Jilliana Ranicar-Breese


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Hercules

Martin and I were in Pythagoria on the island of Samos. Our arrival was an accident as we were in the peak of the tourist season, fleeing the island of Kos filled with blonde Swedes. 

We had hopped on the first boat we could find, a cargo boat I think. Anyhow we landed at the harbour where Pythorogas had come from. Hence the name of the then undiscovered by tourists town. 
I was delighted to find puzzle ceramic pots to resell to my puzzle collector, the Industrialist Edward Hordern. I bought several hand painted pieces which paid for half the trip so I was in Puzzlandia heaven. 
My magical husband Martin Breese always made himself known in every town or village by going into the local bar for an ouzo and performing simple magic tricks for the locals. Word would spread and Martin would be plied with ouzo for the entire holiday while I would learn the basics in Greek like 'look', 'queen of hearts' or 'king of diamonds'. 
Martin would be called the Fakiris on the first evening and everyone would know he was in town! 
One evening we noticed a poster on the seafront railings announcing Hercules, the strongman, would be performing that Saturday night. Being in the magic business, we were unimpressed by such characters and performances. We had seen it all before and imagined a very local amateur. 
We ate dinner and wandered later in the evening to the far end of the harbour where a large crowd of spectators had gathered to watch Hercules. In the end we watched too as it was the end of his show. 
The drums rolled and we saw a very skinny but muscular armed man stripped to the waist. He had straight black long hair down to his waist which was unusual for a man clearly in his seventies. He had an immense wooden barrel strapped to his stomach. I didn't really understand what he was meant to do with it. He was standing in front of his caravans. Obviously his 'home' was the big one but we saw an entourage around him clapping and cheering and knew that he was travelling with his team. 
Suddenly the newsagent, one of Martin's admirers, told Hercules that there was a Fakiris from England in the audience and pointed at an embarrassed Martin. The show was over and Hercules came over to Martin and in perfect fluent English invited him, with me tagging along, into the inner sanctuary of his 'home'. 
We entered another world. It was compact, cozy and in good taste with pictures and trophies on shelves and cabinets. Hercules was from Athens and was obviously an educated man. Right away he tore in half Martin's new pack of cards. Next an entire local Samos telephone directory. We were mesmerised and impressed. But the icing on the cake was a photograph album with Hercules standing in his glory next to King Husain of Jordan at a reception shaking hands. Seeing is believing. We saw and we believed! 
After Martin had performed a few basic tricks and impressed the his host, Hercules then invited us for dinner with his friends. It was rude to refuse even though we had just had dinner. We agreed to have dessert and tea as it was late. Well perhaps 11.00 pm. Late for the English to dine. But when in Rome.... I mean Greece.....
It was at the table that Hercules asked Martin to join his troupe. Echoes of Anthony Quinn and Giulietta Masina in 'La Strada' came to mind. I immediately wanted to say yes and be on the road but Martin had a magic multimedia business to run and had to reject his sincere spontaneous offer. 
That night I was so excited I could not sleep while Martin slept peacefully snoring. Life on the road going to mountain villages on the mainland for two or three months in the summer before returning to Athens where he was based. My imagination ran amok and I was awake fantasising all night. 
I can still see his navy and white photographic postcard with his name written in Greek and personal number. Those were the days before mobiles and emails. It was the 80s and the technological revolution had not begun and infiltrated our lives. 
Years later we revisited Pythagoria to find the newsagent had died and his widow dressed in black and unfriendly. We had difficulty in locating the Captain's house where we had slept and eventually found it further away than we remembered from the seafront, its rooms no longer rented out to tourists. The happy local atmosphere had gone. Tourists were abundant and eateries overpriced. We stayed a few hours and fled. Never to return. No doubt Hercules had departed this life and gone to barrelandia. Never go back. Always go on to a new adventure. A new destination. 
I will never meet another Hercules again but he has, 25 years later, never been forgotten. 
 
Written in December 2015 at Chania Venetian harbour in the 'Crab' restaurant.