Saturday, November 14, 2009

SPASTA OLA - break everything!

A bellydancer with the very un-Greek name of Tarryn Rego!

People always ask me why I like the Greeks so much. Maybe I should qualify that, as the only ones I have had major contact with so far are the South African Greeks who combine their unique warmth and hospitality with South African friendliness. I come from Irish stock and my mother always told me that "the Irish are the Greeks of the West" (they really are, I think). Dinner table conversations jocularly consisted of: "While my people were keeping the light of learning alive in Europe, YOUR people were running around painted in woad." This to my British father with an Irish name, who generally retaliated in similar vein about German U-boats in Irish harbours.

But I digress. Both the Irish and Greek cultures have such a zest for life and enjoyment that it is impossible to resist them. Everything is extreme, they either love you or they hate you, nothing in between. I totally get this ..

Opa! The Greek zest for life exhibits itself in their dancing and Derek Bester (Peermont Development Manager) and Julie Scafidas join in

My love of the Greeks also stemmed from my Classics professor at Rhodes, Warren Snowball, who instilled in me a huge love of classical civilisation when he took a group of friends and students on a trip to Greece many years ago. I just loved it and tried very hard to make baklava when I got home. Without much success.

I have since made staunch friends (who call me an Hellenophile) and love their food, which is very hard to find outside a Greek home. So when an invite to a new Greek restaurant at Emperors Palace dropped into my inbox I jumped at the chance.

Platia, which means "town square" in Greek, is run by Chris Malamas and his brother and boasts the kind of food that their yaya used to make. It took Platia four days to perfect the bread alone, which is crusty and rustic. It's made with olive oil and totally moreish. It was a media night and we were treated to four courses, a little taste of what was on the menu. Although most of us had not eaten much during the day, and brought along our appetites, by the fourth course we were beginning to flag a little because the Greeks can EAT. First course was the meze with the fab bread, then followed a fish course with squid heads, calamari, haloumi cheese (cooked to perfection), then the meats (souvlaki, lamb chops,and prawns), then baklava and Galaktobouriko, the pronunciation of which I always struggle with. I can say the name Antigone to perfection the Greek way, but don't let me try saying Galaktobouriko. It sounds like one of those ancient battles fought against the Persians where the Spartans were decimated but nevertheless won.

In between all this wonderful food was of course the bellydancing (more Turkish, of course) and Greek dancing. They had a great dance duo called Spasta Ola, which means "break everything". At one stage they poured whisky on the floor, set it alight and danced in among the flames, another tradition of Greek dancing. They say Greece is the biggest consumer of Chivas Regal in the world, and now I can see why!

Kung fu style ... Cyprus Radio presenter Stelios Leoni broke a whole stack of plates,then broke the last one over his head. Why? I inquired and was told, because he's Greek. In this case, Cypriot

The tradition of breaking plates during the dancing is really an expression of happiness and exuberance, but was banned for a while in Greece itself as it sometimes led to injuries. Someone once saw someone's leg being impaled by a plate. Careful chucking of the plates is required although the impulse is to throw them wildly like a frisbee. The dancing was frenzied and designed for a less Greek audience as the dance group said they did not want to do "the more traditional, boring dances" which non-Greeks might not understand.

African style ... Fihliwe Nkomo (Peermont Chief HR Executive), Hellenic News SA
Editor Taki Constantopoulos and friend

One of the dancers had a dishcloth hanging out of his back pocket with which he polished his shoes as part of the dance. The music and rhythm built up to a frenzy of clapping and bouzouki accompaniment while the dancers leapt in the air or onto each others' shoulders. It was all part of the kefi, or Greek spiritual mojo which is part of their culture. The cleaning-up operation was mammoth as the broken plaster bits were heaped high.

I will definitely be back, preferably on a Friday or Saturday night, for a bit of plate breaking (very addictive) and some wild Greek dancing!

Irene Athanasias of Hellenescene magazine gets some tips in bellydancing from MC Petro Magos, who was wearing an "island style" Panama hat and a flowered shirt.

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