Saturday, October 29, 2011

St. Demetrios Festivities

25 October, Tuesday

The Feast of Great Martyr Demetrios fell on a Wednesday this year, and since we knew some of our friends would not feast on a fast day (which Wednesdays are), we planned a small get-together the evening before and a big gathering the day after.

The evening before, we were to meet Mena and Kostas and Pelagia and George at our favorite cafĂ©, Maxim’s. Mena and Kostas were to pick us up at around eight o’clock.

We waited until 8:40 and they didn’t come. We tried both their home phone and Mena’s cell phone, which she always has with her, but there was no answer on either. We tried Pelagia and George on their home phone (we didn’t have their cell phone numbers) but there was no answer there, either. So we decided we’d better walk over to Maxim’s, which after all isn’t far, to see if any of them might be there.

Approaching Maxim’s, we found Pelagia and George, who were just leaving, having given up. So back inside we went, to try to sort it out.

Nobody knew where Mena and Kostas were, and Pelagia had tried Mena’s cell phone at least 20 times, with no result. (And Mena always, always answers her cell phone, even if she’s in the middle of a meal with her guests and her mouth is full.) Our own cell phone had mysteriously stopped working. What to do next? Finally, Pelagia had the idea to call her own house, where her son was, and get him to look in her phone book for Elpida’s number, Elpida being Mena’s married daughter, and the one most likely to know anything.

“Where’s your mother?” asked Pelagia.

“At my mother-in-law’s,” said Elpida, “Having her hair done.” (That’s where I went recently to have my hair done, too, so I’m aware that it takes much longer there then you had expected.)

“Where’s your father?”

Elpida didn’t know.

Okay, here’s where things get a bit complicated, and I’m not sure I have it all straight. But Elpida called Soula, her mother-in-law, and found out Mena had been under the hair dryer for the past half hour, so hadn’t heard her cell phone. Soula got Mena to the phone.

Where was Kostas? Mena said he had come to our house, by bus, to pick us up and walk with us to Maxim’s. Except that he had never arrived there.

So we sat around and worried for a while. Then Pelagia tried one more time to get Kostas on his home phone, and this time he answered. He had gotten off the bus and the wrong stop and had gotten lost. He went up one street and down another, hither and yon, but never could find our apartment. Finally he had given up, and had just arrived back home. (This is a bit worrisome, because Kostas has been visiting Demetrios’ house since they were teenagers.)

“Come here by taxi!” said Pelagia. “Tell the driver Maxim’s, behind the hospital, at the corner of Karamanlis Street.”

Then Elpida had to be called, to inform her her father had been found, and Soula had to be called as well, and then Mena, who had just left from Soula.

At last, everyone arrived and we enjoyed nice cups of coffee or chocolate over our little reunion, We stayed together until midnight, when everyone wished Demetrios Many Years for his name day, and we all went home, Kostas and Mena by car and the rest of us, together, on foot. (Pelagia and George live a couple of blocks past us.)

Christos called and, and hearing about our malfunctioning cell phone, gave Demetrios some instructions and it miraculously began working perfectly again. We still don’t know how Demetrios had turned it off, but now we do know how to turn it back on next time.

26 October, Wednesday

With horrible memories of attending the Church of St. Demetrios on the Feast of St. Demetrios some years ago, we were reluctant to go there again this year. Instead, we went to St. Sophia. (I read recently that when St. Sophia was first consecrated, the Byzantine Empress Irene was in attendance.) It was half full, unlike St. Demetrios, which would have been tightly packed. And of course its other major advantage was the cantor, Charilaos, who is eighty-something and still has the most incredible voice, so sweet, so rich, so full, so expressive.

After the service, Demetrios went up to the cantors’ stand just to be near him, and you could see a sort of reverent glow from his face. There he stayed until everyone else had received their antidoron from the priest; then he went up to the priest and asked if he could have a copy of the sermon, which, he tells me, was exceptionally beautiful. That of course sparked a little conversation, the upshot of which was, Father Lazaros invited us to go to his office, where he would join us later.

