Saturday, October 30, 2010

Baby Blanket (Knitting Pattern)

As I'm pleased with the latest blanket I've just completed, I wanted to share my design with you.  So here it is.  Maybe someone out there will enjoy making or receiving it.

General Notes: This is a reversible blanket in white with pink and green decoration. To achieve two equally pretty sides, we use moss stitch for the plain (white) sections and horizontal bands of double knitting for the decorated strips. They are going to look like this.

Caution: This is just to give you an idea how the pattern will look on each side when you are finished. Because it shows one side and you will be making both sides together, you must not work according to this chart! Instead, follow the written instructions.

At the end of these instructions, I have provided a chart from which you may work; but as double knitting doesn’t lend itself to perfectly clear charting, you should still go by the written instructions at first.

This is a good charity project, as it is sweet yet goes quickly. If you want to donate it to a neonatal intensive care unit, the blanket, for preemies, should measure roughly 23 inches square. You can finish the project long before you become bored with it!

Do make a swatch first, which you can begin at about Row 10. A swatch will let you see if you like the pattern. Moreover, AFTER you’ve knitted 20 rows of the full-sized blanket is NOT the time to discover that I’ve made a mistake in these instructions or that double knitting isn’t for you or that your pastel pink yarn is too pale.

Skill Level: Experienced Intermediate (about 4 on a scale of 1-6)

Yarn: Sport weight (3-ply) in white, green, bright pink. You will need a brighter pink than you think, for contrast. If you do use pastel pink, be sure the white yarn is snowy white, not creamy or off-white. Acrylic recommended for babies.

Needles: One US size 5 circular (3.75 mm), about 30” long, one a couple sizes larger for casting off. You can knit it with larger yarn and thicker needles if you want to, but it may not look quite as cute.

Stitches: Multiple of 6 + 3 + selvedge (8, in this case, 4 sts on either side)

Cast on using long-tail method and the #5 needle

Selvedge: At beginning of each row, K4. At end of each row, K3, bring yarn to front and S1 purlwise. These 8 sts never vary in any respect throughout the whole process, no matter what. The following directions do not usually mention the selvedge, but assume you will add it to the beginning and end of each row.

Rows 1-17: P1, K1

Row 18: (K1, P1) into each st.

Now, in preparation for double knitting, you have double the original number of stitches except at the selvedges. The K stitches will form the side of the work facing you; the P stitches will form the side away from you; thus each side of the double-knitted strip will be in stockinette stitch.

You will be doing yourself a great favor if at this point you spread out your work along the needle and check for any mistakes in this row, which show up quite readily.

Remarks on Double Knitting

First, it’s not nearly as hard as I’m probably making it look!! In fact, as you know if you’ve done it, it’s no harder (once you understand it) than regular knitting; it just takes more time and more yarn.

This section will use many slipped stitches. All slipped stitches are slipped purlwise (except in Row 24).

The secret of double knitting is: when slipping a series of stitches, keep your working yarn woven between them; that is, position your yarn behind each K st. you slip and in front of each P st you slip. By weaving your strand in and out this way, you are keeping it between the two sides of the double knitting, thus hiding it where it isn’t being worked.

In Rows 19-22, you are working two colors per row. This means each row must be knitted twice, once with each color, without turning the work in between. Each row of this section therefore has two sets of instructions, marked “A” and “B”. By time you’ve completed both passes, A and B, you will have worked each st in the row exactly once.

Selvedge is worked only when using white yarn. Colored yarn is not to extend to either selvedge.

Row 19: Green and White

(A) With Green, K1, P1, S2, K1, P1, *S6, K1, P1, S2, K1, P1*

Work in the tail of green yarn as you go by weaving it (together with the working strand) behind each K st and in front of each P st.

Stop before the last 4 stitches (the selvedge) and slip them.

DO NOT TURN. Just scrunch sts back toward the other (right) end of the needle.

(B) With White, work each st except green ones: *S2 (green), K1, P1, S2 (green), (K1, P1) 3x *, S2, K1, P1, S2.

When you come to where the “live” strand of green yarn is hanging (immediately after the selvedge) hide it by crossing it over the st nearest the selvedge and continue.


Row 20: Pink and White

(A) With Pink
, work the 2-st gap between each set of green stitches.
S2, K1, P1, *S10, K1, P1* S2

Weave in the pink tail as you go along.


(B) With White, work each st except pink ones: *K1, P1, S2 pinks, (K1, P1) 10x* ending with K1, P1.

When you come to the green yarn, cross it the other way over st nearest the selvedge, then purl that stitch, and continue. (Green strand will be hidden once you work the stitch over which you have crossed it.)


Row 21: Pink and White

We put pink sts in center of each 6-stitch stretch.

(A) With Pink, S8, *K1, P1, S10*, K1, P1, S8 to weave in pink tail

Cut yarn, leaving a 2-inch tail for now, until blanket is completed.


(B) With White, work every st except the pink ones you just put in (as distinct from the pink sts from Row 20, which you DO work). (K1, P1) 4x, *S2, (K1, P1) 5x, * ending with (K1, P1) 4x.

When you come to the green yarn, cross it the other way over st nearest the selvedge, P that stitch, and continue.

This is the only slightly tricky row.

If you are using pastel pink, just about now is when you see why I advised against it. That’s okay; I used it myself and liked it. You just have to be about 10 times more cautious than if you had used a better contrast.


Row 22: Green and White

(A) With Green
, *S6, K1, P1, S2, K1, P1*, S6 to weave in green tail

Cut green yarn, leaving at least a 2 in. tail, to be trimmed off entirely once blanket is completed.


(B) With White, work every stitch except green ones. *(K1, P1) 3x, S2, K1, P1, S2, (K1, P1)3x*


Row 23: Finish off pattern. With white, work all sts, *K1, P1* to end

Row 24: Reduce sts back to original number. (SSP2 tog, SSK2 tog) to end, slipping all these sts knitwise. (This is the only row containing sts slipped knitwise.)

Row 25: Repeat from Row 1 until desired length is reached.

Finishing: Cast off loosely using larger needle (US 7). K2, *pass 1st st over 2nd st, K1* to end, cut yarn leaving a 2-inch tail. Draw tail through last loop and weave it in.

Trim all tails.

Your edges should be neat enough to look good as is but if you like, you can crochet a little edge all around.

Variations: You could lengthen the distance between the double knitted stripes, thus using fewer of them and saving time and yarn. Or you could add more stripes or even do the whole blanket in double knitting.

You could use any reversible stitch instead of moss stitch, but it shouldn’t compete for attention with the decorative bands.

You could use different colors, either in alternate bands or throughout. You could put blue instead of pink in some or all bands, or any other color. Pastel yellow, like pastel pink, won’t show up very well against a white background, but who says the background must be white? You should limit each row to two colors, though, or the knitting becomes very thick.

You could knit this in the round, using only one decorative band, perhaps double width, all around the edge.

General Hint: All changes of yarn, as when you run out of white, should preferably take place while you are working the double knitting. That way, the tails can be hidden by drawing them between the two sides of the work, using a crochet hook. If you are planning to crochet a border, though, the white can end at any row, but at the edge.

By the time you’ve completed your test swatch you will probably know the pattern pretty much by heart and not need a chart. But here it is anyway in case you’re a chart knitter.

Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

St. Demetrios

So it's the Feast of Great Martyr Demetrios again, my huband's name day, and I have a few minutes to spare.

We went to our own neighborhood church, NOT the Church of St. Demetrios, where we had such a traumatic time two years ago.

We are hosting a huge dinner tonight in a taverna belonging to one of Leonidas' 78 first cousins.

Day after tomorrow, Ochi Day, Julia and David are arriving from England, to stay here through Sunday.  I've got almost everything ready, but still anticipate that I won't have time to post anything before Monday, except a post about knitting, to appear tomorrow.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Political Vignette

We were eating in a sidewalk café when a man approached us with a handful of brochures. At first I thought he was another beggar, but instead, he wanted us to vote for a certain man running for mayor. I was at once surprised, amused, and pleased to hear Demetrios’ response: “Your candidate is proposing to rename St. Demetrios Street and make it Kemal Attaturk Street and that tells us everything we need to know about him.”

