Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Gladness and Sadness

Finally I'm feeling better, and am able to talk! The laryngitis lasted several frustrating days. I'm enjoying my much-improved health.

Yesterday, the carpenter came, and now all the doors within our apartment close properly. The main job was the bathroom door, which needed planing on the bottom and re-framing. The new frame isn't painted yet, but still looks better than the old, cracked framing did. All the other doors work properly, too, without scraping the floor.

George (the carpenter) is coming back next week to re-build our kitchen drawers. That will be a huge relief. The existing ones are SO shoddy, so falling apart! He will use the same fronts, but re-make the insides.

It was seven o'clock in the evening before I even remembered it was my birthday. Oh, well. We're having a great time just being here. We went to visit Kostas and Mena and had a pleasant evening of conversation and looking at old photographs.

Today we took the bus downtown and poked around some second-hand shops and some antique shops. We didn't buy anything, but had a glorious time looking at all the exotic, quaint, colorful stuff. Thre were no bargains. (These people have Internet access, and are very much aware of the value of their goods, thank you!) The sun was out and the sea was sparkling, so it was a holiday atmosphere.

I've just learned that yesterday was Ruby's funeral. Ruby fell in love with my ex quite soon after we had split. She provided him a home, a second house on the same property as hers (and has provided in her will that he is to have the use of it during his lifetime). He managed to keep her happy without every marrying her, but he still came to feel quite close to her, as did the rest of us. She was a kind, generous soul, very good to all of us in my family, much beloved by all. May God give rest to her soul!

Monday, April 27, 2009


Take nine soloists from the Bolshoi Ballet and send them to Thessaloniki all alone with a trunk full of costumes and a couple of CDs and what do you get?

By “all alone,” I mean, you leave the rest of the dancers, the corps de ballet, at home, meaning you cannot perform complete works such as Swan Lake or Romeo and Juliet. You leave the orchestra at home, so the dancers work with recorded music. You leave all your stage sets and props at home, so the stage will be absolutely bare. (It takes a blend of quite a few different arts to perform the usual ballet, when you stop to think about it, It takes musical composition, musical performance, stage sets design and construction, costume design and construction, choreography, and, of course, the actual dancing.

So what do you get with just nine soloists, five men and four prima ballerinas, a few costumes, and a CD? Magic, that’s what! You get enough magic to make you, most of the time, forget all the rest. You get a showcase of virtuosity. You get a lot of pas de deux, which for me is the main thing I look forward to in a ballet anyway. You get a good blend of classic and modern ballet, modern but not ugly, as is so much of what passes for “art” these days. (A thousand years from now, when archaeologists look at Twentieth-Century paintings and read the literature of our day, and listen to the popular music, they are going to scratch their heads in bewilderment and ask one another, “What ailed them?”)

The costumes were great, too. Yes, yes, the men in blouses and tights with over-sized codpieces, but never mind that. Yes, there was the pink tutu, as well as the white one for the number from Swan Lake, plus the ballerina-length dresses. All you look for was there, and more. Twice there were flesh-colored leotards and tights, making the performers almost appear nude. It worked, though, very, very well. Sometimes I felt trasnported into a previous century, perhaps the 19th. (Made me wonder about those Victorians, who used to think looking at a woman’s ankle was provocative – how did they ever tolerate ballet?)

It was a splurge, but as our attendance was in celebration of our anniversary, belatedly, my name day, also belatedly, and my birthday, a few days hence, we figure we got off easy. The theater wasn’t full, almost certainly due to the economic downturn. I wanted to say, “So what? It’s the Bolshoi! You find the money, you scrape together the money some way!” Yeah, well, but if you don’t have a job...

As we were waiting for the next elevator to the balcony before the performance, we heard some man call out, “Demetri? Demetri!”

“It’s a different Demetrios,” I said, as we turned around to look. And so it was. But it wasn’t just any Demetrios. It was, of course, an Old Friend, a fellow student from medical school. So we exchanged telephone numbers and said we’d all meet for coffee one day, and who knows? Perhaps we really shall.

We found our seats, and the couple next to us, hearing us speak English, took a great interest in us. They had lived in America ten years. The man was a surgeon, although far enough ahead of Demetrios in medical school that they didn’t actually know each other. They still compared notes on some of their old professors, and by the end of the evening, again we exchanged telephone numbers and said we’d all meet for coffee one day, and who knows? Perhaps we really shall.

It’s amazing how many friends you either bump into or make here, and how quickly people come to love one another. It’s as though kindred spirits just recognize one another.

Hints from Helen:

It isn’t gastrointestinal bleeding; it’s just the beet salad you ate yesterday. Nothing alarming.

If you don’t want to start a rumor, just don’t.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Now We Are Starting to Have Fun

Bright Tuesday
April 21, 2009

Again, I felt exhausted by this bug that his me in its grip. I rested most of the day in order to scrounge up enough willpower to go to Elpida’s and Pantelis’ house in the evening. Elipda is Kostas and Mena’s younger daughter; she and Pantelis were married in September. We were doubly interested to see what their new apartment looks like, given that Pantelis is an interior designer.

So what does this interior designer’s own apartment look like? Well, it looks like the interior of a statue, that’s what. All the shapes are rectangular. The kitchen has one wall of tall, vertical slabs, all whiteexcept for the stainless steel slab that is the refrigerator door. The other slabs are doors to a pantry, dishwasher, built-in-oven, and such. The kitchen’s opposite wall is all horizontal slabs: countertop, stovetop above the countertop, a lower countertop that serves as a table.

The whole house is black and white and shades of gray or silver. There are no other colors. The floor is of ceramic tile, but it looks like stone. It’s dark gray with random streaks of glittery, silver flecks. In the “salon,” as it’s called here, the sofa is two shades of silver; the rug is white; the chair and coffee table are black, the curtains are black.

The bathroom is very cool, because you could, in theory have three people in their, each doing his/her own thing with a great deal of privacy. First thing you come to is a sink, a squared white bowl sitting atop the black counter. Wind around a corner or two and you pass the shower. It has no need of doors or a shower curtain because of the way it’s arranged. You could walk right past it and not see the person showering inside it. Turn another angle and you’re at the toilet, again, secluded.

Elpida showed us the wedding photos, which had just arrived and aren’t even in an album yet. We were very sorry to have missed the wedding, after we had promised bride and groom to be there. Elpida looked like a figure on an antique, Greek vase. She has that classic Greek profile, and was wearing a classic Greek dress.

And Pantelis? He looks pretty much as you’d expect a Greek interior designer to look. I don’t know; perhaps there are industry standards to uphold? Stereotypes to live up to?

Kostas and Mena came, too, and their friends, Eriphili and Spiros, he who had cooked the Paschal lamb to perfection. I learned tonight from Eriphili that Spiros has Parkinson’s. I gave her a bighug and kiss at the end of the evening and said, “So I can see you have a difficult time ahead of you, but just remember, for the other person, it is not at all difficult.” Please pray for Eriphili and her mother, who has dementia, and Spiros.

Bright Wednesday
April 22, 2009

Our kitchen drawers are falling apart. The cabinetry itself is good quality, but the drawers are all shoddy and flimsy, and two of them have already become useless and we’ve had to remove them, making the kitchen unsightly.

Today, Demetrios found a carpenter to rebuild kitchen drawers and to plane the bottom of the bathroom door, allowing it to close properly. We are going to discuss with him building us a custom bookcase, too, as we have an odd little alcove in one wall that used to contain a radiator but no longer does, and we don’t know what else to do with it.

Matter of fact, I have long list of things I could have a carpenter do around here, but can’t tackle them all at once.

In the evening, we were invited to Ianna’s and Leonidas’ house. I couldn’t speak, as my voice has by now given out entirely, but other than that, I felt pretty good, and it’s always nice to be with them. They are both fluent in German, so I could actually have conversed with them, if I’d had a voice.

Ianna served us chicken with rice, pork somethings, two kinds of salads, leeks and carrots in cream sauce, fruit jello, and chocolates. Yum!

She is feeling good, has decided to proceed with radiotherapy, to begin in May, but no chemo.

Leonidas drove us home (we had come by taxi) and we were there before midnight.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Bright Monday (Or, Are We Having Fun Yet? Nope.

April 20, 2009

This morning, for the first time since arriving in Greece, I woke up early. In fact, it was before 7:30, in time to see a raven leave his roost in our tree and head out for the day’s scavenging. (Shouldn’t ravens be tending to nests of little ravenakis and ravenoulas about now?)

It was the most peaceful morning I’ve ever experienced around here. That’s because it’s the day after Pascha, and virtually everything is closed. Almost nobody is going to work. There are no motorcycles and very few cars moving.

