Thursday, July 22, 2010

Learning to Live in England, Part 18

Sunday, 18 July

It's been a wonderful day.

We set out in the rain, which wasn't an auspicious start, for the train station to catch a train to Liverpool. We had started late, but made it, barely, in time for the departure.

Most of our train ride was occupied by two children who got on a couple of stops after ours, sat opposite us with their mum, and immediately began conversing with us. They were Tyler, 5, and Emma, 3, and we couldn't understand a word they said, not a single word! Eventually I understood one word from Tyler: pirate! He was trying to tell me he was a pirate. (There's some big pirate event going on in Liverpool today.) So, pretending fright, I immediately pulled my jacket over his face. He said, 'Noo, noo, I'm only pretendin'!', which I understood about the third time he said it. So I looked out again and smiled sheepishly.

The children continued to talk and we smiled and nodded and said, 'Yes' a few times, hoping that was an appropriate response, as we still could not understand anything.

We asked them their names, and their mother told us. Her speech was clear to us, unlike theirs.

We also spent some time looking for triangles, which Emma had just learned about.

It was all perfectly delightful.

The Divine Liturgy at St. Nicholas, I noticed this time, is actually run by an older woman I (correctly) took to be the Presbytera. She takes the bread and cakes and other food offerings into the altar and places them on the Table of Preparation. She hands Father Iakovos his censer when he needs it, and takes it from his hand when he is finished with it, and generally keeps him on track.  She organizes both the Small and Great Entrances, beckoning men from the congregation and handing them Cross, candles, banners, and so forth to carry. She holds the red napkin under your chin during Holy Communion.

There is precious little time left over from these duties for keeping the women informed and organized, but about every 10 minutes or so, she does emerge from the altar for a few moments to do this as best she can. After Communion, which this morning I received, I heard her whisper my name to one of the ladies, who passed it on.

After the service, she was nowhere to be seen, and neither was the priest.

Zisis greeted me at the coffee table, the young man we met last week, whom Elias had taken home the same time he drove us home.  We had a nice chat. He is 29 years old and getting his doctorate in shipping management. He says the world of shipping (we're talking actual ships is a tight-knit circle, hard to break into, but he has a strategy mapped out. As he is bright, good-looking, and personable, I think he will succeed. He's also a good dresser, sporting a natty and vaguely nautical-looking navy blue blazer, double-breasted, with white buttons.

We also chatted with Philippos, another cantor, who had been away the past two weeks. He is also very young, perhaps 30-something, but very well versed in Byzantine chant, and with a nice voice. Very likeable fellow.

We didn't stay long, as Elias, the head cantor, had invited us to a party at his home in Newburgh, to celebrate his daughter's graduation from university. So after a short time socializing (He socializes with everyone.) he took us, together with Zisis, in his car.

I never know how to described meeting people such as we met today, the type you feel as free and easy with as if you had known them all your life. And so many of them! Elias' wife is Eleni, slim and pretty with very large, brown eyes wearing a faintly mournful expression, and she is very kind and you feel as if she were your sister. Her sister in the flesh is Kyriakoula, a lively and funny person, who can keep you entertained singlehandedly. The graduate, in whose honor the party was being given, was Maria, very sweet, very open, very personable. Her younger sister is Stella, who looks like Sophia Loren, except she is only an up-and-coming second-year college student. Stella has an English boyfriend, Stuart, blonde with blue eyes, poised and friendly. Stella and Stuart were quite nervous, as his parents were due at the party a bit later, and this was the first time his parents were going to meet hers. Stella and Stuart, you see, hope to marry. And yes, Stuart is very willing to become Orthodox, which we discussed for a while, the other Orthodox and I stressing that he should only become Orthodox when he has seen it for the Truth. 

Stella took me apart and said, 'Will you help when Stuart's parents come come?'

'Certainly,' I said. 'What is it you want me to do?'

'Just talk to them.'

I looked at her a long moment and finally said, 'Is this something like My Big Fat Greek Wedding?'

