Way To Paradise - Dancing On The Tables
by Willard Manus
(Here is the first chapter of THIS WAY TO PARADISE--DANCING ON THE TABLES, Willard Manus' memoir of the forty years he and his Scottish wife and two children have spent in the Greek island village of Lindos. Its portraits of the villagers and of the foreigners living side by side with them--people such as the humorist S.J. Perelman, the Pink Floyd band, the novelists Richard Huighes and Martha Gellhorn, among others--are vivid and memorable
Its description of
how Lindos went from island backwater to artists' colony to Aegean mass
tourist beauty spot is masterful and insightful, as is its overview of
the political, social and cultural chjanges in Greece. Best of all is
the essential charm and humor of the book. To order a copy of the book,
go to Marketplace)
We first arrived in Athens in 1961, on a rainy day in March. A Greek we'd met on the Simplon-Orient Express had given us the name of a cheerful, cheap hotel, but we couldn't read the street signs or find a soul who spoke English. Finally a butcher standing in the doorway of his shop took pity on us when we showed him the name of our hotel. Tearing off his apron, he locked the cash drawer, yelled at a neighbor to watch the shop, then led us through the deluge, put us aboard a waiting bus, paid our fares, and stood waving bye-bye and getting drenched as it drove off.
Trouble was, it was the wrong bus, one that took us to the opposite end of town.
Greece was obviously the country for us.
* * *
We had come to Greece because of a Greek-American friend in New York, a painter named Peter Panos. When he heard I was marrying a Scots girl (who had come to work for the Theater Guild) and was planning to take an extended honeymoon in Europe, he said, "If you're going to Europe you must go to Greece. You won't be sorry; it's a country for writers and painters."
Greece hadn't been in my travel plans, but Mavis liked the idea a lot. Having been brought up in Glasgow and exposed to a classical education which upheld Greek civilization as the highest, she was eager to embrace the land of Homer and Aristophanes (and of Henry Miller's exuberant book The Colossus of Marousi). So, after a stopoff in Glasgow to meet my in-laws, we headed south to the land of light, the cradle of democracy.
* * *
An Athenian acquaintance offered us some advice: "Ah, Manos, you're a writer, you have no money, you need inspiration. You can't stay here, you must go to the islands."
Which island, though? We had visited the ones near Athens--Hydra, Aegina, Poros. They all had their charms but didn't meet my fantasy of what a Greek island should offer: long white beaches, towering green mountains, a scattering of palm trees.
When I told this to a fellow passenger, the head of the Greek youth hostel association, he looked deeply into my eyes, pondering the question with the intensity of a Delphic oracle. Finally the oracle spoke: "The island for you is Rhodes; the village, Lindos."
We got on another ferryboat and obediently traveled overnight to Rhodes, which did have verdant hills, white beaches and, miraculously, innumerable palm trees. Lindos was an hour and a half bus ride away from the main city. A blind fiddler played and sang folk songs for twenty minutes, passing the hat when done. The road to Lindos ran down the eastern side of the island and was narrow and paved. The Italians had built it during their time as colonizers between the two great wars.
Our first glimpse
of Lindos came after the bus left a long
The juxtaposition of sea and sky, village and acropolis, seemed so natural, so pleasingly harmonious, that we fell in love with Lindos at first sight. Yet when we began to investigate the village, we didn't think we could live there.
It wasn't that Lindos's inhabitants weren't congenial. On the contrary, when the rattly bus deposited us in the platiea (village square), the priest came over and not only greeted us warmly but led us to the house of a villager who spoke a bit of English and French.
It was the siesta hour and Stephanos Pallas was in bed but when he learned we were interested in renting a house and staying a few months, he came outside in his pajamas and led us to the house of a resident German painter, Werner Jaeger. Herr Jaeger had a wooden leg and walked with difficulty on Lindos's serpentine, cobbled streets, but he insisted on guiding us around the village.
