Wednesday, 4 March 2009


2 March – Carnival

I think one can never prove that carnival is a Greek invention. Nowadays carnival is celebrated mostly in catholic regions, although some orthodox parts of the world as well join the celebration. Carnival now is celebrated because people want to party before the sober days of Lent start.

Locally some very old rites do turn up during carnival, as old as from pagan times. Carnival looks a lot like the old Roman bacchanals, celebrated in honor of Dionysus (the same god as the Roman Bacchus), you know, this Greek god of partying, drinking and eating (a reason why there are Greeks that say that the Greeks invented carnival).

In Greece there is a little town still celebrating according to the old rites. Where there is a party, there often is as well lovemaking and that is why the inhabitants of Tyrnavos (in Thessaly) on Clean Monday (the last day of carnival and the start for Lent) are having a bacchanal with phalluses. Big, small, thick or narrow, from wood or plastic, they are all paraded through town, they sing with them, they dance with them and they have a lot of fun there in Tyrnavos. Originally this festivity for Dionysus was celebrated only by men, but how do you keep the women off the streets during nowadays carnival? The Orthodox Church does not agree, but today all women do participate in the celebrations.

Anyhow, the Orthodox Church is having a difficult time during carnival. The carnival parades in Greece satirize especially the politic scandals, which includes as well the church. The head of the Vatopedi Monastery (on Mount Athos) earned millions thanks to a clever deal of land swap with the state. This case from last year (that made 2 ministers resign) is now known in history as the Vatopedi-scandal, a great subject for the carnival parade. In Patras they worked at a float that would make a fool out of the abt of the Vatopedi monastery. Besides the local clergy as well 20 monasteries of the Mount Athos sent a letter to Patras with the question if that float could be refused at the parade. The mayor of Patras answered the monks that the float did not intend to offend the clergy, they want just to satirize them.

In Istanbul as well in early times they had a carnival: the Bakla Horani. Before the end of the Ottoman Empire there used to live a lot of Greeks in the quarters of Tatavla and Beyoglu, making a parade through their streets. It was a merry parade of masked people, dressed in the traditional Greek clothes from the region they came from, men dressed like women or women like men. But the best of the parade was at the head where local prostitutes in fancy velvet dresses rode horses, lead by their pimps who walked along. This carnival got banned in 1930 by the Turkish government and the Bakla Horani now remains just a sweet memory.

In the early times Venice was best known for its carnival. Nowadays it is Rio de Janeiro. In Greece it is said that Patras is celebrating the biggest carnival. On Lesvos it is Agra, but as well Molyvos with its carnival parade does attract more and more people.

People in Molyvos were not at all bothered by complaining papas. There were even several floats that satirized the head of the Vatopedi monastery. Another theme that was used several times was the refugees, sitting in their rubber boats.

And off course there was the latest Greek scandal: a driving prison with a lot of prisoners in striped clothes walking outside of the prison. They made publicity for the new Greek air company: Korydallos Airlines (Korydallos is the name of the prison from which two heavy criminals lately escaped for the second time by helicopter).

There was no publicity for the real new air company Athens Airways, that started last week flying from Athens to Mytilini twice a day (they will fly as well from Athens to Kavala, Thessaloniki and Alexandropoulo). The head of the Orthodox Church (see him like the pope of the Orthodox Church), patriarch Bartholomeu I of Constantinople, was the first passenger who took flight from Athens to Mytilini. He opened the office of Athens Airways in Mytilini and visited the island for some days. Bartholomeu lives and works in Istanbul. He tries to keep together the different orthodox churches, he defends the orthodox Church against the Turkish and makes dialogues with the catholic church. Today Bartholomeu was nowhere to be seen on any carnival float. If all papas could be like this good man…

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