Thursday, April 16, 2020

Ringing in Easter ~ The Sounds of Silence

The church bells are silent this year.  They've been silent for weeks. So silent, that it is downright eerie at times.

Easter as it was - not this year!
To be silent any time is not normal in a Greek village but especially now in the midst of Megali Evdomada - the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. Traditionally, this is the week when church bells chime with regularity; their messages either upbeat peals of joy or mournful dirges for the dead.

No candle lighting gatherings in the square this year

On Good Friday their call is so hauntingly sad -- commemorating the death of Jesus - that they can easily give one goosepimples - even if you didn't know the symbolism of their ringing.  Then late Saturday night when the crowds have gathered -- filling the streets near the church --  to call out Christos Anesti, (Christ is Risen) and to participate in candle-lighting, their joyous clanging is so loud that you clap hands over your ears to save the eardrums.

No Easter gatherings here this year 

So to silence church bells this sacred week in Greece is nearly incomprehensible. Here, where the Eastern Orthodox religion is considered a state religion and more than 95% of the near 11 million residents are members of the Greek Orthodox Church.

But this is Greek Easter in a time of pandemic. Nothing is as it was anywhere in the world. Greece is no exception. The holiday will be observed without gatherings and celebrations in or near the holy cornerstones of every village and city in this country.  These drastic curtailments being taken by the church and state reflect the seriousness with which COVID-19 is being dealt here.

In a televised address to the nation Monday evening our Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said, "Our faith is not at risk, but the health of the faithful."

Many of you've written, asking how Greece is responding and how we are doing. The elimination of such sacred Easter traditions is the most recent illustration of just how seriously the government and citizens are dealing with curtailing the spread of coronavirus.  It is a good way to begin my answer to your questions:

What The Government is doing

Government emergency text alert to all mobile phones

Greece -- only a few years ago, the economic underdog of  the European Union --  is emerging as a poster child in the world for addressing coronavirus quickly and correctly.  Way back on Feb. 27th when the first COVID-19 case was identified here, the shutdowns began. All Karnivale gatherings were cancelled.  The numbers and scope of cancellations and restrictions built in the weeks that followed leaving no industry or individual untouched.   

Closed. . .the word of the pandemic.

Tourism has tanked. From beaches to store fronts, the closed signs have gone up in rapid succession.  Here all non-essential business, even hardware stores, are closed. All people living in the country need to notify the government when they leave their homes. We are not to visit family.  We are not to visit friends. 

PM Mitsotakis, has repeatedly likened the efforts to fighting a war. And it's clear he has a country that is willing to help him win the battle.  Mitsotakis, who has served as prime minister for less than a year (taking office last July), is proving himself to be a firm, decisive and unwavering leader. He has won the trust of the people. Opposing parties and the church are standing with him.

Stay at home orders are taken seriously

This united approach seems to be paying off.

Knowing that statistics change by the hour, I am using a snapshot in time, taken this Wednesday morning, to illustrate how the numbers look in our adopted home, Greece, as compared to our American home state of Washington:

Greece:  population about 11 million. COVID-19 cases: 2,170. Deaths: 101
Washington State: population 7.5 million COVID-19 cases: 11,154. Deaths: 544

Greece's actions may sound draconian, but you know what? We all -- Greeks and expats alike -- are appreciating them and feel safe being here because of them. Not once have I seen a FB post from a Greek or ex pat questioning the government's authority or right to restrict our movements.

Who knows when businesses will be allowed to open again

In fact when we see a friend in passing these day, we step back from them, as if they 'had the plague' no matter how thrilled we are to see him or her.  We even laugh about the 'good old days' only four weeks ago --  before the government ordered the country closed and only suggested social distancing -- we could at least have a take out wine in the parking lot and stand an appropriate distance apart from each other and visit. Can't do that any more!

Meeting a friend - social distancing - good old days - no longer allowed

The government has made it clear that this Easter Week is considered critical for containment of people and the virus. There is talk that cars could be banned from the roadways from Saturday evening until Monday evening to assure no one sneaks in that visit with close friends or decides to visit the relatives, as is traditionally done on this holiday.  That is how serious they are taking it here.

The Scout and The Scribe

A glass of wine with friends . . .in the Pacific Northwest

Aside from missing dinners out and face-to-face meet ups with friends, life in this rural part of the Peloponnese is continuing to be pretty routine at The Stone House on the Hill.  Like millions of others we've installed Zoom and learned to use it for social gatherings. We recently drank wine 'with' friends in Kirkland and Seattle during their brunch hour and our happy hour.

Sanitizing the community dumpsters

Certain routines remain the same as we must make regular runs to city dumpsters to deposit our garbage and to fill water bottles from the community taps. On such occasions if we happen to pass friends we feel giddy at the social interaction even if it is calling out hello in passing.

The mobile phone permission texts are becoming second nature. We have six destinations or reasons allowed for leaving our home.  And now that we are into the routine, sending a text isn't a big deal at all. In the photo below my notice is in the green, my approval is in the gray.

