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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Entry 7: Easter, traditional Greek style

Guess what. I finally realized I could add pictures directly to this blog so I don't have to link to as an image hosting site. You know why I was linking to imgur before? Because I'm so addicted to reddit (a silly social media site that uses imgur) I couldn't think of anything else than to use imgur.

Also warning to those who don't like killing animals for food: this is Easter in Greece where they roast a whole lamb rotating over a fire. I have one video of that included and it grossed me out so much that I would want one of these warnings ahead of time. To see it you have to click on the link so it's easy to avoid.


In the days preceding Easter I stayed with my cousin Dimitri, his wife, their twin babies, and their live-in maid. Grandma also visited daily, helping with the kids as one of them is sick. Here's Penelope!

And her twin brother Yiannis.

Let me pause here and give a description of my family tree. Dimitri is my Dad's second cousin, so his kids Yiannis and Penelope are my third cousins. My Dad's Mom's Mom was was sisters with Dimitri's Dad's Mom. My great-grandmother and little Penelope's great-grandmother were sisters.

How did I find them? Before I left America I visited my Dad's first cousin Manny in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who has lived in Greece for ten years and has extensive knowledge of the family tree. He gave me the contact information of distant cousins in Greece and drew this family tree for me:

Dimitri and his family left Thursday with their live-in maid, so I had their had their house to myself before I left Friday.

Fri 4/10
Six hour bus to Lefkada, the island on the west coast where my family comes from. Cool scenery along the way.

Most surprising were Nazi flags at a toll booth, which the Nazi party Golden Dawn probably used as to hand out pamphlets.

I arrived an hour before sunset and went to their seaside house in the biggest town on the island, also named Lefkada (like how Mexico City is the capital of Mexico, Lefkada is the capital of Lefkada). View of the sea from their house:

While in Lefkada Dimitri stayed with his wife's family in another house while I stayed with Dimitri's brother Christos, his two kids, his mom, and his live-in maid, as well as a few bikes to roam the town with.

Map of Lefkada town

I don't know much about Christianity but I think it was Good Friday, so towards midnight we went to the mainstreet to watch a procession of priests from all the town's churches parade through with coffin like things symbolizing Jesus Christ's death and funeral as the church congregants followed with candels.

Tons of seafood dinner at midnight. This is the start of eating like 2000 calorie meals every few hours for the next five days. It was insane now much food there was, I literally ate enough food to last me a month. And everyone did this like it was no big deal.
Let's see how a panorama picture works if I include it here:
Left to right: My Dad's second cousin Christos, married couple distantly related to me by marriage, Christos' kids Petros and Yiannis, my Dad's second cousin Dimitri and his wife Mina on his right, another distant relative I don't know followed by another, Christos' and Dimitri's mom Marika, another unknown, and finally someone unfortunately got cut off by the camera.

Sat 4/11
Bike ride to sunset. Known for it's windsurfing and beaches, it was super windy as my growing hair blew in my eyes.

At midnight, we gathered outside a church and all held candels, said Christos a nesti (Christ is risen?), and fireworks were launched dangerously close. We didn't even go into a church since my relatives aren't religious, the holiday is just a reason to spend time with family for them.

Dimitri and his wife border the picture, Grandma is in the center, Christos is towards the back with his two kids Yianni (left) and Petros (right). Dimitri's kids are too young and are asleep, and yes Yianni is the name of both Dimitri's son and Christos' son.

The Greek naming tradition works such that every other generation the same names are used for the first born, then the second, and so on. My parents didn't do this for me but if they did I would've been named Speero after my grandfather since I'm the oldest of my siblings. And since my Dad's grandfather was named John my Dad's older brother was also named John.

Given the lack of religiosity among us not many of my relatives actually did the traditional fast of not eating any meat of dairy for the forty days prior to Easter but the break fast dinner was huge anyway. Traditionally, the first meat that's eaten after breaking the fast is a lamb liver soup, which I enjoyed. This dinner was way after midnight by the way, we didn't end until 3 am. While this dinner was exceptionally late it's a cultural standard to eat dinner late in Greece, like towards midnight.

Like my Greek-American Easters we had an egg cracking contest in which we all had an egg to smash against the ends of each other's eggs. The winner was Christos's son Yiannis who saved his egg to use at Easter Sunday dinner the next day. Not that this is tradition but just a clever trick a twelve year old would do. I lost instantly :(

The picture does not do this huge pile of food justice.

Sun 4/12
Left Lefkada at 11 and drove a half hour into the mainland where more distant cousins lived for Easter Dinner (more of a giant lunch at midday). Here's your eye bleach ahead of time: puppies nursing I found in their backyard.

This lamb was maybe fifty meters away from the puppies. No they did not kill it themselves, a professional in the area does that. Video of lamb rotating over fire here:

We were there for a few hours during which I fired a gun into the air, played soccer, and danced to traditional Greek music with distant relatives.
In the late afternoon we drove back to Lefkada, and drove around the west side up through mountains, stopping at the island's monastery with an amazing view.

