Of Wine and a Wedding

Taking a break the other day, I walked towards the sea at Ayios Andonis and instead got chatting to a Swedish family who have been slowly building a house. Edward was helping them instal an efficient solar water heater; they invited me inside to see the wood-burning stove that heats water for under-floor heating, windows that open by themselves when it gets too hot, and solar powered lighting. Inspiring stuff! During the building they unearthed the remains of another house; the archaeologists found it to be 6th century, with a plastered bath in the kitchen floor - the old style of eco-friendly refrigeration. 

On the way home, I veered down the Eristos road to see if Michalis, the farmer, had any vegetables. He didn't, but he was happy to go and pick me some tomatoes and peppers. I waited for fifteen minutes, sitting in the sun and watching a little cat playing, which passed the time. The peppers smelled zingy - and Michalis insisted on giving me a watermelon to carry home with my five kilos of vegetables, which completed my exercise for the day. I made a salad with olive oil from Hippocrates at Eristos, local thyme, and olives and pickled capers from Rhodes. My Fisherman is fishing again, so we ate it with fresh sardines. I laugh in the face of food miles.

Stelios and I paid a visit to Rhodes after he closed up the kantina for the year. I wanted to explore a part of Rhodes I didn't know, and he felt like tasting souma (the local spirit made out of grapes) to buy for the kantina for next year (or that was his excuse anyway), so we drove up to Embona. It's up in the mountains, surrounded by pine trees and vineyards, and feels like a different world. Everyone in Embona drives a pickup truck for hauling around grapes. After a lunch of grilled local pork, salad and tzatziki and local wine, we felt like staying, and found a room just ten minutes' walk away. Surprisingly, it had a pool. We lounged in the late afternoon sun.

The next day, Stelios met a guy from Tilos who has married a girl from Embona and now makes wine with the Merkouris family. I got a tour of the winery while Stelios sat with the older guys and tasted 70% proof souma straight out of the still. It's not for drinking at that strength (try telling Stelios that); old ladies use it to rub on their aches and pains in the winter; but you can mix it with water or with weaker souma.

We stocked up on supplies, then drove on to the village of Ayios Isidoros where we stopped for a heavenly lunch at a friendly place called To Aletro, with more local wine and souma.

And guess what? It was essential research for the guest blog I was writing for the lovely folks at Cox & Kings, who organise luxury holidays to Greece, on how to make the most of 72 Hours in Rhodes: http://blog.coxandkings.co.uk/blog/2012/10/72-hours-in-rhodes/.

Then it was back to Tilos to don our best clothes and put on our dancing shoes, ready for a traditional Tilos wedding to which the whole island was invited. Georgos, one of two handsome sons from the taverna at Eristos, was marrying Georgia, one of three beautiful daughters from the taverna at Ayios Andonis. Forty goats were killed for the feast. You couldn't make this stuff up.

On the Friday evening, we walked with the groom, the gambros, from his house in the village down to the house of the bride, the niphi, accompanied by musical instruments and singing. The groom fought his way past the sisters to his bride, and guests left money on the wedding bed. There was dancing until late. Saturday evening was the wedding itself up at the monastery of Ayios Panteleimonas, and the journey there was the stuff of movies:

After the ceremony, it was down to the monastery of Panayia Kamariani for the celebration. There was pinning of money on the wedding couple's clothes (in the old days, it would have been coins on the bride's dress), then eating and drinking but most importantly dancing all night. It's the dancing that truly sets it apart; where everyone comes together, holding hands, the talented at the front of the line vying to perform the fanciest footwork. I ended up at the end of one line of dancers - almost - except for a little child, so tiny I was afraid to step on her in my dancing shoes, who looked a little bewildered but joined in anyway, holding my hand.

The dancing continued the next day - we arrived too late to see the 'false groom' try to steal the bride away - and watching these families, it struck home that traditional Greek dancing isn't a museum piece, it's an important part of community life here. Back to the lessons, then...

P.S. If you find this blog page hard to read, let me know - I think a re-design is due, once I recover from Frankfurt Book Fair. Speaking of which, I'm off on the ferry this afternoon, so I'd better get packing. It's a beautiful day here, the light just perfect on the hillsides, silence apart from the occasional cock crowing and bee buzzing its way into the house. Sigh... Well, I'll be back at the weekend. It seems appropriate to leave you with two of my favourite pictures from September, from Plaka beach...