For the past couple of weeks I’ve been going to bed at night and waking up in the morning thinking of a person I have never met and will likely never meet. I hardly know anything about the man himself. I only know that his name is Kostas Sakkas, that he’s 29 years old and that he was a university student until December 2010. That’s a lot less than what I knew about all the people I wrote letters for when I was a campaigner for Amnesty International.
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“You know, the root of the word Miller is a Greek word. Miller comes from the Greek word “milo,” which means “apple,” so there you go. As many of you know, our name, Portokalos, comes from the Greek word “portokali,” which means “orange.” So here tonight, we have apple and orange. We are all different, but in the end, we are all fruit.”
Gus Portokalos, My Big Fat Greek Wedding
No recipe this week as I’ve been particularly lazy and knackered but for a good reason: a trip to the historic village of Koryshades with our good friend Rania and her wonderful family who kindly invited us to spend the bank holiday weekend at their cottage in Central Greece. We had such a good time that I hope you don’t mind me sharing the experience. (This is a photo of Velouhi summit. The mountain gave its name to one of the heroes of the Greek Resistance that I’m going to refer to later.)
With a population of just 230 people and set out on the mountainside of Central Greece at an altitude of 940m (3084ft) this little village has a history worth remembering. (On the left you can see the Museum of National Resistance, which is what the trip was all about.)
A little bit of WWII history to get you in the mood:
After the Italians were repelled and humiliated by the Greek Army and their allies in 1940, the Wehrmacht stepped in and broke the stubborn resistance in April 1941. As the Greek ruling class did nothing to hide their sympathy for Nazism, much of the Greek population immediately embraced resistance. Communist activists who were well-used to clandestine activity, having spent half a decade being persecuted by the pre-war Metaxas dictatorship, started building networks soon after the surrender forming the National Liberation Front (EAM) in September. The EAM quickly established sections for civil servants, workers, women, students, school kids, as well as town and village committees.
In February 1942 EAM formed a military corps, ELAS, that would first operate in the mountains of Central Greece. The writing on the wall reads: Glory to the heroes and victims of the village. Glory to the heroic ELAS.
In the halls of this old school, their chief captain Aris Velouhiotis (real name: Athanasios Klaras) and EAM-ELAS found shelter in order to better organize the battle against the invaders. By 1944 ELAS had in its ranks more than 800 military officers of the former National Army.
Greece being a mountainous country had a long tradition of guerilla warfare. ELAS grew to a point where they began liberating parts of the country, which were known as ‘Free Greece.’
In 10 March 1944 the EAM-ELAS, now in control of most of the country, established the Political Committee of National Liberation (PEEA), widely known as the “Mountain Government” in Koryshades. The writing on the exterior wall of the school reads: Epidaurus 1821 (which marks the first Greek Constitution) – Koryshades 1944.
“The National Council, constituted by representatives of the Greek people, met to proclaim their indomitable will to fight to the last breath for the liberation of the country, the complete defeat of fascism and the restoration of national unity and sovereignty.”
PEEA was elected in both liberated and occupied territories by 2,000,000 Greek citizens covering a wide political spectrum from left to centre. It was also the first time that women could vote in Greece.
Today this school has been transformed into the Museum of National Resistance.
Dozens of black and white photos, portraits of the guerillas, documents and resolutions passed by the Mountain Government as well as propaganda material adorn its walls paying a moving tribute to Greece’s liberating heroes.
You can visit the Museum of National Resistance Koryshades after getting the keys from the Mr. Takis, who keeps a store with souvenirs (like this mug with Aris Velouhiotis on it) right across the square, opposite the church.
3000ft are bound to whet your appetite so on the other side of the square is this little tavern called To Antamoma (The Meeting).
Feta Saganaki is a must, though the portion in that tavern was tiny. Here’s a good recipe I found. Be generous with the feta cheese and you won’t regret it.
Crispy lettuce salad is by far my favourite winter salad ideally accompanying all roast dishes. Finely chop 1 romaine lettuce, 3 spring onions, some dill and add salt, olive oil and all-purpose vinegar.
Today (March 21), beginning at sundown, is the 10 Elaphebolion, and thus, brings us the first day of the feastival of the City Dionysia which lasts for eight days.
The Dionysia was celebrated in honor of the god Dionysus Eleuthereus (god of freedom) and included competitive performances of tragedies. There are profound religious understandings exemplified in the tragedies such as piety and right action.
2 processions were conducted to begin the festival. The first, carrying the statue of Dionysus to and from, and the second where various groups proceeded through the city to the theater, arrayed in groups distinguishable by color or other articles of dress, according to Rabinowitz. The ceremonies started at dawn in the outdoor theater, with purification and lustrations, followed by a dithyramb, and then the plays.
Tsiknopempti is the Thursday during Carnival or the “Greek Mardi Gras” period which marks the beginning of the last weekend that observant Greek Orthodox Church members can “legally” eat meat. Because of this, everyone rushes to prepare and enjoy their favorite meat dishes, creating a cloud of smoke where it is being cooked. This gives Tsiknopempti one of its other common names, “Smoke Thursday” or “Smoked Thursday”. It is also called “Barbecue Thursday” or “Grilled Thursday” by some. It’s a popular day for going out to eat and enjoying as many different meats as possible. It can also be called, as a joke, “Feast of the Carnivores”.
You can read more about this special day here.
Since I work till late (like every Thursday for the past 20 years or so) I’ll be celebrating my carnivore instincts in this little taverna here. If you happen to be in Athens, this culinary joint comes highly recommended.
Happy Tsiknopempti to all!