I was a bit nervous. More than a bit, but I tried not to let it show. First, getting up at 7am is not my usual thing. Then,when I got up, what was the proper dress code, or how to act, for a traditional Greek Easter Sunday? I had no clue. It would be my first “Easter In The Village,” and I was the stranger. Would I embarrass myself, or do things that weren’t acceptable? Who knows?
Bajanaki Wakes Me Up
“Fire! It is like we are Vikings making fire!” I heard after the gentle push from my “Bajanaki” at just after 7am. Although I was afraid before I went to sleep that I’d have issues waking up five or so hours later, it was with a sense of fun as I felt the tug and the words about the fire that was going on. I asked, “Do I have time to make coffee?” and the reply, “Of course! Make coffee and come and help with the fire!”
In Greece, often there are “dress codes” for things – you need to look “good” – and my companion had mentioned that she had never been awake early on an Easter Sunday morning, and had no clue how the men all dressed when they made the fire to start the coals for the grilling that would take place later. I was pretty sure that good decent and practical Greek men would not be wearing anything special – but who knows? Maybe they have a secret ceremony where they put on good clothes in order to worship ancient god named Hephaestus, while preparing celebrations for a “Christian” Easter. Anything is possible.
But I decided to take my chances that as an “outsider,” I would not be expected to put on nice dress pants and shirt to help with a big fire; it made no sense to my Scot/Irish Canadian sense to do such a thing. So, I quickly threw on my old trousers and the same shirt I wore the day before and went out to join them.
I didn’t wait for any coffee – I just went down to the courtyard and there were about ten men there already, gently adding the bundles of cut tree branches to the long barbecue “pit” to get it ready for grilling the lambs.
And that’s what we did. Men in overalls, men in old clothes, men in possibly the pyjamas they wore last night, some with gloves, some not…all checking out how to spread the branches and logs onto the barbecue pit, in order to have a nice bed of hot coals later.
And while I laughed in English, they laughed in Greek. Laughter is one of the things that does not ever need translating. And while I didn’t always know exactly what was going on, those Men of Exarchos laughed with me, ensured I understood the plan, and made me feel a part of them. A big Welcome to this special Easter Sunday.
It took a couple of hours to get the fire just right – some taking turns to spray down the flames when they got too high, while others worked hard to make sure the fire and resulting coals would be evenly spread out throughout the barbecue “pit.” And during this whole time, the beverage of choice for all was either “Nero” (Water) or Kafe (Coffee).
But eventually, the fire got to the point where there were coals that could roast anything you wanted over them. And the lambs started to appear. At first, waiting against a wall or leaning up against a small stone wall (madrake), waiting to finally grill on the coals we had prepared.
Most families took turns – the hand turning of the lambs would take 2 to 3 hours. I took my own turn, and enjoyed conversations with Stathis, Fanis, and others, and I felt totally fitting in, even though English and Greek was not always easily translated.
The big thing is, the wonderful people of Exarchos accepted me, as I tried to fit in and understand things, in my awkward way… and everyone was great!
The Party Begins
So, there was copious amounts of alcohol (in Greece, Alcohol Is Free – although it’s not abused every day). But the alcohol did not come out until the lambs were well on the way to being ready… but there was Raki, Tsipouro, Beer.. and of course, Water (Nero) available to all.
And music. And dancing. And beautiful smiling people!
I’m Free To Watch
At one point, one of the men who was obviously charming, kept filling my glass, and pointed out all the beautiful woman dancing to the music someone had made sure to play. Indeed, they were beautiful – there was Maria, there was Maria’s Mom, there was Kyriaki, there was girls and woman I don’t remember their names.. but of course, how to not notice??
And there am I am, talking to ..or trying to talk with between broken English that was better than my horrible Greek…this man about 58, who is telling me, “Ah, I’m free! I can watch them all and they are ‘aurea’ and no one can get mad at me or jealous, because I never married.” He had a beautiful smile and big happy glint in his eye. I liked him.
I looked at this man, and I thought “My gosh… you have no idea how Scot/Irish you are! Thank you for spreading your joy to me and doing what you can to be my friend!”
Gypsies Show Up
Okay, I realize that for some, the term “gypsies” is no longer an accepted term, and in fact the “Roma People” have had their own sufferings in Europe. In my country of birth, there is both a feeling of hate and love toward to what we call gypsies… but for a moment, can we dispense of the word, but instead think of the joy?
At some point during our celebration, some little Gypsy band came in… a drummer and what I remember, loud clarinettist. It was great to listen to some live music…and one of the clarinettists decided to blow very loudly, right in my face… it actually hurt my ears, but I did my best to pass on my Scot/Irish Celtic enjoyment.. with much jumping of dance.
I Jump. They Dance
In the end, it was awesome to spend my time with these amazing Greek folk, all of whom trying to live this life, in the best way they can…knowing what they know. And no matter what.. to dance…to find time to enjoy…
Ahh… but there is me, the Scot/Irish man… when we dance, we jump! 🙂 When Greeks dance, they move gracefully… and sexually… and also with a sense of uninhibitedness men dance with men… women dance with women… but no matter what… to who ever is watching, a sense of Ancient Greek sensualness that has gone on for a millenia.
Me? I know how to jump.
But it does not matter, right? If you are smiling… enjoying… searching your mind… it is all good.
Maybe I will spend the next year and work on the Highland Fling and Sword Dance… and share it with my Greek friends.
In the mean time, thank you to my friends of Exarchos! …
You are all great.