Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Our Doings

We've been having fun meeting friends.  Spent last weekend in Nea Syllata with Kostas and Mena.  Tomorrow we are ging to Chalkidiki, to one of the little "fingers" projecting from that northern peninsula, to the home of Pelagia and George there.  Tomrrow night, back to Syllata, and Saturday, in Syllata, a big barbecue with numerous friends invited.  Until now, various people have been away. Mena and Kostas spent a week in Mitilini; Leonidas and Ianna in Bulgaria, Manolis and Vasilea in Crete.  Very little time to blog; all time in between socializing is spent RESTING!

Yesterday, Demetrios called up the office of a news analyst on the local TV channel and actually got an appointment to go see the man tonight!  So that's where he is, while I have sneaked off to the internet cafe.   What a thrill for Demetrios.  He can spend all evening taliking politics with someone knowledgeable who seems also to have similar views.  He can ask all sorts of questions, too.  I can hardly wait to hear his report.

We are trying to see how best to improve our rather unpleasant little bathroom, tossing around various ideas.  It needs a complete makeover, shower, sink, cabinetry and tiles all to be ripped out.  Trouble is, it's so small there's little we can do to improve it, but we're still going to try.

Remind me to tell you the story of that shower sometime!

It Isn't True

Yesterday somebody told me that September 11, the day of the terrorist attacks, had been Yom Kippur.  It wasn't.  Just in case you, too, have heard this rumor, Yom Kippur that year fell on September 18.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Thursday, September 22

Today when I went to the greengrocer for fruits and veggies, the old man was wearing all black.

“How are you?” I asked.

He looked very gloomy and out came a flurry of words, of which I understood three: “wife” (gynaika, cf. gynecology), “died”, and “cancer” (karkino, cf., carcinoma).

“Your wife died?” I asked, horrified.

“My dog’s wife,” he corrected, looking down at the floor.

“Your dog’s wife?"


"A she-dog died?”   (I had to be very sure I understood!)

“Yes. She had cancer here,” clutching his neck sorrowfully.

I didn’t even know he had a dog. I knew he looks after many cats; sometimes when you walk into the tiny shop, there are crates of fruits and crates of vegetables, and in amongst them, a cat crate. I’d seen the dog near the shop many times, of course, just never knew it was his, much less that the dog had a wife.

Leonidas arrived, not dressed in black, who is the proprietor (for the old man is his father); by then I had recovered myself enough to say, “I’m so sorry the bitch died,” and poor Leonidas could only nod.

Friday, September 23, 2011

On Bereavement and Other Injustices

There’s a way in which we “get over it” when we lose someone we love; and there’s another way in which we do not, cannot, should not and do not want to get over it.

We get over it in the sense that we stop letting it interfere with whatever’s left of our lives. We accept not death itself – never. Never! For death is the enemy! It is not acceptable that we should simply wink out of existence and go into oblivion forever and ever! – but we accept that what has happened has happened and there’s nothing we can do about it. (And even this acceptance, if it is genuine, is only possible without deluding or disfiguring our inner selves, within the context of the Resurrection.) We learn to make the best instead of the worst of the new situation. We learn to carry on. If the deceased was our spouse, we may even re-marry, and do so knowing that our loved one would approve.

But there’s this other sense in which we never just get over it. Things are never the same again and there’s no use trying to pretend otherwise.

And it’s the like that with other evils, too. Some of them we just should not necessarily forget. Do we forget Judas? Do we forget what Pontius Pilate did? Herod? Salome? Jezebel? Ha, the Church doesn'teven forget Arius! There are some evils it just is not right to forget. And it would not be right to forgive them, either, if forgiveness meant pretending something never happened (or, heaven forbid, that what happened is somehow now okay). But forgiveness means keeping on loving not because we blot out what happened or need to blot it out. That kind of “love”, the kind that simply buries wrongs, is better than hatred, which is why we urge people to do it; but it isn’t yet divine love. No, if our love is to be a participation in God’s, it will be strong enough to need neither blindness nor pretense; true Love will look wrongs squarely in the eye and go right on loving because nothing can deter it, or rather, Him. True Love is unconditional.

Death is like that, too. I mean we shouldn’t simply put it out of mind or pretend it doesn’t exist or spend our lives trying to deny it. There’s just this sense in which it would be downright disloyal to “get over it” and we shouldn’t. That’s why we have memorials for the departed, year after year. Just as we can and should face wrongs done to us on without bitterness, because of Love, so we also can and should face death without fear or grief, on account of the Resurrection.

P.S. It occurs to me that someone may suppose these thoughts have been inspired by the rift with my brother-in-law, so I hasten to add, it isn’t so. Anyway, he never did us any great injury; it was more a case of his believing we had injured him. In fact, Christos now seems to be trying hard to repair the relationship with both Demetrios and me.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Life Gets Curiouser and Curiouser

Monday, 19 September

(Didn’t somebody in Alice in Wonderland say something like that?

Phideas, that’s Christos’ son, gave his Uncle Demetrios a call and wanted to meet him. It’s just sort of ironic, because he never seemed to want to before, when we were on good terms with his father, yet now … ?

So they spent this morning together at a café, and no, Phideas neither asked for any money nor had any medical problem. He wanted to discuss some ideas he has for his future. (You may recall that he went into the army last year, and I thought that was just what the lad needed to make a man of him. Well, that didn’t work out. The army sent him back home within a few weeks.)

I’m so delighted he’s thinking about his future, trying to formulate some plans.

Phideas wanted to discuss a religious matter, too, so Demetrios has bought him a good book on that issue. I assume this means they’ll meet again soon. I hope so.

In the evening, we went to Panagiota’s house, adjacent to the Kastro (Castle). This time, only she and Olympia were there (Nick having already returned to Richmond), and Panagiota’s daughter Ioanna, and Ioanna’s husband, Aleko, the parents of the bride. So, six of us. We had a better chance, this time, to get to know Olympia’s family. They are all wonderful people whom we hope to get to know better and better.

Again we enjoyed the marvelous view from their terrace, the lights of the city clustered around the bay. Thessaloniki really is a beautiful city, especially at night.

We gave Ioanna our belated wedding gift for her daughter and son-in-law, and received three books Panagiota wanted Demetrios to have.

