“Βρε, what’s that on your arm?” I pointed to my friend’s prodigious muscular upper arm, bulging from within the confines of a particularly tight t-shirt.
He looked at me warily with his bleary, blood-shot eyes and instinctively attempted to cover his arm with a remnant of sleeve.
“It’s nothing. Leave me alone, my head aches.”
If his head ached, mine felt as if it had been cleft in twain by an axe, then put back together with nuts and bolts by Doctor Frankenstein and now was having a protective plate hammered around it upon a red hot anvil. Alcohol has never been my friend.
I reached out with a trembling hand and grasped his shirt sleeve firmly. Then, as he made futile efforts to pull away, I yanked it up abruptly.
“Βρε συ…..what on earth is that?” I exclaimed.
Loud noises of any type seemed to have the effect of loοsening whichever bolts were holding my head together. I grasped the top of my cranium with my right hand, in order to prevent the contents of my brain from oozing onto the table, and with my left hand, clutched at my throat, for my larynx was issuing dire threats of emancipation through my mouth cavity. Sotto voce, I repeated: “What the hell have you done to yourself?”
My friend cast me a look of abject misery. Sighing, he elevated his slumped form from the bench upon which it was ensconced and clutched at his arm. Shaking his head sadly, he asked:
“What do you remember about last night?”
“Well not much actually,” I admitted.
“You remember coming over and how I cracked open the tsipouro?” he enquired.
“That wasn’t tsipouro,” I disputed.
“Oh not this again…”
“How do you mean?”
“Do you remember how you between shots you were rubbishing it because it was apple flavoured and you were saying that real tsipouro……”
“Should be unsullied by heterogenous flavours that mask the true unadulterated beauty of the beverage, just as garish clothes obscure the ethereal beauty of the female form…” I interrupted.
“No, that was Yianni who said that and he was talking about his latest girlfriend, who by the way he dumped last night. Something to do with a lack of inspiration, he said. I don’t know. I received an incoherent text at three o’ clock this morning.”
“Well she is Italian. Our Italian cousins have always experienced difficulty in understanding the dark depths of the Greek soul. Our affinity is only fatsa deep, and Yianni’s soul is particularly dark,” I mused.
“You said that real tsipouro tastes the way the Epirots made it and it should be no holds barred, no beg your pardons, just you and the alcohol, the way nature intended. That’s what you said,” he continued.
“If you say so,” I conceded.
“And then you went on for about half an hour about the spread of the ancient Epirot tribes throughout north-western Macedonia…”
“As in our north-western, or their north-western?” I asked, lamely attempting to introduce some levity to the conversation.
“I’m not going to have that discussion again,” my friend cut in angrily. “Never again. I suppose you don’t remember how Yianni got upset and then called the Greek Consulate, singing ‘Μακεδονία Ξακουστή,’ informing them he doesn’t recognise them as true representatives of the Greek people and is breaking off communication within them, and then begged them to come and arrest him?”
“No, and I don’t think the Consulate does either. After all, they seldom pick up the phone. Actually, I have this faint memory of him calling his girlfriend and singing Christos Dantis’ latest released hit. I’m positive it had nothing to do with Macedonia, whatsoever,” I confided.
“And you don’t remember telling us that the greatest cultural appropriators are not the purloiners of the Sun of Vergina, but rather, the Soviets because they appropriated the hammer and sickle from the nineteenth century coinage of Mexico?” he insisted.
“Doesn’t ring a bell, but somewhere along the line I have vague recollections of signing ‘Ζήτω το ΕΑΜ,'” I remembered.
“No, by that stage you were cradling an empty tsipouro bottle in your arms and blowing into it like a clarinet,” my friend corrected me. “Then you started to hold forth on the futility of the human condition and concluded by singing an Albanian funeral dirge in Chinese.”
“Which is when Yianni started singing ‘Στη Μακεδονία του Αλέξανδρου,'” I suggested.
