Sunday, June 21, 2009

Chronicles of the Visit of Dwight and Sylvia, Part 6

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Today we went to Kavala, where Demetrios was born. More importantly, it is the same city that used to be called Neapolis, where St. Paul and St. Silas first set foot in Europe to bring Christianity there.

It’s a beautiful and quaint town that either spills down to the sea or climbs up from it to huddle under its castle, depending upon your perspective. It has a harbor that receives anything from fishing boats to pleasure crafts to cruise ships. It has a swimming beach. It has an a Roman aqueduct. It has a monastery where Sts. Paul and Silas (Barnabas) are said to have rested on their way to Philippi. Philippi, founded by Philip the father of Alexander the Great, was his capital city, and the book of Acts describes it as the principle city of the region.

We arrived in Kavala in the early afternoon, checked into our hotel, napped for an hour, and decided our first objective should be Philippi.

“It’s a ruin, you understand,” I said, to avoid their being disappointed when we got there. “Nobody lives there today.”

Wrong! It’s still a thriving little town. It’s only the ancient part that is in ruins.

We didn’t know where to go, what to see, but we spotted a priest, and stopped to ask him. It was Father Peter, the American priest who serves the church in Petrokerassa! He was there with, apparently, guests of his own. “Well, the prison is that way,” he said, pointing, “and the oldest basilica in Europe is over there, and the Octagon, the first church ever named after St. Paul, is in that direction…”

The prison! The prison where the Apostles had been held, the prison whose doors were opened by an earthquake, but the prisoners stayed put, from love of the jailor, so he wouldn’t commit suicide. The prison where the Philippian jailor had asked, “What must I do to be saved?” (And note, St. Paul did NOT say anything like, “Nothing at all, and the very idea that you could is downright presumptuous.” There is indeed something you must do. Granted, you can only do it by the grace of God, yet it is you doing it; it is an act genuinely yours, and not merely God acting in you, leaving you a puppet. Believe and be baptized.)

The prison was what we had to see first. It is still there, still in pretty good shape, and it is obviously a prison, more like a dungeon. And among the reasons the prisoners sat up all night praying and singing hymns is that there wasn’t room in that cell for more than about 5 men to lie down. We just stood there in awe, tears in our eyes.

Then there was the amphitheatre, the High Place of the Day which Sylvia had to climb, so of course I did, too, although I only arrived as she was coming back down.

Ancient Philippi isn’t just a city block of ruins, it’s block after block after block. It would take two days to explore it all adequately. We had a much shorter time than that because it began to rain. We dashed for shelter and had a light supper at the visitor’s center there before heading back to Kavala.

In Kavala, we wandered the winding, stone-paved streets. Of course they all go uphill. We went as far as where the house used to be where Demetrios was born, pretty far up. En route, we passed the beautiful, glistening mosaic depicting the sections of Acts 16 in which St. Paul dreams of a Macedonian man saying, “Come over here and help us.” In the mosaic, the dream is shown in a kind of oval halo. The Church interpreted this dream as from God and sent Sts. Paul and Silas (aka Barnabas) to Macedonia. They landed here, at Kavala, and the landing is also shown on the mosaic. Sylvia tried to take some pictures, but the flash got in the way and I think she got some better ones the next day.

We also passed the aqueduct and walked under it. Sylvia wanted to touch it, and did. It used to carry water from the mountains to I don’t know where. Someone said to the castle, but the castle was built centuries later.

The castle was lit up, dominating the landscape.

We decided to make it our first objective in the morning.

Friday, June 12, 2009

We had thought of making an excursion today to the island of Thassos, in sight of Kavala and said to be very beautiful. But Sylvia and Dwight said Kavala itself was too good to miss; they would rather spend the day there. They were right; you can indeed spend a whole day just exploring this town, and still have things left for your next visit.

The houses are all old-fashioned and I think not allowed to change in style. They are very picturesque with their carved wooden doors or wrought iron doors, their shuttered windows, their balconies, their red tile roofs. Sylvia especially admired the doors. There are little alleys full of flowered balconies and shady terraces. There are tourist shops and real shops, and we stopped at both.

