One of the consequences of the Panepirotic Federation of Australia constructing a re-enactment of a traditional Epirotic home for the Antipodes Festival, complete with workable loom (and traditional woman working said loom), authentic traditional cooking pots and utensils, antique and valuable regional jewellery, ornate and authentic traditional costumes, plausible re-construction of a period bed including itchy flokati bed coverings, traditional wall and floor coverings, is that the people who entrust the said Federation with their prized heirlooms for display are loathe to allow then to be left unattended during the hiatus separating the frenzied revelry of the Saturday night and the promise of the festivities to come on Sunday afternoon.
As a result, it becomes incumbent on us stall holders, after our costumes have been packed away, (though in this year’s heat it was physically impossible for us to don our heavy, woollen costumes and compel unsuspecting and frightened Asian passersby to dance the tsamiko with us), to actually ensconce ourselves within our virtual home and sit out the night, steadfastly guarding our members’ inheritance.
To purport to sleep in a place where ordinarily a ceaseless stream of traffic flows is a disconcerting experience. As the microphones were pulled at 11:30pm on Saturday night, and enthused, overheated revellers reluctantly made their way to their modes of conveyance, buoyed by the dulcet tones of Pantelis Thalassinos and Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s not so dulcet but equally welcome announcement of two million dollars worth of funding for the construction of the Cultural Centre, (what a coup for the president and committee of the GOCMV that has proved again that it not only has the vision but also the means and capability to propel this key institution into the future), the president of the Panepirotic Federation and yours truly prepared to bed down for the night.
Our tent being hotter than the contents of Anthea Sidiropoulos’, antipodean oriental stage costume, I staggered outside into the not so significantly cooler night air, pulled up a chair and watched nonchalantly as the last of the stragglers, the realisation that there was no more entertainment to follow finally having downed upon them, vacated the road and the security guards took up their positions at strategic points along the street, in readiness for a long night. An eerie hush befell the lonely thoroughfare through the plateia, punctuated by the stirring of a considerable amount of paper refuse slowly floating down towards Swanston Street. Then they came, in dribs and drabs, scantily clad, semi-inebriated girls of diverse ethnicity hanging on to the arms of their boyfriends as they struggled up the street in search of their next place of revelry.
Looking inquisitively at the tents and various paraphernalia of a Hellenic nature, not a few asked: “What the f..k is all this sh.t?” only to punctuate their question with the observation, a few seconds later: “F…..g Greeks?” One girl, turning her head sideways, spied me sitting opposite, reading a copy of Neos Kosmos. “Look!,” she yelled to her giggling friends. “A f….g Greek!” “Yes,” I replied. “And unlike you, I am able to decipher coded glyphs into speech.” The poor girl frowned for a moment and opened her mouth.
Then she closed it and walked away, looking tremendously disturbed. It was then that I decided to turn for the night, settling down on the tremendously hard flokati covered bed, ignoring the sundry bits of pile invading my nostrils and my ears. It did not take me long to drift off into a state of semi-consciousness, when the impossibly loud music began its assault upon my unsuspecting ear-drums, from a nightclub in the middle of the street. With one’s ear pressed to the flokati, the vibrations reminded me of a particular psychotic washing machine I used to own, whose inner drum would bash against its carapace in violent protest against overloading. Having developed the theory that techno music was developed just from one such occurrence, I glanced briefly at our president, who had stuffed his ears with tissue paper and was snoring soundly and walked out into a desolate but not entirely unsleeping Lonsdale Street.
Revellers were still walking through to the clubs. Some of these had the bright idea, no doubt inspired by Hollywood teen movies, to mount an assault on the portable toilets, with a view to toppling them. Their whoops and cheers immediately caught the attention of the security guards who swooped down upon them and swiftly but firmly, disabused them of their questionable pursuit.
As I made my way back to the tent, I heard voices. A group of youths, emerging from a nightclub having had a disagreement, had decided to air their differences, right in front of our tent. Now I have seen nightclub fights before. Invariably, they revolve around women, machismo and insults real or imagined. Yet nothing could prepare me for what I was to witness. The loud, angry insults and almost unintelligent insults were the same, and yet this particular dispute revolved around the aggrieved having chanced upon his posse of friends at the club, when they had told him that they were not going out. He thus railed at the injustice of being excluded, while his friends tried to calm him down by telling him that it was the spur of the moment decision and that the proof of this was that they did not have time to do their hair properly or don decent clothing. One of them did not even have time to have a shower and looked terrible. They cajoled and reassured him that far from being unwanted, he was very much valued as part of the group and they apologised for hurting his feelings.
Slowly, over the course of half an hour, he ceased to stomp about, flailing his hands in the air and his face softened into a smile. His hand on the shoulder of the chief negotiator, they walked off towards the dawn, happy to have achieved closure and conflict resolution. How times have changed. It was 8am when the intensely loud music mercifully ceased and I finally settled down for some uninterrupted Sunday morning sleep. All night I had lain awake, staring at the gap in the tent, waiting to defend my heritage from a street incursion that never came. At ten minutes past eight, I was woken cheerfully by the president, who had emerged from his torpid slumber, refreshed and in a disconcertingly good mood.
“This is the problem with the neolaia,” he smirked. “All you want to do is sleep.” Opening a box he proceeded to place some delectable homemade pita on plates. “Now come and have breakfast.”
Fifteen minutes later, when the first of the Antipodes volunteers walked past, we had removed the protective covering from the tent. To the outside world, it appeared as if a wall had been cut from an Epirot home, allowing the observer to witness two Vlachs, with clarinet and violin attempt to follow each other in tune. Looking around at all the other unmanned and closed tents, along with the relative desolation of the street, punctuated only by security guards napping in plastic chairs and shaking his head, the volunteer commented: “You Epirots are crazy.” Maybe we are.
And yet ours is a measured, moiriolatric craziness, the consequence of the knowledge that we are living on borrowed time, something that was reinforced at the Antipodes children’s tent, where only three children turned up to listen to stories, one of whom was of Indian extraction, the rest preferring rides and other attractions. We will continue to be crazy, to re-enact the forms and attitudes of our ancestors Poseidonian-style in public and even sleep in the streets if we have to, for we fear the time that will come, hopefully far off into the future, when we will seek an outlet for our craziness and find none and our craziness will turn to madness and our madness to grief at just how much poorer our lives have become. And on that day, yours truly will don his super ornate foustenella and pitch the Epirotic tent embassy in the middle of Lonsdale Street in memory of all that we must not ever lose.
* Dean Kalimniou is a Melbourne solicitor and freelance writer.