Destination sent, permission granted

Shopping once or twice a week, we wear disposable gloves. We've yet to wear face masks. Some clerks wear both masks and gloves. Some stores have also installed glass panels to separate the clerks from the customers. I suspect those panels will remain a part of our 'new normal' life when this seemingly winds down.

The food supplies (including fresh grown/harvested veggies) are plentiful as is the sanitary hand scrub, detergents and disinfectants and. . .Ta-Dah: toilet paper!  Our selection and supply of paper goods would make many of you green with envy.

We have no need to use Insta-shop or stand in long lines waiting to be admitted into a store. We don't need to call week's in advance to get a delivery time slot nailed down. There's usually been fewer than a dozen people in our large supermarket and maybe two or three in the smaller stores when we've been shopping -- all keep their distances.

Dinner out has a whole new look - at home

We have a few cafes and tavernas open for take out beverages and food.  Such food pick-up runs have become the new 'going out for dinner'.

Last Sunday we had Easter (the one celebrated in the Catholic and Protestant religions) dinner -- turkey and trimmings -- from our hangout, Hades. This coming Sunday to celebrate Orthodox Easter we will have a take out spit roast lamb meal from Hades.  We schedule a time to pick up the meal and it is ready for us.  If not we sip a glass of wine, from a plastic glass standing outside while it is packed up. The wait time is never more than a few minutes.

Our village service stations are open and stocked with supplies of gasoline and diesel.

Preserved lemons and dried orange slices

Instead of planning and daydreaming about trips, we have found ourselves focused on home and garden projects. I have been experimenting with craft projects -- all those things I've never taken the time to pursue before. I've been preserving lemons and drying oranges. I have a chair rehab in process for the garden and other crafty things that I likely would never have gotten around to had it not been for the stay at home order.

The Scout burns olive tree trimmings

Meanwhile The Scout is focused on garden and grove. In the last two weeks we've had our olive grove trimmed and the trees sprayed. We did our final burn for the allowed open fire season, cleaning up the grove as a fire prevention move ahead of the dry summer that is predicted for this area.

Earlier this week a two-man crew arrived for a small construction project that had been scheduled before the lock down began.  In each case the workers kept their distance as did we and the jobs were done. Life does need to go on, even if a bit differently than in the past.

What is Next?

Going out for a glass of wine - pandemic-style

Now in our third week of our government enforced lock down, we've learned it will be extended to May 11th. At that time - if the curve remains flat (and you all know what that means these days) -- the restrictions will begin letting up. There is a series of re-opening steps planned to take place slowly, slowly (siga, siga as we say here). However the government has made it clear that we 'elderly' ones over 60 are going to be among the last turned loose so we are hoping that by July we have a less restrictive world.

Pantazi Beach like all beaches are empty

Of course we wonder how many of the small businesses here - especially those dependent upon tourism; of which there will likely be none or very little - will even reopen this year. So our world could look and feel vastly different even when everything is 'back to normal'.

Sunset from The Stone House on the Hill

For now we are enjoying temperatures in the 70F's and each day celebrating the fact that we are not among those statistics I listed above.  Carpe Diem is the mantra and we are trying to do just that.
We hope this finds you and yours wherever you are in the world also staying safe staying healthy and being at peace with the actions taken during this unprecedented time in history.

Where are these two vagabonds dreaming of as their first destination once our restrictions are lifted?  Let me tell you. . .it is our hair salon in Kalamata!  It might end up being the best trip we take this year!!

Thanks again for being with us and we look forward to hearing from you in comments and by email.  What is on your list as your first destination when you can again safely leave home?

Linking with:

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

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Greece ~ A Souvenir Studded Staycation

It isn't difficult to self-distance when living in our Stone House on the Hill, in the Kalamata olive-growing area of the Peloponnese. With five of six neighbors trapped in varying places around the globe and a nearby non-English-speaking Greek couple taking sheltering in place with gusto, we sometimes don't only feel rather isolated - we ARE rather isolated.

Isolated in Our Stone House on the Hill during the pandemic
Our second week of our Greek government-ordered self-distancing has come to an end. As I reported last week, we are allowed go out for only six destinations or reasons and must complete required notifications before doing so or face fines if caught.

The two-week lockdown has been extended for another three, until  April 27th.  While we've adjusted quite well to the permission-to-go way of life, social media is burbling with speculations about possible tighter rules coming the closer we get to Greek Easter, April 17th.  We'll deal with that, if, and when it comes.

Going out for a glass of wine 'to go'

For now I am preferring to think of this experience as a rather strange 'staycation'. One we are managing with mental escapes to some of our favorite places, thanks to souvenirs we've collected along the way. Those things that remind us of another time, another place in our lives . . .

Souvenirs - Are The Keys to Escape

Souvenir - the noun, as defined by the dictionary, as a memento, keepsake, or token of remembrance collected or purchased and taken home by a traveler. It comes from the French verb which means 'to recall or have in your memory'.

