Marriage sucks but it usually sucks because of you. Most of the time, you asked for it. You said yes and, nine times out of ten, you made the wrong choice. You were left to make your own decisions and it shows. So, if marriage sucks, it is mostly because of you, not because of her or him.
It’s not for lack of opportunities. Every man and woman has an opportunity to meet the right person. Really, it often comes early in your life, while you’re still full of energy. But it can come late. Anyway, there’s always at least one chance to meet your mate. Birds and some mammals never miss, human beings miss a lot!!!!
I had been living on Astypalea, a Greek island, 800 people in winter, much more in summer. I had gotten there by chance. I was working construction with a crew out of Athens that was building electric plants on islands. So I got on Astypalea with the crew. It was odd at first for people there to find a French guy in that team but work is work and they got used to me being French.
A year had passed and I knew the place by heart, which wasn’t hard. A little village, two tavernas, 5 miles of paved roads, a few sorry hotels. A dirt road through the mountain led to Livadi, a little green valley a few miles away, where the orchards were. Best apricots in the world.
At the bottom of the valley, there was a sandy beach and a few tavernas, where, in the summer, the locals and tourists came in the evening to eat and drink. Then everyone would have to go back to town in the middle of the night, in total darkness when there was no moon, with crazy drunk Greek guys driving near terrifying cliffs and never falling off. Or you could come back on foot – but it was a walk – or on the back of a donkey.
Next morning, at 6:30 am, everyone was up for work, me included, because, in summer, most of the work needs to be done before it gets too hot.
We’d finish work around 1:30, 2 pm most of the time. I’d take a swim at the family beach to wash off, eat something at the tavern, go home, take a quick shower and then take a nap. At 7 pm, fresh and reposed, the evening could start.
I’d play a few games of backgammon down in the taverns, drinking beer and munching on sunflower seeds, then I’d eat and drink with the crew and then we’d party either there or at Livadi. On the island, there was nothing else for us to do. In the summer, a few pubs opened up the hill but basically, that was it as far as life was concerned, save for a few days vacations in Athens once in a while and then we’d go party in Pireos’ seedy streets.
In the summer, a boat came to Astypalea every four days in each direction, every six days in the winter, weather permitting. There was no airport yet. Nothing to do and nowhere to go.
In the summer, girls from Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Belgium, France, etc. would land on the island by boat-loads. It was incredible. There were never enough rooms in the hotels and camps so I was more than happy to offer shelter in my modest home in Astypalea.
I remember, one time I made a mistake. I lodged a girl I liked and her boyfriend. The boyfriend didn’t like it at all. After that, I took only girls one by one, sometimes two, until the next boat. My Greek friends and I knew how to give them a good time, taking them to beautiful secluded beaches, taking them at sea and diving, even making sure, at least once, that they’d come back late from Livadi on the back of donkeys through nerve wrecking mountain roads.
Talk about getting lucky! This was paradise, the land of abundance. And you knew these girls/women HAD to leave in three days or in a week. That was the beauty of it. You’d accompany them onto the departing boat knowing others, at that very moment, were coming off the same boat and would soon be looking for a place to stay.
“Ho (surprise), you’re French?”
In the winter, though, you could only count on yourself and you had to wait for your few vacations days in Athens and not waste any time while there as you knew that you were soon to be on your way to yet another island to build yet other power plants.
In Astypalea, it was a big job though, which is why I stayed there so long. I remember that one time when they had a change of police chief. The new sheriff was young and came from Athens full of shit. As soon as he got on the island, he started to nose around and he hadn’t been there for two days and he was already asking me for my working papers. What the fuck? I had no working papers. He told me that he’d put me on the next boat. What the fuck? I talked to Leonidas, my boss, about it.
“This new fuck wants my working papers,” I said.
“Don’t worry,” said Leonidas.
We were partying at Livadi so I trusted him.