'Yes,' she said, 'Exactly like that!'

I did spend about half an hour chatting with them, and they, too, are very nice people, Julie and Trevor.  They're going to take their holiday, 10 days from now, in Cuba, so Cuba occupied much of our discussion.  Demetrios of course spent time with them, as well.  So did numerous people, including the hostess, Eleni, and even Elias came round a time or two and made himself genial, and offered them drinks.  Yup, just as in the movie.

Their son Thomas fitted right in with the Greek boys of similar age, and off they all went together.

I met Sarah, a Muslim from Kashmir, and her daughters, Maria (with the stress upon the first syllable) and Amida, 10.  When I asked Amida what her name meant, she said, 'It means "Happy" and my mother's name is a Hebrew word that means "Princess."'  Sarah was telling me about conditions in Kashmir, which she compared with conditions in Gaza, with curfews and an Indian 'occupation army' and so forth.  Of course there are two sides to that story, but what struck me (as it often does in my travels) was how ignorant we Americans are of so many things going on outside our own borders.  It's as if our press were all conspiring to keep us ignorant.  If it weren't for the Internet, we'd never know anything about the rest of the world.  Here, we have access to all sorts of news, from CNN and BBC to Aljazireh and a channel called Russia Today.  We check them all out.

We met George and his wife Beatriz, a pretty woman with shoulder-length, wavy hair from Brazil.  We met Kostas and his English wife, Jill.  They have a house on his island in Greece, and they lived there for 4 years, so Jill learned fluent Greek.  They finally decided they had to come to England, but they vacation back in their Greek house.  She is a teacher, and we had a long talk on what is wrong with education today.

Another teacher was there, too, who had been our graduate's first-grade teacher, and has been a family friend ever since.  So it was a special day for her, too.

Sotirios, Elias and Eleni's 16-year-old son, is also poised and personable and friendly.  He told me, 'Your accent is so COOL!'  And of course having a teenager find anything about me 'cool' is insanely flattering. 

And those are just some of the people I met.  Demetrios met several more, but he was mostly off with the men and I was in the kitchen with the women.  (Yes, the Greek way.)  People did not all arrive at once, but in dribbles, from time to time, and left the same way, so I suppose there were about 50 or perhaps 60 people in all.  'We have to live this way,' said Elias.  'This is what life is all about, to love one another, and that means to love being together!'

The food was delicious, plentiful, and varied.  There were barbecued ribs and there was chicken and pastitsio and various salads and an artichoke casserole and several other dishes I can't even remember.  There were two cakes, one of which of course said, 'Contratulations, Maria!'

It was 8:30 by time we took up Elias' offer to drive us home whenever we liked.  We had been at the party since right after church, and we only left when we did because we were exhausted, and so happy we felt like crying.

It was only 10 minutes from Elias' door to ours.  That's nice to know.  He says we should get together later in the week for coffee.  He studies mornings and works afternoons, but he can afford to take off part of a morning now and then.

Back in our own little flat, Demetrios poured us each a sherry, which we sipped in front of the TV.  Then by 9:00 we were in bed.  I was so tired I forgot to take my pills and even forgot my earplugs, yet slept soundly and with deep gratitude until morning.

These are the kind of people who can be true and life-long friends, and seem very willing to be (Elias says they had kind things to say about us, too) - and so many of them!  How blessed we feel!  And more and more, we begin to feel at home.


elizabeth said...

How lovely!

Bb said...

Ahhh, you should have come to us for our patronal festival. :-)

I know a number of parishes who have somebody like that: who organises and co-ordinates everything and with whom the priest wouldn't dare argue.

(Just been interrupted and suddenly have to go out now. Perhaps more later).


Anonymous said...

It seems that a good time was had by all! I know some people who are able to organize everything and who are so modest about it to boot...people you just treasure!

Anonymous said...


Ann Nichols said...

What an absolutely lovely adventure! Thanks for sharing!