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It Was Greek to Me

On Hydra there’s just one direction,
Classically known as up.
You’ll walk up the stairs,
Up the stairs, up the stairs,
And you’ll still have more stairs to walk up.

–The Girlys of Hydra**

When we first came to the house we’d rented on the Greek island of Hydra we came by burro-back. It was the mid-90s and that particular island in the Saronic Gulf didn’t allow any internal combustion engines except for the one that powered the island’s sole garbage truck. On Hydra, you came to the three-story terraced house overlooking the village and the wine-dark sea of Homer’s vintage on foot or on  burro-back.

If you had any supplies that you bought from the rapacious Greek retailers in the harbor village those had to be hauled up and up and up to your house by rent-a-burro as well. 

My pal and I had imported with us from the states the two legal but somewhat age-inappropriate girlfriends we both had been keeping in Brooklyn. They both got burros with sidesaddles.  To those two burros bearing pleasant, if dubious, karma, we added three burro loads of luggage, food, assorted wines and cheeses, and one large four-liter jug of something labeled “Grappa” that smelled as if it had been aviation gas in a previous incarnation. Still, it was potent Grappa, and it was cheap at thrice the price.  Then again a single sip of this toxin proved it was too potent and deadly to be consumed in straight shots.

My solution was to pick a couple of kilos of plums from the tree outside our whitewashed house, dump them in a container, pour the grappa over them and wait for time to mellow both.

At some point, my age-inappropriate girlfriend went back to the New York office of Penthouse magazine and the five remaining months of our poor, doomed affair. She left me alone, deserted, bereft with only a monokini that she “forgot” to pack, and the large earthen crock that I filled with fresh ripe plums from the tree and marinated with Satan’s grappa for about two weeks. After those two weeks, the plums took on a severe authority that promised to cure my depression through stupification with only one bowl.

One evening I was consuming my third bowl of pixilated plums on the terrace above the village below when the standard, every-damn-evening screaming row between disappointed husband and fed-up wife began in an unhappy white-plastered colorful Greek home somewhere in the village below.

My guess was that the husband came home from his stinking job running that lone garbage truck up and down the hills of Hydra and needed a little bit of “wife-abusing” relaxation to unwind. She seemed to be up for it day after day and so I decided it was just some kind of foreplay between them. Still, it was constant and irritating and at some point, I went to the edge of the terrace, downed a couple of 100 proof plums, and said… at the top of my lungs in perfect English…






Not only did the battling Bickersons of Hydra shut the fuck up, but the entire village went to whispers for a week.

I went back for fourth bowl of my high-powered plums. After that, I, somehow, staggered down the winding moonlit road to the village of Hydra ate some standard second-rate Greek food,  and, somehow, staggered back since all the late-night burros had been taken.

When I awoke with a skull full of the byproducts of the Stygian stables, I’d passed out on several sheets of paper on which some wet-brained bozon had written this…

**The Girlys of Hydra

by Gerard Van der Grappa

Raise a glass to the girlys of Hydra,
The ones with the hair on their chests.
To Pirofani’s
They wear their Armanis.
Yes, the girlys of Hydra impress.

We all love the girlys of Hydra.
Those daytrippers from Athens annoy,
For they come for some beach,
Or the juice of a peach,
And then stay for the toys of the boys.

Drink a toast to the drags queens from England,
Who’ve made Hydra an island renowned.
They’ll shop till they drop,
Or are given a pop
From the sailors in old Hydra town.

Bless the Frenchies who land here in Hydra
With only a few francs to spend.
They’ll scarf some souvlaki
And compliment Turkey
So the Greeks give them hell in the end.

The shopkeepers of Hydra are famous.
They sell crap for ten thousand dracs.
Though they’re quite disbelieving
They  got away with such stealing,
They’re not giving one red drac back.

You can eat like a king on old Hydra,
If you hanker for feta or fish,
But if you’ve a yen
For some nice coq au vin
Give it up cause you won’t get your wish.

In the houses of Hydra the Aussies
Are busy cheating the Freds
By renting the place
When no one’s in the space,
Or the absentee owner is dead.

On Hydra there’s just one direction,
Classically known as up.
You’ll walk up the stairs,
Up the stairs, up the stairs,
And you’ll still have more stairs to walk up.

