Monday, June 17, 2013

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis – June 14, 2013

Βίος και Πολιτεία του Αλέξη Ζορμπά (Vios kai politeia tou Alexi Zormpa)
'Life and Adventures of Alexis Zorbas' published in 1946

Ten KRG readers met to share their enthusiasm for this novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, so wonderfully translated by Carl Wildman. Quite a few had their first introduction to the story through the 1963 film, starring Anthony Quinn.

Alan Bates as the boss, Basil, and Anthony Quinn as Zorba in the 1963 film

Zorba is an unbelievable character whose sayings and questions pepper this novel with a philosophical flourish. His role is to remove the blinkers from the mind of his bookish boss, and open up the world of the Aegean with its sunlight, the sea, the flowers, the women, the food, and the dancing  all designed to help the boss throw off the shackles of his reading.

Nikos Kazantzakis – the epitaph on his grave 


As any true novel which goes on far enough, it ends in death and leaves us wondering: did such a man really live? Kazantzakis claimed that Zorba is modelled on a person he knew, and many of the scenes in the book (the island of Crete, the sea, Russia, Buddhism, lignite mining, and so on) are derived from the author's life experiences. Kazantzakis is one with Zorba in stating that his travels taught him more than his books and university studies ever did.

Here is a site with extensive notes on the life of Kazantzakis, his publications, and photographs documenting his life (and loves):
http://www.kazantzakispublications.org/ 


Alexis Zorba in the film

The beaming look on the readers' faces when they posed after the reading is a measure of how much enjoyment they got from the communal reading and sharing of this novel.

Zakia, Priya, Talitha, KumKum, Thommo, Bobby, Sivara, Mathew, Gopa

Please click below to read the full account.

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis

Reading on June 14, 2013

Nikos Kazantzakis writing a Greek-French dictionary in demotic and classical Greek, ca. 1931 

Present: Thommo, Priya, Zakia, KumKum, Talitha, Sivaram, Bobby, Mathew, Joe, Gopa
Absent: Kavita (family function), Sunil (wedding of friend)

We were all pleased to hear from Thommo that Tata Motors has ordered 5,000 copies of his book on driving a Tata Nano car all over India, a travelogue of which he posted daily on his website, http://manoetnano.com/?m=201204

To celebrate that occasion KumKum wrote this verse last summer:
Who goes there in a yellow Nano –
Looks very much like our very own Thommo!
Same smiling face, and flashing teeth
Denying his age, all steel beneath.

What more does he seek from ephemeral life?
His friends may wonder ’bout crisis midlife …
Haven’t we read him, mano a mano?
But look who goes there in a Tata Nano …

How does it feel being friends and colleagues?
We’re far behind, by leagues and leagues.

The readers applauded and demanded a feast to celebrate, to which Thommo willingly gave assent.

We were overjoyed to see ten readers! How warm and convivial it felt compared to the last session. The joy you can see in the photograph of all us at the conclusion, is a measure of how much pleasure we derived from this novel. KumKum thanked Sivaram and Gopa for selecting it.

The next session is Poetry, on July 12, 2013. The next novel for reading is What Ho! - The Best of Wodehouse on Aug 9, 2013.

Thommo
Thommo hoped no one else had selected the dance scene, but Joe had, never mind. Thommo feted Mikis Theodorakis, the Greek composer of the music for the song which made him famous. Everyone who has seen the film recalls this scene above all others as being emblematic of the movie and the man, Alexis Zorbas.


Here is a link to a film clip of the dance:

Thommo remarked that this character of a rugged man, coarse in speech and blessed with a child-like approach to the world, fitted Anthony Quinn, half-Irish, half-Mexican. Hardly anyone recalls the very young and handsome Alan Bates, as the boss and narrator, Basil, a Greek intellectual who's taking a break in Crete. But who can forget the great Irene Pappas as the widow?

Irene Pappas as the widow

There's lots of folk philosophy in the novel; the great questions of life are explored, and its simple joys celebrated. The description is as vivid as the protagonist's character is vigorous. The novel was described by Time magazine in its 1953 review as "nearly plotless but never pointless" (quoted by Sivaram). See

Zorba is full of defiance and obstinacy, said Bobby. Priya imagined Zorba as larger-than-life and not the facsimile of any real person. “The way he lives he cares two hoots about anything,” she said. Gopa saw the movie recently on an international flight; it lacked the substance of the book, she said. But then think of the music, and think of Anthony Quinn's high-spirited portrayal. Gopa maintained Zorba comes across as crude in the movie, though he has his saving graces. There's a disconnect between Zorba's ways and the ways of the village. 

Sivaram drew attention to the scene of the castration of bulls, and described his witnessing, the testicles of a living bull being mangled by a mechanical claw. It was then let loose and looked to gore the guys who did it, but they all ran off and climbed on the nearest trees. This was in the Kodagu district of Karnataka. In N. India too the testicles are cooked and eaten. “Let's pass lightly over the bull,” said Talitha who had had enough of the gory description.

Priya
Priya enjoyed the reading

When Zorba goes to wish Dame Hortense on New Year’s Day, they end up having a “rollicking good time,” according to Gopa, after Zorba persuades her to eat the suckling-pig he's got someone else to prepare. 

Zorba (Anthony Quinn) and Dame Hortense (Lila Kedrova)

She's dining like a Pasha, one of her admirers from the long past, said Talitha, recalling these words:
'She's not all on her own,' cried Zorba; 'she's with Suleiman Pasha. Can't you see?
She's in her seventh heaven, the dirty cow!... Come on. Let's beat it!'

Talitha saw a lot sexism in the conversation of Zorba. She objected to the image of sewer for a woman's reproductive organ in the following scene, and said it was “as crude as you can get”:
'Do you like the widow, Mimiko?' Zorba asked, with a sigh.
Mimiko chuckled.
'Friend, why shouldn't I like her? And haven't I come out of a sewer, like everyone else?'
'Of a sewer?' I said, astounded. 'What d'you mean, Mimiko?'
'Well, from a mother's innards.'
I was amazed. Only a Shakespeare in his most creative moments, I thought, could have found an expression of such crude realism to portray the dark and repugnant mystery of birth.

