Pandemonium (From the Greek: pan=”all” + “demon”)
Anastasia wakes late on Sunday, as she hasn’t been able to sleep properly all week. We are to join her friends, Stavros (who I find dismissive and unfriendly) and Kristina (a delightful, laughing lady) and their family for lunch at around 3pm, and the lamb will be ready at 4pm. Stavros and Kristina visited at around 9.30pm last night, bearing sweet treats that Kristina had cooked up. At breakfast (which happens around 1pm!) Anastasia and I “just taste” the chocolate and biscuit tart, and end up eating half of it between us (I also consumed an orange, so at least vitamins were involved).
You are probably aware that, in Greece, time can be barely important. We receive a call at around 2pm to say that the lamb is ready early, and to come in 15 mins. Anastasia potters and finally we leave, but on the way she declares there are two stops. One, to visit her neighbour Maria, the tall ghost-like mother of 9 who runs everywhere and who is responsible to look after Anastasia’s adopted (stray) dogs when Anastasia is in Athens for 6 months each year. The second is to the priest’s house, who lives on the way to our destination, and who has decked his house out beautifully in a style that is half-traditional and half-modern. At home on an Easter Sunday, he wears his black robes, and we are presented with pork ribs and sausages to eat even though we are only drop-ins. As we walk the streets, families gather in their yards, music playing loudly, calling out “Christos anesti” and “hronia polla” and inviting us to join them.
As usual, Anastasia lingers and gossips like a madwoman (whenever we attempt to drive out of the village, she leaps out of the car at least 3 times to greet long lost cousins and god-children, arms waving and voices raised – we take at least 20 minutes to travel around 200m). The priest’s house is no different, and she chats and carries on with the priest and all his relatives. His son greets me, with his sweet, and only, daughter. He has 3 sons, and wants more girls. Why? Because grandparents know that it’s the girls who look after them.
Stavros arrives on his motorbike at the priest’s house in search of Anastasia – the lamb is being served: where are we? Unperturbed, she hangs around another 10 minutes to finish conversations and begin new ones.
At last, we arrive and there are over 25 people crowded around a long table – Stavros’ family, plus two of his brothers’ families – and others arrive and leave as the afternoon wears on. The table groans under platters of lamb, sausages, ribs, salads, vegetables, feta cheese, dips…
As we sit down, Anastasia is presented the lamb’s head, and she proceeds to rip apart its jaw and gnaw the meat off, generously offering me brain (reportedly the best bit). I decline, and must quickly dodge the squirt that fires out as she plunges her finger into its eye, and look away, flashing back to last night’s soup horror. I fill up pretty quickly, and realise something: after longing for the Easter lamb in Greece, my 5-hour slow-roasted version, covered in garlic, lemon, olive oil, salt, pepper and oregano is – dare I say it – better. More tender, meat falling of the bone, and with tastier caramelised bits. Who would have thought?
There is no order at all: after the lamb is cut up into enormous chunks, guests are expected to grab large bits of bone and meat and gnaw away to get their fill. The whole scene is pandemonium, loud and crazy. Stavros’s son confesses that he was so used to the loud madness of Greek communication that, when he travelled to Sweden, he thought there must be something wrong with him, as the people were all so stiff, quiet and unfriendly.
Within what seems like seconds, plates are stacked and tables are cleared with seamless efficiency: these Greek chics are astoundingly well organised. I suppose they must be: here, as in the Catholic church, contraception is banned, and families of 7-9 children are very common. One must be organised to survive.
After the first round of food is complete, the dancing starts, and mostly the younger people are up and dancing traditional Greek dances (this is something I didn’t expect, imagining the dancing would be kicked off by the oldies!). Of course, Anastasia joins them until she’s pooped. The desserts make their way around the table, an array of home-made and bought sticky, syrupy goodies.
After this, everyone will snooze for around 3 hours (ya gotta love Greece) and then head out visiting other families, particularly friends who have their “Name Days” today (which Greeks often celebrate rather than a birthday, in honour of the saint they were named after). I am invited to the weddingof one of Stavros and Kristina’s lovely daughters (pictured on the far left in the dancing photo) in August, which reportedly will be much bigger than Easter – the last local wedding had around 1,000 people to the celebration over the week before and week after the wedding, and 600 at the feast afterwards. I start to do my calculations: can I get back here for 29 August?
After the food, we head home. Anastasia occupies this house as part of a complex weave of inheritance laws and donations to the church. Due to Greek inheritance laws (which splits properties between children), she inherited 18% of this house, and a dilapidated tobacco factory behind it. As far as I can make out, she and her relatives donated the house to the church, and she has the right to occupy part of it for the rest of her life. She also has an apartment in Athens which, in a fit of anger with her relatives, she also donated to the church. While she has been in Athens, the key to the village apartment seems to have made its way around the village, and she finds herself with large phone bills, missing floor fans, and (inexplicably) an oven full of nails. When we arrive home, realising that the fan is missing, she calls and yells at the fellow responsible, who turns up with his son and, after more yelling, he agrees to change her locks and ensure that no-one else can access the house.
It makes me mad, the way they treat her like an annoyance after she’s made such large donations. Believe it or not someone in the church recently suggested that, rather than waiting for her to snuff it and taking her Athens apartment then, they sell it now and she would move into a “small apartment” so they can get the money. Makes my blood boil…