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Ode to Sakaflias

When Vasilis Tsitsanis wrote the song, ‘Sta Trikala ta Dio Stena’, about a guy named Sakaflias, he, inadvertently, raised the curiosity of a public that wondered about a man who was unknown, generally. The lyrics tell about a young man who was murdered between two streets and that everyone cries bitter tears over him. That song caused a wave of curiosity all over Greece. Was there any truth to the lyrics? When the song hit the airwaves, curiosity and sympathy and compassion arose for a man no one had ever knew or cared about. After all, newspapers carry such obituaries and reports all the time. Credit has to be given to Tsitsanis’ amazing talent. Listening to the lyrics, the soulful strumming that accompanied and stirred the imagination, people started to wonder. Who was he? Why was he murdered? Who murdered him? Some people asked, “was there a man named Sakaflias,” or was it simply the imagination of a fanciful, famous musician?

The lyrics explain that Sakaflias died of two stab wounds in the back with a knife. Then, curiosity rose on who was his killer. The insignificant article in the newspaper in the early part of the twentieth century described very little about the victim, excepting that he was a gadabout who frequented infamous bars and card playing back rooms that lined the waterfront.

His vivid imagination and superb talent inspired Tsitsanis to bring back to life someone unsung, someone that meant nothing to anyone at the time, or any time. Surely, we’ve all read a book about a loving pet or a saintly personality that touched our hearts. It all has to do with the persuasive power of descriptive words. Tsitsanis managed to give the melody and lyrics enough feeling and compassion to arouse the public’s imagination.

Then, even the name was questioned. One version was Sarkaflias. Sakavlias, another. Slowly, the whole issue was deemed a myth until someone made known that ‘Ta duo stena’ meant the name of the jail that happened to be in Trikala. And, that he was just an inmate who was killed by another inmate. An anonymous citizen swore that he knew a man by that name, reporting to a news reporter that he was killed by a member of the Ndavadjides (notorious gang of inmates). The reporter asked him if he knew his first name. He responded, Yiorgos, and that he was born in 1899 in Athens, in the neighborhood of Thision. He further stated that he had been arrested repeatedly for minor offences and at the age of 27 in 1926, he had been arrested again, and sent to a jail in Trikala. Card playing in the prison was rampant and the main figure and ‘big boss’ was a man named, Avlonitis, who took a portion of any player’s winnings. The killer, who believed was exacting revenge for a supposed card cheating incident, had been a card shark who, when released, went to the city of Patra to work in a casino. When he was fired, in order to survive, became a beggar and endured ridicule and was ignored by everyone. That was enough to break his wounded ego to pieces, so, he chose the only road out by committing suicide by jumping in front of a fast moving train.

Whether any of those stories had any truth to them or not, the citizens of Trikala were amused and flattered to hear a song dedicated to their town and all the fame that came with it. Tsitsanis was pleased with the attention his song received. People everywhere liked and sang and danced to the music. To date, it has to be said that Tsitsanis captured the attention and imagination of a nation. Yet, it was asked, why did he eulogize the subject of the song as a ‘friend’ and a ‘devilish bon vivant’? Perhaps, he felt sympathy towards a youth ignored, sensed compassion for a male who had no familial connections, or luck, or direction. Tsitsanis, who was 12 years old when that episode supposedly occurred, chose to resurrect through his music, someone who lived and died unknown, unsung, uncared for. So, for a brief span of time, through the talents of a fine musician, Sakaflias rose from the dead, was celebrated and received the attention and sympathy and public acclaim he never received during his short, unfortunate lifetime.  We can only thank Vasilis Tsitsanis for firing our imagination and for igniting a ray of light for those who are just like Sakaflias.

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