The next day, I learned this new sheriff even went to bother Peter the sailor, asking for his ‘working papers’. Peter was a British guy, a junky, and had been there for twelve years or so, hardly doing anything. Peter was part of the town like fishing boats were part of Astypalea. So when I learned even Pete was possibly being deported, I worried some. I liked it there and had no intention to leave.
Well, in any case, this new police officer did his show for the first few days. Only to find out that no one was now speaking to him. Simply, people there didn’t like his attitude.
Well, this was an island and if nobody is gonna talk to you and you’ve been detached to this island for, say, a couple of years, winter nights can be very lonely. So Zorro came off his high horse and back down to his senses. I knew I was OK when I saw him, one morning, painting his new boat.
All that to say I was at the taverna one afternoon after work when a buddy of mine came and told me this man there wanted to talk to me. I looked up and I saw a man in his fifties. I had seen him before, of course.
“What’s up?” I asked my friend.
“Dunno,” he said.
By then, the man had caught my eyes and invited me to his table. You’re on an island, you don’t refuse this kind of invitation. So I went and, as soon as I sat there, Yannis brought drinks and food and fruits.
“You speak Greek don’t you?” asked the man.
“A little bit,” I said.
“Do you want to marry my daughter?” he asked.
What the fuck!
I knew who his daughter was. I had seen her during Easter and Virgin Mary’s celebrations, all dressed in white and pretty, with the other girls from the island. And I’d see her just about every day in the village going to school back and forth. She was 15 years old, at most, for Christ’s sake! I also knew who was her mother!
“I’ll give you a house, a boat and a car,” the man said.
I was speechless, flabbergasted, hurt.
“No, no, no arranged marriage!” I said, somewhat vehemently. “She’s too young, I don’t know her and this and that,” I explained.
It’s not as if I was out of luck, especially in the summer, which he knew. Even the old lady renting me the house would wink at me every time she’d see another young tourist staying at my place.
“Think about it,” said the man before leaving.
Well, as I was saying, I didn’t think about it. If I had, I would have taken into consideration what I know today. All evidences were there, I just didn’t get it.
I didn’t understand then that when he offered me a house, a boat and a car, it was not to sell his daughter, it was her dowry. And what a dowry! A house I could always live in, a boat so I could always work, a car so I could brag on the 5 miles of paved roads of the island. Home, work, pleasure.
Today, it finally makes sense. I remember my surprise, the first times I went to Greek islands, about the huge number of deaf-mutes I would find there. Deaf-mutes would usually be keeping the goats out in the mountains. I’d see them all the time! It took me a while to understand the deaf-mutes were the result of consanguinity. And only much later, much too late, did I understand that this man was doing the best he could for his daughter.
What? A French one! Paris! And he had seen me work hard and he had asked my boss, I’d learned later, about me, what kind of man I was, these sort of things.
Indeed, from his point of view, what best to hope for your island girl?
Then I understood Pete the pirate’s long term presence, and that story about this kid being the son of a Tunisian passerby, or was it a Turkish one? Then I understood that since the beginning of time, since Homer and Odysseus, the famous sirens were only but daughters of good men trying to keep healthy their blood line and showing them off. Who could resist?
But, at the time, I didn’t understand any of this and, anyway, it was too late, this opportunity was gone. Considering what happened later in my life with the wives of my own choosing, really, now that I think about it, what was I thinking in refusing this man’s offer?
Maybe, that one day, I should have relaxed and been cool and told this man: “Ok pop, I love your daughter already and I’ll wait until she’s ready.”
If I had said that, there, on this island, I would never have had anything else to worry about for the REST OF MY LIFE. And I could have been proud of my Franco-Greek kids, no goat keepers.
Eventually, the construction crew moved on to another island and I went with it.
Eventually, I moved on out of Greece and later married, twice. With the luck we know.
Sirens are a law of nature and I didn’t answer their call when I had a chance.
Iconography : Abstract by Ellar Wise