Kalo Paska

(Mitsos kanis souvla)

A drizzling rain has descended on the island. Each year the same story: when the first tourists arrive, weather turns rather wet. Easter also has a reputation for attracting bad weather, although I can’t remember a single Easter Party that was spoilt by rain. I can only remember last years Easter Sunday when the forecast actually predicted good weather and the day was as hot as a day in a heat wave.

The Holy Week means we are approaching the end of Lent. Today, on Maundy Thursday all officials are on holiday, so the municipal cooperative shop will have its doors closed. Today the women will colour the eggs red and bake Easter bread (tsoereki). In Greece all eggs will be painted with the symbolic blood of Jesus Christ, otherwise coloured eggs areprobably influenced by traditions of other countries. Men will be busy slaughtering lambs, for the traditional dish to be served on Easter Sunday. Passing through the streets you may already be seeing skinned lambs hanging under a roof. On Sunday those poor animals will all end up above the fire for a souvla (lamb on a spit) or stuffed in the oven.

I don’t live in the village, so I am spared the terror of church bells this week. During the Holy Week the bells toll for every step made by the priests; worse even is the electronic bellman, the speakers all over the village, that do not allow any liturgical service to go unnoticed. No need to go to mass when living in the village.

Good Friday is a day of mourning in Greece: according to the Orthodox Church one should mourn the crucifixion of Jesus. Women will hurry to the churches in order to decorate all shrines with flowers. Flowers will be easy to gather as the island looks like a great flower paradise right now. Although I wonder if picking flowers in the rain is such a nice job. In the evening a procession will pass through the village with a symbolic bier of Jesus, that too covered with flowers. I grew up between the flower fields in Holland and as a child each year saw the great flower parades. Seeing the Greek flower decorations, make me homesick, for when once I wondered how on earth could they gather so much flowers.

On the island also grow tulips and hyacinths. But they don’t smell as strong as they used to in Holland. And I do hope that I will never see a bier decorated with only tulips, meaning that they will have picked bare one of the very rare fields of tulips. Some people even pick very rare orchids: barbarians. Although I do not think they use them to cover the bier of Jesus or to decorate churches; they probably will end up in a herbarium.

Saturday is a preparation day: for the lunch on Sunday, for the midnight mass and for the traditional soup that is served after the midnight mass. This Mayiritsa or Easter Soup is prepared with the offal of the slaughtered lamb. I do not like soup in general, and especially not this sour soup traditionally thickened with an egg-lemon paste (avgolemono). I ate it once and I prefer not to taste it again. I better like the food on Sunday. In the early hours fires are lit for the souvla and the ovens warmed for the stuffed lamb. The air will be pregnant with the scent of roasted lamb and full of the cheerful voices of the Greeks celebrating Easter and I await the nice taste of a sweet and spiced Easter lamb.

Easter is traditionally a big family and friends event. Everybody brings a dish and I will also be attending such an Easter Party. But for days now I wonder what dish I can bring. In late spring winter vegetables are gone and the fields are ploughed to make room for the summer vegetables. The result is that there are not so many vegetables available in the shops and the ones that are for sale wilt within the day. This is a time when I really long for the well-stocked supermarkets in Holland that sell all kind of vegetables all year round.

Also the wild asparagus have nearly gone, especially after the rains of today. So the choice is between mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, or if I am lucky, fresh broad beans. Even though I have already been eating these vegetables for weeks, at least I have a choice. I’m probably just a bit sulky because of a day of rain and the weather forecast that, yet again, threatens us with a wet Easter Sunday.

Kalo Paska