Gordon G Hall
Writer and Neo-Philhellene


Short Stories about Greece

Greece was on holiday! No, it was not summer, beaches and swimming, but it was a wonderful Spring day and the whole of Thessaloniki reeked of barbecue! Indeed it was because of this overpowering stench of charred meat that I had sought olfactory sanctuary on the Paralia.

I should have known about Tsiknopemte, but somehow this great day of carnival had escaped my attention. A compound word, Tsikno means ‘the smell of grilled meat’, and Pemte is Thursday. It is part of the Greek run-up to Lent when, in preparation for fasting Greeks like to make sure their bellies are well provided for. Actually fasting in Greece is a wonderful culinary experience as you can enjoy the most gorgeous dishes prepared exclusively and especially to comply with the strictest Lentern abstinence!

So there I was sitting on a large wooden bench on the Paralia and staring out into the bay where the coasters were lying at anchor awaiting their turn to be summoned into the port. Although it was, at least by my standards, a warm day, the perambulating population considered it still to be the depths of winter and was in no mood to shed its scarves or Puffa jackets.

Some of my fellow escapees from the bittersweet smell of barbecue were hurrying about their business whilst others strolled, arms linked, deep in animated conversation. Perhaps it was because I was daydreaming, or just that the sun was blinding me from the south, but I did not notice the rather gaunt young lady and her dog until they were almost upon me. The woman in question was well-dressed in a green outfit that would not have disgraced Robin Hood, thick green tunic, grey tights, and high-kicking fawn boots. Attached to her, at the end of a very long extendable lead, was a small white dog.

It may have been that these two, human and canine companions, had not been seeing eye to eye before they chanced upon this sedentary Englishman. I do not know, but whilst my comprehension of human behavior is somewhat limited I pride myself upon having a keen understanding of the mind of Dog. It was however easy for anyone to see that Dog did not want to walk at the speed that Human wished to attain. Indeed Dog did not much want to walk at all. It was playing the game of ‘let’s stop and pee by this orange tree’ and ‘ooops, just a moment, I must have a scratch’. Human was not amused by such antics.

Then Dog espied the perfect ‘delay’. Dog’s eyes met mine for a split second, and a moment later it had jumped up on my bench and was sitting down next to me. Being at one with dogs I rubbed its back. Dog liked this and lay down on my bench next to me its right rear leg thumping up and down in harmony with my scratching.

Human was not amused. “Ella” she said. “Ella, Dylan, Tora!” It is funny. I am no Greek speaker but have reached the stage in my limited linguistic ability where I can say a few words of the language and, usually, make myself understood. Indeed I have less trouble than I used to in picking up the thread a conversation in Greek with my fellow humans. However I have spent much of my life talking to dogs and find it nigh on impossible to communicate with them in anything other than English. I was a little daunted therefor when confronted by this small animal called Dylan that, despite its total refusal to come when called, was clearly a Greco-Canine communicator.

I smiled at Human and tried to look as if I was mildly embarrassed by this display of togetherness that had been foisted upon me. Under such circumstances we, the English, tend to apologise, even if we have nothing to apologise for.

“Lipami,” I said, but without much conviction.

I had however said enough for Human to grasp that Greek was not my native tongue. “Do you speak English,” she said.

I admitted that to be the truth and to her further enquiry confirmed that I did indeed come from England.

“Westmorland Terrier,” I said, “friendly little chap.”

“He doesn’t usually behave like this. He’s been trouble all day, he keeps wanting to turn round and head back into town”

“Perhaps it’s the smell,” I said.

“Yes, and his stubbornness. Stupid dog.”

“You call him Dylan.”

“Yes, from the Magic Roundabout. That Dylan was pretty stupid as well. He’s not really my dog, he belonged to my mother and we ‘inherited’ him a year ago. I don’t really like dogs. I can’t think why I keep him”

“At least you can pick a Westie up and carry him.” I said. I was concerned that this anti-dog antagonism that his mistress was espousing would fall ill upon Dylan’s ears.

“I might well have to. Dylan, here!” And so saying she tugged so hard on the lead that my companion slid off our seat.

His remote ancestors might have hailed from Westmorland in the Lake District of England, but this was a Greek dog – and true to his kind he was not intending to exert himself any further. He sat down on the concrete walkway. The more that Human tugged the more that Dylan resisted. Human was clearly at the end of her tether.

The two of them struggled. Human had a weight advantage and was able to drag Dog along the Paralia just a few metres at a time, however the Westie was made of stern stuff. He sat his bottom on the ground and dug his from claws into whatever grip he could find in the rather slippery concrete surface. They progressed at an agonizingly slow pace. Eventually she waked back the few yards to where her animal was stubbornly squatting after having yielded no more than 10 yards, and picked up this refusnik of hers. Clearly she was anxious about something and wanted to get moving. Dylan was not anxious, well at least he was not keen to do anything more energetic than jump back onto my bench.

Caught by surprise Dylan did not stand a chance as he was hoisted into Human’s imprisoning embrace. It appeared that he had met his Waterloo – and in a somewhat undignified manner. Human started off at a smart pace, but Dylan was not done yet. He employed ‘strategy’. Even from as the distance between us rapidly increased I could see that, as if accepting his status, he went limp, he appeared to give up. Human read these Westmorland signals, reckoned that she had done the trick, and dropped him gently onto his feet. Dylan hit the deck running and without pausing for a moment he hi-tailed it back towards me, trailing his lead and being pursued, hotly, by Human.

