Naxos

If San­tori­ni (to mis­ap­pro­pri­ate Yeats) has the kind of beau­ty to “make a stranger’s eye dis­traught,” Nax­os is like a lover whose beau­ty emerges in con­ver­sa­tion, deep­er and more endur­ing. Or per­haps I just find it hard to sleep on top of a vol­cano. Either way, Nax­os was intox­i­cat­ing. At the port we were met by Yian­nis, pro­pri­etor of Stu­dios _____, and dri­ven to our room, a short stroll from Agios Geor­gios, the beach where we would pass the hours read­ing and sleep­ing in the days to come.

Upon arrival, Yian­nis slugged us with the fam­i­ly wine, a kind­ness he would repeat with raff­ish enthu­si­asm, par­tic­u­lar­ly on the night of East­er Sunday.

But first was Friday.

Rich in icons and gold, the packed cathe­dral, dipped in can­dle­light, hummed with the deep-throat­ed singing of priests with Edward Lear beards. The locals came in thou­sands, stop­ping to press their lips to the faces of saints, and kneel before the cru­ci­fied Christ, sym­bol­ized by an elab­o­rate bier, fra­grant with incense and flowers.

Can­dle in hand, I was swal­lowed by the crowd that pur­sued the cross through the wind­ing white-washed streets of the old town. Those too old or weak to join the throng emerged from win­dows, throw­ing petals and per­fumed water, ortho­dox tick­er-tape on our solemn march. The parade fin­ished at a water­front chapel, which each per­son entered, pass­ing beneath the bier, before the final prayers were uttered.

At night’s end, Christ was in his tomb, but (unlike His ter­ri­fied dis­ci­ples), the Nax­i­ans could sleep con­fi­dent the cer­e­mo­ny would resume the fol­low­ing night for a Res­ur­rec­tion Mass.

Sat­ur­day night, and although the gath­ered con­gre­ga­tion knows what’s about to hap­pen, it almost feels as if it doesn’t. There is a sense of ner­vous antic­i­pa­tion as the priests pass beyond the veil that sep­a­rates the crowd from the cathedral’s inner-sanc­tum. Young and old hus­tle towards the cur­tain, grip­ping unlit candles.

Sud­den­ly, a priest appears, bear­ing a sin­gle flame that in moments has passed to every can­dle in the cathedral.

It’s sec­onds to mid­night, and the crowd push­es out­side now, the priest’s singing reach­ing fever pitch. And then it hap­pens. A rock­star light fills the sky, fire­crack­ers blaz­ing as peo­ple cheer and cry, greet­ing each oth­er and hold­ing hands, joy­ful­ly exchang­ing the words “Chris­tos anesti”, “Christ is risen.” And then the par­ty real­ly begins … and con­tin­ues all the sleep­less night, and all through Sun­day, chil­dren ter­ror­is­ing each oth­er (and tourists) with cel­e­bra­to­ry bungers under foot, as fam­i­lies gath­er for lamb and wine by the sea­side. My ears ring for hours.

The ever con­vivial Yian­nis had already pre­sent­ed us with an ear­ly East­er gift of sweet cakes and red-paint­ed hard­boiled eggs, which, in a per­verse tra­di­tion, one is sup­posed to eat (with salt) in the same mouth­ful. When we arrived back at the stu­dio on Sun­day night, Yian­nis was in action mode, stuff­ing three Danes, an Amer­i­can and a Cana­di­an with eggs, cake, salt, nuts, ouzo and wine. Although hor­ri­fied that I (a male) was cook­ing din­ner for Jess (not a male) Yian­nis demand­ed we join him, clear­ly inter­est­ed to have final­ly learned Jess was, in fact, my cousin, and not my wife. Although what Yian­nis thought we were doing in two sep­a­rate beds I do not know. Yian­nis was unstop­pable (or was it me?), but the man did not stop refill­ing our glass­es with the fam­i­ly poi­son, his atten­tion mean­while split between Jess, and the Dane drink­ing along­side me. Next thing I know, Yian­nis and Jess are danc­ing mad­ly around the room, a lit cig­a­rette dan­gling (half-insert­ed) from the left ear of our host. His friends, all the while, play­ing gam­bling games on the PC in reception.

Some­where, in between the ouzo, wine, kitron, and Princess Mary jokes, I hear Yian­nis men­tion the words “strip” and “club” in the same sen­tence, and my spi­der-sense starts tin­gling. It was East­er for heav­en’s sake! Old Yian­nis was get­ting ideas into his head, so we made for our room, drunk­en­ly con­fi­dent he was more mis­guid­ed sweet­heart than per­vert (at least until fif­teen min­utes lat­er when he knocked on our door, ever the lin­guis­ti­cal­ly chal­lenged school­boy seduc­er). Instead of say­ing any­thing par­tic­u­lar, he sim­ply said his name, over and over again, draw­ing it out to a coquet­tish ‘Yiani­i­i­i­i­i­is’. Admir­ing his per­sis­tence, I vom­it­ed a lit­tle, and went to bed.

Both sacred and awful­ly pro­fane, East­er in Nax­os was one to remem­ber. Which, in time, I did.

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