"Panigyri" - A Celebration of Life in a Greek Island Village
by Alison Cadbury, Illustrated by Alice Meyer-Wallac
Like sea salt scraped with a spoon from stones along the shore of the Greek island Paros, these essays and stories bring the immediate taste of a way of life to the reader, a way of life that is at once austere and joyous, thrifty and generous. Island villagers from fisherfolk and farmers to priests, sweet bakers and carpenters struggle to adapt millennia-old traditions as a global culture in the form of tourism deluges the peaceful village, challenging old values, changing even the landscape, the phrygana, the dry rocky land where sheep graze and bees burrow into blossoms of thyme and oregano. Change affects as well love and marriage: Ilias the young socialist priest-to-be, determined to be modern, is mated in the oldest tradition; a schoolteacher loses her lover to higher education; and traditionalist Thanasis falls in love with a liberated Swedish woman. The mami, the midwife, tells a story of tragic love in days gone by, while white-haired Marina spins a tale of a fisherman who may have made friends with a mermaid. That fisherman, decades later, teaches a foreign painter what art really is.
Along with stories of life on the farms and on the sea go traditional beliefs: why you should not hang clothes out overnight, wash your hair in August, work on St. Michael’s day, or marry in May. Activities of the seasons are depicted: in Autumn the grape harvest and wine-making, in July the reaping and threshing of the wheat, in Spring the brilliant flowering of the fields. Times and places named for them keep a myriad saints and other holy persons alive in the minds of the villagers. Their miracles are celebrated not only with liturgy but with feasting and dancing. As the islanders say, “Káthe méra panigyri” - “Every day a celebration.”
Alison Cadbury lived for many years on the island of Paros, observing and participating in village life: harvesting olives and grapes; keeping company with housewives and shopkeepers; and eating, drinking, and dancing in the panigyria. She has received a number of awards for writing including a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. Alice Meyer-Wallace, the illustrator, is a painter who lives half the year in Naoussa and teaches painting. She shows in galleries in Naoussa and Philadelphia.