by Willard Manus
(In 1961 my Scottish wife Mavis and I went to Lindos, a village on the Greek island of Rhodes. It was our honeymoon; we intended to stay there for three days. Instead, we ended up living in Lindos for 35 years!
(In 1963, I wrote a series of articles about our life in Lindos for the Sunday Mail (Glasgow). To honor the 50th anniversary of the publication of those articles, I decided to reprint one of them, whose subtitle is The Onion Witch Mixes Me Up a Brew.)
The cry went up: "Manus has sprained an ankle!"
Immediately half a dozen village women came rushing over to me as I hobbled home, having tripped on a rock.
One look at the ankle was enough to set off a loud and excited argument over which local remedy should be applied.
Some were in favor of a poultice of skinned baked potatoes mixed with olive oil and sugar. But Fedroula, a fisherman's hefty wife, won out. She rushed into her house and emerged presently with a steaming hot poultice in her hands.
Because it had a suspiciously familiar odor, I took a close look at it. My eyes nearly popped when I saw what it was!
She was curing my sprained ankle with a mess of fried onions!
In a flash the poultice was slapped on and bound tight. I was given strict instructions to leave it like that for three days.
The crushed onions would "soften the nerves," Fedroula said.
If this had happened to me in Scotland, I would probably have laughed in the woman's face and said, "Away wi' ye, ye daft old thing!"
But here in Lindos, I obeyed her instructions and hobbled around for the rest of the week with that smelly mess of onions bound round my foot. It didn't do me a bit of good, of course--but that didn't matter. For when you live on a Greek island you end up doing as the Greeks do.
Testing out ancient peasant remedies is part of the fun and adventure of living down here. Some of them are strictly witch's brews, but others are as good as anything available on the National Health.
For example, a few months later, Dick, a friend of mine, fell out of a tree and put a deep gash in his forehead. Lindos had no hospital. Even if it had, the farmers who found him would still have done exactly what they did. Which was to apply a compress of spider's webs mixed with powdered dry figs to Dick's forehead. The mixture stopped the bleeding and began to heal the wound.
The compress was renewed every day for a week. By the end of that time, Dick's gash had not only healed entirely, but disappeared without leaving so much as a scar!
My favorite Lindos remedy is the one for baldness and falling hair. You mix garlic, dynamite powder and powdered roofing tile, and make a paste with water. Then you shave your head and apply the paste. Finally, the paste is covered over with cow dung and left on overnight! Don't get me wrong, though, I'm not trying to give the impression that the Lindians are living in the Dark Ages. Modern medicine is known; there are good hospitals and doctors in the city of Rhodes. But the penetration of outside influences has been slow and undramatic, which is why many villagers still believe in the remedies and superstitions of their ancestors.
This was driven home to Mavis a year later, when she took our newborn baby Lisa for a walk through the village. It was a summer's day, with a strong sun and temperatures well up in the 90s. Lisa was comfortably clad in a sun-bonnet and sun-suit. Everywhere she went Mavis noticed the Lindian women staring at her and shaking their heads. And she heard the same unfamiliar word hissed again and again wherever she went: "Tsitsichos! Tsitsichos!"
Once Mavis got home she hurriedly looked the word up in our Greek-English dictionary, and let out a howl when she discovered that it meant "stark naked!"
Next day, when she went out with the baby and began hearing the same refrain, she called over the women and made them feel the baby's feet. What an incredulous look came over their faces. They simply could not believe that an infant clad in anything less than a vest, two sweaters and a shawl could have warm feet!
The other night we had a Greek lad of 17 over to visit us. He spent practically every minute of his visit hovering over Lisa, playing with her, singing to her, soothing her--without a bit of encouragment from us.
It's considered a tragedy here for a married woman to remain childless. They are advised to eat lots of eggs and take the almonds proffered in church after weddings and other ceremonies. If these remedies fail, the women of Lindos can always make a religious pilgrimage in September to the top of a nearby mountain called Tsambika.
The pilgrimage begins early in the morning. The women board a bus which takes them to San Benedetto, where they begin the long climb up the mountain. Up top is the Chapel of Our Lady. The women believe that if they eat a small piece of the wick from one
of the oil lamps it will make them fruitful.
They also believe that if the resulting infant is not named after the Virgin it will die. Consequently, there are so many men in Lindos named Tsambiko and so many women named Tsambika that everyone has trouble sorting them out.
The "evil eye" is perhaps the most wellknown Mediterranean superstition. This malediction can be averted only by wearing special blue beads.
In Greece everyone sports these beads: adults, childen, beasts of burden--and also many cars and buses.
If you should happen to admire a pretty child in the presence of its mother, you must then turn your head aside, spit three times, and mutter the prayer, "May it not be blighted."
This is more than a protection against the evil eye. It is a custom that has been observed since ancient times. Conversely, if you see someone afflicted by a terrible illness you can guard against it by uttering the same incantation.