(St. Demetrios, you are to understand, is this city’s patron saint; while Attaturk is regarded as The Butcher of the Greeks.)

“And your party ought never to support such a man,” added Demetrios.

“But he has so many good policies…” the canvasser replied.

“Never mind. This one says it all. Get him out.”

The man shrugged and started to move away.

“Remove him from your party!” called Demetrios after him, smiling but shaking his finger. “Because of all the issues there are, those concerning the motherland come first. Never forget that.”

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Alexander's Vision

Now, then, do not go asking me Alexander who?! In Greece, there’s only one and you know that’s Megas Alexandros. (And here, hardly any serious discussion fails to mention him at least once, so large does he loom in the Greek consciousness, especially in this city, which he founded.) It's just like in Virginia, where you don't ask General who? "The General" is always Robert E. Lee.

And Josephus, the Jewish historian (37-110 AD) records the fascinating story we Christians would probably have to call something like “Alexander’s Dream of Christ,” although for Josephus, it was probably more about, “How Alexander Took Jerusalem Without A Fight and Won the Hearts and Minds of Her People.” I here summarize and paraphrase it for you. If you’d like to read it yourself it’s in The History of the Jews XI,8,5.

Alexander, having already utterly destroyed Tyre, was marching toward Jerusalem, intending to punish the city severely for its staunch loyalty to his enemy, Darius, King of Persia. The inhabitants of the city came out of it to meet him, all dressed in white, with the chief priest, who was dressed in his liturgical vestments, white and purple.

When Alexander saw this, from some distance, he dismounted and walked toward the people. When he came to the archpriest, he bowed himself to the ground, and then, arising, kissed and embraced him.

Then all the people hailed and welcomed him, with one voice. Alexander put out his hand to the chief priest and they walked together into Jerusalem peaceably, followed by the people.

Parmenion, one of Alexander’s generals and his right-hand man, asked him how it was that while everybody else in the world bowed to him, Great Alexander himself bowed to an Israelite priest.

Alexander replied, “It wasn’t to him I bowed; it was to his God. I saw this God in a dream while we were still back in Macedonia and I was deliberating whether to try to overthrow the Persian Empire. This God appeared to me dressed in exactly the same garments as this chief priest, and He encouraged me to undertake the campaign. I never saw garments like those before. So when I saw the chief priest, I remembered my dream and I knew by his clothing Whose priest he was, and that is why I bowed to him.”

Entering into the Temple, Alexander desired the priests to guide him in offering sacrifice to God.

Then the priests took out a scroll of the Book of Daniel and showed Alexander the prophecy that some monarch “of the Greeks” would destroy the Persian Empire. Alexander, accepting the priests’ implication, construed or recognized (your choice) that prophecy as signifying himself. Now, he said, he knew he would succeed in conquering Persia.

As, of course, he did.

* * *

This story raises far more questions than it answers and that, to me, is part of its fascination. What do you make of it?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

St. Peter in Rome?

Did you know (I didn’t) that there is no contemporaneous evidence whatsoever that St. Peter was ever even in Rome? The two writers and co-workers who knew him personally, St. Luke (author of Acts) and St. Paul, never mention it.

Acts tells us that St. Peter went to Antioch, but not to Rome, although Rome was the much more important city. Why no mention of St. Peter in Rome? Could it be because he wasn’t there?

Acts reports that St. Paul went to Rome, but doesn’t say St. Peter did. Why the reference to St. Paul in Rome but not St. Peter? Could it be because he wasn’t there?

When St. Paul wrote his Epistle to the Romans, he sent greetings to numerous Christians in that city, but not to St. Peter. Why not? Could it be because he not only wasn’t the Bishop of Rome, he wasn’t even there?

The very existence of the Epistle seems to show St. Paul doing the shepherding of the Church in Rome.

Furthermore, when St. Paul arrived in Rome, he found Christians already there, who came out along the Appian Way to greet him; see Acts 28:15. (That’s the same road we have here under the name of ‘Odos Egnatia, the main thoroughfare in this city. It’s a segment of the Appian Way.)

Apparently some of the Romans had been in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), had witnessed the miracle of the tongues, and had become believers then. (So, okay, you could say that since St. Peter preached to the crowd that day, he thereby founded the Church of Rome, but that’s a stretch, isn’t it?) But that's mere conjecture. Anyway, Christianity had come to Rome before St. Paul. But was St. Peter there at the time? Christianity, yes; St. Peter, no.

Even if he came to Rome in chains to be martyred there, as the story goes, this would still show St. Peter had not been the bishop in Rome, as he only arrived at the very end of his life.

The earliest mention of St. Peter in Rome, which my dear Rabbi Izaak says is pure fabrication, unsubstantiated, is Second Century.

I’ve heard that St. Nektarios actually proved that St. Peter never even was in Rome at all, but I can’t tell you that firsthand as I have not read whatever it is he wrote. If I can learn the name of it and if it exists in English and if I can get my hands on it, I’ll let you know!

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Book

We’ve been slaving away for a week now on Demetrios’ book, Chapter One, “The Human Self”. It is at last all organized and everything is correctly said, as far as Demetrios can determine. It is all typed, almost every paragraph fought over (in a friendly manner, of course, because we stopped and took breaks whenever we began to feel exhausted and crabby). It’s a horribly difficult subject, but it’s now written in such a way that I can understand it, so I feel confident his target audience will, too; they’re professionals, after all, and I’m not.

Now all we have to do (we think!) is go over it once or twice more to polish it some, make sure there are no typos, see if anything could be said more crisply or more elegantly. That will be comparatively SO EASY!

I’ve waited so many years to see this finished product, and so has he. If I weren’t so tired I’d be dancing for joy. Nobody has ever come up with an adequate, generally accepted (in psychoanalytic circles) theory or description or even definition of the core human self. We’re hoping this is it.

Of course, Demetrios is already organizing his notes for an addendum to the chapter...

Thursday, October 21, 2010


I'll be too busy to post anything for another couple of days, at least.  It is my great blessing and honor to be working hard with Demetrios on his book.  We're halfway through the second draft of the first chapter, which meanwhile (in the short run) will be an article for an American psychoanalytic association.  Of its four major sections, 3 are crisp and clear and organized and beautiful and very exciting.  The remaining one is a mess. 

It's a marvelous (imo!) fusion of all sorts of things:  psychiatry/psychoanalysis, neurology, anatomy, physiology, anthropology, philosophy, theology, psychology.

Title:  The Human Self.

A Dream Comes True for Demetrios

Here's a post I apparently forgot to publish at the time...

Monday, 04 October

We had another 2-hour cruise, past Corfu and toward the mainland, during which Demetrios slept on a padded bench in the salon and I sat outside near the prow and watched everything and imagined what I’d do if the boat should have a wreck. This latter was occasioned by a small traffic jam on the sea. Another ferry was crossing our path from the left and yet another, from the right, and as we all came closer and closer together, it looked very much as if we would all reach the same spot at the same time. I was not the only passenger looking on with some small concern. Each boat honked at the others and nobody seemed inclined to yield. But somehow they sorted it all out and we chugged into port.

Igoumenitsa is a non-charming town of relatively new buildings, meaning relatively drab and ugly, around its crescent harbor. Arriving in late mid-afternoon, we paid 5 Euros for a cab which took us 300 meters to the bus station. We would have walked, had we known. There were no more busses for Thessaloniki today; we bought tickets for tomorrow and went to find a hotel.

We saw exactly 5 hotels in the town and having no reservations anywhere, we chose the 3rd one we came to, the Jolly Hotel. It considers itself a luxury accommodation, boasting in its brochure that each room has its own bathroom, as well as its own television and telephone. My verdict: perfectly acceptable, for one night, provided all you want is a place to sleep. That was all we wanted.

