Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Karagiozis the weatherman

(Picture from internet)

Some weeks ago a disappointment came for Greeks about their traditional shadow puppet theatre. Unesco decided that its main character originated in Turkey. So Karagiozis came from Turkey, but the puppet theatre generated around this mischievous character is very much part of Greek culture.

The puppet theatre tradition has roots in Indonesia and China and may have come to Turkey with gypsies from India, with travellers from China, or maybe it even came from Egypt. However, it was definitely popular in Turkey around the sixteenth century.

In the nineteenth century when Greece was still occupied by the Ottoman Turks, Karagiozis arrived here. He is a poor man who lives with his wife Aglaia and three sons in a little shack, always on the left hand side of the stage, and to the right is always the rich palace of the Pasha. The Pasha is the local ruler representing the Turkish Sultan.

Karagiozis is an anti-hero. He is always looking for money to survive. His stories always follow strict rules: the introduction where he talks to his sons and goes into his house; then somebody usually Karagiozis’ friend Hadzjivatis, explains that the Pasha has a problem and he keeps on about it until Karagiozis shows up. Karagiozis sees it as an opportunity to make money and offers his help, either with or without the help of Hadzjivatis. Other characters pass by: Barba Yorgos, a man from the mountains dressed in traditional style, Stavrakas a petty thief from Pireaus, Sior Dyonisios an Italian Greek from the island of Zakynthos, Morfonios a European who always falls in love, and Solomon a rich Jew. The Pasha who administers the law on behalf of the Sultan decides punishments and sometimes rewards; his beautiful daughter is called Fatme and the man that carries out Pasha’s orders is his Albanian guard Veligekas.

These stories are about the ‘heroic’ deeds of Karagiozis, mostly based on historical facts from Greek life during Ottoman rule, or are comedies in which Karagiozis is ridiculed. The performances are often accompanied by a singer and a group of musicians.

A lot of puppeteers have their own traditional scripts, handed down by older practitioners. Because of television the puppet theatre has lost some of this popularity but you can still find frequent performances all over the country. In the summer from Wednesday to Sunday at nine o’clock in the evening a puppet theatre performs in the square in front of the Youth Society building in Molyvos.

I can imagine that this week we will get a show as follows:

Karagiozis dries the faces of his sons with a big dirty handkerchief:
“Go to the sea, go to the sea, the only place you can cool off” he says.
They answer together: “But we cannot swim!”.
“Find the fishes and see how they swim, you layabouts”, he replies, “you should always watch how others do things.”
Behind his back the children make faces and go into the little house, and Karagiozis follows, giving his own face an extra long wipe with the handkerchief before he shuts the door.

At the other side of the stage, at the palace of the Pasha, a door opens. Karagiozis’ friend Hadzjivatis appears, pushed only to be outside by Pasha who shouts:
“Find somebody that can end this heat wave. Every time she goes outside it makes my daughter faints.” He gives Hadzjivatis an encouraging kick away from the palace and closes the door.

Hadzjivatis looks around: nobody. He starts to sing a song about the beautiful Greek summer. Still nobody shows up. Then he starts calling for a weatherman. Karagiozis comes out and slaps his friend on the shoulder. Hadzjivatis complains: “This very long heat wave must be stopped but how?”

Karagiozis takes his friend to sit outside his house, and with their heads in their hands they think over the challenge. Then Sior Dyniosios approaches, holding an umbrella. Karagiozis goes to him and asks:
“Can you not procure a cooling wind?” Dyonisios answers:
“I only know the sirocco, a very warm wind from the Sahara”.
“Are you crazy!”, shouts Karagiozis, “temperatures are high enough here on Lesvos. Go back to your Ionian islands, go on, go!” and he pushes poor Dyonisios away.

While Dyonisios slowly exits, from the other side a strolling Barba Yorgos comes near. He is whistling, which irritates Karagiozis.
“How can you whistle in this terrible heat. Have you lost a sheep?”
Barba Yorgos stops whistling and looks at Karagiozis:
“Don’t you feel it? Do you not see that the meltemi is coming?”
Karagiozis scatches his ear:
“The meltemi, the meltemi?”
Barba Yorgos helps him:
“Yeah, you know, that wind from the north that will end the heat wave.”
Karagiozis immediately starts jumping up and down with excitement: “Are you sure, are you sure?!”
As if there are signs that the wind can be seen Barba Yorgos points up into the sky. Karagiozis also looks up and seems to hear something faraway. “I hear a goat, your goat is lost. Go and get him. Go back to the mountains, you!” He pushes Barba Yorgos, who starts whistling again and then quietly disappears.
Karagiozis goes to Hadzjivatis and shouts to him:
“You have done enough thinking at my house. Go home, go on, go. I will take care of the heat problem.”

When Karagiozis is alone, he wipes his face and adjusts his hair then goes to the palace and knocks on the door. It opens and Karagiozis makes a deep bow of reverence.
“My good Pasha, I hear that your daughter cannot bear this heat. That is why I have asked my gods to send a cooling wind.” As Karagiozis bows again, the first blast of wind makes the palm tree next to the palace bend. During a second blow, the tree bends over even lower. Then a third wind gust arrives and this time it’s so strong Karagiozis has to hold on to the Pasha’s door and the tree crashes down on to palace, followed by sounds of breaking glass and the screaming of Fatme.

Karagiozis panics and wants to run away, but Veligekas the guard runs out to catch him. A very angry Pasha also storms out:
“Did you order this wind?! Did you scare my daughter to death and make the palm tree fall over?! You will get ten strokes of the cane! And I warn you, if this wind continues, I will have you cut into pieces!”.

So, once more Karagiozis fails to gain a reward.

And now the real meltemi is blowing over Lesvos. It has chased the prolonged heat wave away — and blown over chairs, tables and many other things. The blue sea is furious with white laced foam and no boat has dared to go out of the harbour. It is said that it will last for a week and we hope that it decreases its force in time for the Aegean Regatta which ends next week on Lesvos.

(with thanks to Tony Barrell)

@ Smitaki

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