Monday, 10 March 2008

Clean Monday

The advantage of Lesvos is that it's a long way from Athens. This means it never shares the chaos of the capital. Athens and the greater part of Greece were crippled by strikes last week. This was the cause of daily blackouts. And the banks joined the electricity guys, so when you wanted money, there wasn't any. Even when you tried to cash your invested money, you couldn't. For days Greece was a black spooky hole on the international exchange market.

Here on the island not for one second was the power cut (except for in our house where we have this bad electricity supply, so that we always have to think about which machine we put on, in order not to have the fuses flying out). So in the capital strikes disrupted daily life, as well as some damage by trains (two weeks ago a train in Pireas crashed through the wall of the station killing a homeless man on the street, and the day before yesterday a train derailed, injuring some 28 people).

On Lesvos we only have calamities at sea. The two boats that embraced each other in a rather hard way close to Sigri were sailed to the north. The badly damaged Georgian Ship is in Petra harbour and the Turkish boat is just outside Molyvos harbour. Since Saturday night Eftalou has had its own rusty vessel to look at. There a Russian ship got stranded in the notorious place where rocks break the surface.

Not that the inhabitants of Molyvos lie awake because of all these stranded ships. They were all into the Carnival and into Clean Monday (Kathara Defteri), the last day when people can stuff themselves with food before the start of Lent. The blowouts (and the carnival) already took some two weeks. If you were really traditional, last week you ate a lot of cheese in the Cheese Week (tirofagou) and the week therefore was the Meat Week (kreatini) that started this year on the 28th of February, Fat Thursday (tsiknopemti) when everybody cooked a lot of meat on the barbecue.

Clean Monday is known for eating shellfish and taramasalata (fish egg paste). Not that there is a Fish day amiss, but on Clean Monday you're supposed not to eat the meat of animals with blood vessels. So if you don't want to eat only vegetables, you can eat plenty of shellfish.

Lesvos is blessed with two big gulfs, where a lot of shellfish live. Though this winter it was forbidden to collect them. These poor creatures were given a year off to increase their population. However, there were plenty of people still collecting them. Last week a friend showed up with very fat and lovely oysters. And to be sure most of the shellfish on the plates of the overcrowded restaurants on this Clean Monday will be local.

Another Greek tradition on Clean Monday is flying kites. Greece is the only country in Europe that has such a tradition. In the fields and from the hilltops, in Molyvos at the castle, you will see everywhere kites flying high in the sky. However here it is not such a rough game as in some Asian countries like Afghanistan, described so well by Khaled Hosseini in his bestseller 'The Kite Runner'. In Greece kite flying is done to entertain the children and not to cut each others flyers in the sky.

Although it nearly became rather a rough day on which we could rerun the experiment of Benjamin Franklin (in 1752 Benjamin Franklin proved that lightning was a kind of electricity; during a thunderstorm he caught the lightning on the rope of a kite, stopping it with a piece of metal: a lightning conductor). For weeks we could be lunching and picnicing outside because of the spring feeling like summer, and especially on this traditional day of picnic and kite flying, black clouds gathered in the east of the island. And when the Carnival parade started, thunder started rumbling in a nasty way.

But Molyvos is not so easily disturbed. Not by stranded boats, nor by menacing black clouds. It had the sun on its side which chased all the clouds over to Turkey.

Many floats in the parade seemed to have known about the stranded ships, because they had as a theme the sea: a whale boat, followed by half of the children of the village dressed as fish, asking for action for a clean sea and our very old Princess Carnival, who does everything to stay young (and manages!), who takes a daily beauty bath in the sea, now transformed into a glittering mermaid. And there was humour as well, such as the bunch of wild men with money all over them, a handkerchief on their heads, following a shovel with an ATM (the bunch of scroundels from the Cretan village of Zoniani!)

I never saw so many people in the village: you could not turn, not even your car. They came from afar and not without reason: the carnival in Molyvos gets better each year.

Later I studied the principles of flying a kite, although I never got one into the sky (I remember it was much easier when I was younger). Finally some men in our party got three kites in the air. They shone like the star of Bethlehem bright in a very blue sky. The days of abundance are gone. But in forty days it will be Easter. Then there will be other days of celebration and the lambs will be roasted over the fires. I wouldn't be surprised if the stranded ships are still there to see how the village celebrates again.

Copyright © Smitaki 2008

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