Having parked our stuff, we set out see if we could make Demetrios’ dream come true by finding “the camp.” That is a place where Demetrios, when he was a student, spent a few days, but life-changing days.

At the far edge of town, in the early 1960s, was a United Nations camp, part of UNESCO or something, where English students were constructing a brooder house for chickens. Demetrios was studying English in night school and his teacher mentioned that if anyone wanted to improve his English, going to this camp would be an excellent opportunity. So Demetrios went. And here is where he met, among others, John Coventry. One day John asked Demetrios what he planned to do next in life, and Demetrios said he didn’t know what he’d do after medical school. All he knew was he didn’t want to stay in Greece. So John said, “Why don’t you come to England? My father is a doctor and he can help you find a job.”

So Demetrios did go to England, where John’s father did help him find a job, his very first job, the one in Ormskirk, and you know the rest of that story. That’s where new our English flat is, where we’ve just spent the summer.

John is the one who, at the beginning of every meal at camp, used to raise his fork and say, “Good troughing!” Demetrios asked what that meant, and John said it was like bon appétit. So when Demetrios came to England, and the family were all seated for a formal Sunday dinner, Demetrios remembered, and lifting his fork, cried out, “Good troughing!”

He says you could have cut the silence with a knife.

So this campsite was somewhere just outside of town and Demetrios has long cherished a dream of finding it again. It was on the far side of town, as I've mentioned, meaning about 3 miles from the port. We hiked it. Yes, we did. I said, “You do realize your chances of finding the spot are no better than 50-50.” Yes, he realized that. So we walked and walked and walked along the waterfront, resting on park benches along the way.

And we did find it, too! We came to a spot where Demetrios felt fairly sure the camp had been, although now there was no sign of it left.

But it so happened that acouple about our age was passing by, so Demetrios asked them, and sure enough, they remembered the camp and said it had been just here. And the building where the English lived, the man added, had later become a hostel for poor travelers. It had been torn down in the late Seventies or early Eighties.

So we walked along the beach where Demetrios used to teach John Coventry Greek, and I picked up two stones from there for souvenirs for Demetrios, and he, not seeing me do it, picked up two of his own, so now we have four. If we ever meet any of those campers again, we’ll have a token to give them.

Igoumenitsa is full of bars and coffee bars, but there are only two proper restaurants, and it took us a lot of walking indeed to find one. We finally did and had a nice meal and then, back to the Jolly Hotel. On the way, we passed a place selling loukoumades, Greek doughnut holes. They’re dollops of batter, deep fried and then sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon; and they’re favorites of Demetrios. So we stopped and bought a dozen, of which he ate 7 and regretted he hadn’t bought more.

“Tomorrow,” I said.

Again we were glad to get to sleep earlier than usual.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fr. Paisios on the Mark of the Beast

From the 23th Chapter of the Apocalypse (Revelation)

11 Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon. 12 And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. 13 He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. 14 And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived. 15 He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. 16 He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, 17 and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

18 Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666.

We have a book containing many short sayings of a local saint, Fr. Paisios. He only died in 1993, so he hasn’t yet been made an officially-recognized saint, but everyone here knows he was one. He did miracles routinely, daily, and many of his prophecies have already come true.

In this book is his description of what is going to happen concerning the “mark of the beast.” This section of the book is in his own handwriting because, he said, the time would come when people would say he never predicted these things. So he insisted it be kept in his own hand. He wrote it in 1987.

He says the “mark of the beast” will be administered in stages. The first step is a national identity card, which in the EU is already a reality. (The closest we have in America is a Social Security Card.) There’s a rumor here in Greece that the 666 is already on the current ID cards, but in bar code. Fr. Theodore says he has been told yes, it’s there, and no, it isn’t there, by two different experts, so the thing is uncertain so far.

The next stage, Fr. Paisios says, is that identity cards will be replaced with a broader-purpose card, the excuse for which will be making sure you have paid all your taxes. Hence, you will need this ID card for buying and selling and banking and every sort of transaction.

Then, on the television, we will begin hearing a lot about people’s cards being stolen, and their bank accounts emptied by thieves using the card. So then the third stage will be implemented. The government will stamp your ID onto your hand or forehead with laser. It won’t be visible (except under certain light???) so nobody can steal it. And yes, you will need it for any legal financial transaction. And yes, it will have the number 666 on it.  Although I note from the above passage in Revelation that it need not be the number; v. 17 says, "the mark OR the name of the beast, OR the number of his name".

The number 666 isn’t evil itself, by the way; it’s not as though we had to be superstitious about staying in a hotel or hospital room 666, for example. The 666 is simply, or not so simply, the very large amount of gold (by weight in ancient Israelite units) exacted by King Solomon as tribute from the nations around him. For Jews, it’s a wonderful, proud, patriotic number, neatly summarizing and symbolizing the most glorious period of the Davidic Kingdom. Of course, this number symbolized the reciprocal of all that for all the kingdoms around King Solomon, didn’t it? For them, it was international, financial, political oppression. But even so, the number is a good one (in a way) because God in His providence is using it to alert us to the nature of the enigmatic beast, to help us recognize it when it shall appear, to tell us, “It’s going to be something like that all over again.”

Some people, says Fr. Paisios, will suppose that it won’t matter about having the mark, so long as they still believe in Christ. Others, trying to be clever, will say to themselves, “Okay, I’ll have the mark put on me, but I’ll also have a cross put on with it.” He says no, none of those rationales will work with God. The Cross only sanctifies what is sanctifiable; and this beast, because it is Christ-denying, and Christ-persecuting, will not be sanctifiable.

He cites examples from the time of the Roman emperors who claimed to be divine. They used to tell the Christians, “You needn’t actually believe the emperor is divine, just tell the public you do, offer sacrifices to him, and we’ll give you a certificate that will exempt you from punishment for being a Christian.” Some Christians back then, says Fr. Paisios, paid for such certificates without actually bowing to the emperor or making any offerings to him. But all of these people the Church considered apostates.

Fr. Paisios recommends Christians plant gardens to tide them over during this time when we will be unable to buy or sell, which time is to be mercifully short.

So guess what we’re hearing on television in the last couple of days? The Greek government (in what may be a sort of EU pilot program) plans to replace the current ID cards with a “shopping card,” which you will need in the supermarket, pharmacy, bank, dry cleaners, and everywhere else – so they can track your every transaction and be sure you are paying your taxes. (That’ll fix all those wealthy Athenians who pay no property tax on the unreported swimming pools in their back yards!)

Have you heard of any plan similar to this in your country, I wonder? Because this business about the mark of the beast (or name or number) is one prophecy of Scripture I wish would not come true, especially, selfish and cowardly as I am, especially not in our own lifetimes!

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Prophecy of Moses

Here’s another prophetic saying you will remember, but it’s still astounding in its implications. Moses tells the people (Deuteronomy I8, 15-19):

The Lord your God shall raise up for you a prophet from your midst, like me. Him shall ye hear... From among their brothers I shall raise up for them a prophet like you, and I will put My words into His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And the man who does not heed My words, which He shall speak in My name, I will hold him accountable for them.”

What strikes me so much this time is the phrase, “a prophet like me.” Or as the Lord says to Moses, “a prophet like you.” To say Moses is the greatest of all the Hebrew prophets is understatement, because it was through Moses God’s people were delivered from slavery to the Egyptians and led to the Promised Land, the true God was revealed, the Law was given, the Covenant and the whole Jewish religion established. Moses is, to say the least, a very, very tough act to follow! Yet a prophet “like me” means the Israelites were to expect someone who would be at least as important as that, who would have similar authority, who would do similar deeds, who in short would be another Moses. That’s absolutely astonishing.

Now I appreciate better why the Gospel of St. Matthew goes to considerable lengths to demonstrate that Jesus is the new Moses.

