Friday, September 16, 2011

A Visit to Nea Syllata

Monday, 12 September

Mena and Kostas had us overnight Sunday-Monday at their country house in the village of Nea Syllata.

We arrived there in the early afternoon, after church and a brunch. It’s only a couple of blocks from the bus stop to their house, and we only had two very small, very light bags with us, so of course we walked.
Mena and Kostas have fixed it up since I saw it last; all the floors are tiled, which is the main thing. The formerly bare walls are now painted. The bathroom has a distinct shower instead of simply a corner of the bathroom you stand in. Furniture has been re-arranged to make the most of the space, and there are several designer touches: light fixtures and curtain rods with flair, an oil painting in the living room that matches the colors of the chimney and the floor, and in the guest room, a fanciful arrangement of the curtains. Mind you, they are only sheers, which with shutters is all one needs, but how they are arranged! Both panels are hung together on the same clip-on curtain rings, the one in front of the other. But the bottom left corner of the top curtain has been brought to the top left and is held there by the leftmost curtain ring, so it has a draped effect; and the bottom right corner of the same (top) curtain has been tied into an artistic knot.

“Pantelis!” I said under my breath. He’s their son-in-law, an interior designer. I recognized his style, all rectangular and very modern. Plus, he’s obviously still in his Shades of Gray Period; the plastered chimney has been painted gray and the large floor tiles are a brownish gray.

Sure enough, when I asked, Pantelis (short for Panteleimon) had designed everything. Mena says his paint crew did the painting at a very reasonable price, too, and we should ask him when we get ready to pain our own apartment, which we hope to do this year. We shall, of course, although we will not have any gray paint. In fact the existing paint in our flat, pastel blues and greens, is already far too full of gray for our taste; we want to lighten it up, and we want any accent colors to be cheerful.

The first thing Mena asked me, after how are you, was, “Shall we go for a swim?” which was exactly what I’d been hoping to hear. So we changed into our swimsuits and off we went, leaving the men to talk politics. “Talking politics,” I said, “is fine, but saying the same things over and over again, that’s what I don’t understand.” We agreed it seems like some sort of disorder.

The water, in my opinion, was perfect: clear, with waves so small even a baby wouldn’t be frightened by them. I mean so small they didn’t even make any surf, or any sound as they rippled onto the sand. Mena said the sea wasn’t as clear is in previous days, or as calm, so she apologized!! It seemed quite clear to me, and I prefer big waves, actually, to these wee undulations.

I feel I have almost a mystical relationship with the sea; I’ve always felt that way, as though I were her child, as though I were a mermaid of a dolphin or something. In the sea I feel utterly natural and utterly free; I can even move in ways impossible on land. I always embrace the waters very joyfully.

So Mena and I splashed around for 45 minutes for so, then got out and came home without even drying off first. That was because she wanted to get supper going. (And neither of us cares for sunbathing.)

Supper was sardines, grilled outside until crispy and yummy. Litsa and Vasilis were there, too with their two children; Vasilis being Kostas’ and Mena’s son. Litsa made a salad and while I was grilling the sardines, Mena fried us some potatoes. So it all made a lovely summer meal.

After the meal, the cleanup, and a short nap, I played with the children, Konstantinos, 7, and Christina, 2. I was the teras, the monster, who chased the children; and the fate that awaited them, whenever I caught them, was to be tickled and kissed. My only trouble was, they began roaring back, and so, pathetic monster as I was, I had to run away and cower behind their mother and say things like, “Oh, no!” and “Help me!” Once I threw a little sheet over my head, trying to hide from them, but they interpreted it another way. “Phantasma!” they shrieked. So I turned from a cowardly monster to a ghost.

I wore out before they did, as usual. I remembered last time I saw Konstantinos and I showed him a magic trick, making a marble disappear. I showed that trick to Alexandros in England, Elias’ son, using a grape, and I was about to make the grape re-appear when he said, “You can’t; I ate it!” which both spoiled the second half of the trick and gave away the first half.