We did find a bougatsa place open near us and we had breakfast there, hot crème pastries. I had my usual black cherry juice with them.

The plan was for Kostas and Mena and Demetrios and I to go to Petrokerassa again, that mountaintop village where we went several days ago to see the wood from the True Cross. Rena and Theodosius were going to be there; it is their village and they spend vacations and summers there.

I just felt too sick to go. But I made the rest of them go anyway, even though Mena was for changing the day. So Demetrios and Christos went to Nea Syllata, and from there to Petrokerassa. The people I most regret not seeing are Rena and Theodosios’ grandchildren, Spiros of the enormous, blue eyes, and his new (9-month-old) sister, as yet unbaptized, hence nameless. Demetrios says she has the same huge, blue eyes as Spiros, and is the laughingest child he has ever known. She is to be baptized in June, in Kastoria, and we will be invited.

I slept three hours in the afternoon, and spent the rest of the time knitting and doing Sudoku and watching a little television, an American nature show with Greek subtitles.

In the evening I had a bad scare when I heard Daniel was in the hospital with meningitis, severe. He is Barbara’s husband and the father of Madison and Elizabeth. I was already calculating how to change my plane ticket around when further word came: Daniel is home from the hospital, and it’s “only” viral meningitis; he will be fine in several days to several weeks. Thank heaven.

The Drunken Duck, the bar next to us, was open today, but it must have closed early, because it’s now midnight and I haven’t heard a peep out of the place in at least a couple of hours. Going to bed myself, now.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


April 19, 2009

I woke up Saturday morning, after a long and (as far as I know) peaceful sleep, yet feeling utterly exhausted. We took a bus to Mena and Kostas’ house. They weren’t there, but their son, Vasilios, and his wife, Evangelia (“Litsa”) met us there and took us to where Mena and Kostas were, in their village of Nea Syllata. I had some pennies with me, so during the drive to the village, I played the same game with little Kostas that I played recently with my grandsons; Kostas is about their same age. “If I put two cents in your one hand, and another cent in your other hand, how many cents do you have? That’s right, three; bravo! Now if I give you two cents, how many more shall I give you to make four cents?” Etc., etc.

About the time we arrived, Mena departed to the butcher, to pick up the lamb.

The lamb was laid out on an outdoor table; a brand new electric spit was inserted fore and aft and screwed together in the middle. The Lamb was wrapped in a clean sheet and stored – in the bathroom! No, no, no, we all protested. Not there! So someone took it out of the bathroom and stood it by the front door, where it stood all night.

The cause of my exhaustion became clear in the course of the evening, when I developed a terrible sore throat, runny nose, headache, and body aches.

Having already missed the Good Friday services (in effect), I wasn’t about to miss the Anastasis (midnight services) as well! So I dragged myself there.

Hint from Helen: You do not have to be Anastasia’s age to gain a lot from taking two aspirins immediately before the Anastasis! It will benefit your feet and your back.

As we sat in the darkness, waiting for the Holy Light to be brought out, I almost thought we were having our own miracle of the Holy Light, as I watched blue streaks shoot across the ceiling and disappear. But it was only a small boy (or two, or three) sneaking out the keychain laser lights in their pockets and having some quick fun before their mothers could catch them.

Here, rather than describe the same things over again, I’m going to quote from my 2006 journal of this event in the same church:

The church is darkened, as everywhere, and we stand in that darkness an uncomfortably long time. Then the Holy Fire is brought out. But in America, the priest sings, “Come, receive the Light!” and lights the candles of the altar boys, who then move down the aisle, stopping at every row to light the candles of the people in the nearest seat. Here, the priest himself walks down the aisle with a fistful of lit candles, not stopping at all. The result is, you have to be quite aggressive about sticking out your candle as he walks by. You in effect have to snatch the Holy Fire from him. I didn’t succeed and had to light my candle from someone else’s.

Then there is a procession to the front porch of the church, with the lit candles and incense and the Cross and the Book of the Gospels. Again, the people do not form a line as in America; they crowd about the door and push their way outside, where hundreds more people are waiting, who do not want to attend the full service, but do want to carry the Holy Fire back to their homes. I obeyed Mena, who urged me not to try to fight the crowds, just wait inside. I wish now I had gone outside, because of course I missed the reading of the Resurrection Gospel.

Then came the Paschal Hymn we would sing dozens of times more before the end of the service:

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

The very first bar of this hymn, which the throngs outside are singing with all their might, sets off pandemonium. Little boys outside the church set off firecrackers and other fireworkds. The bells peal and peal and peal, joyously, as loudly as possible. The dogs howl. The people inside rush about to hug and kiss and greet one another with, “Christ is risen!”

Eventually, the commotion subsides. The people inside take their seats. The priest and cantors and altar boys and the multitude all re-enter the church. The firecrackers are at last expended. The bells take a brief rest. The dogs fall silent. Presumably the cats creep out from under cover and the birds settle back down to see if they can salvage any sleep.

In America, one makes a point to keep ones candle lit until arriving home, to bless ones house with it. The result is that for the next two hours, you are standing in the middle of a spread-out bonfire and you have to hope somebody has thought to turn on the air conditioning. Here, the people extinguish their candles as soon as they are back inside the church. This makes for far more comfort and less danger.

Mena had brought a lantern, so we still had some of the Holy Light, with which, after the service, we re-lit our candles and several other people’s. Best of both worlds.

I suppose it was two o’clock by time we got home, fatigue masking our euphoria.

We weren’t ready to sleep yet! There remained some feasting to do. Mena served the traditional after-church Pascal meal, magiritsa. It’s a lamb stew, with anise. In America, our dear friend Chrysoula makes wonderful magiritsa with lamb chunks, but Mena makes it with lamb liver. I didn’t much care for it.

There was the cheese Demetrios and I had brought, and there was salad and there were the red eggs.

The piece de resistance, though, was the kokoretsi. “What’s that?” I asked.

“That’s something very delicious that you eat without asking,” was Demetrios’ reply.

“That’s what I was afraid of!” Yes, I had remembered correctly. It’s sheep gut. That is to say, it’s the entero, large intestine, of a sheep! (“Enterologist.”) Demetrios assures me that it is washed with exceeding care, but as it is all meat with virtually no hole in the middle, I don’t see how that is possible. I passed. I know, I know, my rule is just taste it and don’t ask. After all, it’s the taste that counts, and everybody here thinks the taste worthy of a Pascal meal, the most important meal of the year. Too bad. Here, I make an exception to the rule.

My astonishing reluctance to try this delicacy had to be explained to Mena. Demetrios kindly did that for me. But then at the end of that little exchange they both sort of smirked and giggled. I looked down at my lamb stew in horror.

No! No, they said, it had only been a passing thought. There was absolutely no kokoretsi in the stew; there was only liver.

I still couldn’t eat it. Having looked forward for so many weeks to being able to eat again, I went to bed still rather hungry.

This year after church, Mena, remembering I don’t care for either the magiritsa or the kokoretsi, had made me some beef meatballs instead. They were delicious. We cracked some eggs and ate some sweet Pascha bread (tsoureki) and went to bed as quickly as we could. That is, Mena and I did. Kostas and Demetrios stayed up another hour to talk and laugh. And sing, for all I know. I don’t know, because I took a sleeping pill and put in my earplugs and didn’t know a thing until morning, except that I was having a hard time breathing through my stuffed nose.

I don’t even know what time it was when I woke up. Nobody was home except Kostas and his friend Spiros. Kostas was making coffee. Spiros was superintending the cooking of the lamb, in the outdoor fireplace. Mena had gone back to Thessaloniki, just long enough to pick up his wife, Eriphili, and her mother, Hilda.

I wandered out to the patio to have some tsoureki and water; and didn’t have to wonder for long where Demetrios was, for I could hear his voice, speaking German. German? Demetrios? Yes. The church service was being broadcasted over the whole village via megaphones, and it’s that service in which the Gospel is read in as many languages as the local congregation can manage.

I still felt horrible, so after breakfast, and listening to the service for awhile, with Demetrios chanting, I went back to bed until everyone else arrived: Eriphili and her Austrian mother, Hilda (whose 91st birthday it was!), and Mena’s children and their spouses, and little Kostas.

It was all a blur. I remember trying to play with little Kostas; I told him, “I am going to catch you, and then I am going to kiss you, so you’d better beware! Run, run! I am the kissing monster!” And then I tried to growl, but all that came out was a strangled sounding mew, and I couldn’t really run, either. After a while, the little kid let me catch him. Spiros remarked, “It looks like you have to work very hard to move,” and it occurred to me that this was true. So I gave up that idea.

