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.

from Nike in Katerini, Greece: I went to church with a knife …

28 August. I went to church with a knife in my bag. A serrated one. Sometimes such things are necessary.

Carrying the fanouropita to church.

27th of August is the feast day of Saint Fanourios. He is the Saint to whom you pray to reveal lost things. That’s what his name means. Revealer. Tradition is that the evening before his feast day you bake a special cake called a Fanouropita and take it to church to be blessed.
Together with my aunt Βικτωρια Δαμδουνη we went to church with our Fanouropites. Most worshippers were wearing masks and there was at least an attempt at social distancing.

The magnificent cathedral of The Assumption

We placed our cakes on the left side of the church along with all the other cakes and found places to sit to enjoy the service. It was a bakefest. Women prided themselves on their recipes and decoration.

The blessing of the cakes.

After the blessing of the cakes there was a non-social distancing rush to retrieve our cakes and take them home for our families to enjoy. The younger female members especially look forward to this because it said if you place a piece of fanouropita under your pillow that night you will dream of the man you’ll marry.

The knife bandit.

Before we left the church, it happened. I had to use my knife. Other women approached us for a piece of our cake. It’s what you do apparently. You try other people‘s cakes. So, I sliced away and shared our cakes. You don’t have to be a believer it’s just a beautiful tradition to be enjoyed by everyone.

Death comes close, by John Fielden, Tadcaster, UK

Kirkby Wharfe church

Until this week the daily casualties from the virus did not strike home. Now however we have experienced two deaths.  One was the mother of my son in law who died in hospital in Scotland after a serious operation; the other was the brother of my son’s godmother, who caught Covid 19 (as did his wife) and died later in hospital in Guildford, mourned by many of the staff, as he was a governor of the trust.

My son in law’s experience in arranging a funeral must be common for many.  First of course a church service was impossible, so he hunted around in Scotland for a crematorium that would take family and mourners at the service.  Finally he settled on Perth which allows up to 10 people.  Near me in Yorkshire both York and Leeds councils do not allow any family at all at their crematoria and grieving relatives must go to Halifax.

This afternoon a short half hour service was streamed live from the Perth crematorium and 58 people including us tuned in to watch.  A wonderful clergyman (a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland) with a soft Scottish voice led the service, while family members read a psalm and a lesson and my son in law gave a moving tribute to his mother. Recorded music from a choir and a Royal Marines band provided the start and finish of proceedings.  The whole experience was very moving and as close to the real thing as could be done – a triumph for technology – for a change!

Kirkby Wharfe church – interior

Having finished watching the service I strolled in the lovely sunlight along our village green to our 12th century late Norman church a hundred yards away.  Sitting there inside in the cool with sunlight shafting through the stained glass windows was a fitting coda to the afternoon.  For 870 years this lovely church has given comfort to villagers at times of plague, civil war and pestilence.  Now the church authorities or Magisterium have decreed no-one can enter. How lucky I am that, as church treasurer, I have a key that allows me to break this crazy rule.

http://www.stmarystadcaster.co.uk/a-tour-of-st-johns-kirkby-wharfe.html.