While out hunting, Giorgos-the-Hunter shot two hares, a large one and a small one. Wanting to play a trick on his sympetheros (his daughter's father-in-law), Fosis, he cut the legs off both and sewed the legs of the large one onto the small hare, then wrapped the hare loosely in a cloth, and presented the package. Fosis' eyes lit. A juicy hare for the pot! When he opened the package and beheld the puny offering, he realised that, yet again, he was butt of a prank.
He often is. Something about him attracts piss-takes of a very Cypriot kind – harmless, but gut-wrenchingly funny. The following week, Giorgos-the-Mechanic got him. Fosis has two jobs. He has a 'mandra' – a corall, with a large flock of sheep and goats that he farms for meat and milk, and he has a side business supplying tables and chairs to community functions such as baptisms, engagements, and weddings – which often attract thousands of guests. To service this job he had just bought a new truck.
The evening before a function Fosis loaded his new truck to the rails, then went to bed ready to make his delivery the next morning. While he slumbered, Giorgos-the-Mechanic jacked the truck's back axel on to stands so that the back wheels hung a bare inch above the earth – undetectable to any but a keen observer. In the morning, after his farm chores, Fosis leaped into the cab to make his delivery. He turned the key, let out the clutch and released the handbrake. But lo! Instead of rolling gently down the curving cement road, the truck remained stationary, engine rising in pitch as Fosis hit the accelerator. He checked the brake, checked the clutch, switched off. Switched on again. Same story. Only then did he get out to check.
Giorgos-the-Mechanic got his desserts... Winter is pig slaughter season – time for the making of sausages, the curing of lountza, and the creation of other local delights. Fosis had a big male pig to kill, and following its butchering, he took the testicles – large, slippery, and pink – and slipped them under the clutch and accelerator pedals of Giorgos-the-Mechanic's Mercedes.
Fosis enjoys hunting, and Giorgos-the-Mechanic was quick to respond. Going up to help Fosis with some farm work at the mandra one morning, he took with him a small cassette recorder complete with a tape of the sound that a female hare makes when she is in season. At intervals through the morning, Giorgos-the-Mechanic slipped out of the mandra to where he had secreted the casette recorder, and switched on the tape. Fosis, never far from his shotgun would pick it up each time he heard the quiet 'hare call', and rush outside hoping to bag a prize for the pot. “I know it's there!” he shouted, increasingly frustrated as the day wore on. “There must be hundreds of them out there by now, that randy female has been calling every buck in the district! But can I find them?”
Eventually he stumbled upon Giorgos-the-Mechanic, crouched paralysed with laughter over the little machine. Fosis swung the shotgun up: “I'll kill you, you bastard, damn your race! You're always teasing me!” As yet, he has made no response.
Giorgos-the-Hunter told us these tales yesterday when we made a family New Year visit to help them eat the left-over food from the night before's party. My dialect is not good enough to understand everything, but Alex and Best Beloved, their own eyes streaming with tears of laughter, managed a consistent translation.
Giorgos-the-Hunter has been the butt of jokes himself. Perhaps the best was twelve years ago, after he had started building his house on the edge of the land that his father had just informally divided between his three sons. His father, well connected since schooldays with a number of government employees in the Paphos area, had tipped off the official and the surveyor from the Land Survey Office, and when the day came to put in the official boundary markers, they arrived dead-pan and went about their work – Giorgos and his father in attendence.
“There seems to be a problem here, Re Andrea,” the official said to Giorgos's father. He pointed at the plans that he had prepared. “Your son is building part of his house in the neighbour's field.”
There are rarely fences in rural Cyprus. Although meticulous ownership deeds are lodged with the Land Survey Office, many a farmer points to an imaginary line between a clump of carob trees and a rocky outcropping and says: “My field stretches from here to that big olive tree, and then over to the ditch.” Thus had Giorgos and his father scoped out the land where Giorgos had started building, and thus, when the surveyor pointed out landscape features and compared them to the doctored plans, it became apparent that half of Giorgos's new house was indeed in the neighbour's field.
“B-But how can this be?” Giorgos stammered. “What can I do?”
“You'll have to see if Panicos will sell you a strip of the field,” was the answer. “But it will cost a pretty penny.”
“And if he won't sell, you'll have to demolish what's built, pay compensation for the land you've damaged, and move the building back to here,” they paced off a distance. “Which means that you'll lose the nice view you were hoping for on the old spot.”
“I've got to call him,” Giorgos was near panic. “We have to sort something out. I can't knock down the house and start again!”
I don't know how long the three other men were able to keep the joke going before their contained mirth got the better of them, but the joke will stand in the neighbourhood as the best for a long time. Maybe that's why Giorgos is going after Fosis: he has a reputation to restore.