While in Greece in 1971-72 we befriend Belgian hippies, displaced Americans, a CIA operative, and the aforementioned, drugged and paranoid, South-African Beat-poet, Sinclair Beiles.
Sinclair is a boarder at the Acropolis House in Athens—an affordable inn where we reside for a short time. It's tucked under the shadow of the great ruins of the Parthenon on Kodrow Street and sits high above the polluted and newer megalopolis (then populated at two million) in the real Acropolis of old—which in fact means city on high.
One time, on one of our usual midnight Sinclair-carousals-after one-too-many retsinas, we cautiously venture on this late-night climb, up to the steps of the Parthenon. As recent college-grads (one with a minor in philosophy) tipsying over the dusty and ground-marble field, we passionately discuss epistemology, Socrates, and of course, the Greek Gods.
It’s awe-inspiring to be in this spot where such discussions consistently took place—and given the right company—where they certainly still must. Impassioned by our discussion and its history, we three smug in the moonlit dim are raised, literally and metaphorically, above the crowds of Athens. We two defenders of Aristotle extoll his virtues while Sinclair safeguards the teachings of Socrates, if merely as Devil’s Advocate.
After a time in trying to end the squabble, Ted simply says, “OK. Fuck Socrates.”
And that’s just when Zeus making his ancient opinion quite clear, throws a lightning bolt from the cloudless sky, jolting our heady conversation. Shocked, astonished, probably stoned, we leave, hurriedly half-frightened, half-laughing.
Tempted to promote his victory but always the gentleman, Sinclair says, “Well then. Fuck Zeus and his weather."
Another time Sinclair asks, “Would you like to come to a friend’s house? There’s a party tonight in Plaka. Carnival has begun!”
“Nai fíle!" Theo says. "Yes, friend!"
It is early February, the season that precedes the Greek Orthodox Easter. It’s also the beginning of weeks of festivities, Apokries, which take place before the onset of Lent and abstention.
We three bounce into the night upon the cobbled street, amid the rowdy stream of revelers—all of us joyous just to be roaming and people-watching.
Sinclair is our guide, "Like Charon," he says. "I assist visitors across the River Styx on my ferry and into hell which lies across—just here on the other side of the street."
We’re far from hell, but we do sense some mischievousness in the air, and though we never make it to THAT party, we dip into another party with Sinclair’s friends whom we've just met in the streets. We end up in a small foúrno (φούρνος) open late for the festivities—or have we arrived as they are just opening at the crack of dawn?
We sit across from each other at a long, rough, wooden-table heaped with bowls of dried fruits and nuts. Sinclair reaches into his shirt pocket, removes a single, long, nude-color, nylon stocking. He tugs it over his head and face. We laugh at his usual antics and everyone continues in conversation about the best κρέατα in town since soon one must continue on in meatless kréata-less days.
Sitting a few places away we hardly notice Sinclair peeling off his clothes; jacket, vest, shirt, t-shirt, slowly, layer after layer until he completely, quietly disrobes.
Then he stands with his smashed stocking-face, shocking everyone with a garbled guffaw of his own, but we are somewhat put to ease when we notice he's wearing a nude-color, body stocking. His knobby knees bulge through the body-tight, and with his hand covering his full crotch he rhythmically sways to faint music heard from across the cobblestone street.
He, the poet, asks if he does not poetically express the melody with his swaying bod? We laugh and sympathize with his scrawny sensitivities. His arms flail, his ribs poke outlines through his costume, and his face distorts with the strange nightcap on his head.
Dressed, Sinclair sings and dances all the way back to the Acropolis House, proclaiming costuming as his new daily habit. Throughout our month in Athens we love being with outlandish Sinclair, and our being is enlivened with singing in the streets. At all hours groups stroll beneath our Acropolis room bellowing Greek and American songs.
And throughout our days and nights with Sinclair we also notice each time he speaks of his wife, Marta, he drives his thin fingers through his curly, graying hair. He tugs at a curl, draws it out, and lets it recoil.
He tells us how he came to write the line, “…she in her khaki nunnery.
