A late summer Friday evening on one of my favourite terraces in the harbour: the ever-so-quiet village, somewhere in the heartland of Homeric Hellas is now overflowing with foreigners-in-ugly-shorts, rich Athenians, lost camper tourists, wealthy jet-set self-confessed VIPs — Hellenes and ‘barbaroi’ alike — hiding in vain behind their pitch black sunglasses, spilling out from fat catamarans and glittering yachts that try to humiliate the modest fishing boats of the fishermen who sail out and catch the fish and the squid that will be grilled and served onto the plates of those who look down on them.
I sit at my table, quietly, on my own, sipping at a glass of Nemean wine, and I watch the spectacle, the theatre of life, the surreal show of “crisis, what crisis?”. At least this “drama” is still for free — the entrance tickets for the ones performed in the Ancient Theatre of the Sanctuary of Asklepios in Epidauros, just a few miles away from this place, have almost doubled in price since last year.
I sit and watch. And, as always, things happen. An old man comes onto the terrace which is full of people eating and drinking and trying to have a good time. He takes out a flute, a simple yet beautiful ‘floghera’, a shepherd’s flute, out of his back pocket, and starts to play. I hear shepherd’s music, music from the mountains and valleys, music that keeps the shepherds company on their long and lonely walks with their flocks and shepherd dogs, music that was never composed on paper or computer screens, never written down, never recorded, never made into something that could be sold, promoted, managed, exploited, pushed up a hit list, or copied a zillion times from one memory stick to another. These enchanting tunes are played and played, over and over again, and handed over and over again from one generation to the next — by playing, listening, and playing again. This kind of music is as old, as rugged, and as sculpted as the very hills and valleys where it was born, where shepherds and their flocks roam, where Time has to slow down and crawl uphill.
This old man played Music. He hadn’t rehearsed, he didn’t use a playlist, he wasn’t trying to get rich and famous — he just closed his eyes and became one with the Muses. He closed his eyes, inhaled, and blew the air from his lungs straight into a wooden stick with holes in it — and created Magic.
This Old Man and His Music took me back, thousands of years, into the Times when the Walls of Mycenae, Midea, and Argos were still standing tall and thick and threatening. The Times when epic stories were born and told around big fires at night under starry skies and a glistening Milky Way, stories about Beautiful Golden-Haired Helen-who-caused-a-Thousand-Ships-to-Sail, stories about an Odyssee that lasted a hundred magical-mysterious adventures and brought home a Man to his Beloved and Faithful Wife, stories about a horrible curse that wrecked and murdered a King’s family. Stories. Magical, Mythical, Magnificent Stories. Stories that contain everything Important we could possibly need to know and remember in Life.
I closed my eyes, just like the old man had closed his eyes, and I saw…
I saw a flock of goats run up the slope of the mountain. I saw the big male goat with curled horns leading them upwards, I heard the little bells around their necks, and the shepherd dog barking at one or two straying away too far. I realised that, for as long as this magical tune would last, I should keep my eyes closed. As long as I kept my eyes closed, as long as my ears would be filled with this Music, as long as my mind would be hypnotised by this Magic, I would, for a single, sublime Moment, be taken back to where and when this Music was born.
I kept my eyes closed, and I kept on seeing…
I saw the Walls of Mycenae, Midea, Tiryntha, and Argos being built tall and proud and high — long before the earthquake threw them over. I saw the fire beacons on top of the mountains carry the message about the Fall of Troy all the way to Klytaimnestra in the Palace of the Citadel. I heard the Two Lions at the Gate roar in victory. I saw how a Golden Mask was being put on the face of a murdered King by the Son who had to kill his Mother to punish her for the crime she had committed. I witnessed the funeral procession with rows of chanting men and mourning, weeping women, their hair long and loose. I saw the tholos tomb open its doors to welcome the dead King. I saw them close again …
… and then the Single Sublime Moment in Time was over.
The Old Man had stopped playing his shepherd’s flute. Someone-with-a-Yacht had complained about him to the waitress because his Music was old and boring, and he was going to beg the guests for money anyway. So the waitress did her duty and chased the Old Man away, telling him nobody here wanted to listen to his silly old tunes. Nobody had a need to close his eyes or open his ears, as there were now special toys on people’s heads hat allowed them to see and hear things that didn’t really exist but instead were made up of numbers. Nobody dreamt of seeing flocks of goats on mountain slopes, or the huge curled horns of the leading Male Goat. Nobody was interested in the messages of war and peace that were carried by the fire beacons on top of the mountains. Nobody felt the duty to assist in a funeral cortège carrying a golden mask, hear women weep their dead King, or stone lions roar above a cyclopean gate… Nobody believed in the Magic of Music.
I am Nobody, just as Odysseus said to the Cyclops when he blinded him and escaped with his men under the belly of the goats, in that ancient, epic Story that was born in a Time and a Place Nobody wants to see and live in.
The Keeper of the Garden invites you to visit The Garden of the Muses where you can see more of the Garden and its Inhabitants.