And we ended the evening early (10:00) because Olympia has to get up early to catch her flight home. So it was all perfect.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Good news; Demetrios and Christos met again today, together with Phideas, and they all had a good time together at Maxim’s, that café I keep alluding to.

Later, Ioannis the theologian came, with his wife Mena, and I joined them all.

Finally, after all these years, I got to know Mena some, and what a gift! Usually she is silent, says as little as possible, but this time, she talked and talked and so did I, managing the Greek reasonably well because we weren’t on topics that require any fancy vocabulary. She’s a wonderful person and we developed a beautiful bond. Thank you, God.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Weekend in Stavros

Sunday, 18 September

Leonidas and Ianna invited us to his village, called Stavros (Cross). At 9:00 Saturday morning, we were waiting for them on the corner near our house and they pulled up to fetch us, Ianna in a tee shirt and what we used to call pedal pushers; there must be a more up-to-date name for them now? Three-quarter-length slacks but somewhat loose, unlike Capri pants. Leonidas was wearing plaid shorts and an undershirt, the sleeveless kind Demetrios calls a vest. We felt quite over dressed.

Anyway, it was a glorious day, although hot, and an hour later we had arrived at their little house in Stavros.

Stavros is a little seaside town divided into two parts, Upper Stavros and Lower Stavros. Originally they were two separate villages; the upper village, set in the heights, where the original inhabitants lived, and the lower village, established and populated by refugees from Turkey, strung out along the bay. Now it’s one village, earning its living mostly by tourism. It’s the sort of place people, mostly from northeastern Europe, come to for an affordable holiday. They arrive by bus once a week and spend their seven days swimming in the warm sea, soaking up the sun and acquiring tans as a non-verbal form of bragging back home, and sampling the local eateries. Shops sell things like swimsuits and beach balls and summer clothing and jewelry and trinkets, postcards and souvenirs.

Leonidas and Ianna do have air conditioning in their wee house, thank goodness, but in my opinion it was never needed. It was turned on from time to time anyway, but the house sort of miraculously stayed cool the whole time, partly because of the sea breeze, and partly because it sits in the shade of several trees.

The house started out as an entry hall with a kitchen/eating area on the right and a bedroom/sitting room on the left. Later, Leonidas and Ianna added the rest; they extended the hall and put two more bedrooms on the right, behind the kitchen, and a living room and bathroom on the left. Demetrios says it’s a pre-fabricated house, but you’d certainly never know it. It looks like any other traditional Greek home.

The first thing we did was go for a swim. Well, Demetrios does not swim, neither in the sea nor in a pool. He always considers things like dolphins and whales and other sea creatures and humans, and what they all put out into the water. He thinks, “microbes”. So he stayed home and napped, while the rest of us spent an hour in the clear, warm, placid water.

Ianna says you should swim before mid-afternoon, because by then the wind picks up and waves develop, “As you can already begin to see,” said she, and sure enough, there were small indentations in the water that were beginning to look and sound (but not feel) suspiciously like waves. Ha! It’s not exactly like the Atlantic, is it, where the surf comes crashing down and you can hear it a block or more away and the waves tumble you about.

Once in a while, if my feet were at the bottom, I could feel something like a stone in the sand. I’d bring it up by curling my toes around it, and it would turn out to be some sort of sea snail. I actually found two different species of shellfish that way. Leonidas says people eat them, especially these days. We just tossed them away.

“Perhaps the last swim,” said Leonidas. Why, I asked? Well, because it’s September, of course. Never mind the air is hot, the sand is warm between your toes, the water is only cool enough to be moderately refreshing. It’s September! Who swims in September? Tourists only, from cold places like Russia, so to them it still seems like swimming season.

After our showers, Leonidas went straight to work in his glorious garden – at least an acre, full of flowers and shrubs and trees, but mostly flowers and more flowers – while the rest of us sacked out. And we slept a couple of hours, I suppose. When at last we awoke, Ianna had the midday meal all prepared: spaghetti and salad and Greek bread. Watermelon for dessert, and ice cream.

In the evening, Ianna lit the mosquito burners, we anointed ourselves with insect repellent, Leonidas turned on his electric picture, and we all sat out on the balcony. Leonidas’ picture hangs in the balcony because Ianna won’t have it in the house. It’s a color photograph, on glass and with a mirrored frame, of an autumn scene featuring a stream and a mill. When you flick the switch, the picture lights up, the millstream seems to flow, and you can hear the water flowing and birds singing. Leonidas gets upset, Ianna says, when his 15-month-old grandson visits, because the child goes to bed before Leonidas turns on the picture.

“Why doesn’t he just light it earlier?”

“Because that’s when his favorite soap opera airs, and he has to wait until that’s over.”

After a while, we went to visit one of Leonidas’ sisters, Soula. Demetrios and I hadn’t seen her in a couple of years, and I was extra glad to see her again because I had made her a pretty, lacy scarf, which I was finally able to give her. We sat on a patio outside her house, beside the window of the shop that sells either women’s swimsuits or lingerie; I’m not sure if those microscopic get-ups are meant for the beach or the bedroom; they’d be daring in either place. Anyway, there we sat and Soula served us some cherry preserves she had made, on tiny glass plates with fancy spoons, on a tray lined with a gorgeous crochet doily her mother (and Leonidas’) had made. (I spent some time staring at it to figure out how it had been constructed, and now I think I shall try to copy it sometime.) We of course waved and spoke to various others of their relatives as they happened by.

We saw very few cats. Leonidas says the cats in this village are spoiled; they won’t touch fish unless it’s first fried or broiled, and they don’t eat mice, either.

Along about ten o’clock we went to find some supper in an outdoor café by the lit-up fountain, encountering two more of Leonidas’ sisters, Bebe and Freedom (“Eleutheria”) and various other kith and kin whose precise relationship with Leonidas I don’t know. And of course, as we went along, Demetrios dispensed miscellaneous bits of medical advice here and there. I told him later we should move here, and he could set up a clinic and charge a very nominal fee and get rich. “Five Euros per visit should do it,” he laughed. Really, it would be a lot of fun to live here, amid Leonidas’ 76 first cousins (no exaggeration!) and his various nieces and nephews and other relatives; we’d have an enormous, ready-made family! And if any villagers aren’t Leonidas’ actual kin, they’re still connected in various ways; e.g., “That’s the woman whose son moved in with Bebe’s daughter.”

