Dispatches from Kuwait: Soul Combat in Modern Greece (Part One)
I am not in Kuwait anymore. All I have left of Kuwait is a small backpack with a copy of Jose Saramagos Blindness, Whitmans Leaves of Grass and Tayeb Salihs Season of Migration to the North along with a notebook and pencil, a clean button-down shirt, a iron heart and clean mind, sandals and my passport. I fled. I had to. And now I am sitting in a train station, pretending to read and write a postcard, counting down the seconds until my train arrives, my release. But even then I will still have to run.
A moment ago I flipped open Leaves of Grass to find some solace and a letter fell out, a letter like so many that I have received in the past year, a letter so unlike the stories of having children that I was supposed to hear. I re-read the letter and began to think about how it was related to my flight, my status as an outlaw. Hey,
I dont have much time. Mikayah is drooling and pulling at the cats leg. Yesterday she got into Franks box of firecrackers and now I am afraid of seeing something like that old Ugly Kid Joe album artwork, you know, the fold-out that we used to laugh at with the kid sticking the firecracker up the cats ass?
I dont need that kind of mess now, I am too tired to clean it up. If she detonated an M80 in the cats ass Id probably look up, acknowledge the fact that the cat was now spread like jelly across the walls and then fall asleep. But for just thirty seconds, because then Mikayah will start crying or hurling her poop across the room, so much like Darwins epilogue, so much
_Just wanted to take the time to see if you were enjoying the desert and a land without alcohol, public dancing or live music. Is it still hot there? Write when you can.
I often wonder why kids come out like this. I used to believe that it was because of Recumbent Bovine Growth Hormone in the milk, that steroids designed for cattle were turning our kids into cattle. Then it occurred to me that it might be a disease of the heart or even worse, an early onset of diffused lividity. I usually say as much in my reply to these letters. Now, in this train station and on the run, I know that because of these ideas karma is certainly a bitch.
It was because I dont have kids and have these thoughts that I had been invited to attend a student ballet performance. Actually, Mister, they told me, it isnt all ballet. There is some Modern Dance in there too. Interpretations. Well then, good thing my guns are at home. But I couldnt say no, and so, in the heat and fright I went to see this three hour spectacle. After all, when you cant go out and see live music when you want to, you have to take culture where you can find it. I glanced down at the program brochure. I had made it through the first act, a retelling of a love story that might have been written by Nicholas Sparks or some other degenerate freak whos made a fortune re-telling the hearts of men and women beneath a Hallmark Card veneer and without any of the honesty and pain. I wondered why Thomas Kincaid hadnt been contracted to have his assembly-line minions paint the backdrops.
The brochure felt slick and fast in my hands. Nice fonts, embossed lettering, a very nice show. Was that a Monotype Corsiva? My eyes crawled across the page. I was looking for the description of the second act, the one on the way into the theatre I had been told to look out for. Its amazing, the British woman had said. The pupils are so good they should be on Broadway. I just had to come two nights in a row. She had a funny look in her eyes, a look somewhere between a pig staring out across the feeding trough or a sodomite looking at a bar of soap in a prison shower. Im excited too, I said. Ballet, with all its grace has long been one of my favorite arts. Really? she said stressing all of the ls. What was the last one you saw performed? Justine, I said. I dont know that one. Is it new? No, its rather old actually. The story was written by a man. let me see if I can remember his name Thats right, it was written by a man whose last name is De Sade.
I turned and left her. She stood there thinking, not sure if she had heard of that writer before.
