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Kiriaki Orfanos

Mr. Ioannis Hlentzos

Mr. Ioannis Hlentzos/Chlentzos

Mr. Ioannis Hlentzos was a chef who lived and worked for Theodore Mavrommattes in the New York Cafe, Nowra, until 1966. Prior to that he had worked for Theodore Pascalis and Ioannis Polyzois in the Spot Cafe in Wollongong. He was the son of George Chlentzos and Stamatiki Kyriakos Combis. His four siblings were Theodore, Vasiliki, Theano and Zoe Skiadas. I don’t have any other details about him at present, but if anyone reading this story can tell me more, it would be appreciated. I would particularly be interested in details as to when and in which village he was born in in Kythera. This is a memoir about the time he spent in Nowra.

I want to tell you about Mr. Hlentzos. It’s important to do this because he never married, never had children, so I feel that if I don’t, then he will have been and gone, leaving only a faint trace of his existence and he deserves better.
I will start with him dancing on those hot, beer-filled, jasmine-scented nights at our place. The the odor of the shop hangs over us all. We try to wash it off but it is more than pore deep, and no amount of soap and water can fully dissolve it. Mr. Hlentzos has spent the entire day in the kitchen, steeped in the heat of grilled meat and fried fish, and the torpid amble of oily air.
He has come straight from the shop, still smelling of kitchen, a smell so much a part of him that we do not notice it, to share a meal for once not cooked by him. After dinner and a game of 21 (which he will lose), the music, deep throated and yearning, calls him, making him want to dance, but he needs to be slightly drunk
He greets the music wide armed, turning in a slow and stately, downward spiral to touch the floor. He is all curves and angles because you don’t dance in straight lines. He is tentative, stepping through the music, stalking it, soft-toed and tender, with his pauses and hesitations. With his meditations. But perhaps not. Perhaps the memory I now describe is a composite consisting of the not-so-many times I saw him dance and the times I have spoken about it since.
We kids, sticky with watermelon and sweat, squabble around him. I don’t know what makes us stop and watch him, what quality of his dancing holds us for a minute before our own concerns take us up again and we run away looking for something else to fight over.
Maybe the picture is in the sounds; the chatter, the clatter of cutlery being washed in hot soapy water, the slapping of cards on the table - the sudden anger when they don’t go his way. It is a mélange of cicada, plaintive child and gossip and the rhythm and beat of an alien music from under another sun. But not alien to him though. Not alien to us.
If you could feel the heat and breathe the mingled smells of jasmine, cigarettes, food and freshly bathed kids building up a sweat, then you would get a sense of him and the family that embraces him.
Or perhaps I can show him to you on his way to work. The suit and tie would surprise you, the clean white shirt, the hat. You would observe the limp, which you do not notice when he is dancing. Funny that. And you would realise just how small he really is. Somehow the dance evens the length of his legs and restores the height that polio has stolen away.
He always enters the shop through the back door, down a concrete path, through a covered area, past the grease trap. The shop’s cat, Delma, a stray, I found under the building next door, waits to follow him into the kitchen for her portion of prime mince and milk. My uncle has named her after a waitress who has shaved eyebrows and multicoloured hair. He fancies her and Mr. Hlentzos knowing this, teases him ever so gently, making my uncle blush.
He hangs his hat and coat in the storeroom and takes off his tie, unbuttons the collar of his shirt, rolls up his sleeves and wraps a huge white apron, which just clears the floor, around his waist. He lights up his first smoke for the day, the first of many, which hang out of his mouth as he works, the ash lengthening and clinging to the tip of the cigarette, but never falling into the food (or so we say). Smoke swirls lazily past the craggy topography of his face, causing an almost permanent squint behind his heavy rimmed glasses. He checks his pocket for the odd sixpence, or the careless extravagance of two shillings, which he puts into the drawer of the beautifully carved old cash register which sits disregarded in the corner of the storeroom. It is left there for us, the kids, to find - 'Two bob!' suddenly we feel rich.
Can you see him now?
He fires up the stove, makes himself a cup of tea and studies the form guide while eating his breakfast. The kitchen is his domain. He rules a monstrous cast iron stove half as long again as he is tall. Blue-pink gas flames provide a contrast to the greasy blackness of the metal. A massive stainless steel table serves as chopping board and as repository for towers of plates, cooking utensils and spices and condiments. I wish you could hear the songs he sings so sweetly as he works, his youthful tenor voice belying his age-weathered face. A window between the table and the stove, admits the light that outlines him as he moves around and gives a narrow view onto a lane. Permanently open, it creates a cross-breeze which does nothing to relieve the summer heat or take the bitterness out of the winter cold.
Everything in the kitchen is slightly out of scale, a little too large for the small man who governs it, whose puckish personality defines it, whose deft efficiency distinguishes it. And yet somehow he cuts it down to size and fashions it to suit himself.
I never knew that we weren’t related. He was so much a part of my life that my small child’s perception couldn’t compute that we weren’t actually kin, that alone of the small knot of people in my daily life who spoke Greek, he did not share ties of marriage or blood. To me he was Barba Ioannis and he was family. He still is.