No idea what time it was when we went to bed, but we went straight to sleep. The bed was very comfortable, but I had such nightmares as are virtually unspeakable; Demetrios also groaned and cried out all night, and snored more loudly than I’ve ever heard before. (Doesn’t much bother me; I wear ear-plugs, but Leonidas commented upon it in the morning.)

Sometime around seven-thirty, Leonidas, from outdoors, opened our shutter to let in the sunlight, to awaken us.

Of the four of us, half made it to church and the other half didn’t, but let us not name names.

Afterwards, our host and hostess very kindly offered to take me for another dip in the sea, and we had a beautiful day for it, but as I could see they didn’t really want to, it being September and all, I declined the offer.

Leonidas has signed up for a tour leaving here (Stavros) this coming Saturday. They’re going to Bulgaria. Ianna is terribly worried, because Bulgaria, though it’s in the EU, isn’t even in the Eurozone, and presumably not part of the health care system. What will happen if Leonidas starts having trouble with his heart again? There isn’t even a city there with a major airport.

Ianna feels that if he goes, she will have to come, because if anything bad should happen, everyone including herself would blame her for not having been there, for letting him go alone. But she has bad knees, knees that need replacing, but her doctors are making her wait until she’s older (since replacement knees only last up to 15 years). Walking is painful, and what do tourists do? They walk. A lot. She dreads it.

Demetrios asked him, “What will you do if your heart acts up while you’re in Bulgaria?” and Leonidas had no answer, but he is quite determined to go.

So all we can do is hope his heart will not act up, or if it does, please God it may do so before the trip and not during.

This time we ate the midday meal first, a yummy beef with orzo casserole, and took our siestas afterward. When we awoke, we packed up the car, but before we left town, we had a little driving tour. We saw where assorted relatives live. We stopped and spoke with some of them, or waved as we passed.

Then, at dusk, we stopped at another outdoor café, right by the sea. The tables are dispersed among ancient-looking trees and new-looking umbrellas, with artificial streams of water flowing among the tables. Gimmicky, but in a way I found pleasing. We sat literally 8 feet from the edge of the sea and watched evening fall over the bay, and the lights come on in the little villages across it. The main lights are a long string lining the Via Egnatia, the route St. Paul traveled.

Demetrios’ cell phone rang. It was Olympia, our Greek friend from Richmond (and Thessaloniki). I thought she and Nick had gone back to America last week, but it turns out they’ll be here until Tuesday. Meanwhile, Olympia says her sister Panagiota, our hostess last week, the grandmother of the bride, has some books she wants to give to Demetrios. He promised to call her back tomorrow. He says he will propose we meet Olympia and Panagiota at some café.

At length, we got in the car and came home. We were about thirty minutes away when Leonidas casually asked Demetrios, “Could you drive here in Greece, on the right-hand side of the road, do you think?”

“Oh, yes, I think so,” said Demetrios. “We drive on the right in America, too. It’s England where they drive on the left.”

And that’s when I guessed – correctly or incorrectly scarcely matters! – what was behind that question, and realized for the first time the position we were in: Leonidas was driving! He who very recently fell to the floor utterly helpless from arrhythmia, was driving. He who was in the hospital with his heart condition again just this week! Whereas my own arrhythmia comes on slowly and is only moderate, his hits him hard and without warning, and it’s too soon to say whether his condition has been stabilized yet or not. What were we all thinking?

I spent the rest of the time, all the way home, trying to calculate the chances one of us would be able to grab the steering wheel in an emergency and/or stop the car before all being killed.

We did arrive here safely, however, and half an hour later, a phone call to Leonidas and Ianna confirmed that they did, too.

We had a wonderful, charming, restful time. Demetrios especially needed it; he has been working too hard on his book, tiring himself by thinking too long and too hard.

The reward of that, though, is that he has finally understood another very big chunk of the human psyche, together with its anatomy, a piece of the puzzle he needed before he could make any further progress on his book. He says this bit both illumines the previous part of the book and opens the way forward)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Little if any Progress

Well, the brothers, Demetrios and Christos, had their conversation and there is a question whether it did any good. They kissed and embraced each other upon first meeting, but not upon departing.

Demetrios is willing to continue a fraternal relationship that simply ignores the areas of contention. His impression, though, is that these issues will keep arising.

If they do, he intends simply to say, “Let us not discuss these things, as we will never agree.” But the question is, as it has been all along, whether Christos can live with that. He's still quite angry that Demetrios hasn't changed his mind.

Thank you for your prayers. Although I realize I did not specifically request them, I still know you’ve been praying. Thank you!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Shopping Downtown

Thursday, 15 September

Another scorcher today. It makes us reluctant to get out and do things.

We nevertheless went downtown to see about having a liturgical stole made for our English friend Stuart, in honor of his ordination last June. After rather much asking about, we finally found the shop; and that it was full of priests was an encouraging sign. So in we went, chose the fabric, chose the appliqués and other trimmings, and gave instructions how it should be modified more to resemble an Anglican stole. It’s to be ready a week from tomorrow. We are very pleased.

Then on our way to find a bite to eat, we came upon a Yarn Shop. I walked in and said aloud, “I must be in Paradise!” and the woman behind the counter said , “Me, too!”

There was a man behind the counter as well, who inquired whether Demetrios knits. (By now, you are of course cringing, yes? You are saying to yourself, "Of all the wrong things to ask Demetrios!")

“No, no,” said Demetrios. Then, leaning across the counter, his hand to his mouth as if about to tell a secret, he said in a confiding tone, “The very first requirement for knitting is to be a woman!”

Well, this is the sort of thing one has to bear in a mixed marriage; it's a perfect example of why we discourage True Knitters from marrying non-knitters.

But sometimes things just work out perfectly, don't they? The man behind the counter smiled and said, “I knit.”

“Bravo!” said I. “So does my brother-in-law. He crochets, too. Are any of the lovely items I see here made by you?"

They were, and he proceded to show us several, revealing great talent. HE is a True Knitter.

Anyway, we picked out some yarn, some for the charity knitting and some for making scarves for Mena and Ianna, six skeins altogether.

