July 25th, 2013
I started out in Thisos Square and played a few songs as the sun started to fade behind the trees. The strees were lined with people working the tourists, selling all kinds of things like trinkets, grilled corn, nuts, souveniers. I guess I was working them too, but that wasnt really my goal. But luckily there were so many musicians around, that no one objected when I set up. In fact, no one even gave any evidence that they noticed me. I had to look awfully close for signs that people could even hear me. I instituted the 2 song rule. If nothing happened after 2 songs I would move on. I played 3, then moved on out.
Walking down the road, I couldnt help notice what an international group it was lined up on either side selling stuff. Especially the Indians and Africans were well represented. Maybe 70% percent of the people were tourists. I met 2 Greeks though who were there for the first time. For me it was the only place really I had been in Athens, but for Greeks perhaps it wasnt so important. Later I find out the Greeks dont like the immigrants. In fact, there is even a Neo-Nazi group that got elected to pariliment. In fact, all the ingredients for another Nazi takeover are here, a poor economy, blaming one group (immigrants) for all the problems, etc. Just one thing is missing, Greeks are not especially good at fighting.
There was the old nut man. I liked him because he would sell you a bag of pumpkin seeds for 1 Euro but he always gave me an extra half scope.
“Are they famous. They are trying to advertise something. i thought maybe he was the king”, I ask 2 women. At a square with many restaurants, there is a couple dressed like French noblity. I want to talk to them and make a plan. A challenge for myself. The woman is beautiful. I approach her. “can i take a picture with you?” “Sure”. “Who are you. “I am a worker and a student”. “No No. in your costume, who are you?”” Marie Antoinette.” “can i take a picture”? to the guy I ask, “who are you?””Lord Summersbee.” Ive never heard of you.” “Of course you havent”
I challenge myself, and say to the woman “I think you would look beautiful without clothes, I mean without these fancy clothers”. I got a surprised look and then a laugh. Then to the guy, “ And you also look beautiful…except for the hair sticking out of your nose.” he laughed and I reached my goal, I said to the beautiful woman, you would look beautiful without clothes, and got away with it.
I met Spiros again. He was in the same place, with the stunning view of the lit up Acropolis. He greeted me warmly. He was running a little late. While I was waiting for him to set, I proposed to him that I play one jazz. I started to play and he tried to join in. It was a new experience for him. He had never played jazz before. it took him a little bit to realize he had all the notes he needed. Pretty soon he was playing someting that sounded pretty good. It was a real culture exchange. This time he decided to teach me a little about Greek music. He started off by teaching me some scales that songs were built on. The first one was like a harmonic minor scale with a raised 4th (in case that means anything to you). The other one I couldnt really figure out. The second part from the 5th onward was harmonic minor, but the first part was mystifying. For example, eflat, e, f sharp, g, bflat, b. I just couldnt get it. We played the first one and it made sense when I knew the scale. I just played the next scale tone or jumped around. it was a funny nice feeling for me. The other one was constantly train wrecking. Spiros told me there are many many scales. Some of them have large jumps in them, something like Indian ragas. calipus’ place song about the owner of the placepiano is 2 instruments. Do many people know it, “Of course” “If they play repetico, they will know it.
“Here’s another scale for you. Oh No!” Its called shapak….its about guy whose does the 3 cards…papajis…can you give me the scale. I think it was c, d, d#, e, g, g#, b, c, which is just a scale with minor and major thirds and no fourth then harmonic minor top. Pretty strange really. I couldnt pick it up.
There sitting watching us was a young couple. I was a bit aggressive and talked to them. “Did you know that your pink hair matches her pink blouse and her black hair matches your black shirt”. They laughed when I said it. l went closer to talk to them. I called them the art couple. In fact they were the art couple. “Dont move. dont do anything.” “Can we smile?” “No that would ruin it”. We exchanged names. I was so embarrasssed. Their names were about 40 letters long.I was embarrassed to say my name , Frank Lev. “Do your names have meaning?” “Not really.” “my name means ‘Honest, but I’m not honest. at least i am honest about not being honest’” The man was obviously gay and coming on so strong to me. Whereas I liked the young girl. It was a triangle to be sure. The kids hung out with me for awhile and followed me and watched as I played with a few people. It was nice to have someone to confide in and hang out with. They turned out to be acting majors. We had a nice time talking about acting and actors. They told me about the famous place Epidavarous, where drama was born. Then I showed them a little improv theater and they were duly impressed. I asked them about religion. They said most people here are Greek Orthodox. They also prayed to saints like the Catholics. According to them, the only difference between the Greek Orthodox and Catholics is that the catholics cross themselves with 2 fingers and the Greek Orthodox cross with 3 fingers. Ok….Big deal. Anyway We finally parted.
Moving on around I saw the trumpet player. He was miked this time. He nodded hello. I knew better than to play with him, he wouldnt ever let me solo. He was too obsessed with himself. These exiled former orchestra players from Russia are so touchy.