My thanks go to Terry Chlentzos who is Mr. Hlentzos’ second cousin once removed, who was kind enough to furnish me with information about his immediate family. She also mentions another family connection, a Peter Clensos who participated in the 1835 Balkan Games. Her own grandfather, Diamantis Chlentzos emigrated to the USA in 1902.

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Terry Chlentzos
on 05.04.2013

Hello Kyriaki, Thank you so much for posting this loving tribute. Your Barba Ioannis is my second cousin once removed! His parents were George Chlentzos and Stamatiki Kyriakos Combis, and he had siblings Theodore, Zoe, Vasiliki, and Theano. I have this information on a family tree compiled by my uncle Peter Clensos (Chlentzos) when he visited Kythera in 1935, as a participant in the Balkan Games. My grandfather Diamantis Chlentzos emigrated to the USA in 1902. Because the name Hlentzos/Chlentzos and its variants are so unusual, I am always on the lookout for possible connections to the family tree. Thank you for helping fill in some of the details! Terry Chlentzos

Vikki Vrettos Fraioli
on 05.04.2013

Hi Kyriaki, What a wonderful tribute! Thank you for posting this. Although we never knew Ioannis, he was a second cousin once removed and it is wonderful to be able to learn about him through your tribute. When I was in Kythera in 2006 I met Matina Petrochilou for the first time. She owns the Myrto souvenir shop in Chora. After talking for a few minutes about our Kytherian roots, Matina shared that her mother was a Chlentzos. I was excited to hear this because my grandmother was a Chlentzos and I was very anxious to discover how our Chlentzos families were connected. Matina's mother was Zoe Chlentzos Skiadas who Terry and I were later able to connect of our Chlentzos family tree. Matina also has a brother Jorgo who lives in Australia. I will forward the link to this article to both of them as I'm sure they will really enjoy reading it. Terry Chlentzos and I are second cousins. My grandmother, Marigo Chlentzos Alfieris was the sister of her grandfather Diamandis Chlentzos. Although both of our grandparents immigrated to California from Kythera, after a number of years the two families lost contact. Terry and I became acquainted through kythera-family.net. You can imagine how thrilled we were to find each other. With the help of Uncle Pete Chlentzos tree we began piecing together the pieces of he Chlentzos family tree. We owe a great deal of thanks our friend Telemachos Combes. Telemachos compiled the research for the Genealogy of the Family Name Chlentzos from the years 1750-1850. Terry and I were able to find our great-grandfather Haralambos Chlentzos on his tree and extend our tree from there. It was quite a surprise to discover Zoe Skiadas’ family so closely related to ours. Now, whenever we come across someone with the Chlentzos name, we make a special effort to determine their placement on the Chlentzos Family Tree. We welcome and encourage anyone with the Chlentzos (Xlentzos, Hlentzos, Khlantzos, Khlentzos) relatives to contact us by sending an email to Vikki Vrettos Fraioli We are so lucky to have this wonderful website to share and connect our Kytherian roots and history! Some of our family research can be seen on my a href="http://www.kytheraconnections.com">Kythera Connections"website, which is currently still under construction. See also: The Genealogy of the Greek family name Combis and other Kytherian Surnames by Telemachos Combes Vikki Vrettos Fraioli

Kytherian Genealogy Project by Amalia and Kalie
on 29.01.2018

Ioanni was born 19 November 1902 in Logothianika. He was baptised on 12 January 1903 in Agios Mins church in the same village. According to his birth certificate his father was a 34 year old farmer and his mother was 35. is godparent was Panagioti or Panagiota (the writing is hard to read) Tsambira 9no other deatils). Hope this helps.