Lindos's houses were a revelation. They had walled-in courtyards and gardens, pebbled-mosaic floors, high-arched rooms with painted ceilings, hand-carved sleeping-platforms and cupboards. They were spacious and airy with an upstairs "Captain's" bedroom which looked out over the rooftops to the sea beyond, but when we asked about refrigeration and running water, Jaeger wheezed with laughter.
Such things do not exist, was his reply. Not only that, your toilet will a hole in the ground be.
Back to Rhodes we went, thinking that Lindos was the most beautiful place we'd ever seen but far too primitive for a couple of spoiled cityfolks like us.
We checked out houses and apartments in Rhodes's Old Town, behind high, fortified walls built by the Crusaders in the 1300's. Several places had appeal--as well as electricity and running water--but seemed small, dark and cramped after Lindos.
Lindos it would have to be. This time we enlisted the help of Vasillis Mavrikos, who ran a restaurant on the main square with his father Dimitri, a tall, straight-backed, striking-looking gent who wore a white stetson, smoked cigarettes in a holder and sipped Fernet-Blanca all day.
Vasillis put us up in a tiny pension above the plateia and introduced us to the other foreigners living in Lindos. There were about a dozen, including Hal Goldman, a painter from San Francisco. Hal, small, wiry and animated, had been living the expatriate life, first in Spain, then in Greece, since 1957. He knew all the angles: which houses were available, who the landladies were, how much rent should be paid.
"The going rate is 300 drachmas a month, ten bucks," he cautioned.
Later, Hal was horrified to learn we had agreed to pay the equivalent of twelve dollars a month for a house.
"You're spoiling things for the rest of us," he complained grumpily. But he invited us anyway to a gathering of the clan at the home of a retired Florida landscape gardener everyone called Papoos, Greek for grandfather.
Papoos was a whitehaired prickly oldtimer with a lot of guts.
Rather than vegetate in an old folks' home in Miami, he had taken off for the Aegean, determined to go back to his first love, painting, in a disciplined way. He had been living in Lindos for a year, in a large hillside house whose garden exploded with blood-red bouganvillea and bright-yellow citrus.
Papoos asked what I did. He winced visibly at my response and swore, "Jesus Christ, we don't need any more goddamn writers or painters. We need people who can fix things!"
Papoos kept a permanent pot of vegetable stew simmering on his primus stove, replenishing it whenever it ran low. He bought wine, ouzo and brandy by the demijohn so that he could keep everyone oiled-up. He himself could put away astonishing amounts but was a bad drunk when he exceeded his limit, turning nasty and abusive.
Papoos had served in Europe during World War II and didn't have much use for Germans, so Werner Jaeger was rarely seen at his nightly soirees. All the other foreigners made it up the hill, however: Marcelle Maltais, a French-Canadian painter; Maryanne Belay, a redhaired former Miss Florida who'd come to Lindos with her 7-year-old son and was having a torrid affair with a Greek boy; Dick and Margaret Lethen, also Americans and painters; and two Englishwomen, the painter Muriel Crofts and Mary North, who'd worked in London's film world. Mary was British on her father's side (a descendant of the lord who lost colonial America), American on her mother's.
Several other members of the colony were abroad: John and Polly Hope, back in England having a baby; Beatrice Monti, owner of an art gallery in Milan; and Barry Kimmins, a British architect employed by the United Nations.
In the following days and weeks Mavis and I began to settle into the rhythm of village life. We worked at making friends, studying Greek and learning how to survive under rudimentary conditions.
We cooked on a gassiera (a tiny kerosene stove), read by the light of a pump-up lantern, and had Stephanos Tinsmith, the town handyman, make us a tin box with a spigot to provide running water. It was winter-- raw and damp. Since we had no heating, we had to bundle up in thick sweaters. When we asked our neighbor how she kept herself clean, she replied: "In the summer I bathe in the sea; in the winter, a dish."
We could get used to anything but the squatting over a hole in the ground. Off to Rhodes we went to attack the problem. In the city's new market, set just off the strip of waterfront known as the Mandraki (not far from where the Colossus of Rhodes had supposedly stood), we found ceramic toilet bowls on sale, the handiwork of a local potter.