“The Law came by Moses,” says St. John, “but grace and truth through Jesus Christ.”

P.S.) "From the midst of you" ... "from among their brothers..." Not from the line of Ishmael. Not Mohammed.

An Interesting Tidbit of Local History from Rabbi Izaak M.

Around 1700, a man named Savi Sabethau “appeared among the Jews in Thessaloniki as Messiah, and the Jews believed in him. But when the authorities [that would have been the Turks] imprisoned him, he was afraid and, together with his whole family, he denied Judaism. There are still descendants of his in Thessaloniki today.” (p.100)

(There’s nobody in our phone book with exactly this surname, but of course telephone books are outdated in this era of the cell phone. And obviously not all a person’s descendants share his last name.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Reading the Old Testament the Jewish Way

It’s not only Jews who make this mistake; a great many people have done it. One (relatively minor, yet still significant) example of it that strikes me is the issue of the bread to be used in Communion: leavened or unleavened? Those who say the bread should be unleavened (Catholics and Protestants) say it’s because this is the Passover bread, and the Passover bread is unleavened by God’s own commandment.

And that’s true, but it’s not the Jewish Passover we are celebrating; it’s the Christian one. It’s not the Red Sea through which we pass in safety, dryshod as it were; it’s death. The Red Sea only prefigures the true and infinitely greater Passover. “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” and Christ is Risen! And so, for the Orthodox, is our Passover Bread.

It’s not which kind of bread to use I’m concerned with here; it’s the argument behind the use of unleavened bread, drawn from reading the Old Testament as a Jew would, without reference to Christ. This makes a nice example, I think, of what happens when we do that, when we fail to read the Old Testament in and by the Light of Christ, the Light of the World. Most of the resulting errors are far more serious than this.

To put it crassly, Old Testament interpretation is in sore need of Christianizing. Yes, the Christian meanings were always there, sometimes explicit, often implicit, but if we overlook them or fail to interpret the OT accordingly, we are making the same mistake as the Jews, of whom St. Paul wrote,

14 But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. 15 But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. 16 Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. (2 Corinthians 3:14-17)

We can make the same error in reverse, too. That is, not only can we misread the Old Testament by failing to refer it to the New; we can also misread the New Testament by interpreting it according to the Old! Proper Christian biblical interpretation conforms the Old to the New, and not the other way around. Jesus Himself began the process of Christianizing the interpretation of the Old Testament for us. St. Paul continued it, and the Fathers after him.

As Jesus pointed out (Matthew 9:17), if we try to put our New Wine into an old wineskin, the old wineskin will be unable to contain it and will burst; and we will lose both it and the wine (both Scripture and Christ, or both Judaism and Christianity) — a truly alarming prospect!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

More Insights from the book Rabbi Izaak M.

Monday, 11 October

The rabbis, for at least the last two thousand years (before that I don’t know) have been interpreting the Suffering Servant poem in Isaiah 53 as applying to themselves. Jews, collectively, are God’s Suffering Servant, they say; we Jews are suffering as punishment for our sins.

This book makes a very clear and obvious point I had never thought of: Isaiah specifically says the Suffering Servant is innocent. He has neither done nor said anything wrong. (v. 9) He is specifically not suffering for his sins. (The Prophet Daniel, in a passage I posted recently, makes the same point, saying Messiah will be cut off, but not because of Himself.)

This one verse undoes the traditional Jewish interpretation of the entire chapter.

More than that; it shows the misinterpretation to be willful, downright dishonest, insincere, because somebody among these scholars, all these thousands of years, has got to have noticed the huge contradiction. In fact, they must virtually all have noticed it. What sort of thing is this, to believe God inspired the Scriptures, and then be willing to twist them?!

P.S.) The Suffering Servant is innocent, has done nothing wrong. What sort of a man should or could that be, never to have sinned?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Living in Greece, Part 17

Sunday, 10 October

We went to St. Anthony’s again today. Wonderful! But I felt horrible. For a few moments, I truly thought I might die. We left as soon as it was over and after a quick brunch at a café in our neighborhood, came home, where I spent the day in bed.

It’s nice to have a doctor in the house! I asked him what was the slowest an adult heart ought to beat, and he said it shouldn’t go below 50. Mine was at 52.

He said both my medicines were slowing down the heart. We halved one of them and my heart began behaving normally again – after several hours.

In the evening, Demetrios, cell phone in pocket, went to another political meeting with Leonidas. It was a rally for their friend Stelios, who is running for mayor in next month’s elections. He’s the only honest politician we know — honest in the sense of not being corrupt, but he’s still not going to speak up about what’s really going on in this world.

Greeks are more awake to that than Americans. Brits are also more politically aware than Americans, but the Greeks even more than the Brits. That’s somewhat heartening.

A couple more political notes. Greece has recently held joint military exercises with Israel. The exercises involved flying bombers between the two countries. Apparently Greece is the same distance from Israel as Iran.

The once cozy relationship between Israel and Turkey has cooled considerably, and that, too, is heartening.

The Greeks know that if Turkey is admitted to the European Union, vast and growing numbers of Turks will be in Greece within a few days, more Turks than Greeks within a few years, and that will spell the end for this country unless God should intervene.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Living in Greece, Part 16

Friday, 08 October

It’s so difficult for us hard-core summer worshippers, but I think I finally have to admit it: summer is over. (I usually manage to maintain deep denial until the first snowflake falls.) It’s rained for two whole days and today is gloomy and cold. I put on a cardigan and Demetrios even turned on a radiator. The leaves on the trees don’t look too healthy and the brilliant sunshine no longer wakes you up early.

There’s one good thing about this weather, at least. The patrons of the Drunken Duck are sitting inside now, and with the door shut. The neighborhood is much quieter.

Happy thought: summer is only over in the Northern Hemisphere!!

Anybody want to form a partnership and buy a little place in Australia?

Saturday, 09 October

Glorious sunshine, but still cold enough for a jacket or sweater.

Demetrios and our dear friend Leonidas went to a political talk downtown. Not because they were so very interested in the talk itself, although they said it was good, but because Leonidas expected several people from their old gang to be there.

And sure enough, they were, three men, I think, and a woman. So they all had fun being reunited after all these decades. One of them took charge of arranging a get-together soon.

Afterwards, we went to Leonidas’ and Ianna’s house for the midday meal. They both speak fluent German, having majored in it in university; so it’s easier for me to converse with them than with most Greeks. We have the choice of two languages, and often use words from both in the same sentence.

* * *

I’ve been thinking about the son of the Widow of Nain and others who were raised from the dead, Lazarus and Tabitha, for example. How many times would you say they each died? Only once, the first time?

In any case, their first and second departures were two entirely different experiences, weren’t they?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Living in Greece, Part 15

Thursday, 07 October

Ioannis, the theologian, and his wife Mena had a “table” tonight, meaning a feast, with Kostas and his Mena, Manolis and Vasilea, and another Demetrios and his wife, Maria. He’s the Demetrios I’ve mentioned in past years, who always brings along his harmonica in his pocket and plays for us. He didn’t bring it tonight, but we weren’t entirely disappointed; he led us all in a songfest after the meal.

My Demetrios didn’t know any of the songs. They were popular during his years away. I felt sad he had missed all those years with his friends, and told him so, but he said he was busy making other friends “—and I met you!” And he added that although there is a chronological gap, “There is no gap in our hearts.” Yes, that’s obvious.

The other Demetrios also kept us laughing with his stories. I’ll just tell you one to give you the flavor. When he was a young man, Demetrios found a wallet in the street. It contained a very large amount of money. He turned it in at the nearest police station. “However – I confess my sin! – I kept twenty drachmas because that was a price of a ticket to the soccer game.”

Well, that theft haunted poor Demetrios for about five years. Finally one afternoon, the police arrived at his doorstep, looking for him. He wasn’t home, but his mother and sister were worried sick when he came home and they told him about it. So was he.

