It was Mark Twain who said:
“In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four and twenty hours.”
Well, that’s certainly true of this year ! I have never known such changeable weather or so many false starts to the arrival of Spring!
‘The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another.
The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.’ ~Henry Van Dyke
Just a few weeks ago, at the end of March, we began the traditional ‘clean up’ week in glorious sunshine. Organised once again by Syllogos Polistikos Skiathos and supported by the Municipality and several local committees, who have now ‘adopted’ many of Skiathos’ beaches and the signs with their contact details (beautifully made by Panagiotis!) were standing by, ready to go:
We opened with an organised ‘art event’, in which the local primary school children painted a 20 metre long canvas:
and with the planting of flower beds all down the main (Papadiamantis) St.:
The week continued with teams of volunteers clearing many of the beaches:
of the detritus that had been washed ashore during the winter:
It was hard, hot and sticky work – until the day we sailed over to Tsougria island and collected mountains of rubbish in the pouring rain:
‘Spring is not the best of seasons.
Cold and flu are two good reasons;
wind and rain and other sorrow,
warm today and cold tomorrow.’
As a result, I was left nursing yet another bout of cold and ‘flu, so had to cut short my own volunteering effort – but it’s an ‘ill wind’, as they say…..at least, confined indoors, I managed to complete another painting, which cheered me up no end:
‘Feta tin with Geraniums’
oil on canvas 40 cm x 50 cm
So, all in all, after a very cold and miserable few months and only a few short spells of intermittant sunshine (which lulled us several times into a false sense of security) here we are, mid April (Palm Sunday to be exact, which marks the beginning of ‘Megali Evdomada’ or ‘The Big Week’, as Easter week is known in Greece) and once again temperatures have plummeted. In fireplaces too optimistically cleaned out, fires are being lit once again. The skies are dark and grey and rain is beating relentlessly against the window panes, cooping us up indoors while a hundred and one jobs outdoors, lie in wait.
‘The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.’
In one respect, it’s quite fitting, given the world’s troubles; the tragic natural disasters that have occurred recently, particularly in New Zealand and Japan, the unrest in the Middle East, the fighting in Libya and Afghanistan; the economic crises that face us all – The news is all doom and gloom at the moment – even the prospects of a Royal wedding or forthcoming Olympics back home do little to raise the spirit or offer anything more than yet another opportunity for relentless media hype or (God forbid) potential disaster.
It’s all reflected in the general mood here on the island at the moment too, what with the economic situation in Greece as dire as it is. There has been little evidence so far of the usual enthusiasm to make everything ready for the arrival of the first tourists, as the numbers of Greek visitors who traditionally descend on Skiathos each Easter, are expected to be considerably down this year. With budgets squeezed and belts buckled tight, there has been little of the normal ‘new’ building activity and, despite Easter falling so late this year, the weather, being so inclement lately, has made the sprucing-up of any existing property (painting, white-washing and grass-cutting especially) almost impossible. It’s all happening of course, but in fits and starts – which has proved very frustrating!
“Indoors or out, no one relaxes in March, that month of wind and taxes,
the wind will presently disappear, the taxes last us all the year.” ~Ogden Nash
Hmmmm ‘Taxes’…… ‘Death and Taxes’– the only two things we can be sure about……and as for death….
There is a palpable sadness engulfing the whole island at the moment. It follows the untimely loss of one of their own; a much-loved, vibrant young woman, mother of two young boys, who collapsed and died quite unexpectedly, a few days ago. I’d had lunch with her barely a fortnight ago and on hearing the news, felt numb with shock and disbelief – I still do.
Malamitza was a member of both the Matthinos family (one of the largest families in Skiathos) and the Micro Asian community. She was also a popular teacher at the local pre-school, so it was no surprise that so many people, virtually the whole population of Skiathos, turned out to pay their respects at her funeral, last Friday.
As I took my place among the grieving mourners assembled outside the main church, I counted more than thirty 4 ft wide and 6 ft high floral tributes, laid against the church walls – each with it’s printed banner bearing poignant and heartfelt messages of condolence. The banners flapping about in the bitter wind was the only sound to be heard in the communal head-bowed silence, save for the priest’s chanting and occasional, understandable expressions of anguish from her immediate family and friends, during the 2 hour long service.