So we did, and shortly after we got there, in came Charilaos with three or four other cantors. Charilaos took the big chair behind the desk and a young woman named Anastasia served coffee and water, while the cantors began trying out on The Teacher (Chariloaos) their thoughts on Byzantine music. “The words of the hymn,” said one, “are just dead text. It’s the voice, the voice, that gives them life!”

Charilaos corrected him: it’s the Holy Spirit gives them life, sometimes through our voices.

Fr. Lazaros arrived a bit later, with a half loaf of bread from the same dough, he said, as this morning’s communion bread. Sitting on a hard chair on the wrong side of his desk, he cut this into thin slices on a plate and passed it around. Somebody else had tiropita, cheese pastries, to share. Then another Demetrios arrived, the step-son, I think, of Charilaos (who is widowed and recently remarried), with a box of chocolates to be handed around. Fr. Lazaros could see I love chocolate, and he put three in my hands.

So we passed an hour or so with these most delightful people before going home for our nap.

Over at St. Demetrios, we learned, the government bigwigs, who always come from Athens to attend, had been very heartily jeered and booed outside the Church. Just as I’d hoped, but we were doing something even better at the time, sitting with these glorious people. We exchanged contact information and hope to meet some or all of them again.

27 October, Thursday

We had our big feast for St. Demetrios the day after, or rather the night after. George and Pelagia came to pick us up in their car, and we drove toward the taverna in Kalamaria.

Nobody in the car knew quite where the taverna was, never mind we'd been there last year. AHHH, so this habit of setting off for somewhere without finding out first where it is is not peculiar to Demetrios!!!! That was worth finding out.

We arrived in the right neighborhood; the three of them were all sure of that much. Finally, Demetrios called the taverna and found out it was one diagonal block from us, so we got there only a few minutes later than most of our guests.

There were 20 of us altogether, Demetrios and I and some of the dearest, kindest, best people on earth, which guaranteed it would be a wonderful evening. And for icing on the cake, almost all of them had been not only Demetrios’ friends, but each others’, from childhood, or had at least known each other that long.

Nikos, a pathologist, brought his German wife this time. Brigitta is a lovely woman, and she and I could chatter away in German (although sometimes my words still came out in Greek). She told me she had grown up in Stuttgart. I said, “Oh, Demetrios once lived in Stuttgart, about forty years ago, though, now.”

“I know,” she said, a twinkle in her pretty eyes. “That’s where I met him!” And tonight was the first time she’d seen him since those days in Stuttgart, so it was another happy reunion.

I stood up, halfway through the meal, to propose a toast. I don’t often have much to say, on account of my very limited Greek, so when I do speak, people stop to listen out of plain curiosity. I said, as I now always do, “To freedom! Hail, hail, Freedom!” and everyone shouted, “Bravo, Anastasia!” and clinked their glasses together.

Then we sang. Well, mainly the men sang. I don’t know why, but it’s usually the men who sing at table, although the women sometimes join in. As there were ten of them, and at least half of them are cantors in church, they all sounded very, very good together, like a choir.

It was the best time I’ve had this year in Greece. Mena puts on a mean feast, and Vasilea has the mother of all meals, serves (I counted, this year) 15 dishes plus the desserts, which are 5 more, but tonight all of us were together, housewives and schoolteachers, poets and painters, theologians and lawyers, doctors and authors, all delighting in one another. Tonight my tongue loosened up (without benefit of alcohol) and I was able to converse fairly freely with a number of people, sometimes in English, sometimes in German, sometimes in Greek. Tonight, the topic was love, love, and love. The food was great, the company, better. We all just glowed. Tonight was a foretaste of heaven, as we all agreed.


GretchenJoanna said...

Love, love, and freedom! The joy comes through your post. Holy Martyr Demetrios, pray to God for us!