But it's all just lad's talk, said Joe. In this connection Gopa related an encounter on her flight to Britain. She struck up a conversation with a guy called Peter, and then he introduced her to his partner. He was a really handsome chap, near to the ideal of Greek male beauty. “What a waste!” Gopa thought.


KumKum
In spite of first selecting a narrative passage from the book, KumKum preferred instead to highlight the lyrical descriptions of nature that are interspersed with the story. She was entranced by the vividness with which Kazantzakis describes the scene surrounding the death of Dame Hortense, played by the French actress Lila Kedrova in the film:

Dame Hortense played by Lila Kedrova, who won an Oscar for the Best Supporting Actress

The mourners wailing, and the women waiting for Hortense to die so as to make off with her belongings, is a stark reminder of the grasping that attends a death. KumKum liked the connection of the sea to the life of the islanders, and to Zorba in particular.

She characterised these passages as sheer poetry. That's why ZTG is a classic. Here are some snippets from what KumKum read out:
an expanse of sea, still angry and roaring as it came rushing from Africa to bite into the coast of Crete ...
in the sheltered hollows, the lemon and orange trees perfumed the air, and from the vastness of the sea emanated an inexhaustible poetry ...
Chattering girls appeared with fichus as white as snow, long yellow boots, and skirts rucked up ...
As the girls passed in front of me, I quietly stepped aside, smiling. ...
And my mind, following the waves, became itself a wave, unresisting, submissive to the rhythm of the sea ...
Suddenly I closed my Dante and looked out over the sea. A gull, its breast resting on the water, rose and fell with the waves, abandoning itself to them ...
I was happy, I knew that ...


Talitha
Talitha, KumKum, Zakia, & Priya

Talitha wished to read what she called a 'profound' passage, about the santuri, an instrument we play in India too. Instead, being Talitha, she sought out a comic passage, and read it in a sprightly manner so as to bring out the hilarity. Everyone was chuckling. Zorba inquires, “Is there a God?” As Zorba talks about his imaginary view of paradise, the interrogation of sinners by God in the next life takes on a comedic air and the boss responds: “I remember I had to laugh that evening, while Zorba was pouring out his profound balderdash.” The passage ends with one of Zorba's maxims:
'Don't laugh, boss! If a woman sleeps all alone, it's the fault of us men. We'll all have to render our accounts on the day of the last judgment. God will forgive all sins, as we've said before - he'll have his sponge ready. But that sin he will not forgive. Woe betide the man who could sleep with a woman and who did not do so! Woe betide the woman who could sleep with a man and who did not do so! Remember the words of the hodja. [Nasreddin Hodja, the legendary wit and trickster of Islamic literature].


Sivaram
Bobby, Sivaram, Talitha, & KumKum

Sivaram read out a passage describing the serenity and air of sanctity surrounding a convent, and the perfume of flowers in the garden there, a testament to the Blessed Virgin. It's the vivid description of a church on the hillside that he liked. The Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) is associated with the scent of benjamin, a corruption of benzoin, the resin which is a common ingredient in incense-making and perfumery; it is exuded by a tree called Styrax benzoin in the forests of Sumatra.

Talitha spoke of a contrast between two world-views in the book. The boss is writing about Buddhism, and in that system of beliefs there is a veil of illusion over the world that that makes a person believe in the reality of things that are not so. Zorba is pulling back the boss from such a view. Talitha claims that in Christian philosophy the tangible world is very real, but transitory. However, St Paul in a trope that has passed into the English language, says in I Corinthians 13:
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face

Sivaram sensed a Christian outlook pervading the book, in spite of the fact Zorba is a cultural Christian only, not a pious one, as Joe pointed out. Piety, in any case, would be contrary to his rebellious approach to the world. Sivaram used the term 'revolutionary Christian' for Zorba.


Bobby
Being a student of philosophy in his days, it was not surprising that Bobbby chose a passage that can pass as philosophy for the questions it asks, and as folk philosophy for the answers it yields from the mouth of Zorba. “Why do people die,” is the central question, to which the boss answers:
'I don't know, Zorba'

The conversation continues:
'Well, all those damned books you read - what good are they? Why do you read them? If they don't tell you that, what do they tell you?'
'They tell me about the perplexity of mankind, who can give no answer to the question you've just put me, Zorba.'
'Oh, damn their perplexity!' he cried, tapping his foot on the ground in exasperation.

From this Sivaram opined that Zorba was scared of death (count this blogger in that lot!) But Joe said the death scene of Zorba at the end of the book bespeaks a man who, so far from being afraid of death, rebelled against it to the end:
But he brushed us all roughly aside, jumped out of bed and went to the window. There, he gripped the frame, looked out far into the mountains, opened wide his eyes and began to laugh, then to whinny like a horse. It was thus, standing, with his nails dug into the window-frame, that death came to him.

Should we rather say Zorba laughed in the face of death, an enemy he knew couldn't be bested?


Mathew
Mathew follows another reader's passage

The passage deals with Zorba acquiring an experience, brutal though it is, that forces him to conclude there is no difference among the peoples of the world. He arrives at a universal pity for humans:
They can be Greeks or Bulgars or Turks, it doesn't matter. Is he good? Or is he bad? That's the only thing I ask nowadays. And as I grow older - I'd swear this on the last crust I eat - I feel I shan't even go on asking that! Whether a man's good or bad, I'm sorry for him, for all of 'em. The sight of a man just rends my insides, even if I act as though I don't care a damn! There he is, poor devil, I think, he also eats and drinks and makes love and is frightened, whoever he is: he has his God and his devil just the same, and he'll peg out and lie as stiff as a board beneath the ground and be food for worms, just the same. Poor devil! We're all brothers! All worm-meat!

