Right on cue, the Longest Night brought the first sharp frosts. The next day, the tits started up in the garden with their two- and three-note song. They sing between the two Solstices; as the summer one dawns, they are gone – or at least, they sing no more. Because they are small and quite shy, I don’t know whether they depart for the next six months, or whether they just keep quiet. But it is definitely the Solstices which determine their behaviour.
So all in all, it’s starting to feel quite Christmassy, and that reminded me of Christmasses Past. Though here we haven’t yet devoured the whole hog of consumerism, at least there are the trappings to enjoy: Delicious decorations in Corfu Town, Stilton on sale at AB, turkey dinners, carols. It was not like three decades ago. In those days, no Christmas countdown or forward preparation took place.
Instead, a couple of days beforehand, someone would notice the date and realise they’d better get shopping for the Christmas meal. Saint Spiridon Day, on 12 December, was a bigger event. But we did have a decorated tree.
One Christmas in the late 80s, I phoned my parents (from a smelly cubicle behind the village store), with good news and bad news. The good news was, we had a White Christmas! The bad news was, no electricity due to a very heavy snowfall on the Mainland, which snapped the supply lines. So my Turkey Dinner had to be postponed (no oven) and the mother-in-law prepared Pastitsada (spicy beef stew with pasta), meant for Boxing Day, on a fire of sticks in the storeroom across the street from their ice-box house (their single heating source was a two-barred electric fire). By the time the stew had been removed from the fire, and had sat around until a pan of water had boiled on the same sticks and the pasta had cooked, and by the time the pasta had been mixed with the now-tepid beef stew and carried from across the road, it had congealed into a nasty greasy mess. My hands were so cold I could barely pick up my fork. I spent the rest of the day in bed, trying to read a book by candlelight, until finally the power was restored well after dark.
Then there was the horrible Christmas my parents came to stay. It poured torrential rain for the first two days, and then it froze. They moaned about the cold (despite running an efficient gas heater, and getting through a gas bottle every two days!). They whined about the lack of decent viewing on the telly (what did they expect? Greek TV to schedule specially for them?). Complained at the videos we rented, but refused to come to the video shop to choose their own. But the worst culture shock came during Christmas Dinner, at our house with the in-laws invited. My dad was a notorious speedy eater, but he could not hold a candle to my mother-, father- and sister-in-law, the latter being well-known as the Usain Bolt of the dinner table (or perhaps at that time as the ‘Carl Lewis’). Fork in one hand (grappled well down near the prongs), hunk of bread in the other to achieve movement of food from plate to gob, and sharpened elbows held at the horizontal to ward off possible dinner-thieves, three noses went down an inch from the trough (sorry, PLATE), and remained there until all the food had been vacuumed up with slurpy sound-effects. The fork was almost redundant. The instant it was all finished and the plate licked, the faces came up for air, swivelling in a greedy recce for seconds. My fast-eating Dad was only about half-way through his portion, and Mum had barely begun. Being good table-mannered folk, they were shocked.
Then sister-in-law demanded the leftovers, and was surprised when I pointed out that I needed them for the next day’s buffet. ‘What am I going to eat, then?’ was her response. ‘Your problem dearie’, was mine.
(This was the person whom, two days earlier, I had been instructed to pick up from Markato Supermarket in San Rocco Square, to remove her shopping in my truck back to the village. I found her surrounded by a sea of plastic bags, blocking the pavement and a lane of traffic. On the busiest shopping day of the month, she’d taken the opportunity to purchase what seemed to be a year’s supply of cleaning materials, cosmetics, cakes and dry food, as well as enough fruit to feed the five thousand. Forward planning at its best…) I’ve never, like some folk, been subjected to every foreigner’s nightmare Corfiot Christmas Dinner – egg and lemon soup made with boiled turkey stock, followed by charred turkey from the grill. Made with care, it can be nice (especially if you skim the stock properly of its grey scum, and put it through a sieve to remove the little bones). Just not on Christmas Day, please.
On that note, I will wish you a very Merry Christmas, and hope, unlike those Christmasses Past, that it lives up to your expectations.