from Nike in Katerini, Greece: Dark Thoughts …

I’ve been having dark thoughts. So dark I’m not sure I should express them. Greece is going to remain in full lockdown for the remainder of April and most likely till early May. We’ve been in Greece over six months now. We come often, we being my parents and I. Every year my father announces he wants to die in Greece so every year we come over spend half the year here, he doesn’t die, and we return to Australia until the next year.

Last year my father fell so ill I didn’t think we’d make it over in time. His doctors all said don’t bring him to us any more, there’s nothing further we can do. It was okay – I wasn’t even sad. The man is 92 years old and riddled with disease and chronic conditions. He’s lived a big life, seen children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. There’s nothing to mourn, indeed it should be a celebration to have lived like that.

The flight over from Australia was horrendous. That long haul never gets any easier no matter how many times you do it. During half of the flight my father kept yelling how dreadful this cinema is and he kept trying to leave. I spent most of the flight restraining him from trying to open the exit door. A couple of the burlier gentlemen on board kindly helped me out a few times. Dad then lapsed into a semi-coma. I genuinely believed he was going to die on that flight and I was absolutely okay with it because we would be landing soon – in Greece. But, we made it to our home and then he bounced back again.

A month after that again he seem to be at death’s door. Another recovery. He fell over on the pavement outside on the road after a dog scared him. He was startled by its loud barking, fell over backwards and cracked his head. I thought he was going to bleed to death right there on the road. He bounced back. That man has been hunted by Nazis, attacked by communist guerrillas, been accidentally electrocuted, escaped a house fire, had two heart attacks, bypass surgery, a stroke, stroke surgery, been in heart failure twice plus myriad other operations, illnesses and incidents and has myelodysplasia, a rare blood cancer. He doesn’t know he has it. Why tell him?

There are days he just stops eating. He’s been talking to people for the last seven or eight months. There’s no one there but he’s having a spirited conversation. I can hear him when he has his afternoon siesta. He is welcoming someone in. ‘Hello, hello, come in and sit down how have you been?’ This is happening every day.

I’ve read the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Keep the environment serene, calm and loving so their passing can be serene too. All very nice advice but it neglects to mention the one who is doing all this for them, how do they stay serene?

He’s in a bad way. He can’t walk, except to shuffle between rooms. He demands a fat juicy steak every day which I supply and he takes maybe half a bite and leaves the rest then demands a fresh one the next day. It took my boy (son) more than 20 days to start to feel somewhere near normal after his battle with COVID-19. It’s a terrible thing to begin to resent someone just for being alive. I came to bury my father yet he’s ordering juicy steaks while my son was battling for breath. Let the dead bury the dead, said Jesus. Am I dead? I must be because I certainly don’t feel alive.

Ritual saves me from my own thoughts. It’s Greek Orthodox Easter. The rituals of Easter are many and mostly to do with food. Ritual and it’s related foods offers the refuge from the surreal. During Holy Week one favourite food is octopus. I see a good large specimen at my regular fishmonger but decide to walk further down the street to see what another fishmonger has in stock. Right in front there’s a case full of smaller cephalopods. One glance reveals to me they are not the true octopus. Every fishmonger warns of buying the small ones with only one row of suckers on their short tentacles. ‘Don’t buy those!’ they warn. ‘They’re not as tasty and they take too much work to prepare. It’s not worth it.’
They’re called musk octopus and they’re 6€ a kilo. The big fellow up the street is 10€ a kilo. I already know that even though it’s almost double the price it will be five times as good so I turn my back on the musky ones and go back to buy the real one with long fat tentacles and double rows of suckers. It’s also the day of Lazarus. The Lazarinas can’t sing and dance
so Greek Facebook accounts are flooded with videos of past Saturdays of Lazarus. The Lazarinas are young women dressed in flower festooned traditional costumes to symbolise the double meaning, that of Spring, the rebirth of the Earth, and the rebirth of a man who had just died.

The Lazarinas fast in the lead up to their dance to be performed in the churchyards. My mother was a Lazarina when she was a girl. She said they could only break their fast for the duration of the pealing of the church bells before the call to come to church. She said the bell-ringers would draw out the chimes to last for many, many minutes to allow for extra mouthfuls of food.

On the way home to cook the octopus I passed one of the many greengrocers. The lady proprietor is named Margarita. She calls out to me, ‘How is your son?’
‘He is well!’ I surprise myself by repeating. It must still be reverberating in my heart. ‘He is well!’
She nods at me with a satisfied look on her face. ‘Of course he is. I prayed for him and I lit a candle for him.’