Demetrios says the yarn shop couple are not Greeks. Well, their yarn comes from Russia, I observed. Oh, well, then, they may be Russian Greeks; a lot of those have left Russia and come here recently. They're not GREEK Greeks.

Sometimes life can be so entertaining.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Feast of the World-wide Elevation of the Precious and Life-giving Cross

(That’s the full name of the day.)

Wednesday, 14 September

Another paradox hit me in church this morning – besides the paradox of the day itself, I mean, it being a great feast we observe by keeping strict fast! But the other paradox occurred to me during the special ceremonies of the day.

For those of you who aren’t Orthodox, the feast marks a great occasion. St. Helena, mother of Emperor St. Constantine, went to the Holy Land to do some archaeology. Her team did some excavating on Golgotha and found three crosses. But which was THE Cross? Well, as a funeral procession passed by, each cross in turn was touched to the corpse, and when the True Cross touched it, the person came back to life. So St. Helena had that cross, The Cross, brought to the Patriarch of Jerusalem, who held it up high for all the gathered crowd to see. Apparently there were many exclamations and many tears, and the anniversary of the great event has been celebrated every single year ever since.

One of the annual rituals is to have a procession with the cross. A small brass cross, sometimes bejeweled (I’m guessing with glass stones!) stands upon a thick, green bed of basil on an enormous tray, which the priest carries atop his head (lifting the cross high for all to see). Basil because the word means, “King”, and legend has it basil grew at the foot of the cross of the King of the Jews and of the Universe.

Of course the cross is preceded by candles and incense, as well. And as it passes around the church, the people bowing and crossing themselves as it approaches, we sing, over and over again, the very familiar hymn: “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us.” And by have mercy, we don’t just mean forgive us; although that’s included, we mean something broader, something more like, show us Your favor, deal graciously with us.

But think of it! Here we are, singing, “Holy Immortal One” while bowing before the cross upon which He died!

It’s a mystery incapable of being captured by words, but one way to try to say it would be, He died with respect to His humanity; but with respect to His divinity – well, God never dies. One of our hymns speaks of His being simultaneously in His grave, in Hades preaching to the dead, and sitting upon His throne in heaven.

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, Have mercy upon us.

Thomai Intervenes - or Not

Wednesday, 14 September

The phone rang in he mid-afternoon, and it was Christos! It was a brief conversation, but he said he’s coming to town tomorrow, and he and Demetrios made plans to meet at their favorite café for coffee.

“She’s done it!” I yelped. “Thomai has gotten through to him! I wonder what she said?”

“So do I!”

As it happened, we were about to go to that very same café ourselves, just for toast and juice, and whom should we meet at the front door of the building but Thomai! So we asked, “Whatever did you say to Christos?” and she burst out laughing.

“That’s so funny, so funny! I tell you the truth, I am not lying, I never spoke to him! I did phone him, twice, but of course he could tell who it was, and both times all he would say was, ‘Wrong number, wrong number!’ so I never got to say anything to him at all.”

Apparently her message got through somehow anyway. Not too difficult to guess what she would be calling about.

So now we shall see if the meeting will do any good. We can only pray it will. I will keep you posted.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The News from Lake Woebegone Thessaloniki

Tuesday, 13 September

It’s still hot here. A week ago, the temperature reached nearly 110, Fahrenheit, and although it hasn’t been that hot since, it’s still up in the high eighties or low nineties and we’ve turned on the air conditioning every afternoon and every night.

The quiet we encountered when we first arrived was short-lived. It was only because most of the city dwellers hadn’t yet returned from their summer houses in their various villages. But with school now back in session, they have returned, and it’s about as noisy as usual. On Saturday nights, you can hear even toddlers out and about and calling to one another until well past midnight.

News reporters in print and on television are beginning to say, more or less openly now, that the Greek government isn’t working for Greece, but for other interests. That’s tantamount to calling them traitors, which is correct – not only in Greece, either.

Although Greece’s debt is not significantly larger than Italy’s or Portugal’s, the terms of repayment are much harsher, and the government (unlike those other governments) didn’t even try to negotiate the terms, just signed whatever they were told to. In fact, Greece’s budget debt is smaller than England’s. And the main problem with these budget deficits, it now appears, is not items like too many public sector employees (there aren’t more than in any other country, proportionally) or too much paying out of pensions or other benefits. No, those items pale beside the real problem, which is corruption. Just for one example, scores of tons of gold have simply disappeared from Greece. Of course, gold doesn’t just disappear, never mind by the ton! It is transferred somewhere, together with the assorted government certificates and permits and whatnot. Yes, well, transferred by whom and whence?

Thomai came today, returning our call. The main subject was again Christos. She wants to call him and intercede for us. Demetrios gave her Christos’ cell phone number.

Thomai has been to Crete, where she gave a lecture. We didn’t catch what her topic was, or the occasion. Anyway, she says the Athens airport was completely closed down because the Prime Minister was flying. Yes, well, he came here the other day to speechify at the opening of the International Fair, and the City employed 7,000 extra policemen. Seven thousand! Well, to be that scared shows the Prime Minister at least knows how the people feel.

Zisis, her husband, also stopped by the other day. I suppose because he’s our building’s “super”, he took the opportunity to look around, too, more or less discretely. He always does; we’ve learned to expect it.

The internet café where I go is one business that’s thriving. They have all new computers, complete with web cams, and new sofas and plenty of business. Of course such places rely heavily upon adolescent males with time on their hands; and with unemployment so high, there are more than ever of those around now. And I suppose they find it cheaper to pay by the hour than to buy their own games software. And of course, they don’t just sit quietly each at his own computer; no, this is also a big social time for them.

The Collared Doves very quickly realized we had returned and came to our balcony to ask for food. So now we feed them every day, and several sparrows, too. The sparrows aren’t as brave as the doves; they fly away at the sound of our footsteps, whereas the doves walk right up to us. The doves also know which room we’re in when we’re indoors; they locate us and sit outside that particular window or glass door, waiting patiently. Haven’t fed any cats yet, except the kitten in New Syllata. Haven’t seen any hungry-looking felines. Cat population is way down this year, as low as I’ve ever seen it.

Well, time to go sit on my balcony for a while, watch the world go by, knit a few rows…

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.

Thomai and Zisis are back!