Tried to be sociable with Hilda, a very sweet woman, since I speak her native German. She’s got a fair amount of dementia, so doesn’t much use Greek anymore, even though she was married to a Greek for 30 years and once knew it fluently.

She kept having trouble with her food. “I don’t know what to do with it,” she said.

“Put it in your mouth,” I said.

“Yes, of course, but—“ meaning, “but where’s that?”

“Der Mund ist da,” said Eriphili, touching her mother’s mouth. “The mouth is here.”

So Hilda would put in a few bites and then have to be coached some more. I remember my father having similar trouble remembering what to do with his food.

Christos came, and with him, a lovely young woman I didn’t recognize, but who looked like a young Audrey Hepburn (but with a prettier jaw line). Much to my joy, it turned out to be Danai! She is Christos’ stepdaughter, the daughter of his now former wife by her previous marriage. Christos had no legal rights concerning Danai when he and her mother were divorced, and that is why I had given up ever seeing her again. But guess what? She’s a young woman now, and thinking for herself, and not necessarily taking her mother’s word concerning Christos. So she came to visit him during her little Pascha break. She’s living in London now, taking a Ph.d. in theater, but she is on a temporary assignment in Athens.

I’m impressed. I don’t know when, if at all, his daughter Vicki has visited Christos from Venice, where she lives. Danai tells me, by the way, that Vicki, this very day, has been declared the ping-pong champion of Italy.

The lamb was done to perfection, and everything else was delicious, too: oven-baked potatoes, tossed salad, Russian salad, beet salad, beef meatballs…I don’t remember what all else. I couldn’t eat much and I went back to bed shortly after the meal. And slept, too.

Christos took us home early and we went to bed early.


The telephone numbers I posted are totally wrong! The landline phone number had the wrong area code; change that four-digit sequence from 2310 to 2313.

Thus, the correct land-line telephone number is:
011 30 2313 001-574

The cell phone number I provided, I don't know where that came from; I just wrote as Demetrios dictated, but it bears no resemblance to the actual one. I have forgotten to bring the actual one to the Internet cafe with me, but will post it next time!

Great Friday

April 17, 2009

Churches here chime their bells, in a subdued manner, all day long, on Great Friday.

Why does everybody call the Friday might service the Lamentations? They aren’t laments; they are encomia, high praises.

Anyway, the Lamentations Service at Agia Sophia was a disaster. If I just tell you that in the middle of the proceedings, a Japanese tour group came walking through in their jeans, gawking at everything and taking pictures, will that give you an idea? No.

If I tell you I calculated the number of people who came up to venerate the Epitaphion (bier of Christ) during the service and it was well over 2,400, will that give you an idea? (If you are here imagining a line of silent people, erase from your mind both the silence and the line.) Did I ever mention I’m claustrophobic in crowds?

If I mention the fight that broke out at the Epitaphion – but no, let us move on.

The Epitaphion – or one of them, anyway, for there were two (don’t ask!) – was decorated not only with the usual flowers, but also by four, large, rectangular, fluorescent lamps; and the mayor, following an apparently very old Greek tradition, sent over a brass band to accompany it during its hour-long procession. That’s right; the procession lasted at least an hour, maybe longer. The band played that (Western) funeral march we used to sing as children; if you sing “La, la, di-dah” all on the same note, you’ll know the one I mean. The idea is that Christ is the King and His funeral procession, therefore, ought to be treated as a quasi State Occasion. I think the band played the Trisagion Hymn, too, and I’m here to tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal,” played by a brass band. (Why do I only think I heard the band play that, and cannot be sure? Again, don’t ask!)

At least the lamentations/encomia themselves were wonderful, right? Wrong, but skip it! About the only good thing about the whole misadventure was that at one point (don’t ask), we found ourselves behind Charilaos Taliadoros, the great cantor, who, looking over his shoulder, recognized Demetrios, smiled, and asked when we had arrived. Nothing makes up for a ruined Good Friday service, but that came as close as anything could. Charilaos even said Demetrios could stand next to him one day and they’d chant together. (I’d wager it’ll be the very first Sunday after Pascha.) Demetrios addressed him as “Teacher”, which he is, being one of the founders of a school of Byzantine chant.

Charilaos was a widower last time we were here; now has a wife. He seems much happier, glory to God!

Another comfort was that Demetrios made a very good friend of another cantor named Theophanis. (How do two strangers become fast friends in the course of the most solemn church service of the year? Don’t ask that, either!) Demetrios told me afterward, “He is a cantor, a theologian, a teacher of humanities, and a psychologist.”

“And here you are, a cantor, a theologian, a would-be teacher of the humanities [it’s the profession he would have chosen had his mother not chosen medicine for him] and a psychiatrist!”

Well, there’s another comfort, too, such as it is. And that is that I wasn’t the only one who felt distressed by the entire evening. It wasn’t only because of my impure, hyper-critical, judgmental soul. Demetrios, whose soul is far purer than mine, was also upset by the whole business (although he freely admits neither of us would have been, were we holy).

We had planned to take a taxi home, but finding ourselves at a bus stop, decided to go home that way instead. We didn’t have change between us to pay the fare. Each ticket costs 60 Eurocents. We only had a and 1-Euro and a 2-Euro coin, neither of which the ticket-dispensing machine in the bus takes. It doesn’t give change, either. Demetrios asked a nearby man if he might have change for a Euro. “Give it to me,” said the man. So Demetrios did, and the man handed him two bus tickets. He wouldn’t accept the 20 cents more from Demetrios, saying that would amount to re-sale of the tickets, which would be illegal. Then he claimed to have gotten them at a bargain, at only 50 cents each. Then they got into a long discussion, which ended with the man handing Demetrios his card and saying maybe he and his wife could go out with us for Ouzo sometime after Pascha.

So that nice event helped salvage some of the evening, too. We think we might actually follow up on that invitation!

It’s so easy, here, to meet wonderful people and become good friends.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Holy Wedesday and Holy Thursday

Holy Wednesday

Did you know there is a fourth Bridgegroom service, for Wednesday evening of Holy Week? I didn’t! The Greek Archdiocese in America doesn’t use it. But tonight, after the service of Holy Unction, it was served. It wasn’t even printed in my book, published by the Greek Archdiocese, so I couldn’t follow it entirely. Now I really do feel deprived!

Furthermore, not all the prayers for the first three Bridegroom services are printed, either. The services have been somewhat abbreviated. It only takes another 10 minutes to include them all. We in the Greek jurisdiction in America are cheated of these prayers for the sake of ten minutes?

We went to the Metropolitan church for these services, the church of St. Gregory Palamas. What a great champion of Orthodoxy was he, defending theologically what we know in practice: that we can, and we do, experience God directly, IM-mediately (which means without mediation, without means), not as a concept but as Person here and everywhere present. What a catastrophe for us, were that not so!

Holy Thursday

We slept in late, as we have every day so far. In the afternoon, we walked down to the sea, where we sat at a table under a tree, and Demetrios drank a double espresso while I sipped cherry juice (from black cherries, a big favorite here). I knitted, while he worked on the last ten pages of Descarte’s *Meditations.

It will take him another couple of days to finish the book, because every paragraph makes him stop and think, and prompts him (eventually, after much thought) to make copious notes in the margins. I told him I couldn’t understand why he was wasting his time on Descartes, whose philosophizing makes me dizzy and seems totally irrelevant to anything at all. I had enough of Descartes in college, and it drives me crazy. (Ditto for all the other philosophers, always learning, never understanding, coming up with very odd ideas indeed.) But Demetrios says that the book is giving him a chance to do some further thinking of his own.

“But who wants to think about all that stuff?”

“Oh, I’m finding it terribly important! It’s true he says many things incorrectly, but once you see what he is trying to say, and you translate it into correct terms … why then it connects very well to science, to neurology, to physiology, and even to anatomy. Wrestling with what he writes has given me a good insight into how the human person is connected to the human brain.”

And since that’s what his book is all about, all this is highly valuable to Demetrios. Okay. Touché. I paused with my knitting every few minutes to bat around the resulting ideas with him. I still couldn’t care less why it is that darker colored objects appear to us smaller than lighter objects of the same size, but for him, it has to do with unraveling the neurological pathways in the brain, so I suspend my impatience and discuss it with him. Not that I have any answers, but the opinions and impressions of an ignorant layperson like me are sometimes useful to him, as well.

Around five o’clock, we got up from the table by the sea and walked along the promenade as far as Christos’ apartment, about a 10-minute walk.

His little apartment isn’t much; it’s kind of crummy, but at least it is well-placed, right by the sea. His windows don’t face the sea, but you can still have a side view it out one window and from the balcony. The balcony also features a plant we gave Christos.

