Monday, November 8, 2010

The Wedding Prequel Part 1. Ali Pasha and Pomegranates

(Please click on the photos to make them larger.)

Daughter Eleni studied folklore and mythology in college and she has always loved ritual, tradition and folklore, so she inevitably included them in her plans for her wedding to Emilio on October 10. (After all, it was an Indian astrologer who led her to the decision—before she even met Emilio—that she would be married on 10/10/10.)

Last month I wrote in detail about the wedding day itself, with its two wedding ceremonies (Catholic and Greek Orthodox) and such traditional details as the throwing of the wedding bread, the singing of wedding songs as the bride dresses, parading through Corfu town accompanied by musicians and dancers in local costume.

But the wedding traditions and rituals began long before October 10. On October third, 14 of us—family and friends who were immediately dubbed “Team Odyssey”-—met in Athens, toured the city and then flew on the fifth to Ioannina, the provincial capital of Epiros—my husband Nick’s native province.

Ioannina, a beautifully unspoiled city on the shore of an enormous lake, still has its walled Turkish city, little changed since the days when Lord Byron visited the local tyrant Ali Pasha, who housed his harem of 300 women and his vast army of Janissary soldiers inside the city walls. (If a woman in his harem displeased him, he would have her tied in a bag weighted with stones and thrown into the deep lake. It’s said that the mists rising from the lake in the morning are the ghosts of the drowned maidens.)

The plan was to drive the next day up the mountains on the winding road to Nick’s village of Lia where we would have a pre-wedding party in the Village Inn (The Xenona).

Eleni spent ten months of 2002 living in the village by herself, rebuilding the family house which lay in ruins ever since the murder of her grandmother by a firing squad of Communist guerrillas during the Greek civil war. She used that year of research and building for her travel memoir “North of Ithaka”, published by St. Martin’s Press in 2005. By the time she left, she had become so beloved by the villagers --most of whom are now elderly-- that she wanted to introduce Emilio and his family to the village and share the celebration with them all.

In Ioannina it rained, poured and thundered non-stop but we went anyway to visit the mosques in the Turkish city—now turned into museums since the Turkish occupiers were driven out in 1913. The wrought-iron cage you see above is the tomb where Ali Pasha’s headless body is buried. He was assassinated by men sent by the Sultan because the despot was getting too powerful and rebellious. His head --and his (Greek) favorite wife, who connived to let the assassins in-- were sent to the Sultan in Constantinople as proof that the tyrant was really dead.

We got ready to drive up the mountain to the village of Lia when we learned that the heavy rains had made the road impassable, but after some hours of waiting, bulldozers cleared the way and we began the twisty, vertiginous journey.

The Innkeeper, Elias Daflos, and his wife, Litsa, had prepared a feast for 85 people—everyone in the village plus Team Odyssey. Local musicians played the wailing Epirotic melodies and the foreigners among us got their first intensive lesson in Greek dancing. Above you see Team Odyssey at the table, and the dancing led by the village priest, Father Prokopi.

The next day, the weather had improved and we led a tour of the village landmarks, including the house of Eleni’s grandmother (Eleni Gatzoyiannis), which had been rebuilt and furnished to look exactly as it did when her grandmother lived there. Below are some of our group, sitting in the more modern Haidis house, which was originally built by Nick's grandfather, Kitso Haidis—and then rebuilt after the Germans burned it in 1944. On the wall over daughter Marina’s head are some of the Karagiosis shadow puppets—another ancient Greek tradition.

After our tour, we set about harvesting pomegranates from the trees of a generous villager, Lefteris Bollis and his wife Ourania—and in the process we all got soaked by the rain-laden branches. Eleni wanted to use pomegranates-- a traditional symbol of good luck and prosperity—as part of the table decorations at the wedding, and we had promised the florist in Corfu that we would bring more than a hundred fresh-picked pomegranates with us when we arrived.

Even though it was still morning, Lefteris and his wife insisted that we all come into their home to toast the wedding with their home-brewed tsipouro—the local moonshine with a staggering alcohol content.

Loading our cars with the pomegranates, we bid goodbye to the villagers and set out for the harbor of Igoumenitsa and the ferryboat that would carry us to the island of Corfu, where we would celebrate the approaching nuptials with more traditions and rituals, including the preparation of the wedding bed. But I’ll tell you about that in my next blog post.

(I put that photo of me and Eleni, just before the wedding, at the beginning of this post because so many friends asked for it.)

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