He put twenty drachmas in his pocket and walked to the police station to turn himself in. When he arrived and had shown his ID card, the sergeant at the desk said, “Oh, you’re the one who found that wallet.”

“Yes,” Demetrios admitted. “I’m the one.”

“Well, it’s been five years now and nobody ever claimed it. Here, take it; it’s yours!”

I managed to tell my mom’s pope joke, in Greek, and it was a success, so I’ll retell it here. (Never fear; this is one your Catholic friends will like, too.)

The Pope arrives in New York but his plane is late. He tells his cab driver, “Please get me to Yankee Stadium [this is an old joke] as quickly as you can. Go ahead and speed whenever possible, and don’t bother about the red lights.”

“Oh, I’m sorry; I can’t do that,” says the cabbie. “If I get a ticket, I’ll lose my job, and I have a wife and kids to support. Sorry.”

“Never mind!” says the Pope. “I have a huge mass to say, thousands of people waiting, and I’m late. Get in the back and I’ll drive!”

So they swap places and the Pope runs several red lights before one of New York’s finest stops him.

The Pope hands the policeman his identification.

The policeman goes back to his car and radios headquarters. “I’ve got some mega VIP here,” he says, “and I don’t know what to do.”

“Who is it? The Mayor?”

“No, somebody more important than that.”

“The Governor again?”

“No, somebody bigger.”

“Okay, out with it. Who have you got there?”

“That’s what I can’t figure out. But it’s somebody who’s got the Pope for his driver!”
The main topic over dinner was Sex Within Marriage.

I said it seems quite simple; it’s all in how you use it. Like anything else, sex is given to us for our salvation. It’s for bonding the couple and deepening their relationship and their commitment, as well as for having children. And if used that way, i.e., to the glory of God, fine; if not, then it’s sin the same as misusing anything else. (Eating is good but gluttony isn’t. Sleeping is good but sloth isn’t.)

Manolis said the erotic element should always remain in a marriage.

Ioannis the theologian said that was fine, but the better way was for couples, when they’ve completed their families, to live together as brother and sister.

Vasilea, who never hesitates to speak up, although quietly, reminded us of what St. Paul said about not denying one another except by mutual consent for a short time.

I personally think there’s no point in giving up sex just for the sake of being religious or feeling virtuous. (And small virtue in it, either, at our age!)

The point is that hopefully, the time comes when a couple’s bond is at such a profound level, so deep, so intense, so spiritual, that sex, instead of appearing as the consummation of love, as it perhaps did in the beginning, now seems several degrees too shallow. And then you naturally (supernaturally, really) outgrow it – which is not at all the same thing as struggling hard to abstain. Neither is it anything like simply growing too old and tired to care anymore. This is something spiritual and unlike the other, is a condition most of us never reach.

When the evening was over, around midnight, one or two people said, “Ah, Anastasia didn’t understand, all night long!” But I did understand some, and Demetrios helped me by translating some more, and, I said, “I understood the important things. I understood the love, the communion, and that we are all adelphia.”

“Better than that,” said Ioannis. “More than brothers and sisters!”


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Few Pictures of us in Corfu

Thanks to David and Julia

View from the Achilleion

Another View from the Achilleion

On the Terrace of the Achilleion

Julia and David at the Achilleion

Demetrios and David in front of the Statue of Achilles Wounded

The Hillside Place Where we Stopped for Refreshments

Anastasia, David, and Demetrios at the Cafe on the Hillside

Julia at the Harbor in Corfu

All of us, Having Lunch Near the Corfu Harbor

Home Again

Tuesday, 05 October

Even a town the size of Igoumenitsa (and that is still very small, but bigger than Gaios on Paxoi) has no place that serves breakfast, except hotels, but we had foolishly declined to pay the small extra price for breakfast to be included. We must have crossed the whole town, up and down, three times before we finally gave up. Even the Greek doughnut holes shop was closed.

Somebody suggested we go to a bakery. So we did and there found milk and juice and bougatsa, which is cream-filled pastry. The bougatsa looked small, so we ordered three of them and went to a park bench beside the water to eat.

The bougatsa, when held in the hand, suddenly looked large, and were quite heavy besides. Demetrios, whose appetite shrank the moment we got to England and has remained small ever since, could only eat half of his. (It’s stress reduction, now that he isn’t working.) I ate all of mine, and drank some of the milk, too.

Then, on to a kafeneion for kafe. I had tea instead.

We could and should have bought tickets for the 9:30 am bus, but yesterday Demetrios thought perhaps there would be time to locate another of those English camps, so we bought tickets for the 1:30 instead. Today Demetrios concluded, however, that there wasn’t enough time, so we hung around town.

About a mile short of the camp, he walked back to the campsite to revel in more memories, while I waited for him in the park by the sea.

Then we hiked the two more miles back to the bus terminal. I went to the ladies’ room and when I came back, Demetrios was sitting at a small table conversing in English with a Greek man. “Sit down,” Demetrios invited, pointing to his seat as he stood up. So I did and he disappeared into the men’s room, leaving me with the chatty, unshaven stranger, who immediately began describing his very unhappy life.

By the time Demetrios returned, it was time to board the bus, a relief to me. Demetrios later said the man probably had a mental illness. I left on the table the paper bag containing the third bougatsa and about a cup of milk.

The time for departure came and went. The bus driver seemed more interested in shouting at his friends and co-workers than in driving. “The woman who went to get water, is she back yet?” one of them shouted to the driver.

“Yes, she’s here.”

“I’m here!” said a heavy-set woman, waving.

“And the young lady who went to the bathroom?” the other shouted.

“Not yet,” the driver shouted back. A minute or two later she did come, everyone by now having become aware of her business.

This trip, there was only one brief stop, and only at a gas station, no food in sight. Not counting the two other stops the driver made by the side of the road for his own personal convenience.

The driver played terrible Greek music the whole way on his own radio, a man wailing in minor chords to the accompaniment of guitar and mandolin. Demetrios said it was a dissolute genre called rebetika and “It’s the music of losers. But in these songs, they make that into a virtue.” A little of it isn’t bad to listen to, but after the first hour it definitely grates on the nerves. We moved toward the back of the near-empty bus in order not to hear any more of it.

A man still young enough to have bubblegum in his mouth, three seats ahead of us, was busy seducing the young woman next to him – when she wasn’t seducing him.

In short, the only pleasant thing about the trip, besides being together, and of course the scenery, was that it was over a few minutes before we had expected it to be.

We changed to a regular city bus, which let us off right at the Seraikon, our favorite neighborhood eatery. We had supper there.

We had left our refrigerator empty and defrosting during our absence, so on our way home we stopped and bought some fruit and veggies to put in it, and some bread and butter for breakfast.

We unpacked and watched a little television and I knitted a while, and then, to sleep.

It was an unforgettable holiday, not only fulfilling dreams for each of us, but so much more. We feel relaxed and refreshed and extremely grateful.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fun on Paxoi

Monday, 04 October

Going to bed so early was fortunate, because although I had my earplugs in and missed the whole episode, Demetrios had an experience he hadn’t known since childhood.

“Four o’clock in the morning,” he told me, “right on the dot, and every rooster in the village began crowing!” So we made up the

Roosters’ Song

E’re morning gilds the sky
Our hearts, awakening, cry
“Well, cock-a-doodle-do!”

And fortunately for you, I forget the rest of the words.

There’s no place to eat breakfast in a village the size of Gaios. Now I know what the kitchenette was for; tourists have to prepare their own breakfasts – or else stay in a real hotel that includes it. We finally had grilled cheese sandwiches and coffee and water.

Then we wandered the streets of this little place, lifted right out of the pages of a fairytale. Around every corner was another delight, a palm tree or a bougainvillea or some charming little cottage or some adorable little shop or all of the above. There were terraces where people could sit in the sun; there were balconies full of geraniums (yes, still blooming, albeit barely); there were cobbled streets and unpaved streets, and everything was very, very clean.