Went to beach, too cold to swim at this time of year. In the summer my cousins tell me it's very crowded.

In the late afternoon we went to another cafe by another beach, which was very crowded for some reason despite the sweater weather temperatures.
As the sun set we went to Karya, the village of at least the ancestors of my paternal grandmother's family in the center of the island nestled in the mountains and overlooking the valley towards the sea. Christos stopped his car so I could take a picture though I admit I was scared oncomming traffic would knock us over the steep drop down from the sharply curving road.

Graves of Kaklamanis and Ktenas relatives, Christos found for me.

Found other Brocenos graves, ΜΠΟΥΡΣΙΝΟΣ in Greek, but they were not related directly to me to my knowledge. In Greek, to get the "B" sound you combine the "M" and "P" sounds, hence the spelling with the M and then pi. Also men's names end with an "S" sound and women's names end with no "S" hence the sigma at the end of male names.

Found grave of Papa Stathis Ktenas, my grandmother's uncle, a communist priest criminalized by the fascists in the Greek civil war. While famous in Lefkada, which historically has been mostly left leaning politically, I never knew about him until six months ago when my cousin Manny informed me in Cambridge. Here's an article about him in Greek, unfortunately my language capacity doesn't exceed ten Hellenic words.
Translation of the grave's words to English: Fighter of the Greek resistance (against the nazi),  member of the Greek liberation front (organization of local against the nazi)

Afterwards we went to the house some of my ancestors lived in but not inside because nobody is there until the summer.

Some of these relatives that were born and raised here are still alive like Apostolos Kaklamanis, my grandmother's first cousin who was speaker of the parliament for many years. At almost eighty years old he's only semi-retired and still keeps a busy schedule, so it may prove difficult or impossible to meet him. Everybody I looked at in this town I stared into their face for an uncomfortably long time trying to discern a family resemblence, sometimes which worked. I've seen many people here and in Greece who look similar to the Greek side of my family. Consider my grandmother (who died five years ago) compared with her first cousin politician Apostolos Kaklamanis:

It was getting cold out even with the winter coat a friend gave me, so we went to cafe to relax and drink more tea.

After a long day we drove the winding road back to our house by the sea. Christos invited me out to a nearby Cuban bar with some friends of his though I was way too tired and passed out just before midnight.

Mon 4/13
I slept 12 hours this past night, woke up shortly before noon, then took a bike ride around town. Here's a shot of the beach.
Oh yeah this is their backyard.

At around six pm I returned from my bike ride to Christos saying "Eat now so we can get dinner later." Really? I'm still full from last night's dinner!
He then drove me down the east side of Lefkada and saw tiny islands off coast, one of which was once owned by the rich greek guy who married Jackie Kennedy, Aristotle Onassis.
We later got pizza that night, and then ice cream where I tried a special Greek flavor made from the sap of the native mastic tree.

Tue 4/14
I left Lefkada midday, as Christos drove me to the bus station and said farewell.
On the ride back to Athens I heard a Greek language and female vocal version of Nickelback's "this is how you remind me" on the bus before crossing the canal from the Pelopponnese peninsula back to the mainland close to Athens.
View of canal

On the way back to my cousin's house in Athens I visited the Chabad house (Jewish community center that doubled as a restaurant) again, met two Israelis on vacation, and got hummus on the house.

Wed 4/15
Only thing special about this day is that I made more money busking than ever before, over 15 euro for three or four hours of ukulele playing on Ermou street.

Thurs 4/16
Busked for another two hours and made 8 euro during which a young woman listening to me play Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" asked me to play it a second time! Apparently I'm good enough for encores now. We chatted a bit and discovered we both struggled with depression as she was on her way to her therapist and I recommended to her as a great way to travel.

At six pm there was a gold mining protest I wanted to go to but instead chose to meet up with Mohanad, the guy I CouchSurfed with in Ramallah, Palestine. He was on his way back from Sweden where he was visiting his ex-wife and daughter who live there as refugees but want to come back to Palestine because the life for immigrants in Sweden is very harsh. In town for just one day I toured him around the city. This was the guy who took me to an Irish pub and then a dance club in the West Bank, so while he wanted to go out and party my more reserved self wanted to relax and chill. I asked him about the recent elections in Israel to which he responded that to him and other Palestinians it doesn't matter who wins the Israeli election, it will be the same for them no matter who wins.
View of Athens from hill close to Acropolis

That night I video chatted with my sister Sophia for her birthday, so she could meet her cousins Dimitri and Mina.

Fri 4/17
Last day with my cousins in Athens before I moved to my friend Garifallia's for the next few days with her and her boyfriend. Mina insisted in feeding me dinner one last time before I left at which point I my stomach had expanded into my left leg. Dimitri drove me to the metro and I arrived at Garifallia's an hour before midnight. Lots of their friends came over that night for hanging out, smoking and drinking.

