Thursday, July 17, 2008

VILLAGE OF AROLITHOS & A GREEK WEDDING

Dear Friends,

Late in the afternoon of Saturday, July 5th, I traveled to Arolithos, a re-created traditional Greek village about twenty minutes from the little seaside village of Amoudara where I have been staying. The word, “arolithos”, in Greek, refers to an indentation in a rock which catches and holds rainwater. The purpose of the village of Arolithos is to collect and preserve the traditional folklore elements of Crete. The little village is situated on a mountainside overlooking the valley below. In addition to winding streets and small shops which sell traditional Greek jewelry and other souvenirs, there is a Church, a bakery, a metal working shop, a weaving loom, as well as a bar, a small café, a taverna, and a couple of large restaurants. There are also many small apartments that can be rented, either by the day or by the week. And, for the overnight guests, there is even a swimming pool which is perched on the edge of the mountain and has a spectacular view of the valley below.

After arriving there, naturally I wanted to take off and explore the village for myself. I walked through the narrow twisting, winding streets, sometimes only to find myself back at a point where I had already been, or else so turned around that I wasn’t exactly sure how to get back. By now it had already become early evening and many of the shops had begun to close, so I decided to see about some supper. When I asked at the taverna, the lady informed me that the restaurants did not begin serving until 8:00 P.M. So, I decided to go into the bar and have a nice cold drink. I took my drink out from the bar and sat outside at a benched table which also overlooked the valley below. It was one of those beautiful sights that only come along once every hundred years or so, so it was no surprise to me when I felt as if I could spend the next one-hundred years or so just enjoying the view, the low humidity and the gentle mountain breeze.

After I had finished my drink, I casually walked over to the larger of the two restaurants. It was a gorgeous setting for a restaurant: Outside, with trees and overhead grapevines providing plenty of shade for the seating area and with a floor made from large, smooth stones. It had a very rustic appearance but with a touch of elegance. There was also a very small Greek Orthodox Church located not more than seventy feet from the dining area. When I arrived I was informed they were preparing for a wedding and a feast to follow. Now, folks, when I say they were preparing for a wedding and a feast, I’m not talking about some small affair - I would say there was seating for no less than six hundred guests! I asked one of the waiters if there was any seating available for someone who was neither a member of the wedding party nor a guest. He showed me to a row of tables which were situated on a slightly elevated rock and stone ledge overlooking the main dining area where the wedding and feast were to be held. I had the perfect view! It wasn’t long before the wedding guests began to arrive. Many seated themselves at the dining tables, and others just talked or milled about, almost as if they were anxiously awaiting the arrival of a rock star or celebrity...and they were – for this night belonged to the Bride and Groom – and they were the celebrities! Out of my sight, there were wide candlelit stone steps that led to the dining area. When I heard applause coming from that direction, I knew the Bride and Groom were approaching. As they got nearer, the applause grew louder, almost as if it were a wave heralding their arrival. When they walked into the dining area, those who had been seated rose to their feet, and those who had been milling about and talking, turned toward the Bride and Groom and all began to applaud. The young couple walked past their guests nodding and bowing politely as they made their way to the little Church adjacent to the dining area. The Bride and Groom and the immediate wedding party stood outside the small Church before an alter. I counted no less than five Greek Church officials (I’m not sure what to call them – Priests, Bishops?). Some were wearing headpieces that were significantly larger and taller than what the others were wearing (I am not sure if this indicated a higher ranking in the Church hierarchy or not). There was a microphone and public address system set up which allowed all of those in attendance to hear the wedding ceremony as it was being performed. The ceremony itself must have taken about thirty minutes or so. After the wedding rites had been completed, there was a cheer and additional applause from the entire crowd of well-wishers, including myself. The newly married couple made their way through the crowd of family and friends toward the stage where the musicians were seated. After cutting the traditional wedding cake on stage, and each feeding a piece to the other, the Bride and Groom took center stage and enjoyed their first dance together as Husband and Wife. Then...the festivities really began! The waiters and servers brought out tray after tray of legs of roasted lamb, roasted pig, souvlaki, shish-kabobs, assorted platters of cooked and raw vegetables, mountains of freshly baked bread...and the wine – oh, the wine, was brought out by the case, and the bottles distributed on each table not more than two feet apart. Then additional cases of wine were placed at each end of each table, so as to be readily accessible by the servers to be placed before the guests! The musicians began to play lively Greek/Cretan folk music on traditional Greek instruments such as the bouzouki and the lyre. Then, the highlight and grande finale of the evening’s entertainment was a troupe of Greek folk dancers, all attired in the traditional Greek folk costumes, replete with high leather boots, sashes, headwear, and silver-gilded daggers hanging from the men’s sides! At certain points in the dance, the men would leap high into the air and slap the soles of their boots in mid-air which were drawn up behind their backs, and then land flat-footed on the stage – all without missing a step! It was wonderful! But, what impressed me most of all about these Greek folk dancers was their age. All appeared to be in their early or mid-twenties. This told me that many of the Greek folk dances, music and songs were safe for now, and were being passed along to another generation, and that the wonderful treasure that is Cretan culture and customs is being preserved by these wonderful young people! As I left the wedding celebration sometime after midnight, I passed an elderly, white-haired gentleman sitting all alone in a straight-back wooden chair, leaning forward with his head buried in his hands. He was weeping. I didn’t know if this was the Bride’s father crying because he had lost his daughter, or crying because he had just been handed the bill for the night’s festivities! Geisou!!!

