The Story of the Washing Machine on the Beach

I do not know if I imagined this or not, but many years ago, somewhere in Greece, I saw a washing machine facing the sea, sitting on the beach; it was plugged into a small shore-front taverna. From the comfort of my wooden seat, I pictured little old ladies washing their clothes and laying them out to dry on the rocks, but despite my efforts to rationalize with this image, I still found it bizarre.

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Expecting a little old lady to approach at any minute with a load of laundry in her arms, I was amazed when a gnarley, moustached fisherman went to the machine and peered inside it. He turned and went back to his small boat, which was pulled up on the beach. I assumed he was washing some clothes, though it seemed odd, as Greek men rarely do the laundry, and if they did, I couldn’t imagine them doing it on a public beach.

I ordered my favourite snack, some grilled octopus and an ouzo, as i continued to observe the strange scene unfolding before me.

Some time went by, and the fisherman returned to peer inside the washing machine (again I assumed he was concerned with his laundry). He seemed pleased and turned off the machine. He squatted in front of it, opened it, reached inside and removed a huge octopus. I was completely confused.

Washed octopus? I asked the owner of the taverna what was going on and why the octopus had to be washed. He turned to his friends and repeated my question, to the amusement of them all. The fisherman approached the taverna with his laundry (the octopus), was filled-in on my question, and more hysterical laughter followed at my expense.

Finally it was all explained to me; since this was a "modern" village, they had a washing machine to beat the octopi till they were tender! They had done away with the traditional and tiresome 100 blows by hand on the rocks.

A little nuts, but it makes complete sense; the movement of the machine softens the octopi, and of course, no water and no soap are involved.

My embarrassment turned into a wonderful afternoon, being toasted by my new friends, residents of this "modern" Greek village that was lucky enough not to have to beat their octopi by hand.

Ever since then, I have been on the lookout for washing machines on the beach, but no luck. It is unfortunate that other local Greek fishermen in less "modern" villages still beat their octopi on the rocks to soften them up. I wonder how "modernity" could have reached one village and not the others: perhaps all it needs is an innovative fisherman and a dysfunctional washing machine.

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