The conversation with the boss ends on this note:
Your honoured self, boss, keeps teasing me and saying I'm too fond of the women. Why shouldn't I be fond of 'em, when they're all weak creatures who don't know what they're doing and surrender on the spot if you just catch hold of their breasts …

Joe exclaimed laughing that Zorba has a practical solution for every problem. Mathew said this reminded him of Haryanvi Jats in rural India. They have the practice of employing a 'saand' who takes care of the women who do not conceive because their husbands are infertile; the saand services them. KumKum mentioned that with the falling female population in Haryana, the saand species may be an endangered one. Mathew knows the workings of this tribal society and said that when a saand grew old and couldn't do it any more he was taken out and stoned. 

Readers mentioned similar practices in other parts of India (Bengal, where it was generally a purohit who came through; in Kerala among Nair women who have a relationship with Namboodiris; in Maharashtra, etc). It solves a lot of problems in society, since the husband is never considered to be at fault in traditional society, someone said. But mostly the practice is obsolete.

KumKum referred to the film Eklavya, where Amitabh Bachchan is a trusted royal guard who fathers the son of the queen, played by Sharmila Tagore.


Joe
ZTG is a novel about a larger-than-life-figure, a man of a hundred occupations who’s lived scores of lives and has evolved a philosophy that justifies his living from day to day, immersed in the present. He drinks hard, womanises, and is alternately teacher and foreman to his boss, whom he loves. 

His chief principle is not to let down a woman who seeks love, no matter how ephemeral the experience. This suits him too, for he is not one to lay down roots and earn his livelihood in one place. He travels the world and engages people, and those experiences are his teachers. 

It is difficult to associate him with the barbarism of setting fire to a village of Bulgarians, after being saved by a woman who gives him shelter in her house and her thighs. What he gains from that experience is the vanity of nations fighting nations over pieces of land or abstract ideas. 

He is saturated with religion, but not of the conventional kind. He detests priests and considers it ill-luck to pass one on the street first thing in the morning. But heaven and demons and hell confront him every day.

It is instructive to record some frequencies of word use in the novel:
Women
‘women’ – 125
‘woman’ – 175
‘widow’ – 87
'breast' – There are 56 occurrences of ‘breast’ mostly referring to a woman’s breast with adjectives like firm, flabby, pointed, gleaming, wilted, huge, young, swelling, etc.

Life
‘wine’ – 87
‘bread’ – 37
‘meat – 33
dance – 69

The Next World 

'God'  234
‘Virgin’ – 66 
‘hell’ – 36
‘heaven’ – 27
‘devil’ – 109
‘demon’ – 14
‘paradise’ – 36
‘soul’ – 100
‘body’ – 76
‘death’ – 44

The boss is a bookworm, forever writing entries in his journal in search of the elusive Buddhahood. The hiring of Zorba to exploit a lignite mine he’s inherited is only an excuse to spend time in Crete, accompanied by a strange man who is his protector and guide. 


Irene Papas, the widow, comforts the boss

It is under his tutelage that the boss overcomes his shyness and beds the widow, who is later killed in a mad scene reminiscent of Khap panchayats in India. The village turns on her for revenge because a young fellow who fancied her was told to go and wipe his nose; and he commits suicide from despair.

The activities of lignite mining and logging for timber, turn out to be hare-brained schemes. They go amiss after much calculation , planning, digging, and fixing posts with cables and pulleys. But the misadventure leaves boss and foreman equally unfazed, as if the universe has just taught them another lesson for life; what, after all, is a loss of capital when they have feasted so well every day, drunk raki to the fill, seen the tender sight of the Aegean sea from their hut, romanced Bouboulina, rescued a caged parrot that cries ‘Canavaro’, and felt the great love of one man for another.

Zorba dies as he lived, rebelling against God and death.

KumKum referred to the simile in the passage read by Joe where Zorba remarks on the oscillation of a woman's cheeks as she walks:
I couldn't keep my eyes off her! You should've seen her buttocks swinging like church-bells at Easter!

It seems she came across an e-mail exchange between Joe and his old pals where they were sampling the best descriptions they had read. One of his friends quoted Ogden Nash:
Sure, deck your limbs in pants;
Yours are the limbs, my sweeting.
You look divine as you advance 
Have you seen yourself retreating?

For yet another simile, this time for the retreating rump of Marilyn Monroe,  check this film clip from Some Like It Hot

One day Joe, drunk on this novel, approached KumKum exclaiming softly, 'Bouboulina, Bouboulina!', stretching out the last two syllables of the pet name in sing-song fashion. But he was shooed away – the play didn't make her day.

Gopa
Gopa reading from the final pages of the novel

A true novel, if it goes on long enough, must end in death. And such was the final scene of the book which Gopa chose, an affecting passage that narrates the manner of Zorba's death in Skopje, watched and mourned by his wife, Lyuba:

he brushed us all roughly aside, jumped out of bed and went to the window. There, he gripped the frame, looked out far into the mountains, opened wide his eyes and began to laugh, then to whinny like a horse. It was thus, standing, with his nails dug into the window-frame, that death came to him.

Till the end Zorba willed to live, mustering his waning force, knowing death couldn't be denied at the last. The epitaph engraved on the tombstone of Kazantzakis' grave in Heraklion, Crete, echoes Zorba's philosophy:

Δεν ελπίζω τίποτε. Δεν φοβούμαι τίποτε. Είμαι λεύτερος
(Den elpizo tipota. Den fovumai tipota. Eimai eleftheros)
I Expect Nothing, I Fear Nothing, I Am Free

What is noteworthy is that the first reading by Thommo (The Dance Scene) and the last reading by Gopa (The Death Scene) are separated by only a dozen pages in the final chapter of the novel.



