Tomorrow is Greek Easter. This usually entails large and joyous gatherings of family and friends, which of course this year are prohibited. Easter is the most important religious holiday of the year in Greece, so here is a reblog of a post I wrote a few years ago, describing the traditions of a normal year.
Celebrated by even the most secular of Greeks, Easter is for us the biggest holiday of the year. Yes, even bigger than Christmas. Everyone joins in the church rituals and there are lots of other traditions as well. To top it all, this year Greek Easter falls on the first of May, which is, in itself, another popular holiday.
I thought I’d begin by explaining why Easter is a ‘mobile’ holiday: the determination of the date of Easter is governed by a computation based on the vernal equinox (the point at which the ecliptic and the celestial equators intersect) and the phase of the moon. According to the ruling of the First Ecumenical Synod in 325, Easter should fall on the Sunday which follows the first full moon after the vernal equinox (invariably, March 21). If the full moon happens to fall on a Sunday, Easter is observed the…
This morning when I woke up there was a perfect half moon hanging upright in the lightening sky, like a slice of lemon with a bright rind. At the moment, going to a café seems as unattainable as going to the moon, which just proves how relative things always are. In a survey asking people what was the first thing they would do when lockdown was lifted, a surprisingly large percentage answered ‘Go to the hairdresser’ — conjuring up images of hordes of bushy heads, grey or dark roots, split ends and pudding bowl cuts.
In another article, what the writer missed most was going out to eat. She could not face another day of staring at two potatoes, a can of chickpeas and a mouldy piece of cheddar, wondering what to make for lunch. She dreamt of restaurants with white tablecloths, pub lunches, or even a kebab wrapped in a piece of paper.
Amazing how much we are appreciating little things we used to take for granted—a walk on the beach, having a coffee with a friend, hugging kids. Pet owners have got a lot to be thankful for. We have found ourselves in a weird, astonishing limbo where normal life has been all but suspended—except for those who, on the contrary, are on the front lines, tasked with keeping the most important, basic services going. The rest of us are very grateful to them now, but let’s hope we will continue to value them afterwards.
The thing that is most frustrating is the lack of proper information, rendering it impossible to make any kind of plan. However, even if we can’t plan yet, we can dream and we must always keep a glimmer of hope—a big part of happiness resides in anticipation.
For those dreaming of their next holiday, please put Greece on your list. Towards the end of summer, supposing things have eased up and before the next wave of virus(es) hits in October, would be a perfect time, both for the beach and for the sights. Not too crowded, not too hot. So much to enjoy, and so helpful for the economy. Greece was struggling to emerge from the crisis, only to get a serious kick in the teeth. And so many people are dependent upon tourism to make a living…
It remains to be seen how affordable air travel will be in the future. Or how practicable.
I will end by mentioning the weirdest thing I’ve read all week. Apparently cruise bookings for 2021 are up by 40%! And here I was thinking that at least the coronavirus would be the end of those ginormous petri dishes going around the world defacing beautiful places like Venice and Santorini. But no, even after dozens of passengers were infected and many died, after they were shut inside hellish cabins for weeks, there is still demand for this kind of specialized torture. I rest my case.
Since we are, for the moment, confined to barracks, I thought a Throwback Thursday was perfect for a spot of armchair traveling. Going back to old posts written in the same month of the year, this one is about a trip to Crete and the amazing Minoan civilization. Posted in April 2016.
On the island of Crete, which lies nearer to the coast of Africa than to the Greek mainland, a brilliant civilization flourished from approximately 3650 to 1400 BCE. It was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century through the work of British archaeologist Arthur Evans and refers to the mythic King Minos. Minos was associated in Greek myth with the labyrinth and the Minotaur, which Evans placed at the largest Minoan site, Knossos.
The Minoans were the first Europeans to have a literate civilization. They were traders who built a colossal fleet and exported their products all over the Mediterranean: timber, wine, currants, olive oil, saffron and honey, herbs, exquisite pottery, jewellery, wool and cloth. They imported alabaster, precious stones, copper, ivory, gold and silver, as well as artistic ideas and techniques.
They built astonishing palaces decorated with amazing murals; the palaces, unusually, were lacking in fortifications since…
Now that hugs have become virtual, and meals with friends take place on Zoom, it’s an opportunity to rediscover the solace of poetry. Poetry can be an endless source of comfort and inspiration.
And I won’t be seduced by the thought of my native language, its milky call.