The word has been in use since back in the 1700's. But the act of collecting mementos dates back even further, according to travel writer Rolf Potts in his book, Souvenirs.  He tells of Egyptian Prince Harkhuf  who collected skins and tusks on his journey to Sudan about 2200 BC. His souvenirs were gifts for the pharaoh.

I was re-reading the book (it IS a good read) last week when one passage in particular seemed to speak of this time in our home-bound world::

'People feel the need to bring things home with them from the sacred, extraordinary time or space, for home is equated with ordinary, mundane time and space,' scholar Beverly Gordon observed. 'They can't hold on-to the non-ordinary experience for it is by nature ephemeral, but they can hold on to a tangible piece of it, an object that came from it.'

A Souvenir Studded Staycation

While a few of our souvenirs do represent some sacred, extraordinary time or space, all of them  bring back happy memories of the place from where they were purchased.

Lake Chelan - between Chelan and Manson

I am sipping a cup of Starbucks Italian coffee while writing this afternoon. It was made from a bag of coffee we tucked into our suitcase back in February while back in the States. We love the stuff and it isn't available anywhere near us in Greece. This bag, purchased at the store in Chelan, Washington reminds us of the other village in our lives.

Last week another edible souvenir took us back to Washington State 'for dinner'. I made soup using a mix purchased from the kitchen store in Chelan.  On cold and blustery days in Greece as we were having on the day of the soup-making,  it is nice to be warmed by the memories of that other place we hang our hats.

A taste of Budapest

Another night we 'traveled to' Hungary and to Thessaloniki, Greece when I used paprika purchased in Budapest in November for Hungarian goulash which was accompanied by a red wine purchased on a trip to a vineyard in northern Greece last summer. We had taken a tour of the wine country and enjoyed chatting with the wine maker at Domaine Florian. As we sipped wine at dinner a promised ourselves a return trip when 'this' ends.

Domaine Florian a highpoint of Thessaloniki trip

The table cloth I am using these days, with its pattern of lemons, was purchased in a small Italian town many years ago. I took it back to the States and for years it served as our taste of the Mediterranean in our suburban Seattle home. It has come back across 'the pond' with us and still brings back memories of our time in Tuscany. Who would have thought that one day I would have a bowl of lemons sitting on it that had been grown in our own Mediterranean garden?!

That time in Tuscany

Some of our souvenirs though do take us back to places that were so extraordinary that we remember them with almost disbelief. 'Were we really there? Did we do that? Suppose we will ever get back there again?'

Turkey and Egypt travel memories

Take the metal teapot on our fireplace mantel. Even better than a magic carpet, it transports us back to the Nile River each time we look at it. When we first spotted it in the dimly-lit shop in Aswan, Egypt, it was amid a hodge-podge of other dust-covered items. The elderly galabeya-clad shop keeper, a man of few words, was a no-pressure salesman. He explained the inscription on the handle was likely the name of the person for whom it had been made. And yes, it had been used for tea in a Bedouin camp. The price was roughly $25US. It took two trips back to the shop before we decided it would fit in the suitcase.

The Tree of Life is the subject of the ceramic plate that hangs above it.  We had just purchased our Stone House on the Hill and had been looking for something to fill the empty space on the fireplace.  While wandering the streets of Kusadasi, Turkey rather aimlessly and on our own (our favorite way to do cruise ship stops) we happened upon a ceramics store. Just looking at it takes us back to that  cruise adventure few years ago.

Jordan, France and Greece on a table top

Another cruise introduced us to the wonders of the Middle East. One of the most amazing wonders was Petra, Jordan where we watched an artist create one of our smallest souvenirs - and one of our most treasured. The little bottle of sand art is like a talisman that we hope will make us lucky enough to return to the Wadi Rum and Petra one day.  It sits next to a small tray purchased in Paris many years ago and behind a piece of rock art made in Greece - a souvenir from a friend. Tiny items can stir big memories.

Until we can travel again. . .enjoy the present

One thing we've discovered is that when you are not focused on researching and planning future travels, you have plenty of time to bask in the memories of travels once taken. Our souvenirs have managed to keep the travel bug from going completely dormant during this time of pandemic isolation.

At our ages, the consumable souvenir is probably the most practical.  We know one day these treasures of ours will just be items of which someone will be tasked with sorting and disposing.

Rolf Potts, in his book, writes of being offered some of his aunt's belongings after her death. Most of the things he describes as being without much usable or resale value; among them, souvenirs she had collected.

'Looking at those items, I was struck by how much we collect in life ultimately becomes depleted of meaning: without any sense of memories or desires that led [her]] to save these keepsakes, they felt like a sorrowful menagerie of lost objects.'

For now, our souvenirs are tickets to travel if only by memories.  How about you? What souvenirs have you collected?  Where are they taking you during your own 'staycation'?

That's it for this week from Greece. Thanks for the time you've spent with us. Stay safe and stay well! Hope you'll join us again next week!

Linking this week with:

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


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