When I marched through Lindos with our purchase perched on my shoulder, the villagers laughed and shouted, "Look at that crazy American!"
We gave the installation job to Yiorgos Melenos, patriarch of a large family which had more or less adopted us. Every night, just as we sat down to dinner, two of the Melenos children--usually 7-year-old Stephanos and his younger sister Panayota--would enter and stand there watching us eat.
At first we thought they had come for food or money, as the family was known as one of the poorest in the village. Whatever we offered was refused. Neither could we engage them in conversation. They simply stood and stared.
It went on like that for weeks. It turned out all the other foreigners had their nightly visitors as well. The Lindians were simply curious to learn how we visitors from another planet lived.
Yiorgos (better known as Aksas) was so good at making up songs that he had won his wife Xanthi's hand, after a 7-year pursuit, by serenading her thusly one night: "I wish my voice was a piece of wood so I could carve it into a poem for you." But when it came to mixing and laying cement, the tall, thin troubador was a disaster. When he installed the bowl, it slanted so steeply that you had to prop a hand against the wall to keep from falling off.
Finding enough food to eat was a daily battle. A few staples such as margarine, feta, salami, flour, tinned sardines and sugar could be purchased at the village's two grocery stores, one of which belonged to Stephanos Pallas's brother, Tsampikos. There was no bakery in the village. The bread came by bus from Rhodes every day. Villagers would rush down to the square, jostling and shouting as they fought to get their hands on a fresh loaf.
All cars and buses were banned from entering the village, the streets being too narrow to allow such passage anyway. Donkeys did all the carrying of heavy goods. Their braying, clip-clopping and dung-dropping were an integral part of village life.
Since Lindos had little agriculture, fruit and vegetables were brought in from other villages on an irregular schedule. The local fishermen sold fish on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you were smart, you went down to the "boat beach" at dawn and waited for the men to come in.
Meat was available only once a week, on Sunday, when the butcher killed a goat and hacked away at it crudely, going from back to front, until it was all gone.
If we wanted beef, lamb or veal, we had to take extraordinary measures. We'd go to the town hall, where the only phone in Lindos was located. The clerk, Panayotis Pissakas, was the hardest-working man in in the village. He was at his desk seven days a week, not only keeping the town's records but handling all mail, phone calls and telegrams. He and his helper, Tsampikos Paraskevas (Tsampikos was the name of a local saint), were the heart and soul of the village.
The phone was the old-fashioned crank-up kind. Panayotis would whirl the handle around, screaming into the mouthpiece, "Embros, embros!" (hello, hello). After a dozen tries, contact would be made but he still had to keep shouting and cranking to be understood. It was even worse when it came time to send or receive a telegram. The message had to be relayed verbally between Panayotis and the phone center in Rhodes. No big problem if it were in Greek, but if in a foreign language, the message had to be transliterated--converted verbally from one language to another letter by painful letter--in order for communication to be achieved. Sometimes the line went dead in the middle of things and no amount of whirring or shrieking could bring it back. Thus telegrams nearly always resembled the bizarre, murdered English of early Japanese instruction manuals: "...witching you manny happy regurguns on your brithday...mom and dead..."
Ringing Rhodes for meat wasn't such a traumatic experience. We would call the owner of the Acropol Hotel, where we always stayed when we went to town. Konstantine came from Kattavia, a village on the southern tip of Rhodes, but had owned various small hotels in the city since 1922. He was also a champion tavli (backgammon) player and spent most of his time taking on challengers for money.
Konstantine would jot down our order and send one of his sons to the New Market where he'd buy the meat and deliver it to the conductor of the afternoon bus to Lindos. We'd square up with Konstantine when we made our weekly sojourn to the big city.
Meat had to be cooked the same day it was delivered, as the only refrigerator in town belonged to the Mavrikos restaurant. What a treat it was to go down to that open-air taverna in mid-afternoon, sit beneath its grape arbor, and enjoy the rare luxury of a cold drink.
