Monday, October 1, 2007

Sunday, September 30, 2007

We got up early this morning to get to an 8:30 church service. Leonidas didn’t take us to the usual church in Lower Stavros, but to a newer one in Upper Stavros (literally at a slightly higher elevation). Asked why, he said, “So Anastasia won’t have to see John Boy.”

“John Boy,” in English, is what the villagers call their priest! Yup, Orthodox priests have to earn the respect they get. Here is a typical example of one who somehow has forfeited it. (I know not precisely how and shall not ask.)

I was rather looking forward to seeing John Boy again, truth be told!

Ianna says he is sickly these days and has a younger priest helping him, who is some sort of relative of his.

In any case, the church in Upper Stavros was very nice, if too new and thus without any frescoes yet. The service was very reverent; the priest seemed very kindly and humble. People stayed until the very end, which is not always the case, in Thessaloniki, at least.

Demetrios had said he didn’t feel like singing; his voice is not in very good form right now. Nevertheless, after half an hour, he walked up to the cantors’ stand. I was quite puzzled, the more so since indeed he did not sing, except for the Creed. Only afterward did I find out what was up: he had recognized the cantor as an old university friend!

So he stood there without introducing himself for a while to see if he, in turn, would be recognized. Not. So then he sang the creed. Would his voice be recognized? Not. So after the service, he introduced himself, last name only.

“I used to know a Theodoridis who was a very good cantor,” said his friend. “He became a doctor and unfortunately went off to America. I always wonder what became of him…”

“He is right here,” said Demetrios, “Speaking to you!” So then there were hugs and kisses and tears.

Thanasis (Athanasios, properly) had written a book about the history of Stavros and especially of this parish. He gave Demetrios two copies, one for himself, the other to donate to our parish in Richmond, he said. It looks quite interesting.

We were still chatting with Thanasis when Katerina approached. She is the wife of Panteleimon, who has been Demetrios’ dear friend since they shared a double desk and bench in first grade (and all the grades thereafter). Pantelakis (for short) lived two doors down from Demetrios on the same street in Kilkis. His mothers still live there, and he and Katerina have a house there as well, but also have a summer home in Stavros. (In the picture, it’s around the topmost bend of the coastline, out of our line of sight.)

We had not gotten around to notifying Pantelakis and Katerina that we were here. They are leaving this afternoon, so we shall have to see them another time. Their very pretty daughter was also in church, Aspasia. She dialed her cell phone number from ours, thereby capturing ours, and then did it the other way around so our phone captured her number.

After church we stopped by to see Soula, as promised, one of Leonidas’ sisters, and Panayiota, her sister-in-law, who lives with her. While we were there, various of his other relatives came in and out, and a friend or two, as well.

One of the visitors drew much laughter from her description of how she, earlier in the day, had barely stopped a newcomer from addressing the priest as “John Boy.” The woman had supposed that was his real name! People seem to have to think hard before they can remember what his real name is.

(It reminded me of a high school history teacher of mine who wore elevator shoes. Because we knew he was sensitive about being so short, we all called him, “Big Charlie.” One day as I was walking to school, he and I happened to meet on the corner. He said good morning to me, and it was out of my mouth before I could even think: “Good morning, Big Charlie.” Ouch!)

Panayiota brought out a shoe box that contained all her photographs. It made me sad to think of every single picture of a long life (as in eighty plus years) being easily contained in a shoe box. Anyway, we took the time to admire each one, in between sipping Soula’s marvelous cherry liqueur and nibbling on her cookies.

Both Soula and Panayiota are merry souls, with smiling eyes and ready jokes (none of which shall be recounted here). You wouldn’t know they had led such difficult lives. Once, for example, Soula’s and Leonidas’ younger sister had been badly injured by a mine planted by the Communists during their insurgency. This sister had been taken to a hospital in Thessaloniki. After a few days, her parents went to Thessaloniki to see how she was doing. (This was in 1949, so before there were telephones.) Soula, the eldest, was left to care for her multitude of siblings.

Leonidas said his father used to lend or give money to people in need, and during his parents’ absence, one of them came by the house and told Soula, “I know you may need this money, so take it. I owe it to your father.”

These two old ladies could tell you such stories all day along, about the blackouts, the mines, the shootings…but instead, they are simply grateful for today.

Leaving Soula’s, we drove to the newest hotel/restaurant in town, owned and operated by a nephew of Leonidas’.

There was a baptism party in progress there, out on the veranda, but there was one table not in use, so the nephew let us take it. This is the only place in town big enough for such a party, unless you sit out on the sidewalk. It is also the only elegant place in town.

Demetrios informed me that today’s menu choice was goat or rooster. Facing such a choice, I decided upon rooster. That was an excellent decision, too, for what came was actually coq-au-vin. The only problem was it was twice as much as I could eat. Leonidas thought that was fine; he had it wrapped up to take to the cats.

As we were beginning our desert, one of the male guests at the baptism feast suddenly, loudly, burst into song. A few moments later, the newly enlightened child was dancing on the table. Well, she wasn’t exactly dancing; she was probably not even able to walk yet. But her mother was holding her by the waist and moving her about, rather like the way a puppeteer moves a marionette. The guests began clapping in time to the music.

The singer turned out to be – well, this is a multiple choice. You guess!
a. A Cousin of Leonidas
b. An Old Friend of Demetrios

The correct answer is (a), a first cousin of Leonidas’. “How many first cousins do you have?” I asked in amazement.

Here’s another multiple choice. His answer was:

a. 34
b. 45
c. 56
d. 67

The correct answer is (d), sixty-seven! That doesn’t count the second cousins, of which this town is full!

With our stomachs full, we went back to the house for siesta, and afterward departed for Thessaloniki, back past the Castle Rentina, past the two lakes, past the village where the Germans had burned 350 people, back to Panorama, from which we saw spectacular views of Thessaloniki, all lit up below (see picture from Wikipedia), and back home, tired but happy, carrying our treasures: the cherry liqueur and the garlicky sausage we had been smelling all the way home.