(Mitsos kanis souvla)
A drizzling rain has descended on the island. We say it each year: when the first tourists arrive, there will be rain. Easter also has a reputation for attracting bad weather, although I can’t remember a single Easter Party that was ever spoilt by rain. Just as they have this year, weather reports always announce rain for Easter, even though the heavens on the day itself may decide otherwise and we may yet see the sun contribute to the festivities. I can only remember one occasion when the forecast actually was for good weather and that was last year when Easter Sunday was as hot as a day in a heat wave.
This week in Greece is called Holy Week as we approach the end of Lent. Today, on Maundy Thursday all officials are on holiday, so if you want to get something from the municipal cooperative shop you will find the door closed. Today the women will colour the eggs red and they will bake Easter bread (tsoereki). In Greece all eggs will be painted with the symbolic blood of Jesus Christ, although you may see other coloured eggs appear too, probably the influence of other countries. Men will be busy slaughtering lambs, for the traditional dish to be served on Easter Sunday. Passing through the streets you may already be seeing skinned lambs hanging under a roof. On Sunday those poor animals will all end up above the fire for a souvla (lamb on an spit) or stuffed in the oven.
I don’t live in the village so I am spared the nightmare of the church bells this week. During the Holy Week the bells toll for every step made by the priests; but even worse is the electronic bellman, the speakers all over the village, that do not allow any liturgical service to go unnoticed. Living in the village you don’t actually have to go to church in order to attend a mass.
Tomorrow it will be Good Friday which is kind of a day of mourning in Greece: according to the Orthodox Church one should mourn the crucifixion of Jesus. Women will hurry to the churches in order to decorate all shrines with flowers. Flowers will be easy to gather as the island looks like a great flower paradise right now. Although I wonder if picking flowers in the rain is such a nice job. In the evening a procession will pass through the village with a symbolic bier of Jesus, it too is covered with flowers. I grew up between the fields of flowers in Holland and as a child each year I saw the great flower processions and I have to say: the Greek flower decorations always make me a bit homesick for the time when I was a child wondering how on earth could they gather so much flowers.
Here on the island you can also find tulips and hyacinths. But they don’t smell as strong as they used to in Holland. And I do hope that I will never see a bier decorated with tulips, because that will mean that they will have picked bare one of the very rare fields. You know, there are even people who pick very rare orchids: barbarians. Although I do not think they take them to cover the bier of Jesus or to decorate churches; they probably will end up in a herbarium.
Saturday is the day for preparations: for the food on Sunday, for the midnight mass and for the traditional soup that is served after the midnight mass. This Mayiritsa or Easter Soup is prepared with the offal of the slaughtered lamb. I do not like soup in general, and especially not this pretty sour soup often thickened with an egg-lemon paste (avgolemono). I had it once and I prefer not to taste it again. I am waiting for the food on Sunday, for when in the early hours the fires are lit for the souvla and the ovens warmed for the stuffed lamb. Then the air will be pregnant with the scent of roasted lamb and full of the cheerful voices of the Greeks celebrating Easter, I await the nice taste of a sweet and spiced Easter lamb.
Easter is traditionally celebrated with lots of family and friends. Often everybody brings a dish and I will also be attending such an Easter Party. But for days now I have been wondering what food I will make to bring. The closer Easter comes, the emptier the shops are. Are the Greeks buying so much stuff?
Greeks prefer to eat according to the season: cabbages in the winter, aubergines in the summer. In autumn you can eat the last tomatoes or the first fresh spinach. In late spring it’s different. Winter vegetables are gone and the fields are ploughed to make room for the summer vegetables. The result is that there are not so many vegetables available in the shops and the ones that are for sale wilt within the day. This is a time when I really long for the well-stocked supermarkets in Holland that sell all kind of vegetables all year round.
I cannot make wild asparagus. I have been eating them for weeks and now they’ve stop making new stems and I don’t believe that the rains of today will revive them. So the choice is between mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, or if I am lucky, fresh broad beans. Even though I have already been eating these vegetables for weeks, at least I have a choice. I’m probably just a bit sulky because of a day of rain and the weather forecast that, yet again, threatens us with a wet Easter Sunday.
(with thanks to Mary)