Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Athens Portraits: Bouzouki Nights

He's as Greek as you can get - and fiercely proud of it. A creature of the night, you're unlikely to see Bouzouki Man in his full glory before 1am. If you do spot him during daylight, he'll be nursing his morning coffee in the kafeneion or sitting outside smoking ad clacking his worry beads.

His natural nocturnal habitat is the bouzoukia, a uniquely Greek breed of night club named after the stringed instrument that forms the mainstay of its music. There, Bouzouki Man thinks nothing of shelling out 200 Euros for a bottle of whisky and another 200 for tray after tin-foil tray of carnation flower heads to shower the singers churning out a repertoire of Greek hits at full blast.

The ultimate social animal, he's usually found in large group in which the Alpha male establishes his dominance by mounting the stage to perform an intense 'zebekiko' dance that requires a special kind of concentration and endurance as he stoops to the ground, balancing on one foot, before leaping up and switching legs. Purists frown on women joining in. It's considered a fiercely masculine dance - females are expected to simply kneel in homage around the dancer, looking up in adoration and clapping the slow rhythm.

The ladies' chance to shine comes when they climb onto tables to wiggle and squirm their sparkling evening wear in a 'tsifteteli' (a kind of Greek belly dance) that could make Madonna blush. Even middle-aged matrons sometimes climb onto the stage to shimmy frantically next to the singer.

It gets more and more crowded on stage as the night wears on, and it's only by virtue of the club's offical sweepers armed with brooms that performers and audience alike don't slip up on the mountains of flower heads thrown in tribute. But as fast as they can clear the stage, shapely young girls weave between the tables selling more carnations to fill it up again.

Come 5am, the die-hards are still going strong, Even when the bouzouki players and singers have left the stage, Bouzouki Man and his gang are heading for an all-night restaurant on Syngrou Avenue for a plateful of 'patsa' (tripe) to soak up all that whisky.

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