Sunday, March 8, 2020

A Greek Spring: Carnivale, Coronavirus, and Conflict

Bucolic scenes are almost common place this time of year in our slice of the Greek Peloponnese.  Wildflowers are carpeting the olive groves while oranges and lemons ripe for the picking hang like Christmas decorations from the trees. 

Springtime at The Stone House on the Hill

This may be - in our collective opinion - the best season of the year here because the countryside's  idyllic scenes are a backdrop to villages coming to life with celebrations and events leading up to  Lent, or Sarakosti, as it is called here.

Lemons and wildflowers mark spring here
Lent comprises the 40 days leading up to April 19th, Easter, Pascha, in the Greek Orthodox religion.

Yet, the beautiful scenes and festivities are being a bit overshadowed by events putting a different spin on the season this year.  And it all seemed to start during Carnivale. . .


Kalamata Karnivali banners decked the streets

Carnivale, Karnivale, is the jubilant period leading up to the start of Lent; a time of celebrations involving eating, drinking and dancing. A time when cities and villages are as decked out and as festive as the party-goers themselves.

The Karnivale decorations were up and posters announced upcoming events in Kalamata on the day we chose to run errands there. By happenstance our trip to the big city fell on Tsiknopempti, 'Smokey Thursday'.  Tsiknopempti always falls on a Thursday 11 days before Kathara Deftera ('Clean Monday' the official start of Lent.).

Streets decorated for Karnivale

Tsiknopempti ( tsika - the burning of food and pempti, Thursday in Greek) is the day when all of Greece it seems lights up the barbeques and cooks meat. It is a day for carnivores; a time those observing a meat-free Lent can stuff themselves without guilt.

Sidewalk bbqs in Kalamata for Tsiknopempti
Restaurants and tavernas on every block -- even a car wash -- had the barbecues going and meat grilling as we made our way through town.  Back in the villages streets were being cleaned and preparations made for scheduled celebrations.

Karnavale cookouts

Karnivale spans three weeks in Greece: Profoni, or prelude; the second week Kreatini or meat week (during which time Smokey Thursday happens) and the third week is Tirofagou, or cheese week.

Coronavirus arrives in Greece

The bus comes through the village twice daily

Shortly after Tsiknopempti, the celebrations it came to an abrupt halt.  It was because the Greek Health Minister - in a televised news conference -- confirmed two additional cases of coronavirus in Athens. He then announced the government was cancelling all remaining large-group Karnivale celebrations.

That announcement, last week, seemed a bit of an over-reaction at the time.  Two days ago when I started this post there were still only nine confirmed cases of the virus in all of Greece and 13 hospitals throughout the country designated as treatment centers. By this weekend though the number of confirmed cases has jumped to 45.

Wildflowers carpet the Mani in March

None of those individuals with the virus are from our area. A majority of the COVID-19 victims seem linked to a tour group that had traveled in Egypt and Israel. The three regions in Greece in which those travelers live have pretty much shut down all activities and events. Residents of those areas are not being allowed to travel internationally at this time.

Ironically, our former home in the city of Kirkland in Washington State, was labeled by the Washington Post newspaper as 'the epicenter' of the virus in the United States. The first U.S. death from the virus was in Kirkland. Several more COVID-19 deaths have occurred there. The state has been hardest hit in the U.S.- so far.  Media reports say shelves have been emptied in grocery stores as people stockpile for a possible quarantine, workers are working from home, rush hour traffic jams have disappeared and events are canceled. Friends living there describe the atmosphere as 'freaky'.

Our village Agios Nikolaos at night
In our area, The Mani in the southern Peloponnese, we are going about life in quite a routine manner. No one is - yet - rushing out to stock up on food, cleaning supplies or toilet paper as they are elsewhere in the world. We still kiss each other's cheeks in greeting and hug frequently. We do talk about the impacts of coronavirus on travel and are keeping watch on its spread.

I'll admit though after having read so many articles about supplies disappearing from shelves, I did decide to buy a box of disposable gloves at our local supermarket.  There were three boxes of them (a full stock) and all were dust covered.

The Scribe and The Scout after being held in Greece last year while awaiting our residency renewal, vowed we'd travel more this year. Our first outing is to France the end of April. If we cancel our week's reservations we lose the week - no refunds or changes are being allowed. At this point, we don't plan to cancel and The Scout has plotted four options for getting there and back.

Conflict at the border

We also have in Greece the matter of  an increasingly tense conflict with Turkey, our neighbor to the east. These two countries haven't been getting along well for sometime and headlines often call out air space violations and oil drilling concerns.

Islands mentioned below and our home near Kalamata are some distance apart

 But the current tense situation is caused by the overwhelming flow of immigrants and migrants into the two countries as they flee their warring homelands and seek asylum in Europe. The route to freedom takes them through both Turkey and Greece. My brief  recap below doesn't do justice to the situation - full reports can be found on most European and Middle Eastern media. I used several of those media to compile this synopsis:

Turkey is reportedly hosting 3.6  million registered Syrian refugees and immigrants from other countries like Afghanistan.  The Turkish president recently announced he was opening the border for them to the European Union - their route via Greece. He's quoted as saying he'll allow 'millions' of refugees and migrants into Greece.

Immigrants  have risked their lives on small boats trying to reach Greece

Greece, however, is at maximum capacity for housing refugees and has said, 'no more'. The few camps created since the exodus began five years ago are already far in excess of the numbers they were designed to hold.Thousands of men, women and children are being held on three Greek islands -- Lesvos, Samos and Chios -- per a European Union containment policy, while awaiting the processing of their asylum requests.