Then we came upon the cats. Big cats, small cats, striped cats, calico cats, tuxedo cats, tabby cats. They were all sitting around an open window, to which their eyes were glued, and their faces all spoke more eloquently than words: “Pleeease Feed Us!” I counted the cats and there were 14 of them, including the ones we had seen last night at the taverna. Excluding kittens, that was probably every feline in the village. We watched a man purchase a packet of something from the man inside the window, but we didn’t know what it was until we came closer. We should have known. Fish.

Demetrios says someone ought to paint that scene. It was priceless, all the village cats gathered around the fishmonger’s.

Gaios, the chief city on the Island of Paxoi, is peaceful, relaxing, romantic, and pretty. It is built in a crescent shape around a very blue harbor, and has a very green mini-island sitting right in front of it, dividing the harbor, so that, as in Corfu, there is an Old Port, full of small craft, and a New Port, presumably deeper, for larger vessels.

I’m not quite sure why, but it took us all morning to decide what we wanted to do. We just wandered here and there, our little carry-on bag in tow. We thought of catching the boat to Antipaxoi, which cruises around that island and comes back after a while, but it departed before we had quite made up our minds. There are also boats that go around this Island and we’re told this is the best way to see it, but the captain said he needed 150 Euros to make any profit, so to make the price reasonable, we would have to find three or four other couples to go with us, and that wouldn’t be easy, as the tourist season is about over.

The water is so clear and so gorgeous and so blue and inviting that Demetrios wanted to rent a boat and pilot it himself, but I said absolutely not. We have no idea how to steer a boat and no map of the water and no knowledge of where rocks are and other dangerous spots. NO.

Finally, emboldened by our experience on Corfu, we decided to rent a car just for the few hours we had left, to see the island. We walked into one of the dozen or so tourist offices, chosen at random, and Demetrios explained what we wanted,

“I’m sorry; I do not speak Greek,” said the woman at the desk, slowly and distinctly. “I only speak English.”

??? !!!

Okay, we spoke English.

Turns out she works for a British company and yes, they do rent cars, but their bookings are all done in advance, from the U.K. In other words, she only caters to Brits. We remembered the British couple last night had told us Paxoi was heavily promoted in the U.K., presumably as affordable. She suggested the shop next door. So we went to the tourist office next door and arranged for a very small car, manual shift, the only kind available on Paxoi.

The final paperwork was being churned out by a slow computer when Demetrios’ eye fell upon a little booklet about a well-known event that happened here at about the time of Christ, either during His life or just after His resurrection, but before Christianity came to Paxoi. It seems that a sea captain, passing this Island, wished to pay tribute to Pan, the god of Paxoi. But as he was doing his prostrations (or whatever) a deep voice boomed forth from out of one of the local caves along the shore: “The great god Pan has died. He is no more on this island.” News of this happening eventually reached the imperial court in Rome, where people debated what it should mean.

Well, this book was a record of the proceedings of some symposium that had been held concerning this event. And Demetrios wanted a copy. So our sightseeing was delayed another half hour or so while he checked the mayor’s office, whence the book had come. The mayor’s office said it was out of print, but they photocopied the whole thing for him.

Meanwhile, another British couple came into the tourist office, where I was waiting. Seeing me, they asked whether we needed accommodation for the night. Somewhat surprised at that question, I said no, and then they explained. They had seen us wandering about, towing our little suitcase, and this was the only explanation they could think of; we must be looking for a hotel. I didn’t tell them the real reason is we are just too idiotic to figure out what else we wanted to do. And too enchanted by this perfect little village.

Demetrios came back and we put the bag in the trunk of the car and the nice young man said he would meet us at three o’clock at the New Harbor where our ferry to the mainland would be docked, and he would pick up the car from us there.

So off we went, fearlessly this time, but still very carefully on account of Demetrios having no driver’s license with him. We never saw any police and even wonder whether there are any on this Island.

There are 8 miles of road on Paxoi, altogether. Well, there are of course side streets as well, but they don’t count because they don’t lead to anywhere public and even if they did, you still would not want to drive on them.

The landscape is like nothing we have ever seen before. It’s very hilly, steep but not quite mountainous, and covered with big, old, shady olive trees – and stones. Stones, stones, stones everywhere, ancient stones, carefully fitted together with no mortar. At first I thought the whole island must be full of ancient ruins, but upon more careful observation it became apparent these low walls were not foundations of buildings, but were mostly terracing. And boundary markers, and retaining walls around the olive trees. Almost every olive tree had its own little retaining wall around it to keep the soil in place. The local stone is white and honey-colored, quite beautiful, and it’s everywhere.

There is a surprising amount of new construction in progress, vacation homes, as you can tell by their isolation, because the locals like to live together in villages. The modern buildings, too, are all of stone and glass, with panoramic views of green hills and the bluer-than-blue sea.

We came to the village of Longos, where we ran out of road at the waterfront. Nuding oujr car past a couple of sidewalk cafes, we found a parking space and set off exploring the village. That took five or six minutes. It’s the very definition of picturesque, with its little harbor, only deep enough for the small boats you need here to get around in. (Whereas in some parts of the world there are as many cars as drivers, here there’s one boat for every person old enough to sail one.)

We had lunch and asked the waiter what that stone building was on the top of the hill. He said it used to be a windmill. I asked what the large thing was that looked like the ruin of a factory and he said it was where the olives used to be pressed and/or otherwise processed. Aha! So that’s what the inhabitants do when it isn’t tourist season. The olives are their other income. The olives are already quite large, although still very hard and green.

From Longos, we went to Lakka, an even tinier village with its even tinier harbor, but equally pretty.

And then it was time to head back to Gaios to meet the car rental man and our ferry to Igoumenitsa, on the mainland.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Of Saints and Statesmen

Sunday, 03 October

We went to church at St. Spyridon, of course. It’s a very short stroll from our hotel. And we are so very glad we did!

The Italian occupiers, besides forbidding the use of the Greek language (which survived anyway), also forbade the further building of Byzantine-style churches. Churches had to look Catholic. That’s what the Church of St. Syridon looks like, complete with towering campanile. The icons inside also show Italian influence. The ceiling is covered with icons, the biggest being (so far as we could tell) a depiction of the Council of Nicaea. And each ceiling icon is surrounded by a frame, elaborate and gilded, almost Rococo. So as we approached the church today and a most unusual chant floated out to our ears, Demetrios said, “Italian influence on the music.”

But that’s not what it turned out to be. The music had Greek words and the usual Byzantine melodies but the arrangement and the harmony were distinctly – Russian! It was sung by an all-male choir and was beautiful beyond words. (Although if you listened very carefully, you could hear, discretely in the background, an organ. Or so we thought; later we decided it had been the trombone we saw one man carrying out of the church!)

Some portions of the Divine Liturgy were sung in Slavonic instead of Greek; gradually we became aware that two of the four priests were Russian. Then we decided the seven sailors standing at attention near us were Russians and so were the naval officers in their white dress uniforms. Then Demetrios pointed to a distinguished looking man sitting at the front and said, “He must be the Russian Consul or something.”

There was also an unfamiliar icon in front, of a Russian admiral of the 18th Century, complete with bemedalled dress uniform and white-powdered wig. (Checking on Google I've concluded he is Admiral St. Fyodor Ushakov.)

We had no idea what this Russian business was all about, but the Liturgy moved us to tears, it was so wondrous.

The sermon was on loving your enemies as God loves His, and the priest said the same thing I’ve said many times: only Christianity really preaches this kind of love. (I add that only Orthodox Christianity, specifically, teaches Christian love unadulterated by that dark passion people mistake for Justice; but I’m not sure the priest said that.)

Singing the Creed before the relics of one who helped write it was an amazing experience.

After the Liturgy, the priest spoke again and explained that this was going to be the annual Week of Friendship Between the Greek and Russian Peoples, and this shared service had been a part of that, in fact the kick-off event, if I understood correctly. That explains the two naval vessels we saw in the harbor yesterday.