Let’s get back to the girlys of Hydra,
The ones with the imported tans!
On its beaches of rocks
They pull up their socks
To show the tattoos on their cans.

We’ve been trapped here for weeks on old Hydra.
Our brains have been all but removed.
Still, we ride in ki-yi-kis
In butt-floss monokinis,
And claim our ideas have improved.

Those girlys of Hydra will tease you.
They’ll all drop their tops in a flash.
And for just one tipple
You can nibble a nipple,
But don’t try for more without cash.

We’ll soon say adieu to old Hydra,
And blast out of town on a boat.
From Athens we’ll fly,
But return, that’s no lie,
For out drachmas keep Hydra afloat.


What can I say? It was a very liquid time in the Greek Islands during the late 20th century.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • PA Cat September 29, 2021, 12:14 PM

    What, no side trips to Lesbos to visit the devotees of Sappho?
    OTOH, LGBT tourism on the island has fallen dramatically since the migrants started arriving in 2015. The fire in the migrant camp last year is just one more crisis on Lesbos:

    • Mike Austin September 29, 2021, 2:00 PM

      Thucydides will have a word with you, sir, about those Lesbians:

      “The Lesbians had wished to revolt even before the war, but the Lacedaemonians would not receive them…Meanwhile the Athenians…summoned allies to their aid, who came in all the quicker from seeing so little vigour displayed by the Lesbians…After hearing them out, the Lacedaemonians and confederates granted what they urged, and took the Lesbians into alliance…”

      —The Peloponnesian War, Book III, Chapter IX

      • PA Cat September 29, 2021, 4:13 PM

        There was at least one Englishman who gave Sappho her due as a poet:

        The isles of Greece! the isles of Greece
        Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
        Where grew the arts of war and peace,
        Where Delos rose, and Phoebus sprung!
        Eternal summer gilds them yet,
        But all, except their sun, is set.

        The Scian and the Teian muse,
        The hero’s harp, the lover’s lute,
        Have found the fame your shores refuse:
        Their place of birth alone is mute
        To sounds which echo further west
        Than your sires’ ‘Islands of the Blest’.

        The mountains look on Marathon—
        And Marathon looks on the sea;
        And musing there an hour alone,
        I dream’d that Greece might still be free;
        For standing on the Persians’ grave,
        I could not deem myself a slave.

        A king sate on the rocky brow
        Which looks o’er sea-born Salamis;
        And ships, by thousands, lay below,
        And men in nations;—all were his!
        He counted them at break of day—
        And when the sun set, where were they?

        And where are they? and where art thou,
        My country? On thy voiceless shore
        The heroic lay is tuneless now—
        The heroic bosom beats no more!
        And must thy lyre, so long divine,
        Degenerate into hands like mine?

        ’Tis something in the dearth of fame,
        Though link’d among a fetter’d race,
        To feel at least a patriot’s shame,
        Even as I sing, suffuse my face;
        For what is left the poet here?
        For Greeks a blush—for Greece a tear.

        Must we but weep o’er days more blest?
        Must we but blush?—Our fathers bled.
        Earth! render back from out thy breast
        A remnant of our Spartan dead!
        Of the three hundred grant but three,
        To make a new Thermopylae!

        What, silent still? and silent all?
        Ah! no;—the voices of the dead
        Sound like a distant torrent’s fall,
        And answer, ‘Let one living head,
        But one, arise,—we come, we come!’
        ’Tis but the living who are dumb.

        In vain—in vain: strike other chords;
        Fill high the cup with Samian wine!
        Leave battles to the Turkish hordes,
        And shed the blood of Scio’s vine:
        Hark! rising to the ignoble call—
        How answers each bold Bacchanal!

        You have the Pyrrhic dance as yet;
        Where is the Pyrrhic phalanx gone?
        Of two such lessons, why forget
        The nobler and the manlier one?
        You have the letters Cadmus gave—
        Think ye he meant them for a slave?

        Fill high the bowl with Samian wine!
        We will not think of themes like these!
        It made Anacreon’s song divine:
        He served—but served Polycrates—
        A tyrant; but our masters then
        Were still, at least, our countrymen.

        The tyrant of the Chersonese
        Was freedom’s best and bravest friend;
        That tyrant was Miltiades!
        O that the present hour would lend
        Another despot of the kind!
        Such chains as his were sure to bind.

