Two weeks ago we celebrated Greek Easter with Al Johnson, Elisabeth Bitros and Ingrid Von Bentheim who all won a free stay at Odyssey, and many other wonderful guests. First prize winner Al Johnson has written a wonderful story about his experience. Here it is! Thank you Al!
A kiwi lands on Poros for Greek Easter
Once again the taxi turns up the road from Askeli beach, and I get that fantastic feeling of anticipation of meeting old friends and of making new ones. I had come back from New Zealand to claim my reward, and celebrate Greek Easter on Poros.
The date of Easter is determined by several factors including the lunar cycle, the Spring Equinox and the lag between the Gregorian and the Julian calendar – that I won’t expand on further, mostly because I don’t understand it all – but the consequence of this was that Easter holiday in New Zealand had been done and dusted a month previously.
Black mess in the kitchen
How would the Greek celebration differ from ours, which has become heavily commercialized with chain store sales, recreational sports events and the persecution of chocolate rabbits? Katerina had promised that it was the “Best Time”, and I was not to be disappointed.
She had also promised a “special” activity for me, and shortly after my arrival at Odyssey I found out what that was: the grizzly task of cleaning a couple of unlucky cuttlefish for the first cookery class. After a prolonged fight, the luckless creatures lay skinned and floating in the water like two wrecked supertankers, surrounded by a slick of black crude oil, as their ruptured ink sacs discharged a black mess over Katerina’s white sink and down the drain. “Don’t forget to save the ink,” she optimistically called from the kitchen……Oh Crikey! My heart sank!
Good Friday mass
A couple of days later, I was outside St. George’s church in Poros town amongst new friends at the Good Friday mass. All of us were holding traditional brown candles as we joined the procession of townsfolk and visitors, following the flower-covered epitaph through the streets. Whether religious or secular, one cannot fail to be moved and exhilarated by the sights and sounds of a community coming together with such passion.
This spirit of harmony was repeated the next evening at Saturday’s resurrection mass, held at the chapel of the Naval base. Here, as midnight arrived and white candles were lit from each other in a benevolent chain reaction, fireworks illuminated the foreshore. At the end, cars jammed the streets, reminiscent of the end of a rock concert, as our happy group walked back to the Odyssey. In keeping with tradition, we were all trying to keep our candles alight until we arrived home, not so much lighting the way as blinding us to oncoming traffic!
The night concluded with the traditional post-mass meal, but not before Katerina and Rik had challenged everyone to their dyed-egg-tapping contest around the tables. Having honed my skills on English conkers as a boy however, her egg was no match for the rock hard shell of mine, and Al’s invincible egg triumphed. But the greatest treat was yet to come; the Easter Sunday Lamb roast, when family and friends all come together to dine, dance and celebrate.
Greek Easter Sunday
Loaded down with more red eggs, wine and Easter cookies, we stepped on board the water taxi at Askeli’s small wharf on Easter Sunday, bound for Katerina’s olive farm in Galatas. As we all disembarked on the small beach at the olive grove, trying not to capsize the boat or the small pontoon, the smell of spit-roasted lamb and pork greeted us. The “Master of the Barbie”, Vangelis, had been busy for some time, basting and turning what appeared to be a two-headed sheep over the coals of the outdoor fireplace. I mused that the lamb might have been able to look East and West like the mythical eagle, but had clearly neglected to look over it’s own shoulder.
There followed an afternoon of conversation under the olive trees in company with friends, international and local, artistic, creative, professional and bohemian and those like me with no discernible talents at all, especially when it came to getting my head around the Greek dancing that broke out as the day progressed! Meanwhile Katerina was in her groove, carving the fabulous lamb, laughing and leading the dancing that topped off a day that came to be a riot of the senses.
Back home in New Zealand, as my jet lag passes, I look back on that atmospheric week and appreciate the efforts of Katerina and her staff, as all the guests had fun trying their hands at Easter cooking in the impressive Odyssey kitchen. I reflect that my friend was right; Greek Easter was indeed “The Best Time.”