from Nike in Katerini, Greece: No Alarm Clocks …

Albin Hillert/WCC (World Council of Churches)

February 10, 2021.

No one needs an alarm clock in Greece. We have church bells. Every morning at 7:30 am sharp the bells toll for morning service. It’s a cheery burst of eight bouncy peals in bouts of ding, ding, dings. And ends in a burst of dings like a mother clapping her hands in her children’s bedrooms to wake them up and prepare them for the day, ‘Come on guys, up and at ‘em!’ The bells toll again at 8 o’clock, and again at 8:30 in case you missed the first two. At 5:30 pm the bells toll again to raise you from siesta slumber for vespers. You always know what time it is because there are churches, ranging from cathedrals to tiny chapels, everywhere to gladden our hearts.

It’s the sombre single peals in between which pierce them. Each time we hear the mournful tone like a long low groan we all wonder for whom the bell tolls. In our neighbourhood alone nine people have been lost to Covid. (Make that ten, another one died this morning) Beyond our neighbourhood, at the end of my street is a snazzy electrical goods store. It’s owner is a flirty silver fox. I mean, he was. He was taken too. As was the sister of the owner of one of the boutiques in which I shop. As was the real estate agent’s wife and the city’s top lawyer and, and, and. It’s the Grim Reaper. The average age of the victims is dropping. Here in Greece it started at around 78. It’s down to 62. Now, with the mutated strains, there’s a terrifying development. It’s striking children. For that reason, and because our case counts have been steadily rising, Greece just ended its third lockdown.

The pandemic is colour-coded. Red means lockdown. Here in the north we just exited red and have entered Orange. We are doing everything we can to stay out of the red. So, we wear two masks now. Doubling up does help. Also, there are psychological effects in a society like Greece’s of having no physical contact with anyone but your direct family. We’re not used to standing far apart, we’re not used to seeing someone and stepping back. We are all about being up close. In your face, but in the best way. I don’t remember the last time I was hugged, I don’t even remember the last time I’be shaken anyone’s hand. In a society where all people, women, men, other and children greet each other with the traditional double kiss and walk along arm in arm, not being permitted to touch is creating an atmosphere alien to the Hellenic way of life.

It’s been unseasonably warm. We are literally having the famed halcyon days. And they are glorious. It’s a divine feeling walking around in a light shirt in the middle of winter. But in a couple of days it will all be over. The Halcyon phenomenon has passed for this year. The forecast is a severe drop in temperature, to around -10, and snow. At least if we are housebound the pandemic doesn’t seem so bad. A positive can be made from this negative by keeping the home cosy.

So, I will shop this week for more groceries than usual just in case the streets become snowbound. Something will always be simmering on the stove. The home will always have the aroma of freshly baked bread, pies, cakes and cookies and I shall keep doing my 7 minute high intensity workouts to compensate. I find I’m watching television a lot more, and videos online. It’s my version of conversation. I watched the famous interview of Cormack McCarthy with Oprah on YouTube. In it McCarthy says he was never bothered by anything as long as he had food and shoes. He says you can get by without lots of things but without food and shoes you can’t do much.

We are all spending a lot more time in our slippers seeing as we are indoors most of the time so the shoes are not a problem. And I’ll just keep the food coming. I cook every day for my mother and her sister who lives on the fifth floor of our building. They love traditional Greek food as well as the old byzantine recipes. So today I’m making them Imam Bayeldi the sumptuous eggplant dish that was so delicious the imam for whom it was cooked fainted, either from the intense flavour or from the amount of olive oil it takes to cook it in. That’s what Imam Bayeldi means, the imam fainted. To go with it I made them one of their favourite comfort foods, Atzem Pilaf. It’s a divinely fragrant pilaf, cinnamon scented and studded with slivers of toasted almonds. April, they say. It will take until April to bring the situation under control. That’s what the modelling is telling the health experts. Until April we must remain on full alert and in some form of lockdown. Until April.

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