The lights were dimming and it was then, in the falling stage lights that I found the description for the second act: _Act II: Eternal Elements. Performed by the full company to the music of Vangelis, ‘Eternal Elements’ is a visual concept of those elements that compose our life force: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. A poeme choreographique where the dancers play the shifting patterns and colours of the universe. _
The effect of reading this, while knowing full well that I was frozen to my seat for the duration of this, was something akin to having your face stepped on in a rugby scrum. It might have been the words_ poeme choreographique_ which could never indicate anything good, not with teens, or the words elements and representing, but I know now, here on the run, that it was seeing Vangelis name. Vangelis. Vangelis. Vangelis the Greek who wrote the Chariots of Fire soundtrack, whose first band was called Aphrodites Child. Vangelis the electronic music composer, the aural equivalent of Nicholas Sparks or Thomas Kincaid. When I am chained to the walls of hell, Lucifer crawling above me laughing, I will look out of my eternal prison and see these three harbingers of the apocalypse sitting next to Satan, their feet up and thinking of new compositions, drinking mineral water and smiling in cardigan sweaters.
The Second Act: A lurching of hands. The sound of a solid thumping of feet on the theatre stage removing any sense of grace. Something close to twirling. The mingling of shaky knees and pimples.
My eyes couldnt blink, they felt as if they had animal testing hooks ripping them open, the horror too evil to want to see, too fascinating to want to miss. The dance looked like herpes spreading. And above it all, echoing across the chaos and sweat, Vangelis synth chords and strings, counterpoint to this dance of the dead.
At the end of it I was sweating and felt as if I was coming down from a trip, but without any of the lingering sense of having done something semi-useful, although damaging.
My muscles ached, my eyes hurt and hanging within me, having creeped out of the floorboards was loss. A hollow space had opened within me, something was missing, I could feel it, but in the immediate state of shock and horror the complete nature and expanse of the theft wasnt apparent.
As the lights began to open Vangelis was kept dripping out of the speakers. The hollow space inside began to shift and move, solidify and turn obsidian black. I could deal with the ballet, after all it was nothing more than pubescent dancers making an attempt. But Vangelis was too much. He had stolen an hour of my time that I could not get back. He needed to pay for that, something equal to an hour, or at the least to apologize.
Twelve hours later, armed with a laminated Jambands.com press pass, a black duffel bag, strong currency and his address in Greece that I gotten from a retired mercenary friend who owed me a favor, I went to get that apology. The boat into Naxos Island was hitting the chop perfectly, right at a forty-five degree angle, keeping the spray down. A small fishing boat with a pair of old Mercury engines chugging and dripping oil, the sun hit the fore deck, the light clear and hard. A nice breeze off the Aegean Sea, the day felt full and ready. Was this how Odysseus felt at times? The captain was in the wheelhouse, a drink at his side and a cigarette hanging in his lips. He was practiced. He didnt look at the wheel but out over the water, reading the sea and adjusting accordingly, hands hard and scarred. I tried to wonder what his days were like, what he did when he wasnt on the water. But I couldnt see him anywhere but here with the sun in his face and running rogue journalists across the Aegean.
I leaned back and looked out over the water. I could settle here, take time to slow down, maybe get a small boat and do my own urchin fishing, or a bit of diving. Raise a few hawks and collect walking sticks. Exactly, just get a small house on one of these tiny islands, maybe Naxos itself, and spend my time out in the sun on a bleached white balcony writing, finding a bit of repose in the race and fight.
Those days would have to wait. I needed to concentrate on the task at hand: finding Vangelis, getting my apology and getting out without getting arrested. I had pretended that there was a death in the family and used the bereavement days in my contract to make the hurried flight to Greece. Any more time than that, five days, without calling in to work and Id be doomed. Id be stranded in Kuwait with a work visa and no job, my housing lost, back on the bricks again.
Vangelis is notorious for not granting interviews, being reclusive and sequestered wherever it is that he is assumed to live. It had taken my mercenary friend some time to find his home and from what I could make out from the garbled satellite call he had made to give it to me, it had also required cash and a fist. This reclusiveness, the isolation of the pretentious, would pose a problem when I got to the home, perhaps the island itself, but I had a simple plan and Sun Tzus The Art of War in my bag in case I needed to improvise.
