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Friday, 17 April 2009

Good Friday

This is the time of the Judas blossom, of grief and celebration - more important in Greece than Christmas, with less shopping. Christmas includes buying stuff the same way pagan mid-winter solstice, onto which Christianity attached Nativity, was a time to slaughter and eat livestock and fill the larder for the rest of winter. On the path next to our house young Leftheri was sweeping so his dad could renew the whitewash on the steps, and across the village - and just about everywhere - the edges of roads, paths and frontages are smartened this way; lamb spits are displayed in shops, carcases in the butchers; flowers flourish; and today, though shops are open, there's singing in churches and preparation for sad evening processions. Earlier, from the upper ramparts of Corfu's Old Fort we saw ferries, on busier schedules from Igoumenitsa, bringing people home for Easter.Down at Kontokali where the four of us go to for errands with England and Australia the priest has painted ΧΑ - Χριστός ανέστη - across the road and a Greek sea captain drew Annie and John into a pose so he could take a picture. In these times our minds are here in Corfu while the news glances off us - news of the receding G20, recession, depression and portents made more ominous by the pleasures of our surroundings - and gets done in episodes, a grant application here, a research bid there, a bill followed up here and a cash transaction there as Lin helps Amy buy her first house in England. I like the way we've been abandoning that separation of work and play, labouring and vacationing, career and retirement, that was part and parcel of 19th century industrialisation. I'm not sure I understand the full implication of shifting from a dichotomy thoroughly instilled at school. I guess for many it can feel as if work has intensified, spread its demands on every hour in every place, and become. for some, an internalised obsession. It depends on your relationship with your employer or - if you're self-employed - with different parts of your conscience. * * * Friday night at supper, a pause in our conversation “The band!” A sound of drums as the Samaras Philharmonia, back from playing in the city disappeared up towards the church at the end of Bravi Street followed by a couple of late trombonists buttoning dark blue uniforms with canary yellow piping. We turned out to watch by the green railings at the top of the steps. The L’s sat outside en famille – elder Mrs L’s sister and husband visiting. “They’ll be back in 5 minutes” said Mrs L younger. We returned to supper, then cleared the table, then heard drums again; this time behind a sloped cross and banner carried by youngest Leftheris and dad, ahead of two more neighbour’s children with cross-topped staves, then through the narrows topped by a phalanx of tubas - swaying - with solemn lament, amplified by high walls, came Ano Korakiana’s band slowly advancing beneath the gentle lights of the darkened street behind their conductor. Whispered Mrs L pointing her out “My daughter.” Dimitra was there in the foremost rank of young flautists, just acknowledging us, as the funeral procession passed within inches on the crowded street. The bier with an icon prone of the Christ, then the priest in purple and elders with candles, then a gap for us to join the following of villagers with candles a hundred yards down to the small church at whose door microphones were prepared beneath an incense burner. An old lady, smiling, encouraged Annie to peer inside its warm light-sprinkled interior before the priest arrived. We saw Katya and Thanassis Spingos who came forward to welcome us and make us xenoi feel we belonged with a hug and kisses, which everyone does here, so you needn’t feel alone in the whole world (we all have had or will have our own Passions – a child, sister, brother, lost to death or drugs, a parent to erosive senility, our own unknown death – and any secularist like me who hasn’t understand the need for company in the modern world’s indifferent corridors has perhaps learned other ways of finding the consolation of strangers). The priest holding the bible – red velvet with a silver crucifix - spoke the litany, responses “Kyrie Eleison” from the elders, then the creed, discrete crossings – thumb to forefinger stroking the chest - a solemn “Amen” and a plate of spring carnations and petals which the Father scattered on the bier and the road and, amid more embraces between those walking and those gathered outside their lighted houses, the procession returned up Democracy Street, young L giving us a grin from beneath his banner, followers including us peeling off when it passed their house. Older Mr L told us which tunes had been played – one Italian composer whose name I didn’t catch “Hamlet – not Shakespeare – Verdi – No”, Beethoven’s Eroica and Chopin’s March Funebre. “Make sure to get into town early tomorrow”.

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Simon Baddeley