Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Athens by Jazz by Sophia Yannatou

Saturday night. A saxophone plays glimmering in the dark hall of ‘Alfaville’. Smoke gets in my eyes, burns in my nostrils, cigarettes light up in the dark, on a screen behind the stage a picture of city is projected. In its mud I’m stuck, a cigarette paper melting under the rain. In the chaos of traffic, taxis flash our yellow, it could be a scream, a yell, a yellow colour tearing up the grey, yet they are many, so many, stopped at the traffic lights behind the yellow saxophone. Hearing a yell constantly, you stop paying attention. You become one with it, an undivided unity, of flesh, voices, metals, taximeters, trolley buses – even those are yellow, they’re coming up from the depth of the road, heavy artillery of this yelling parade.

I entered the theatre after midnight. My sister had called me, “there are groups improvising here, would you like to come?” I was ready to sleep but the phone call changed my mind. I threw a coat over my shoulders and got out. I walked down the street, the night dustcart was coming up from the opposite direction, its jaws swallowing up plastic bags. A dilapidated taxi took me down to Mavromihali street, with the usual radio-statics switched on – “agios Artemios to Faliron, any cab going to Faliron?” The driver fished out if I was going “to work or to bed”, peeping at me through the mirror. Would I like perhaps a night drive at Faliron? I don’t know what’s going on recently – taxi drivers seem to have gone wild. If you happen to go a long distance, you end up as a potential lover, sweet-heart, bestman, or anything your merciless driver wants so that his chaos finds an outlet onto your head. Fortunately this drive was short. I banged the relic of door behind me and found myself in the dark with the screen multiplying the cars in first place. The saxophone curve half covered wheels and drivers’ faces immobilized on foggy photographs. A group was improvising with no particular inspiration and background slides changed gradually – space suspicions, commix designs, two hands on a keyboard, galaxies of blue black distance, and again the obsession of taxis frozen in midday sunlight behind the drums. There was, however, something I like in this discordance. I liked the possibility it would have to express this city, was it less banal. Yet…Isn’t this very banality an expression of this city itself?

I lit a cigarette among dozens around me and looked for my sister – I spotted her out in the corridor, talking with a tall guy who stooped over her to listen. They were holding glasses – whisky? “I’m going for a drink too”, I got out to the bar. A crowd was moving in and out, faces known and unknown, mingled, mingled hair, uncombed, clothes unironed, scarves carefully thrown over careless coats, cigarettes, lipsticks, heavy make-up, vulgar  jewels on breast-deep winters – “England”, I thought. I took a plastic orange juice and came back to the dark. I sat in a rear seat. Three winds on stage were playing lazily and a young couple in the front seat, exchanged bored kisses. Flat notes descended crawling towards the audience, encouraging the embraced couple to go as soon as possible save themselves in a bed. Suddenly an unexpected rattlesnake raised its head, winds changed to percussions. Wooden nails, drums, heels, knowing on wooden floors, doors creaking, belts, saws, a child dragging a toy-horse on gravel. The quartet ended in rhythm of applauding.

Other shapes came on stage, shadows of instrument I only guessed behind the smoke. Sounds of slow tuning wandered in the hall, synthesizers, violins, a piercing buzz of microphones, dented machines, bass. People going to and fro. A tiny girl stood behind the microphone – I looked at her half lit face, her careless teenager sweater. Looks like my sister in a younger age. I was thinking of this or that till the car horns started, her mouth opened and a black hole swallowed me up.

Medusa unredeemed, this is what is yelling. A moon is crying over the clangs of cars, horns, interweaved in snake like hair, her hair, frozen. Salome looks down from the stage balcony of this high building. Blades pass by, below metals, the sharps of exhaustions, go away, fly away, birds walking on tops of her depth – the Night.

An Ariadne moves slowly unfolding threads and petals on the cheap pavement. It’s the time that dreams go out for a walk.

Before you know it, dawn has already turned pink. It emerges behind the wheels of vans and of spring, out from the caverns of your other cry, the one giving birth to sirens, and so many colourful creatures, paradise birds and nymphs, visions unexpected within the dust.

