17 Jun A day with a lord of Kythnos
Dimitris (Soumas) Vlastaris.
My neighbor next door. Each time we meet, he has a story to tell. For the times when he was young, when he went to school with my mom, how he met his wife and how flirting used to be back then, how he lost her and was left alone, his misery for the daughter he also lost, but also his pride for his other two daughters and for his seven grandchildren.
Very soon, we started spending more time, chatting almost every day and at his persistence, I followed him one morning to learn how he spent his days. The truth is that I was ashamed that every time he asked me to go, something would come up and I postponed it, so one day, I made no plans but to follow him.
We will wake up early though, okay? He asked. And we started walking up Chora bright and early and after crossing all the way through the capital of Kythnos, we entered the first path where he took me to a “cell” a dry-stone block farm house, where he showed me where they used to place the food for the goats, how they fed them, where they stayed, the old shoes made of pig skin, the various tools they used for different tasks.
Let’s go to my “cell” now, to milk the goats and drink fresh milk with coffee. We will also make fried eggs with potatoes later on and drink from my own wine. You do know how to peel potatoes, don’t you? He asked with a light grin on his face. And we entered his hangout, everything was piled together but each item had its place and reason to exist and of course, a story to tell. Every corner has something to say and all together compose a whole life. Somewhere in between all, hung in a frame the honorary diploma for his contribution to the preservation and promotion of the folk music tradition.
I have taught the new gen to play the tsambouna (a musical instrument part of the bagpipe family. It’s a double-chantered bagpipe, with no drone, and is inflated by blowing by mouth into a goatskin bag. The instrument is widespread in the Greek islands).
Come on, now I’m going to walk you to the chapel of Santa Paraskevi, where we had the festival and I danced with your mother, the local balos. Your mom, he said, was one hell of a dancer. Built everything on his own, even paid for the road to be accessible to cars, I brought the bones of my relatives close to her icon and I come every day to light a candle for her grace, he said. Neat, tidy and everything in place, the oil, the wicks, the candles.
We said our prayers and walked back. I let him rest and I returned home to do my own routine feeling complete. The photos are few compared to the experience. I consider myself extremely lucky to have him as my neighbor, this kind and good-natured man, who opened his house and taught me in just one day of hislife, so many about the history and culture of Kythnos. This article is dedicated to him and I thank him from the bottom of my heart.