Marta and I are out camping and one night we have this row, and she goes off to lie in her sleeping bag. I don’t dare offer consolation.
The fire is burning. I stare at her. Then I notice her khaki trousers. Hah! Well, it’s a veritable nunnery!
She won’t let me near her. Brilliant line isn’t it? …she in her khaki nunnery.”
On occasion when we take our nightly peripatos (περίπατος) Sinclair continues to pull pantyhose over his face as we walk through the old, narrow Athenian streets. We flank him arm-in-arm, laughing, promising passersby he's not dangerous.
For days one week he also swears someone put heroine in his Happy Face—shouts it to the Acropolis House innkeepers, to Takis at the front desk. He shouts it on the streets, shouts it to us, shouts it all the way to the police station.
Sometimes Sinclair makes so much sense. The man is smart, but is he crazy? Maybe. We read later that he was a “…madman who had nailed carrots to the car of a member of the Greek junta.” (https://www.sea-urchin.net/audio-video/sloow-tapes/sinclair-beiles-chopin-in-majorca/)
"Well," we agree. "that’s dangerously crazy."
This time we stroll through cobblestone alleys past small coffee shops and pasticcerias, traverse one triangle corner with a famous American café hangout, and saunter under several balconies until we enter a narrow archway with a staircase that leads to the bookshelf-lined apartment of Sinclair’s cultured, writer-friend. Too long ago to remember his name.
Sinclair shows us off to his friend and shows off his friend to us, "See, his great wall of books?"
He recounts the camping trip scene, about being estranged from Marta, and crows again about “her khaki nunnery.” He often repeats this refrain as he is particularly fond of the phrase and all of its personal meaning.
Throughout our visit, Sinclair casually mentions some dealings with Gregory Corso and William Burroughs. We've heard of them, but don’t really tune in to who they actually are until years later.
He talks about their cut-up poetry—piecing together cut-out words or phrases from magazines and newspapers. When we get back to the Acropolis House we three play around with cut-ups at the coffee table in the common area, carefully laying out a line as does a seer with a tarot, or throwing one splat down like a Pinochle trick.
A few years later I writes a poem about Sinclair:
Laughing smooth pearls--
Whirling from Greece to
Africa cultured white
Where mothers lay awaste in riches
And sibling sons play pruriently
In hand-me-down hopes.
His name in Athens town
All around on cobbled streets
In night-time heat his dancing
Keep pushing for posterity.
The poet dies alone
In low Siroccon winds
Blowing writhing words,
Baubles of unearned life
Living tales of an
Untold misery of leisure.
Still, I hear Sinclair’s songs
In the tent, on the floor
She in her “khaki nunnery”
and he in his
MUSIC TO COOK BY
Cod Fish Plaki
This recipe is derived from Ted’s yia yia—his paternal grandmother, Maria. A version of this common Greek baked-fish dish follows. Plaki does not reference the Athen’s community, Plaka, as in our blog, but simple means baked, and baked mostly with tomatoes plus, of course, Greece’s ubiquitous olive oil. Yia yia served her version over rice. You can also use couscous as we usually do.
2c. Greek olive oil
4 med onions, sliced
3-4 medium cloves garlic, minced or mashed
2-3 fresh medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped
1/2 c. dry white wine
3-4 tbs. fresh parsley, mostly chopped
3-4 tbs fresh dill, mostly chopped
2 lbs. cod fish filets or other firm white fish such as haddock
salt and pepper to taste
3-5 lemon rounds, thinly sliced
Heat the oil in a pan over low heat. Add the onions and sweat them until tender. Do not caramelize them.
Add the garlic until it’s aroma wafts, about a minute.
Add the tomatoes and simmer for a few minutes. Add the chopped herbs.
Sprinkle both sides of the fish filets with salt and pepper.
Pour half of the oil mixture in a casserole or baking pan and place the fish on top.
Pour the remaining mixture over the fish. Top with lemon slices. Add enough water to just cover the fish.
Bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes.
Garnish each serving with a baked lemon slice and a sprig of fresh parsley or dill.