Wednesday, 4 March 2015

To bead or not to bead, that is the question

Day by day, the weather here is improving which means you see more people going out for a stroll or βόλτα.

Generally these are single sex groups of Greek people. Why? I don't know, I suppose it's a cultural issue. One thing I notice in the groups of men, particularly if they are slightly older, is that very often some of them will be carrying κομπολόι. What you might call worry beads, although that does seem a slightly trite term for them.

No need to worry when you have these beads.

The  best κομπολόι are things of great beauty. They can be made from a material such as amber and are not cheap. Once the tourist season gets going, inexpensive sets of beads are sold in many shops and probably end up gathering dust in people's home all over the globe.

As an ex-smoker I appreciate the value of keeping your hands occupied. Part of the pleasure I took from smoking was having a variety of items to fiddle with, something I still feel the need to do despite giving up smoking more than two decades ago.

That's where a nice set of κομπολόι could literally come in handy. Skilled practitioners have a variety of methods for counting off the beads, which do not have a religious purpose like rosary beads. I'm sure I'd be quite happily occupied with a set of beads, even though I don't need them to stave off the temptation to light up.

But somewhere in my head there is a niggling doubt about using them if you are a ξένος, a foreigner. I suspect it might be slightly affected to use such things which are so deeply embedded in Greek culture. While some expats seem to be determined to be more Greek than the Greeks, I feel not unlike Popeye who famously uttered: "I am what I am and that's all that I am". In my case, a Brit abroad.

In any case, tucked away in a drawer with all the things that mean little to anyone but me is a set of beads which are arguably infinitely more precious than the finest κομπολόι. These beads were made from modelling clay by my eldest daughter when she was little. None of the beads is the same size or shape, some bear her fingerprints and they are threaded on a tatty piece of red cord, but I love them and that is all that counts.

Songs about beads are hard to come by, but if the purpose of κομπολόι is to help stave off worry then the Beach Boys singing Don't Worry Baby should also do the trick. They don't look much like surfers, do they?

* Beads picture by Dimitris Arvanitis and used under a Creative Commons Licence.


  1. Beads?!?!?!?!!! Are my eyes playing tricks on me? How fabulous! Those yellow beads look like amber and are gorgeous.

    Your discussion about κομπολόι reminded me of a pair of Chinese Baoding balls I used to have. The purpose is mainly for hand exercise, but I used them to keep my hands busy (and they even made a pretty sound).

    Things that remind us of the people we love, especially our children, are precious. Your beads sound priceless.

    1. Yes, beads! I thought you'd be impressed. I think the beads you admired probably are amber, they are lovely, aren't they?
      As for the beads my daughter made all those years ago, I think the time has come to re-thread them before the cord they are on gives way completely and I lose the beads. I definitely wouldn't want that.


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