The bathroom has just enough room for a person to stand in, provided he isn’t too overweight.

The ceilings are low, as in America.

In the kitchen, Christos has a microwave oven, the top surface of which features three electric burners: a large, a small, and a tiny, just right for brewing Greek coffee. (I’d like one of those, not only for the microwave, but also because the burners on my current stove don’t seem to regulate well; except for one, they’re all either very hot or off, no in between.)

Overall, though, the apartment has potential, and Christos, being the artsy type, is gradually making the most of it. He has bought some second-hand furniture from one of the gypsies that has some flair to it, and he is having the futon reupholstered, that he found a couple of says ago, set out by a dumpster near our house, and he and Demetrios carried it to his car, parked near us.

The man who had discarded the futon noticed them carrying it, from inside his own apartment. He followed them, and as they reached Christos’ car, he called, “Wait a moment! Here are the bolts and nuts to go with it!”

Christos drove us home in time to catch the bus for church. I made the mistake of lying down for a moment first and that’s the last thing I knew for the next three hours or so. Demetrios had to go to church by himself. I woke up just before he got home.

Taxes and Ikons

April 15, 2009, Tax Day in the U.S.

“Demetri, what about our taxes?” I asked, panicked, about three days before we were scheduled to come here.

“They’re done. I did them while you were in North Carolina.”

“But I haven’t signed anything…”

“I signed for you.”

“You WHAT?”

“Mr. Fleming [our tax preparer] said it would be okay. I hope you don’t object?”

“Is it legal?”

“He says it’s no problem.”

“Well, then, I certainly don’t object! To have the taxes all done without my having to know anything about it, now that’s what I call a dream come true. Just don’t make a habit of signing stuff for me.”

A book entitled: Ikons, Meditations in Words and Music has been lent to us by a dear friend. It’s in English, and the authors are John Tavener and Mother Thekla. Tavener apparently is an immigrant to England, from some Orthodox country.

It’s such a good little book that I hope to share snippets of it with you. Starting with this one, which although a wee bit snarky, has some good points:

I am a little diffident on the question of embarking upon the subject of ikons because, as so many old Orthodox, I am, to put it mildly, somewhat ‘touchy’ on the subject. Nothing irritates me more than being told brightly or earnestly by visitors that they do love ikons, or that they have such a lovely ikon, or, worst of all, that they are learning to paint ikons, or even worse than the worst, that they are teaching others to paint them. So, perhaps, just for once, I should like to take a deep breath and say something of what ikons really mean to us. If I am somewhat harsh and exclusive in my pronouncements I beg to be forgiven, for it is difficult for a tiny minority to keep its integrity of faith.

* * *


Ikons Are NOT works of art.
Ikons are NOT realistic.
Ikons are NOT in accordance with individual creativity.
Ikons are NOT holy pictures.
Ikons are NOT religious greeting cards.
Ikons are NOT objects of superstition (NOT good luck charms in motor cars).

A couple of pages later, Tavener adds that “The Ikon to be an Ikon as we understand it, must be a real Ikon, that is painted strictly within the tradition and blessed by a Priest of the Orthodox Church.” Otherwise, it is NOT an ikon. This is why he bristles at the suggestion that visitors to the Church are painting Ikons, or teaching others to. Those are not ikons.

Tavener also explains why ikons must not be painted realistically.

However, human beings are inclined to idolatry and superstition. To prevent this where Ikons are concerned, the Church has preserved over the centuries the purity of the stylized Ikon. Nothing is permitted that might allow a realism that could lead us to forget that Ikons only represent: they are not. This is why statues are forbidden as is anything ‘natural’ that might confuse the medium with the Truth within the medium.


I am often surprised by the way people treat Ikons. It may help to remember that they are blessed and should therefore be treated with due reverence. When we approach to venerate Ikons in Chburch or at home, we should approach reverently but modestly. An over-indulgence in bowing and crossing oneself can be as distracting as ill manners; we should avoid touching the Ikon, or pointing out an interesting characteristic by a dab of the finger; we should kiss it tentativelyh, in the nearest corner, with the least emotional or ritualistic show possible and withot any suggestion of possessiveness.

If it is necessary to transport an Ikon from one place to another, it should be wrapped in a clean cloth, and if more than one Ikon is carried at the same time they should be placed face to face. We are carrying or touching or venerating holy objects, blessed by the grace of the Holy Spirit, representing in a Mystery Christ himself, either directly or through his Saints. It is a dreadfully uncomfortable feeling when visitors poke a finger on an Ikon saying, ‘What does this bit mean?’

I promise, subsequent snippets from this book won’t be snarky at all!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Our Wedding Anniversary

April 14, 2009

In the middle of the morning, while Demetrios was brushing his teeth, I suddenly asked him, “What’s the date today?’ because I had a feeling it was probably April 14th.

“The fourteenth,” he said through the toothpaste.

“Then happy anniversary!”

He looked as surprised as I was and said, “Happy anniversary, Precious!”

Yup, we’ve been married 18 years today. We can’t celebrate, of course, as it’s Holy Week, but we are rejoicing anyway. More than one person and more than one demon have tried to the utmost to split us apart, but none has succeeded so far and I trust, never shall.

Last night Demetrios wanted to go to Mena’s and Kostas’ church, St. Eleutherios. (St. Freedom!) It occurred to me to ask, “Do you know, I mean really, really know, where it is?”

“All I can tell you is, it’s near the bus stop where we get off when we visit Mena and Kostas. You remember the name of the stop is St. Eleutherios.”

I said I was too tired, and the evening was too raw, and the hour was too late, to go traipsing around town in search of a church that might take half an hour to find (given our track record) and then we’d miss a good chunk of the service. He, however, had his mind set on going there, while I had mine equally resolved not to. So we agreed to disagree, perhaps not entirely amicably, and he went off to where he wanted to go, and I went to the church nearest me.

They have a beautiful icon of Christ the Bridegroom. It’s life size, and it’s a cut-out, so it really gives you sense of being in His presence.

Glancing at the wall nearest me, I saw the icon of St. Anastasia, and then, right next to her, St. Barbara. Of course, that made me all teary-eyed. I had dreamt of Barbara the night before. She had been on a long journey to – well, it wasn’t clear in the dream where – and I brought her home to stay with us.

I was struck , during the service, by what might seem to some of the non-Orthodox as paradoxes. Take these prayers, for example:

Having realized, O my soul, the hour of reckoning, and having feared the cutting down of the fig tree, work therefore most diligently O wretched soul, with the talent which has been given thee; watch and pray: ‘Grant that we remain not outside the Bridal Chamber of Christ.’

Why are you heedless, O my miserable soul? Why do you inopportunely imagine vain cares? Why do you occupy yourself with that which passes away? The last hour is at hand, and we shall shortly be parted from earthly things. Therefore, making the most of the time, rouse yourself and cry: ‘I have sinned against Thee, my Savior. Strike me not as the unfruitful fig tree, but as the merciful Christ, have compassion on me, for I cry out in fear. ‘Grant that we remain not outside the Bridal chamber of Christ.’

Note the emphasis upon what I must do. Now contrast that with this:

Since I, O Christ the Bridegroom, have permitted my soul to slumber in indolence, I do not possess a torch aflame with virtue, and like the Foolish Virgins, I meditate when it is the time for work. Close not Thine heart of compassion against me, O master, but bring me in with the Wise Virgins to Thy bridal hall, where there is the song of those who feast and unceasingly cry: ‘O Lord, glory to Thee!’

This twin emphasis is present throughout all the Bridegroom Services (Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights of Holy Week): we must rouse ourselves, we must repent, which is to say, change course, renounce our sins, and strive to do better – or else! Yet in the end, knowing we have failed and will continue to fail, it is upon Christ’s measureless mercy we must rely.

Near the end of the service, I spotted my downstairs neighbor, Thomai, so afterward we walked home together.

She bade me come see her soon, so this morning, as soon as I was up and dressed, I made two cups of tea and took them downstairs. Unfortunately, I missed her by only a few minutes, according to Zisis, her husband and our Venerable Leader (president of our building), who answered the door— in a three-piece suit.

Demetrios went out with Christos, thinking I’d be with Thomai most of the morning. Since that didn’t work out for me, I came back upstairs and spent the time playing Happy Housewife. I cooked the midday meal, cleaned up the kitchen, and made the bed. The house is now both tidy and clean. I’ve even had the joy of doing my first couple of loads of laundry. I love hanging it out on the clotheslines the other side of our balcony. It feels like some kind of continuity with all the women who have been doing that since this city was founded by Alexander the Great. That’s four thousand years of laundry being hung out to dry in the sun! I especially love gathering in the dry items from the line; that feels like gathering in treasure or something.

