Aristides Chairetis, the mantinades composer of Love
“When man has lost all love’s delight and no more woman craves,
He's truly dead and lost to all, though not yet in his grave. ”
“Love is a rolling river wide, so take me by the hand,
Together we will sink or swim and reach the further strand.”
“Death doesn’t frighten me at all, for different is my fear,
To be in love, incapable of changing this idea.”
“Love is a mountain peak so high that if you scale its heights,
From there spread at your feet you’ll see the world’s most pleasant sights.”
“At long last I was able to leave last year’s love behind me,
But I can’t live without love’s flame, so now a new love binds me.”
“My thought goes out to my true love a million times a day
No wonder it is tired out and can no longer stray.”
“I leave the house and roam afar but quickly I return,
I cannot be away from you, it’s for your love I burn.”
The above mantinades (improvised 15-syllable rhyming couplets) are characteristic examples of authentic couplets created by one of the most important composers of mantinades in Crete. His name is Aristides Chairetis, the “mantinades composer of love” as he is known in his birthplace, the village of Anogia in the District of Mylopotamos in Rethymnon Prefecture in central Crete.
Born in Anoyia in 1946, he is a shepherd by profession. As he says, “I came into the world to dance and sing, so I don’t need any other match to light me. I get drunk just on dancing and mantinades, because both dancing and mantinades have their own match inside them.”
Aristidis Chairetis is a truly original creator, as we can see from many examples. The first is the permanently unsatisfied soul of every artist, which emerges clearly from the following mantinades:
“People are never satisfied, of that you can be sure,
For thought is infinitely vast - there’s always space for more.”
Another is the emotion that floods him as he creates his mantinades: “The only thing I can say is that as each mantinades comes from inside me, I catch it and hold it in my hands, I see it as a butterfly, because it truly is a butterfly, and then I set it free to join the others in the sky. All these butterflies have formed an umbrella over me which protects me from the sun in the summer and the rain in the winter… when I write mantinades I feel as though I’m coming close to spring that runs without getting me wet, like a sea that I fall into but don’t drown in even though I can’t swim…”
Then there is the perpetual quest and utopian search for eternal, transcendental love, and the hope he has created in his imagination in order to wait for it: “I have everything and yet I feel that something is missing and I am looking for it… I am looking for it and it is looking for me… It’s as if there’s a woman somewhere around here who’s looking for me and she has taken to the mountains… her clothes are torn, her shoes are full of holes, there are thorns in her hair and yet she runs…runs…runs… and searches for me… The shepherds see her and say “Where are you going in such a state, come and we’ll light a fire to warm you, we’ll find something for you to eat…” “Thank you”, she says, “but I can’t stop, I’m looking for my love and I’m afraid I’ll lose him.” “Yourlove? So who’s your love?”, the shepherds ask her a second time, and she replies, “Aris… Aris is my love”. This is the fantasy I live by, and as soon as this woman stops looking for me I will be finished, and so,
“With an imaginary love my mind will be content,
I’ll waste no time on false sweethearts who will my heart torment.”
Aristides Chairetis’ mantinades often touch on higher matters than those of everyday life:
“Bring me the man who’s solved it all, for now I must confess
I’ve never solved a single thing but nor could I care less.”
“A cup of water is our life, brimful to the top,
And so we drink it gulp by gulp until the final drop.”
Aristides Chairetis' work is respected not only by the simple people of Crete, but also by the Crete University Press, which has published two collections of his mantinades: “What mantinades Shall I Sing You” and “Less than a Moment”. This is a rare honour indeed.
There is also a CD of him singing his own mantinades accompanied by his children (Stefanos Chairetis on the lyre and Vassilis Chairetis on the lute).
The mantinades composers of Crete
The mantinades are one of the most distinctive strongholds of genuine folk creativity in Crete, still resisting the siege of disaffection.
The metrical method of writing mantinades is an innate process, something that can neither be taught nor produced on demand, but which emerges instantly and spontaneously with all the satisfaction of giving birth. Perhaps this is its true value.
For centuries, thousands of Cretans of every age and class have created mantinades, others continuously and others occasionally. The people who make up mantinades systematically are mantinades composers, people who truly live for mantinades.
For mantinades composers, mantinades are a way of life. Many of them, particularly as the years go by, get to the point where they cannot express themselves in any other way. This is a very common, almost daily phenomenon in Crete, where you will find not only greetings and blessings, thanks and commiserations but also complex concepts which it would take a whole book to express, compressed and communicated in the form of a mantinades.
* This article is sponsored by the Aerakis Seistron Music, an online shop with Cretan and Greek music CDs, books and DVDs about Crete.