IT ALL STARTED ONE DIFFICULT, VERY HARD JANUARY, WHEN someone was climbing in the almond trees- an adolescent full of hormones who couldn’t keep control. As he counted the resistant petals of the white-peach tree and if he found the blossoms weak, he would say they weren’t trying hard enough, for how could the almond kernels ripen with such cold and ‘’Bang!’’ he would throw them down at the first morning frost. And if you ask me, that’s just what they deserve.
This year especially, everything was being eaten away in order to perpetuate, in the blink of an eye the lineage of the Almond Tree. Quite shamelessly even in the heart of winter, it begs for erotic caresses from the bees. That’s why I had to make time- what kind of photographs would I take without bridesgown and arrows?
The rain had abated and nature was washed clean and sparkling, thicker than a mirror with a crystal rim. The light too was spread out, abounding in silent photons. Some escaped and made a rainbow with mum’s lipstick- when opposite, there where the hill was tickling the cloudy sole of the heavens, there suddenly appeared a completely round balloon, more than half a metre in diameter, rising up matte-red against a washed out blue background and then, paralyzed in the sky, it almost touched the ridge of the hill. From afar it looked like it was magnetised or an uneasy cherry-stone, which hadn’t been sucked long.
I didn’t waste a second. I was moved by the chance to photograph it for free, so that’s why I unslung my camera with the speed of a rifleman, taking off the normal lens, swiftly screwing on and securing a two-hundred telescopic lens, focusing well, the whole thing taking 10seconds and taking a deep breath I pushed the button and released the shutter. As the film sucked in the image, I felt like a prize-winning hunter in the Kenyan jungle. In front of me a heavy lion falling apart, an ungovernable lump of meat with a bullet in his forehead to send him on his way.
As I took the first photo of the balloon, as if a teacher’s hand had given it a smack, it started to move back and forward looking like it wanted to escape or like a head with a difficult decision unresolved, doesn’t know which side to come down on. In spite of all that I continued to take photos, but at the fourth as if by some unknown command, fidgeting in attention stance, for ten seconds it doesn’t move and suddenly it starts to get bigger, one metre, two metres, ten metres in diameter and continually opening its lungs, it now comes straight towards me, like a ball of fire which expands as it gets closer, it doesn,t fit in the telescopic lens any more!
However my enthusiasm for the photographic godsend pushes aside my fear, calmly I screw on a twenty-eight lens which just about fits the balloon and I photograph it another eight or ten times. A few metres, before the swollen bubble digests me, an invisible hand drags it away, I am saved. Used up air and pose let it down, as it falls like a flake of snow and silently it reigns behind the belly of the hill.
Some kid goats were hopping about a little further away with such spastic jumps, that if you don’t own a goat, you would think that a thousand serpents were dying, no matter what the cost, to drink their blood: the snakes pouncing with poisoned weapons in their teeth, the animals however using all their senses ——high enough, avoiding the fateful strike and leave them stunned. They climbed up after, zig zag leap on the stony an domes (terraces for growing crops), harvested with their tongues soft grasshoppers, charlock and mallows, raising their heads now and then to look up to the skies, wanting willy-nilly someone to thank, and then slowly they swallowed. During their chewing something unexplained happens, they freeze for a few seconds and then I took the photograph, re-charged, new pose from the goats, frontal profile, new surprise, another photograph.
A bit further down some blackbirds balancing on a telegraph wire fragmented the turquoise window of the sky, as I reload the telefocus and finish the film.
The next day I look at the photographs and the balloon is not visible, erased with a rubber, it wasn’t there! In it’s place the blue sky a spotless child’s cape, virgin sea undisturbed by any vessel. I speak directly to the photograph, ‘’ I saw it, it can’t be wrong, it’s the first time it’s happened to me.’’ With trembling hands I unroll my distress in the light: almond trees, kid goats, blackbirds, rainbow indelibly printed onto the transparencies all apart from the balloon, which like a ghost is not there! Maybe it’s my camera?