The Readings


Thommo Zorba teaches the boss to dance
'Come on, Zorba,' I cried, 'teach me to dance!'
Zorba leaped to his feet, his face sparkling.
To dance, boss? To dance? Fine! Come on!'
'Off we go, then, Zorba! My life has changed! Let's have it!'
To start with I'll teach you the zeimbekiko. It's a wild, military dance; we always danced it when I was a comitadji, before going into battle.'
He took off his shoes and purple socks and kept on only his shirt. But he was still too hot and removed that as well.
'Watch my feet, boss,' he enjoined me. 'Watch!'
He put out his foot, touched the ground lightly with his toes, then pointed the other foot; the steps were mingled violently, joyously, the ground reverberated like a drum. He shook me by the shoulder.
'Now then, my boy,' he said. 'Both together!'
We threw ourselves into the dance. Zorba instructed me, corrected me gravely, patiently, and with great gentleness. I grew bold and felt my heart on the wing like a bird.
'Bravo! You're a wonder!' cried Zorba, clapping his hands to mark the beat. 'Bravo, youngster! To hell with paper and ink! To hell with goods and profits! To hell with mines and workmen and monasteries! And now that you, my boy, can dance as well and have learnt my language, what shan't we be able to tell each other!' He pounded on the pebbles with his bare feet and clapped his hands.
'Boss,' he said, 'I've dozens of things to say to you. I've never loved anyone as much before. I've hundreds of things to say, but my tongue just can't manage them. So I'll dance them for you! Here goes!'
He leaped into the air and his feet and arms seemed to sprout wings. As he threw himself straight in the air against that background of sea and sky, he looked like an old archangel in rebellion. For Zorba's dance was full of defiance and obstinacy. He seemed to be shouting to the sky: 'What can you do to me, Almighty? You can do nothing to me except kill me. Well, kill me, I don't care! I've vented my spleen, I've said all I want to say; I've had time to dance ... and I don't need you any more!'
Watching Zorba dance, I understood for the first time the fantastic efforts of man to overcome his weight. I admired Zorba's endurance, his agility and proud bearing. His clever and impetuous steps were writing on the sand the demoniac history of mankind.
He stopped, contemplated the shattered cable line and its series of heaps. The sun was declining, shadows were growing longer. Zorba turned to me and with a gesture common to him, covered his mouth with his palm.
'I say, boss/ he said, 'did you see the showers of sparks the thing threw out?'
We burst out laughing.
Zorba threw himself on me, embraced and kissed me.
'Does it make you laugh, too?' he said tenderly. 'Are you laughing, too? Eh, boss? Good!'
Rocking with laughter, we wrestled playfully with one another for some rime. Then, falling to the ground, we stretched out on the pebbles and fell asleep in one another's arms.

Priya
(1) Zorba romances Dame Hortense on New Year's Day
Our good lady had cooked a sucking-pig for us in the oven and was waiting for us on her doorstep.
She had put a canary-yellow ribbon round her neck once more, and, to see her like that - heavily powdered, lips plastered with a thick layer of crimson - was enough to dismay any one. Was she, in fact, a ship's figurehead? As soon as she caught sight of us her whole flesh seemed to be gladdened and set in motion, her small eyes danced naughtily in her head and came to rest fixed on Zorba's curled-up moustache. As soon as the outer door had closed behind us, Zorba took her by the waist. 'Happy New Year, my Bouboulina!' he said. 'Look what I've brought you!' And he kissed her plump and wrinkled neck.
The old siren was tickled for a moment, but did not lose her head. Her eyes were clamped on the present. She seized it, undid the golden string, looked inside and uttered a cry of joy.
I leaned forward to see what it was: on a thick piece of cardboard that rascal Zorba had drawn in four colours - red, gold, grey and black - four huge battleships, decked with flags, sailing on an indigo-blue sea. In front of the battleships, floating on the waves, all naked and white, with hair flowing, breasts in the air, and a spiral fish-tail, was a siren -Dame Hortense, complete with yellow ribbon round her neck! She was holding four strings and pulling behind her the four battleships flying the flags of England, Russia, France and Italy. In each corner of the picture hung a beard, one fair, one red, one grey, and one black.
The old singer understood immediately.
'Me!' she said, pointing proudly to the siren.
She sighed. 'Ah! I used to be a Great Power, too, once upon a time!'
She moved a small round mirror from over her bed, near to the parrot's cage, and, in its place, hung Zorba's picture. Beneath her thick make-up she must have gone pale. Zorba, meanwhile, had slipped into the kitchen. He was hungry. He brought in the dish with the sucking-pig, placed a bottle of wine on the table in front of him and filled three glasses.
'Come! Eat, eat!' he cried, clapping his hands together. 'Let's begin with the foundation - the belly. After that, my sweet, we'll take care of what's below!'
But the atmosphere was troubled by the old siren's sighs. Each New Year, she, too, had a little Doomsday of her own ... she looked back on her life, weighed it up and found it wanting. Beneath this old woman's thinning hair, big cities, men, silk dresses, bottles of champagne and scented beards rose from the graves of her memory on all solemn occasions.
T've no appetite,' she murmured coyly. 'None at all ... none at all...'
She kneeled down before the brazier and poked the hot coals. Her flabby cheeks reflected the light of the fire. A lock of hair slipped from her brow and was singed by a flame. The nauseating smell of burnt hair permeated the room.
'I won't eat... I won't eat... ' she muttered once more, seeing we were taking no notice of her at all.
Zorba clenched his fists impatiently. He remained for a moment undecided. He could let her mutter to herself as much as she chose, while we got on with the roast pig - or he could throw himself on his knees, take her in his arms and calm her down with kind words. I watched his tanned face and saw, passing over his mobile features, waves of contradictory impulses.
Suddenly his expression set. He had come to a decision. He knelt beside her and seized the siren's knees.
'If you don't eat, my little charmer,' he said in heartrending tones, 'it's the end of everything. Have pity on the poor pig, my lovely, and eat this sweet, little trotter!' And he pushed into her mouth the crackling trotter covered with butter.
He took her in his arms, raised her from the ground, and placed her gently on her chair between the two of us.
'Eat,' he said, 'eat, my treasure, so that Saint Basil will come to our village! If you don't, you know, he won't come to us! He'll go back to his own country, to Caesarea. He'll pick up the ink-horn and paper, the Twelfth Cake, the New Year gifts, the children's toys, even this little sucking-pig, and away with them all! So open your little mouth my Bouboulina and eat!'
He put out two fingers and tickled her under the arm. The old siren clucked with pleasure, wiped her small, reddened eyes and started busily to chew over the crackly trotter ...
Just at that moment two amorous cats began to howl on the roof over our heads. They howled in an indescribable tone of hatred, their voices rising and falling, threateningly. Suddenly we heard them scrambling wildly on the roof tearing one another to pieces ...
'Miaow ... miaow ... ' said Zorba, winking at the old siren.
She smiled and pressed his hand under the table. Her throat relaxed and she began to eat with appetite.
The sun moved round, came in through the small window and shone on the good lady's feet. The bottle was empty, Zorba had twisted up his moustaches like those of a wild cat and moved closer to the 'female of the species'. Dame Hortense, huddled up, her head sunk into her shoulders, shuddered as she felt his warm, vinous breath on her.
'Now, what's this other mystery, boss?' said Zorba, looking round at me. 'Everything goes backwards with me. When I was a kid, so it seems, I looked like a little old man. I was dense, didn't talk much but had a big fellow's voice. They say I was like my grandad! But the older I grew, the more harum-scarum I became. I began doing wild things when I was twenty. Oh, nothing special, just the same as other fellows at that age. When I was forty I began to feel really young and went off on the maddest escapades. And now I'm over sixty - sixty-five, boss, but keep that dark -well, now I'm over sixty, how can I explain? Honestly, the world's grown too small for me!'