After I’d cooked, Demetrios came home but didn’t want any lunch. Okay, it will be for tomorrow. We took naps and after that, I said I’d go to the Internet Café. He said he’d go have a cup of coffee with Stelios, one of his old friends from high school. So he left and I was about to leave when Thomai appeared at my door.

She made inquiries after my family, my mother, my children, my grandchildren, then after Christos, and then after his children. And then she told me something very important for me to hear. She said my mother-in-law had virtually raised Vicki herself, Vicki being our niece, Christos’ daughter, who lives and works in Italy. She catalogued all the things Vicki’s grandma had done for her, told with what loving care she had treated Vicki, and how much Vicki loved her in return. This quite astonished me, who until yesterday had never heard, much less believed, a single good thing about my mother-in-law.

Thomai has also been a severe critic of Christos’ for many years, longer than I have known him, even. But she, seconding Demetrios’ opinion, says he is a changed man, and has been extremely nice to her in the past couple of years. Coming from Thomai, that’s really something!

After Thomai left, I wandered down to the Internet Café, with the previous parts of this journal on a CD, but the machines there don’t have drives for a CD, so no luck. I bought 2 floppy diskettes from Nektarios for one Euro, and will try again tomorrow. Meanwhile, I was pleased to see that the main clientele of the Internet Café has changed; whereas it used to consist mostly of men in their twenties and thirties, now it consists mostly of boys in their sub-teens, happily, if loudly, conversing as they play their computer games.

What Thomai said about Christos must be true, because he came with us to church tonight. We went to Agia Sophia, a Byzantine church downtown. It’s some 1500 years old and still in use. The magnificent Charilaos Taliadoros was the principal cantor, he of the voice that, according to Demetrios, only comes along about once in a century, if that. So rich, so resonant, and the man is 82 years old. The Patriarch of Constantinople made Charilaos Protopsaltis (First Cantor) of the Patriarchate. He outdid himself tonight with the extremely beautiful Hymn of Kassiani, which unfortunately is only to be heard once a year, on Holy Tuesday evening.

Afterwards, we treated Christos to supper at “The Cry of the Seagull,” the taverna across the street from where we live. Then, home by about eleven o’clock, which for us is extremely good.

Palm Sunday and the Holy Cross

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Our neighborhood church was decorated with huge palm branches, about twelve feet long. I’d tell you that they were affixed to the ends of each pew, except that of course there are no pews. They were fastened, instead, to those little brass poles that normally hold the hooks for the velvet ropes that rope off certain areas in public places. The long branches leaned out over the aisles toward each other, touching at the tips, making arches.

After church, we walked to our favorite bougatsa place. Okay, so bougatsa isn’t exactly Lenten, but we made an exception and said it was Palm Sunday, after all. Bougatsa is rather like a filled doughnut, except the pastry part is made of those very thin layers of dough the Greeks call “phyllo”. The filling is either cheese or crème; we chose the crème, as *perhaps not having anything in it we shouldn’t eat, although it probably has milk. It’s baked as a sort of pie, which is then cut into bite-sized pieces, sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and/or cinnamon, and (ideally) served hot. This bougatsa was indeed up to the ideal and we enjoyed it thoroughly.

On the way home, we passed the home of the retired pathologist who keeps a dozen or so cats. But we only spotted one. The doctor himself wasn’t out on this occasion.

We stopped at the Internet café nearest our house and bought me twenty hours of time. Price is down from last time I was there and the place looks nicer. I will have to save this journal to a disk and carry the disk there. I’ll go and buy a disk or two from Nektarios.

Christos came over for Sunday dinner; I now always cook enough to share with him. He has an apartment right across the hall from ours, which, however, is currently rented (to a young couple and, from the sound of it, a very, very, new baby). The rent pays the mortgage on his house in Katerini, a seaside resort town. He moved there partly because of its being a resort, and partly because his best friend, Stelios, lives there. He built a house across the street from Stelios’. However, Christos has had his feelings hurt; he gets the feeling he isn’t really wanted there. Stelios does spend time with him, but not the amount of time you’d expect from a best friend. And both of them apparently say some tactless things. Stelios’ wife once said to Christos, “Ah, you’re moving here hoping we will take care of you in your old age!” – a remark that may or may not have had any truth to it, but which cut him to the core. The result is, to avoid these people, Christos is now renting an apartment here in Thessaloniki, fairly near ours, and he will be spending a lot of time here. He doesn’t seem to have many friends.

After Sunday dinner had been cleaned up, and after a too-short nap, Christos very kindly drove us to Mena and Kostas’ house, and then returned to his own house.

Mena drove us all to Petrokerassa, my favorite Greek village (so far, keeping in mind I haven’t seen tall that many). It sits atop a mountain, surrounded by even higher mountains, and is full of the kind of dwellings you see in postcards from Greece: stone or brick, whitewashed, with red tiled roofs. “Petrokerassa” means the pit of a cherry, so I translate the village’s name, “Cherrystone.” The local taverna calls itself, in English, “Cherry Rocks”. The place has narrow, winding streets and everything looks ancient, although that is for appearance only. An extensive modernization was done in 1998. I keep thinking it would be an ideal place to raise children, as they couldn’t very well get lost. There’s no way out of the village except down the mountain, and as long as the children didn’t take that road, they’d remain in a relatively confined area and be easy to find. And with so many little alleys and nooks, side streets and arches and whatnot, it would be marvelous fun to explore. In fact, it’s still fun for adults to explore!

But we weren’t there for any picturesque sights. We were there because every year since 1768, on Lazarus Saturday, through Palm Sunday and the evening of Great Monday, a chunk of the Holy Cross is brought to Petrokerassa from a monastery on the Holy Mountain .

One of Lazaros’ friends, who had been to that monastery, told us it was a big chunk, as long as your calf, with a nail still in it, a detail which raises certain questions, but never mind. It was, he said, the biggest known piece of the True Cross in the whole world.

I never in my life dreamed I could be in the presence of the Holy Cross and feel, of all things, disappointed! Yet I must admit I did, and the reason was, the piece that had been described to us was not the piece that had been brought to Petrokerassa. This was a different piece, from the same monastery Mount Athos. It was inside a brass box. The box had a molded and enameled image of the Cross on it, and the crossbeam had lozenge-shaped holes in it, through which, under glass, you could see what appeared to be wood, that was perhaps the size of your longest finger, maybe slightly longer.

If you are Orthodox (or catechumens) and I know you and you read this blog, know that your names were written down, and prayers were offered for you at the foot (so to speak) of the Holy Cross. Starting with you, Isabella. (We don’t pray in church, publicly, for those not Orthodox, although the priest said he would commemorate you privately.)

I remembered that the priest in Petrokerassa is American! “So keep your ears tuned, “ I requested Demetrios, “for some priest with an American accent.” Demetrios couldn’t detect any accent in either of the priests present. Nevertheless, one of them turned out to be the American, after all. I was overjoyed to meet Fr. Peter and hope some day to meet his wife and (presumably) children, and to share conversation and hearts with them. (He isn’t Greek-American, either, yet he has mastered both liturgical and modern Greek!)

We had arrived in the church at the tail end of the Akathist to the Holy Cross; we stayed for the Bridegroom service afterwards. Demetrios and I shared a little smile at the hymn that used to trip me up: “Bring more evils upon them, O Lord, more evils upon them that are glorious upon the earth!” Of course God does not perpetrate evil – upon anyone! – because there is no evil in Him whatsoever. But what the hymn means is that the Lord does thwart the plans of the wicked, frustrates the plots of the crafty. We have known our share of people whose plans we would be/have been grateful to see ruined! That’s why we smiled.

After the service, having venerated the Holy Cross one more time, we left Petrokerassa, together with Pelagia and George, who had joined us there, and we all went out to a taverna in Thessaloniki for supper. As it was by then ten o’clock on a Sunday and holiday night, we had a hard time finding a place that (a) was open and (b) served Lenten food, but eventually we did. “We must have fish,” said Mena, “because it’s allowed today, and we won’t be able to eat it again until Pascha.” So we had fish.

I had forgotten that the fish would be staring up at me from my plate. Well, this one had been placed upside down, so it wasn’t staring at me, but its mouth was open and its teeth were much in evidence – and very sharp, too, as I discovered by gentle, careful probing.

It was delicious, however. Pelagia ate the head of her fish; she says it is the best part.

Again we arrived home very early by Greek standards, just before one in the morning.

