Saturday, 26 April 2014

The Paleokastritsa Panegyri

There is a dancer here (he looks like a clothed kouros statue), leading the line and swirling around rather daintily.

His long ringlets sway and he is the centre of attention, just as he likes it.

I attempt to capture this young man's image with my camera but the battery packs up and he is consigned to ancient history.

So we will have to make do with what the camera saw before it stopped working.
Not quite a kouros, but equally impressive.

This is our first panegyri of 2014. It's held on New Friday, in the week after Easter, up on the monastery car park in Paleokastritsa, on Corfu's north west coast.

There's a bus taking people up the hill. We wait patiently for it to return and then fifty Greeks turn up from nowhere and barge right in. It's standing room only so we forget about the bus and walk up the road. It's not so bad.

We can see the bright lights and hear the familiar music of the Skolarikis brothers.
They look at least twenty years older than they do on their CD, available in all good record shops in Corfu Town. But the songs are the same. They just make you want to get up and dance.
But tonight, Nikos the dancer, who usually has at least ten T-shirts in his rucksack to change into during the course of a panegyri because he sweats so much, is not dancing. He is still in mourning for the young man from his village who was killed in a car accident three weeks ago.

'I cannot dance,' he says. 'It does not feel right for me.'

The place is getting very crowded. It is too early for many tourists so the people here are mostly Greeks having fun and the odd ex-pat. They might not have much, these people, but they know how to have fun.

There are stalls selling baskets, candy floss, doughnuts and overpriced tat including toy guns, dolls and battery chargers. There is a tub full of cold beer and a bar stocked with tsipouro, ouzo, vodka and retsina.

Lamb turns on the spit and it is sold by the kilo, the butcher smashing it with his cleaver and wrapping it up in waxed paper.
And still the kouros dances.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Easter weekend in Corfu

On the night of Good Friday - or Great Friday, as the Greeks call it - it is raining. We join the 'mourners' at the back of the village church. Everyone is given a brown candle. The soft light glows. The priest and his chanters are at the front, where pride of place is Christ's epitafios, covered in red and white carnations.

The service has been going for at least an hour-and-a-half, with people coming and going, small children crying and an American told to be quiet after engaging in idle chit-chat at a time when people are meant to be solemn.

We leave the church, following the epitafios, and wind our way up through the village, the American taking a call on his mobile phone saying he can't speak because he's in a procession and then proceeding to talk for five minutes about someone who is in hospital.
I share Sofia's umbrella as the noisy Yank goes on ahead.
Up at the at the cemetery church, we walk through the door and out through the other side.
We step into the darkness as people say hello to families past and light candles at the graves of long-gone loved ones.
And then the mood changes in Corfu Town the next day. The traditional procession is cancelled because of the rain and the crowds wait around the Liston for the annual pot smashing, something which is unique to Corfu.
Just as a large pot is about to be thrown from the top of the Arcadion Hotel, a balloon seller takes away my view. So here's one of my photos from last year.
Notice that the sky was bluer last Easter. But then it was two weeks later.

It is so busy we've had to park at the port and walk in. We can't get very close so we watch the spectacle from the Spianada. Pots crash and smash all around us, from balconies, on the ground where we are standing and all through the alleyways of Corfu Town.

This great video by Corfu Times really captures the scene.
There is a mad scramble for the best bits of pot - handles, red and gold decorations and such like - and then life goes on as normal.

People crunch through the broken pottery as if it happens every year. Which, indeed, it does.
And then we find a spot in our favourite bar - standing room only, of course - and have a coffee. 

There is the stirring sound of drums, a band marches by and then the sousaphones suddenly strike up as if they know I am filming.
Down at Paleokastritsa, these are the lucky lambs. Still alive, for now.
Friends and relations have met a predictable end. Well, it is Easter.
Tonight, in town there will be candles and fireworks. But probably not the latter in our own village, as a mark of respect to the family of a young man killed in a car accident two weeks ago.

Tomorow, we will join good friends for roast lamb and goat on the spit, crack a few red-dyed, hard-boiled eggs and plough into a host of heavenly desserts.

Easter in Corfu - there's nothing quite like it.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 18 April 2014

Good Friday in Corfu

On this day, the holiest of holies in the Greek Orthodox calendar, the mournful toll of a bell from the village church sweeps across the rooftops and drifts down into the valley.
Tonight, there will be a slow procession from the church in the plateia and up through the winding alleyways, through the middle church of St Paraskevi, in one door and out through the other, and then up to the top, the cemetery church where the candle-bearing villagers will stop for a while to talk to their loved ones who are long gone now, and in their graves.

This melancholy ceremony is called the epitaph and takes place all over Greece as Pascha week nears its climax. At the head of the procession in our village will be a representation of Christ's bier, decorated with red and white carnations and the occasional head of pelargonium.