(2) Grandad tells Zorba why to keep his hands off women
'May God sanctify my grandad's bones!' he said. 'He knew a thing or two about women. He liked them a lot, poor wretch, and they led him a regular dance in his lifetime. 'By all the good things I wish you, Alexis, my boy,' he'd say, "beware of women! When God took Adam's rib out to create woman - curse that minute! - the devil turned into a serpent, and pff! he snatched the rib and ran off with it ... God dashed after him and caught him, but he slipped out of his fingers and God was left with just the devil's horns in his hands. "A good housekeeper," said God, "can sew even with a spoon. Well, I'll create woman with the devil's horns!" And he did; and that's how the devil got us all, Alexis my boy. No matter where you touch a woman, you touch the devil's horns. Beware of her, my boy! She also stole the apples in the garden of Eden; she shoved them down her bodice, and now she goes out and about, strutting all over the place. A plague on her! Eat any of those apples and you're lost; don't eat any and you'll still be lost! What advice can I give you, then, my boy? Do as you please!' That's what my old grandad said to me. But how could you expect me to grow up sensible? I went the same way as he did -1 went to the devil!'


KumKum
Miscellaneous Poetic Passages
Page 16
The sea, autumn mildness, islands bathed in light, fine rain spreading a diaphanous veil over the immortal nakedness of Greece. Happy is the man, I thought, who, before dying, has the good fortune to sail the Aegean Sea.
Many are the joys of this world - women, fruit, ideas. But to cleave that sea in the gentle autumnal season, murmuring the name of each islet, is to my mind the joy most apt to transport the heart of man into paradise. Nowhere else can one pass so easily and serenely from reality to dream. The frontiers dwindle, and from the masts of the most ancient ships spring branches and fruits. It is as if here in Greece necessity is the mother of miracles.
Towards noon the rain stopped. The sun parted the clouds and appeared gentle, tender, washed and fresh, and it caressed with its rays the beloved waters and lands. I stood at the prow and let myself be intoxicated with the miracle which was revealed as far as the eye could see.

Page 31 It was Sunday, the workmen were to come on Monday from neighbouring villages and begin work at the mine, so I had time this day to take a turn round the shores on which fate had cast me. Dawn was hardly peeping through when I started out. I went past the gardens, followed the edge of the sea, hurriedly made my acquaintance with the water, earth and air of the spot, picked wild plants, and the palms of my hands became redolent with savory, sage and mint.
I climbed a hill and looked round. An austere countryside of granite and very hard limestone. Dark carob and silvery olive trees, figs and vines. In the sheltered hollows, orange groves, lemon and medlar trees; near the shore, kitchen gardens. To the south, an expanse of sea, still angry and roaring as it came rushing from Africa to bite into the coast of Crete. Nearby, a low, sandy islet flushing rosy pink under the first rays of the sun.
To my mind, this Cretan countryside resembled good prose, carefully ordered, sober, free from superfluous ornament, powerful and restrained. It expressed all that was necessary with the greatest economy. It had no flippancy, nor artifice about it. It said what it had to say with a manly austerity. But between the severe lines one could discern an unexpected sensitiveness and tenderness; in the sheltered hollows the lemon and orange trees perfumed the air, and from the vastness of the sea emanated an inexhaustible poetry.
'Crete,' I murmured. 'Crete ...' and my heart beat fast.
I came down from the little hill to the edge of the water. Chattering girls appeared with fichus as white as snow, long yellow boots, and skirts rucked up; they were going to mass in the convent over there, gleaming a dazzling white by the sea.

Page 65 It was raining softly, silently. Zorba, before leaving, had lit the brazier, and I spent the whole morning coiled up in front of the fire, with my hands over it, eating nothing, motionless, just listening to the first rain of the season, softly falling.
I was thinking of nothing. Rolled up in a ball, like a mole in damp soil, my brain was resting. I could hear the slight movements, murmurings and nibblings of the earth, and the rain falling and the seeds swelling. I could feel the sky and the earth copulating as in primitive times when they mated like a man and woman and had children. I could hear the sea before me, all along the shore, roaring like a wild beast and lapping with its tongue to slake its thirst.
I was happy, I knew that. While experiencing happiness, we have difficulty in being conscious of it. Only when the happiness is past and we look back on it do we suddenly realise - sometimes with astonishment - how happy we had been. But on this Cretan coast I was experiencing happiness and knew I was happy.
That immense thirsting, dark-blue sea extended right to the shores of Africa. A very hot south wind often blew, the Livas, which comes from the distant burning sands. In the morning the sea gave off a scent like that of a water-melon; at noon it was covered with haze and still, its slight undulations being like immature breasts; in the evening it sighed and was the colour of the rose, of the aubergine, of wine, a deep blue.
In the afternoon I amused myself by filling my hand with fine light-coloured sand and letting it run, hot and soft, through my fingers. The hand - an hour-glass through which our life runs away and is lost. It was losing itself. I looked at the sea, heard Zorba, and felt my temples bursting with happiness.