As I fell asleep wondering whether that wood had indeed been from the True Cross, and asking myself, “What if it isn’t?” it occurred to me that the far more interesting question is, “What if it is?”

Friday, April 17, 2009

Surprising Lazaros

Monday, April 13, 2009

It’s been a week – hard to believe! – and we’ve done very little, which suits us just fine right now. The house is now very clean; that’s one good thing. Another is that the weather so far has been pretty, albeit chilly in the evenings (and probably in the mornings, for all we know). We do not yet leave our doors and windows open all day. We are still tired.

Nothing under the bed.

I walked by the synagogue today, and there’s no sign of any digging going on there, either.

Saturday being Lazarus Saturday, we were resolved to pay a surprise visit to Demetros’ old and dear friend, Lazaros, on his feast day. Lazaros was a very, very poor lad when they were all growing up; so poor he had to depend upon people like Demetrios’ and Christos’ mother to help him, and she was so poor she never knew where the next day’s meal(s) would come from. Demetrios’ mother felt very bad for him and helped him as much as she could.

He used to come by the house and tutor Christos. They were in the same class together, but Lazaros had had his education interrupted by the Communist insurrection and was therefore a couple of years older than Christos. “Just like a teacher!” my mother-in-law used to say of Lazaros. She always wanted to adopt him.

We were having our afternoon rest in preparation for going to surprise Lazaros when our doorbell rang. I opened it to a man I didn’t recognize.

“Kyrios Theodoridis?” he inquired.

“Yes, he’s here,” I said in Greek. “Come in.”

So he did, and Demetrios, lying on the sofa, sat up and rubbed his eyes and exclaimed, “Lazaros! Lazaros, my old friend!” And there were hugs all around.

Christos had called Lazaros to wish him a happy nameday, and had mentioned that we were in town. Lazaros decided to celebrate his name day by coming to see Demetrios – reversing the planned surprise.

We had a little tea and a little treat; then he proposed to take us to his house. It was in easy walking distance, he said. We eagerly agreed.

It is in easy walking distance, too, and when we got there, we found his wife, Voula, her sister, a niece, and a friend, all waiting for him, the celebratory (but Lenten!) food all prepared.

Voula is a wonderful person, just like her husband. She looks 20 years younger than she is, with strawberry blonde (!) hair, twinkling blue eyes and a ready smile. She is very kind, very sweet; we loved one another instantly.

Demetrios says when they were all still children, and Voula was a little girl going to school, Lazaros’ mother told him, “This is who you will marry.” So Lazaros replied, “Yes, Mamma; if that is your choice, I will marry her.” So he did. And both of them now seem enormously pleased with that choice.

Voula speaks three languages (at least). She is from Pontos, in present-day Turkey, so she speaks Turkish as well as Greek. And they both speak German, having lived in Germany for many years. (Work is hard to find in Greece.) That means I can converse with them; hooray!

Voula is very grateful, as is Lazaros, for the care Demetrios’ mother used to give him. Voula still prays for my mother-in-law every day and celebrates her nameday every January 1. That’s more than I do, a lot more. I do not have any good memories of my mother-in-law. My memories are the kind we mean when we pray for deliverance from evil memories. They are the sort best put away and not dragged out into the daylight. But Voula makes me think perhaps I am ready now to do better than just avoiding evil thoughts. The woman has been dead these nine years now, and perhaps the pain of those memories is by now sufficiently blunted that I can at least commemorate her on her nameday, and perhaps begin to pray for her daily. At least that is my feeling, although it is perhaps prideful to suppose I can do that now. (This is the kind of situation in which a spiritual father is indispensible, for giving wise, objective, loving advice.)

Lazaros is still the wonderful person he always was. He is a physical therapist, and now that he is retired, he works for free. He has about 20 patients he helps, and he goes around seeking out others on the street. As many as he can find who need his help and will accept it, receive it.

Voula tells us, though, that he has some “anoia,” dementia, and has been diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s. We certainly couldn’t see any signs of it; his conversation was clear and well-thought-out.

Glory to God for people like these!

We had to leave them when time came to go to Leonidas and Ianna; Kostas and Mena came, too. In the beginning, the conversation was all about Ianna’s breast cancer. The prognosis is good, at least. She asked about my sister, who died from breast cancer. I told here there was a big difference: Barbara, from fear, had postponed having her lump seen by a doctor until it was the size of a tangerine, whereas Ianna’s lump was quite small.

Then, as always happens at our age, the conversation turned to all our other medical problems. I rather felt left out, having nothing current to report for myself! Well, I have a spider bite that has turned my thumb lovely shades of purple and black, but that’s comparatively nothing. And of course the report of my *former problem with arrhythmia, especially the part about having received not one, but FOUR electric shocks for it, that was good for, well, some shock value, but of course that’s all over and done. I’m going to have to develop some new medical condition before I’ll make a good conversationalist.

Leonidas brought out two old photograph albums from the late ‘Fifties and early ‘Sixties. He looks glamorous in all of the pictures, then as now, with his natural good looks, augmented by a carefully manicured goatee and perfect hairdo. Everybody else looks dorky. But the men, especially, had a great time looking at the photographs and remembering and laughing.

The women’s conversation, as usual, then turned to domestic concerns: our children and grandchildren. Now there’s where I have ‘em all beat! Here I reign supreme, having four grandchildren. Ianna has no grandchildren so far, and Mena has only one grandson, although both her daughter and her daughter-in-law are pregnant.

Her daughter, Elpida (which, in English, is Hope) became pregnant just after she and her new husband had bought their new apartment and moved in. Whereupon Elpida’s nose developed a peculiar sensibility; she discovered that the new apartment had a terrible, nauseating smell. In fact, so had her husband. She couldn’t tolerate either one of them. The upshot of it is, they are both living with Mena and Kostas now, and sleeping in separate bedrooms. Mena says every room, including the living room, becomes a bedroom at night. Elpida is depressed and Mena works hard to make her get out of bed and to cheer her up. She is praying this situation will improve once the baby is born. But that won’t be until September, God willing.

We arrived home early – early in the morning, that is, at half past midnight, and were soon asleep. We had big plans for the next day.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Settling In

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

We woke up very late. I think it was nearly 10:00 when I finally got up and began pottering around; Demetrios slept until 11:15.

It’s a perfect, glorious day. The sky is blue, the sun is warm, the breeze is refreshing. I opened every window and door in the house to let it all in. It’s good to be back here.

Demetrios had already bought some bread and jam and bottled water, so that’s what we had for breakfast. After that, the first order of business was unpacking. My stuff was relatively easy. His is harder; he brought one whole suitcase full of books. He says he wants to have a basic medical library on hand for when one of his friends gets sick and wants his help. And they always do, we’ve learned. “In fact,” I said, “some of ‘em, like Leonidas, actually save up their questions and put off going to their own doctors until you’re here!” That’s also true. So Demetrios lugged his basic medical library all over airports in Richmond, Charlotte, Munich, and Thessaloniki, and now he has to organize it and find room for it; those are the harder parts. I suppose a doctor is like a priest in one way: always on call.

My observation turned out to have been prophetic: Mena told us last night our dear Ianna was diagnosed with breast cancer last week. It was a very small lump, we are told, so the outlook is good. It was removed a few days ago. Her doctors are now deciding whether she needs radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy to follow up the surgery. I can’t wait to see her; that will no doubt happen in the next couple of days.

Quite a bit of what I had to unpack was empty bottles. I have a bottle collection here. The bottles aren’t antiques (except for the one old Greek milk bottle that started the collection) and aren’t expensive, any of them. But they are colorful and I’ve decorated most of them, and they do hide the two copper pipes that run along the wall above my kitchen wall cabinets. So I brought some 15 more bottles with me that I’d found in the States these past 16 months. They needed integrating into the arrangement, and the older bottles, all dusty, needed a good rinsing.

Putzing around in the domestic disorder, I deliberately disobeyed my own rule of always being ready for company by 10:00 a.m. One always pays for that. When Thomai and Zisis rang the doorbell, our downstairs neighbors, I had taken a shower, had put rollers in my hair, and was wearing only a summer bathrobe; Demetrios, who forgot to pack his bathrobe, was actually wearing my winter one to keep warm! No choice; I had to be the one to nswer the door. But naturally, Thomai and Zisis saw immediately that they should come back later. Tomorrow morning I’ll call on them. At least we got in some hugs before they departed, all of us somewhat embarrassed. They’re such good people, though, I think you could be naked around them without the embarrassment being huge.

