August 2, 2013
It’s Greek To Me
Staying over in Houtedsi my second night was challenging in another way. There was nothing to do during the day. The festival program started at 930 pm. I spent my time by writing, making myself sleep in preparation for an expected all nighter, and eating. The food here was great and much cheaper than the prices I was used to in Athens and the main city of Crete, Hiraklion. I had a huge vegetable plate for breakfast which included mashed fava beans (tasted a lot like humus), greens, a rice dish and some coffee. After that it was sleepy time. My new friends Adonis and Charlene took me for a car ride to a nearby village where acting students from all over Greece gathered for one week and put on plays in a large camping area which had a nature (greek) theater. It was fun watching the young people prepare and rehearse. We found a cave where some young women were practicing traditional Greek music and we had a little jam session. When we made our way back through the olive and fig trees, then it was time for a great Greek salad with lots of fresh olive oil, feta cheese and bread. More sleep and walking around and it was getting close to concert time. I had yet to see Fani, the woman from the night before. I went to the first concert stage. Surprisingly the people sitting next to me were the women from the cave. We had a nice time talking. they werent acting students, they had just went there to escape the heat. The music was amazing. It was some Persian (Iraqi) musicians who played really beautiful melodies. The music was unlike anything I had ever heard. Surprising time signatures that I couldnt figure out and scales and melodies that were strange and exotic. I liked it but I couldnt begin to guess what it was they were playing. It turned out that almost all the music I heard that day was like that. It was explained to me this way. During the time that the Ottamans ruled this part of the world, there was a mixture of cultures and especially music, with music from the Balkan Peninsula, Arabia, even India mixing together. Sometimes the music sounded like belly-dancing music, sometimes like Peter, Paul and Mary, sometimes like Irish music. It was all Greek music though, and as they say, it was Greek to me
The next stage was a Swedish music master who was playing one of the strangest instruments I had ever seen. It looked like a large violinish instrument with buttons on the side that would make the differnt notes. So the musicians fingers never touched the fretboard at all. There were about 10 strings. She played with a lot of different combinations of instruments, including the Persian drummer, her students, and crete musicians. For the last stage I went up the hill to what was billed as a strickly Cretian concert. There were the trademark instuments of lyre, guitar, persucian, and singing. It was high energy and wild. The young people in a kind of embarassed way started to do Greek dancing. It seem like it was something that had perhaps just come back into fashion. As if to say, “ok we had to learn this in school when we were children, when we really liked western music, but you know, it is kind of cool too. And they exchanged embarassed looks with one another and then started in with the circular folk dance moves. Nearby they were roasting a number of goats around a large open fire. The Greek liquor was flowing freely. The music went on and on, well past the 1230 time it was scheduled to end. I for all my preparation was not as perky as I thought I would be. It was only 130 and I was getting tired. I was determined though to stay up with the “big boys” and experience the music circle. I left the wild stage and walked down a restaurant near grandma’s house. There, on the porch of the restaurant, a group of musicians had gathered around a large table and were playing. I was feeling a little shy and say away from the table until some man invited me to join them which I did. I had my saxophone with me so anything was possible. As more and more people came, they kept adding extensions to the table until it was so long it covered the entire porch area. People kept coming so I was lucky to have the seat I did. The songs kept coming one after another. There was a clarinet player and he joined in for solos and sometimes the melodies. Obviously he knew Greek music because he was able to play in these complex times and scales. It sounded great and every time he played an extra big cheer went up.
Then as if in a dream, someone saw my saxophone and asked if I could play it. Of course I answered. Then I played with the next song and surprisingly it sounded fantastic. Everyone cheered. I played another song and it was even better. some beautiful woman came over and started to teach me how to do the greek dancing. Then I was greek dancing and playing music and everyone was laughing and cheering my name. They picked me and the beautiful woman up and their shoulders and carried us to the volcano and threw us in and on the way down I woke up. I was still sitting in my chair. I hadnt moved. I was too shy. I couldnt play this music at all. It was too strange for me. I felt to shy to try the dancing. I felt totally out of it. I kept falling asleep in my chair. I wasnt drinking with the others. I felt like some wierd old guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Still it was good to be there, watching how the greeks have fun. they have a rich culture if not a rich economy and I envied these young Greek guys with their music and beautiful girls. At 430, I decided I had had enough. I went to grandmas house and caught a few hours sleep before the 700 am bus to hiraklion. I had to decide whether or not to stay for 2 more days at the festival or to go island hopping. The festival was great and very cheap for me but somehow I missed playing street music and felt a little like an outsider still. I would decide when I arrived at Heraklion what to do next.