A Ballad for the Old Sailor

January 16th, 2018

Having started off in the afternoon, I would arrive in Thessaloniki late in the evening. I am all alone in the carriage and the train is on schedule. I am clinging to the Sea Wolf and my earphones. I am reading a little, just enough to keep enjoying it.

When I was seventeen, I couldn’t stop reading that author’s short stories about the North. Indians, blizzards, gold, dogs and a woman. Again and again. While we had English classes we spoke of music and those short stories. The teacher had been up north, once. She never said anything, but enjoyed listening. We used to go out once a week, just the two of us, and have long strolls in the cold. Then we would have a warm drink and again speak of winter.

It is already dark and I have arrived. Having wasted some time at the railway station, I manage to quickly find the hotel. The next morning I get up and go out for a walk. I want to go to the docks and breathe some sea air. Then I climb inside the tower. It reminds me of another one up north. The view is nice. Then I find the museum. A man, his hair uncombed, appears. It’s closed. All right, let’s have coffee first, enough of art. He takes me to the coffee shop. They don’t want to charge me and invite me to the staff table. We speak of Boyce who is staring at me from a poster on the fridge. Then I speak to them about Timm Ulrichs. Then they unlock the door and take me through the exhibition halls and tell me how the place had developed during the years. I finally reach the constructivists’ hall and ask to be left by myself, so I can have a look around. The building on the inside, the view, the pictures and the people. I stand still and keep watching. Suddenly everything freezes and melts into one single element. I say thank you and start walking back to the city centre.

We gather in a small basement café. They are all Greek. I only know some of them, those from Athens. I take a look at one of the women. Almost forty, an old-timer. I went to the Munger conference once, but attended none of the lectures. She treats me to a cigarette. We are smoking and keeping silent, thinking. My uncle used to organise translations of forbidden books back in the sixties in Varna. He would ask a sailor to deliver them. They used to arrive from a northern town called Val-Morin. There used to be several translators who would also make copies and distribute the books.

Then they invite us upstairs. Again, I don’t get charged. They let me sit in front. A lady in black comes out and does a little dance. She is the boss. I get invited over to her. I take the pratayhara colour graphic out of my bag and I give it to the lady. Thank you.

Then I’m in the street, I see a bar and I get in. I order a beer. What do you do. I make short videos with music and in the afternoon I draw. Sometimes I write. He pours me a tiny glass of tsipouro. Our waiter writes. He asks her to come and introduce herself. Then I get to listen to the music. My granddad’s granddad was from here. I understand. Cheers. I give her the email address of a friend who is the editor of a northern magazine. Then I go. I get to sleep immediately. I wake up. There are two girls in my room. I manage to get to the station on time. In the train I finish the book. I am glad that I had not read it before. I have a couple of hours to spend in Sofia, so I meet a friend and tell him about my trip. He gets my point. Quietly and with satisfaction, I let myself go with the daily grind.