Sat 4/18
At one o'clock pm I left Garifallia's as she and her boyfriend were still asleep and went to a sustainability festival with Elena, another CS person I never surfed with but wanted to meet anyway since we had similar interests in the environment and political activism. She found her friend Harry at the festival who invited us for vegan lunch at his house. You never turn down vegan meals, they all know how to cook like a badass: mouthwatering mushroom rice, homemade wine and halva, delicious greens and farmer's cheese (he didn't eat the cheese but his son did). Coincidentally Harry happened to be friends with Garifallia, so he called her while we were there but she didn't answer.

Harry joined me that night for a talk about the Zapatistas, the revolutionary leftist political and and militant group based in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico, at Nosotros, an collective bar in Exarchia, the Greek neighborhood famous for its political activism. The speaker was professor and author George Katsiaficas, who had visited Chiapas for several weeks to learn about the movement and came to Nosotros to tell the story. He spoke in English and a Greek translator sat alonside him for the audience. With rapt attention throughout the talk, I learned a lot and was excited the whole time for what these people were accomplishing.

Some highlights: One point he especially wanted to emphasize was that it's not just a bunch of fighters in the jungle like is often considered by foreigners, it's an actual working community that rotates villagers into their government so that everybody gets a chance to participate in decision making in everything from agriculture to healthcare. With a strong sense of community there are five autonomous communities with a central government, symbolic of a shell (Spanish name I forget, not conch but something similar?) that means continuous growth in the indigenous culture. In fact, when George gave a talk there it had to be translated not only into Spanish but also into two other indigenous languages. While there is some currency and market trade there is much democratically distributed throughout the people. 
The importance now is to build the movement slowly and focus on giving to the people rather than urgent revolution as they feel they have plenty of time in their hands since the Mexican government is distracted with other conflicts. Their philosophy is to turn their back to the Mexican government rather than fight it, and it's working.

Some other interesting points: over three hundred European woman have traveled to Chiapas wanting to have Subcommandante Marcos' children.
Second: their government was going to only limit alcohol consumption but the Chiapas women rallied up and demanded an absolute ban on alcohol to prevent domestic abuse, which is in effect so much that some Italians living in Mexico City have got rid of wine from their homes in solidarity.
Another: George said he has asked a 25 year old what his dreams were to which he got as an answer that he was living his dream. His parents had died in the '94 fighting but he survived. At the end of their conversation however George was asked how much a plane ticket to America costs, as if that while he's living a dream there's still something in the back of his mind that craves the American life.
Finally: food there lacks diversity, it's mostly the same daily of corn, tortillas, peppers, beans, and coffee. But the sense of community somehow makes up for it.

Harry left early because there were too many smokers but it was fantastic through the end with a great question and answer session. I befriended the guy I sat next to who also couldn't speak Greek, Nathan, an Australian living in Montreal who also was in the People's Climate March with me and knew about the artist activist collective I volunteered with this past summer, the Beehive Design Collective. He gave me part of his dinner the bar served, we talked a lot after and eventually found a house party at a nearby squat where I met someone who is going to Chiapas in a few weeks and invited me to CouchSurf with them.

Sun 4/19
Went with Garifallia, her boyfriend and another friend to a hill overlooking southeast Athens and then to the sea, which was dirty and chilly but pretty by the water regardless. At dusk we danced and ate at an African festival before finding a bar to stay out late drinking ouzo, which believe it or not was my first time drinking ouzo in Greece despite over a month of time passing here. It's not as popular here as it is among Greek Americans in the States.

Mon 4/20
Busked, made 10 euro after three hours and got slightly sunburnt. Unfortunately it's easier to get noticed in sunlight so there's no shade for street musicians.
As the stars came out that night I walked by an outdoor cafe/bar and a waiter randomly gave me beer on the house. I sat down and started taking to some Welsh speaking Welsh guys on vacation who invited me to visit them in Wales! They bought me another beer and gave me some of their dinner. One of them used to work in Sierra Leone at a British owned iron mine but ebola caused their company to die off. When the ebola virus first started spreading the Sierra Leone government got rid of Facebook to stop media leaks from spreading the news to prevent lost investment. Remember that the Ebola virus was already almost a year into devastating west Africa before the Western media picked it up. So when it hit international news the companies there disintegrated as investors ran away.

Tue 4/21
Got this trimmed down a bit thanks to the wonderful first time haircutting skills of Garifallia and her friend Stellious.
New do (why don't people take mirror selfies from this angle where the cell phone isn't visible?)

That night we watched Into The Wild, which believe it or not was my first time watching it. Before leaving the States a friend of mine made me promise not to do what the main character did in the movie, which I knew about: he went out on his own and died alone in Alaska, and sure of course I won't do that. I would get too lonely, I like having a sense of community too much. Plus, running away from society's problems rather than trying to fix them isn't my style. Nonetheless I did get inspired enough from the movie to randomly video chat with my brother though we didn't have much time to talk.

Notes: I miss reading, or rather having tons of time to read. I miss trees, Vermont, the Appalachians, hiking, camping. Nature is calling.