Saturday, July 30, 2011

I Have No Answers, Only Questions to Avoid

I am tormented this week by Why Questions.

Why is the American system of government so polarized along doctrinaire lines that even Greece’s political system seems more open to compromise?

Why are striking Greek taxi drivers who work so hard so intent on shutting down Greece’s seminal tourist industry, despite the far reaching harm their actions inflict upon their already suffering countrymen, and why is the Greek government unwilling or unable to do anything to stop them?

Why in this day and age did an industrialized western nation allow a gathering of its future leaders to take place at a remote locale without minimally appropriate security, and as a corollary question, why did none in the camp band together in some attempt to stop a lone killer systematically hunting them down for more than an hour and a half?

Finally, Why are those who ask such questions categorized rather than answered?

Thankfully, I found an escape from my search for answers.  I went to a panayeri. 

In the Greek Orthodox faith, churches generally are dedicated to saints.  On the night before a saint’s name day, services are held in churches honoring the saint, often followed by celebrations filled with food, dancing, and music.  In Mykonos’ “old” days—before its 24/7 nightlife—a panayeri was the only place for locals to party.  It was where the unmarried met, and on occasion eloped straight from the party.  But despite all the many changes to the island, panayeris are still big events on Mykonos.
Inside a Mykonian family church

The traditional panayeri actually begins the day before the formal celebration.  That’s when family and friends contribute their goats and lambs for slaughter in preparation for the next day’s cooking, as well as wine, bread, salads, fruits, vegetables, and special local dishes and desserts.  It’s all part of the sacrifice honoring a saint. 

I attended a panayeri honoring Saint Panteleimon (whose name, in a bizarrely coincidental fit for my state of mind, means “mercy for everyone”) and on that night everything served was homegrown or, in the case of the wine, made by the hosts–—the wonderful family of Nikos and Michele Nazos.
Nikos Nazos

The Nazos’ place is a treasure, with what many regard as the finest vegetable gardens on Mykonos.  Their church is tucked in the middle of their gardens, beside a broad, olive-shaded stone patio large enough to accommodate the hundreds who carefully circle this night on their calendars.

Traditional sampouna bladder pipes
I’m not precisely sure how the Nazos family goes about putting together their panayeri, but in other instances the men in charge of slaughtering the animals arrive at least a day before with their own food and wine.  Lots of wine.  They’re followed by friends who show up to help, bringing more food and more wine.  Somehow they always manage to get everything done on time.  It is, as they say, the Greek way.

The panayeri meal begins with a piece of bread blessed by the priest and a cup of broth derived from the boiled meat to come.  Then comes the real food: tables full of batter fried cod fish with skordalia garlic sauce, delicacies prepared from the goats and lambs, appetizers of every kind, salads, black-eyed beans and dandelion greens, and wine, wine, wine.  The boiled meat is next, followed by the yahknee, a savory, rich stew begun with the broth; developed with simmering, fresh island tomatoes, potatoes, onions, spices and herbs; and finished with the tastiest of the meat from the contributed animals. 

If you’re not full yet, don’t worry, lamb chops off the grill are still to come, and later, pastries, custards, yoghurts, and fresh fruits. 

All of this is accompanied by non-stop traditional music and dancing running up to the morning church service.  After church those who remain (or return for the service) finish off what’s left of the food—having no doubt prayed for room to do so.

I didn’t quite make it that far.  I was home by 4.  It was sad leaving such good cheer and wonderful people in a setting summoning up memories of simpler times.  Far simpler times.  God bless them.  God bless us all.



  1. How is is it that with all that wine people are awake enough to eat all that food?

    God bless us all is certainly the wish of most people in the world. Norway can only be explained by their belief that it can't happen here. It is a homogeneous society and the evil among them looked like everyone else. There was a report,somewhere in all the reports, that he killed the children because the parents allowed multiculturalism. Even the leaders of the group were only in their early twenties. They were unprepared for the possibility that something so foreign could happen in Norway. I don't know that if my children and their friends were caught in such a situation they would have responded any differently. If families aren't part of the gun culture and neighborhoods don't witness violence, the children are prepared for such a thing in any country. God bless us all.

