"Yanni Sklavos" by James Prineas Stories from "A Village on Kythera"

Yanni Sklavos
picture description

The acute lack of youth on the island meant that in my frequent periods of financial desperation I had the pick of a number of ill-paying jobs. In addition to regularly white-washing houses in the village of Mitata, for one long summer I drilled the deepest holes in the history of a certain rock quarry near Livathi, loaded and unloaded dusty trucks for various merchants in the island's commercial centre of Potamos, stained my toenails red each September stamping the grapes of a dozen families, and one summer was the prized apprentice of the island's favourite plumber, young Yannis Sklavos.
In Yannis' light blue van I discovered parts of the island rarely tread by foreign foot (often with good reason), like one village consisting of little more than a single septic tank and the rocks displaced to produce it. I met enterprising Kytherians who buried the first floor of their new two-story houses under sand to convince unsuspecting building authorities that they had remained true to their single-story building permits. Under Yannis' authority I helped hook up water systems which possessed neither source nor destination, and regularly relieved pipes clogged with small rodents, large insects and on one occasion a pair of ceramic false teeth which had gnawed their way into a cistern pump.
Yannis cut a soft figure in a country known for the masculinity of its men. He was reliable, hardworking, scrupulously honest and lacking in the Greek form of bravado which belies their insecurities. This put him at a great business disadvantage against the other men on the island, especially in the business of love. To even the odds he built one of the most beautiful and well-equipped houses on Kythera and hoped that love would come knocking on its front door.
picture description About the only unmarried young women left on Kythera are either the result of inner-family marriages or are tourists visiting the island for the summer. Girls brought up and educated there are understandably reluctant to follow in their mother's tireless footsteps and succumb to a lifelong village existence, especially when further education on the mainland or a man from a city offers them an alternative. Although the peace and serenity of an island village may appeal to the visitor, to the local youth it is, after their parents, the source of all their woes. That I could want to spend a few months every year on Kythera when I could be dancing in some Berlin disco every night puzzles the young men and women who live there. As soon as they're old enough to go and stay with an aunt in Piraeus to finish their schooling, they tearlessly abandon their island homes for the chaos of the metropole.
For a soft-spoken, eligible man like Yannis now well into his thirties, finding a woman on Kythera to share his life with was as difficult as finding a rain-puddle on a Greek summer day. Each year upon my arrival Yannis would invite me to an ouzo and meze on his slate-tiled veranda and probe tactfully into the marital status of any female guests who were coming to visit me. I introduced Yannis to all of them, unfortunately with no romantic consequences.
picture description Then one spring I arrived on the island and drove past Yannis' house. There were women's clothes hanging on his line. Within hours I learned from his parents that he had met a woman in Piraeus and married her that very month. I had never seen him so happy, and again on his veranda he told me the story of their romance and how overjoyed he was at his luck. By the time I left the island for the winter they had announced her pregnancy.

In the years it has taken to finally produce this book many of the faces pictured in it have vanished from this life. I would that Yannis' was not among them. When he died suddenly in 1994, still a young man with a baby son and a charming wife, it was a tragedy for the island and especially for those who knew him well. Within hours of the terrible news the little road into the village of Mitata was jammed with almost every car, truck and bus on the island, each patiently waiting their turn to enter Yannis' village to pay their respects. His funeral was one of the most complete gatherings of Kytherians in living memory.

Cover | Introduction | Tarzan's Boots | Charlotte's Tail | Chez Stamatakos
Yanni Sklavos | Koula Entertains | Photo Gallery

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