Tuesday, 16 August 2005

Heavenly busy

The Assumption Day of Maria on the 15th of August is in all ways the peak of the Greek Summer. Around that day a real migration takes place in Greece. Islands are boiling over with tourists, cities are left empty. On television they showed a nearly deserted street in Athens, one which is normally pretty busy. Only two old grandmas were sitting on a bench drinking coffee from a thermos. You really felt sorry for them, being left behind by all those citizens. To complete this desolate picture a cat crossed the pretty large and empty street as if he was taking a stroll in the park.

Cats here on Lesvos should wait another month before they can behave like that. These days crossing the Boulevard of Eftalou is very dangerous thanks to the cabs hurrying up and down, the lounging Greeks in their cars, the racing motorcyclists who did not learn anything from the motor accident two weeks earlier between Molyvos and Petra where two young boys died.

Even the Kenderi, the fast boat that races twice a week along the island, is slowing down. Nowadays it is even a few hours late because it has to minimize it speed. There were not only big complaints from Lesvos, but also from Chaldiki, Chios and Turkey.

It was good that this boat was as late as half past six last Sunday. At the usual hour it should pass (2 o'clock in the afternoon) the normally quiet beaches of Eftalou were overflowing with sun umbrellas, Greek and foreign tourists, masses of children playing in the sea, yelling mothers at the water line. If the Kenderi had found this crowd there might have been victims.

There were enough victims already that weekend due to the biggest crash in Greek aviation history when a Cypriot plane went down 40 kilometres north of Athens. So this year on television there were not so many images of the Maria pilgrims and the celebrations. And believe me, there are many of them, pilgrims as well as churches.

Around Assumption Day it is custom to make a pilgrimmage to a church which is dedicated to Maria. This year it will not have been easy because the thermometer in daytime still stays between 35 and 40°C. The distance of the walk varies between some metres, when you are lucky and live next to such a church, or a lot of kilometres when you want to go to the most popular Maria Churches which are on Lesvos, the Panagía Church in Petra which has an especially difficult finish consisting of the many steps you finally have to climb up the Rock of Petra, and the Panagía Church in the mountain village of Ayiasos, which attracts pilgrims who mainly start walking the previous night. Some people say that these pilgrimages have to be done on knees but that is bullshit. Only the most fanatical believers or the worst sinners do the last few metres on their knees. It is the use of the car that is becoming more and more popular.

Most Greek people love crowds and therefore they gather in the popular coastal villages like around Mytilini and all the Skala's. In Petra, which each year turns into an Assumption Amusement Park, you could not see the beach anymore so many people were there. In the Harbour Street in Molyvos it was that busy that it was hard to turn around, especially by car. And even on the tiny beach of Kalo Limano there was no place left for your beach towel. Only the large beach of Kampos seemed to be impossible to change into Brighton beach on a hot summer Sunday. It was as empty as if the Holy Virgin never took off to heaven.

I always give a large sigh on the Assumption Day of Maria. I am sad because this day means the beginning of the end of the summer. Also because I am glad that those masses of people will leave the island. Until the 3rd of September you cannot find a ticket to leave the island, not by plane or by boat. It needs such a long period to get rid of all those Assumption people. And then finally the island will be itself again, the paradise it is for the rest of the year.

Copyright © Smitaki 2005

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