The Poet-Sandalmaker of Athens
A poet, a playwright, and a sandalmaker by trade, Stavros Melissinos is known worldwide for excelling in all three fields.
Stavros began writing while in the army. His friends would want to send letters home to their sweethearts in the form of short poems. Stavros would fix their verse; thus the beginning of a writing career. Since then he has written 5 plays and over 15 books of poetry. The Rubaiyat, at 127 stanzas, written in 1959, is, to this day, studied in major universities throughout the world. And he's quite proud that his play, Chastity Belt, was banned in Greece when it originally was published.
He's made sandals for Sophia Loren, the Beatles, back in the late 60's, and many other swells, including me, some 30 years ago.
I first met Stavros in 1969. I had been in the U.S. Navy and Athens was one of the ports of call. In the shadows of the Acropolis there is a shopping area known as the Plaka where artisans and local merchants sell their wares. I stood in front of the cluttered shop and looked at the sign, The Poet-Sandalmaker of Athens. Once inside, I could tell these were no ordinary sandals, even though they were quite reasonable. There was something about them, perhaps, the poet was putting a piece of his soul into each pair he handmade. And the designs were based on historical footwear. Plato and Aristotle surely wore sandals like these.
Stavros sat me down and measured my feet while we engaged in small talk. He then went to his work station and in a half hour I had the most beautiful pair of sandals, sandals which I wore for 30 years. Many times my friends would say, "where did you get those sandals?" And I would proudly say, "Stavros Melissinos, the Poet-Sandalmaker of Athens, made them for me." Alas, they finally wore out 2 years ago.
I booked a Mediterranean cruise about 6 months ago and one of the ports of call is Athens. And I thought, now, would it, or could it be possible that Stavros is still in business? Or, maybe his son has taken over? No. Times change, people get older, sons become doctors nowadays. Oh well, wishful thinking.
We arrived in Athens and after visiting the Acropolis we headed over to the Plaka. I didn't even remember where his shop was. There are so many streets that it's like a maze. We were strolling down Pandrossou Street, and I said to my travel companion, "I feel something. I feel like I'm zeroing in." And we chuckled. Could the Greek Gods be directing me? I actually did feel something, perhaps deja vu?
Halfway down the next block at number 89 I see it, the sign, "Poet." And there, lo and behold, is the shop of the Poet-Sandalmaker of Athens. And I'm thinking, could it be possible? It can't be; they'll be machine made, the shop run by a relative. Stavros would be 75 by now. I walk in. Absolutely nothing has changed. Customers are milling about. I see an elderly man at the cobbler station and I walk over.
"You made me sandals 32 years ago, and they've worn out."
We chuckled and the other shoppers joined our laughter. After some reminiscing I told him what I wanted, or what I had, and he sat me down and measured my feet.
"Make me two pair, Stavros. I figure they'll last me 60 years." My friend also sat for a fitting.
Stavros went to his cobbler station, and we went to lunch. Two hours later we return and pay him $17.00 for each pair. He does a final fitting to make sure they're just right.
He places the sandals in a bag and instead of a receipt, he gives all of his customers a copy of his latest work, ISIS, and Other Poems.
HOW SMALL! HOW GREAT!
A mixed orchestra in New York, the soloist: Chinese,
Russian composer, all together on the wind's wings
And I, the listener - a Greek, shed tears in Athens
How Small, how Great your world God really is.
A fellow passenger on the ship asks where did I get the new sandals.
I smile and say, "Stavros Melissinos, the Poet-Sandalmaker of Athens made them for me."