        Fill high the bowl with Samian wine!
        On Suli’s rock, and Parga’s shore,
        Exists the remnant of a line
        Such as the Doric mothers bore;
        And there, perhaps, some seed is sown,
        The Heracleidan blood might own.

        Trust not for freedom to the Franks—
        They have a king who buys and sells;
        In native swords and native ranks
        The only hope of courage dwells:
        But Turkish force and Latin fraud
        Would break your shield, however broad.

        Fill high the bowl with Samian wine!
        Our virgins dance beneath the shade—
        I see their glorious black eyes shine;
        But gazing on each glowing maid,
        My own the burning tear-drop laves,
        To think such breasts must suckle slaves.

        Place me on Sunium’s marbled steep,
        Where nothing, save the waves and I,
        May hear our mutual murmurs sweep;
        There, swan-like, let me sing and die:
        A land of slaves shall ne’er be mine—
        Dash down yon cup of Samian wine!

        I think Gerard had a little too much Samian wine– and as for Anacreon, he gave his name to an 18th-century gentlemen’s group of amateur musicians in London known as the Anacreontic Society. The society had an official song composed by John Stafford Smith. Francis Scott Key set his 1814 poem “The Defence of Fort McHenry” to the tune of Smith’s “Anacreontic Song,” and the rest is history.

  • Mike Austin September 29, 2021, 2:05 PM

    A Guatemalan version of Hydra:


    Mayan village on the shore of Lake Atitlan.

  • James ONeil September 29, 2021, 2:39 PM

    Brings back memories, I’m sorry to say.

  • Lance de Boyle September 29, 2021, 3:05 PM

    You sure know how to live, Gerard!
    The most I’ve done is drive to Raleigh and have a beer.
    Sappho, of Lesbos, seems to have enjoyed at least one man.

    Sleep, darling
    I have a small
    daughter called
    Cleis, who is
    like a golden
    I wouldn’t
    take all Croesus’
    kingdom with love
    thrown in, for her.
    Don’t ask me what to wear
    I have no embroidered
    headband from Sardis to
    give you, Cleis, such as
    I wore
    and my mother
    always said that in her
    day a purple ribbon
    looped in the hair was thought
    to be high style indeed
    but we were dark:
    a girl
    whose hair is yellower than
    torchlight should wear no
    headdress but fresh flowers

    • Mike Austin September 29, 2021, 11:38 PM

      The Ancient Greeks knew Homer as “the Poet” and Sappho as “the Poetess”. Only 650 lines of her poetry survive. Alas. I would trade half of all prose and poetry for just another 650 lines. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

  • Wilfred Ruffian September 29, 2021, 4:28 PM

    I’ve long believed that poetry required the suspension of reason and objective reality. I believe we have now found the fix in grappa soaked plums. If shelly and byron had them,we’d live in a better world.

    • Jack September 30, 2021, 9:21 AM

      I’ve never heard that before Wilfred but I believe it might be true…..the suspension of reason and all.

      In the 2nd grade (yep, I can remember back that far), our teacher had a weekly poetry contest and I couldn’t write 5 words on a line, much less a poem. I never submitted anything and I was sort of the laughing stock so one fine day I found a poem in Jack ‘n Jill Magazine and being 7, I thought WTF and I copied it word for word on my soft paper ledger and turned it in as my original submission. I had no shame and God, I wanted to win the ‘prize’ of being first in line for lunch…..

      So, my teacher whose name I cannot recall, read my poem to the class. My fellow 2nd graders loved it and Ms. Teacher bought it, too but she gave me a sharp eye when she read it. Nonetheless, I was first in life all week for lunch and at 7 you could have never convinced me that crime didn’t pay.

      Of course, later in life I discovered that crime doesn’t pay but that leads to other stories in other moments.

    • Mike Austin September 30, 2021, 10:17 AM

      Shelley and Lord Byron could not stand living in this “modern” world. Even with oceans of grappa to dull the pain.

      But just imagine the poetry they would write. As long as you kept your wives and daughters away from them that is.

  • Zaphod September 29, 2021, 4:52 PM

    We should all envy the late great Patrick Fermor who figured out that this was the way to live at ca. Age 17 and never looked back.

