[RO] Versiunea in romana poate fi citita aici.
Ah, how I wish I knew greek now! As I write these words I’m waiting in Thessaloniki station for a train to Larissa. Three sweet old ladies are talking noisily next to me. Each one of them has asked me whether I’m going to Larissa. Although I have gesticulated that I don’t speak greek, they still insist that I know their language. My destination is Kalambaka, where I wish to find the beautiful Meteora. I have to change trains at Paleofarsalos, but I believe we’re all going the same way. I tell them in english that this is the right train and smile. As I wait, I contemplate on the events that have happened so far.
Fani, a good friend whom I had met at GOYGB camp (Greek Orthodox Youth of Great Britain) showed me around Thessaloniki on my first day here. The tall, huddled buildings gave me the impression of a colourful Bucharest. Bizantyne churches and roman ruins fragment the modern with voices from the past. Hundreds of cafes ornate the city with greek music and student laughter. Cars and scooters cover the streets, with some cars blasting out greek music through their speakers. Very rarely have I heard something in english.
The majority of menus have greek letters and many a time have I tried to read them, in hope that we have common words (little success). Mum would love it here, it’s full of confectionaries. I recognized many of the cakes we have in Romania, like baklavas. In fact, many things reminded me of home, but especially of Bucharest. The rich confectionaries, the pop up shops near bus stations, the short, bulky people, with their dignified looks, the multitude of churches and the kindness of the locals. Ah and how can I forget about χαλαρώ (halara = relax), the main word for thessalonians. The athenians have always wondered at the eternal calm of thessalonians.
The greatest miracle of this place is something else, however. Dozens of stone churches arise from the sea of modern buildings. Most of them are in a Byzantine style, with some dating from the 5th century after Christ. Under this well treaded earth await thousands of martyrs like St. Demetrios, his good friend St. Nestor and St. Anisia. The greatest of them all is, of course, St. Demetrios the myrrh-streamer (Agios Demetrios), the protector of thessalonians. I visited his holy relics three times until now and felt great joy from him. During the christian persecutions from Roman times, christians used to pray in secret, in catacombs. Under the walls of St. Demetrios’ church one can visit these caverns baptized in tears and blood. The saint himself was impaled with a spear on the ground where his church now stands.
On Sunday me and Fani went for the Liturgy at St. Haralambos’ church, a replica of a monastery with the same name from mount Athos. After a blessing we went to another church, Acheiropoietos (5th century A.C.) for coffee and socializing. Young people from all around the world gather here under the wing of Father Spiridon. It is a truly blessed place! I met three theology students from America, Ignatius, Vincent and George; John, a greek who speaks romanian and who studied in Iasi (Romania); Andra, a romanian who speaks greek and studies history here; Eleftheria, a young lady of amazing joy, who is doing her masters in antique theatre. They all radiated of an unutterable gladness!
After coffee, I went with Fani and a few other people for…another coffee, of course. Let’s not forget ‘halara’! Greek coffee is like the one mum makes on new year’s night, when our guests wish to stay awake until the morning…and the following day. After an hour of chatting, Fani’s brothers came to pick us up and drove us to their family home for lunch. The Pliaki family is a rare beauty. They are seven brothers and sisters, Fani, Vicky, Oreste, Thomas, Aristotle, George si Nicolae. Mother Maria and father Iorgos also joined us at the table.
Vicky, an angel of a child, always smiling, gently asked me to say The Lord’s Prayer in romanian. After the prayer we feasted on meatballs, baked potatoes, musaka, cabbage and beetroot salad, pickled peppers, tzatziki and many other culinary delights. Some people were fasting, since Christmas lent had started. Either way, we all had a plenteous meal, in a deep, respectful silence.
After lunch we told stories in the living room. Fani’s father went for his afternoon nap, after having instructed me on Greece’s history for half an hour. He talked about the origin of the world’s languages and how some european words come from greek. Although interested by the conversation, I couldn’t help but think of the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Before our departure mother Maria even packed up a food box for me. Aristotle and Thomas then drove me and Fani back into town. They didn’t escape their mother’s generous food boxes either. How lovely it is to see this family meet on a Sunday!
I forgot to mention the sea, the beautiful Aegean sea! A buoy full of cyclists, fishermen and wanderers like me connects it to Thessaloniki. Not too far from it one can find Aristotle square, named after the famous greek philosopher. On Monday I followed his example and philosophized about the works of art in the photography museum, which lies in the old port. One of the exhibits was on the refugees that found a home in Thessaloniki. I was touched by their war stricken gazes. Other pieces talked about the contrast between poverty and wealth in the world. Some made an appeal for protecting the environment or made people aware of how poor people live in places like China.
In Hong Kong, for example, dozens of british colony buildings were destroyed, evacuating dozens of families. The reason? Building taller, more solid and productive skyscrapers. What a difference between this place and Thessaloniki, where the modern architecture is imbued by the Byzantine empire style. Ah, but this city suffered as well! Invasion after invasion, first the romans, then the turks and finally the germans. In the White Tower one can discover many stories about these honest and cheerful people. Their song seeps into the heart and whispers of a painful history for the ears that wish to listen.
Anyway, it is time to let my thoughts settle now. I’m on the train towards Meteora with a talkative american and a shy canadian. I’ll leave you with these images from Meteora, a truly blessed place! My adventures there can be better expressed through the visual medium…
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