But my machine was a camera with a vast number of prizes in it’s curriculum vitae, it took first place at exhibitions, magazines spoke of its achievements, the programmes which it offered the user- the latest precedence in the shutter, with its automatic flash as well as clarity of its lens due to its unrivalled 1.2 stop. If you add to that its lens accessories, some wide-lens, some zoom, some anti-polarizing filters and some other bits and bobs (soupa moupes) you can see that I was right, when I thought that my camera had screwed up.
OK however, I admit it. The automatic focusing mechanism came out late for my camera, I didn’t manage to get it. (Mparkare), like all the other machines, for big buys, a little while before the excellent Auto Focus was invented and stuck to tradition insisting on hand controlled focus, somewhat like this, look: You estimate the net distance and you start, step by step carefully backwards, throwing stolen glances left and right now and again, in case you end up lost and not found in some ditch, to say nothing of suspicious mud or something lurking in the dark behind your back. You focus by turning the lens once right, then left, little bit right again, little left again and when your Siamese places, object or flirtatious face, which are posing with white cheese….sets of teeth, embrace each other in the lens, become one with each other, click….you give the order. That’s what happened with the balloon as well. Yes, it was there! But now? Where is the balloon now? I felt like crying.
Why then when I least expected it should I photograph something and something else be shown or rather not be shown? (Kotzam) balloon was this, I wasn’t photographing in the Sahara where a hallucination caused by dehydration could explain everything! Here it was about a Cypriot place, safe in its behaviour, mature, predictable, without extra airs and graces except for a handful who were in a hurry sometimes, pulling too hard on the line and you see completely naked branches stretching their looks into the snows, like for example the almond trees which I was photographing a while ago. Those there, all grace and height in the transparencies. I felt like crying again and then I remembered…..
I would have been about ten years old or so and one night. October or November, I woke up terrified covered in sweat, with goggling eyes I leapt up screaming, calling for my father. They say, it seemed that a balloon appeared, whilst I was sleeping approaching slowly and silently from the direction of Saint Neophytos monastery. The all matt-red balloon which from afar looked like a Christmas decoration- as it approaches it takes on an even larger dimension, looked like, I remember, a burning moon or like a cheek scalded by fever. It dives from the hill with a sinking trajectory, continually losing height, it goes down, gets closer and as I realise its outlandish proportions I go crazy.
The balloon-moon comes even closer, touching me now on the chest, an infinetly heavy mass weighs me down, the whole universe is above my head, an angry planet is touching my eyelids, I can’t take any more, where is my father? ‘’Dad, Dad! It’s coming, it’s coming!, I jump up, run through the house, father wakes up and comes to me, my mother crossing herself looks for an incense holder and I, barmy, reaching the window at last, open it and show them:’’there! Its coming from over there, from the monastery, there, there, there!’’ ‘’What thing, from where, what’s coming? Calm down and come to bed’’. My mother runs towards me scooping me in her arms, her heart beat calm and I relax. Tired out I close my eyes, switching over into warm undreamed of worlds.
The event was only discussed for a while, and that within the strict boundaries of the family. In two days the matter was completely forgotten, silenced. It was as if some shame was smouldering in the event, which would (eksetheto) effect the family irretrievably, ‘’it could be that he’s crazy, what creeps in the mind of the child and then when you least expect it they close it inside.’’
The first month goes by without the balloon. Every night I wait for it anxiously, I am sure that it will descend from the monastery again, the monks are keeping it their tied up, I know, with strong wire in the iconostasis, but it wont be difficult for it to escape if it wants to. The balloon though doesn’t seem to be coming; you could say that it was disappointed by its unpleasant welcome which I organised for its first foray. Every night I am woken by deep sounds from other dreams, some false dragons, courage-less wolves, grandma dead in a wooden bed, nothing to particularly give me the creeps. The balloon, however, is invisible.
