PANIGYRI: A Celebration of Life in a Greek Island Village by Alison Cadbury. ISBN 978-1-891386-86-2. Plain View Press. 435 pages. $18.95
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 also affects intimate relations, especially 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; while traditionalist Thanasis falls in love with a liberated Swedish woman, with whom he forms a unique union.
The villagers are great storytellers. The mami, the midwife, tells a story of tragic love in days gone by, and white-haired Marina spins a tale of a fisherman who might have made friends with a mermaid. That fisherman, decades later, teaches a foreign painter what Greek art is really about.
Along with stories of life on the farms and the sea go traditional beliefs: why you should not hang your clothes out overnight, work on St. Michael's day, wash your hair in August, or marry in May. Women's work and pleasures inform their lives: embroidery, spinning, washing clothes, laying out and mourning the dead.
Seasonal activities are described in lyrical language: in Autumn the grape harvest and wine-making, in July the reaping and threshing of the wheat, in Spring the astounding 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, as their miracles are celebrated not only with liturgy but with feasting and dancing. As the villagers say, "Kathe mera panigyri," "Every day a celebration."
AUTHOR: 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.
ORDERS:www.pvp.com, www.amazon.com, www.Barnes&Noble.com, www.Powell's.com. Local bookstores order from Ingram.