It was half past nine in the evening and they were six — in their early forties — at a table when I entered the “kafeníon”. No other customers were present except those men. I sat down at a table a little bit out of the way and ordered a “karafáki” and “mezé”. The karafaki is a very small bottle (carafe) filled with rakí, the strong distilled stuff they make when they are done with the grapes for wine making. The mezé, as I explained before is a mixture of small dishes and can be composed of anything that is edible. This time I had some tomatoes, some strong cheese and a plate of stew. I looked with envy at the other table, because with their rakí they were having grilled sardines and shrimps as well.
About half way through my “meal” there was some commotion at the other table. I couldn’t understand what it was about but it had to do with the television set and the music coming from the cassette player. Both were on, as is customary in Greek public places. I first thought the problem was that the sound of both interfered with one another. One of the men got outside and came back a few seconds later with a “touberléki”. It’s sort of a conga, and I recognized the instrument from the bar next door. The guy who left the table probably simply dashed in, snatched the instrument and went out again. When he re-entered the kafeníon he handed it to another guy at the table. In the meantime the volume of the television set had been reduced to zero, the cassette player had been completely switched off. Sure enough, they were going to make music! These were not professional musicians. I could tell from the looks of their hands that they were labourers and at the spur of the moment, on this monday evening, they had decided it was about time somebody sang something sensible. This was going to be one of those moments which Yvonne and I always considered as extra gifts when we were in those places were similar events would happen (am I sounding extremely vague now? I’m sorry, I have no other way to express this).
The guy who was handed the touberléki tapped a few times on the instrument, another one had found two spoons which he held back to back in one hand and exercised their sound as he tapped them back and forth between his knee and the back of his palm, a few others started to softly sing from the deep of their throats, and 30 seconds later, it was “Páme!”, let’s get going! One guy at the table turned around to me and shouted “éla, fíle, éla!”, come my friend, a unmistakable invitation to join them. I did as requested, got more rakí, had to explain where I came from, got more rakí, and what I was doing there, always a difficult phase in every conversation, but what the heck did they care! This was fun time! For the next two hours or so, the whole spectrum of Cretan folk music was , now and then interspersed with more popular Greek (as “from the mainland”) music, probably intended to humor the only “tourist” present. There were songs sang by a single man, they would switch so that everybody got his turn, but most of the times it was duets or “altogether now!”. There were deep dramatic tones, all faces serious, dark eyes lifted to the skies (or the ceiling in this case) in unparalleled Greek tragedian fashion, than on the blink of an eye, the ritme would change, eyes sparkling, white teeth even more sparkling, big waves of arms and hands, eyes looking into eyes, encouraging each other to give the best they could give.
I knew once again why I had come to this part of the world.
By the way, we did not have snow during the weekend. It’s hearthwarming to notice that the weather forecast here is as reliable as it is back home.