I left her smiling allowing her to believe she held sole responsibility for his healing. My little outing was beneficial. Grecian sunshine is kissing my cheek, my son is well. I feel alive again.

from Susan A. in Ottawa, Canada: April snowfalls and fines for dawdling …

15 April. April is the cruellest month.  When I awoke this morning just after 5.00, the little park behind our house looked strangely light.  Although the sky was clear, there had been a snowfall in the night!  It will surely melt during the day, but it was Nature’s rude reminder not to think about Spring just yet.

And then, checking Facebook while having a first cup of coffee, there was the sad news that the husband of one of my former colleagues at Statistics Canada has died from COVID-19 and that she herself is in critical condition in the hospital.  We had planned to get together after they returned from their stay in Toulouse and ours in Paris.  We returned at the beginning of March but they seem to have stayed till the end.

14 April. And that exchange with my daughter sapped my energy for the week as I waited for a decision.  In the end it was good news, for the time being, and she is at home with her husband and girls, tending her garden.

Now for a little recap of the week that was. 

Fines for dawdling in the parks. Last weekend was quite lovely as mentioned earlier and people were out and about in numbers, but parks had already been closed except to walk through.  Early in the week it was reported that a man had been fined $880 for walking his dog in one closed park, and a man playing with his autistic child in another park had been given a warning.  There were some subsequent negative comments in the press about the harshness of the action, but the mayor noted that warnings were not working.  Still, the communication about what is OK and not OK is as vague as the fines are steep.

Masks. One of my sister’s sons works for 3M Canada, a manager in the Personal Safety Division.  He was slated for a new job just before COVID-19 came to Canada.  Now he remains in his job, is one of the only workers in the offices, and seems to be working all his waking hours.  As one of his self/US protective measures, Mr Trump invoked the 1950 Defense Production Act allowing the government to stop 3M exporting N95 respirators to Canada and Latin America.  In response 3M cited global humanitarian issues as a reason to continue its supply to other countries.  Canada noted that some of the materials used in the masks come from Canada.  Eventually an agreement was reached after the sword rattling and subsequent diplomatic efforts.  That nephew of ours must be learning a good deal about business in a pandemic with an overlay of politics.

Street cleaning. On Monday evening our street was posted with the no parking signs which usually signal that it has finally become almost impassable due to snow banks and the impressive show of heavy equipment would restore it, albeit temporarily, to its two-way status.  Early the next morning there was a very impressive show of heavy equipment, this time to remove winter debris and all the salt and sand that accumulates over the course of an Ottawa winter.  The usual routine of a truck with a sweeper and water spray proceeded up and down the sides and the middle of the street and all quieted down for a bit, then there was a heavy rumble that put in mind the parade of tanks down the Champs Elysees for July 14th festivities.  The rumble was caused by a line of eight trucks spraying again, a sight never seen in previous years.  Later a neighbour told us that it was chemical disinfectant that was being sprayed.  Not confirmed by any press, but very unusual if true.

Easter. Easter Sunday was drab and drear, and we felt sad even though our dear youngish neighbour delivered home-made hot-cross buns for our breakfast.  We had a long phone conversation with our daughter, and caught up with the girls who are at home completing their school years.  The cheerful multi-coloured arrangement of tulips I had picked out to send to them was replaced by the florist with some blue bouquet of odd flowers.  Perhaps it was a representation of the mood of all of us – a little blue.

On Easter Monday we had a Zoom session with a group of our neighbours who we used to meet regularly for dinner or movie nights.  We are four couples, – all retired but one from interesting jobs, and we have a fine time together.  We were immensely cheered by one couple who appeared in large pink bunny ears and related their morning walk wearing same.  They had passed a mother with a little boy, at a six-foot distance of course, and the mother had said to the child “Oh look dear, it’s the Easter bunny.  “Thank you for my chocolate rabbit” said the little child.  The Easter bunny said it had cheered his day!

from Eileen P. in Murcia, Spain: No Semana Santo this year

April 9, Semana Santa (Holy Week) is the most important holiday in Spain. Despite Spain becoming more and more secular they still maintain their religious traditions. Most of Spain closes down for the week and all cities organise processions every night. The most famous processions are in Cartagena, Seville, Malaga and Salamanca. Brotherhoods are formed to prepare all year for the occasion.

Processions can last 3 hours and huge edifices are carried through the streets with bands and 100´s of penitents walking in between them. The penitents wear robes coloured in accordance to their brotherhood, purple, brown, black, white, green, with large Ku Klux Clan type headgear disguising their faces. The edifices can weigh up to 1400 kilos with 140 men carrying it on their shoulders with generators often trailing to provide the necessary lighting.

Each night has a theme according to the Easter story, Good Friday being the most solemn, with no bands only a sombre drum playing. Crowds line the procession route with restaurants renting tables and chairs and the City Hall lining the later part of the route with seats which can be rented, as it goes well on into the night.

Easter Sunday is the pinnacle of the week with a joyous theme parading during the day.