How can it matter in what tongue I am misunderstood by whoever I meet.
Eugenia Ginsburg was imprisoned in Stalin’s Gulag for a horrendous 17 years. She was a teacher, and what helped her survive was reciting poetry—sometimes to herself, sometimes aloud, with other prisoners. Her favorites were Anna Akhmatova and Marina Tsvetaevna. Poetry speaks to the heart: how many displaced people wouldn’t identify with the lines above.
I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? I shall wear white flannel trousers And walk upon the beach I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each I do not think that they will sing to me.
T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
I am of a generation who still had to learn poems by heart, and even though we all complained at the time, this has since been a source of endless pleasure.
I think educational methods have vastly improved since my time, with endless learning by rote, dusty lists of dates and translations from the Latin and Ancient Greek being replaced by more interactive systems, and more emphasis on thinking and creativity. However, I find it a pity that learning poetry by heart has mostly been discontinued.
A 12-year-old boy of my acquaintance whose English teacher at school made the class write poems produced some lovely stuff, something which he would never have thought of doing on his own. Poetry can be very modern, and fun for kids.
WE REAL COOL. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
—Gwendolyn Brooks, “We Real Cool”
As it happens, thousands of people still write poems, so this practice has not been discontinued at all. And I assume that those who write poetry, also enjoy reading it.
My favorite poet in my teens was T. S. Eliot, and he remains a favorite to this day, amongst many others. One I must mention today is Constantine Cavafy, the Alexandrian, Greek, poet-historian who was drawn to what was lost: forgotten Byzantine kingdoms, beautiful boys briefly glimpsed and never seen again. I think poetry is best read in the original, since a certain particular flavor or music is lost in translation; but the two poems below are quite close to the original.
Imagined voices, and beloved, too, of those who died, or of those who are lost unto us like the dead.
Sometimes in our dreams they speak to us; sometimes in its thought the mind will hear them.
And with their sound for a moment there return sounds from the first poetry of our life– like music, in the night, far off, that fades away.
Voices, translated by Daniel Mendelsohn
This room, how well I know it. Now they’re renting it, it and the one next door, as offices. The whole house has been taken over by agents, businessmen, concerns.
Ah but this one room, how familiar.
Here by the door was the couch. In front of that, a Turkish carpet on the floor. The shelf then, with two yellow vases. On the right― no, opposite―a wardrobe with a mirror. At the center the table where he wrote, and the three big wicker chairs. There by the window stood the bed where we made love so many times.
Poor things, they must be somewhere to this day.
There by the window stood the bed: across it the afternoon sun used to reach halfway.
…We’d said goodbye one afternoon at four, for a week only. But alas, that week was to go on forevermore.
The afternoon sun, translated by James Merrill
Most of us have the Oxford book of English poems or some other anthology lurking on our shelves, but most poetry nowadays can also be found on line. These days of confinement, dipping into them would make a change to bingeing on Netflix.
As for those stuck at home with children, kids love words that rhyme. I cannot count how many times I’ve read Room on the Broom, The Owl And the Pussycat, or Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes. And for people who can’t be bothered with doing it themselves, there’s a site called poetrygeneration, where someone reads aloud a different poem every day. A great selection of poems, beautifully read.
‘Nuns fret not at their Convent’s narrow room; And Hermits are contented with their Cells; And Students with their pensive Citadels; Maids at the Wheel, the Weaver at his Loom Sit blithe and happy; Bees that soar for bloom, High as the highest Peak of Furness-Fells, Will murmur by the hour in Foxglove bells: In truth the prison, into which we doom Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me, In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground; Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be) Who have felt the weight of too much liberty, Should find brief solace there, as I have found.’
These days it’s a plus to be someone who likes being alone and takes pleasure in their own company. Sometimes it can even be easier than being cooped up with others, especially if you don’t get along particularly well… Be that as it may, we’re all in this together, as the press does not stop reminding us. And it’s true, globalisation has never been so pertinent. So we must all try to find ways to embellish our living conditions as much as possible.
Seeing as the coronavirus has been unable to stop the coming of spring, I have been enjoying painting the daffs and tulips in my vases in various ways. In the drawing below, the ink marks were made using a stick I picked up outside.
