The Lord of the Beads

In coffee shops and homes, in music halls and offices, the hypnotic click of the komboloi is a signature sound of Greece.

An object of art; a source of solace; a makeshift musical instrument… a true Greek komboloi is all that and more. I would prefer an original komboloi over a vast choice of souvenirs from my Athens trip. Even as an Athenian, I very often look for one to give as a special present. It is always a pleasure to pair the right piece with the right owner and almost everyone appreciates the gift.

There are enough kinds, sizes and textures of them to match with any distinct personality. For my husband, who plays a mean bouzouki in his rare free time, I opt for an old-fashioned item: heavy, with “singing” dark amber beads, and a fat silk pom-pom tying up the whole ensemble. I know he will not carry it with him at all times, not like the old Athens and Piraeus rembetes of the 1930s. They were the legendary musicians of the “Greek blues”. For them, their komboloi was an extension of their hands. For us, it is a charming ornament. It will sit invitingly on the table next to my husband’s bouzouki, both of them silently calling us to pick them up and just make a night of it.

For my mom, who is forever trying to break free of a nasty cigarette habit, I chose a begleri: the little brother of the komboloi, with fewer beads, no pom-pom, popular with both men and women. Stylish, playful, and an all-time favorite helper for quitting smoking, long before pills, e-cigs or weird devices were around.

For Deb, an accomplished interior designer: a slender, wine-red faturan (an amalgam of amber and other materials which makes the best, time-tested beads). It is the single most revered piece among komboloi connoisseurs, and will, hopefully, fulfill the criteria for being accepted into my friend’s artfully decorated Manhattan loft.

Even more fascinating than the object itself is the millennia-old history that comes with it. I was raised among so many komboloia, dangling from old men’s hands, left in coffee houses, sold by the hundreds is souvenir shops, that I paid no attention whatsoever to them. Then, I met the owners of “Kombologadiko”, a team of dynamic entrepreneurs whose passion for their merchandise is truly contagious. Their book “Βead by Bead”, is a feast for the eyes and an extremely interesting read. Pair it with an interesting komboloi (there are a handful of very good shops around Athens) and you might suddenly abandon the idea of shopping “for friends”. It may now be a case of you looking for your own, personal “komboloi”: your inner rhythm signature, the extension of your hands.

How will you know when you have found the One? It may be the colors that catch your eye. It may be the shape of the beads, or some other unique detail about this komboloi that makes it special to you. But you will know it is “yours” almost immediately. Now, go ahead and give it a try. Measure it for weight and size in your palm. Roll it around your fingers. Focus on the hypnotic “click” of the beads. Feel the soft touch of the pom-pom, the caress of the hard silk string that holds the beads together (always a well-made string, never metal or the insult of plastic for me, thank you very much!).

Allow this mysterious, time-transcending object to lure you to a place and time far, far away from the static of the digital age.

“Click” it to connect, not to your daily schedule or social network, but with your inner quiet place.

Get to know your komboloi, get to know yourself.

This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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