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Poet Tells Sole Tales That Last

June 16, 1985|CHRIS TUPPER | Tupper is a Houston free-lance writer.

ATHENS — A flea market is a flea market in any city, except that it's better in Athens.

Centering on Pandrossou Street and spreading out to surrounding areas is everything you'd expect to find--even more. Shops selling gold earrings, fur jackets and silk scarfs are interspersed with stalls featuring sample-size containers of ouzo, tin bottle openers shaped like the Parthenon and white plastic statues of Zeus and Apollo.

Small pushcarts slowly make their way through the streets, their ancient owners selling Turkish--pardon, Greek--coffee to fellow strollers and shopkeepers.

In this area of hustle and humanity, shop owners actively size up tourists, coaxing, conning and cajoling them to come into their places. "It costs nothing to look," they call out.

But the tourist in the know seeks 89 Pandrossou St., shop of the poet/sandalmaker. It's not hard to find. Athenians in the crowd overhear your conversation about it and point straight ahead.

Sign in English

There, in the midst of the many shops with Greek lettering over them, is a large printed sign in English. Over the shop door is another sign (on cardboard), which reads "The Poet." This must be the place.

Here you find Stavros Melissinos, a 50ish man with graying hair and wrinkles that immediately fall into place when he smiles.

He's the author of 10 books of poetry, some of which have found homes in the Harvard and Oxford university libraries. Here he plies his other trade, sandalmaker.

Why does this talented man who has been a subject on all three American TV networks as well as the BBC continue to make shoes?

"A writer who does nothing but write," he said in a Calgary Herald article, "is like the moon which gives off some light, but it's borrowed, taken from the sun. A writer needs firsthand experience which only working in another field can give him. Otherwise he rewrites what he has read in other books."

So the poet spends his days in his shop making shoes, posing patiently for photos or chatting with customers, the likes of which have included Jackie O., Sophia Loren and Anthony Quinn.

His 30 styles of sandals range from 500 to 1,000 drachmas ($5 to $10), a bargain at any flea mart.

And where else but in Greece would the shoemaker be a poet?

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