Our drinking water came from the plateia, whose spring had been designed by Cleoboulos, the Wise Man of Lindos (he ruled for 40 years around 600 B.C.). It was kept in clay jugs wrapped with wet burlap. Bread, fruit and vegetables were stored in a screened box suspended from the ceiling, safe from bugs and rodents.
The days went by swiftly and easily. We'd rise early, wakened by nearby roosters and donkeys. I'd go upstairs to write in our sunfilled Captain's room. I was working on a novel which had occupied me for the past few years. It was called Mott the Hoople and was a comic, picaresque tale about a character named Norman Mott, a fat, Rabelesian, Jewish kid trying to find his way in the mad, surrealistic world that was the USA.
Mavis would go off to fight the food wars, crying out in triumph when she returned with a kilo of fresh fish or vegetables in her basket.
If weather permitted, we'd take lunch outside, in the courtyard, under a trellis, with olives, feta cheese, fresh tomatoes, bread and fruit on the table, washed down with a beaker of retsina. Then we'd enjoy a siesta and head down to one of the beaches around Lindos, all of which were wide, golden...and deserted.
Because the Lindians believed it was unhealthy to swim before mid-August we foreigners had the shores to ourselves. We'd sit amid sand lillies and wildflowers and study Greek together, a chapter a day from Divry's Greek Made Easy (an oxymoron, if there ever was one). Having a handle on the language meant we could begin to draw closer to the villagers, few of whom spoke English, though the older generation had learned Italian during the occupation.
Days of learning and exploration. Mavis and I walked every inch of the village, discovering that just about every street had a beauty and symmetry all its own, and some kind of visual climax-- a high archway, a window placed in a facing wall, a doorway decorated with braided motifs. The doors themselves were works of art, having been given individual touches by master carpenters working in a tradition stretching back thousands of years.
Not every Lindian house was a marvel, of course, and many of the village's thousand-odd structures had fallen into disrepair, owing to war, earthquakes and poverty. But on the whole the houses were of a size, scale and sophistication rarely found on other Greek islands.
The Lindians were pleased to show off their villas, most of which were bedecked with handmade Rhodian pottery, plates and embroidery, some hundreds of years old. An icon surrounded by family photographs was perpetually lit by an oil lamp. And of course each time you visited someone, you were treated to a plateful of sweets, a cup of bitter black coffee, and a glass of water. If it were the house of Mama Lindos, a small, plump, effervescent woman with a smile as big and curved as a watermelon slice, you also got hugs and kisses.
Some days we would climb the 280 steps up to the acropolis where the remains of the Temple of Athena stood amid other remnants of classical antiquity--a rock-sculpted ship dating back to 160 B.C.; walls and chapels built by the Byzantines; a dozen-odd Doric, Corinthian and Ionic columns. Used as a fortress by Greeks and Turks alike (the Turks had colonized Rhodes for 400 years), the Lindos acropolis was older than the one in Athens by 150 years. It was first excavated in 1904 by a Danish archaeological team under the leadership of Karl Frederick Kinch.
The Italians also did some restoration work during their time on the island.
We also took long hikes over the rock-strewn, flower-dotted hills around Lindos where donkeys brayed, goats foraged and hawks wheeled overhead. West of the village was a necropolis with the remains of a Doric temple and columns; in the south a footpath led to St. Nicholas Bay, a wide sweep of coastline dominated by the towering grey cliffs made famous in the WW II adventure film, The Guns of Navarone. The scene in which the Allied team must scale the heights to reach the German gun emplacement was shot here in 1960.
The Guns of Navarone was the biggest thing to happen to Rhodes in recent years. The crew and actors spent several months on the island, filming in various locations. Many locals found work as extras in the movie, earning 20 drachmas (60 cents) a day.
When the producers screened the feature at a Rhodes cinema, a Lindian kid, Takis Ganotakis, jumped up midway through it and shouted, "Hey, there's my donkey!"