Talitha Zorba lets on about the one sin God won't forgive
When we had eaten he would run off to the village. A little later he would return scowling.
'Where have you been again, Zorba?' I would ask him.
'Never you mind, boss' he would say, and change the subject.
When he returned one evening, he asked me anxiously:
'Is there a God - yes or no? What d'you think, boss? And if there is one - anything's possible - what d'you think he looks like?'
I shrugged my shoulders.
'I'm not joking, boss. I think of God as being exactly like me. Only bigger, stronger, crazier. And immortal, into the bargain. He's sitting on a pile of soft sheep-skins and his hut's the sky. It isn't made out of old petrol-cans, like ours is, but clouds. In his right hand he's holding not a knife or a pair of scales - those damned instruments are meant for butchers and grocers - no, he's holding a large sponge full of water, like a rain-cloud. On his right is Paradise, on his left Hell. Here comes a soul; the poor little thing's quite naked, because it's lost its cloak - it's body, I mean - and it's shivering. God looks at it, laughing up his sleeve, but he plays the bogey man: "Come here," he roars, "come here, you miserable wretch!"
"And he begins his questioning. The naked soul throws itself at God's feet. "Mercy!" it cries. "I have sinned." And away it goes reciting its sins. It recites a whole rigmarole and there's no end to it. God thinks this is too much of a good thing. He yawns. "For heaven's sake stop!" he shouts. "I've heard enough of all that!" Flap! Slap! a wipe of the sponge, and he washes out all the sins, "Away with you, clear out, run off to Paradise!" he says to the soul. "Peterkin, let this poor little creature in, too!" 'Because God, you know, is a great lord, and that's what being a lord means: to forgive!'
I remember I had to laugh that evening, while Zorba was pouring out his profound balderdash. But this 'lordliness' of God was taking shape and maturing within me, compassionate, generous and all-powerful.
Another evening, when it was raining, and we were crouched over the brazier in the hut roasting chestnuts, Zorba turned round to me and looked at me a long while as if he were trying to unravel some great mystery. Finally, unable to contain himself any longer, he said:
'Boss, I'd like to know what the devil you can see in me; why you don't take me by the ear and pitch me out? I told you they called me Mildew, because everywhere I go I never leave one stone on another ... Your affairs will go to rack and ruin. Throw me out, I tell you!'
T like you,' I replied. 'Leave it at that.'
'But don't you realise, boss, that my brain's not the correct weight? Maybe it's a little over-weight, maybe a little under, but the correct weight it certainly isn't! Look now, here's something you'll understand: I haven't been able to rest for days and nights because of that widow. No, I don't mean on my account; no, I swear that's not the case. The devil take her, that's what I say. I'll never touch her, that's one sure thing. I'm not her cup of tea ... But I don't want her to be lost for everybody. I don't want her to sleep alone. 

Irene Papas as The Widow from Zorba The Greek

It wouldn't be right, boss; I can't bear that thought. So I wander at night round her garden - that's why you see me disappear and you ask me where I'm going. But d'you know why? To see if someone is going to sleep with her; then I can be easy in my mind.'
I started laughing.
'Don't laugh, boss! If a woman sleeps all alone, it's the fault of us men. We'll all have to render our accounts on the day of the last judgment. God will forgive all sins, as we've said before - he'll have his sponge ready. But that sin he will not forgive. Woe betide the man who could sleep with a woman and who did not do so! Woe betide the woman who could sleep with a man and who did not do so! Remember the words of the hodja. [Nasreddin Hodja, the legendary wit and trickster of Islamic literature.]


Sivaram The odour of sanctity in a convent on the hillside
At the edge of the sea, wedged between two great rocks, was the white, sparkling convent. In the middle the chapel dome, freshly whitewashed, small and round like a woman's breast. About the chapel were half a dozen cells with blue doors, three large cypress trees in the courtyard, and along the wall some sturdy prickly pears in flower. We went faster. Melodious chanting floated down from the open door of the sanctuary, the salt air was perfumed with benjamin. The entrance door in the middle of the arch stood wide open and gave on to the clean, scented courtyard strewn with black and white pebbles. Along the walls, to the right and to the left, were rows of pots, with rosemary, marjoram and basil.
What serenity! What sweetness! The sun was going down now and the whitewashed walls were turning pink. The little chapel, warm and rather dark inside, smelled of wax. Men and women were moving in clouds of incense, and five or six nuns, tightly wrapped in their long black dresses, were singing: 'O, Almighty God ...' in their sweet, high-pitched voices. They were constantly kneeling as they sang and the rustling of their dresses sounded like birds on the wing.
I had not heard hymns sung to the Virgin Mary for many years past. During the revolt of my early youth I had passed by every church with anger and contempt in my heart. As time went on I grew less violent. Now and again, in fact, I went to religious festivals - Christmas, the Vigils, the Resurrection - and I was happy to see the child in me come to life again. The mystic fervour of my early years had degenerated into an aesthetic pleasure. Savages believe that when a musical instrument is no longer used for religious rites it loses its divine power and begins to give out harmonious sounds. Religion, in the same way, had become degraded in me: it had become art. I went into a corner, leaned on the gleaming stall that the hands of the faithful had polished as smooth as ivory, and listened in enchantment as the Byzantine hymns came from the distant past: 'Hall! heights inaccessible to the human mind! Hail! depths impenetrable even to the eyes of angels! Hail! immaculate bride, O never-fading Rose ...'
The nuns once more dropped on their knees with head bowed, and their dresses rustled like wings.
Minutes went by - angels with benjamin-scented wings, bearing closed lilies in their hands and singing the beauties of Mary. The sun went down, leaving us in a downy blue twilight. I do not remember how we came to be in the courtyard, but I was alone there with the old Mother Superior and two young nuns, beneath the largest of the cypress trees. A young novice came out to offer me a spoonful of jam, fresh water and coffee, and a peaceful conversation began.
We talked of the miracles wrought by the Virgin Mary, of lignite, of the hens beginning to lay now that it was spring, of sister Eudoxia who was epileptic and continually falling down on the floor of the chapel and quivering like a fish, foaming at the mouth and tearing her clothes.
'She is thirty-five, added the Mother Superior with a sigh. 'An unhappy age - very difficult! May the Holy Martyred Virgin come to her aid and cure her! In ten or fifteen years she will be cured.'
Ten or fifteen years,' I murmured, aghast.
'What are ten or fifteen years?' asked the Mother Superior severely. 'Think of eternity!'
I made no answer. I knew that eternity is each minute that passes. I kissed the Mother Superior's hand - a plump, white hand, smelling of incense - and departed.