Tuesday, 06 September

They had gone to their village for a week to attend a wedding or something, but now they are back and we stopped in to see them this evening. Zisis, our building’s Mostly Wise and Nearly Fearless Leader, was gone to some meeting, but Thomai was there.

Their daughter, Aspasia, is getting married in November to a man in Constantinople. He works there, in the Patriarchate if I’ve understood correctly, and she works here, so unfortunately it will be a commuter marriage for the time being, jobs being so scarce.

Thomai quickly brought the subject around to Christos. She of course already knew about the rift between Christos and Demetrios, but she wanted to hear Demetrios’ side of it. She was simply concerned, because, as she put it, “I realize you’re in the right, but he is your brother, after all.” Then she added, “And he’s going to die, Demetri, he has gotten much worse and he’s going to die.”

But Demetrios simply doesn’t know what else to do. Although he knows he’s in the right, he has already asked forgiveness several times, by phone and by letter, and is unwilling to subject himself to any more of the recriminations he has received so far in response. “And if he dies when I’m not here,” he said, “I won’t be at the funeral.” Shrug. That’s not as terrible as it sounds (though terrible enough), because funerals in Greece are held within 24 hours or so of the death. As bodies are not embalmed, they are buried with all due haste. It would be difficult or impossible to get to a Greek funeral from abroad within the short time.

Christos is Thomai’s favorite subject with us; always has been. She has, of course, long since forgiven him for all her own grievances with him, but that doesn’t stop her from describing them in some detail.

Her priest recently told her never mind trying to make up with him as long as she still loves him, so the last time she saw him, she said, “Come here!” in a voice that commanded obedience, and when he approached, she threw her arms around him in her ample embrace, gave him a peck on the cheek, and said, “There!” One can only imagine how startled, not to say perplexed, Christos must have been.

Anyway, after half an hour or so of this subject, Thomai apologized for bringing up painful stuff; it’s just that she’s concerned; having known them all these many years, she feels like their sister. Let’s talk about something else now, she suggested.

We love her, and upon leaving, we assured her of that.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Evening at the Top of the City

Monday, 05 September

Olympia’s relatives were serious about wanting to get together!

One of them turns out to have a nephew who is a psychiatric case, so she wanted some advice about it, which Demetrios provided her (and the young man’s mother) this morning at a nearby café. Then Olympia’s sister called us in the afternoon and invited us to her home for the evening. We jumped out of bed (siesta every afternoon) and raced to get dressed and ready and to pop into the nearest confectioner’s, as we were to meet them at the taxi stand nearest the Kastro, (“Castle”), the tower fortification of the ancient walls in the heights above the City, near the Church of St. Paul.

We got there before the hour was up and it wasn’t long before a car drove up to us and the man inside motioned us to get in. At first I was confused, but then I recognized the tall, handsome man from the wedding reception, the father of the bride, as by then had become apparent.

Panagiota, Olympia’s sister, lives in a traditional Greek house directly under the Castle, separated from it only by a narrow street. Literally, find the nearest building to the Castle and that’s hers. We were shown into the back yard, from which there is a stunning view of the blue, blue sea—and of course, of entire City, spread out below. The company was gathered around a table on the patio.

Olympia was there (although Nick was not), and all the other people we had met at the reception.

One of them, Olympia’s koumbara, Maria, had lived in Richmond in the past. “I’ve seen you in church,” she told us. Yes, I thought she looked strangely familiar! Another of them, Ioanna, the mother of the bride, is in real estate and speaks excellent English. Of course Olympia’s son Chris does, too, having grown up in Richmond. So with their help, I was able to talk to everyone.

The parents of the bride are the actual owners of this marvelous piece of real estate; Panagiota transferred the title to them, but she still lives here, too.

There are canaries everywhere, in four different cages, hung about the patio. They started out with one, Ioanna told me; then they were given a second, which turned out to be of the opposite sex. So now the two have multiplied to eight. There is also a pair of chickens, that is, a colorful rooster and a white hen, newly bought to celebrate the wedding. On the wedding day itself, Ioanna dressed them in a bowtie and little veil, respectively. These fowl walk about the yard trailing long streamers of soft fabric. Ioanna explains this is because they are hard to catch; but by grabbing or stepping upon the streamers, she can get them when she needs to.

The trade-off for living in this historic spot with the glorious view is that thousands of other people also want to be here. The first tourists arrive by 7:30 every morning, and in the evenings, young people come to drink and smoke and smooch and whatever. And when they come, they are virtually right upstairs from the house, nothing in between. It’s noisy (and overlooked), says Ioanna, until late at night. Plus, the neighborhood is filled with popular cafes and bars. (Oh, yes, we know what it’s like living near a bar! The Drunken Duck is still very loud whenever there’s a soccer game on television, Greece being currently at the top of her league.)

Panagia, Olympia’s sister, is a walking university. Never mind she has no formal education and spent her working life as a seamstress; she knows a great deal of history and philosophy and mathematics and who knows what else. It makes her a fascinating conversationalist, says Demetrios. She says Napoleon was of Greek descent.

This family has a more Americanized sense of time than many Greeks; everybody rose to leave around 9:30, so we left, too. It was good to have an early evening, as the remnants of my virus were still hanging on. But it was even better to have met so many very good people.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Greek Wedding

Saturday, 03 September

Upon our arrival here, we found, among many papers that had been slipped under our door, a note from Nikos and Olympia. They live most of the year in Richmond and we know them from church. Nick is a barber and he cuts Demetrios’ hair. Used to own his own shop, which Olympia ran for him (the business end) but now he’s retired, he works part-time at the same place I go to have my hair done.

Anyway, the note invited us to the wedding of Olympia’s grand-niece. (You may suppose it strange that anyone other than the bride’s or groom’s parents would issue an invitation, but I should note that the mother of the bride was also along when this note was delivered.)

The wedding was Saturday night, up in the “upper city”, called St. Paul because that is where the Saint’s route through Greece (to Berea) lay. In fact, the wedding was to be in St. Paul’s Church.

We left home half an hour later than we had planned to but still arrived at the church 15 minutes before the wedding was to begin – to find all sorts of dressed-up folks leaving the church! I remembered how Mena had once told me that at popular churches on Saturday evenings, the weddings are one after the other, continuously, but it still unnerved us, especially as no guests seemed to be arriving. We were the only ones, as seven o’clock approached. A videographer did set up his equipment, so that was encouraging, but where were all the people?

