Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Writer
Living in Greece

March 2012

 

 

I write with a degree of caution, but I hope I’m right: spring has sprung. All the signs are there: the canaries have started trilling (hooray) from their cages (alas), lambs and kids are gambolling happily in the fields, blissfully unaware of their fate, and the wild flowers have been blooming for the last week, their numbers multiplying rapidly with each passing day. Yellow dandelions came first, then white camomile, followed closely by the red anemones, which are often called poppies, the ones that grew in Flanders fields despite the wholesale slaughter and bloodshed of the First World War. But I can’t imagine they are growing in Syria at present.

Mauve flowers are also starting, and soon the olive groves will be carpeted with all these colours. The hedgerows are bordered by thorny yellow gorse, and before long the Judas trees will start to bloom like so many purple exclamation marks against the rocky browns and greens of the mountainside. It is easy to see why purple is the colour of Lent: next month droops of wisteria will grace stone walls. Right now those same walls are sprouting snap-dragons in red, pink and yes, white and yellow. In Modern Greek they are called skilarakia (little dogs) and young children know why, as they learn to play with the blossoms and move their tiny ‘jaws.’

It has been a hard winter. As recently as last Monday, which was the start of Lent, the Greek Clean Monday, gale-force winds and driving rain kept people indoors, and then, at least here, the power failed, making me for one feel there is a lot to be said for fires and kerosene lamps, which many people still have, anyway. The weather was bad luck for the children, though, for Clean Monday is traditionally the day when the world and his wife, but particularly youngsters, fly kites of all shapes and sizes. When my small grandsons were living on Crete, we went twice to the beach where much of the famous film Zorba the Greek was shot more than 45 years ago: on those two occasions it wasn’t so much a case of Teach me to dance, as Teach me how to stop this kite from crashing and how to get it up in the air. Please. We managed. Eventually.

My late mother-in-law Aphrodite, as widow of a Greek Orthodox priest, always took Lent and it rules very seriously: these rules entail giving up various foods in stages one after the other: meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products are eliminated  in turn, until one is left with vegetables in usually delicious combinations, bread and rice. Fruit and nuts are also permissible. Fortunately. Holy Week abstinence is particularly strict, because olive oil has to go, and that is a serious sacrifice.  It’s a week of discipline, and is marred, for me at least, by the killing of the kids that may have been the pets of the family since January. The cries of the mother-goats are upsetting to listen to, and that is putting it mildly.

Easter this year is next month, a week later than in the West, although owing to the vagaries of calculations beyond my ken, it can be as early as the end of March or as late as the beginning of May. Western and Eastern Easters coincide only once every four years. Before Easter, much organizing, gardening and cleaning go on, as people seem super-charged with energy after the cold and the wet: it’s not just bears that emerge from

hibernation!

Early one spring, as some sort of tribute to her spirit, I suppose, I donated part of Aphrodite’s hand-woven trousseau to the Kalamata Folkloric Museum: her petticoat and voluminous drawer-string bloomers, to be precise, and a few of her crocheted place-mats and runners, all of which items she had made herself. This sort of handing-over could never be considered part of spring-cleaning, but at my time of life you begin thinking about where things of value, sentimental or material, might be safest. When it’s time, it’s time. I didn’t tell anyone. I have no daughters, and all other female descendants have plenty of Aphrodite’s things. She gave them to me long ago, laughing as she did so. Look at these old things, will you?  They will find a home in the museum, rather than be left to languish in a cupboard. Perhaps I am making excuses. But what’s done is done.

 

Gillian Bouras

 

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