Bobby – The perplexity of humans: why do people die?
'Are you hungry, boss?' he asked.
'No, I'm not hungry, Zorba.'
'Are you sleepy?'
'No.'
'Neither am I. Shall we sit down on the pebbles for a bit? I've got something to ask you.'
We were both tired, but neither of us wanted to sleep. We were unwilling to lose the bitterness of those last few hours, and sleep seemed to us like running away in the hour of danger. We were ashamed of going to bed.
We sat down by the sea. Zorba put the cage between his knees and remained silent for a time. A disturbing constellation appeared in the sky from behind the mountain, a monster with countless eyes and a spiral tail. From time to time a star detached itself and fell away.
Zorba looked at the sky with open mouth in a sort of ecstasy, as though he were seeing it for the first time.
'What can be happening up there?' he murmured.
A moment later he decided to speak.
'Can you tell me, boss' he said, and his voice sounded deep and earnest in the warm night, 'what all these things mean? Who made them all? And why? And, above all' - here Zorba's voice trembled with anger and fear - 'why do people die?'
'I don't know, Zorba,' I replied, ashamed, as if I had been asked the simplest thing, the most essential thing, and was unable to explain it.
'You don't know!' said Zorba in round-eyed astonishment, just like his expression the night I had confessed I could not dance.
He was silent a moment and then suddenly broke out.
'Well, all those damned books you read - what good are they? Why do you read them? If they don't tell you that, what do they tell you?'
'They tell me about the perplexity of mankind, who can give no answer to the question you've just put me, Zorba.'
'Oh, damn their perplexity!' he cried, tapping his foot on the ground in exasperation.


Mathew – All men are brothers; there's no difference among different peoples
'And I cleared out. I left the village, opened my shirt, seized the Saint Sophia I had embroidered and tore it to shreds, threw it away and ran for all I was worth.'And I'm still running
Zorba leaned against the wall, and turned towards me.
"That was how I was rescued,' he said.
'Rescued from your country?'
'Yes, from my country,' he said in a firm, calm voice. Then after a moment:'Rescued from my country, from priests, and from money. I began sifting things, sifting more and more things out. I lighten my burden that way. I - how shall I put it? -I find my own deliverance, I become a man.'
Zorba's eyes glowed, his large mouth laughed contentedly.
After staying silent a moment or two he started off again. His heart was overflowing, he couldn't control it.
'There was a time when I used to say: that man's a Turk, or a Bulgar, or a Greek. I've done things for my country that would make your hair stand on end, boss. I've cut people's throats, burned villages, robbed and raped women, wiped out entire families. Why? Because they were Bulgars, or Turks. "Bah! To hell with you, you swine!" I say to myself sometimes. "To hell with you right away, you ass." Nowadays I say this man is a good fellow, that one's a bastard. They can be Greeks or Bulgars or Turks, it doesn't matter. Is he good? Or is he bad? That's the only thing I ask nowadays. And as I grow older - I'd swear this on the last crust I eat -1 feel I shan't even go on asking that! Whether a man's good or bad, I'm sorry for him, for all of 'em. The sight of a man just rends my insides, even if I act as though I don't care a damn! There he is, poor devil, I think, he also eats and drinks and makes love and is frightened, whoever he is: he has his God and his devil just the same, and he'll peg out and lie as stiff as a board beneath the ground and be food for worms, just the same. Poor devil! We're all brothers! All worm-meat!
'And if it's a woman... Ah! then I just want to cry my eyes out! Your honoured self, boss, keeps teasing me and saying I'm too fond of the women. Why shouldn't I be fond of 'em, when they're all weak creatures who don't know what they're doing and surrender on the spot if you just catch hold of their breasts ...


