Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Living in Greece

May 2017

A happy May Day and Labour Day to all. As I write a little ahead of time, it is not a pleasant day here in the Peloponnese, with quite high and bothersome winds. Anybody who wanted to be exotic and dance around a May pole would have his/her work cut out just to keep said pole upright and ribbons untangled. Wreaths of spring flowers for front doors are the custom here, and at some stage I’ll go on my annual wreath-counting expedition. I have never learned whether the Queen of the May is part of Greek folk-lore, but in every European country the day has always been celebrated as the victory of summer over winter (at last!) and customs and traditions are of ancient origin. In Greece, for example, Persephone was supposed to return from the Underworld on May Day.

And it is International Workers’ Day, to use the most common label, so I suppose  in one way it is quite appropriate that the relevant Greek unions are organizing strikes and stoppages for today. Although it seems to me that it is mainly the workers who will suffer. As usual.

Sometimes Orthodox Easter is celebrated after May Day, but this year Western and Eastern Easters coincided: I can’t help thinking this happening of every four years makes life much easier. On Easter Day, the Greek Feast of Feasts, we were bidden to the home of relatives, who also happen to be dear friends: predictably a good time was had by all. The older family members are sticklers for tradition, so when we arrived the sons of the house were already busy with two spits, and had been for hours. One spit bore a large lamb, all swathed in butchers’ paper that had been oiled well beforehand. The smaller spit, which was lower to the fire, was for the cooking of kokoretsi, a preparation known under various names throughout the Balkans. Not my favourite taste treat, it consists of pieces of offal (I’ll spare you the specifics) threaded on to the skewer and held in place by a wrapping of lamb or goat intestines. Over the years I’ve become accustomed to having just a little taste, but really feel it is not for the faint of heart or digestion. My vegetarian friends would have fled the scene in horror.

Scarcely had the meal had time to settle, than the dancing started. It seems to me that it is older people who are the keen ones when it comes to what my mother always called ‘tripping the light fantastic.’  I suppose the younger members of society consider trad dancing not very cool. But I always try to make sure that Australian honour is upheld in this foreign clime, and so I tripped away with great enthusiasm. At least for a short time. My eldest grandsons, who are now reaching sophisticate status at the ages of 11 and 9, were very amused at the sight of their old foreign Yiayia/Granny twirling about. (I must one day tell them that an Australian ancestor, one of my great-grandmothers, died very shortly after performing the Highland Fling. This is a performance I will not be engaging in, even if I knew the first thing about said dance, which I don’t. And may the Dance of Death be long postponed.)

So after Easter I expected a return to routine, but on my way to Kalamata on the next Friday, known in Orthodoxy as Bright Friday, I passed a little church that is usually deserted. On this day, however, there were people everywhere, and the whole area was gay with bunting. The service had just finished, and the faithful were waiting their turn for a piece of the blessed bread that is part of every liturgy. I realised later that it was the Feast Day of the Zoodokou Pigis, the Life-Giving Spring, which is of course associated with Our Lady, who is often known as the Fountain of Life.

It so happens that many years ago, I visited the original church of that name in Constantinople. It also happens that there is many a traditional tale associated with this same church. Always at a loss to get my mother-in-law a present she might like, I bought a small bottle of holy water, which I presented to her on my return home. Jackpot! She was very pleased. So then I began to tell her the aforementioned traditional stories I had heard. The one I liked best was about the monks frying fish when The City fell to the Ottoman Turks. At the precise moment of defeat, the fish leaped out of the frying pan into the stream nearby (giver of miraculous waters) where their descendants swim about to this day.

I was half-way through this recital when Aphrodite finished it for me. ‘How did you know all that?’ I asked. Stupidly. ‘Well, I was told it, and I remembered it, didn’t I?’ This episode was one of my first insights into the power of the oral tradition.

On another tack: Anzac Day is now behind us. I wrote about it from my own ageing perspective: see if interested. Since then I have been bemused, to say the least, by the fuss over Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s daring to remember other groups and their losses on Anzac Day. A storm in a teacup, but the bullies in our midst have been out in force. All this in a suffering world.

Gillian Bouras


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Gillian Bouras 2018