For a bit of news from Greece, every day at six o’clock people have been turning on the TV to listen to the health bulletin read by the new national guru, ProfessorSotirisTsiodras. Harvard and MIT educated, the self-effacing and mild-mannered Professor Tsiodras has been appointed by the government to manage the coronavirus crisis as well as communicating to the public about it. An austere, almost ascetic man (he is father to seven children, and a psalm singer in church), he seems unsuited for the role of television personality. However, he has managed to gain the trust of a people usually very suspicion of those in authority. This is just as well, because Greeks do not take kindly to obeying rules; and of course there is the inevitable faction of rebels who do not hesitate in accusing him of trying to instill fear in the population for political reasons, going so far as to troll him on social media. However, in general the Greek government has been following the French example of confinement and things seem to be reasonably calm.
Nevertheless, there is great worry about the day after, since Greece has been trying to emerge from unprecedented crisis and the EU is now widely seen as not being up to par in its obligations. As for the refugee problem, it will not abate anytime soon, given the continuing wars in Syria and Libya.
In better news, the Ministry of Health is taking delivery of a large amount of protective material (masks etc) from China, the cost of which has mostly been covered by the Onassis Foundation.
Finally, Greece is mourning the death, at 97, of Manolis Glezos, left-wing politician and Anti-Nazi resistance hero. He will always be remembered for his feat, as a young man, of ripping down the swastika from the Acropolis. On May 30, 1941, aged 18, he scaled the walls with a companion in the dead of night, to remove the occupyers’ flag. He was arrested and tortured, and subsequently sentenced to death multiple times; due to his political activism, he spent sixteen years of his life confined to a prison cell. Later he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize, and vociferously campaigned well into his 90s for German reparations as compensation for the atrocities Greeks suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Glezos lived with his wife Georgia in a little house in Athens filled with books, and was a great believer in the afternoon nap – the legacy of a life of exile and imprisonment.
Going back to Wordsworth, and his ‘host of golden daffodils’, here a cartoon by the inimitable Matt, to make you smile:
And to finish off, I’d like to share a little video I came upon, about musical twins in Italy. Who could be gloomy with these two in the house!
Staying home means a little more time than usual to fiddle about. My blog had been giving me trouble for some time now: little things that did not work properly, the fact that I constantly had to log in, and log in yet again. I had to enter my password more often than when I go into my bank account. But trying to fix anything at all on Word Press takes forever, and I couldn’t be bothered. Contacting a Happiness Engineer always seems harder than contacting the Pope.
Anyway, I came upon a forum where someone who was having a problem was told by WP support that his theme had expired. I had no idea that this could even happen (why??) but it dawned on me that mine might have the same issue and, sure enough, when I looked it up, there was a message saying ‘This theme has not been updated for two years.’ Gee, Thanks. So I scrolled through the free themes, but of course that took ages. I found some nice ones on WP.org, which—surprise—did not exist on WP.com (yes, they are different). Then I wanted to read some reviews (people report the weirdest problems), and run the demos, which show you how your blog will look. That takes ages, too.
I wanted something simple, without too many frills and bows. I finally chose a WP theme called Twenty Sixteen, which came out in 2016, but has been updated since. Let’s hope they continue doing so. WP also advised me to back up the blog before doing anything, but just reading about how to do that gave me a headache. I discovered a good plugin which copies all your files and photos, and apparently is simple to install, then I found out that if I wanted to use a plugin I needed to upgrade to WP business plan. No thanks. So I just exported the files, which are now sitting in my Dropbox as zip files. No idea how to open them. Moving on, I finally took the plunge and pushed the button, and I think it looks okay. There is the small matter that my featured image appears twice in each post (it’s being added before the heading). If anyone can tell me how to fix that, I’d be most grateful. Let me know what you think!
It’s difficult to know how to describe the situation we find ourselves in. A mini-apocalypse? A plague? A warning for the future? It’s been hard accepting how dangerous the virus is, and how contagious. Most of us, if in good health, kept up normal activities for a while, thinking it was just a bad kind of flu. Some are still not taking it seriously enough, obliging governments to impose confinement, curfews and fines. In retrospect, it was a disaster waiting to happen, given the global amount of traveling that goes on, with no health checks whatsoever. The proof has been the rapidity with which the virus has spread worldwide.
However, this too shall pass, as have all previous epidemics: the object now being to limit the devastation it will leave in its wake, both in terms of deaths and financial.
It’s interesting, and sometimes weird, to see how people are reacting. I still have friends who are on holiday, blithely ignoring the fact that they might be blocked from going home, maybe for months. Thousands of travelers, of all nationalities, are stuck abroad as we speak.