Finally, accompanying the slow-moving cortege on foot through the winding alleys of the old town, the sombre crowds arrived at the cemetery where, in an unprecedented mass out-pouring of sorrow, they tearfully said their goodbyes as Malamitza was finally laid to rest.
It was undoubtedly one of the saddest events I have ever witnessed in my life……..
“Kalo Taxidi, my friend” – R.I.P
‘Death’ to the islanders, sad as it inevitably is (and all the more so for one so young) is nevertheless stoically accepted as a natural part of life. Their strong faith helps them through for with it, comes a mechanism to help them cope; personal acceptance is reached through a series of traditional religious ceremonies which will be conducted, on key dates, throughout the coming year, each marking the journey of their departed loved one into the next world – while celebrating the gift of her life. They assist the grieving process and do much to ease the pain of loss; traditions that those of us, in the UK, who have little contact these days with either our communities or churches any more, have all but forgotten to observe…..
From ‘The Devil’s Law Case’ by John Webster (1623)
“All the flowers of the spring
Meet to perfume our burying:
These have but their growing prime,
And man does flourish but his time,
Survey his progresse from our birth –
We are set, we grow, we turne to earth,
Courts adieu, and all delights,
All bewitching appetites!
Sweetest Breath and clearest eye
Like perfumes, goe out and dye;
And consequently this is done
As shadowes wait upon the Sunne.
Vain the ambition of Kings
Who seeke by trophies and dead things
To leave a living name behind,
And weave but nets to catch the wind.”
Instead, we have to look at the world around us to try to make sense of it all, by ourselves; seeking answers to Life’s bigger questions such as ‘What’s it all about?’ and ‘Is there life after Death?’ For Christians, the answers lie in the events this very week symbolises; the Crucifixtion and the Resurrection of the Son of God. The rest need look no further than the promise, heralded by Spring, of the natural cycle of life. We’re born, we live, we die. The first and last are a given – there’s no escaping, they are fact. But HOW we live, is something we can exercise a modicum of control over, and it’s summed up perfectly in this poem:
by Linda Ellis
“I heard of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning…..to the end
He noted that first came her date of birth
And spoke the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth…
And only those that love her
Know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own;
The cars…the house …the cash
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash
So think about this long and hard…
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left,
That can still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger,
And show appreciation more
And love the people on our lives,
Like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect,
And more often wear a smile…
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.
So, when your eulogy’s being read
With your life’s actions to rehash…
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent your dash?
If there’s any consolation to be had, I suppose it’s that Malamitza’s untimely passing, cruel as it is, has come at a time of both Hope and (religious or not) of Rebirth. With each new Spring, the cycle of life begins anew and evidence of that, is now, significantly, all around us: The fields and olive groves are carpeted with wildflowers:
Bees are going about their business:
First fruits are beginning to appear; young figs are appearing on the branches of gnarled old trees:
The camelia bushes are out in full glory:
As are the banks of white Flag Irises:
Purple ones too:
and the even more unusual tiny ones which lurk in the tall grasses such as the Hermodactylus tuberosis’, commonly known as ‘Snake’s head’ or ‘Widow’ iris:
and the dainty wild orchid, the Serapias Lingua or Tongue serapias (tongue orchid):
In amongst the common daisies, buttercups and dandelions, scarlet Poppies are bobbing their papery heads, in contrast to the bright green new grass:
They’re also growing in the grass verges alongside the sandy beaches:
Indigenous birds as well as migrating visitors have appeared. Blue tits, gulls, hoopoes, pheasants and in my garden, the house martins are busy nest-building; darting in and out from under the roof eaves despite the watchful eye of Piccolina – who has found a comfy front-row seat from which to view their ballet in the sky:
And Percy? Well, he just barks at, chases (and is completely bewildered by) everything and anything that moves!
Yes, life goes on, as it must, constantly evolving. Nothing remains the same and every event leaves its mark. Sometimes things happen that make us stop for a second and think….and that must surely be a good thing; to take stock, to remind us to take nothing and no one for granted….forcing us to remember to be grateful for all that we DO have – in these difficult times – rather than focus on what we don’t …….and to appreciate it while we do , especially our loved ones……while we still can….
For without love, life is meaningless and with Love, well, nothing and no-one ever dies…..
Happy Easter Everyone – Kalo Paska!