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When I was a kid living in Greece, I remember how the summers used to be just a little different.
I lived with my grandparents on a farm and I remember most summers my yiayia and I (my papou had to take care of his fields) would board a bus in town by the park for Kanaris and go up to some festival that honored a saint, usually a martyred one, who never looked too happy. The feast of Ayia Markella was the big one on our island of Chios, and I remember taking the bus with my yiayia to go up through the mountains to the shrine down by the seashore. And I loved the bus because it was this big dusty hulk, with a fringe of tassels on the windshield, and an icon of the saint in a vase of plastic flowers, and the steering wheel wrapped in colored straps, and a ladder in the back of the bus like the braid on a girl, which the conductor scaled like a monkey and hoisted the basket you brought with you sewn with a shirt over the top with your name and address written on it in bleeding ink, which carried your offerings to the saint, along with snacks and a change of clothes, and he would pass it through a rope on the roof that had all the other baskets strung on it like a garland of garlic bulbs.
And sometimes it also had cages of live chickens, which flapped and clucked the whole time as the bus coasted through forests of pine trees and fallen tree shavings, past villages perched on hills, some with water troughs by springs on the side of the road, where the water gurgled and sparkled and we dipped our canteens.
By the time we got to the shrine by the beach, we were all covered with dust, and the bus looked powdered, but the shrine was an exciting sight, with a cooling wind blowing off the waves, and the waves tumbling endlessly, and the courtyard of the church a campsite of pilgrims and a bazaar of every toy a kid could want: cricket snappers, miniature Pullman buses, plastic parrots, policeman whistles, and, of course, pasteli and sesame bars, and vendors with coolers hanging around their necks dispensing ice cream and popsicles by snapping open doors and dispensing bars while yelling for more customers, Ela, payoto!
The religious ceremony during the day, with a trail of papades sparkling in gold vestments like a trail of kings and chanting in procession, was impressive sight for a kid. But what struck me even more, was that at night while the oryana played and everybody danced and reveled, I would wander to the door of the church, left open, and peek inside at the icon of the saint in the shadows, with all the silver amulets hanging on her hoping for miracles for arms and legs and eyes, but the saint looking so sad and lonely, like a bride in a forced marriage, because she was just a kid like me when her father had martyred her, and it was great to be a saint, but maybe, like me, she’d rather be out of there getting pasteli and ice cream.
Enjoy your summer!
Dimitri C. Michalakis