Sunday, November 18, 2007

It Was Bound to Happen (Sooner or Later)


This morning we hurried off to our nearest church to get there in time. Hurrying is always a mistake, but we didn’t know it yet, so off we trotted, happily.

In church I noticed two things I hadn’t before. The first was at the Small Entrance, when everybody began singing a hymn that somehow seemed familiar, and after a moment, I realized it was the Christmas hymn: “Your birth, O Christ…” How odd, I thought, to begin singing that so early! But then, what do I know? There is so much of which I’m ignorant.

I must not have had enough sleep last night or something. It took half an hour before it dawned on me: this is the Church of the Holy Nativity! Hence they sing that hymn at every Divine Liturgy, year 'round. Duh.

The next thing was another, by now familiar hymn: the one to St. Demetrios! What? His feast was three weeks ago! Surely we aren’t still singing that!

Yes, we are. This is his city. In Thessaloniki, it, too, is sung at every Liturgy. Somehow I never caught on to that before.

There were about 1500 people crammed into that church, but we didn’t have any trouble finding each other afterward this time, thank goodness. This wasn’t a day when we each needed a cell phone and each needed a key, although of course one would have been nice. So, still ignorant of our mistake, we walked the few blocks to one of our favorite bougatsa places, where they also serve spinach pie, more appropriate for the fast. The weather is beautiful; it rained all night and cleared out the skies, and the sun was shining on us, with now and then a cat wandering by, the occasional leaf spiraling down from a tree, and there we sat, chatting happily, still unaware of the Impending Doom.

Okay, well, that’s an exaggeration. We’re still alive and well and no harm done, after all.

It began so innocently, when we got ready to leave the little corner eatery. “Where’s your key?” asked Demetrios.

“At home. Where’s yours?”

“You didn’t bring yours?”

“No, because I thought you had brought yours.”

“Well, I didn’t.”

“Are you sure?”

“I am. Are you?”

“I am.”

We just sat there, dumbstruck, staring at each other for a long moment, and then suddenly the ridiculousness of it all hit me so hard I began laughing uncontrollably. Then Demetrios started in. I suppose it took us five minutes to sober up.

Now what?

“Is Christos perhaps coming today? He could bring his key.”

“He’s sick in bed with a virus today. Do you suppose we’ll have to go to Katerini [an hour’s train ride away], and get it from him?”

Upon further consideration, we decided to go home, ring Thomai’s buzzer (our downstairs neighbor), hope she was home, and then, from her house, decide what to do next. Maybe she would have some advice. Maybe she knew a locksmith.

Thomai opened her door with loud laughter, wrapped her arms around us, and brought us into her living room, where two of her girlfriends were already sitting, Demetra and Soultana. Next thing we knew, there were little plates in our laps with baked quince and some of the chocolate I had brought Thomai yesterday.

No, she said, even a locksmith probably wouldn’t be able to pick the locks in this building. They are special security locks, Soultana explained, whatever that means. (We use one of those old fashioned skeleton keys you hardly ever see in America anymore.) Even if he could open the door, Demetra added, he would likely damage the lock in the process.

The thing to do, they said, was to call Christos, have him put his keys in an envelope and write our names on the envelope, take it down to the bus station, and have the next bus bring it here. It would only cost a Euro or two. Then Christos should call us and tell us what time the bus would arrive. We could take a taxi to the bus terminal and back, and voila!

Christos, however, said he felt better today and he would come. Thank you, Christos! So all we had to do was enjoy Thomai and company for the next hour or so. That was easy!

Demetra and Soultana were full of questions for Demetrios. Were there many Protestants in America? There are quite a few in Katerini. What are Protestants protesting? Are they the same as the papistes? [That's three syllables, accented on the second.] Why is their Pascha on a different day from ours? Why are there two calendars, and which is the more accurate, the Julian or the Gregorian? I really had to admire them, knowing how to make the most out of the opportunity of being with an educated man.

Thomai reiterated what she had told us last year, that Demetrios and his friends were always so pious she had for years and years assumed they were all Protestants. Today she said actually she had supposed them to be Jehovah’s Witnesses! It wasn’t until my mother-in-law’s funeral, when all the friends attended and did the chanting that she realized they were Orthodox after all! So we laughed a lot over that.

Zisis arrived, Thomai’s husband, and he, too, got a good laugh out of our predicament, and then people began swapping stories about the times they had locked themselves out.

It seemed too short a time before Christos rang the bell, and we hurried off with him, lest he give his virus to any of the company.

Back home, we each grabbed a key. Demetrios affixed his to his belt, although losing it was never the problem, and I zipped mine into its special pocket in my purse.

Then, off to Mena’s and Kostas’ for Sunday dinner, in Christos’ car (after having phoned Mena to be sure it was okay to bring him along).

One good thing about living in an Orthodox country (and/or having Orthodox friends) is, you know what to feed each other. Everybody understands what may and may not be eaten on any given day.

The thing Elpida (their daughter) complained of was, it’s been fish every day all week.

My rule is just close your eyes and eat it. It will taste good. It always does. Don’t ask too many questions. Today I didn’t have to. I could see what it was: boiled squid with macaroni. French fries and coleslaw on the side. A second course of barbouri (I think that's the word) a small, local fish, very popular, baked in the oven (I think), crispy and quite good. Just don’t look, as it comes compete with head and tail. It really was all delicious. We had clementines, a.k.a. Mandarins, for dessert.

We were discussing that play, Waiting for Godot, and Christos said, “Godot comes when a person accepts his life as it is and decides to be happy with it. Otherwise, Godot will never come.” Christos smiled a lot during the meal, which was nice to see, although later his pained look returned. He is often in pain from an ulcer. I said it was the worst play I had ever seen – in fact, Demetrios and our friend Vada and I had walked out at intermission – but it was also the one that made the biggest impression on me of any play. (I read the second half of it later; it is very little different from the first act, so I was doubly glad to have given it a miss!) Elpida was trying to remember who had written it, when Kostas’ deep voice, like a tolling bell, said, “Samuel Beckett.” It was so startling to hear the English name, spoken perfectly!

Now they’ve all gone off to the clinic, to see why Kostas’ thigh is swelling up again. Demetrios says he is almost certain it’s just drainage, and that the hole for the drainage was simply stitched up prematurely. Still, one wants to be sure that’s all it is, and not take any chances. I came home, courtesy of Christos, to write this and to take a nap.