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My neighbour Charon pops in to the Greek Hovel – are there really 20 or 30 snakes in those rocks?

Tom Winnifrith
Tuesday 10 August 2021

Like most folks in Kambos my neighbour is actually called Nicho but his lugubrious manner and habit of appearing unannounced and tapping you on the back as you wield a strimmer earned him the nickname, on this website, of Charon some years ago. When I say neighbour, his house is about 600 yards as the crow flies away, one fold upwards heading towards the mountains: the walk up a winding track is about a mile.

And this year he is absent as he cannot get any water so has relocated temporarily to Orova. We met up the other day in the Kourounis taverna and I managed to explain, with the assistance of lovely Eleni, that lovely Eleni had shouted down the phone at a little man, in a lovely but rather terrifying manner, and that the little man had scuttled up to the Greek Hovel almost at once and we now had water. Charon seemed not to believe this and said he would come to see for himself to see with his own eyes and we arranged that he would come here on Monday at 1. We bought a few beers and some wine and waited.

I shall say this for Charon he was in a very un-Greek manner not only on time but actually early meaning the beers were not fully chilled. He wandered up to the house topless, sweating profusely as he had walked all the way from Orova along secret paths known only to him and which I  cannot discover. He quickly let a cigarette. The whole area is tinder dry and as he flicked ash casually I looked at my nearest hosepipe and imagined having to spray him and the fire he was about to start down with our vast amounts of water.

Communicating with Charon is hard as his English is not that much better than my Greek so he usually just speaks in Greek then looks at me, cocks his head and facing silence speaks some more Greek. I tried to usher him inside before he set everything on fire but instead he picked up his Shepherd’s crook and said “feti” making a shape like a snake and then hitting that shape. I know what feti means, after all snakes are my specialist subject out here but I was glad that he was keen on killing them. He then pointed to a pile of building materials, including some sacks of concrete now hardened to stone by the winter rains, and a large bile of unused stone which lie discarded on the old threshing circle about 40 yards from the house above the entrance track. He waved his stick pointing at it and beckoning I follow babbling in Greek but adding in the words 20 and 30.

Later I considered my father’s claim in vlach to have had 25 pensises as I recollected my horror that Charon had identified 20 or 30 snakes in the rubble and was proposing that we attack them. Somehow, I steered us back to the house where he continued to smoke, ignoring stern glances from the Mrs. After offering him a beer with ice we soon established that even the Mrs could not communicate with him though she is fluent in Swedish and speaks a good bit of Greek and is a bit of a natural linguist. Girly swot.

The reason that I speak little Greek when she is here, a bit more when she is not, is that when I do speak Greek she publicly picks me up on my errors and, in front of my friends, that is a bit embarrassing. I’d rather make small errors uncorrected. So bloody what if I use the feminine one for a salad not the masculine one. Or the other way round? Does it really matter that much?  

And so we phoned my brother-in-law who is a bubble and who is now relaxing as the fires in his village have been beaten and gone. I managed to establish that Charon was proposing that he remove the solid concrete to use to fill potholes on snake hill and that he would also like to take 20 or 30 of the stones to use up at his house.  Aha it was stones not snakes. Although I was spraying poison in tick frigana just behind the stones yesterday afternoon and it struck me that it was exactly the sort of place that snakes would hang out in

Greeks as they talk can appear animated about the most mundane matters and at times it appeared as if I and Charon were almost shouting at each other and that my brother-in-law was about to start a blood feud with my 66 year old Maniot neighbour.  But after a long while all became clear, all was agreed and we exchanged numbers and an email address. I have him I’s number rather than my own for a range of reasons.

And then Charon ambled off. He explained he would not use the pool as he could not swim. That is understandable as when he was growing up in these hills the sea was half a day’s walk away so folks did not learn to swim. But he thanked us for the offer smiled and waved at the children and disappeared up the track to his house waving his stick excitedly lest any feti cross his path.

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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