Then there was the duo who looked cool, and they were always arguing. They were playing american classic rock songs like Dylan’s “The Times They Changing”. They were really funny. It wasnt until you got close that you realized what a shit the one guy was. I played a few songs with them.
On down the road, there was violinist with a looper. Now a looper is an electronic device that records what you play and then repeats it over and over. You can decide what to record and what not to , and when to release it etc. This guy would play a nice little background on the looper and then play a solo over it. Its a neat trick, something that string instruments are really equipted to do. I asked him if I could play with him. “Only if you play in tune. You must be perfectly in tune or we can not play. I play a=440, not even 441”. I could tell right away that I was playing with a nut case, but I thought what the hell. I took our my “perfectly tuned horn”. We played a song together. Of course I couldnt do what he did with the looper, but I thought my solos were better than his, more feeling. He told me to be quite sometimes so I just waited and eventually he let me play. At the end of the song he told me, “you cant play with me, you arent in tune perfectly.” Some other tourists were watching us and as I told them what was going on, we decided that the guy had Asperger’s Syndrome. I went back to talk to him. He said, “Please move your things from my stage.””Ok” “Where are you from?, I think Russia.” “It’s not important.” they were right, I think.
Near the end, I saw some people playing Greek music. Turned out they were actors. They told me some important information that made me change my plans. The opera , “Madamme Butterfly which was scheduled to open on Saturday would be performed for free for the unemployed people of Greece tomorrow night Friday. I decided to try to get in. They all said it would be a magical performance and I decided to try. If not I would just buy a ticket whatever it cost. To see a play in the Acropolis must be amazing. Whether it is worth missing some days in the islands though is debateable. Especially i might miss the festival on ikaria. Of course these things are hard to know. In the end I decided to wait. They also wanted to play some Greek rock. “Greek Rock, thats the acropolis right?” That got a big laugh. Funny how jokes that are in a different language always seem funnier. I guess part of it is that fact that you actually got it. In English its just a stupid pun. Over here its hilarious.
The funny thing was that all of us street players had our own talents. Some played and sang beautiful songs. Others had beautiful sounds, like the trumpet player, and others like me improvized beautiful (i hope). I couldnt play greek music and they couldnt do what i do either.
I spent the say sightseeing. When you go to Athens, you buy a ticket that allows you to go into 6 archelogical sites. I was determined to see them all. Today was a cememtary that was 2000 years old. It was actually pretty interesting because they often buried things with the bodies and the head stones were interesting. Usually it showed the dead person seated in a chair shaking hands with his ancestors. Kinda creepy, but nice.
My plan was to go early to the Acropolis theater and ask to get in for free and then sit there pitifully until they let me in. I arrived an hour and a half early and found out who was in charge and presented myself to her. “Hi. im frank . Im a traveling musician and would like to see the show tongith. They said absolutely not. Eventually they said “maybe” if someone doesnt come. After an hour of looking pitiful, they cracked and let me in. I went in and got the best seat I could, way up high (for good sound quality) and in the middle. It was Madame Butterfly by Puccini. It was about an American guy who marries a Japanese woman and then leaves and keeps her waiting for 3 years. She has a baby. He comes back with an American wife and they take the baby. Butterfly kills herself, “If you can’t live with honor, at least you can die with honor” The opera was done with a full orchestra, (6 contrabasses for example and a harp) and subtitles in english and greek, amazing lights and sets. Incredible really and no microphones, just he great natural acoustics. In a theater where they have been having performances for thousands of years. It was great even though im not crazy about puccini. Where are the melodies that you can sing after the show? Also the theme was a little too close to home, and it seemed so anti american. An amazing touch, madame butterfuly when she hari-karied, pulled out a red scarf so show the blood, then she just laid there. the show ended and she laid there. there were curtain calls and she laid there. Only when the american guy (all greek actors) came out did he help her up. I was afraid for a second that she was really dead. Nice
Walking home I saw Spiros still playing. I joined in 1 song. His sister and friends were there and I joined them. Got home at 3. it was a thrill to see that spectacle at that place. worth delaying my trip.
July 27th, 2013
Walking around the acropolis, visiting my musical friends and playing with new ones,Especially fun were the tango dancers who gave us a little lesson and let me play a song while they danced. Later after the show, there were the students who were singing Greek and American songs, especially Beatles songs from the White Album.
I arrived at the entrance to the theater just as the show was ending. I heard the last song being played and heard her kill herself once again. Then very close to where the actors gathered just offstage I could see Butterfly waiting for the final curtain call. The stage manager signals her. “Wait, “ I say for the eruption. 2,3,4,5 seconds, nothing happens. whats wrong. Ah its a long walk to the onstage area. When the crowd sees her, we hear a monumental applause. i dont know why it is, but I always getting a little misty around the eyes at curtain calls. Its very emotional for me. I have this fantasy; when I die, (and you too, dear reader) there will be a curtain call, and all the characters in our lives will come to the stage and bow. The great actors will get louder applause, all building up to my entrance to which of course there will be a great standing ovation, not one but many, and flowers and coursages, and then and only then, is it over.