The migrants are saying 'enough'. Reports of growing vandalism and theft by some of those held in the camps has prompted the Greek island residents to also be crying, 'enough'.  Residents for years have rallied donations and care for those who've arrived on their shores over the years.

In January this islanders held protests, demanding help and support from the Greek government.   Media report that local vigilante groups are being formed. That was before the Turkish president announced he will allow even more migrants to enter Greece.

This week the American Embassy in Athens and the US Consulate in Thessaloniki issued travel warnings to Americans who are or who are planning to travel to those islands and the mainland's northeastern region of Evros, near the Turkish border.  It was reported that the US Embassy had received reports of violence against Americans trying to travel in Lesvos.

Springtime in Greece

As I said in the opening, it is a slightly different spring. We hope that wherever you find yourselves this week that you are healthy and untouched by conflict and Corona virus.  Wishes for safe travel if you are traveling and wherever you are: remember to wash your hands!

Thanks so much for the time you spent with us today ~ let us know in the comments below or an email how life is going in your part of the world ~

Linking this week with:

Mosaic Monday
Through My Lens
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday


  1. It kind of feels like the Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times" has come to pass when I read and watch the news. However, reading your post today made the news hit home in a much more personal way since you and I reside on the European continent. I think, for most travelers, plans are being put on hold and a "wait and see" watch is taking place. And, after reading several accounts about the Turkish-Greek border situation or trying to imagine what it feels like for those quarantined or who have lost loved ones, we can only take precautions and cross our fingers. Keep your optimism and stay well, my friends!

    1. You do the same, Anita! I am suspecting the times may get even more interesting before this is all over. My fingers are crossed for those unfortunate ones being held at the border while countries argue. . .hopefully they will be spared an outbreak of coronavirus!

  2. Sorry not somewhere I would want to live now, going on Holiday to Greece back in 1985 was enough I would not go back

    1. It is good that we all don't want to live in the same place. Makes the world an interesting place for us all.

  3. I was in Samos a number of years ago about this time and it was a beautiful, sleepy place. It's so hard, Greece had had little to do with the displacement of people, but the countries at the root of things, including our own, are happy to dump the problems on Greece, among others. And coronavirus . . . We thought about switching our Sicily trip for Greece, but I'm headed to Sicily now. Under-reaction in the states, but over reaction when it comes to other places.wishing you the best.

    1. Safe travels Cindy. It will be interesting to hear your thoughts on your travel experiences! Good wishes to you ~

  4. Being from Kansas City, you had us at barbecue. The Greek Spring Carnivale looks like a fun way to mingle with the locals. We can just imagine strolling from bbq pit to bbq pit, sampling some of the native recipes.

  5. You would love the grilled foods, especially the Greek souvlakis! Thanks for stopping by this week!

  6. I started reading your post and thought how wonderful to be so immersed in a country's culture when you live there. But then I read on and see that large events are being cancelled. It hasn't happened here yet, but I can see it will happen soon. Everyone is going mad buying toilet paper (why is toilet paper more important than food?) and you can't get it anywhere - might have to resort to newspaper like in the "old days". I have also heard about Greece's problems with refugees. It seems many countries have this problem - no wonder something like this virus is spreading so quickly. I hope they find a vaccination soon. In the meantime we are loosing money daily from our retirement fund, and I try not to worry about the future. Take care. Stay well and thank you for visiting my blog the last couple of weeks. It was great to hear from you.

    1. Oh you made me smile when you said everyone there is buying toilet paper. I thought it was a madness limited to the U.S. I am happy to report we have plenty here in the Mani, soap as well! (Don't tell anyone. . . ;-) )

  7. It grieves me so to see the tension between the two countries and the ensuing violence. I am originally from Lesvos and miss my sweet island so much but I am also wary of visiting after these latest reports of violence. Have a Happy Easter Jackie and Joel. It is indeed the best time of the year, especially with the sweet scent of jasmine all around the streets.

    1. It does seem to be a never ending tension of some sort, doesn't it? The migrant crisis really is that and I do wish governments would deal with it as it should be (as in solving it) but with the new focus on Coronavirus I don't think that will be happening anytime soon. And I pray the virus doesn't strike in any of those areas overrun with immigrants or the immigrant camps themselves.

  8. Hi Jackie. We enjoyed visiting Greece in the spring of ‘96 to celebrate our 1st anniversary. It was wonderful. I hope to return some day, but will wait until the corona virus is long gone.

    1. Doreen, what a wonderment! Your comment came through loud and clear this week! Yes, come back post coronavirus!

  9. These are challenging times around the world and its interesting to see how it affects two of the places you love dearly.

    1. Have been watching the reports of the first cases to be diagnosed in Hawaii - hope it all gets nipped in the bud soon and travel gets back to normal. Stay safe and healthy, Noel!

  10. Jackie and Joel - thanks for your recent visit to my blog and for sharing your "retirement" story. You live in a beautiful part of the world, and I enjoyed the sunny scenes. So far, we have no confirmed cases in Montana, and life has continued fairly normally. Our kids in Ohio are being affected. Most notably, our son's university has mandated that all classes are conducted virtually until at least the end of March. How this will affect his graduation in May, and our plans to travel there for it, are yet to be seen. Stay healthy!

  11. I'm sorry to hear the party came to a halt because of the coronavirus! Sounds like the party was a lot of fun while it lasted!

    With Love,

  12. I've always dreamt of visiting Greece someday. I pray that the pandemic will end soon.

  13. A great Post for the World on Tuesday. Wonderful captures, thank you for sharing. Terrible Corona Virus...

  14. Springtime looks glorious. I wish we would all show compassion to those poor migrants and refugees.

  15. It's good to be catching up with your blog - I've been away too long! It feels like we are living in the twilight zone with what's going on with this virus!


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