The lady in the tourist shop, after chatting with Demetrios, said there were still some people living here with the same last name as his grandparents, and one of them looked like him and she felt sure he must be related. She told us how to get to his house. So, winding around the narrow streets and asking our way, we did find his house.

He isn’t related, so far as anybody can tell.

Along our way, we passed the Imaret, which was once a Turkish prison but today is a luxury hotel. Last I checked, on the Internet, rooms ranged from 500 to 1500 Euros per night. Maybe it's cheaper now, due to the recession. Our hotel in Kavala is. So the dreaded, horrific place has now become a source of wealth; how’s that for sweet “revenge”?

Sylvia got her camera ready and then darted inside long enough to take one photo. We had already told her how we were escorted out of there once when we ventured into the lobby without reservations.

We also passed the old mosque, now a music hall. And Sylvia and I, while the men waited, climbed about 100 miles back down that hill (okay, 100 meters) to see where the Turkish ruler of the district used to live. Couldn’t see much, but the gardens were lovely. Then we hiked back UP those hundred miles to find – nobody waiting for us. We called out and found them, but it was a frightening moment or two. All part of the adventure.

Finally, we arrived at the castle, the High Climb of the Day. By then we needed a cool drink, and of course the locals are smart enough to have figured that out, so drinks and fast food are served within the outer keep of the castle. We had water and sodas.

After that there was more climbing to do, if you wanted to walk around the ramparts. We did, even Dwight. They are narrow, high, and rough and there are no handrails, so the experience is just scary enough to be that much more fun, especially if you are afraid of heights. Sylvia and I both are, though in her case you’d never know it.

Getting up the hill is only part of the battle, as you know. Eventually you have to come back down, the part Sylvia doesn’t like but I do. We came down, spent some time in a cafĂ©, retrieved our luggage from the hotel, and took the bus home to Thessaloniki.

Saturday, June 13, 2009
The Baptism of Irene Semirami Theodosiadi

Katerina and Nikos, daughter and son-in-law of our friends Renna and Theodosios, invited all four of us to the baptism of their daughter, which took place today at noon.

She’s an adorable little girl, 9 months old, who looks a lot like her older brother, Spiros.

I don’t know what to tell you.

In “My Fair Lady,” Professor Higgins sings:

Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?
Norwegians learn Norwegian, and Greeks are taught their Greek.

Well, that’s not true, strictly speaking. The Greeks nowadays are only taught the language of the gutter, the Greek equivalent of Cockney, with the result that they can no longer read either Homer or Aristotle, or any other philosophers, or the Bible, or the Fathers of the Church, or any of the classic, immortal literature that forms so much of their heritage.

But my own gripe is,

Why can’t the Greeks teach their kids to stand in line?
To be quiet when in church and not to chat or whine?

The kids grow up to be adults, and still act like toddlers. (The toddlers, however, behaved very well!) I’d like to propose the following bits of etiquette when in an Orthodox church:

• Find where you want to stand and stand there, reverently. Move around as little as possible during the service.

• Refrain from conversation in church.

• Take pictures but be discreet about it; don’t push your camera in people’s faces.

• Pay attention to what’s going on.

Now in an Orthodox service, because there are children present, who are most welcome, and because there may be no chairs to speak of, a certain amount of quiet disorder is normal and in fact inescapable. But the behavior at this baptism was a disgrace, and I say so even understanding Katerina and Nikos may read this. It was total chaos. The priest had to ask the congregation three times to be quiet, please, but to no avail.

It was an embarrassment to have brought our Baptist guests to this service.

The baby was named Eirini (Irene), after her grandmother, whom we call Renna. Middle name, Semiramis. I know that is the name of a piece of pretty music...

I gave Katerina the pink baby blanket I had knitted for Irene, and we left after milling about the outdoor reception for about an hour.


elizabeth said...

enjoyed reading this; I love learning about the places you go. Thanks again for writing.