As a rule, I don't think you truly, fully appreciate something until you have to do without it for a while. After 8 1/2 months on the road, there are many things we miss that we paid little or no attention to while still at home. These are the things we'll cherish when we finally return. Easter, however, is not one of those things. I have always loved Easter, and, at least in recent years, appreciated how much I loved it. I loved it even when, as a child, it was a religious occasion for me and not a celebration of spring and nature as it is now. I recall exactly where I was roughly this time last year. The same place I've been every Easter weekend for 12 or more consecutive years before this one. The same place the kids have spent every Easter of their lives before this one. More than any other dates on the calendar, I knew I'd be homesick on this weekend. And I am.
But it's ok. I remember sitting around a smoldering camp fire on a sunny afternoon roughly this time last year. Jackets, gloves and hats off. Sunglasses on. A few six packs chilling in the snow bank. Caesar bar and crib board all set up for company. Salt beef and split peas bubbling away on the Coleman stove. Turkey in the oven. Cabin door wide open. Whisky Jacks fluttering about. Kids off God knows where. "Someone else wants to talk." Yes indeed, I'd like to be there right now. I recall telling myself then and there "you're going to miss this wherever you are on God's green earth next spring." I was right. I do. But years go by quickly and we can't wish any of them away now can we? In a year from now, God willing, we'll be back there - thinking fondly of lazy, sunny days on the Greek Islands!
We arrived here on the ferry from Turkey at about 1:30 am. The weather was cold and windy on the first few days, but this gave us an excuse to relax, do some homework and ease into the island lifestyle. The main tourist season starts right after Easter weekend, but already the narrow cobblestone streets get crowded with cruise boat passengers who are herded ashore to shuffle through the town for an hour and 45 minutes each day. That's when we retreat to our balcony, open a bottle of wine and escape into our books. Once they're loaded safely back on their floating palaces, we reemerge with the locals from our hiding places and life resumes its natural, easy pace.
The little towns dotting the steep cliffs of Santorini are right out of the postcards. Whitewashed houses and tavernas trimmed in bright blue to match the domes of the many orthodox churches cling to the precipitous hillsides. I keep expecting Daniel Craig to jump over us on a motorcycle, chasing some evil villain from rooftop to rooftop down to the sea. The shops and restaurants all close down in the afternoons for siesta once the cruise ships sail away. They reopen around supper time and the smells of grilled souvlaki, fresh fish, cinnamon, lemon and olive oil invade the narrow alleyways.
We hadn't planned to be on the islands during Easter, but it's been a real treat. In the orthodox tradition, the observances of Holy Week are as, or more, important than Christmas. The kids are all out of school and there are lots of families returning to their home communities and islands. Best of all, the museums and ancient sites are all closed but the bars and restaurants are open and bustling. On Good Friday we sat in on part of the mass being celebrated in the local church. The priest and laymen sing hypnotic, baritone chants in latin or greek for hours as the faithful file in and out, lighting candles, bowing to the cross and kissing pictures of Christ. The old white bearded priest wanders through the congregation every so often dousing the faithful, and us, with frankincense from the mystical burner he swings from a chain. It is very different from the Roman Catholic or Protestant observances we are used to in North America. The kids were spellbound and wanted to take part. It was so cute watching Shannon try and imitate the stations of the cross. Had we not been on our game, I'm sure she would have tried to french kiss the sacred image of our Lord, so completely had the spirit moved her! I was a little weirded out by it all. It all seemed so pagan and manufactured to me. Interesting nonetheless. At sunset the priest, carrying the cross, leads the candle carrying congregation through the streets of town and to the graveyard to bless the dead. From our balcony, we could see the flickering lights of thousands of candles from the main observance taking place in Pyrgos, just a few kilometres away. It looked like the entire hillside was ablaze. A church bell has been clanging away irregularly since we arrived. The same bell, I'm convinced, that a certain Australian rock band used in the opening of one of its most infamous songs. We got tired of answering a million questions about the Easter story from the kids so we decided to rent "The Greatest Story Ever Told," for them. We'll see how that goes and then maybe scare the bejesus out if them with "The Passion of the Christ." When it's all said and done I'll play the video of the baptist service we attended in Cape Town or just show them some pictures of the walking trail behind the camp. That's where I'd be hiding out from all the hellabollo if I were God.
We had a lovely and full day today. A day long boat tour took us from Santorini over to an active volcanic island that is believed to be the same one that buried the mythical city of Atlantis. We hiked to the top to see the sulphur smelling steam coming from the crater and put our hands quickly in the little gopher holes that could easily cook an egg in a few minutes. Next we sailed over to a thermal hot spring where about half of the passengers jumped overboard into the chilly Aegean and swam to the warmer, lava heated waters closer to shore. Mira needed an adult to accompany her on the 120 foot swim. We were way too chicken but a lovely young lady from Ottawa offered to take her. It was the highlight of her visit thus far. After that the girls used their allowance to hire a couple of donkeys to take them up the steep cliffside to the quant little village of Therassia were we ate fresh seafood with a million dollar view of the other islands and the blue sea. Finally we headed over to Oia on the northern tip of Santorini which brags the best sunset in the world. It was an amazing sight to be sure, but I was more impressed with the classic white and blue architecture that symbolizes the Greek Islands. We blew our daily budget on a great dinner with a view of the sunset and then made our way back to Fira on the last bus of the night.
Tomorrow is Easter morning. We are skipping the midnight resurrection mass in hopes of getting up early tomorrow morning and enjoying Easter waffles at the little bakery across the street. It's just about midnight now and the chanting, which is broadcast via loudspeaker throughout the town, has suddenly been drowned out with a massive fire works and firecracker barrage. It feels and sounds like New Year's Eve out there. It's loud enough to wake the dead! Oh wait . . . yeah, of course it is.
When we returned to our room tonight, the owner of the hotel had laid out a traditional Greek Easter basket for us full of freshly baked goodies and painted red eggs. In the morning we take turns cracking them against each other reciting the Greek Easter salutations of "Christ is Risen" and "Indeed he is risen.". We catch the ferry to the Island of Mykonos tomorrow afternoon and should be sufficiently stuffed to make it through the two hour trip. Time to get to sleep I guess. We left a note up at the camp last spring to let the Bunny know where we might be this year. I doubt he will get it in time, but I'm not staying awake to find out just in case! Now if all the religious types would just tone it down a bit, we chocolate Christians could get on with our own sacred rituals!
Happy Easter everyone!