We soon found out: on the stroke of seven, to no musical accompaniment, the bride and groom entered, followed by the best man (Olympia’s and Nick’s son Chris), then the parents of the bride, then the bridal party, then the rest of the family and guests. In other words, it was the exact opposite of a typical American wedding, in which people enter and are seated in the inverse order: ordinary guests first, then parents, then the wedding party, and the bride last. It took several longish moments for everyone to get into position, and then the ceremony began.

The reception was one of those affairs in which the bridal couple arrives very late, as in more than an hour after the other guests. Olympia drove us all there. Turns out she grew up here in Thessaloniki, in fact, only two blocks from where we live, so she knows all the streets and that’s why she was doing the driving.

She and Nick had to sit at the family table; right next to the bride, in fact, so they showed us to a table in the very back of the room and bade us sit there.

We didn’t sit there long. A tall, handsome man who seemed to be more or less in charge came by and, seeing us all alone, said that wouldn't do and suggested we sit at a table he pointed out, where there were two empty places, so we did.

We had already been served the starter course and the salad by time the bride and groom arrived, to our applause.

The first thing they did was cut the wedding cake. Come to think of it, I never saw any of it served, but they did cut it.

It was a very fun party! We did a little Greek dancing, but the most fun was watching others do it, dancing with all their hearts. One hefty woman, shaking her enormous breasts, which moved as if liquid, caused Demetrios to laugh aloud. He couldn’t stop staring – and laughing, his face a bright shade of pink. She noticed him being so entertained; and encouraged thereby, redoubled her efforts.

The dancing, I noticed, also served as a showcase for all the nubile young women to display their skill and their personalities.

At one point, the bride and groom thanked everyone for coming and she announced, for those who didn’t already know, that the family just established would soon increase to three. I had already noticed people patting her tummy, and that she drank no champagne at her own wedding.

We met several of Olympia’s relatives: her sister (the grandmother of the bride), her niece (mother of the bride), her koumbara, a lovely woman with shoulder-length blonde hair and a lovely daughter, 16, plus another woman I’m not sure who she was. But she, along with a couple of others, seemed very eager to further their acquaintance with Demetrios, so we gave them all our telephone number. “Let’s get together tomorrow,” said one of them. Tomorrow we would be busy, said Demetrios. (Oh, yes? I hadn’t heard of it.) Day after tomorrow then, they said. They would call us.

The only bad part about the reception was the music. It was traditional Greek music, no problem there. The problem was, the band was aware of the recently-documented principle that most people don’t find maximum pleasure in the music until it reaches at least 90 decibels. That’s so loud you literally have to shout and may still not be heard; it absolutely kills conversation. It also damages the ears. Really, there is something seriously wrong with people who need so great a stimulus to find pleasure in it. We took turns wearing the one pair of earplugs I had brought in my purse. (I’ve formed the habit of carrying them for i case of bad sermons!) Finally, about half past midnight, we decided we had to leave. Our ears and our throats had been abused too much. We both had resolved to avoid such receptions in future, meaning to leave very early next time we are subjected to such loudness.

The tall, handsome, kind man who had found us better seats also called us a cab. Nick and Olympia were sorry, because they had planned to drive us home, but we really wanted to leave and of course they couldn’t until the very end. So home we went, feeling as if our ears were full of cotton, and as if we were coming down with strep throat.

Which, as it turned out, I really was! Coming down with strep, that is. Or something else, at least, that included sore throat. Sunday morning I just attributed it to a whole night of shouting, so straggled along to church, but by afternoon my symptoms included a terrible cough, a runny nose, and itchy eyes. Plus exhaustion. I went to bed.

And I stayed there in the evening, too, when “our” plans were to go to Leonidas and Ianna in the early evening, then to Kostas and Mena in the later evening. Leonidas is feeling very unwell; he has atrial fibrillation. (Ianna, glory to God, is very well following her bout with breast cancer last year.) I was happy to let Demetrios go by himself and not expose our dear friends to this bug. I told Leonidas by phone that I, too, have a-fib, and look at me; I have no symptoms; it’s all under control, and his soon will be, as well.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Mother of all Christians

Hat Tip to Demetrios

There’s a verse somewhere in the Paraclesis (Akathist) Service to the Mother of God that calls her, poetically, a murex. Murex? Murex! What’s that? Some sort of mountain goat? If so, why call her that?

Well, I saw a television program that talked about ancient customs, including the purple cloth only royalty wore. The purple dye for it was extracted from a sea snail called a murex, and it took tens of thousands of these snails to dye a single square yard or square foot or something of cloth, which is why it was far too expensive for almost anybody

So the verse in the service calls Mary the murex who with her own blood dyed the royal garment. It sounds not only exotic but also gross, doesn’t it? But it involved no bloodshed. The royal garment is of course Christ’s human body, and the verse simply means He received both His Body and His Blood entirely from her, from His Virgin Mother.

So when we take Communion and receive His Body and Blood, it’s also hers we are given, through Him.

And that is one way she truly and not merely poetically becomes the mother of all the Christians

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Arriving In Greece

01 September

It was only a three-hour flight to Thessaloniki, but it took forever because we first had to fly from Manchester to London Gatwick, and that flight was very early in the morning. Then we had a three-hour layover before going the rest of the way. We arrived having slept very little the night before, and completely worn out. Plus, we were sad to leave England.

But here we are – in Greece! And suddenly, beginning from the moment we first heard Greek spoken in the airplane, the whole feel of life is different. We love the English feel, too; it’s just very different. Just to give you one example, on our way home from the airport, Demetrios and the cab driver were already into a lively political discussion within two minutes. (Today it took five minutes, with a stranger in the street.) The cabbie was upset because driving taxis used to be a closed profession, which means you had to buy a license, and that license cost 200,000 Euros! He bought one, taking out a loan to do so, which he is still paying back. And now the government has decided anyone can set himself up as a taxi driver, no license required, and no fee. So there will be lots of competition, and our cabbie is extremely afraid he will no longer be able to make a living from this job. He’s so upset he can’t sleep nights.

We immediately ran into a whole spate of minor problems, all of which we have solved. The first one was, our building has a new front door. We knew it would because the work was in progress when we left last year. And a much better looking door it is, too, with lots of glass and, instead of steel, wood that looks like teak . But the new door has a new lock, so our key didn’t fit. We rang a couple of buzzers until we found a neighbor who let us in.

