Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The Greeks have a word
for it: (14) mañana

Lost among the lotus eaters? … the long stretch of beach east of Rethymnon at Platanes, with the Fortezza in the background and the White Mountains (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

The story is told of a tourist who asked whether there is a Greek word that translates mañana.

The Greek who was asked the question thought long and pondered for a while on the word αύριο (avrio), but then replied:

‘Yes, but it does not convey the same sense of urgency.’

I have managed to spend time at the beach in Platanes most days during these past two weeks in Rethymnon, or go for a swim in the pool.

There have been days in the mountains, visits to churches, monasteries, lakes, museums, galleries and exhibitions. There have been evening strolls to view sunsets. And there have been long meetings, meals and lengthy conversations with old friends.

But sometimes – just sometimes – as I laze on the beach, reading books and newspapers, enjoying the sunshine and swimming in the Mediterranean, I feel I might be among the lotus eaters.

In Greek mythology, the lotus-eaters (λωτοφάγοι, lōtophagoi) were a people living on an island over-run by lotus plants. The lotus fruits and flowers were the primary food on the island and were a narcotic, causing the inhabitants to sleep in peaceful apathy.

In the Odyssey, Homer tells how adverse north winds blew Odysseus and his crew off course as they were rounding Cape Malea, the southern-most tip of the Peloponnese, as they headed west towards Ithaca.

The crew are entertained by the islanders to a lotus meal, and soon stop caring about the return journey home. Against their wishes, Odysseus forces them back to the ships and to work on the oars.

Scholars differ about the location of the island of the lotus eaters. In the fifth century BC, the historian Herodotus located the Lotus-Eaters on the Libyan coast of north Africa. But others say that if it is an island then Crete was their home.

I have another day or two to go before this holiday ends, but you may have to wean me off my Greek diet before I agree to catch my plane back to Dublin.

‘Mañana.’

Possibly even, Αύριο.

But first I am planning to head up into the mountains again early this morning to visit Arkadi monastery, and hope to spend another afternoon on the beach.

This episode in the Odyssey inspired an episode in Ulysses by James Joyce, and later inspired the BBC television drama series The Lotus Eaters (1972-1973). The series written by Michael J Bird tells the stories of some British expatriates living on Crete and their reasons for being here in the closing days of the colonels’ regime.

The leading characters are Erik (Ian Hendry) and Ann Shepherd (Wanda Ventham), a couple who run a taverna called the Shepherd’s Bar. Ann is a sleeper agent for British Intelligence; Erik has been a broken-down drunk, and Ann has married him as part of her cover.

The Lotus Eaters was filmed in Aghios Nikolaos and of course tells of people who have lost the desire to return home. Eventually, however, as the series title has implied from the beginning, Erik and Ann have to leave Crete. As they leave on a plane from Iraklion, they have a partial reconciliation, for they are the only people each other can trust.

The series was the first of a number of Mediterranean-based dramas written by Michael J Bird for the BBC. The others included Who Pays the Ferryman?, also set in Crete, The Aphrodite Inheritance, based in Cyprus, and The Dark Side of the Sun, located in Rhodes.



The haunting Greek song that is the theme for the series is Τα τρένα που φύγαν (Ta tréna pou fígan, ‘The Trains That Departed’), from the album Hellespont. The music was composed by Stavros Xarchakos and the lyrics were written by Haris Alexiou and Marinella:

Τα τρένα που φύγαν
αγάπες μού πήρανε.
Αγάπες και κλαίνε,
ποια μοίρα τις μοίρανε;

Δώς μου χέρι να πιαστώ
να πιαστώ, να κρατηθώ,
ένα γέλιο, μια ματιά
κι ανασταίνετ' η καρδιά.

Το τρένο σε πήρε
πουλί, χελιδόνι μου.
Σε τύλιξ' η νύχτα
κι ορφάνεψα μόνη μου.

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