Conversations about Calendars

Greeks live their life mapped out by a calendar that lists the saint’s days and other religious holidays. To this gets added some national holidays in remembrance of independence from the Ottomans or the rebuffing of the invasion by Mussolini’s troops. The calendars dot homes in three shapes. One is a  pad the size of two matchboxes one on top of the other, where each small page is a day. The other is a small booklet, with a double page feature for each month and some liturgical devotion for the remaining pages. This may be printed by a church. The last form of calendar is a busy year planner type with all the days listed in small ancient script.

The 9th of November is Agios Nectarios, Saint Nectarios Day. In 1992 on that day my mother returned home after going for her constitutional walk with her sister Marina. The fridge had been giving problems and when she saw two strange men she thought they were appliance repairman, and was unperturbed. Until they pulled out a gun, pushed her around and threatened to shoot her unless she opened the safe for them. My mother did not have the keys, so the thugs forced the maid to call my father’s office.

“Baas”, she spoke formally, “come quickly. The madam is sick. I don’t know what happened.”

I cannot imagine she gave any clue of what was going on, and with health foremost on his mind my father grabbed his brother and they rushed home from the office on the main road of the suburb. My father always said “proto ygeas – first health” then everything would fall into place.

But when the front door was opened by the maid they were ambushed by the thugs, guns pointing at my mother and my father. They knocked my mother to the ground and a welt appeared on her cheek. “Open the safe or we kill her” they shouted, gun at her head.

My father opened the safe. The thick steel walled Chubb safe door swung open on its well oiled barrel hinges. They took two guns from the lower drawer. One my father’s .38 special and the other my grandfather’s pistol. Heirlooms in the least. Then they took whatever gold coins my father had stored and all my mother’s jewellery. Greeks in Greece and the Diaspora have this thing about gold. If you look at the price of gold from when you were born to now you would understand. And for the engagement the bride to be would have been showered with gold jewellery, bracelets and necklaces, to portend wealth and fertility in the future. All that gold was stolen.

My mother, father and uncle survived the attack. They were scarred for life, and it took my mother months to go out into the garden again. I even gave them a new dog, Skye, a blue eyed border collie that loved swimming. Skye brought a sparkle to my parent’s eyes again.

But I should have called Skye Nectarios. That was the name of the church my father built to honour God for saving the family that terrible day. The small stone church lies behind our house on a small road that leads to the village of Levidi.

Agios Nectarios,Arcadia, Greece

Conversations as I look past my feet

There is a photograph that was stored on my father’s small Olympus camera. He was in the alone in the village and had taken a whole lot of pictures of the house, the village, the mountains and the plain filled with red poppies. He was alone because from the time my mother had her spinal surgery travel became difficult for her  and she tried to limit flying because of the discomfort it caused her. So she went with him in summer for a few weeks, but stayed away in the colder spring, autumn and winter when he went to Greece to attend Bank of Athens board meetings.

He was very proud of this appointment and I believe he contributed to the bank and board in his stern principled manner. But secretly he was proud because now he had an excuse to go to Greece four times a year and instead of staying in a five star hotel in Athens near Kolonaki, he would stay in the Patriko, in his father’s house in the village of Kakouri.

On the day of  the board meeting he would arrange with his taxi driver Stavros, who was from Levidi, a bigger village nearby, to take him to Athens   and drop him off at the bank. No doubt he introduced him proudly to all the other board members. He was, after all, a sort of batman for my father. Stavros was also connected to important people. When he first met my father and started taking him to Athens, his cousin was the Head of Interpol in Brussels, and then took over as Chief Security Officer at the new Eleftherios Venizelos Athens Airport.

They would have left at 7 am from the village and got to Athens at about 9 am for the whole day board meetings. My father would have done his homework, studied all the papers and documents before hand, and after the meeting would return dead tired to the village, sometimes at 9 pm. Noula, who looks after the  house for us with her nieces, would have left a simple salad with cheese and bread for him to eat on his return. He would also sip some homemade Retsina.

Then he would crash into bed. He had chosen the south west corner room. It had windows on each corner wall, one with a view of Mainalon and the other west looking over the adjacent almond grove to a small hill and further on towards the little church he built, Agios Nectarios. The room was simply decorated, a typical village modern functional dresser, built in cupboards and the bed. On the bedside tables rested pictures of us, his children, and all six of his grandchildren. There were always magazines nearby, and the obligatory few comics for light entertainment. There was no television in that room.

So he took this photograph one day. He was the happiest man in that room, in that house, in that village.

17 May 2008