Today is Clean Monday in Greece. It marks the first day of Lent in the Greek Orthodox Church. The previous weekend was the big Carnival celebration (think mardi gras; i.e. masquerade parties and alcohol). Patras has the largest and most famous one, but the island of Naxos has a wild torch parade). It is the last hurrah before the somber Lenten season. Greece has amazing tradition of large parades and festivals to celebrate Carnival. The British School at Athens hosted a fantastic Carnival party, although you would think they were trying to kill me by the way I felt the next day. Clean Monday is a day meant to get people in the right mind for the purity of the liturgical season, by cleaning the mind, asking for forgiveness, and literally cleaning one’s house.
I am very excited to have taken part in today’s Clean Monday the festivities. There are two iconic Clean Monday things to do. The first is to eat lagana (λαγάνα), a special bread baked only for Clean Monday. It is an unleavened bread, but not crispy like matzo, definitely dry, and it is topped with sesame seeds. I likened the bread to a body board for kids because of its large size. To be honest, it is not exactly a culinary delight, but it was still unique and good for sharing.
The other Clean Monday thing to-do is kite-flying. On the various hills in Athens, you can see Greeks and tourists coming together to fly all kinds of colorful kites. Today, unfortunately, was not the best day for kite-flying. The sky was gray and a bit rainy, but thankfully it did not pour on us. Most important of all, there was little-to-no wind, which made it difficult for us non-specialists to try. A man from Pakistan offered to help us, but he discovered that the 5-euro kite which we bought was not well made. (Sidenote: our kite depicted Karagiozis, a Greek trickster famous from shadow puppet theater) As we attempted to break twine on a rock in order to make more ties to fix our kite, a silent Greek man spoke a million words of kindness when he offered his pocket knife to us. A kindly, elderly Greek man offered me sage advice: “It is not suitable to fly a kite when there is not wind.” At least we were just as bad as another group of American study abroad visitors we saw.
Finally, an American Dad (with his large brood of very opinionated children), who clearly knew how to fly a kite, offered to help us. He concluded that the bamboo frame of our kite was too heavy to work well. Others nodded in agreement. We ended up giving him the rest of our twine so he could fly his kite even higher than it already was. Despite our repeated and failed attempts, it was still much fun to have taken part. More Pakistani friends wowed us with their skills, providing a mesmerizing conclusion to kite-flying.
To console our failed efforts, we bought some loukoumades from one of the many street vendors that had taken over Dionysius the Areopagite Street near the Acropolis. And of course, as we made our way toward the metro station, we felt a bouncy breeze blow by.