The Greek House
Swiss painter Christian Brechneff's story – a beguiling mix of genres, from travelogue to art guide – is the next best thing to actually going to a Greek island.
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And, of course, there are the people – treacherous shop owners, fearless taxi drivers, wicked spinsters, jocular widows, world-renowned artists, spoilsport ex-patriots – a full and lively cast of characters. But please, don’t call them charming! (Snake charming maybe.)Skip to next paragraph
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For example, when Brechneff’s neighbor, the spinster Aphrodite and her mother Evangelia with whom he shares a courtyard wall, come over ostensibly to talk about one of the many renovations projects Brechneff has recently completed on his house, it soon becomes obvious that, well: “Then out of the blue, as her mother went on talking, Aphrodite, not so young anymore and never pretty, started to unpin her hair and let it down, shaking it out over her shoulders, a fairly terrifying sight, with her mustache and this long, thick graying hair, a grim, dark-faced wild woman, half Medusa, half Madwoman of Chaillot.”
Brechneff wants to tell it all, and he does, unfortunately, detouring the reader through way too much information (in the slang sense of the phrase) as he splices in maudlin letters to the folks back home and wistful/regretful reminiscences of sexual misadventures that all feel forced. But there is an extraordinary freshness and youthful vitality to this book that transcends even its own flaws by virtue of the main character: the island of Sifnos.
By the end, both Brechneff and his beloved island have grown completely apart. Sifnos, 30 years later, like Brechneff himself, has completely changed. It’s not so much that yachts and tourists and real estate agents have invaded, big time; rather, it’s that the tall blonde, the islanders’, adorable calo pedi Christo, has grown up.
Returning to the island after a long absence, his longtime friend, Apostolos, picks him up at the ferry and is driving him to his house. Realizing Brechneff is alone again, Apostolos says to him: “Christo … you need a wife.” Brechneff describes the moment: “[I]t was like a slap. Not a hard one, but hard enough to bring someone to his senses. Me. Suddenly everything out of the car window looked different ... strange, unfamiliar, foreign. And in a flash I realized that I had no place here, that I was living in someone else’s world. “
He sold the house in 2007, the same year as his civil union to Tim Lovejoy, Brechneff's longtime partner and the co-author of "The Greek House."
If you can’t make it to a Greek Island this summer, "The Greek House" is the next best thing to being there.
Richard Horan is a novelist and nonfiction writer. His most recent book is “Harvest: An Adventure into the Heart of America’s Family Farms.”