In the afternoon, we went shopping. First stop, Masoutis, the supermarket. We met Nektarios en route; he’s the local computer guru. I told him I can’t get on the Internet this time the way I could last visit, when my laptop automatically zeroed into a wireless network somewhere in our building that didn’t have security and voila, the Internet! Nektarios said there are a couple of solutions, but they’re expensive. I’ll keep exploring options, but for now I’ll go to the nearest Internet café. My e-mail address, however, will remain the same, and yes, I can access it from there:

At Masoutis, we bought laundry detergent, period.

Then on to Nikoletta’s and Stelios’ store, where we bought some of her famous tarama (“Greek caviar”) along with some olives, some octopus she prepared herself, anchovies, halvah, and chocolate.

We dropped our packages at home and went back out for a sandwich at a nearby shop. On the way, I remarked that so far, I hadn’t seen a single feral cat. That’s very unusual! Their population does seem to fluctuate. Times like this, when there aren’t very many, the ones you do see are in relatively good shape, though; that’s the good part.

No sooner had we bitten into our sandwiches than the first cat appeared, a lovely pastel calico with ”mascara,” that is, eyes lined with a black rim, a trait sought after by cat fanciers. I fed her on our way out, having already put the ever-present baggie full of cat kibble in my purse. She was grateful even for this dry stuff two years old.

Next stop: confectioner! We each bought a pastry, plus some candied fruits and chocolates to keep on hand for guests.

Last stop was the vegetable stand, where we got warm greetings and hugs from Vasiliki. Anesti, her husband, was out running an errand. Vasiliki told us, however, that he had seen us earlier.

Vasiliki had a new map of the world Anesti had given her, which she unrolled had us point out to her where we live in America. Close to Ouasington, she noted, which fact brought on a discussion of politics. “Your parents came to America from where?” she asked.

“They were born in America.”

“But your grandparents?”

“She is basically English,” said Demetrios, simplifying some. (My family is Welsh, Scotch, Irish, and English. Maiden name, Jones, definitely Welsh!)

“Ah, English, then, not really American!” said Vasiliki. She had been eager to determine this because she had some things to say about Americans she feared might offend a real one. She had heard about our high rate of joblessness, and had heard that some Americans were reduced to living in tents. So how was it Americans still wanted to make wars? The money could be better spent at home than on wars abroad!

(By the way, I’m as American as a white person can be. Most branches of my family were in America before the Revolutionary War. I don’t take offense at people’s political opinions, though.)

We bought potatoes, onions, carrots, eggplant, navel oranges, and bananas, and headed home to unload our treasures. We split the first orange. The oranges here, from Crete, are far better than at home. They are sweeter and so tender it’s difficult to separate the segments without losing a lot of juice, which would be a crime. And they peel as easily as you could wish.

About then, Christos came, and after a few polite minutes, whisked his brother off to a kafenion, where they drank kafé, and then to his new apartment near the sea.

I took an afternoon nap. Then I sat down to write this, with a short interruption for a snack-supper of fried potatoes. Now I am going to work some more on putting this apartment back into shape, until I run out of energy, and then I’ll get to bed, hopefully early. In fact, I think I’ll go look under our bed now and see what’s there.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

In Which We Arrive Safely

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

We arrived this afternoon. Nothing went right with the trip except that we caught all our flights and didn’t drop out of the sky (well, that is, except when we intended to) and weren’t dumped into the ocean. That, however, is the main thing, isn’t it?

Hint from Helen: Get on the Internet the day before your trip to make sure all arrangements are double confirmed, including your seat assignments.

At one point, in the middle of the night, I looked out the window at the waxing Paschal moon and all the stars, Orion and I think Pegasus, and I admired them a longish time. Stars, beautiful stars; we were swimming in them, stars above us, stars below us… Wait a second – below us? As if we were sailing through space? No way! I turned to Demetrios and said, “Land! I see land!” Look down there – lights!” And sure enough, very soon the lights below turned from individual sparks to groups, and very soon, Cork appeared.

A thin streak of blue-gray cloud appeared, too, dividing the stars above from the “stars” below, the latter of which soon disappeared as we reached the Irish Sea (marked on our map as the Celtic Sea; has it changed names, or am I misremembering my geography?). Then we reached Wales. We flew straight over Cardiff, a huge cluster of lights that lit the town exceptionally well, I thought, until I realized the reason was that the band of blue had widened some: not clouds, but the dawn. We skirted Bristol and Bath, crossed the English Chanel, gave Paris a rather wide miss, and headed into Germany, landing at Münich.

There, we changed planes and flew to Thessaloniki. I remember crossing the eastern section of the Alps, white and rugged, but after that, my eyes were closed the whole way. Not sure I slept, but not sure I didn’t, either.

Christos picked us up at the airport. I don’t know and do not care why Kostas and Mena weren’t there; I know they would have been, had it been possible. I was too sleepy to want to socialize, anyway.

Christos paid some woman fifty Euros to clean our apartment before we arrived. For all I know, she well earned her money and then some, but “clean” does not describe how we found our little home. Everything is coated in the amount of dust you’d expect after having been gone sixteen months. Our oriental carpet had been washed and was hanging out on the line, already dry. (Washed? What had happened to it???) I haven’t looked under the bed yet, where last time I found a half-kilo’s worth of sunflower seed shells, well mixed with rat turds.

After a longish nap, we walked to the bus station and caught a bus to Kostas and Mena’s house. The major change we noted on the way is that the streets around our house have mostly been made one-way temporarily because a subway station is being built two blocks away! This is great news for us. And you’ll be pleased to know that wherever digging is schedule for this metro, the archaeologists get first crack at the spot, and only after they are finished do the construction workers begin. So far, we’re told, quite a few archaeological treasures have been excavated, including 8 gold wreaths and other ancient jewelry.

Christos says the Jews near us are doing their own digging, in anticipation of the Metro line going under our neighborhood synagogue.

“What are they digging for?” I asked.

He didn’t know. Gold, maybe.

Yeah, right…

In the evening, Mena had a light meal waiting for us. It’s always so great to see Mena and Kostas. Kostas looks very well; you’d never know he’d had that long, harrowing heart operation in September of 2007. He reminds me, again, of a lion. He’s a sweet, gentle man, with huge, brown eyes, but there is something ferocious about him. Maybe it’s his long, flowing mane that is so leonid. (His name ought to have been Leonidas. Our own Leonidas doesn’t look like a lion at all; he prefers a more Hollywood look, like a leading man.)

Mena had a neck brace on. Something about the disks in her neck, I think. I’ll ask later when I’m not groggy.

Another guest arrived while we were there, Charalambos. He only stayed briefly, long enough to pick up three plastic sacks full of newspaper that Kostas saves for him. He needs them on account of having adopted an epileptic dog.

I understand that dog now has the full use of Charalambos’ apartment and he himself lives in another.

Charalambos came in for some good-natured teasing about needing a canine psychologist. He pointed out that there are all kinds of dog doctors nowadays, dog cardiologists and dog psychiatrists and dog thises and dog thats.

As soon as he had departed, Mena drove us home. We got to bed by eleven o’clock, like grade-school children here, where even teenagers stay out well past midnight. Kostas and Mena, of course, understood.


47 Gambeta Street
Thessaloniki 54642

Home phone (from the U.S.): 011 30 2313 001-574
Cell phone: 011 30 6979 546-351

(011 gets you an international line; 30 is the country code; the next four digits are the area code, and the last six, hyphenated, are the actual phone number. So if you’re in Greece, leave off the 011 and the 30.)

Check the clocks on my blog’s sidebar before calling. You can call any time from whenever you wake up (even if you wake up at 5:00 a.m.) until about 4:00 in the afternoon. But mornings (your time) are best because we are usually out in the evenings.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Where We Live in Greece

Here's a map of where we live in Greece. I tried publishing this in 2007, but didn't know enough about how to do it and people couldn't see it. Please let me know whether you can see it this time.

View Larger Map

Pan in until you can see a pinkish or mauve marker. Then keep that in the middle while you pan in further.

Our balcony overlooks Gamveta Street (west side of building) and wraps around so the bigger portion overlooks Baron Hirsch Street (north side). That dark area on the north side is a small, more or less triangular park, of which we are very fond. Directly across from that, straight up from the pink marker showing our condo, is a favorite taverna, "The Cry of the Gull". To the right (east) of that is a vacant lot, used for parking, where "our" feral cats live.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Other Side of the Ocean... where we're heading. God willing, by this time tomorrow, we'll be somewhere out over the Atlantic. It's about a 24-hour trip, door-to-door, very tiring. But after we've rested some - and gotten hooked up to the Internet one way or another - I'll start blogging again. You can follow our adventures in Greece right here. (And it always IS an adventure.)

So far our only plan is to visit Demetrios' boyhood friend, Lazaros, on his feast day on Saturday.

