It is a quiet, sleepy Sunday in inner Leichhardt, down near the park. A couple of half-grown magpies flap around the tall casuarinas, squawking timid imitations of their parents’ lovely calls. Sounds drifting up from the oval hint at the presence of a junior cricket game. A large grey cat lurks under the battered green stationwagon that sits at the bottom of the street, and watches the birds with malevolent eyes.
The green stationwagon is but one member of the collection of sad relics of past automobile eras that sit gently rusting under the drooping mulberry bushes at this most silent end of a quiet enough street. This inelegant graveyard of old vans is the most conspicuous marker of the house belonging to Con Koutsakis, house painter to the masses and dole bludger to everyone else.
This is his modest kingdom, ruled over by a massive and intimidating apricot tree, bordered by jungles of mulberries, figs and basil, surrounded by a splintering handmade deck and lavishly bathed in jet fuel by the streams of 747s lurching overhead. His house sits in the midst of this chaos, dilapidated, smelly, filled with furniture in severe need of peaceful retirement. Its gutter-less and leaky tin roof in storms spews water onto the unfortunate mobs of geraniums which his wife Steffie determinedly herds into deteriorating plastic window boxes nailed inexpertly to the drunkenly leaning paling fence. Out the back is the sagging pergola where he grows the grapes to make his infamous Koutsakis Red, a wine that makes even the most determined alcoholic see the virtues of water.
And this is where, every year, communist Con roasts a goat for a special lunch to celebrate Orthodox Easter. This is a great social occasion for which he and Steffie round up a group of acquaintances and subject them Greek folk songs played from cracked records, the wine, oily olives, and of course the goat, a scraggy beast sizzling and smoking pathetically on its barbecue while exuding a strange and distressing smell. This is where the Koutsakis family and their friends sit on the rotting verandah and discuss politics and life and politics and their son Pericles’ schooling and politics. Of course, the brands of politics extolled and insulted by those at the Koutsakis household is one that is as far from reality as catching tadpoles in a puddle is from overseeing a commercial whaling venture.
Many would find it sad, seeing the proud ideals that the True Left once held so firmly now reduced to being the theme of discussion at this distinctly ramshackle gathering. The left is praised, the right is cursed, the Liberal Party is berated and then the left is praised some more. Then there is the terrible concern that the local council is dominated by Trotskyites, and how Con must be elected and do something about it, as part of his duty as a good Marxist-Leninist.
This year, however, the centre of discussion is the terrible way that the American Imperialists are attacking Our Brothers, the Serbs, and what a shocking thing this is. An impassioned speech is made by Con, while the others nod and mutter defiantly.
The topic then turns to education, and what shocking things the government is doing to it. Children should be told to share all their work, not be competitive! Outrageous! What will they grow up to be?
Pericles, squirming restlessly at the end of the table, knows exactly what he will grow up to be. He has been raised in the finest ideals of socialism by his parents, and has formed a very solid opinion of these ideals. Despite his tender years, the future is clear – if you look closely at him, you can almost see the Porsche and the apartment in Manhattan hovering behind him, a materialistic mirage.
At last the goat is served, now cooked to a state of stringy dryness not helped along by the several kilos of salt lavishly thrown over it by Con. This is accompanied by a salad that seems to be enthusiastic to crush the outmoded stereotype of salads as being fresh and at least relatively safe to eat. It is a large bowl of limp waterlogged old lettuce, lavishly mixed through with mashed avocado and overripe tomatoes.
As the guests begin to poke cautiously at the slightly less suspicious parts of the wobbling grey pieces of animal matter unceremoniously dumped on their plates by Con’s greasy fingers, one may be tempted to ask why a group of wannabe Communists would have a lunch to celebrate Orthodox Easter. If you were to ask the assembled group that question right now, Steffie would probably say defensively something along the lines of:
Well, religion can’t be so bad if it gives us an excuse to eat roast goat, can it?”
The goat’s sentiments on this statement are unrecorded.