What are they on about?

14th July 2000 at 01:00
David Newnham on the secrets best not revealed

Tense, nervous headache? Fly south. Sit yourself down in some whitewashed square and dream.

The sunshine will help, as will the iced drink, the view of the harbour and the number of miles between your body and your place of work. And if you don't speak the language, so much the better. It means you won't have the least idea what the people at the next table are saying.

At home you would know that the guy in the baseball cap was sounding off about how much he'd had to drink last night. But here he could be talking about class conflict, marine biology or the death of the one-act play.

Catch two words in a hundred and you would know that the couple in the corner were debating how to paint their hall. But with only their tone to guide you, their words burn with conspiracy. Perhaps that's why I like Greek pop music.

Yes, I'm afraid I am talking about the stuff they play in tavernas - the sort of thing weary taxi drivers listen to when they're lining up outside the airport.

Surely not, you gasp. It's dire and it's a dirge - a Euroviion medley that's sickly as baklava, with a few bouzoukis bolted on to help the judges identify its country of origin.

This may be true, but I like it. I like the jaunty songs for their bouncy refrains and I like the soulful ones despite their interminable verses. But best of all I like the ballads - those strange laments whose hearts are heavy with exotic harmonies,as if they just drifted in with the wind fromthe east.

At least, I guess they are ballads, although to be honest this is based on nothing more than their general demeanour. For the lyrics are a closed book to me. All Greek, youmight say.

For some reason, I assume them to be very old. In my mind's ear, they tell of shepherds who toil on parched mountainsides and lovers who wait on perilous clifftops.

One day, I guess, the spell will be broken. I'll be sitting in the square wondering where my headache disappeared to when a waiter, eager to practise his English, will mention that the sad song on the radio is actually the theme tune to a TV soap opera about life in a Greek motel.

But until then, let me dream.

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