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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Greek Easter

On Friday we arrived in Halkida (hour outside of Athens) for the
afternoon to visit the friends of Shelley’s cousin, and didn't manage
to leave for three days. First we had an enormous meal from a seaside
taverna and then we played a game of basketball, three on three,
Shelley and I and a fifteen year old kid against three full aged Greek
men. It was a very competitive rowdy game, and we beat them
thouroughly, and in retrospect we wondered whether we had presented a
little too much of a challenge to the masculinity of the village so
early in our visit. It was easter weekend and it was Good Friday. This
is the “Sad day” they explained. Someone brought a couple of bottles of wine and ouzo to a
cliff overlooking the ocean. We had “apperatifs” until it was time to
go to the procession, in which a candle-lit bier was led from a church
through the streets to the main square, where it was met by
processions from nine other directions. We all held long tall
candles. “This is the funeral of the Christ” they explained. The
priest talked over a microphone for some time, until everyone became
impatient and went to a café by the water for drinks. Someone bought a
large floating leopard balloon for the three year old child who was
with us. We then headed back to a woman named Elena’s apartment. “This is the
sad day”, they said. “Oh, we must stop in the church.” We enter the
church, about fifteen people, and a stroller. The large floating
leopard gently ducked under the door frame and then ascended up
towards the dome of the church. The group went to the little shrine to
pay their respects, in partially hushed voices, and then a
door opened at the inner sanctuary of the church, and a priest with a
black robe, black skull cap, and long white beard came out. He looked
around in horror, and then finally pointed up in the air, unmistakably
pinpointing the giant floating leopard, and after a moment pronounced:
“TI INE AFTO??” “What. Is. That?”There was a small discussion between
the people as to whether the priest was right to ban the leopard from
the church, and then we left, on this saddest day of the year, and
made our way to Elena’s apartment where we drank hot ouzo
with honey and danced traditional circle dances in between the couch
and the bookshelves.

We stayed with 32 year old Costakis who lived with his mama in their
very large house, and were treated to fresh squeezed orange juice and
endless offers of coffee, pastries and house shoes.
In the afternoon the group had a seafood feast at a taverna on the
beach, and at night we gathered at the church for the midnight mass.
After the church we headed back to the house for the main meal, and cracking of red eggs, etc. The
mothers came back from the church at 3 am shortly after which we left,
slept for a few hours, and gathered at 9 am in a smaller village, a
little higher up in towards the mountains, to begin roasting FOUR
lambs on spits over the fire (one from each family), and two large
braided sausages filled with innards. I was popular at turning the
spit because I would sing to the lamb I was roasting, and there was a
competition as to whose would turn out the best. Kind family members
would keep up my strength with choice pieces of innards, which I
graciously accepted. At a certain point the biggest gruffest mama of
the family, chin hair and all, dragged Shelley inside the house and
dressed her in her traditional gear, maroon velvet with gold
embroidery and white apron and head scarf, straight out of a pagent
play, which we think was somehow connected to her wedding celebration.

She had Shelley dance, pose for pictures, turn the lamb on the spit,
sit on the tractor. There was big feast, and
dancing, and games. At a certain point Elpina (owner of the
traditional dress) and two other mamas apparently challenged Shelley
and I to a game of basketball. We went up the road, to a court with a
full view of the mountains and countryside, with many other adults and
children along, but the short solid mamas dressed in greys and blacks
continue on down the road. “They are going to the church, but they
want you to play basketball.” Although I was very sad to have missed
what would definitely have been the most amazing match ever, I was
honored that word of our initial basketball triumph over their
precious sons had somehow been taken with some kind of feminist
approval and not Greek mother-in-law style revenge.