Take care, stay well, and let me hear from you.

Your Friend and Fellow “Silent Warrior”,

Bob (Midget) Armistead














UPPER LEFT PHOTO: Architecture in the Village of Arolithos.
UPPER RIGHT PHOTO: Architecture in the Village of Arolithos.











UPPER LEFT PHOTO: Street scene in the Village of Arolithos.
UPPER RIGHT PHOTO: Street scene in the Village of Arolithos.










UPPER LEFT PHOTO: Apartment in Arolithos: A contrast of light, shape, shadow and color.
UPPER RIGHT PHOTO: View from Village of Arolithos of the valley below.










UPPER LEFT PHOTO: Little Church adjacent to the restaurant in the Village of Arolithos.
UPPER RIGHT PHOTO: The Bride & Groom recite wedding vows outside the Church in the Village of Arolithos.











UPPER LEFT PHOTO: Greek folk dancers perform in Village of Arolithos.
UPPER RIGHT PHOTO: Greek folk dancers perform in Arolithos.










UPPER LEFT PHOTO: Greek folk dancers perform in Village of Arolithos.
UPPER RIGHT PHOTO: Greek folk dancers perform in Arolithos.












UPPER LEFT PHOTO: Greek folk dancers perform in Village of Arolithos.
UPPER RIGHT PHOTO: The Bride (R), the Bride's sister (C), and a well-wisher (L).










UPPER LEFT PHOTO: The Bride in the Village of Arolithos.
UPPER RIGHT PHOTO: Bob Armistead at the Greek wedding in the Village of Arolithos.

3 comments:

William said...

Bobby, What an International evening I'm having. I'm sitting here in South Korea, having just finished a meal of spaghetti and meatballs, I'm watching the British Open on my TV, and checking out your latest installment of Cretan Treasures. You are the man! As I look at some of the photos, I feel like I'm on Crete (heaven) again. Thanks again! Bill "Hair" Simmons

mac said...

Bob,Now my friend you know why I fell in love with that place and love going to Greek weddings.As long as I do not have to pay for them.As you saw they go all out for the couple.Both of my daughters danced with a gtoup from church and went all over dancing.
Bob.Just where is that village located.Looking at my map but can't find it.The photo of you shows you had a great time.Thanks again..Mac

mac said...

Bob,Just found out where it is.We had dinner a few times at the cafe right on the old road,RT side as you leave Gazi..Not very old.Very nice place and as you said great view.We drive by it each time we go to the wife's village.They were building another one across the road.Took a couple photos from that one.Mac