Kittie Howard

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Easter in Thessaloniki, Greece

As Easter approaches, I'm entertaining nice thoughts about past holidays:  the smiles . . . a little something that stuck in the mind's eye -- a panoply of tulips near the front steps to my mother's house and when I opened the door the aroma of good things cooking in the kitchen flooded my senses. Yes, that's what happy memories do. They flood the senses and wrap the soul in warm fuzzies.

Such is the feeling now. Even though it's cold outside and spring's a no-show, I feel warmed and blessed by so much. So many good things. From the Hallmark angel my niece gave me to family trips and gatherings to an Easter in another country that was also very, very nice.

Thessaloniki, Greece.

In 2004, my husband and I spent Easter in Thessaloniki. It's a traveler's story for a lazy afternoon as to how this came to be, but, suffice it to say, we were delighted it did. Even if we aren't Greek Orthodox and even if Easter's dates float among the Christian faiths, it didn't matter. Oh, but life's roller coaster can take some magical turns. I'd like to share one of those turns. Come on. Don't be shy. Put on your virtual Nike's. We've got some hoofing to do before we get to what infused the senses . . .

With about a million residents, Thessaloniki sprawls from the Aegean Sea to the mountains. (Mount Olympus is in the background.) Alongside the sea is a corniche where one can walk and browse shops, stop at one of the many outdoor coffee shops or restaurants or get an ice cream cone and just walk and walk. (Wikipedia)

The port is huge, one of the largest in Europe.  (Wikipedia)

Our hotel was in Aristotelous Square (formerly known as Alexander the Great Square), in the hotel to the left. (Wikipedia) Prior to Easter, people packed the square, in a hurry to complete pre-Easter errands. Others fortified themselves with cups of coffee or something to eat in coffee houses and seafood restaurants on either side of the Square prior to entering the melee.

Not far from the Square were more coffee houses and restaurants along the corniche. In one direction, the corniche led to the White Tower . . . 
The White Tower is the city's signature landmark. It is one of 15 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Thessaloniki, also considered Greece's cultural center by many. Love that corniche! (Wikipedia)

A cup of coffee and an ice cream later and we circle back. This ruin (forum and baths) isn't far from the city center and was discovered by accident in the 1960s. Whether in Thessaloniki or elsewhere, it seems like everywhere one goes in Greece there are the most fantastic archeological treasures.

Also nearby: the Old City (Ano Polis) and narrow, cobblestone streets and tucked away shops. The Old City was a beehive of pre-holiday activity, especially the flower market. oh but the arrangements and bouquets were amazing. Floral scents and the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee and the displays in confectioners' windows stirred the senses beyond words. (Wikipedia) 

But regardless of where we went, from the moment we stepped into our hotel lobby, Red Easter Eggs were on counters in every shop everywhere one went. No one I saw took an egg, but everyone was careful not to bump the bowl of eggs at the counter. It was amazing to stop for coffee and see the bowl of red eggs or go into shop after shop and there they were, magnificent, absolutely glorious in their simplicity. I would later spend another Easter in a Christian Orthodox country with the same custom of displaying red eggs, but this display wasn't on the magnitude found in Thessaloniki. I later learned that Greece is known for its Easter celebrations, and many Greek-Americans trek to Greece in order to be there for the holiest day on the Orthodox calendar. (Note: Commercial dyes exist to color the eggs, but many prefer to boil the eggs in a bit of vinegar added to water that includes the skins of yellow (Spanish) onions.) (Food Network)

Within easy walking distance of our hotel was the Panagia Chalkeon Church. When we went inside, our eyes popped. Strewn on the floor, as if a carpet, were bay leaves. Hundreds and hundreds of bay leaves that rustled beneath our feet, each crunch releasing more of its fragrant aroma. The bay leaves came from gnarled trees outside the church, to the left, that were said to be from the time of St. Paul's ministry. Scholars say he wrote his first letter to the Apostles from Thessaloniki.

I'll never forget the red Easter eggs, Orthodoxy's symbol of the blood of Christ and the re-birth, in a simple bowl in an old church with bay leaves on the floor.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Tick Tock; Tick Tock

My grandmother kept her Longines wristwatch in its original box in her top dresser drawer. When we kids saw the watch on her slim wrist, we figured she was either going to the doctor or to visit a certain cousin. She complained doctors didn't see patients when they said they would and this cousin ran at the mouth so much she was going to talk her way out of heaven. Although I don't know about the heaven part, my grandmother was right about the chatty cousin and doctors who overbooked patients (even Back Then).

My mother kept the Longines wristwatch she rarely wore in a glass case on top of her dresser. We kids knew not to touch it, that something awful would happen--perhaps our hands would fall off or some such. Since my mother didn't raise her voice or threaten dire consequences, just said 'Don't touch,' I never quite figured out how it worked that we didn't touch her watch. But we didn't.

My grandmother called her Longines with the diamond chips around the crystal a wristwatch. My mother called her Longeines with slightly bigger diamonds a watch. We kids picked up on the generational nuance and knew when to use each word, not that we did so very often.

None of us kids had a watch. There was little reason to monitor time. School ended when it did, and regardless of the homework, books usually closed at the same time each school night. We'd watched a bit of television, take our baths, and off we'd go to bed. Weekends opened up--Friday night football, water skiing, perhaps a trip to Baton Rouge or the house filled with family and friends (hopefully with kids our ages). But Sunday night meant back to the books to make sure the homework was just right before going to bed.

My grandfather wore his watch when he left the farm for various meetings and the like; my father wore his watch to work during the week but not on weekends. Their watches had big round faces and were the polar opposite of dainty. Neither man had a habit of constantly checking his watch.

I like watches and can't pass a display window without stopping. Not that I want to purchase these watches. There's just something about how jewelers decorate a basic timepiece that appeals. More on the intangible level, I admit to pushing the clock to accomplish goals, something I've given thought to lately.

Actually, a sepia-tone photograph of my grandparents I came across in a box (while looking for something else) triggered these thoughts. My grandparents are sitting on a bench in El Paso, Texas, very nicely dressed in the 1920s fashion of the day, but neither's wearing a watch.

My grandmother used to fuss at me when I got too busy. "What are you rushing to?" she'd ask with a chuckle.

I had no answer for her then and would have no answer now, except to say that this afternoon I heard a bird chirping its heart out and stepped outside to find this feathered Adele. One chirp led to another until I finally spotted a Cardinal at the very top of a still-bare oak tree. I don't know how long I listened to its serenade. I didn't have my watch on. But the memory is forever.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Southern Writers Magazine

When Susan Reichert, the editor of Southern Writers Magazine, asked if she could include "Rings of Trust" in the Magnolia Corner of the magazine's March/April issue, I was over the moon!

I hitched a Tinker Bell ride on the stars when she added that "Remy Broussard's Christmas" and "Rings of Trust" would be included in the magazine's online bookstore. And, I'm going to be a contributor to the magazine's blog, Suite T. (I'd previously contributed a post last July). You know I'm excited!

Celebration Time: 99 cents on Amazon! Click HERE

Southern Writers Magazine is the gold standard for us grits-loving Southerners. However, the magazine not only has a solid following in the South but a national reach.

With so many people on the move these days, one can always touch 'home' or see what 'home' is like if you've got a WIP with a Southern setting. If you'd like to check out the magazine's site, go HERE. From blogs to magazine submissions to writing contests to seminars, there's a lot going on.

Now, none of this would have happened if it weren't for your support. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you. Without a doubt, some of the nicest, most caring people in the world are in Blogville. XOXOXO

Celebration Time: 99cents on Amazon! Click HERE