The Carpet Beaters

Sunday Blog 101 – 10th September 2023

At risk of disappearing into my own navel, I’ve been re-reading letters I sent to my mother and a friend while I lived in Greece intermittently from 1996 until 2000.

In March 1998 I wrote to my mother, while I was living in a very dark and dingy flat in Olibiados Street. It was my second year teaching English as a Foreign Language in Thessaloniki and the school owners had not made good on their offer to get my accommodation sorted. I had been staying with a long-suffering friend, trying to find a place. I looked at the Olibiados place and was a bit uncertain, but when I rang said friend to tell him he just said “Oh congratulations” as if I had decided to rent it and signed all the paperwork. I figured I needed to get off his loungeroom floor sooner rather than later and rented the flat. There was absolutely no natural light at all down in the basement, and the first few nights I was there and woke up in the middle of the night I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face, no matter how long I waited for my dark adapted eye to adjust. It was just pitch black. I had been there about five months when I wrote Mum this letter. I had absolutely no recollection of this incident at all, but it’s too good not to share.

I can hear the Carpet Beaters upstairs – Greek women are fanatical about housework and one of the tasks is to take up your carpet from the floor, take it to the balcony and vigorously shake it before setting upon it with a specially designed paddle, beating copiously. Why on earth they don’t use hoovers is beyond me.

On a very similar morning to this, several weeks back I heard the soft “plump” of a blanket which on receiving its ritual beating, had slipped from the housewife’s hands and landed on my balcony. It being a little before my reveille time, I didn’t retrieve it for an hour or so.

I took it to the flat upstairs from, figuring this tenant must own it. I was rather taken aback when the woman who answered was the KinoKrista Woman. She prowls around asking for money off inhabitants for keeping the light bulbs going and splashing a bit of water on the hallway every month or so. I’d been avoiding somewhat sedulously.

Anyway after I told her I had no KinoKrista, I offered up the ‘kouverta’ – blanket – as a kind of burnt offering substitute. She seemed cheery enough with this but explained it wasn’t her blanket. She left it on the hallway for collection and I returned to my flat with a mixture of relief and good deed-ism.

Shortly thereafter, a woman rang by bell, asked for ‘kouverta’ and I mimed my way upstairs to show her its resting place. She was most thankful and returned all smiles to the fourth or fifth floor.

I was just relaxing into my second cup of tea when the doorbell rang and… ANOTHER woman wanted to know the whereabouts of her errant ‘kouverta’. Egads! I couldn’t explain, not knowing the Greek words for “give/ already/ someone else”. However, I think she just wanted to see how The Foreigner lived, because she asked to see my balcony, necessitating a walk through my flat, then told me some cock and bull story about living in the next block of flats and a freak wind carrying her kouverta over to my balcony. At least I think that’s what she said.

After she had told me her story, she started shouting up a few floors to see if she could get hold of the woman who’d taken the kouverta.

Now you hear these carpet beaters call “ThespinAAAH!” or “MaRIIAA!” etc as they try to attract each other’s attention, a sort of morning echo from balcony to balcony. But I’d never seen any of these disembodied voices, much less stood next to one! Talk about surreal!

Anyway, she seems happy enough with her survey of my life and our broken conversation. The real ownership of the kouverta is shrouded in Greek mystery, but fortunately there have been no reverberations since.

Letter to my mother, 23rd March 1998

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