As with all extreme situations, this has brought out the best and the worst in people. Every day we witness incredible scenes—some of outrageous selfishness, some of great kindness.
Indisputably, we must come to terms with the new reality facing us for weeks, maybe for months to come.
I find myself back in confinement after the weeks when I could put no weight on my broken ankle—but this time without a cast! Bliss. I can now cook, and, as everyone knows, food is a great lifter of spirits. Improvising with what we have in the fridge, freezer and store cupboard. And I’ve been doing some foraging. There’s a little stream nearby, and its banks are full of wild garlic and nettles. Good for pesto, and soup, perhaps. There was a little yellow frog hopping about, and for a minute I thought ‘Frog legs!’, but then, Noo. No way 🙂
I feel so thankful and privileged to be able to go out in the garden. It’s such an escape from feeling like murdering the loved ones. I think of people stuck with small kids in tiny appartments. People worried about losing their jobs or going bankrupt. The refugees, piled in camps with no hygiene. People stuck in prison. The elderly who cannot see their families because they risk being contaminated. Africans who have no access to clean water with which to wash their hands. The list goes on.
I also have so much respect for the people with no choice but to continue working in very uncertain conditions. Nurses, doctors, policemen, firefighters, couriers, pharmacists, cashiers and many more.
Apart from cooking, and reading, I’ve been drawing and painting, color being another spirit booster. Amazing how many ways there are of describing one cheerful vase of daffodils.
And let’s not forget that laughter is the best medicine. People’s sense of humor is flourishing, I’m pleased to report, with a spate of jokes, memes and caricatures flooding the web and my social media.
My apologies for my protracted absence, due to the fact that I have been afflicted by a total lack of inspiration. Winter blues? Procrastination? Terminal laziness? Call it what you will. I have been nursing a broken ankle, not the result of skiing down a black piste or parachuting into the Gobi desert, which at least would have contained some element of glory, but boringly achieved, on a cold and frosty morning before Christmas, just outside the house.
As such I’ve been confined to the sofa and unable to visit any exciting exhibitions, or take any trips. And the news, as usual, is horrendous.
For a while, Ι debated whether to write about the appalling developments in the refugee crisis, but just could not bear to. I have been posting about this since 2015, and it just seems to get worse and worse, with no end in sight. Anyway, nobody needs my take on this issue, since we are bombarded with articles about it in the media every single day. As for the American campaign, it just fills me with ennui—and amazement that a country of so many millions has failed to produce anyone more inspiring. I miss the Obamas. Whatever one’s political convictions or criticism of the man’s policies, he was young, vibrant, intelligent, and possessed of a normal family unafflicted by the sleazy/tragic luggage that seems to weigh down everyone else. The worst journalists could dig up about him was that he was not American (seriously?) and that he changed his name from Barry (boring) to Barack (interesting). Shock! Oh, and his daughter Malia was once photographed smoking. Re-shock! Nowadays I find every candidate is too old, too rich, too corrupt, too boring, too bitter, and some are all of the above. Moving on from these non PC remarks, what else is there to discuss but the surreal panic about the coronavirus epidemic. No comment; I’m sure everyone’s had their fill of this.
Despite all this whining, I have not been totally idle. I enrolled in a short but interesting online course on memoir writing (courtesy of Curtis Brown Creative), and did the appropriate homework. I’ve also been doing a lot of reading, keeping a few books on the go. One of these is Mazower’s Inside Hitler’s Greece, which dovetailed with my interest in the memoir course. It’s beautifully researched and written, but the content is so horrific that I can only read one chapter at a time. It has, however, given me interesting insight into the times my parents and their generation lived through. The second book is Shnayerson’s Boom, about the rise of the contemporary art market. This is easy reading, being amusing and full of gossipy titbits, but also slow going since I feel compelled to Google many of the artists and dealers mentioned in it. Finally a friend brought me Georgina Howel’s Queen of the Desert, a fascinating biography of Gertrude Bell—the British explorer who helped to found modern Iraq—which I’m now devouring, having previously gone through a collection of essays by Nora Ephron (always amusing), a book of short stories by Alice Munro, and a murder mystery set in France.
On the artistic front, I could only manage some small sketches and drawings such as the owl above, done on my lap with colored pencils. Once I could sit at the table with my cast on a stool, I played around with some gold leaf, and lately I have been experimenting with monotypes, of which more in another post. Hopefully, now the cast is off and I’m hobbling around and paying visits to the physiotherapist, I will get my mojo back and regale you with more interesting posts.