September 15, 2011

The 'Lecky's big fat Greek wedding

I should have guessed something was not quite right with the Electrical Engineer when I ran into him ashore in Gdansk. I asked him where he was going; instead of replying, he silently pulled out a dozen prophylactics from his jacket pocket. I left him and went on my way slightly concerned. This was 1986 and Chernobyl and just blown up not so far away; maybe the Lecky's brain was irradiated. Maybe unknown side effects included delusional behaviour and wishful thinking.

About two months later, the bulk carrier we were on docked in Liverpool just before the weekend. No operations for two days, so the Fourth Engineer and I- the Mate- decided to hit the town for some serious pub-crawling.  At least one Bacardi and Coke at every pub was in order, we decided, but amended our plans an hour or two later to exclude the Coke- which was filling us up without doing anything useful.
Then, exiting a pub, we ran into a bunch of other Indian officers- and one or two of their wives- from the ship. The 'Lecky- or Condomman, as I had taken to calling our superhero-was amongst the group; they were crossing the road to a Greek restaurant and invited us along. They promised us Ouzo, which settled the matter as far as I was concerned.

So we went into this nice restaurant; a warm and inviting place with a small wooden dance floor and seating for perhaps fifty. There was another large group sitting nearby; newlyweds out with their families, it appeared. They looked Greek, which gave us renewed confidence in the quality of Ouzo that would be on offer at the fine establishment.

We ordered the tipple, and food after a while; Moukassa is a favourite of mine, and the 'Lecky, sitting on my right, said he would have a plateful as well. We nibbled on Souvlaki and drank some more. The 'Lecky was looking a little flushed on my right; a trick of the light, I idly thought.

On my left, the Greek wedding group had begun to enjoy themselves; toasts were being raised to the newlyweds; one or two at the table then got up and started dancing. Suddenly, two men with violins came out of the kitchen and started playing at their table, right next to the dance floor. The bride and bridegroom got up to dance too.

Maybe it is time to tell you that it is a custom in Greece to break dinner plates and dance on them - not just at weddings, but to express the spirit of joy and passion. They call it Kefi: exuberance that cannot be contained and must burst out in public display. So they dance with abandon on broken plates at weddings, shouting "Oopah!" to wish the newlyweds good luck.

Kefi or not, the atmosphere at the restaurant changed within minutes. The violins picked up tempo. A huge stack of old dinner plates appeared from the kitchen. A waiter started breaking them very professionally- no shards to damage onlookers- on the dance floor. The dancers were now dancing wildly on the broken plates, the sounds of crackling china adding to the violins' twang. Meanwhile, our food arrived - on expensive looking china, not the simple white dancing plates that were being broken- and we were eating, drinking and watching the dancing at the same time. The dancers were whirling around in gay abandon. Others at the wedding table were clapping rhythmically and we joined them. Wonderful music, I thought- and great atmosphere. Unique experience, one of the wives said.

The violins reached a crescendo. The dozen people on the floor, the bride and groom amongst them, started dancing faster and faster. I started clapping along with everybody else.

Suddenly, I saw, with vision blurred somewhat by Bacardi and Ouzo, a plate full of food sail in the air almost under my nose. Laden with Moukassa, with knife and fork still in it, the dinner plate went on flying- in slow motion, like a bullet in those Matrix movies I saw years later-and landed on the wooden floor.  Broke into smithereens. Moukassa everywhere on the floor. Moukassa on the dancers' shoes and clothes. Sauce on the bride's dress.

Everbody froze. Everything stopped. The fiddlers stopped fiddling. The dancers stopped dancing and looked around angrily. The clapping at the table died. Not even a strangled Oopah, and all within a heartbeat.
I looked to my right. The 'Lecky was sitting with a beatific smile on his red face and a piece of Moukassa stuck to his moustache. Overcome with emotion, caught up in the moment, he had succumbed -like a Greek- to the irresistible call of Kefi.  From twelve feet away- with remarkable accuracy considering his inebriated condition- he had flung his plateful of food on to the dance floor.

After the initial shockwave subsided, somebody came and told us, politely but firmly, that we would have to leave. We paid quickly and left a large tip. Outside, on the pavement, the 'Lecky- soon to be renamed Zorba the Greek- appeared more hurt than embarrassed. He just could not understand why the Greeks did not want any Indians bearing dinner plates anymore. 

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