This is a re-posting from July of 2011, when we were in Greece. It inspired quite a few comments. Be patient, readers! Soon I'll post an up-to-date photo essay about the joys of summer 2014 in Manhattan.
We’re presently at Costa Navarino in Messina, Greece, a super-luxurious resort complex which is devoted to ecological reform as well as supporting and promoting the culture and agriculture of the region.
As part of introducing the resort guests to native traditions, they gathered four local women yesterday to demonstrate making the traditional “embroidered breads” which are usually prepared to celebrate a wedding. The breads are set before the bride and groom at the wedding table, and the bride distributes pieces to the guests (like wedding cake in western weddings.)
These four ladies do their bread-making at Costa Navarino every Friday. I was there yesterday, sitting at one of the caned wooden chairs outside the perfect replica of a traditional cafenion, while around us couples sipped coffee frappés and played tavli (backgammon).
You know I love folk art in any form, and photograph it wherever I travel. I quickly realized that the decorated breads made by these local ladies were indeed folk art.
First they sifted.
Then they kneaded.
Taking an occasional break to sip thick Greek coffee from demitasse cups.
The leading artist was Kyria Maria, who had prepared a pencil sketch of her design before she came. (She told me they make different designs every Friday.)
She had a true folk artist’s compulsive need for detail. Her assistant stood by rolling tiny balls and thin snakes of dough at her behest. When the first bread, made by two other women, was complete, Kyria Maria was still creating flowers, butterflies, a sun and birds out of dough to cover every inch of her round loaf. (The first and primary part of her design represented bunches of grapes on a vine surrounding the Acropolis.)
I was surprised at how many Greek guests came up and asked the women what they were making. They had never heard of “embroidered breads” for a wedding.
Here are the almost-finished creations, which would be baked to a golden brown and served at the resort’s restaurants for breakfast the next day.
I knew about the “embroidered” wedding breads because last year, when daughter Eleni was married to Emilio in Corfu, Greece, her cousins and her aunt Nikki had prepared the “embroidered wedding bread” traditional to their part of Greece, but according to their custom, the bride would throw the bread over her shoulders to the single ladies in the group, like the bride’s bouquet in western culture, before it could be distributed to the crowd.
Eleni’s friend Catherine caught it and, just as for the single ladies who wrote their names on the soles of Eleni’s shoes, hoping that she would dance them away, the magic of the wedding bread will undoubtedly spread all the way from Corfu to Worcester, MA and conjure up a happily-ever-after future. (Update from 2014--we attended Catherine's beautiful wedding in Connecticut last summer, so the bread did its work!)