Monday, November 8, 2010

David and Julia Visit Us, Part 2

Sunday, 31 October

Attending Divine Liturgy was just part of it all, part of the Cultural Experience. We took Julia and David to St. Sophia, since it is Byzantine and for all the sightseeing we did yesterday, we didn’t manage to show them a single of one the 14 Byzantine churches here.

We had given them print-outs of the service in English, but still, it has to be difficult when you don’t understand the language. I hope it was at least interesting.

Julia said the sermon had been interesting, “But I had to disagree with the third sentence.” :-)

After church and a light lunch at an eatery just off Aristotle Square, we had time for a little more sightseeing. We showed them the Roman forum and the Church of. St. Demetrios. There was a baptism in progress, so we all got to see the infant immersed three times and named – what else? – Demetrios. A little girl was awaiting her turn to be baptized.

We went down into the crypt, where I had never been before, and it may be the most interesting part of the church. It’s the old bathhouse where St. Demetrios and St. Nestor were imprisoned and then martyred. The crypt also used to house St. Demetrios’ myrrh-streaming remains, although today they are upstairs. There was a stone trough from the space for the coffin to the outside of the church, about 8 inches wide (at least), for the myrrh to flow out. It used to flow all the way to the sea.

Lunch was lamb roasted over charcoal and it was delicious.

After siesta, Mena took us in her car to the kastro (“castle”) at the top of the ridge behind the city. It isn’t exactly a castle; it’s a huge tower, part of the ancient fortifications. If memory serves, the wall was built in Alexander’s time and strengthened in Roman times.

Demetrios, David, Anastasia, and Julia in Front of Castle Door

With Mena

Ancient City Wall With View of Thessaloniki Below

In the little town beyond the wall, there was a feast in progress. Today is the Feast of the Unmercenaries. What a translation! That isn’t even a word in English. I vote we call it, in English, the Volunteers, or the Unpaid, referring to several saints who were physicians and did not charge for their services, especially Sts. Cosmas and Damian.

Anyway, there was a procession underway through the streets of the village, no doubt with an icon of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, led by a marching band, which complicated Mena’s already tricky driving chore.

I assured David that Mena is an expert driver, but he wasn’t worried. “It’s not the same as Corfu, is it?” he asked. “It isn’t like having almighty drop-offs on either side of you just as you run out of road and are trying to figure out where reverse is.”

Then we briefly visited the monastery where Mena’s daughter Elpida was married, and so was Demetrios’ brother Christos, the one where the monks raise peacocks. There’s also a tame cat there, all white with one blue eye and one green. I picked her up and hugged her because it’s so seldom you get to do that here.

Then it was on to Leonidas’ house, where Ianna fed us a pre-supper supper and we sat around talking for an hour or so before going to the taverna owned, I said, “by one of Leonidas’ 78 cousins.”

“Oh, yes, right,” said David.

“Don’t exaggerate,” said Demetrios.

“I’m not!” I protested. “He really does have 78 first cousins!”

Nobody believed me and of course they were right. Leonidas told us he only has 76 first cousins. “But many more,” he said, if we count second cousins.”

“And one of them owns the taverna.”

“No, that’s a niece.”

At Ianna's and Leonidas' House:  Ianna, Julia, Anastasia, Leonidas, Demetrios

At the Taverna.  L-R:  Ianna, Rena, Mena, Julia, Anastasia, Demetrios, Kostas, Theodosios, Leonidas

At the Taverna:  Ianna, Rena, Mena

At the Taverna:  Anastasia, Demetrios, Kostas, Theodosios, Leonidas

The company was most of the people who were at Mena’s yesterday, minus three who live the furthest away.

David told about the time he was being treated for Bell’s Palsy and the treatment involved mild electric shocks to his face. He walked into the room, he said, and the nurse, preparing for the treatment, looked over at the equipment and said, “Oh! New machine, I see.”

Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, does it? So she fiddled with the dial some, and after a try or two, got it right.

Next visit, another nurse, looking at the equipment, said, “Oh, a new machine!” and David’s heart sank. She, too, got it wrong the first time or two.

Next visit, David found himself alone in the treatment room for a few minutes, and there he noticed his records. So he opened the folder to take a look “and there, on the sheet of paper was written, ‘TIMID.’”

Mena told the joke about Al Capone standing before the Pearly Gates, and St. Peter says, “You know you have to go to hell.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Since you are an Italian American, you can have your choice of the American hell or the Italian hell.”

So Al Capone goes down and takes a look. In the American hell, he sees all kinds of tortures and misery, so goes to inspect the Italian hell. But on his way to the Italian hell, he passes the Greek hell, where he sees people feasting and hears them laughing and singing.

So he tells St. Peter, “If you don’t mind, I would like to go to the Greek hell” and St. Peter obliges.

When he arrives in the Greek hell, he asks the merry-makers what’s going on. “I thought hell was supposed to be a place of torment.”

“Oh,” say the inmates, “It is. But our Greek demons are on strike!”

* * *

Another joke has Obama praying and asking God how long it will be before the American economy recovers.

“About a hundred years,” God replies.

And Obama begins to cry. “I won’t be around by then,” he tells God sorrowfully.

Then Putin prays and asks God how long it will take for the Russian economy to recover.

“A hundred and fifty years,” says God.

And Putin begins to cry. “I won’t be around by then,” he says sorrowfully.

Then the Greek Prime Minister prays and asks God how long before the Greek economy recovers.

And God begins to cry.

* * *

The thing to notice about both these jokes is that they are aimed at Greece and Greeks. They may be funny, but they are part of the “We are the worst, least-organized, most incompetent people anywhere” propaganda. We can’t even get hell right.

In spite of that, we laughed a lot; and with many jokes and stories and sharing of great friendship and love, the night grew late. We sang a few songs, concluding with “Goodbye and Joy,” for David and Julia.

Rena, so very kind, had little gifts for Julia and me as we departed, which turned out to be necklaces, a red one for Julia and black one for me.

We never even remembered it was Hallowe’en.

Monday, 01 November

We had breakfast with David and Julia at their hotel and then saw them off. That is, we put them in a taxi and Demetrios told the driver where to take them. It’s a good day for flying.

Nothing, absolutely nothing here was like the elegance Julia and David are used to. But I have a feeling it was at least interesting, maybe educational. And there’s no doubt the love and friendship lit and warmed all our hearts.

It was a great joy to see them again and now we’re going to miss them a lot!