Since my mother died, my bucket list has gotten more real. I mean, we all have things we feel we would like to do before we die, even at a young age. But since Mum got seriously ill and started having trouble walking, when she couldn’t take an airplane anymore, and didn’t get any pleasure out of things she had always loved (like eating!), I suddenly found there were things I wanted to REALLY do before I REALLY died.
Because people do die, and many younger than they had planned. Mum, for one, had no intention of dying at 69 and was pretty pissed off about it. She kept her sense of humour right up until the end. The night she was transferred from the hospital to the hospice, I was with her and helped her fill out the form designed to assess the patient’s general well-being, appetite, mental state and level of pain. To the question “On a scale of 1 to 10 – 1 being the worst and 10 the best – how do do you feel today? How is your morale?”, my Mum rolled her eyes at me and asked if there was space to write ” What do you think, I’m in a fecking hospice!”. There wasn’t, but I wrote it anyway. A few short weeks later, just before she slipped out of consciousness for the last time, she squeezed my father’s hand and sighed “Scheisse”. Shit. She wasn’t ready to go.
Famous last words…
Seeing the Acropolis has been on my bucket list for ever. Last year, I got to tick off “Eating pizza in Naples” and “Driving along the Costa Amalfitana in a convertible with the top down”. This year, my husband and I were invited to a wedding somewhere in the Peloponnese, so I would get to strike another one or two off.
We did it all: the Hop on Hop off bus took us round and round, with us hopping on and off as we pleased and visiting just about every dusty temple and fallen column we spied. The Acropolis Museum is a lovely place, airy, full of light and space and calm despite the milling visitors everywhere.
The highlight of it all was, of course, the Parthenon. Having seen the Percy Jackson movies and having fallen asleep in front of a very detailed and scholarly 2-hour documentary on the restoration of the Parthenon just ten days ago, I had a pretty good idea of its layout, proportions, etc. Seeing it in real was not a disappointment, though, and seeing UP CLOSE the details of the relief panels that used to top the inner and outer rows of columns at the top of the temple, was breathtaking. Why did they bother to create such intricate details, like a harpy with a baby harpy beside her, why sculpt the back of the statues when it was all dozens of meters above eye-level? Ah, but it was never intended for us humans, was it, but intended for the gods who could see everything, no matter at what height.
Athens, or as the locals call it “Tsimentopulos” – city of cement – was great, but we were in Greece for other things. We came to Greece for one heck of a wedding. We got on a coach organized by the bride and groom to shuttle guests from the centre of Athens to Monemvasia, a rocky little peninsula at the very south-west of the Peloponnese, where the ceremony would take place. The groom is from a nearby village, but the bride is from Venezuela, so we spent a few rowdy hours in a coach packed with exuberant Venezuelans, already drinking and celebrating the happy couple’s big day. After a few minutes, the question came over the intercom: “Do you want to watch a movie? We have Clash of the Titans, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, or Spartacus!”. They had no such thing… but it provided the passengers with the perfect excuse for roaring “This is SPARTAAA!” for a while. As it happened, we would drive right through it on our way to Monemvasia.
We arrive at midnight, legs cramping, stomach tender, tired… Don’t think we’re off to bed, though, we’re here to party! So after a quick shower we all meet up in Cristovulos’s restaurant for dinner and drinks. The atmosphere is rather something. People are laughing and chatting in Greek, Spanish, English and French… We get to bed after 2a.m. We sleep like logs until 10.
Greece isn’t known for its rainy climate. Imagine the bride’s dismay when the forecast is for rain and thunderstorms for the exact 48 hours we will be staying, especially since the reception was supposed to be out of doors. Sure enough, the little rocky promontory jutting out into the Adriatic is battered by wind, washed by rain and thunder is shaking the walls. I’m just glad my dress covers up large bits of me, so I won’t be cold, but I do not have a jacket, I do not have an umbrella, and my make-up is not waterproof…
In France, the saying goes “Mariage pluvieux, mariage heureux” – rainy wedding, happy marriage – so they should be fine. Also, there is a whole array of things done around a couple getting married in Greece to make sure they stay together for a long and prosperous life:
For one, the wedding bed needs to be prepared (done!). The bed is sprinkled with rice and coins to ensure they grow strong roots and have no financial worries. Then, a baby is rolled across the mattress to ensure fertility. I don’t know where they found the baby, but I am told that that, too, is done. Apparently, the first child will be a boy or a girl according to the sex of the baby rolled across the bed for the wedding night.