In Corfu Town, the epitaph procession is accompanied by the island's oldest marching bands, with appropriate music.
It is a time for solemnity, a time for reflection.

Whatever your beliefs, it is a most moving ceremony. For us, it is particularly so when shared with people we have come to know and love over the past eighteen months.

Tomorrow, the spell will be broken as Corfu Town does what it is most famous for at Easter. Pot smashing.

Here's a link to pictures and words I posted on my blog last year.
In the meantime, we will be settling down to an English Good Friday tradition. Mr Grigg's hot cross buns.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Palm Sunday Parade, Corfu Town 2014

We were standing outside the church as the parade made its way past us, up through the streets of the old town.
Corfu is a musical island.
At religious and state events, its philharmonic bands are out in force, belting out stirring, sonorous music or something more sedate, depending on the occasion.
Today, crosses made of palm leaves, sprigs of olive and flowers are tucked into the plumed and gleaming helmets of the bandsmen and women.
For it is Palm Sunday, when Corfu's patron, Saint Spyridon, is carried around the streets and alleyways of Corfu Town.

Bay leaves are scattered outside the churches and crushed on the pavement when the saint passes by, flanked by priests and an armed guard. The bells ring out, clang out, all over town.
This week, there will be more celebrations as Easter draws near.

All weekend, there has been a magical feel to the old town, as musicians strike up here, there and everywhere, just when and where you least expect it, with the Sea Scouts leaders giving out Easter Week programmes and special bread on Lazarus Saturday.
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Film locations and the magic of cinema

We walked past the bandstand on our way to the pictures, intrigued by a pair of plimsolls just hanging there.
On arrival at the Orpheus Cinema, we walked in through the lobby, paid five euros each for our tickets and settled down to watch a film.
It was James Bond and For Your Eyes Only.
Unlike Mr Grigg, I’m not a huge Bond fan, even though I share a birthday with Sean Connery. All those scantily-clad women, machismo, male chauvinism and car chases leave me cold. And Roger Moore makes me cringe.

But tonight I was prepared to make an exception. Because this particular motion picture, you see, was filmed on Corfu and was the last showing of the season for a new English language film club. 

The previous week it was Some Like It Hot, one of my all-time favourites. But it clashed with something else so, sadly, Marilyn and Co didn’t get a look-in.
Pity really.

Still, nobody's perfect. For the first time, I actually enjoyed a James Bond film, seeing this beautiful island up there on the silver screen. As is usual, though, when you know a location it's disconcerting to see how the scenes fit together. At one point, there was a shot filmed from the top of the Cavalieri Hotel in town and then the next minute the star and his leading lady were on the balcony of Mon Repos, the birthplace of Prince Philip, several miles away.

It was a bit like watching Broadchurch, the first episode of which I finally saw this week, and wondering why David Tennant and Olivia Coleman came down East Cliff at West Bay and ended up at Freshwater, which is in completely the wrong direction.

Talk about suspending your disbelief.
Sometimes, it doesn’t pay to know a location too well when you are watching drama. Although in the case of Broadchurch, which is set in West Dorset, it’s even weirder because I was the editor of the local paper in the place it's based on. I was even involved in a mysterious murder case that had the whole town talking. It’s as if the writer had looked into my head.
But I digress. I've never been one for gadgets or worked for Her Majesty’s Secret Service (although if I had, I wouldn’t be telling you and, if I did, I'd have to kill you). But it was rather nice to see locations in Corfu and also Meteora, on the mainland, which haven’t changed a bit since For Your Eyes Only was released in 1981.
Greece is still such a magical place.

And it was rather satisfying to see Bond asking for Ouzo instead of his usual Dry Martini shaken but not stirred. I felt rather proud of dear old 007 when he refused a bottle of the recommended wine from Kefalonia, declaring he would much prefer Theotokis Aspro.

We last had a bottle of that fine Corfiot white wine from our own kafenion and mini-market up here in Agios Magikades.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 3 April 2014

The flowers of Corfu weave their spell

In fields and patches of garden, there are old men and women hoeing the soil.

Their work is back-breaking, but still they go on, breaking up the clods to prepare the earth for planting.

Meanwhile, in the olive groves and on the roadsides, the wild flower spectrum tilts this way and that, with new blooms and blossoms to say hello to every day.
The day's sounds are strimmers, chainsaws, tractors and chattering birds. Swallows swoop, sparrows emerge, startled, from hedges and jays and magpies chatter in beneath the grapevines.

The smell of pastitsada bubbling away in the oven of a village taverna mingles with the heavenly aroma of orange blossom.
You can feel the heat on your back, the sunshine in your bones. It won't be long now before the fireflies are here.

What a magical island.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

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