The next problem was, we had no electricity. Demetrios discovered that all the fuse switches were turned the wrong way, so that was easy to fix.

There was no water, either. We had of course turned it off before we left, but Demetrios couldn’t figure out how to get it back on. We had to find a plumber(!), who came early this morning and took care of it. The water had been turned off from the water utility room downstairs on the ground floor.

Next was how to get HOT water; i.e., how to restart the natural gas. Demetrios solved that by tinkering with the various dials until the water ran hot. Note to self: after opening the valves, you push the switch to R, for “Reset” and then let it snap back into place.

Usually, my brother-in-law, Christos, does all these sorts of thing for us, but as he currently isn't speaking to us (since Demetrios declined to help finance the construction of Christos’ third home), we aren't sure if he even knows we’re here.

Our neighbor, Yiannis, lent us his key this morning, so we took it and had three copies made before returning it.

We have some Euros from the bank now, and we also have bottled water and milk and bread and butter and jam in the house. We’ve eaten dinner out both nights, too tired to cook and clean up. Tomorrow I will shop for more groceries.

For the first time ever, the flat here is exactly as I had left it. And I left things in a very particular order, too, so I would definitely know if anybody had cooked on our stove, used our dishes, done laundry in our washer, watched our television, or slept in our bed. Nobody has, for once. (Not that I would mind Christos using our flat if he would leave it more or less as he found it.) The only cleaning needed this time is a thorough wipe-down and floor cleaning; it seems that even our new, double-glazed windows can’t keep nine months of dust from building up everywhere.

It’s hot and muggy and we’re no longer accustomed to that, having used our radiators almost every day all summer in Ormskirk. It has been in the mid-eighties, Fahrenheit. We slept with the air conditioning on.

It’s also quieter than we remembered. The subway construction has necessitated making some streets around here one-way, cutting down on the traffic. The excavating equipment, however, the giant drills, are gone, so there isn’t that sound, either.

But it’s more than that. It’s the hard times. You can tell because even the Drunken Duck (bar next door) is reasonably quiet. It has fewer patrons; people are getting drunk at home instead. Don’t know if the bar will become louder on weekends.

The nearest vet/pet shop is closed, as is a café that was open last year. Nikoletta, at our favorite mom and pop grocery store, has fewer items in her deli section. Demetrios has heard countless small businesses have gone defunct, their premises up for rent, and not rented because nobody has the money to start up a small business.

I had expected to see more beggars than ever, but so far I’ve seen fewer, as if they had decided it is no use begging from people who feel they have nothing to give.

The feral cat population is also down this year. The cats we have seen so far seem healthier than some years.

We stopped at our favorite bougatsa place. Bougatsa is layers of paper-thin pastry filled with custard and dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon. We sat out on the sidewalk to eat it, chatting all the while with the young lady who works there. She remembered us, so that was nice. We asked whatever happened to the cat who used to frequent the place there last year, who had kittens in the store around the corner. She told us Lilitka has been adopted by someone in the north of the city and is now leading a very good life.

Pelagia and George are at their summer house in Halkidiki, together with Mena and Kostas. They telephoned us today to urge us to join them. So, although we were still bone tired, we did like the prospect of their company and I did fancy a dip in the Mediterranean.

Nobody answers the phones at the bus depot. So all we could do was take a cab to the bus depot and inquire there. We arrived just before 3:00, to learn the next bus would depart at 4:00 and arrive at our destination at 6:00. Frankly, that much effort didn’t seem worth it, only to stay there a couple of hours and return home in Mena and Kostas’ car. So we came home again, this time by bus.

Bus wasn’t very crowded, either, as in the past. It was air-conditioned, which most buses were not when we first started coming here in 2005. There’s one nice improvement!

We called Mena and explained, then sacked out for a much-needed nap. Mena called back at 5:30 urging us to come even at this late hour, as the party had decided not to return until tomorrow. Any other time, it would have been an offer we couldn’t refuse, but today we declined, being too tired to be able to enjoy it. Mena says they are hoping to go back next week, perhaps on Wednesday, so we hope to join them then.

Time for me to call it a day. Must go turn on the air conditioning in the bedroom and close up. I feel so reluctant to close off the world; it’s so much fun to open all the doors and windows and watch the world go by from our 5th-floor balcony, and to let it all in, noise and all. I miss other people’s cooking aromas, the clinking of glasses and cutlery, the snatches of conversations, the occasional marital row, watching other people’s TVs, hearing their music sometimes, hearing the cats yowl, and in general, participating in LIFE all around us! If you close it all out, you close out Greece, and your room could be anywhere in the world. You might just as well have stayed home.

Tomorrow I’m hoping to share with you a beautiful realization Demetrios had about the Mother of God.

P.S.) I forgot to tell you about a cool new gadget we saw in the airport the other day. It was a piece of carry-on luggage with hard sides painted or printed to look like cowhide, with four wheels on one of the long sides – and on the opposite long side was a seat. Upon this seat sat a toddler, crying, “Beep, beep, beep, beep!” all the way along the corridor. Her mother was pulling both the luggage and the little girl. The kid could never have walked that fast, nor otherwise have enjoyed herself so much. Why didn’t somebody think of this decades ago?

Monday, September 5, 2011

On Evolution and Science

Alice has a post on Genesis and evolution and science here, which I've found very helpful. I hope you will, too.

Last Days in England, Part 02

29 August

The Knit and Natter group had a farewell “do” for me. I was so touched. I had been telling myself these ladies were very gracious in accepting me, a foreigner, and that was all I had really hoped for. It was such a surprise to realize they actually LIKE me! I was doing their good hearts an injustice, for which I most heartily, most gratefully, and most joyfully repent.

It was a little tea, seven or eight of us, held at Joan’s flat, within very easy walking distance of ours. Joan is 90 years old, and she is the organizer of the group. We had tea with a lovely walnut cake and pastries, and we had a very good natter (as the English say) to go with it.

There were even some gifts! Joan gave me a bookmark she had worked herself in needlepoint; it’s white with dusky pink roses. Joyce gave me a small teddy bear for my grandson, Jackson. Jean knitted me a unique, frilly scarf in peacock colors.

