At least in the Orthodox calendar, and except for the minority ‘Old Calendarists’, it is carnival time. Carne Vale; farewell to flesh. ‘Carne’ is taken by most people to mean ‘Meat’, and one is supposed to stop eating it. Well, not yet; first one takes a fond farewell to it by eating so much of it that, like drinking too much alcohol, one feels only too happy to give it up. For a while, at least. I suspect that the original meaning was that one should, for Lent, give up the pleasures of the flesh in general, which include rather more than eating it.
Here in this little island there was a big party with lots of food, and a group playing ‘Traditional Greek Music’: an electric organ and two electric bouzoukis, all amplified to ear-splitting levels. Tickets were sold; more tickets than there was room for people and as late-coming adults arrived, children were forced out of their seats. Well, the girls were: boys kept theirs. The girls sensibly retired to an upstairs room, away from the noise, to engage in serious conversation. I had already eaten at home, but went along for a sphinaki (little wedge, from the shape of the glass) of whisky, and was given a container of food as I left.
The main dish was ‘Katziki me manestra’; goat with manestra, which is small pasta that looks like grains of rice. In country places this is the traditional food for celebrations and it’s very good. I like goat meat, but don’t like lamb or mutton, which most people think it resembles. Shepherds keep mixed flocks of sheep and goats, and Feta cheese is made indiscriminately from the milk of either or both.
There is a small airport in the nearby island of Skiathos. Deserted in winter, it becomes very busy on two or three days of the week during the tourist season. It’s a couple of miles out of the harbour town and, provided I don’t have too much luggage, I usually walk to it when travelling to England. Most people take taxis, but the walk round the coast road is pleasant, provided that one doesn’t happen to cross the road at the end of the runway just as a plane is coming in; timing it wrong can be literally hair-raising. One stubborn old shepherd still keeps his flock in a field beside the runway, and one year I asked him ‘Don’t the roaring arrivals every half-hour of monster aeroplanes freak out the animals?’ ‘The goats don’t take any notice,’ he said, ‘but the sheep go crazy.’ which tends to confirm common beliefs about the characters of goats and sheep.