The situation was such that I failed to suppress a grin. It became a smile, and finally ended in a great gust of laughter. Dylan jumped up beside me. Human arrived rather more puffed and a couple of lengths to the rear, not at all pleased to witness my mirth.

“Blasted dog,” she said, “he knows I’m in a hurry.”

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“I promised to meet my daughter by the White Tower, and that was . . .” She looked at her watch “ . . oh no, nearly half an hour ago.”

“It was Human that now had ‘defeat’ written large upon her features. Her mouth was open, her arms hung loose by her side, her whole body sagged. “Look,” she said, “I wonder if you would do me a great favour. I’ve got to get to my daughter right away.

“Could you just hang onto Dylan for a a few moments whilst I meet Eleni and make sure she’s okay. I’ll be back in ten minutes.”

With hindsight I should have wondered if this Eleni possessed a mobile. It would have been the matter of a moment for her mother to have called her, but I am of an age that finds such gadgets useful but not exactly the stuff of everyday life. As it was Human patted the recumbent Dylan on his head, handed me his lead and took off.

“Won’t be long,” she said and before I could open my mouth to say “Oxi’ she was fifty yards away going hell for leather in the direction of the town.

It was a surprise to me, although perhaps not to my more perceptive readers, that Dylan and I were still sitting in the same spot some thirty minutes later.

“Don’t worry old chap, she’ll be along soon”

Dylan wagged his stumpy little tail. Clearly he was both unconcerned about this turn of events and learning English fast.

I peered into the sunlight along the Paralia. The sky was of an untroubled blue, but a small dark cloud was starting to form in my mind. There was no sign of Human. Thirty minutes later remote possibility had hardened into certainty. I looked again at this small white bundle of independence.

“It’s all your fault. You’re stuck with me now.”

After a further fifteen minutes cogitation I realized than in being ‘stuck with him’ I had come off slightly worse in the deal.

I got up from the bench and, good as gold, my new acquisition jumped down beside me and trotted along, contentedly at my heels. We passed the White Tower. Neither dog nor I paused for more than half a second. Human had long since passed this way.

“I suppose I have to feed you?”

He looked a bit mystified

“Food?” I said. All dogs wag their tails at the word, but clearly translation was in order.

“Thelis na fas”

The dog looked at me.

“Fai;” I said, “Do you want a meal you stupid mutt?”

At that Dylan came to life. His tail wagged and he did the doggy equivalent of a couple of barrel rolls.

I paid one Euro for a Koulouri. Dylan was not to be appeased by such. Perhaps we needed to find a butcher.

“I suppose you only eat meat.”

If a dog can scowl, Dylan scowled.

Okay then “Sou aresi mono to kreas;”

The tail wagged. It had never struck me that I would learn Greek by talking to a dog.

But there was no need for a butcher. The smell of Tsichnopemti was even stronger than it had been earlier. We turned up Aristotelous and I slipped Dylan’s lead. Without hesitating he made a beeline for the nearedst barbcue. Oh, he knew how to play to the gallery! He sat up and begged, he did little somersaults, he even seemed to clap his front paws together. And he was duly rewarded. After about the sixth barbecue I reckoned it was time for a break. I sat on a low wall and Dylan, a rather plump Dylan with the look of a ‘for now satisfaied dog’ upon his face, jumped up beside me.

As a rather overweight Englishman wandering along the Paralia I had attracted scant attention from my fellow walkers. However as a cheerful old Englishman with a charming little white dog sitting on a wall on Aristotelous I was feted. Young ladies whose Puffa jackets did little to hide their charms stopped and cooed over my companion. They stooped and cuddled this white bundle of canine complexes, and they talked to me! I tried to speak in Greek, but the questions came fast and furious. Yes he was a Westie, no he was not from England, indeed his name was Dylan. The dog was, undeniably, happy at being the centre of such attention.

I became aware that amidst all the hubbub a rather pleasing dark haired, blue eyed, slim woman, perhaps in her early thirties, had been sitting on the other side of Dylan from me and had been gently stroking him.

“I lost my Westie just a couple of months ago,” she said.

“I hate it when a dog dies, they are such good friends.”

“No,” she said, “I mean ‘lost’. We were walking in the mountains of Halkidiki, one moment he was with me, and the next he was gone. My friend and I searched and searched but we just couldn’t find him. I kept going back, week after week, but I will never know what happened to him.”

“That’s so sad,” I said,“ and worrying because you just don’t know.”

“I keep saying I must get another dog, but I am not sure I have the time for a puppy.”

The Great Idea had formed rapidly in my mind. I looked at the well-fed contented Dylan lying on the wall next to me, his paws in the air and having is tummy tickled by this dog-bereft stranger. It seemed like a pre-ordained act of charity.

“Look, ” I said and, without perjuring myself to a vast extent, continued, “I have to leave for a month the UK within a week and I really don’t know what to do with the little chap whilst I am gone. I don’t suppose you would like to keep him would you?”

“Do you mean it?”

“Yes, of course I do. Tell me, what’s your name?”

“Anna. Yours?”

“Gordon. Okay Anna, here’s his lead. His name is Dylan. He is as stubborn as a mule and has just consumed six barbecues.”

Anna nodded. “Okay. That sounds like a proper Westie”

“Dylan,” I said, “Meet Anna, she’s yours now.”

He growled slightly

“‘Anna.” I said pointing at his new mistress. “She is yours now”

The dog, his brief flirtation with the English language now a thing of the past, gazed into the adoring eyes of his new Greek owner.

“Bye,” I said.

Both owner and owned glanced briefly at me.

“Yas sas,” said the one.

And I swear the other winked at me.

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