Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Lambri Triti in Olympos, Karpathos

The biggest day of Easter in Olympos is Lambri Triti, Bright Tuesday. In the morning, the bells start to ring and a few men carry the large icons out of the church and around the village, stopping at different chapels with the priest before gradually making their way down to the cemetery. There, he'll bless the family graves. The women wear their best traditional dress, bright stiff skirts and puffy sleeves in an almost Elizabethan style with much sparkling trim; it's a striking scene, a big draw for photographers. Last year, when I followed the procession I felt very conscious that we small group of tourists looked like scruffy papparazzi.

There again, as I said to Raymond from northern France yesterday evening, the locals take photographs of their cultural events just as much as the outsiders do. Raymond, carrying a fairly big camera, had been expressing similar concern about the number of photographers jostling for position. Yet all the village kafeneia have their walls covered in photos from years and decades past, a document of village life. There were mobile phones aplenty recording the musicians playing in the square, and at one point we laughed as a local young woman in full traditional dress held two mobile phones to record the proceedings – capturing footage of us in the process.

Last year, it had been too cold for the music to happen in the square in the evening – it was moved to a hall at the edge of the village and happened very late – so it was a treat to experience yesterday. In the afternoon someone was playing tsambouna, the goatskin bagpipe, in the Zografidis kafeneio. A little later, tables were set up outside and a small group of men old and young sang mantinades, improvised verses, to music played on laouto and lyra. Every now and then a fresh whisky bottle appeared on the table. The mantinades, the few I could understand, tended to be about how they appreciated one another’s company and how good it was to celebrate together.

Gradually more and more people gathered around the company to listen, as the sun went down and the night wore on. A cold wind blew off the sea and the mountain but the musicians were kept warm by the crowd gathered around, and perhaps the Johnny Walker. The men on the lyra and laouto were replaced by younger men, whose fingers never left the instruments - one of the nearby men placed cigarettes and cups of whisky to their lips. 
A few men and then women began to dance – less of a dance than a very slow shuffle around the table. More hours passed. Finally, after midnight, came the moment we’d all been waiting for, and everyone moved up the steps to the square in front of the church, where there was more room for everyone to join in the dancing.

The men who led the dance displayed some flamboyant leaps and moves. For most of the rest of the circle clasping hands, it was the same tiny, subtle, bouncy steps for what seemed like hour upon hour, though towards the end there was a break towards something livelier. Then the party broke up around 4 a.m., and the village went to sleep.

Check out photographs from last Lambri Triti by my friend Michael Pappas:

Monday, 17 April 2017

Happy Easter

Today’s been a lazy, quiet day, after a splendid Easter Sunday here at Ayios Minas – around a year since I first came here. 
In the last six weeks, much has happened. In March we spent a hot, sunny day in Avlona, Lisa and I walking the footpath from Olympos while Minas and his uncle trimmed their vines, then we all drove on to a valley beyond there to see the peonies.

One of the first guests of the year staying at our studios in Olympos arrived at the end of March just as a huge thunderstorm came with a deluge of rain. It knocked out the power temporarily, and left roads broken and covered in rockslides. I was amazed by the noise of streams rushing down the mountains in Olympos. The riverbed turned to a gushing river, which changed the colour of the sea. Gorgeous waterfalls appeared in the valley. When the sun came out again, the air was so clear and the light intense. Thankfully, Juliette had chance that week to sit in sunshine on the terrace.
Here down at Ayios Minas, the riverbed also turned into a river, the banks thick with flowers, bordered by fragrant pine trees and olive trees. Lisa loved the rock pools and I sat and listened with happiness to little temporary waterfalls. Thanks to all the rain this winter, the abundance of flowers has been breath-taking. So many flowers, different types every day in every colour in the lush green fields and deeper green hills.

In early April, we took the opportunity to visit some places in the south of the island where I’d not been yet, including Amoopi with its pretty pale sand beaches. 
Lately we’ve seen the occasional hoopoe, Bonelli’s eagle, peregrine or kestrel. One day, Lisa barked at something in the next field. We looked and there was what looked like a heron, but more colourful than the grey herons I'd seen before. It seemed tired and didn’t fly far. That day, I walked down to the beach for a swim, and I hadn’t got very far out when a fishing boat appeared around the headland. I thought it was probably passing but it turned into the bay, and lo and behold it was Stamatis, his first visit to us since September. He handed us a keep-net full of flapping menoula. We put some tables together and grilled the fish on the barbecue. It was another sign that summer’s almost here.
On Easter Saturday, I went up to Olympos with Minas, who was helping his uncle Nick for a few evenings at Geia Mas taverna. Immediately I arrived, I said hello to a French man and an English man sitting at a table and they invited me to drink some wine with them. They were visiting Olympos for the first time and had just met that evening in one of the other hostelries. We all got along, the evening flying by. We could hear traditional music coming from next door at Parthenon taverna, and see the people going into church, and hear the firecrackers, and when the service ended we went outside to greet friends with Christos Anesti.
Over the course of the evening we’d met a young woman from Athens who came in looking for a cigarette, and when she said she and her partner were off to Kafeneio Kriti to meet some other friends, Minas and I decided to join them to give Easter greetings to Archontoula and Philippas too. We all sat down to eat together.
Greeks are used to eating mayeiritsa on the night of Easter Saturday. A soup made with green vegetables and the intestines of the goat, it’s the first meat dish to break the fast of Lent, intended to prepare you for the goat feast the next day. But this was patsa, morsels of goat’s stomach cooked in an egg-and-lemon broth, and they nervously pushed bits of tripe around the plate. Something about seeing the city folk squirm – plus, to be fair, the large quantity of wine I’d drunk – made me dig in with gusto. Minas did too, and we found it pretty tasty. 
And so, after being up until 3 a.m. drinking wine and eating goat-stomach soup, I was feeling not quite at my best the next morning when we got up not long after 7 to start preparing for the day. But no matter. The weather couldn’t have been more beautiful: not a breeze or a cloud to bother the blue sky. I kneaded bread dough and left it to rise while Minas lit the charcoal and attached the whole goat to the spit. It had been slaughtered at the top of the valley a couple of nights earlier when he went to pick up the goat’s cheese. He’d made tzatziki and melitzanosalata, aubergine salad. We cleaned and organised, then relaxed as the meat roasted. I went to the beach for a swim, and the pebbles and sand were too hot to walk on – first time this year.
Lisa announced the first guests with some loud barking. Over the winter so few people come down to Ayios Minas, it’s handy to have a Distant Early Warning Signal when a vehicle appears. But yesterday, Lisa’s vocal cords and our ears were tested. Our Swiss visitors were walking down the track, and her barks accompanied them all the way.
By early afternoon, the sea was flat calm, and everyone seemed happy to enjoy the beach while waiting for the meat to be ready. After a long swim, I went for a walk up the riverbed and noticed the little yellow pom-poms of the overhanging trees had overnight been shed, leaving the ground dusted with gold, and to compensate, the yellow broom flowers were now smelling so sweet – I picked a few, and we decided to decorate the tables with them.

The food was ready just as the sun began to drop towards the hilltops, and everyone joined the tables together to eat.