Books were hard to come by, as there was only one shop on the island which sold English language works. All new books got passed around the colony. Lawrence Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet was a hot item; we gobbled up each volume and waited hungrily for the next, like the Victorian readers of a Charles Dickens serial.
We also discovered the books of Nikos Kazantzakis, thanks to the first English translations of such works as Zorba the Greek and Freedom or Death. Kazantzakis was a revelation and an inspiration, a writer who wrote from the head, heart and groin. His insights into the Greek character also helped us understand the qualities, passions and peculiarities of the Lindians, a people whose lives had been hardened by deprivation and war but who had not yielded their fierce independence, humanity and faith.
Like James Joyce, Kazantzakis was a rebel and a fighter, a writer who broke with his church at much personal cost and had to live as an exile for most of his years, but who still wrote masterpieces about his homeland, using and reinventing the language of his ancestors. To read him was to glimpse the soul of Greece--all fire, sea, silence, pride and spirit.
Books about Lindos were prized as well. The village was in decline now, but it had been inhabited from prehistoric times and had known long periods of importance and prosperity. With its contemporaries Ialysos and Kamiros, Lindos formed a triumvirate which ruled over the Aegean from the 4th century B.C. onwards, well into the Hellenistic Period two hundred years later. This triumvirate was also responsible in 407 B.C. for founding the city of Rhodes, endowing it with everything they had available. Rhodes became the equivalent of a modern-day Superpower, maintaining a strong army and navy, funding colonies, minting coins and calling the economic shots.
Lindos had been a ship-building center as well, a place from which vast fleets sailed under canvas to Asia Minor, the Greek mainland, Cyprus, Lebanon, Italy and Egypt. Visitors from those countries came on pilgrimages to Lindos's temples and shrines, its idyllic bays and beaches.
Pirates had also favored Lindos; the last buccaneer raid on the village had taken place in 1875. Hence the labyrinthian streets, the enclosed houses, the high walls and tower bedrooms. All served a necessary purpose: to provide defense against marauders. Aesthetics were dictated by specific and practical human needs.
World War Two had taken its toll on Lindos. When the Italians capitulated in 1943, the Germans came in and tried to disarm them. There was heavy fighting for two days before the 7,000 men of Sturmdivision Rodos regained control and took 40,000 Italians prisoner. The Germans were not kind to the natives. Crops and livestock were appropriated and starvation set in. Houses fell into disrepair. When the war ended, only to be followed by the outbreak of civil war in Greece, many Lindians emigrated to Australia, Canada, the USA and Germany. Those who remained, the villagers we were getting to know, still had very little. Most families owned a few olives trees somewhere, a patch of land to grow grapes and figs, but that was about it. Outside of subsistence fishing and the occasional odd job, there was no way to make a living. Remittances from abroad were what kept the 500-odd population alive.
The Lindians somehow kept their pride and dignity. No one begged or stole. Greek philotimo (hospitality, kindness to strangers) was maintained. Every time I went into Dimitris's coffeehouse ("the old man's cafe"), someone offered me a coffee or an ouzo. These cost only three or four cents, but that was big money to someone who probably only had ten drachmas in his pocket.
Lindos had two centers. One was the plateia, where a river of life flowed in and out, the other was Dimitris's kafeneion. The men of the village gathered here, not just to drink but to gossip, play cards, joke, tell stories and discuss local and world affairs. All Greeks, even in a provincial backwater like this one, were passionately interested in current events and politics.
When a newspaper was delivered, someone read aloud the key stories and editorials. Opinions were offered, verbal battles commenced; so quickly and hotly that I now understood the aphorism: two Greeks, one argument.
I could only understand about half of what was being said, but I could recognize passion, commitment, curiosity, love of life. Many of these men had captained their own sailing vessels and had spent time abroad. They knew the world and cared about what was happening to it, felt connected to it, intensely so. It put a feeling of vitality in the air, a spirit of openness, energy, emotion. It was the opposite of the ailenation and indifference one felt so often back home in New York.