Dust of nothing. Silence of expectancy. Stone faces are refracted in green waters of this silent presence. A sound. Give me a sound.

Pebbles fall down on asphalt. An instrument goes off, blows off, drawing a curve. Medusa is waiting demon like. A battle is starting.

Orchestra in dissonance, as if they perform together for the first time. Most of the musicians up there seem as if hardly known each other. The violin is sharp, runs through the synthesizer, rattles chew me up, I’m out of breath, the bass hits me, where is my body? Where is your body? Where does your city start and where do you, yourself, end? Your hair interweave with the locks of your first love who passes by in a hurry saying again good morning. It may be anybody. The archangel with the jacket on that motorcycle. Or your old, known, familiar, everyday self. Voice. A voice in the crowd shoots off.

Shooting stars off you exorcise the unknown. A falling star may turn into something familiar, close, luminous in your handpalm a coin, or an alive presence with eyes, voice and posture like a forest tree. Do trees speak?

Wings flapping in branches – they do – songs or whispers, an echo in the forest, trunks have turned into bodies, my body, your body, roofs disappeared in the stars. A nymph is sleeping. She tries to find her voice.

The eyes of Ariadne open up sea shells. Pearls drop down in a heap, fall down, here, on our wet asphalt. At your feet, waves spread out, it’s the coasts of road again, there, where a thousand one faces of a frozen Medusa walk on. If you find her name, you can appease her.

The young lovers in front, kiss each other passionately A torch-light from the stage lights up moments in the audience. That man in the corridor, with the red scarf and black coat, leans on a pillar. A profile flashing out in darkness, fading out again. The pandemonium of performance continues. A hunting trump tears up my present Where am I? Deers pass along the horizon through the torn screen.

Some time ago I could not understand free jazz, contemporary music or experimentations of improvisation when they went further than shapes of some recognizable melody. They were sounds foreign, irrelevant to the harmony my ears longed for. During the last years, my eardrums’ injury by Athens’ noises has befriended me with an anti-harmonious music. I started recognizing shapes under the demolition of shapes, the order of chaos under chaos. And the unexpected of improvisation started pleasing me even if the expression turns out finally wild. If the wildness of our civilization in its highest stage of development brings us gradually back to cannibalisms of caverns, why shouldn’t this cry come out from windows? Isn’t this a harmonization with our present unbalance? Maybe tomorrow there are waiting for us circularly the airy flute melodies and simple sounds of earth in a time of new peace. Till then I’ll be necessarily passing through the volcano spitting out fire, through the clamors of war-like night, the intervention of my metal blades cutting through rosy-pink clouds of my illusionary paradise. Yells have their worth too, in a time of cleansing. After all, they don’t last long.

Behind the frozen glance of Medusa waters start flowing. A watery melody seeks its way through faucets of winds. The torch light stops at a row of heads in the audience, reminding me of statues. They are waiting. On the screen, long rosy-pink shapes are projected, clouds elongated to eternity. On them, the voice is walking. It steps carefully, whispers, then opens wings to fly high. Instead, it draws an arch and dives down in depth where it is met by seaweeds, a blond starfish and submarine sonar.

Sea caves. The hair wave slowly in a corridor of white corrals. Bubbles start from her mouth, round sounds, upside down, enter gradually the saxophone’s horn. They follow its curve, and climb up the erevos till they reach the mouth of the gagged saxophonist. There have remained the rattles.

Salome tiptoes on street pools after the rain. Afterwards she climbed little by little on a street lamp and stayed there, a still moon, as artificial lighting. The theatre hall lights were turned on.

I got out in Alexandras avenue with its few night cars running from three after mid-night till dawn. I stood by the traffic light, waiting for taxi. This is my city. I carry it everywhere as a night folded next to my skin, under my blue coat. Blue black, deep, permitting you to get lost in the depth of the road, unifying your abstract body with a dark absence. The only thing remaining present is your voice. You invoke it and it comes. To guide you through labyrinths and dances of fire, holding you by the hand, giving you back instead of a sacrifice, a sudden offering. Your freedom.

December 1993

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