We didn’t want to leave when it was over. When the crowd had thinned, we took seats and just sat there, feeling all weepy, and didn’t want to move. We didn’t have any idea how long we might stay and we didn’t know why, but we both just felt a strong reluctance to leave.

That was a very good thing because presently, in the murmuring all around us, we heard a woman say the casket of the Saint was going to be opened in ten minutes. We immediately stood up and got into the “line”, euphemism for a crowd. And our timing was perfect, because there were only a few people ahead of us when the casket was indeed opened.

Now when we say a saint’s body is “incorrupt,” not decayed, you are to understand “mummified”, at least in this case, and I think most of the time. Mummified, that is, without having been embalmed, which practice is unOrthodox. It’s not like Lenin’s “body” in Red Square, which was only wax, or Bernadette’s body, in my opinion probably a similar fake, which looks exactly as though she had fallen asleep two minutes ago.

The body of St. Spyridon is clothed in bishops’ vestments and red velvet slippers embroidered in gold threads. The head is slightly to one side, just as it was (we overheard one woman say) when he died. And you find yourself looking right into the face of a saint who was alive in the year 325, one of the great Fathers of the Church, one of the forgers of the Nicene Creed. One of those bishops, who as our new Canadian friend Matthew said the other night, gathered from all over the world and found common expression for their shared experience – the same experience we still share today.

We walked out of the church in a daze, and I looked through my tears into Demetrios’ eyes, and saw the same tears there. I do not know why this Saint is so very moving. He just is. We understand now, without being able to put into words, why the people here have such affection for him, feel such an intimate, personal relationship with him. I think rival religions simply have no chance here, against St. Spyridon. Forget it.

The next thing we wanted to do was find the house where Kapodistrias lived, the man who wrote the Greek constitution, and the house where Solomos lived, the poet who wrote a very long patriotic poem, the first two verses of which became the Greek National Anthem. They were both from Corfu. Both houses were easy to find, and Solomos’ house was very near the metropolitan (cathedral) church, where, we learned, lies the incorrupt body of St. Theodora. Yes, that’s the Byzantine empress, not the most famous one, wife of Justinian, but “Theodora the Orthodox”, she who returned the Church from the heresy of iconoclasm.

We arrived just at the end of a Paraclesis service and the casket, all of chased silver, was open, but we didn’t know it. We just knew we didn’t want to intrude upon the four or five priests chanting the service in that little side chapel. So by the time we entered the chapel, the casket was closed again and the priest did not seem inclined to open it again for us. Never mind; we still venerated St. Empress Theodora. And then the same priest, as if to console us, brought us each a little gift: a tiny piece of the Saint’s veil. No, not the original one, not the one she was wearing when she died. It seems her veil needs replacing now and then, just like St. Spyridon’s slippers. Although the body does not deteriorate over time, the veil does. And whenever a new veil is put on the Empress, the old one is cut up into small pieces to be given away. So now we have two of those pieces.

We reminded each other of how a holy person’s holiness spreads to material things, to his body (Matthew 17:2 ) and to his clothes (2 Kings 2:14, Matthew 9:20) and to his belongings (Acts 19:12). So a piece of anything in which St. Theodora’s body has been wrapped is indeed a holy relic.

Next we went, by cab, to Pontikonissi, Mouse Island. It’s a little islet shaped like a mouse, in a pretty setting. There’s a women’s monastery near the island, a little removed from the mainland but connected to it by a short causeway.

Pontikonissi is one of three islands off Corfu laying claim to being Odysseus’ ship, turned to stone by Poseidon, god of the sea. Historians agree, however, that the site Homer was describing is probably on the other (western) coast of the Island, near Ermones. This is probably where Homer says he met Nausicaa, the daughter of the King of Corfu.

We weren’t ready to go home. Demetrios had heard that Paxoi (pronounced, roughly, “Pahk-SEE”) was very beautiful and he wanted to go there. We checked our medicines and found we had brought enough of each, so at 6:30 we boarded the ferry for that tiny island.

It was nearly 9:00 when we arrived, and dark. We found one of the five cabs on this island (Yes, literally 5), asked the cabbie about accommodations, and he phoned someone he obviously knew well, for he addressed her in the familiar form. Yes, she had a room for two.

We bumped over rough roads and turned into a dark little side street, smiling at each other over being in this somewhat ridiculous situation, and arrived at a hotel with no name, really just a house, where a man smoking a cigarette stood waiting for us.

He took our bag up a flight of stairs and showed us into our “apartment”.

Obviously, he and his wife had decided the top floor of their house could be made profitable, and so had very recently, it appeared, converted it into four small “apartments”. The pine furniture looked and smelled new: 2 single beds without box springs, a wardrobe, one nightstand, a desk and a chair. There was also a small television atop the wardrobe. There were two sets of sliding glass doors covered with red drapes and gold sheers, each leading out to a balcony with a table and chairs.

The bathroom, with a blue suite, was immaculate.

There was a kitchenette furnished with a microwave oven above a large sink, plus a stove with 2 burners. We never did check to see whether there were any pots or pans or any crockery or flatware. There was no fridge, but we could imagine a European family of modest means saving money by doing some of their own cooking here. There were no amenities, no shampoos and the like.

We looked around while the man stood smoking, and we said it would be fine. He tossed his cigarette stub into the toilet and said, “Forty Euros.”

“Do we pay you now or later?” asked Demetrios.

The man shrugged. Either way would be fine.

We paid him, in cash, right there.

“Is there anything I need to sign, any paperwork?” Demetrios asked.

There wasn’t, but the mention of it seemed to make the man feel there ought to be. So he had us write our names and our Thessaloniki address on a slip of paper I found in my purse. I’m sure he later threw it away.

When at last he had gone, curiosity having kept him hanging around for as long as possible, we opened the doors and shutters (to air out the cigarette smoke) and found each balcony overlooked a different little courtyard full of flowers and sheds. It was like a living painting. We were delighted!

We were also hungry. So we wandered down what appeared to be the main street until we found a place that was just short of being crowded, a good sign. In the front there was a spit over charcoal on which chickens, legs of lamb, and pork roasts were turning. We took a seat and ordered the chicken. Delicious!

A scrawny little cat was sitting at my feet; I tossed her a bite or two of my chicken. Another cat immediately appeared. I tossed him a bite as well; two more appeared. And then three tiny kittens. No wonder their mother was so skinny! I had to stop feeding them, as more and more were gathering.

The woman at the table nearest us laughed. “It’s no good feeding them, is it?”

So because it’s always nice to find someone who speaks English, we chatted quite a while. She and her husband are Brits, from near London. They have been here two weeks, in a rented villa, and are leaving tomorrow. They go to a different Greek island every year for their holiday. This is their 12th. They come just to sleep and relax in a picturesque setting. They swim and snorkel, too, but that’s about all. “There’s nothing going on here,” they told us. Perfect for them, perfect for us.

When we arrived back in our room, the cigarette stub was gone from the toilet and we could smell chlorine in the bathroom. I suppose the wife had given her husband the what-for and set out to rectify his faux-pas.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Adventure in Corfu

Saturday, 02 October

Hints from Helen:

Learn to drive a car with a manual shift before you rent a car in Europe.  And/or practice with one in a large, empty lot to refresh your skill before you come here.  Some places don’t have cars with automatic shifts, and even if they do, manual shifts cost less. 

Rent as small a car as you comfortably can.  You’ll be glad you did.

We were up at 6:30 and in the breakfast room of the hotel by 7:15.  We had planned to leave by 7:40 to find David and Julia’s cruise ship and position ourselves at the end of whatever walkway they would be using, but we didn’t notice the time again until Demetrios’ watch said 7:50.

We hurried out to the parking lot and got into the car and I started it – and then made the awful discovery that it was a manual shift.  I hadn’t driven a manual shift car in over 20 years.  I wasn’t even sure any more which pedal was the brake and which, the clutch. 