One month on though, there was a nightmarish balloon again. It descends heavily once more and in the same manner it falls and squashes me, one night when, as coincidence would have it, two of my mothers’ cousins were staying with us. They were looking for a bridegroom and searching our area as well as my mother was helping with the matchmaking, as much as she could. For days they didn’t come near me, spoke to me from afar and when I asked for something, a toy let’s say, they threw it at me from a safe distance, afraid to touch me, I was like The Evil One to them.
All the relatives agreed: ‘’ He must be looked at’’. And that’s why the very next day my parents, under the weight of the family’s verdict ‘’they are the only one’s who hurt us’’ said my mother, was convinced that something serious was happening and I should see a Doctor.
The Doctor, a Neurologist with his wall heaving with degrees, both local and ‘’foreign’’, listens to my mother’s description, because I having not only a hyperactive soul but also body couldn’t concentrate, finding myself idle, run up and down amongst the books, the examining table, the empty bottles for injections, the little hammers, the galvanometer and the wires of electro-cardiogram machine, which seemed to me to be candy-floss. The Doctor thinks for a long time, but it was a difficult case, he doesn’t know what to say, so strange does it all seem to him, he’s not sure. As soon as he hears from me, however, about the moon and craters, he jumps up triumphantly! ‘’That’s it’’, he says, it is nothing but a form of epilepsy or ‘’seliniasmos’’ as you call it, the moon which the patient refers to is the key, it says it all’’.
On hearing of epilepsy, my mother, ‘’seliasmata’’ and faints. She knew of the disease first hand, a brother of our father, epileptic from childhood, had a habit of every time he visited us, of falling down out of the blue, at full length-sometimes however if you pushed him or you refused to give anything away- he would hit, hit the earth like a wrongly wound up mechanical hare. He would kick his arms and legs, as if he wanted to get up but couldn’t, then he would stretch, stretch so much that you would say, that’s how he would remain, like a log in the yard. He would froth from the mouth after that, run out of steam slowly, slowly, relaxing on his own, he would start to snore for a while, losing himself in a temporary unbeing and when he gained consciousness again, would not remember anything at all.
That is what my mother had in mind, when she fainted. At the end of the day, I was his relative; we had the same genes trundling through the corridors of our nerves. Of course, the therapy followed, some rose coloured tablets, some yellow ones, tablets of all kinds took turns in my stomach with the rhythm of gunfire. There was even the syrups and the Doctors wisdom of my grandmother, parsley tea morning and evening as a first sign of an attack, I don’t know what my full release from the night visitor was down to, but one thing that stayed most vivid in my mind was the parsley tea. From that time I had not seen the balloon until the day that it re-appeared on the hill to scrutinise me suspiciously.
I didn’t change the camera. What relation did the glass have with my personal ghosts? I say, my eye is on one thing and its eye is on another, so many years it has been faithful to me, through hot and cold, I’m not ungrateful. I respect its individuality and leave it, to express itself as it wants. Sometimes, if I’m bored, I adjust the automatic and pose for it, so much trust do I show.
I haven’t changed my photographic techniques, I still prefer unexpected shots from unrealistic angles, plants and animals are my best companions, I’m not interested in human portraits. How to match human vanity with art? To be on the safe side though I avoid bright colours, especially red and when I develop films I demand shiny card never matte!
That hill with the almond trees, the kid goats and the blackbirds on wire, I keep at a distance as far as I am able. And if, once in a while, at Christmas or Carnival time, I get wind of a red balloon floating suspiciously across the sky, I run straight home, put the kettle on and quickly go down the garden.
In the flower bed, near the pond with the forgotten tortoise, I always have some green guardian angel planted, for whenever I need it which stands uncomplaining as I cut.
From “TA MPALONIA AFANTA (“THE INVISBLE BALLOONS”, 1997)