On Greek Religious Holidays

I was looking through my notes I took observing Greek culture. Here’s one of them, taken down on my iPhone in a furious stream of consciousness—which retrospectively sounds a little like early Richard Powers. Let the nominative phrases unfold.


In lieu of a tour of ancient Mystra, the stronghold of Turks and Communists, we went to what was sold to me as a church picnic. I thought, “Okay. A church picnic, that should be nice. I can fumble all 20 words in my Greek vocabulary with cute Greek girls. That’s what these things are for, right? Assortative mating: pairing like with like—the only good of college—the one econ term I learned from Sanderson’s class.”

It was so much better than a church picnic. Switchback over switchback, an old Toyota trundled upward—its passengers: myself, a Vlahos, and a Gangas—revving in first, carried by the little engine that refused to say it couldn’t.

If there was a place on earth where one might find spirituality, it’s at the top of Anavreti at the Monastery Paneia. Atop a mountain, behind that which forms the backdrop of Sparta, all signs of modern civilization, apart from cars and a distant radio antenna, are invisible. The environment is harsh and montane, and the air is misty and smells of autumn. In the background, monks chant in liturgical Greek. It is the night of St. Mary, and this will go on all night. Of the three hundred people here, some will sleep in the monastery, but most will hold vigil all night, holding onto candles, the flames warding off the cold wet dark mountain night. The man roasting corn aids in this, too, bushels behind him.

I neglected to bring my “good” camera, but my iPhone captures the scene as it is, reminiscent of grainy Kodachromes, as long extinct in America as gatherings like these.


I ate with family at a family restaurant five minutes down the mountain, with only a ceiling of grapevines to cover us. Hands were shaken, lamb cooked in a paper bag under coals was served, and eating sections of meaty spine and slowly dismantling the shoulder’s ball and socket I realized then that no American restaurant could offer such barbarian fare on their menus, instead catering to Americans’ chosen ignorance of their meats’ sources. Even the politely symmetrical lamb chops had some gristle, which went down felicitously with the restaurant’s house wine, made inside the house. To each his own for free. Siga siga. Para poli oréo.

The lyre wailed all along, phrases reverberating from subject into predicate, each pluck a nested nominative. Apart from the six-year old Gypsy dancing in front of the band, collecting Euro after Euro, I was the youngest there. The boy’s father pocketed his earnings. Sitting on a capital cushion, fattening for the coming winter of austerity.

A man in a brown textured three-piece walked by, wearing a hat and no tie. Mustachioed, a dead ringer for Daniel Plainview, without his son and partner, H. W., in tow.


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