I shall miss each of these dear ladies; never have met kinder or more congenial people.

31 August

This morning, one of our neighbors died. I’ve already mentioned Agnes, next door, and her sister Anna, a couple of doors down. Well, Anna’s son Paul died totally unexpectedly. He was away at the time, on holiday with a special tour for disabled people. Anna feels especially bad that she wasn’t with him.

We bought her some flowers and went over with Agnes in the afternoon.

We will keep in touch later in the week to learn how things are going. We don’t yet know what happened, so there isn’t yet anything more to tell you.

Later in the afternoon, Demetrios went to visit Margaret, Sister Margaret, one of the nurses who worked with him in the old days. He went to return two books she had lent us.

Which reminds me of something else I’ve forgotten to tell you. We met Mona Duggan, the author of these books, four or five of them now on the history of Ormskirk. She was having a book signing at the local bookstore, so we brought her our three books and two of Margaret’s to be signed. Mona is a lively, pretty, small lady, elderly, with short, white hair.

And as was signing the books, I noticed and commented upon the gorgeous ring she was wearing, six large, sparkly diamonds in a very modern, swirly setting. She said, “There’s a romantic story that goes with this ring; shall I tell it?”

“Oh, yes,” said I. “I’m always for romance!”

So she told us that when her husband died, she was completely at loose ends, didn’t know what to do with herself. She went on holiday with a tour group and felt quite lost. But a kindly gentleman took her under wing and thereby saved the day. I’m glad I restrained myself from asking whether he didn’t have an ulterior motive, because he clearly had! He invited Mona to accompany him on another holiday he already had booked, and she said yes.
“And we became partners,” Mona said. That’s the English way of describing shacking up.

Eventually they said to each other, this is ridiculous, let’s just get married.

But then he was diagnosed with cancer, so they didn’t.

“But you should have a ring,” he told her. So he gave her the money and told her to go pick out one, and she did, and this was it.

Demetrios gave her our contact information, in the hope she might one day use it, and just maybe she may, who knows?

The rest of the day, our last day here, we spent packing and housecleaning. In the evening Julia and David and James and Kim came for an hour or so, to say goodbye, as we leave for Greece early in the morning. I don’t know what David and Demetrios talked of, but the rest of us traded funny stories and had a lot of good laughs. They are all such fun!

Last Days in England, Part 01

29 August

Our last days in England have been so full I can’t write about everything. At least I’ll tell you about the visit of Nick and Sharyn, though, and one or two other highlights.

We kept Nick and Sharyn up until normal bedtime in England on their first day here, and we walked around outside a lot. Those two things are supposed to be the best treatment for jet lag.

The first thing Nick said the next morning was, we had to break up our staying all together in the tiny flat; we must go for two overnight trips in the hired car.

So we gauged ourselves according to the weather. The first trip, Wednesday morning, we went north to the Lakes District. The scenery there is gorgeous, with mountains and glacial lakes and green hills covered with sheep, enclosed by stone fences made without mortar, hundreds of miles of them. The houses and shops are all what the English call “chocolate box”, very picturesque, very old, all of the same gray stone as the fences.

We spent the night with Arthur and Helen at the Anchorage, a small bed and breakfast in Ambleside. The other guests were from Australia, Israel, and Italy, so breakfast the next morning was interesting. Elishavet (Elizabeth), from Israel, is a sculptress. She gave us a brochure showing some of her work, and it’s quite good. Some of her statues have her husband, Avraam, as the model, and they do look just like him.

Next morning we wandered around Ambleside for a while, the rain having cleared away leaving a bright, perfect day. Then we headed up to the Scottish border for Hadrian’s Wall. The stretch we came to is the one near Carlisle. We walked along a bit of it. Only afterward did we see the sign asking us not to, and saying walking upon the wall might cause it to collapse! I don’t believe that for a moment, but I’d hate to be responsible if it did.

The Wall is only half its original height of 15 feet, so not all that impressive; in fact, it doesn’t look so very different from all the other stone walls about, except for being thicker. And, of course, longer, stretching 73 miles across the narrowest part of the neck of England.

We were reminded of our host’s quip (Arthur, the proprietor of the bed and breakfast). When we mentioned we were on our way to Hadrian’s Wall, he was so unimpressed Nick asked him whether going there was worth it. “It depends on what you expect,” said Arthur.

Nick shrugged. “A stone wall.”

Arthur laughed, nodding. “You will not be disappointed!”

We came home very late, and quite exhausted.

Our second trip, Saturday and Sunday, was south, to Oxford and to Blenheim Palace, the seat of the Dukes of Marlborough and the birthplace of Winston Spencer Churchill. He was a cousin of the then Duke, sharing the same last names.

Oxford has a good many medieval buildings, including the various colleges. We saw a few, but time was short and we didn’t see as much as I would have liked to.

At Blenheim Palace, our admittance charge bought us a pass good for an entire year, so we went twice. The second time, the Duke and Duchess were away, so there were tours of the private apartments. Sharyn and I took one. Moderately interesting. You didn’t, of course, see anything more private than the family living room and the Duchess’ sitting room.

The state rooms were obviously the most ornate, most impressive ones, filled with valuable paintings and containing fancy, gilded plasterwork in the cornices and ceilings.

The gardens are considered fabulous, and as much of them as we saw really were, full of fountains and pools and precisely laid-out, labyrinthine hedges and flower gardens. We only saw a small fraction of all the fabled gardens, however. It wasn’t just that we ran out of time; what we ran out of was stamina. We just keep forgetting we aren’t as young as we feel, and need to allot more time to everything than we used to.

Again we came home very late (11:00) and exhausted. We slept very well every night all week.

I will say that we have become much better drivers by now, and Nick also had enough practice to have become adept, so we awarded him official bragging rights, which presumably he is by now exercising back in the U.S. We did, however, spend a lot of time, as in a total of two or three hours, lost.

Hints from Jane:

A map is utterly useless unless

you read it accurately

you are willing to follow it

you take the time, each and every time, before you actually begin driving, to orient yourself. It’s too late to figure out where on the map you are after you’re lost.

Nick drove us halfway home while I navigated; then I drove the rest of the way while he navigated. And the good news is, that was a winning team! We never got lost once, never even made a single wrong turn.