Demetrios hadn’t driven a manual shift car in about 30 years.  And he didn’t have his driver’s license with him, either.  But there was no choice; I was thoroughly panicked.  And David had been emphatic:  in their years of cruising, he and Julia had learned that to rely upon public transportation was a big no-no.  Their ship would sail at 4:00, with or without them, and they must be back aboard by 3:30 and at least 10 minutes had to be allotted for them to walk from the waterfront through the terminal building and out the walkway to the ship.

“I can do it,” said Demetrios, climbing in behind the wheel.  We buckled ourselves in and he started the car, which immediately stalled.  He started it again, grated it into reverse, and we rocketed out of the parking spot and stalled again.  He started the car again, and it jumped forward.  He slammed on the brake; the car stalled. 

We had a map, but most of the streets weren’t labeled.  We didn’t know how to get to the port; we only had a general idea:  it’s on the waterfront to our left.  So Demetrios drove in that direction, the first time he had ever driven in Greece (which is to say, amid Greek drivers!); and we moved slowly, jolting along about 100 meters at a time before having to re-start the engine.  Whenever this happened, people behind us would honk impatiently.

 “It’s two minutes until eight,” said Demetrios as we neared the harbor.  “We’re competing with the Queen!”  That’s a standing joke of ours, as Queen Elizabeth is known for her exact punctuality – and Demetrios isn’t.

“We’re losing,” I said as the car leapt to a stop. 

The Star Princess  was perfectly obvious, even from a distance, by far the biggest vessel in port, not a floating hotel but a floating city, population 2,600 passengers plus 1,300 crew.

 “Look, two warships, too,” said Demetrios. 

The car shuddered to a halt in front of the water. Never mind; in a few moments, David would be driving.  David’s own car has a manual shift; he is well used to it.  I climbed out to find him and Julia while Demetrios went in search of a place to park.

Julia and David saw me getting out of the car, and were coming toward me, all smiles, when Demetrios spotted us.  Hasty hugs and kisses and we all climbed back in – with Demetrios still behind the wheel.  I had forgotten that David is used to driving on the other side of the road.  And that his manual shift is operated with the left hand. 

“Never mind,” said Demetrios as the car lurched forward and stalled, “I think I’m getting the hang of it.” 

We decided the first place to go was the Achilleion.  It’s a summer palace built by the Austro-Hungarian Empress, Elizabeth, who for some absurd reason was known as “Sissy.”  (Would you allow yourself to be called that if you were an empress?  No, you wouldn’t!)

Anyway, this Empress admired Achilles, that great Homeric hero, so she named her residence after him, and there are two statues of him there, one of him victorious (over Hector) and the other of him wounded in the heel and dying.  Both are quite good, as are all the other statues about the courtyard, graceful Muses.

The gardens are lovely and go all the way down to the sea. There are azaleas in bloom (!) and laurel, also in bloom, and smelling of (what else?) bay leaves.

Inside, there are various items that belonged to dear Sissy, and some that belonged to Kaiser Wilhelm II, who bought the place after she had been assassinated. 

Sissy, by the way, was succeeded by her nephew, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand.  Yes, the one who was assassinated at Sarajevo, sparking World War I. 

(Well, you know, oppress people and you have to expect them to try to assassinate you.  That’s part of the job description.  Call it your occupational hazard.)

After the Achilleion, we decided simply to drive through the southern part of the Island (since we were already south of town) and see what was to be seen. 

What the map calls main roads are back country roads.  Yes, they are paved, and yes, most of them could be construed as having two lanes, although I don’t know what we would have done if we had encountered a tour bus coming the other way.  The roads are narrow, steep, and twisty; and most of them lack guard rails.   Their chief advantage is the lack of other drivers, other people being less, um, less adventurous, shall we say, than we.

So along these roads we went lurching along.  To be fair, Demetrios, although still was driving in a foreign country in an unfamiliar car along unknown roads, really was beginning to get the hang of it by now.  He was greatly assisted, of course, by three backseat drivers.  (I remember at one point, as he was backing up toward I forget what, a lamp post or a steep drop-off or something, saying, “Stop!  STOP!” and finally screaming, “STOP!”

“One of these times, you are going to cause me to have a serious accident,” said Demetrios, jerking the car forward. 


We drove through shady slopes covered with olive trees, ancient ones.  The Venetians had a policy about planting olive trees; there had to be a certain number planted every year, and that number was in proportion to the population.  They wanted to supply all of Venice’s olive oil and then some. 

Every once in a while David, bracing himself against the dashboard as we bumped along, would say something like, “Well, we’ve all had good lives,” or “This really isn’t a bad way to go.” 

Perhaps because the tens of thousands of olive trees I’ve seen until now were younger and cultivated, I never realized what a wild olive tree’s trunk looks like.  It resembles a dozen ropes thicker than your arm, all twisted together and leaving lots of gaps. 

We got lost once or twice, and were very glad of it, because each time, we found ourselves in a picture postcard village with whitewashed houses, balconies overflowing with bougainvillea, palm trees, a maze of sunny little streets.

We stopped for coffee at a little place on a hill overlooking the sea.  We sat under a canopy of vines and watched the sparkling sea and thoroughly enjoyed just being there, and being together.  And not driving.  David said, and I agree, this spot was so lovely it was worth the whole trip.

Keeping a sharp eye on the clock, we headed back to town.  We found a spot to eat that was literally in sight of the Star Princess and had moussaka and relaxed and talked until time to take Julia and David back to their boat. Well, we relaxed more or less; I’m not sure David really did until he was back aboard the ship.

Too bad, they said, that visitors are no longer allowed aboard.  Yes, indeed.  We would have loved to see that cruise ship from the inside.  But in these post 9/11 times, that can’t be done.

When they had gone, there were still three hours before we had to return our hired car.  So when Demetrios asked what I’d like to do next, I said if he wasn’t too tired of driving, I’d like to see some of the northern part of the island.  That’s where Durrell lived and played as a boy.  Demetrios wanted to see it, too, because he’d heard of its beauty.

The northern part of the island is steeper than the southern.  The other main difference is, it has goats.  In the road.  I was so grateful Julia and especially David didn’t have to experience that!

But we were no longer frightened; Demetrios really was driving well by this time.  We meandered up the coast, admiring various villages and beaches.  The mountains of Albania are visible “in the background,” I think Durrell wrote.  Well, not in the background; at one point, Albania is only a mile away.  I can see now why his mother used to let him go sailing around this coast in his little boat, all alone, exploring the sun-drenched coves and beaches.  It isn’t as if there were any open water or any waves.  Again, it was all as I had imagined it from his description, which shows what a good writer he was, and all just as charming.

We got as far as Kassiopi before we had to turn back.  I had wanted to go a little further, to Lake Antonioti, because Durrell described it as an almost magical place; and today it is still an important wildlife refuge.  But our time ran out, so we picked up two small rocks from the Ionian shore, dabbled our hands in the water so we could say we had, then watched a while before turning back. 

A whole school of fish jumped out of the water as we were watching.  They were little silver fish, and they jumped in about a three-foot arc, their bodies making a shimmering spray in the sunlight.  It was beautiful, and we’ve never seen anything like it before.

Back in Corfu City, we found a parking spot along the Spianada and went back to our hotel for a rest before supper.

Supper was a shared pizza, small but still too much for both of us after our big lunch.  It wasn’t very good, but never mind.  It’s all part of the adventure, we said.  (You know what an “adventure” is, don’t you?  It’s something that while it’s still in progress, you call a nightmare but after it’s over, when you’re retelling the story, it becomes an adventure.  Except that it couldn’t be that much of a nightmare if you’re with David and Julia and/or if you’re in Corfu!)  

We wandered among the tourist shops for a while without buying anything and then, very tired, turned in early – still laughing at the thought of how David would describe this day to his sons.