We were all sitting out on the balcony to catch the breeze when a car pulled up, about 9:00, and out came Ioannis, the lawyer and cantor. Well, being a lawyer was only a way to make a living until he retired; being a Psaltis (cantor) is his true vocation. There were greetings with hugs and kisses all around, and warm words of welcome from Ioannis, who then sat down beside Demetrios and launched right into a deep discussion of Byzantine music. Demetrios says his knowledge of the subject is profound.

If you want to be entertained, Ioannis never disappoints, because his speech is laced with Scripture; everything you can say reminds him of some passage, which he will quote or, if possible, sing; and (yes, I timed it), it took less than 15 minutes for him to begin singing little excerpts of Psalms and other hymns to illustrate his points. (He has a good voice, too, deep and rich.)

We asked about his trip to Constantinople, to the Patriarchate, but he had little to say about it except he did not feel he was received quite as he ought to have been.

Mena said she’d heard Charilaos, considered the greatest Psalti of his generation, was about to retire, and this upset Ioannis tremendously. Apparently this rumor has reached Charilaos himself, who was quite hurt by it, and Ioannis’ loyalty to “the Teacher” is such that he was equally upset or more so. I also think part of what he loves so much about Mena is the shouting matches they get into. Kostas joined in as well, even standing up to emphasize his point. (Ioannis emphasized his by grabbing Demetrios’ arm from time to time.) I just sat there wondering what the neighbors were thinking.

A kitten was crying pathetically somewhere in the dark very near us. It was a tiny, black creature; I was going to find a scrap of sardine for it but Ioannis said the kitty was too young for fish; at that age, what it wanted was milk. Cow’s milk isn’t actually the best thing for a cat, but I went along and put some out for the poor thing. (I dreamed later that I had caught that kitten, but when I opened the trap, it wasn’t a domestic cat that emerged; but to my delight, a tiny lion cub. Imagine how disappointed I was to wake up and find it was neither!)

Around ten o’clock, another car pulled up and Myrta and Elias arrived. (Different Elias from our friend in England.) Yes, ten o’clock, about the time things get started in Greece. Mena, planning to return to Thessaloniki in the morning, had already served all the food she had, so to supply her necessity, Ioannis disappeared and returned in 15 minutes with two ripe melons from his garden, which we cut up and served.

Myrta, who had stopped smoking last time we were here, has begun again, although Elias has not. Apparently her doctor told her stopping was causing her as many problems as the smoking had, so she might as well go back to it. That’s my understanding of Myrta’s understanding of it, anyway.

People left before 1:00, except Ioannis, who although he stood up, had a lot more to say before he could depart.

We didn’t sleep well in the unfamiliar bed, so it was 9:30 before Kostas knocked on our door to get us up. He and Mena had already packed up everything, put the house the way they wanted to leave it, and loaded the car.

Kostas went out to buy us all some pastries for breakfast while we got dressed.

Breakfast was on the balcony, where it was coolest. As we ate, I could hear the priest’s voice across the street in the schoolyard, intoning prayers, and when I looked, there was a small crowd gathered in front of him. When I asked what was going on, well, it was the first day of school, and the priest was giving the blessing.

When he had finished, we heard another familiar voice addressing the children: Ioannis was giving a speech. He’s in charge of something like the town planning commission for Nea Sylatta, so it was probably in that capacity he had been asked to speak. We couldn’t hear what he had to say, but the children and their parents (and a few grandparents) cheered at the end of it. Then there were some other speeches and then the priest distributed something; I couldn’t see what; and at last the school children went to their classrooms, while their younger siblings, parents, and grandparents milled about the grounds.

We were home in Thessaloniki by 11:00, tired but happy.

Demetrios went downtown to a political meeting in the afternoon while I stayed home designing a new knitting pattern I want to try out. We both slept most of the late afternoon.