Megalis Sotiris, a Simi name-day feast
Last night (August 5th 2011), as I sat in the back of a flat-bed truck watching the Milky Way and bouncing over the mountain roads, I reflected on how wonderful it is when there are no barriers.
I don’t mean the crash barriers at the side of the road, I’m always grateful for those when being driven across Symi at 12.30 in the morning (no offence to Ian’s driving which is always safe), I mean cultural barriers.
We went to the festival at Megalis Sotiris last night, but we didn’t go alone. The Olive Tree Char-a-banc (pictured left ) had been mobilised, and 15 of us set off in the truck at nine in the evening. English, Italian, Welsh and Irish alike, all heading for the same place as were several hundred other people on mopeds, in cars and on foot.
The church courtyard was already thronged when we arrived (there will be more pictures in a day or so), the band had started playing and were still going strong three hours later when we left, and the air was already heady with the smell of barbequed fish. Our party headed straight for the small church to donate, light a candle and, in my case, have a quick think about the ancestors. Today is the feast day of Sotiris, and is also the Transfiguration, and you can see the event (if that’s the right word) depicted in the icons in the church.
Outside, it was then time to mingle and chat, with many a ‘yasou’ and ‘yasas’ and ‘welcome’ and ‘good to see you’ and time to try and find a seat. Actually such events are a mix of standing and sitting, and dancing and it wasn’t long before the dancing started. The mayor was handing our beers at the fridge, the plates of fish and bread were being passed around, and the children had a great time charging about, crashing into each other and then sitting and eating.
And what really came across last night, as it always does when we attend these cultural events, was how welcome everyone is. It makes you realise that there simply is no ‘us and them’ unless you chose to invent it. Resident or visitor, islander or off-islander, Symiote or not, Greek or non-Greek, local or ex-pat, it actually does not matter; and not just on a special night like last night. Whether people knew us or not, and many did – other business owners from the village, neighbours, friends we meet at church on name days – we were made to feel welcome, as were the many other visitors and holiday makers who came to the festival.
The night carried on, more people arrived, the children started fighting sleep, some of our party joined in the island Sousta (which came around with alarming regularity, a guaranteed way of getting everyone up and on the floor), and later Neil and Gerrie leapt up for a tango. Several couples took the floor for this number and George II (the younger butcher) applauded wildly, having just led one or two very long and complicated dances himself. There are more pictures of that to come, but you can see this dance in my non-flash, slightly blurred attempt here.
Midnight came and we went, we had work in the morning and small children to get to bed. Up there in the middle of the island, with very little by way of light, the stars were magnificent. The Milky Way streaked right across the sky and guided us home through warm air and the scent of herbs. The coast of Turkey twinkled across the sea, and the village glittered below us as we came back down the mountain and were dropped off back where we started. And the best bit? Somehow these events draw into focus a fact that is easily overlooked: You don’t have to go out of your way to feel part of the community you live in. You’re in it every day.
As promised, here is a gallery of photos taken on Friday night at the festival at Megalis Sotiris, up in the middle of the island. There are over 70 photos here and you’ll need to click through one at a time. Sorry about that – I have been looking at a better way of presenting our Symi photos, but have not yet found a suitable and compatible add-in. Anyhow, lots of shots of people dancing, you can enjoy Neil’s tango towards the end, and see if you can spot anyone you know in the crowd.