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Into the vast olive grove of Amari in Rethymnon and near the small village Saint Paraskevi, there is a two-aisled stone chapel dedicated to the Transfiguration and to Saint Raphael. Twice a year, on the 6th of August and on the third day of Easter, worshipers from the nearby villages visit it in order to enliven it. It took them seven years to build it by themselves, offering their work and many building materials. It is being kept very clean and they take care of it more than they do with their own homes.
Like a family
In the morning of the 6th of August we went to the chapel and watched the service and the icon's procession around it. After the service and the sharing of breads, the worshipers sat and ate altogether like a family under a tall locust tree. On the wooden table, they laid out homemade breads, freshly fried seafood, salads, fruits, raki and wines, that they had brought from their homes. They didn't serve any cheese or meat because these are not fasting foods and they don't fit to the Assumption's day.
The tomato salads were full of onions, olives and pure local oil. It is impossible for someone not to eat and drink in such gatherings at Amari, he may be misunderstood and he'll unfairly hurt these people who do their best to please him. Excuses such as "I can't eat because I'm on a diet" or "I don't drink because I have a headache", don't work in such cases.
Crete is the best medicine for all kinds of physical and psychological illnesses, and so are its products. You eat and drink and nothing hurts, not your stomach nor your head, whilst by the time you take the ship to Piraeus all problems come back.
There were neither musical instruments nor radios at the Transfiguration's feast, just the people's voices, humming Cretan serenades. The countless cicadas in the olive grove were the perfect choir, as they were literally squawking under the hot Mediterranean sun.
After the singing, there came the conversation about politics and people started complaining about every single politician of every single political party. They talked about Athens that's slowly dying and drifts countryside to death as well. They spoke about the goddamned special favours that corrupted society and the organised interests that sucked the blood of the whole Greece. They burst against the TV stations that spread panic and savage people. They exorcised the fires that threaten their beloved olive grove and denounced the total lack of fireproof measures.
Just a while before the feast's end and after having drunk a lot of raki, they started saying local jokes and laughing as if they were kids with cackle laughter. Before the feast's curtain falls and people start leaving, Kyriakos Litinas, the philosopher and pious priest of Saint Paraskevi, urged his fellow villager, Maria Melidoniotis, to recite a poem describing a man's life from the time he is born, until he gets 100 years old.
The 84year-old good looking lady smiled in a sly way and started saying: "When a child is being born, it is like a fruit / He grows up until he's 10 and is proud of the world / At his 20's he has fun and he often lives it up / At his 30's he's in bloom and he makes his own home / At his 40's he is married and settled down / At his 50's he can be a politician if he has a wise head / At his 60's he leans and he doesn't see well / At his 70's bows and his walking stick he carries / At his 80's he's useless and he only wastes our bread / At his 90's his people get so bored of his life / God take him and send him off quickly / do not let him reach his 100's for we won't stand him any more". As she was getting closer to the 100's line, she made some grimaces and gestures, pretending to be an old lady who has lost her mind and does not understand what's happening around her.
They enjoy their life
It was a beautiful Christian feast, with very clever and wise people. At the almost southernmost part of Greece, beside the Libyan sea, there are peaceable and religious people who still find the simplest ways to have fun, just like they used to before the 2nd world war.
In these small and neglected by the state villages most houses are very old and half-ruined, while not a soul walks in their narrow alleys. But yet, these people, despite the isolation and their huge problems, still laugh with all their heart and they don't grumble all day, like people living in the big cities, who get mad at the slightest thing and can never be satisfied.
TEXT-PHOTOS: GEORGE ZAFEIROPOULOS