on the wall and put his picture in my hands.
                I asked if I could pay for it, but she just put her hand to her heart, so I took the liberty of lifting her other hand and thanking her with a kiss there. She put the picture in a bag and ushered my wife and me out. The three of us were teary-eyed.
                Back in Denmark I am left with my own questions and a story only half understood, the wisdom of Blixen and Bergman notwithstanding. It's as if I dreamed something that kept on trying to become real. Now the sands of memory run through my fingers and back into the sea.
                All I have left is the picture - and it is very real. Soon, the priest from Knossos will be hung by my computer to remind me of how very much I want to know, but how very little I really understand.

               

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