Village life was different for the women. We were living in a Mediterranean macho culture which relegated females to the background. They busied themselves with domestic chores during the day, cooking, washing, baking and sometimes going up into the hills after a rainstorm to gather horta (wild greens). It was this spinach-like food, by the way, that kept the Lindians alive during the war years, when most other staples were being confiscated by the Germans.
While the men were in the kafeneion, the women gathered in groups and had coffee-klatches of their own, gossiping and joking while knitting or cracking open apricot pits for the sweetmeat inside. The men may have considered themselves superior, but the women certainly didn't act like patsies. They were a strong and forceful breed, capable in everything they did. Their houses were spotlessly clean, their families always clad in fresh, if faded, clothing, and they produced lusty meals out of a few basic ingredients. They brought children into the world, sent the dead out of it, and watched over the village with magisterial hauteur.
Many of the women, such as Tsampiko Grocer's wife Eleni, were highly intelligent as well. In Eleni's case she was the daughter of a priest and had grown up and been educated in Asia Minor; one always had lively conversations with her. Many other women were equally curious and inquisitive, always wanting to know what we foreigners were writing or painting.
The principal of the grammar school was a woman, a tough, shrewd cookie. There were many other women like her: quick-witted, volatile and emotional, especially in times of crisis. With their powerful, excitable natures the Lindian women could have easily played the Furies in The Bacchae.
Our next-door neighbor was one of the chief harpies. Built low to the ground, wide as a gun turret, Fotini had a voice that could curl the paint off an army tank. When she wanted her son to come home, she didn't bother to mount the stairs to the terrace, just cocked her head and let out a ululating cry, "Yannnniiiiiiii!"
Even if little Yannis were playing up on Mt Krana, he couldn't have escaped that unearthly howl. Fotini was a human telephone. Her normal conversational level was so strident it made the cups in our kitchen rattle.
It got worse at night, when she started to sing her youngest to sleep. Her shrill, off-key Greek lullabies grated on the nerves like pointy chalk on slate. She would go on, hour after hour, affecting Mavis so strongly that she lost her Scottish cool, flung open the upstairs windows and shouted, "Haud yer wheesht," which roughly translates as "Shut your gob!"
It got so bad that we even thought of moving house. Had we done so, it would have meant dealing with other stentorian Lindian wives, because it was they who controlled the real estate market.
One of the checks and balances in the Greek system was that property descended matriarchally. A man might expect his wife's dowry to include a house, but he never took title to it. It was hers and when she died it went to her eldest daughter, and so on down the female line.
Men had pressure on them to provide for the women in their family. If a father had three daughters, he had to build houses for all of them so they could each have a decent dowry. If he failed in that regard, it fell to the oldest son to come through.
He could not marry until all his sisters had amassed enough of a trousseau to attract a husband.
There was no such thing as dating or mingling. Girls congregated with girls, boys with boys, from the age of puberty onwards. All courting was done obliquely and wordlessly, according to custom.
In the evening, for example, the young girls would strut their stuff when they came down to the plateia to refill their water jugs. The young studs would hang around, talking and smoking, checking the talent out of the corner of their eyes.
When a couple fell in love and considered marriage, the arrangements were handled by others. First an emissary was sent to the bride's parents to test the marital waters. If the parents approved of the match (their daughter's views were always respected), negotiations began. The size of the dowry was discussed and argued over. Once it was a done deal and the engagement announced, boy and girl could start going out together.
They could even sleep together, though it would be considered a major scandal if the man broke the engagement after that. He'd be accused of having "spoiled" his fiancee and would be in for trouble.
There were always rebels: boys like Aksas who persisted in pursuing a girl long after her family had turned him down, couples who defied their parents and eloped.
Elopement had its own ground-rules. If the couple were caught before 24 hours went by, it was assumed they had not done the dirty. If more than a day had passed and they were brought back, the girl's father could take justice into his own hands.
When Thomnoula, the daughter of a neighbor of ours ran off and married Stamatis, an army boy of whom her father disapproved, the old man went mute and remained that way for several months.
