Ta Engenia tou Manelis – The Blessing of Manelis’ Restaurant, Artemisio, Greece 6 July 2011

The drive into Artemisio is peaceful, through an avenue lined with plane trees. A few are missing, like a black hole in place of a tooth in the mouth of a weather hardened villager. The gap in the trees has been replaced by iconostasios, white miniature churches, in memory of the young men who were driving too fast and killed themselves.

As the avenue ends, the road forks. On the right is the old village fountain where we used to draw water before pipes were laid in the seventies. In the angle of the fork is a larger iconostasio, welcoming all. “I Analipsi to Theou”, or “The Ascension of Christ”.  Analipsi is also the name of the church on a ledge high up on Artemisio Mountain, a church that Old Man Natsi built when his heath miraculously improved after returning from America.

On the left is the Manelis house. It used to be run down, built in the 20’s. The sisters, one of them my grandmother Marigo, were excluded from inheriting this house. My grandmother’s exclusion came by virtue of the Nuptial Contract signed in 1937. Her husband John accepted ownership of 3 pieces of land, 2 of fields and the third a smaller vineyard at a place called Maneta Lino from her brothers. I have a copy of this document.  One of the paragraphs ends with:” Ioanis (John) Stathoulis declared that (he) gladly accepts the abovementioned dowry and the conditions herein related.”  Conditions that still run in the blood of our veins, conditions that we struggle to honour.

Two years ago I walked past the Manelis house. John Manelis, my grandmother’s nephew called me in to see the corner where she used to wash clothes, and the worn stone used to rub the old soap that would never lather. Much like the stones in the Tugela River where the Zulu woman do the washing. Except the river that runs through Artemisio is dry except when the snow melts and it rains in winter.

Tonight was the engenia of his new restaurant, the first modern eatery serving paradosiaka (traditional) food, in our village.  There are only 3 other cafes unlike any you might imagine, where basic food may fill a lone bachelor or husband who has been kicked out by an angry wife.

The crowd gathered from 8pm and collected sweets and cool drinks from a central table in the garden. The sweets portend a sweet future for the new business. At 8:30 pm the priest arrived and quickly proceeded to bless the new undertaking and then anointed all with Holy water sprinkled on basil leaves. Funny how the Greeks don’t eat basil but use it to bless everything, and keep flies away. The preist extended himself with the blessing, and went on about commitment and faith and the youth, a conversation I mirrored at his house two evenings later with Theodore, an engineering lecturer from Megalopolis who is my grandmothers second nephew.  The priest, in his mid seventies, had a sparkle in his eye and stunned me when he asked Theodore if he uses Facebook to teach.

After the blessing waiters took orders for the usual Greek mezzedaikia, salads and cheeses and 3 meats: roasted lamb, pork and goat. The evening was almost balmy in the mountains, promise of a warm summer to come. The young village children had been roped in to help as waiters, all smartly dressed in black trousers and white shirts. I hope their future extends beyond waitering, what with the crisis in Greece and Europe at the moment. The orders were slow and mixed up, but the 200 people outside and on the veranda ate well and all paid a token as thank for the meal and for good luck. In the old days, they would have walked past an open till and placed money in the drawer. Nowadays they might make a surreptitious withdrawal or two.

If you want to eat at “O Manelis, aim for Tripoli in the Peloponnese and take the narrow road that leads to Artemisio. You’ll pass the ruins of Ancient Mantinea on your right, one of the oldest city states of Greece in ancient time.  The restaurant is on your left after the avenue of trees. Tell John I told you to go eat there, and don’t order, tell him to bring you “tis oras”, of the hour. Enjoy.

Standing Prayers at the Engenia

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