To help out her single friends, the bride writes the names of all her unmarried friends on the soles of the shoes she will be wearing for her wedding. Once it’s all over and she has danced the night away, she looks at the soles of her shoes to see which name or names have been rubbed out, as they will be the next to get married.
As a guest, I was told to never, NEVER compliment the bride (“You look lovely”, etc) without then immediately spitting on the floor, either once or thrice. You don’t have to spit spit, but spitting averts the Evil Eye. The danger is that if you compliment the bride’s dress without spitting that she then accidentally pours red wine down her front, ruining the dress. And it would be your fault. Also, you spit an uneven number, as you can’t divide uneven number by 2. So they are less likely to divorce. Ptou, ptou, ptou!
The church is a little orthodox church in the centre of the village. There are many other churches here, even in this tiny village where only 15 houses are lived in all year round, but most are closed to visitors and not used for ceremonies. There is lots of gold and many stern but beautiful icons and the priest is impressive in his ceremonial robes. The ceremony takes ages. It’s all very beautiful. I secretly wish I could get a drink. My feet hurt. Damn those shoes.
Oh, the shoes are source of a rather hilarious part of the day. Monemvasia is a Medieval walled-in fortress town with cobbled streets that go up and down and diagonally, but never straight and never even. Watching around 100 ladies in fancy clothes and expensive shoes realize that they are not, but NOT AT ALL shod for walking in Monemvasia is like a sketch in a very funny movie. They’re all holding on to their husbands’ arms and making faces as they try to climb the steep hill up to the church, following the couple in a procession with flower girls and a decked-out donkey, and I can’t stop grinning. I brought my high heels in a bag. I am wearing goldy flip-flops with painted toenails. It was my Plan B for after the meal, when the photos have been taken. Now it’s my Plan A+, for before we get to the flat bit in front of the church.
The ceremony is all-Greek and the Orthodox priest recites his text at a speed defying all comprehension (plus, I don’t speak Greek). After ten minutes my husband nudges me and whispers “I think he’s reciting the bible!”. I look at him “What do you mean?” “ALL OF IT!”, he whispers, dramatically. In the end it’s not that long, really. The couple and the best man/maid of honour do different duties involving a golden book and golden crowns attached to each other with ribbon. The couple walk around the altar, linked by their crowns. Eventually we go out to throw rice at them. Pelt them with rice. It’s tradition. There are little bags with rice and glitter hanging off a bush outside the church. We are expected to use it all up. An American beside me gives out about killing the birds. Truth.
We eat, drink and dance until three in the morning. There is bouzouki music and a South American dance band. There is Zorba The Greek line dancing and breaking of plates. There is salsa and merengue. Then we leave the young ones to it. “You’re not 20 anymore”, I tell my husband. “Neither are you, my dear,” he replies. He’s not wrong.
When we return to the hotel, we suddenly have wifi for the first time in days. I read that there have been three terrorist attacks in France, Tunisia and Kuwait. Many people were killed on holidays on the beach by a gunman wearing bermuda shorts. A man has been beheaded at his workplace in Lyon.
I think back to the Parthenon and the subjects depicted along the frieze: Athena defeating a giant. Ares defeating a giant. A Greek struggling with an Amazon. A mounted Amazon overcoming a Greek. A Lapith attacking a centaur. A centaur overcoming a Lapith. Centaur and Lapith fighting. A centaur seizes a Lapith woman. It’s as old as the hills. It’s as ancient as the ruins of the Acropolis and beyond. Men have been fighting each other since the beginning of time.
Will we ever learn?