For the most part, though, the mores and traditions of Greek village life were followed in strict, conservative fashion. Because of their glorious past, the Lindians held themselves in considerable esteem, acting more bourgeois than peasant.
The high point of village life came at Easter, the most important of all Greek holidays. It was the climax of a 10-week cycle of observance, a movable feast involving worship, dieting, fasting and a carnival celebration featuring masquerades, bawdy humor and cross-dressing. Apostolis Savvaidis, the town clown, drew screams of laughter when he donned the long ears and tail of a donkey and pranced around town hee-hawing and trying to mount nubile young women.
We went through the Easter cycle with the Yiachias family as we had become friendly with 20-year-old Vasilis, one of the Yiachiases' three sons. Vasilis had taught himself some English which we helped him sharpen up in return for Greek lessons. He was bright, handsome and good-natured with a finely tuned sensitivity to other people.
Each week of Lent had its rituals and customs. During Palm Week, the village children went from house to house singing hymns known as Lazarakia, which tell the story of the resurrection of Lazarus. On Palm Sunday the entire Yiachias family went to the church to decorate it inside and out with palm leaves.
Lindos's Church of the Assumption is a small but remarkable chapel situated in the center of the village. Its original design was Byzantine (four intersecting vaults topped by a center dome), but the western vault was later extended into a full nave, in Roman Catholic fashion. The chapel's courtyard and porch are decorated with black and white pebbled floors; inside can be found equally distinctive touches: a bishop's chair handcarved in 1620 by Ignatius of Lesbos, an ornate iconostasis, finely rendered icons and frescoes, including one of The Last Judgement.
After the church service, Eleni served salted cod with skordalia (garlic sauce) at home. Late that night the priest held another service at which he read the parable of the fig tree, trying to impress upon the congregation the necessity of good deeds.
The six days of Holy Week were somber, tense days for the entire village. Singing, music and joking were forbidden; all work stopped, except for the whitewashing and cleaning of houses.
Many people fasted, eating only an occasional dish of fava (yellow lentil puree) and greens. There were lengthy, solemn services every morning.
The final hours of Megali Paraskevi (Good Friday) were taut with mystery and tension. The Giahias family was silent, drawn, grim. They rushed to church at 8 p.m., carrying candles of brown wax which were supposed to have miraculous powers. The town resounded with the achingly sad and beautiful three-part dirges being sung in church. These moirologia went back to ancient times and dealt with the pain and sorrow of Christ's life and death.
On Holy Saturday the first Resurrection service took place; it was a noisy one meant to remove evil spirits. The priest exhorted God to rise and judge the world. When he scattered myrtle, laurel, rosemary and other herbs on the church floor, Eleni tried to catch the bay leaves in order to burn them against the evil eye. The bells rang in subdued rhythm.
As the ceremony went on, some of the villagers wandered around outside, the men fingering their kombolloi (worry beads) and smoking endless Stukas, the island-made cigarettes which sold ten a penny, the children shouting, playing and fighting.
About ten minutes before midnight the priest said, "Come and receive the light." Eleni and her family lit their candles from the priest's, lighting other ones in turn. Suddenly the darkness was lit with the glow of dozens, then hundreds, of flickering candles, until the entire chapel was ablaze with the glory of God.
At the stroke of midnight came the angel's words: "He whom ye seek is not here; He is risen." Firecrackers were set off, the bell was tolled joyfully, people hugged and kissed each other, all quarrels and feuds presumably forgotten and forgiven. Everyone sang the Easter Hymn "Christos Anesti"--Christ is Risen. As we marched through the streets in procession, Eleni urged us to try and keep our tapers lit until we reached home as it was a sign that the coming year would be a good one.
That night the butcher, watched avidly by dozens of children, worked overtime on the edge of town, slaughtering bleating lambs and goats till dawn, their blood splattering the walls around him and running down to the sea in rivers of red.
The next day we joined the Yiahiases again to light a charcoal fire and feast on the fatted calf. We also cracked red Easter eggs with them; whoever succeeded in cracking the other's could claim the broken one as his own. Jugs of wine were consumed, strolling musicians were hailed, singing and dancing commenced, lasting until the morning hours.