    • Mike Austin September 29, 2021, 11:13 PM

      Patrick Leigh Fermor is described in Wikipedia as “a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene”. His life was one of travel, writing, fighting, spying, loving and greatly enjoying himself. He smoked 100 cigarettes a day and lived to be 96.

      Voila un homme!

  • Mike Seyle September 29, 2021, 5:07 PM

    Darmstadt, Germany, late ‘60s. A few of us visited the apartment of a U of (something or other that I can’t remember) professor. He lived in the officers’ barracks, where a woman captain in a stale sweater lived. She played tennis and always smelled like a stale sweater. I do remember her. The professor introduced us to rumtopf. I bought a ceramic bowl and sent it and a recipe to my mom in Texas, who enjoyed it, and flew high. I still have the bowl. Mom is on high.

  • Zaphod September 29, 2021, 5:23 PM

    n=1, but a few years back some of us stumbled on a way to drink grappa without too much damage.

    Step 1. Consume 1kg Chianina T-bone washed down with copious Barolo. Don’t bother ordering any sides. You won’t have room for them.
    Step 2. Consume Grappa at an easy pace until sleep overtakes.

    You will sleep just as badly and wake up feeling as just rotten as if you had skipped Step 2. Voila!

    • Sam L. September 30, 2021, 7:30 AM

      Your last name is Beeblebrox, I trust…

      • Zaphod September 30, 2021, 2:50 PM

        Two heads are usually better than one, Good Sir!

        Twice the provocation and half the restraint.

  • mmack September 29, 2021, 6:26 PM

    “and one large four-liter jug of something labeled “Grappa” that smelled as if it had been aviation gas in a previous incarnation.”

    Ah Grappa, aka “What are we gonna do with these leftover grape skins, stems, and leaves?” Hopefully you didn’t light a cigarette anywhere near the jug Gerard, you’d have been blown sky high and burned to a crisp.

    Personally if I want to get bombed Grecian style I opt for shots of Ouzo or Metaxa. Start out with some good red wine (Agiorgitiko). Be careful with the Retsina though, John of Patmos got a bad wine skin of some, went home, fell asleep, and saw visions of the end of the world. 😬 Then again, survive it and you’ll dance like Zorba the Greek.

    In closing, ah, the Greek women. 👩🏻‍🦱 Jet black hair, olive skin, and a sense of entitlement that makes Russian women seem reasonable.

  • guildofcannonballs September 29, 2021, 6:38 PM

    My only conclusion is Ann Barnhardt celebrates all she claims to hate if they write like Leun here, which is awesome writing.

    Can’t her or you see though why your writing will end up with nothing?

    Appreciating beauty mattererd decades ago but few did. Buckley my hero tried to make it more pertinant and perminant and failed.

    So use your talent to help people raise kids right.

    • Terry September 29, 2021, 7:05 PM

      Best take a nap Sir. When you awaken read your post here and wish for an eraser.

      I never grew out of the appreciation of beautiful women. Never will either. And I taught my boys the appreciation as well.

      A recommended viewing area would be Santa Cruz Beach, Santa Cruz, California.

      • Mike Austin September 29, 2021, 11:27 PM

        To lose an appreciation of beautiful women is to lose an appreciation of Beauty itself.

        Another recommended viewing area: Plaza de Mayo, early Saturday afternoons, Buenos Aires. Every one suitable for a Botticelli or a Leonardo. Hang around long enough and you will experience trouble like never before. But it will be memorable. And worth it.

        If a man does not want trouble in his life, then what does he want?

    • julie September 29, 2021, 7:06 PM

      What a weird comment. Since when has this been a site aimed at raising children?

      • Mike Austin September 29, 2021, 11:28 PM

        Agreed. I have no idea of what he meant. He needs a grammar lesson as well.

  • Dirk September 30, 2021, 7:13 AM

    Spent many months in Greece, a wonderful country then. Greek friends recently home from visiting family tell my wife and me it’s an absolute shit show now. The islands, the mainland overrun with Africans, expecting to be fed and housed free.

    “ some things never change”. From 1979 thru 1983 I spent a minimum of 90 days, yearly in Athens
    EP3E Aries spook birds. P-3 with drop down radar. Tandem with the USAF RC135 spook birds. Day on day of.

    Loved the Greek people.

    Joke. Did ya here the Greeks are trying to field a football team, Yea they can’t find a single tight end! Haha.