    As to the polarization of the American people, look no further than the election of 2008. On Inauguration Day, 2009, Rush Limbaugh, the guru and titular head of the Republican party, announced on his radio show that he was going to do everything in his power to see that this president failed. There is a large segment of the population that listens to Rush and who get all their news from Rupert Murdoch. In the election in 2010, the Tea Party emerged as full blown warriors in the hate campaign against the president. Congress has successfully prevented everything Obama has sent to the hill from passing.

    It is beyond comprehension that the Republicans in the House prefer to see the economy of the United Stares fail that to increase the debt ceiling. Reagan raised in 17 times without it being mentioned. W raised in times and no one noticed. The absolute majority of people in the US,including Republicans, are furious about this game of chicken. The so-called "entitlement" programs they refuse to fund include Social Security, hardly an entitlement in that people are just asking for the money they paid into the program through the withdrawals from their pay checks.

    The United States is hostage to the Tea Party members of the House who say they can't fund the necessary programs because they promised they would not raise taxes. The taxes the administration wants increased are those on businesses who pay little or not taxes now.

    How is their willingness to destroy the country in order to be re-elected to the House of Representatives not treasonous?

    Nikita Khrushchev said in the 50's or early 60's that the United States would not fall to a foreign power but would fall from within. It is happening right now because this duly elected president, not an appointed president, must fail even if the country is destroyed in the process. God help us all.

    To make the situation in the US even more sad and more insane is that the Republican party is heavily influenced by the Christian right, in this case an oxymoron. In what way is making the rich richer and the poor poorer in line with the teachings of Christ?

    These aren't answers; they just extend the "why". At least in Greece they don't hate each other and they have the sense and humility to turn to God at a time when humanity has given into its darker angels.

    People in the US better start learning Chinese now.

  2. Hi Jeff - it is raining in Iceland, good for the grass apparently but not as thrilling for people. For the time it took me to read your post I forgot about the weather outside and was in Greece, enjoying a warm evening and the night that followed. Thanks, I will be returning to this post (and Greece) regularly today.


  3. Dealing w/ a friend's illness, so ignoring the world's crises, sorta. Your description of the panayeri was a help. Thanks.

  4. Hi, Jeff, and thanks for that. I felt as though I were with you, and it was a relief from being here, bombarded by posturing gasbags attempting to turn to political advantage the crisis they've created.

    Maybe we all ought to go to an ialand for the next year or so and hope for a new and lethal disease that strikes down only politicians.

  5. I find myself looking forward to your post because it is as though I'm transported. I think the answer to the awful and incomprehensible news is community, and pleasure taken as you did. And you included us! Thanks for the trip.

  6. Thanks, Beth, for giving me answers that have me pondering a new question: Should I or should I not cash in the return leg of my flight to the US for more wine purchasing power in Greece? Glad you liked the party, too:)

    And Yrsa, Liz, Tim, and Lil, it was my pleasure you enjoyed the panayeri. Who knows, if the stars are right someday at least some of us might get the chance to join together in our own sort of panayeri! The only question then would be, who brings the appropriate part of the sheep in homage to the sampouna (sheep) bladder pipes? That, by the way, is not the sort of question that torments me.:)


  7. Whoops, I've been corrected. But only in the sweetest way by one of the nicest ladies I know. This morning I bumped into Michele Nazo, whom I credited along with her husband, Nikos, for hosting the other night's panayeri.

    She thanked me for the article but said the torch has been past to a new generation and that the magic of the Nazos panayeri is now in the hands of their son, Artemis, and his wife, Maria.

    That's the kind of correction I'll take any day, for it means another generation of music playing on, wine continuing to pour, and old Mykonos ways surviving--at least one special evening each July 26th.

    Thank you Temi and Maria.