When the island becomes a time capsule…

Text: Danae Tal

Lefkes, Prodromos, Marmara, Marpissa: the Epitaph cubicles, covered in the colours and fragrances of the meadows arouse memories with their spring aromas

At Prodromos,
on the noon of Holy Friday, the villages remember their dead offering “merasma” (some kind of treat) to visitors. Even in those very difficult times when the inhabitants used to leave the village to pursue a better life elsewhere the custom didn’t cease to take place. Both those who emigrated to Athens and the ones still in the village supported the custom and we still “taste” it today. It’s an exceptionally delicious chickpea soup accompanied by bread, cucumber salad and the local wine or souma (type of raki). We learn the history of the custom while eating.

We’d like to thank Mr Giorgos, the local bus driver for the courtesy to introduce us to his group of friends, Mrs Pavlaki for all the treats and her brother, Mr Pavlakis, once chairperson of The Athens Prodromites Association for all the information on life on the island as well as Mrs Marouso Sifaki, who offered us excellent fig preserve with sesame seeds, the typical “merasma”, all home made by herself.

Their stories took us back in time as they talked very openly and with great interest. We said goodbye and started wandering in the narrow streets of Prodromos. Despite the mourning, there was a sweet atmosphere spread in the village which didn’t let us go. The imaginatively looked after courtyards, the colourful windowsills, the multi-coloured doors and the sparkling whitewash, the voices coming from the narrow streets, people appearing on the way, added to an atmosphere of the untold delight one gets when memories are shared and turned into “merasma”, which, whether in the form of a chickpea soup or a fig preserve, really acts as a pacifier to our mortal souls.

Emerged in those feelings I arrived at Marpissa just before the Epitaph procession was due. The main street, sprinkled with oregano and rosemary, sent its aromas from the nose to the mind triggering the journey of the memory. Along the street the Passion unfolded right in front of our eyes. Houses were part of the setting. No other light but candles, lit up courtyards and balconies, shadows of a world brought to life by the villagers just for one night.

Girls and boys, a wonderful-looking generation- take on the roles wearing the same costumes their parents used to wear when they were children, using old objects and utensils from the village, their imagination and sense of beauty. I was lucky enough to witness part of the preparation and talk to Emmanuela Anousaki, after trying hard to take her away from her duties. Emmanuela was the coordinator of the Last Supper Representation. She mentioned a few things about the contents and about the way in which the task is passed down from mother to daughter and so on.

Objects and settings used mainly come from the community deposit, founded specially for this reason, as well as family heirlooms of every coordinator and their extended families. The Last Supper table was covered in a plain but extremely precious embroidered tablecloth. The preparation is made up of laughter combined with a number of commands. Everything is done with clockwork precision.

Every representation is composed of perfectly motionless statue-like bodies. Children are very successful in doing so, all representations have exquisite plasticity. What made me really happy was the fact that the whole village would collaborate in harmony for the preparation of this highly demanding endeavour and it was in this type of collaboration that I was able to realise the high spirituality of the whole process.

The Representations take us to the church of Marpissa. When the Epitaph cubicle reentered the church and the congregation dispersed, we went down to the main road with a short stop at the Afentaki Hotel. Just a while ago Pontius Pilatus had washed his hands clean, two soldiers holding Jesus and Barabbas. The rain was coming down strong, thick drops filled my breath with oregano and a new memory entered my head. The Passion at Marpissa.

Easter 2012