Saturday, March 17, 2012

Greek Easter, pt. 6.

After Easter Vigil and the meal, I slept the rest of Sunday morning.


Late Easter Sunday morning I walked to Vasili’s house, where I had been invited for the Easter meal. He had a new house built a short distance from the village, next to the site of some ruins, from which he was decorating his home.  From their looks, it had likely been a Byzantine settlement.  These islands had been part of the Eastern Empire until the appearance of the Turks when, apparently deciding they weren’t worth defending, the Byzantines abandoned them.

The lamb was roasting over charcoal on an electric spit.  Flayed and stretched out on the spit, it looked vaguely human.  I wonder how much more vivid to the Greeks must be the image of Christ the Pascal Lamb, slain for our sins, when their lambs came to the slaughter bleating, and not as our lamb comes to us, his life and death disguised by a plastic wrapper.

The lamb took about three hours to roast and by early afternoon we sat down for our meal at a long table and took our time at it.  There were toasts and now and then someone would get up and dance.  The youngster at my left was given the lamb’s head, so I directed my conversation to my right.  After a few hours the wind and sun and food and retsina had done their work on me and I returned to my room for a nap.

About ten that evening I wandered downstairs at the taverna to find musicians setting up and the tables arranged in a long line along the opposite walls.

There was a fiddler and a guitar player and a fellow with a bouzoukia and there was a serious-looking amplifier.  People started to come in and the music began slowly, as if feeling things out.  Now and then someone from the tables would join the musicians to sing long, repetitive songs, some of them sounding to me as if they might be Turkish.

I sat with Vasili and his family.  Some children started dancing in the Greek style and were joined by some very pretty young girls.  Then Dimetrios, the old farmer who was sitting with us and whom I had met that first night sitting over the opposite wheel as we came up the hill to the village, got up and started dancing and it all changed.  By tradition, Greek men and women dance differently.  Women, particularly young women, dance to display their beauty and grace, while men dance to display their strength and agility.  And while I greatly appreciated the grace of the young women, it was the power and aggression of the unshaven old farmer whose dancing most moved me.

The room was packed with island people, their numbers swollen by teenagers home from school for the holiday.  While a few ordered food, most brought their own and bought only beer or wine from our host, who never asked for money, but kept a running account.  With a near monopoly on the island’s business, he probably did not need to worry about people keeping their credit good with him. 

The crowd was so thick that people entered and left by climbing through windows, and teenagers drank freely, there being no serious mischief they could get into on the small island.  The musicians, having found their voice, played wild Greek music, music appropriate for a hard-living people whose only recreations were drinking and dancing and avenging their honor, its wildness intensified by the solid walls of the taverna and filling my impressionable mind with vivid impulses of excess and abandon.  It was clearly time for me to climb out a window and get some fresh air.

Beyond the lights of the taverna, the town was empty.  It was past midnight and the high wind that had blown for weeks continued to toss the hanging street lamps and fan the leaves of trees and vines across the face of lighted windows.  The whitewashed stone houses were stark-lit against the black night and the wild, amplified music from the taverna filled the narrow streets and seemed to make the stone walls pulse to its beat.

The next day I slept in and resolved to do nothing, but walking down the street I was pulled into a house for several more hours of feasting before I could get myself away and back to my room to collapse.

On Tuesday morning there was to be a boat, so I sat in the taverna and said my good-byes and the old farmer Dimetrios sent his daughter home to fetch a large home-made cheese to send with me, and men dropped in and bought me ouzos and I bought ouzos for them and we drank toasts and then I rode on the flatbed wagon down to the boat landing and got into a little rowboat to go out to the ship that would take me away from my small Greek island.

(Easter in Greece will continue . . .)

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