“No, that is when Yianni did the Chicken Dance, to support his argument that the Italians of Australia have divested themselves of all knowledge of their traditional folklore, replacing it instead with Dean Martin songs,” he contradicted me.
“I thought that was you,” I wondered. “You know that the Chicken Dance is actually Swiss and was composed by an accordion player called Werner Thomas in the 50’s?”
“Yes, I do,” my friend confirmed. “You told us last night. You also wondered whether Werner Thomas was inspired to compose the piece by the Greek song in which the παπάκι goes to the river in search of companionship.”
“Really?” I asked delighted. “Did I suggest that? That’s fascinating. I must give that some thought.”
“At which time Yianni started raving on about the ravages of the Romans upon the Macedonians during the time of Aemelius Paulus while trying to burn his nostril hairs with a candle.”
“I remember something about a candle? Wasn’t it someone’s birthday?” I asked.
“Yes and that when you started signing ‘Απορώ Μακεδονία!'” I recalled. “Not sure I remember anything after that.”
“You don’t remember anything at all? Nothing about you trying to sing Candle in the Wind in Byzantine Greek?”
“Something about a doorbell and you leaving. That’s about it,” I tried to recollect.
“Well yes. Because when I heard about Yiannis dumping Anna-Maria, I called her.”
“Oh you did, did you?” my voice circumflexed in mock indignation.
“Partly in order to console her, partly because I was blind drunk and in need of a lift.”
“Of course, goes without saying.”
“Anyway, on the drive home, we realised we have so much in common. Just imagine. Her favourite movie is Raw Deal and her favourite colour is blue, just like me.”
“It’s uncanny,” I offered.
“I was singing «Είμαι βέρος Μακεδόνας/και δεν αστειεύομαι./ Όταν λέω μια κουβέντα/ ξέρωνα την σέβομαι» and she literally had tears in her eyes. Imagine. She really felt it, μεγάλε. It was a moment.”
“I bet it was. Your singing has that effect on people, in my experience. Especially considering that your people hail from Kalamata.”
“Anyway, I demanded then and there that she take me to one of those all night tattoo parlours in Fitzroy.”
“Why on earth for?”
“I’ve been putting off two things in my life: Finding true love, which I have just found, and getting a tattoo of the Sun of Vergina. I decided I was going to fulfil both of my life’s ambitions in the same night. You can take the boy out of Vergina but you can’t take Vergina out of the boy.”
“Except with a very good laser.”
“So we pull up at the tattoo parlour, and I show the guy what I want. All of a sudden, Anna-Maria starts getting pouty. I’m telling her “Baby μου, what’s wrong? What’s the matter bella? Don’t hold back.”
“And did she?”
“Well, at first. She is very shy in the ways of the world, you know.”
“As does Yianni.”
“Then she comes out with it: ‘That design is sooooo ugly. It looks like a spider or something.’ I told her: ‘It’s a sun ντάλυ μου, a Greek one,’ and she replies: ‘You Greeks have absolutely no taste. That’s not a sun. If you are going to get a sun, get a stylish one, like the Versace one.'”
I gasped in horror. “You mean to say….”
“Ναι ρε συ….” my friend sobbed. “I’ve made a terrible mistake. One night with you guys and I’ve ended up with the sun of Versace on my arm and a crazed girlfriend who won’t stop calling me. I can’t get it off my arm.”
“Which?” I asked.
As he tugged at his shirt sleeve in desperation, I began to sing by means of impromptu improvisation, in a loud, stentorian voice, oblivious as to whoever was listening, to the tune of the well-known patriotic march: “Versace ξάκουστε, των Ιταλών η μόδα/ Συ που έμπλεξες τον φίλο μου/ και ταλαιπωρείται τώρα.”
“Bugger off,” he pleaded. “What do I tell my mum?”
“Just tell her it’s Apollo and pray to him for enlightenment,” I advised. “The Italians have him too.”