Full Moon Over Thessaloniki
When I first arrived in Thessaloniki, Greece, my tiny flat had an even smaller balcony with a spectacular view overlooking the city. My neighbour in the flat next door had been a coal-miner in Belgium, a kind of Gastarbeiter, before he had been invalided out after an industrial accident and retired. He was quiet, and helpful when emergencies took place, and let me use his phone, as my flat didn’t have one, and the mobile was still in its infancy. Another neighbour was a nice family, who always tried to practise their English on me when passing by on the stairs. “Do you come home often?” one of the little girls would say.
The neighbours upstairs, however, were very different. They were hostile and diffident, I had spotted one of them slipping hard-core pornographic photographs under my door, and another of them accused me of dirtying the door at the entrance to the flats. The offending hand marks were at the height and size of a child, and I am quite a tall adult. Worse, the teenage son of the family thought he could play the bouzouki, especially at a late hour. He twanged the strings like a demented harpie, the sound enough to rattle bones if not to raise the dead. He couldn’t sing either; it was atonal at best, a groaning of ghosts and the dying to terrify people of nervous constitution. He murdered the great Greek Rebetika and post-Rebetika composers: Theodarikis was savaged, he slaughtered Tsitsanis, and even managed to make the dulcet sounds of Vamvakaris sound like the hell of loud bleating sheep. His sense of rhythm was poor, and he thumped the ceiling so hard with his feet that the light-bulb in my room shattered. The parents weren’t much better, with their feuding and ‘Greek discussions’, where flying crockery was a weapon rather than a pastime, again going on into late at night.
The block I lived in was built on the slopes of a hill and the roofs of other blocks descended to a plain. If you stood on the balcony of my flat, you could see the roof of the immediate lower block.
Here, all day and every day, prowled two large dogs, who paced round and round, in ever-decreasing circles, or backwards and forwards like the military on a manouevre, and they only had a small airless kennel to protect them from the heat of the sun. The roof was their inhospitable kingdom. The only time they saw the owner was when he came to feed and water them and whenever the owner went away, the dogs barked and barked, as if he would never come back.
One night, a large and heavy full moon rose. It was three in the morning, but the dogs, who had been pacing away most of the night, saw the full moon, stopped their prowl, and stared at it for moment, as if it was some kind of wild beast. First one dog, then the other, then both together, they howled at the moon. On and on, in spooky, bone-rattling harmony, rising and descending, sliding chromatically, they ploughed their way through a canine symphony of lunacy and despair.
It was impossible to sleep. The following morning, (with me listening in) the neighbours in the blocks of flats around had an ad hoc meeting about the Night of the Howling. Noticeably, the family upstairs had chosen not to attend the meeting. After some discussion, it was decided not to ask the owner to take better responsibility for the dogs; he had ignored a few requests before to do so. Bringing in the police would only guarantee a short remission. There was only one threat that they thought would work, though they had absolutely no intention of carrying it out (it was not the dogs’ fault). They would send a message to the owner, politely informing him that they would poison the dogs if he did not take them off the roof.
A messenger who knew the man was dispatched, and, to the considerable relief of the neighbourhood, the dogs disappeared from the roof. The messenger informed everyone that after some quiet discussion, the four-legged friends had been taken to the countryside where they would be well looked after by the owner’s grandmother and two cousins. The owner himself would visit them every weekend until he worked out what to do with them.
Shortly after this incident, the family upstairs also moved, to the joy of the neighbours, who had never appreciated mangled Theodarakis or smashing crockery at any time of day or night.