Saturday, February 25, 2012

Greek Easter, pt.1.

I hadn’t intended to go to Greece for Easter.  I originally found myself there at Easter time simply because I hadn’t wanted to go in the crowded summer tourist season, or when it might be cold and I would need to pack heavy clothes.  Here are a few of my stories of Easter in Greece.

An Accidental Easter on the Island of Crete

My first Easter in Greece began unpromisingly on the island of Crete, when I found I had left my passport and all identification back at the car rental office at the port of Iráklion and no hotel would have me.  I discovered this inconvenience when I arrived late evening, on the southern coast, at the village of Plakiás, after a several hour drive across the island.  When I tried to phone the car agency I found that everyone had gone home for the Easter weekend, which came as a surprise, as I did not think it was Easter.  Some years Greek and Roman Easter fall on the same day, but this was one of the years that they did not, and I realized that I had arrived in Greece in the midst of Holy Week and my passport would be sitting safe on the desk of the nice man at the car rental agency in Iráklion, which would be closed until he came back to work next Monday.  I thought it all very unbusinesslike.  But I had a car and a pocket-full of money and was at large in Greece, and was sure everything would work out just fine.
    I drove a few miles down the coast to the monastery of Moní Preveli, confident that the monks would offer a room to anyone as personable as myself.  But alas, the monks were off on some monkish business and the place was in the care of an agéd and ill-tempered Cretan peasant.  I would be overstating my knowledge of Greek to say that it was elementary, but it probably made no difference, for as Lawrence Durrell once wrote, you may speak Greek quite well and still not be able to understand a word of a Cretan peasant.  In fact, I am sure that neither of us understood a word of the other, though he managed to communicate quite clearly that I would not be staying there that evening.
Leaving the monastery, I gave a ride to an elderly Greek couple who told me there was an inn farther up the coast.  Their directions took me down a treacherous and unpaved road coiling over mountains and along cliffs, but at the end I reached the sea and found the promised inn, and one so obviously isolated that I was sure a missing passport would be no problem.  And indeed it wasn’t, though, alas, there was no room in the inn.  They had, I believe, only four rooms, and all these were taken, but I shouldn’t worry as someone might leave tomorrow and I could sleep on the beach in the meantime.
    Well now, what is adventure but inconvenience rightly understood.  A night on the beach, on the shore of what the Greeks call the Lybian Sea, sounded positively romantic.  I had supper at the inn and then looked for some soft sand to curl up on.
    But there is no such thing as soft sand.  Or, after a while, even comfortable sand.  And then the winds came up off the sea.  I dug a burrow into the sand to get out of the wind and tried to fashion a comfortable surface to lie on, but a few inches below the surface the sand was not only no softer, it was also wet.
    I returned to my car and found that, as I suspected, a Volkswagen Beetle is about as comfortable to sleep in as a box of carpenter’s tools.  I unpacked my clothes and used them to try to cushion the knobs and levers that poked out from every surface.  I was only partially successful.
    Taking another tack, I walked back to the inn and bought a small bottle of ouzo, which turned out to do the trick.  I relaxed and drifted off into a passable night’s sleep.

The next morning when I came into the inn  --  the first customer of the day  --  the owner seemed to be singing a church song and I remembered that this was the Sunday of Greek Easter, and so I greeted him with the traditional “Christós anésti”, Christ is risen.
    You are a Christian, he asked, and when I said ‘yes’ his attitude became friendly and solicitous.  I did not realize why being a Christian should make such a difference until later in the day I began to meet his other customers, some very strange young people from a hippie colony who had been living in caves down the beach since the ‘Sixties, and I understood why he was so pleased to find that his new customer was God-fearing and reasonably well-scrubbed.  Although he was never able to give me a room he apologized for it regularly and lent me a blanket to sleep on.  When some Italian tourists arrived in the days that followed I discovered that I was sleeping on a nude beach.

It was my first Easter in Greece and I had a fine time, sometimes sleeping on the beach and sometimes curled up in the front seat of the Volkswagen, lulled to sleep by the soft licorice warmth of ouzo.  Though the hoped-for vacancy never materialized, the fellow at the inn fed me well and we damned the hippies together.  I found a place far down the beach from the feral cave-dwellers and disrobed Italians, where I passed my days reading and writing and lying in the sun, perfectly contented.  And even today, when I smell the sweet licorice aroma of ouzo, I remember that happy time on the beach on the shore of the Lybian Sea.

(More  Easters in Greece to follow . . .)

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