We are not wholly bad or good, who live our lives under the brilliant gaze of the Bishop of Alexandria and the majestic dark green pines that grow out from every available crack or crevice on the surrounding granite hills hugging the idyllic stone homes and cobble lanes of Stephanitsa on the Island of Paradisaki only just north of Crete.
The scene above sets the backdrop for a new work of fiction by English/Greek writer Eleni Trataris Cotton.
I have often discussed with friends the situation in Greece however hesitated in writing anything, basically because I felt I didn’t entirely understand what was really going on there over the past ten years. After reading this work you too will understand some of the nation’s complex political and personal issues that range from the extraordinary to the every day.
Cotton introduces the reader to a place that captures the very essence of rural village life on an idyllic Aegean island The time is the present and a cast of quirky characters include the sadistic evil Arsie, Apollo the lovable rebellious donkey and the very idealistic English couple Serina and Peter. The plot and subplots are easy to follow but have deep undercurrents. Cotton however provides many laughable moments, as well as the odd lump-in-the-throat one about an eleven year old lad who dies in a motorcycle crash. Cottons comments on the effect of a death in the neighbourhood are moving. Her observations of local villagers, place and time are delightful and more importantly extremely perceptive.
Cottons debut story is beaming with insight and will elucidate all readers about the authentic and eternal Hellenic voice of resistance, the voice of Marathon and Salamis of the 300 at Thermopylae, the long war of independence of Metaxas’s famous Oxi of a people who painted their houses blue and white the colours of the Hellenic flag during the Italian occupation of their Island and of the students in Athens who stood up to the terror of the regime of the Colonels in 1974
Cotton pens many marvellous word pictures like “It was one of the old stone-built manors, as they were called, with large airy rooms, high carved wooden ceilings and old wooden floors. The front faced the square, with just enough of a front garden for a bit of lawn surrounded by several containers of geraniums and other local plants whose blooms made a swathe of sizzling colour against the backdrop of cool grey stone. Behind and totally secluded, was a walled garden with a patio, a small lawn and, towards the rear wall a neat vegetable garden with rows of green plants in every season, the result of the couple’s joint effort”.
Straight from the Donkeys Mouth is very much a work of fiction but I feel it comes from a really personal place.
To have that kind of insight and to put into print is such a gift, thank you Eleni!
4 December 2014
by spiros hrambanis
Peter and Serena, new to an idylic Greek island, come across many trials whilst making their way in business.
The donkeys are the stars in this story though!
Unfortunately what happens in this fictional account of life in Greece is being played out for real these days.
A great must read story!
by Eileen Hall
I would love to say that writing has always been in my blood, that I was scribbling stories when I was three, but it simply wouldn’t be the truth.
I loved reading and my earliest memories of birthday presents from my parents (undoubtedly chosen by my mother!) were of books – lovely, shiny pages in books which when you opened them and sniffed near the spine , smelled of ‘new’, an indescribable smell, a smell that promised hours of entertainment, of adventure, of travel to any places your imagination could reach.
I think I started to write after my mother told me stories of her remarkable childhood in Malawi – where I also was born - and in particular about a revolution that she and her school mates had been caught up in, in the early twentieth century. The flight at night through the hills, the terror, the fatalities , all made a lasting impression on me and I started to write, a page here and a page there. As I grew older and life tossed its usual obstacles and heartaches at me, I began to write short stories which, when I look at them now portray a young woman’s search for answers to unanswerable questions.
It was during this time that Dr. Banda’s government in Malawi took over the family’s substantial business and, presumably to keep us docile while they did it, imprisoned my brother without trial, an experience that was to lead to his early death after he was released eighteen months later. I and our six children had to flee the country when news reached us that we were next on the list - terrible experiences that never totally heal.
It is only in relatively recent years that I have come across my old writings. I’ve found them folded away in books, in old sets of accounts, in old magazines kept for goodness knows what reasons – anywhere it seems, casually put away. I still didn’t realise I had the writing bug.
I was far more interested in the passion of my life, playing the piano and singing. I had been singing on stage at school since I was about eight or nine years old and, by the time I was fifteen – and still on that stage - I knew that, more than anything else in the world, I wanted to sing. Money or fame never entered my head: I just wanted, or maybe even needed, to sing, When I told my father, he was outraged. “Have you any idea what sort of women get onto a stage?” he thundered. That was that – and I got a similar response to my next choices, surgery and architecture apparently because I would be mixing with boys at university! I went to my room, cried buckets, swore that I would pine to death – and wrote instead.
On the subject of broken dreams I would just add at this point that, following my marriage at eighteen, my husband had no objection to my singing and I had a fulfilling though short career in cabaret and on stage. I was asked to lead the cabaret at the ball of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association when they stopped in Malawi en route to Zambia and that of the Lions International Conference the same year. On the academic side, when my youngest son was thirteen and I was in my early forties, I went to college and qualified as a lecturer. I believe that the writing of two dissertations and a postgraduate research qualification gave me my first brutal lessons in ‘how to write’.
Eventually, as I found myself writing more and more, I decided to join a writing circle and it was there that I found, to my astonishment, that people seemed to enjoy my writing. Importantly, I was discovering that there are rules, as with any other skill, and I read any books on the subject that I could find.
The first books I wrote were the first two of a trilogy based on my mother’s life in Malawi (then Nyasaland) during a turbulent and exciting time – the beginning of the twentieth century - and I hope to publish the first of these next year.
“Straight from the Donkey’s Mouth” came from the sadness that I have experienced in seeing the dreams and hopes of the good people of Greece being shattered by their politicians. Our family has a holiday home in a village on an island in northern Greece. The village is close to the one where my father was born and I have come to know the people well. I have watched their children grow up and I have seen them lose their hope in the future. But I hope that I have told the desperately sad story with a light touch and with humour. A dose of depression is the last thing anyone needs and the nature of the Greeks is such that there is always something upbeat, something positive, some kind of fun going on.
I try to fit in a number of hobbies. Photography runs in the family as does cookery. Then there’s gardening, painting and sketching, and animal welfare. And of course music and singing.
We have two rescue dogs. Maddie, an archetypical Greek sheep dog was left by the side of the road in a white plastic bag and Calypso (heaven only knows what her mix is) was rescued by our son Francis when he was told by appalled villagers that she, a stray, was about to be hanged ‘for a bit of fun’.
I hope you enjoyed reading “Straight from the Donkey’s Mouth”. Please write and tell me if you did!