Knowing that Vangelis does not use a last name I assumed him to hold a degree of self-importance greater than most. If I could get to his front gate, perhaps his front door and play up to this self-importance, perhaps even telling him that I was a journalist/fan and had come all this way to try and get him to talk about his art, and just that, maybe hed give me ten minutes. If I told him I had come all the way from Kuwait it might resonate more. And ten minutes would be all I would need
The dock creaked beneath my feet, the sun fire after the boat ride. I waved goodbye to the Captain and turned away from the ice blue Aegean towards the town of Naxos laid out across a small mountain and rising in front of me. Its buildings are the classic Greek whitewash, its streets smooth blacktop and curving the shape of the island. Couples walked hand in hand in the sun, their eyes hidden or squinting, tanned, towards the small cafes near the water with small plastic chairs and bottles of good Greek olive oil on the table, the oil half the color of the sun, all the color of a beautiful womans legs. Naxos of the quiet moments with a newspaper or a copy of Anais Nins Eros Unbound over breakfast or calamari and ouzo. Naxos of old temples on the hill, oracles and fish, the scent of the sun as it hits bedroom sheets just woken up in blown in through balcony windows. Naxos of the moon and time and something beyond both, perhaps the small, quiet moments we all look for and miss, just escaping our hands like a field butterfly.
I needed a drink.
I sat down at a caflose to the road that curves along the shoreline, my face in the sun, polarized Ray-Bans on. I put my feet up, it had been a long day of travelling. The waitress, her hair pulled back in a pony tail, her legs tan and forearms strong, came up and smiled. The slight, very slight, gap in-between her front two teeth gave her an attractiveness she would have otherwise lost, it gave her a sense of self, of good. What can I get for you? she asked in Greek. A bottle of the house white, some dolmades and a grilled octopus, a saladchefs choice—-and some ouzo at the end, I replied, also in Greek.
She smiled. I felt air and expanse.
She wrote the order down and looked up. You are not Greek. American? she asked, again in Greek. I am, I replied. Your Greek is good, she said. Thank you. I have been trying to speak it for some time. This is my first time in Greece and I am here for work, I replied. What do you do? I am a writer. I am here to see Vangelis. Vangelis does not see just anyone, she said. I know. But I have come a long way, through the desert and am here to find out about the essence of his music. He is important to all of this, I said, sweeping my hand across the scene and landing it on my heart. He may make an exception for you because your Greek is good. He comes here to eat every once in awhile, she said. And again she smiled softly, as if she was letting me in on something only her heart knew. I hope so, I hope so. I need to speak to him. I will get your food, she said. The wine was good, the ouzo finished my palette off nicely and reclining a bit in my chair, I pulled out Sun Tzu. I lit a cigarette. I opened the book at random, hoping the gods would favor me enough to show me the way. I read: _Being unconquerable lies with yourself; being conquerable lies with your enemy. _ Then I tried again. This time: _Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him. _ Exactly. I knew my path was true, I knew that years of Motown and Stax, Howlin Wolf and the Allman Brothers had prepared my soul for battle. The desert had taught me what the word loneliness felt like, the desert had ripped my fat off and left the self exposed and raw for me to look at and forge. Years before, my time in the mountains had taught me exposure and chance, what starvation really meant and just how long a road writing really is. The road had shown me other things, weariness and light. A woman, in her own way and for her own reasons, taught me about isolation. And at the end of this all, here in a cafn Naxos Island, Vangelis home in the hills above my head, I knew that the cells had reformed, the soul had risen and become, that the holes had filled and I was strong, that nothing could stop true purpose. Not now, not after all of that. And I knew that I would have to hide all of that from Vangelis, appeal to his sense of self-importance and hubris, and then when it mattered melt the wax and watch him fall.
I paid and left. The waitress waved goodbye and then came after me. She grabbed my arm by the wrist, tightly, like the last, and looked me in the eye. With her other hand she slid a piece of paper into my pant pocket. In case you make it back, she said. He lives at the top of the hill, towards the left on the road towards Vivlos.
It was my turn to smile. Her grip slipped and I slipped away into the sun after Vangelis. Stay tuned