Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Holiest of the holiest

15th August is the biggest holiday in the Greek Orthodox church, in the Greek calendar. The country grinds to a halt to   'observe' the death or the 'sleeping' of the Virgin Mary (Panagia).  City dwellers by the thousands quit Athens and Thessaloniki, a good time for the Turks to invade, a good time to visit and see the sites without the traffic and the noise.   The streets are empty except for tourists.  Everyone who can returns to their village, their family home, their island to celebrate with friends, neighbours and countless relatives.  Many (like our elderly neighbour) will have been fasting since the end of July and attending the evening church services. 

 One of the Holiest places to visit is the island of Tinos.  Those who have prayed to the miraculous icon of  Mary in the church of the Blessed Virgin will crawl on their knees from the harbour to the church to ask for  her divine intervention or in thanks.  

Many times when K was in the Navy he took part in the parade of the miraculous icon on Tinos as part of the honour guard, all dressed up in his best white uniform, with white gloves and sword in hand.  Today the Frigate Navarino, troop carrier Chios and a torpedo boat from the Greek Navy are cruising offshore, their officers and many of the crew are in church this morning at attention in respect of the Panagia.  The ceremony is shown live on TV.  Members of Parliament and the country's bigwigs are in the church but not the Prime Minister who is an athiest.  

In the evening there is a wreath laying ceremony on the sea and service for those of the destroyer Elli which was torpedoed on the 15th August 1940 by the Italian submarine Delfino, just before the outbreak of war.

On many of the islands festivites go on for two or three days.  Chairs and tables are set out in the main squares, there is live bouzouki music and free food and wine is provided for all the villagers and visitors.  Huge cauldrons of bean soup (fassolatha) or boiled meat will be prepared by the men while the women are cooking local delicacies and sweets.  Everyone takes part in the dancing and singing, from the very young to the old bent legged crone and the awkward tourist.

Don't expect to find a doctor or any other professional this week.  All will be away on holiday.

On the island of Paros the celebration takes place in the Church of 100 Doors (Ekatontapyliani), of which only 99 can be seen.  When the 100th door is revealed Greeks will take back Constantinople (Istanbul) from the Turks.  It is predicted that the city will be reclaimed by someone called Konstantinos who has 6 fingers.  Well, our K-onstantinos has 6 fingers so it is just a matter of time while he gathers his army of faithful followers lol. 

On the island of Kefalonia (Ionian islands) in the village of Markopoulou from the 6 to the 15th August snakes appear inside and outside the church of the Virgin Mary.  If they don't materialise it is a very bad omen, as in 1940 and 1953 when the island suffered huge earthquakes.  The snakes bring luck to the island and all visitors.

In northern Greece another holy place of worship is the Monastery Panagia Soumela. We visited this years ago on a trip to Thessaloniki (in the good old days).  I remember the immense church as absolutely freezing.  It was like walking into an echoing marble igloo.  But they did have clean loos, most important after winding up a long snowy mountain road.

In almost every family preparations will be  taking place for a party as 15th August is the name day of those named Maria, Panagioti, Panayiota and all the variations.  Our 'sinpethera' Nota (Panayiota) , the mother-in-law of our daughter, celebrates this day and always provides a magnificent  feast for all the brothers and sisters, nephews, neices, children, grandchildren, great granchildren, cousins and us. Her daughter and the family have already arrived from Athens to stay for the long weekend along with various nephews.  I cannot work out where everyone sleeps in the small house but it doesn't matter.  They all enjoy each others company tremendously and have a wonderful time together.

Tasoula, who makes the best sourdough bread ever.  Soft, chewy and so tasty.  I can't work out how she does it although she has given me some hints.  Experience counts here for sure.  Tasoula has been baking bread for the extended family for many years.

And Nota, who will cook everything and anything.  Her dinner tables are always full of food cooked with the utmost love.  No one ever leaves her house hungry.

 Her two unmarried sisters will be baking homemade bread and their speciality fried cheese bread and together they will be peeling mountains of potatoes and roasting chickens and maybe one of their own goats, plus a hundred other tasty nibbles.  Her table always 'groans'.

This year we had a change of venue.  We all ate out at a local taverna.  The place was buzzing all night with long tables full of families celebrating name days.  Really enjoyable.  Perfectly grilled and seasoned lamb chops, salads which were also perfectly presented with imagination and a delectable vinagrette.  With such a crowd the food could have been mediocre.

And a chocolate 'tourta' to finish it all, with a huge great carving knife to cut it up.  It was simply YUM.

Poros is chock-a-block.  There are lines of  mercedes and BMWs outside the two big hotels, the beaches are packed and I doubt there are any rooms free to rent.  When this weekend is over we all breathe a huge sigh of relief.  Slowly people go back to work in the city and the weather may even get a little cooler.

1 comment:

  1. Wow sounds awesome. But very tiring lol
    I love the stories of the 100 steps and the snakes. Love the old tails.