But it's likely we may spend Holy Week with Mena and Kostas in their little village of Nea Syllata. That's where they like to be that week, or at least the latter part of it.

Stay tuned.

Happy Easter and Kalo Pascha to all!

Image and Reality

I used to have this image of myself as God's precious little lamb. That was before I became aware of my sin. SIN, in capital letters. That awareness thoroughly destroyed the little lamb image for a very long time. It took very little introspection to learn that I was a goat.

Now I realize I am still His precious little lamb, sinfulness and all - but the sinfulness really, really does have to go.

And there's this huge difference between merely being sorry (ever so sorry!) for our sins and actually repenting, changing course. And it's literally the difference between death and life.

Oh, my soul, choose life!

Joy and Fear

Friday night, I noticed for the first time with what joy the people were singing to the Theotokos. It was just pure, unfettered gladness. It occurred to me to wish our hymns to Christ were always so joyful. And then came the thought, all unbidden: "It's because nobody is afraid of her."

Well, it's true, isn't it? Who fears the Theotokos? Nobody. She's just undiluted, maternal love. So is Christ(!) so why is there still some corner in our hearts that fears Him? It's because we know there is still some corner of our heart (at least a corner) that does not love, that is not like Him, to whom we shall have to give account one day.

It shows how far we still have to go, how far we are missing the mark, because if we did love as He loves, then we could face Him unashamed. We would sing to Him with far greater joy, even, that we have in singing to His mother. As St. John says, "Perfect love casts out fear."

Thursday, April 2, 2009

More Common Mistakes in Syntax

Rein – reign – rain

Everybody knows what rain is: water falling from the sky. It’s rein and reign that sometimes confuse people.

A rein, then, is the strap you hold in your hand to control your horse. To rein in a horse is to pull back on the reins, thereby either slowing or stopping the horse. To rein in your passions is to damp them down, to control them.

Reign is synonymous with rule. A monarch reigns. The reign of Queen Victoria was some sixty years.

Wreck – wreak – reek

To wreck is to ruin. Mommy, he knocked down my blocks and wrecked my tower!

Wreck can also be a noun: My dentist has survived a terrible car wreck.

To wreak (pronounced “reek”) is to drive, punish, or avenge. It is usually used in the phrase, “to wreak havoc", havoc being wide and general destruction, devastation; great confusion and disorder. The soldiers wreaked havoc upon their enemies means they brought disaster upon them.

To reek literally means to emit smoke or vapor but we usually use its second meaning, to give off or become permeated with a strong, sometimes offensive, odor. He was reeking of alcohol. The ballroom reeked of marijuana.

Effect – affect

Effect is a noun. His silliness had the effect of discrediting him. The effect of the magician’s illusion was astonishing.

Affect is usually a verb. Nothing she does can affect me any more.

Affect can be a noun, but usually in psychotherapy lingo. The patient had flat affect means she showed no emotions or feelings, lacked animation.


It’s often pronounced “congradulations” in America, but both that pronunciation and that spelling are incorrect. Spell it with a “t” and spit out that “t” so it almost sounds like, “Cun—gratch—you—LAY—shunz.”

Christ, the Light of the World

...and of our hearts, and of our minds

Countless volumes have been written about the relationship between faith and reason, so at first I thought the idea of writing a little essay on the subject would be daunting. Turns out, though, that in Orthodoxy, it's a comparatively simple matter, so there doesn't seem to be much to write! (Or maybe there is and I just don't realize it yet.) Here is all I could find to say.

Reason is the wrong instrument for seeking God. God is beyond all thought and all words, and is to be sought with that part of us that is also beyond both.

But the error is not corrected by sinking into irrationality and illogic! That is still more dangerous and inhuman, because we were created in the Image of God, with intellect. Thinking is something we were meant to do and to the extent we refuse to do it, we are refusing our very humanity. To advocate that we “reverently” stop thinking is also unchristian, because Christ Himself, with Whom we are to be united, is the Logos of God, the Mind of God, the Wisdom of God.

The correction of the rationalistic error is NOT that at a certain point we should, in the name of reverence, stop thinking! Nor is it, as some advocate, to subordinate reason to “the service of the Gospel,” because that always ends up meaning, subordinate your thinking to this or that person’s idea of the Gospel, to whatever doctrine is proposed, usually an illogical one, or thinking wouldn’t be forbidden. Only falsehood has anything to fear from clear thinking; Truth never has.

Rather, if we are seeking Truth, the first and indispensable step on the correct path is to give ourselves wholly to God, Who IS Truth. In other words, the first step is faith:

My son, do not forget my law,
But let your heart keep my commands;
For length of days and long life
And peace they will add to you.

Let not mercy and truth forsake you;
Bind them around your neck,
Write them on the tablet of your heart,
And so find favor and high esteem
In the sight of God and man.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and depart from evil.
It will be health to your flesh,
And strength to your bones.

(Proverbs 3:1-8)

Faith, then, in this context, means we should seek prayerfully.

Faith means keeping God’s precepts while we are searching. It means continuing in devotion and obedience. Resolve to remain faithful during the period of questioning. Remember what our Lord said: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:9) Remember, too, that it is the pure in heart who shall see God. The closer we approach purity, the more our understanding is enlightened. The more we polish the mirror of our souls, the more they will reflect God.

Orthodox experience teaches us to have faith in the Church as well. (“I believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church…") Again and again, we find our own answers proven wrong, and the wisdom of the Church, vindicated after all. Usually we feel a bit foolish when the answer appears; it seems to us we ought to have seen it all along.

After we’ve done this a few times, our confidence in the Church builds, and our search is accompanied by a rather high degree of anticipation that an answer will appear that fully satisfies both mind and heart. This is the correct attitude when we are trying to resolve intellectual difficulties with the Christian faith.

Along with faith, we need to search with great humility. We need to remind ourselves, “I can’t be the first genius who ever thought of this objection.” Therefore, there must be some good answer out there somewhere. Humility means being willing to ask and willing to be corrected. Ask your parish priest. Ask your spiritual father or mother. Seek out the holiest person(s) you can find and ask them. (Note, the holiest, not necessarily the smartest or most educated.) No one person in the Church knows all the answers, but in Orthodoxy, the answer to every objection is known by someone. Keep looking until you find that someone.

Humility means being open to the answer, open to a different way of thinking, and being prepared to feel foolish and even judged by the answer when it comes, because it was in front of us all along and some fault within us has prevented our noticing it.

Orthodox Christianity has a logic all its own; it is the logic and the language of Love. A loving heart thinks and acts differently than an unloving heart, or a heart insufficiently loving. (That's why our tradition of oikonomia, for example, scandalizes so many.) There’s a charming Greek story that illustrates the difference love makes, even to our perception:

Mrs. Dove and Mrs. Owl both realized one morning that their children had left for school without taking their lunches. Mrs. Dove said to Mrs. Owl, “Since you’re going to the school, would you please take my son’s lunch to him as well?

“How will I know which one your son is?” asked the Owl.

“Oh, that’s easy! He’s the most beautiful bird in the class.” (In Greece, doves are considered beautiful, and owls, particularly ugly.)

So the Owl agreed to deliver both chicks’ lunches.

Upon her return from the school, the Dove asked eagerly, “Well, did my son get his lunch?”

The mother Owl replied, sadly, “I’m sorry, but no. I couldn’t find him. I just couldn’t see any child there more beautiful than my own.”

Love thinks in its own, idiosyncratic way. Love has a different logic, and a higher one. That’s why the things of God are truly understood only to the degree we ourselves love one another and Him. Many of the answers to our issues become clear only as we learn to love better. Love, therefore, is the key ingredient in any search for truth.

God’s own Logos (which should be translated “Reason,” as in articulate reason) obviously far exceeds our own. In Orthodox Christianity, this means that everything does make sense so far as our minds can reach. We are allowed and, yes, encouraged to use our minds to the fullest; for God is always greater (not less) than our minds. We are to stretch our minds to capacity, our minds not being left behind as we grow in Christ (even though they are NOT the correct instrument for finding Him, either). We can question anything and everything, as much as we like, so long as our hearts are toward Christ, as long as we are wrestling with these issues in the Holy Spirit, so long as we search with obedient faith, with humility, and especially with love. We are never forbidden to challenge, to question, to test. In doing so, our minds will acquire the answers our hearts probably already knew, and the whole being will be satisfied in the Lord.

Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
(Romans 14:5)

For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
(1 Corinthians 2:16)

And be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:12)

And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;
(Ephesians 4:23)

For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
(2 Timothy 1:7)

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, I am the light of the world: he that follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.
(John 8:12)