Joe Zorba chases Sophinka and drinks from her spring.
'Well, I was going round the market when I saw a young peasant woman jumping down from her cart - a six-foot hussy with eyes as blue as the sea and such thighs and buttocks -1 tell you, a real brood mare!... I stopped dead in my tracks. "Poor Zorba, oh, my poor bloody Zorba!' I said.
'I started to follow her and look ... I couldn't keep my eyes off her! You should've seen her buttocks swinging like church-bells at Easter! "Why go looking for mines, you poor mutt?" I said to myself. "Why waste precious time there, you damned weather-cock? Here's the mine for you: get in it and open up the galleries!"
"The girl stopped, started to bargain, bought a load of wood, lifted it up - Jesus, what arms! - and threw it into her cart! She bought some bread and five or six smoked fish. "How much is that?" she asked. "So much ..." She took off her golden earrings to pay. As she'd no money, she was going to give her earrings. My heart leapt into my mouth. Me, let a woman give away her earrings, her trinkets, her scented cakes of soap, her little bottles of lavender-water? ... If she gives away all that, it's all up with the world! It's as if you plucked a peacock's feathers. Would you have the heart to pluck a peacock? Never! No, as long as Zorba lives, I said to myself, that won't happen. I opened my purse and I paid. It was the time when roubles had become bits of paper. With a hundred drachmas you could buy a mule, with ten a woman.
'So I paid. The wench turned round and took a look at me out of the corner of her eyes. She took my hand to kiss it. But I pulled my hand away. What did she take me for? An old man? "Spassiba! Spassiba!" she cried - that means: "Thanks! Thanks!" And away she leaped into her cart. She took the reins and raised her whip. "Zorba," I said to myself, "look out, my friend, she's going to slip through your fingers!" In one bound, I was at her side in the cart. She said nothing. She didn't even look round. A crack of the whip and off we went.
'On the way, she came to realise I wanted her to be mine. I could muster three words of Russian, but in these affairs there's no need to say much. We spoke to each other with our eyes, our hands, our knees. No need to beat about the bush. We arrived in the village and stopped in front of her isba. We got down. The girl thrust open the yard gate with her shoulder and we went in. We unloaded the wood in the yard, took the fish and bread and entered the room. A little old woman was sitting by the empty hearth. She was shivering. She was wrapped in sacks, rags, and sheepskins, but she was shivering. It was so cold, I tell you, your fingernails fairly fell out. I bent down, put an armful of wood in the fireplace and lit the fire. The little old woman looked at me and smiled. Her daughter had said something to her, but I hadn't understood. I made the fire go; the old woman warmed herself by it and recovered a little.
'Meanwhile, the girl was laying the table. She brought out some vodka; we drank it. She lit the samovar and made some tea. We ate and gave her share to the old woman. Then she quickly made the bed with clean sheets, lit the Holy Virgin's icon lamp and crossed herself three times. Then she signed to me; we knelt together in front of the old woman and kissed her hand. The old woman put her bony hands on our heads and muttered something. Probably her blessing on us. 'Spassiba! Spassiba!' I cried, and in one bound, there I was in bed with the wench!'
Zorba became silent. He raised his head and gazed into the distance over the sea. 'Her name was Sophinka ... ' he said after a while, and became silent again. 'Well?' I asked impatiently. 'Well?'
There's no well! What a mania you've got, boss, with your "wells" and "wherefores"! Now, does one talk about those things? Woman is a fresh spring. You lean over her, you see your reflection and you drink; you drink until your bones crack. Then there's another who comes, and he's thirsty, too; he bends over her, he sees his reflection and he drinks. Then a third ... A fresh spring, that's what she is, and she's a woman, too ...'
'Did you leave her after that?'
'What d'you expect? She's a spring, I told you, and I'm a passer-by. I went back on the road. I'd stayed three months with her. God protect her, I've nothing to say against her! But after three months I remembered I was looking for a mine. "Sophinka," I said to her one morning, "I've got some work to do. I must go." "Well," Sophinka said, "go along. I'll wait one month. If you're not back in one month's time, I'll be free. So will you. God bless you!" I went.'


Gopa – The death of Zorba, defiant and free to the end
One night I was alone in my house by the sea on the island of Aegina. I was happy. My window was open on to the sea, the moon came streaming in, the sea was sighing with happiness, too. My body was voluptuously weary with too much swimming and I was sleeping profoundly.
Suddenly, just before dawn, in the midst of all that happiness, Zorba appeared in my dream. I cannot remember what he said or why he had come. But when I awoke my heart was ready to break. Without my knowing why, my eyes filled with tears. I was filled with an irresistible desire to reconstitute the life we had lived together on the coast of Crete, to drive my memory to work and gather together all the sayings, cries, gestures, tears, and dances which Zorba had scattered in my mind - to save them. This desire was so violent that I was afraid. I saw in it a sign that, somewhere on earth, Zorba was dying. For I felt my soul to be so united with his that it seemed impossible for one of them to die without the other being shaken and crying out with pain.
For a moment I hesitated to group together all my memories of Zorba and put them into words. A childish terror took possession of me. I said to myself: If I do that, it will mean that Zorba is really in danger of dying. I must fight against the mysterious hand which seems to be urging mine to do it.
I resisted for two days, three days, a week. I threw myself into other writing, went out on excursions all day and read a great deal. Such were the stratagems I employed to elude the invisible presence. But my mind was entirely absorbed by a powerful feeling of disquiet on Zorba's behalf.
One day I was seated on the terrace of my house by the sea. It was noon. The sun was very hot and I was gazing at the bare and graceful flanks of Salamis before me. Suddenly, urged on by that divine hand, I took some paper, stretched myself out on the burning flag-stones of the terrace and began to relate the sayings and doings of Zorba.
I wrote impetuously, hastening to bring the past back to life, trying to recall Zorba and resuscitate him exactly as he was. I felt that if he disappeared it would be entirely my fault, and I worked day and night to draw as full a picture as possible of my old friend. I worked like the sorcerers of the savage tribes of Africa when they draw on the walls of their caves the Ancestor they have seen in their dreams, striving to make it as lifelike as possible so that the spirit of the Ancestor can recognise his body and enter into it.
In a few weeks my chronicle of Zorba was complete. On the last day I was again sitting on the terrace in the late afternoon, and gazing at the sea. On my lap was the completely finished manuscript. I was happy and relieved, as though a burden had been lifted from me. I was like a woman holding her new-born baby.
Behind the mountains of the Peloponnesus the red sun was setting as Soula, a little peasant girl who brought me my mail from the town, came up to the terrace. She held a letter out to me and ran away ... I understood. At least, it seemed to me that I understood, because when I opened the letter and read it, I did not leap up and utter a cry, I was not stricken with terror. I was sure. I knew that at this precise moment, while I was holding the manuscript on my lap and watching the setting sun, I would receive that letter.
Calmly, unhurriedly, I read the letter. It was from a village near to Skoplije in Serbia, and was written in indifferent German. I translated it:
'I am the schoolmaster of this village and am writing to inform you of the sad news that Alexis Zorba, owner of a copper mine here, died last Sunday evening at six o'clock. On his deathbed, he called to me.
'"Come here, schoolmaster," he said. "I have a friend in Greece. When I am dead write to him and tell him that right until the very last minute I was in full possession of my senses and was thinking of him. And tell him that whatever I have done, I have no regrets. Tell him I hope he is well and that it's about time he showed a bit of sense. '"Listen, just another minute. If some priest or other comes to take my confession and give me the sacrament, tell him to clear out, quick, and leave me his curse instead! I've done heaps and heaps of things in my life, but I still did not do enough. Men like me ought to live a thousand years. Good night!"
'These were his last words. He then sat up in his bed, threw back the sheets and tried to get up. We ran to prevent him - Lyuba, his wife, and I, along with several sturdy neighbours. But he brushed us all roughly aside, jumped out of bed and went to the window. There, he gripped the frame, looked out far into the mountains, opened wide his eyes and began to laugh, then to whinny like a horse. It was thus, standing, with his nails dug into the window-frame, that death came to him.

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