We went to church this morning for the Feast of the Elevation of the Precious and Life-giving Cross. (Did you know Catholics observe it, too? And on the same day, yet.)
I couldn't stay long. There were no seats by the time we arrived; even the staircases leading to the wrap-around balcony were full of people sitting on the steps. My back began to hurt after 30 minutes, and my feet, too, in the same new shoes I last wore the day I broke my foot. But the last straw was that after the church was already packed, hundreds more people arrived; I know because I was standing in the narthex. And they were still streaming in when my claustrophobia got the better of me. Hard to feel claustrophobic, you would think, in a church designed to hold 1500 people comfortably; but pack more and more of them in so tightly you are re-breathing the same air as 10 others around you and see what happens. I fought my way to Demetrios to tell him, and then fought may way back out. A few people were still coming. I am overjoyed to see the churches here so crammed without it even being a Sunday, but I either have to find a church that isn't, or else have to arrive early enough to sit in the front row, where, by keeping my eyes resolutely forward, I can be blissfully unaware of the crowds and feel I can breathe.
Last year when we came from England to Greece, it felt like emerging into the long-lost sunshine; it was glorious. This year, I could count on the fingers of one hand how many days it rained while we were in England (not counting when it rained only at night). We have been extremely fortunate to have been in good weather since early Spring. Today is one of the very best, perfect in every way except in not lasting forever and ever.
We had fresh basil today. There is a legend among the Greeks that basil grew at the foot of the Cross, that some of the Sacred Blood dripped upon it, and that this is why the plant is called basil, which means King. So on the feast of the Cross, (which paradoxically is a day of strict fasting), people here bring sprigs of basil to church as an offering and the priest distributes it after the services. In the afternoon, we had sliced tomatoes with vinegar and salt, and sprinkled with some of the fresh basil, aromatic and sweet as perfume. To that we added fresh bread from the bakery and, for dessert, grapes, my favorite fruit, and fresh figs, Demetrios' favorite if you don't count tomatoes. We felt we were feasting instead of fasting! ('Strict fasting', in case you aren't familiar with the Orthodox usage, means you can eat a little, but you abstain from animal products of any kind, from oil, from alcohol, and from sex.)
Christos, my bother-in-law, has held his own, health-wise, since we left; Demetrios says he may even be somewhat better. His daughter Vickie, who lives in Venice, was here visiting until yesterday and Christos says she took very good care of him.
Christos has provided us with a brand new mobile phone. I think "we" have lost more in these past 5 years than most people own in 10. Well, we do still have two in England, for sure; we just didn't leave enough time to find them before we had to go. Although we intended to, we never did have them fitted with English SIM cards, so we never used them there. Demetrios, when he does have one, complains that it is the end of his freedom. "The twenty-first century version of the leash," his godson, James, quipped.
In the evening, we went with Mena to a little refreshments place on the water's edge and sipped cold juice, watching the moon rise over the bay and the sailboats in the marina, perfectly motionless in the still sea.