* * *
Over the next few weeks, spring began to take hold. The narcissi and anenomes on the hillsides faded, but the asphodel and irises hung on. Prickly-pear bushes and almond trees showed a profusion of flowers. Oleander bushes blazed with color along the riverbanks. Gorse and broom exploded into bright yellow in the fields. The countryside around Lindos was as vivid and alive as a Van Gogh painting.
In May we were able to start swimming. The village women looked up at us from where they sat in their doorways, teasing wool upon their distaffs, and inquired:
"Poo bas? Banyo?" (Where are you going, bathing?)
The next afternoon they'd ask the same questions, but with the unmistakable inference: again? But you just bathed yesterday!
The women were even more amused as we paraded by at night, heading to dinner at a friend's house. Because we were all living simply, with only a few household items provided by our landladies, we had to bring our own chairs, plates and glasses.
We also carried a flashlight, to pick out the tiny toads which came out at night to warm themselves on the cobblestones.
It didn't turn hot until June, when the villagers headed up into the hillsides to pick thyme, mint and sage. Bees fed on these herbs and began to make honey. The flies came out as well, in droves. Sanitation was a sometime thing in Lindos; dirty water was disposed of by directing it into the open troughs which lined the streets. The heat dried up most of the sewage; what was left was absorbed by the neighboring fields.
There was no garbage pickup. When you had a full bag you walked to a nearby hillside and chucked it over the side. The flies festered here and became a torment. As screens were unheard of, Hal came to the rescue by fashioning beaded curtains out of string and winecorks and by tacking bridal veiling over the windows.
When the savage heat slugged in, pushing temperatures up around the 95-degree mark, we were stunned. The meltemi, the prevailing wind that cooled most of Rhodes, did not reach Lindos as it was blocked on one side by Mt. Krana, on the other by the acropolis. The sun burned down from cloudless skies, bringing the famed and intense Aegean light, but allowing no relief from the hot, dry heat. Most nights we slept outside, in the courtyard or up on the roof, under a vast canopy of brightly glittering stars.
Often we were lulled to sleep by the cry of koukouvia, the small owls that came out at night and perched on our windowsills.
Mavis felt the heat keenly, because by now she had become pregnant. The Greeks were as touched by the news as we were; here was a foreigner doing as they did! The women came round with gifts, bunches of flowers, packets of camomile tea, and with home remedies for child-bearing complaints. Suffering from morning sickness? Rub your stomach with ouzou--even better, drink a glass as well. Indigestion? Swallow a spoonful of sesame seeds. Got an urge for an unusual food? Satisfy it immediately or the baby could be found wanting as well. And never, never cross your legs while sitting lest the child be born with the "cord round its neck."
It was also decreed that she must drink milk. But as there was no refrigeration, bottled milk could not be found, only a tinned evaporated brand called Nounou. When the shops ran out, Mavis drank fresh goat milk for sustenance. Fresh warm goat milk, which she could get down only by closing her eyes, pinching her nose, and swallowing the stuff in one long, near-nauseated gulp.
By August the heat became so unrelenting that most Lindians quit the village and went to Pefkos, a rural area a few miles south where they slept amid pine groves in tiny bungalows while harvesting their grapes and figs, said to be the best on the island.
We gave up not only Lindos but Rhodes as well, heading to Mykonos which we'd heard was not only charming but cool, thanks to the ever-present Cycladic winds. We stayed on Mykonos for two months, coming to an important decision while there. Instead of going back to the states to have our baby, we would give birth up in Glasgow, in Mavis's parents' home, on the National Health.
And when the baby was old enough to travel, we would return to Lindos, for another year of life in Greece.
That's how it worked out. It took us nearly a year to get back, owing to a difficult birth and ensuing complications, but when we finally stepped off the Rhodes-Lindos bus and were greeted in the plateia by a swarm of villagers, we had our tiny daughter Lisa in our arms.