Easter in Greece comprises of numerous “lead in” rituals and events, fasts included, which I confess I don’t understand. The main game seems to kick off in church on Thursday evening with the reading of 12 books of the Bible by the priest in a chanting “sing-song” type voice, which explains why I can hear this being broadcast from the local church. We drove past a church on my first evening here, and Anastasia (not one to sit through the entire 12) drives by and, in her typical style, rolls down the window and calls to random passers-by to ask what book they are up to. “Number 7”.
Good Friday is a day of mourning, and a sombre service takes place in the evening, with the singing of numerous hymns by various people in the crowd. Easter Saturday is reasonably calm, with the last day of fasting – usually just the avoidance of eating anything with blood, so the focus is on seafood like prawns and octopus. Anastasia and I join a group of her family at a fish taverna in a nearby village, where 10 different dishes are brought out to the table, a terrific feast!
For the days leading into Easter, the local morons let off fireworks and you can hear the “BANG!” going off for several days until they either run out of stock or grow tired of the sport (more likely the former since they seem to derive endless pleasure from letting them off, especially in the local toilet block where the sound is amplified and morons are delighted time and time again with their volume. Naturally, on our way to church on Saturday night, Anastasia yells at them, and they gather in a group to yell back: so much for respecting their elders!
At 11pm on Saturday night, there is another church service to which everybody takes their ornately decorated candles and, at around 11.40pm, the priest raises his candle and lights those of others, who dash forward, and who in turn light everyone else’s candles. The crowd then heads outside and the gospel is read, an effigy of Judas is burnt in a bonfire and, at midnight, the fireworks start and people wish everyone else “Christos anesti” (Christ has risen) and “hronia polla” (may you have many years). The really religious folks head back inside and keep going for another few hours while most just head back to their homes, or the homes of their friends, and break their fast with a traditional soup. The soup is made from the “innards” of the lamb (traditionally to ensure they didn’t waste any of the lamb) and also contains rice, lemon juice and olive oil.
Anastasia spent much of Friday and Saturday. busily securing us invitations to various homes for the soup, and of course a lunch of lamb cooked on the spit for Sunday lunch.
Last night, I participated in this whole thing, and I have to warn you: that soup is one of the worst things I have ever tasted. I am so conscious of the Greek rules of hospitality – that you will usually be terribly over-fed and really need to eat more than you’d like so as not to offend the host. When I heard this soup contained liver, intestines and other yummy delights, I warned Anastasia that there was no possible way I was going there.
God love her, she said I didn’t have to eat it and asked her cousin, a silver-haired lady with a kind face, to give me the lamb one…which she forgot to say contained liver. But it wasn’t the liver that did me in – it was the awful taste of the liquid itself: thin, bland and fatty with a yellow, butter-like oil floating on the top. Anastasia tucked into the offal one, and as she stirred it, little bits of intestine rose to the top, peering at me from the bowl.
It took just one small spoonful to realise I was in deep, deep trouble. When our host wasn’t looking, I quietly looked at Anastasia with panic in my eyes: the soup made me feel ill and I needed rescue, but her cousin and her husband speak no English so I thought maybe I can get out of this without offending them. She looks at me and asks what is wrong. I meekly declare: “I don’t like it” (how can I say it makes me ill with the cook right there??). She scolds me, and tries to fling me other pieces of meat, saying “eat this”. All the while I’m thinking “how can I best EXIT!?” I can’t bring myself to have any more, and revert to the eggs, dyed red, and peeled by our lovely host. I feel a fool: my bowl remains full, gleaming yellow, but how was I to know that this would be so damn awful?
After the fact, we say nothing more to each other about it; the subject must be closed.
I cannot see a way of avoiding just such an event in future, even by providing a list of the things I won’t eat, as even I could not have predicted the Easter Soup Debacle. To make things worse, the next day that I realise that Anastasia specialises in eating bits of animals most of us go out of our way to avoid.