Monday, 20 May 2013

A Traditonal Greek Easter & Lord Byron's Heart

I know what you're saying, "How can you bring Lord Byron's Heart to the Greek Easter Table?" It's quite easy if you're having Greek Orthodox Easter in the countryside not far from the village of Agrinio, which just so happens to be near to Messolonghi where it is said Lord Byron's heart is buried under his monument in the "Garden of the Heroes" (Κηπος Ηρωων). So how did this all come about? My wife and I were up in the air about what we should do for the Easter Holiday and nearly decided to stay at home in Athens till our neighbor friends invited us to spend the Easter holiday with them in the village of Agrinio. It just so happened that they owned a modestly sized farm that was about a 40 minute drive from the center of Agrinio. Although I couldn't really find a strong ancient Greek history tied into Agrinio I did know that it was near Messolonghi where the famous poet Lord Byron died of a fever, and that his heart was buried there. So, that was something I put on my mental list of "Things to Do". Looking at a map Agrinio was only about 30 minutes from Messolonghi, a perfect day trip for me and my son and an excellent opportunity to give my wife a break from the little one.

Just 20 minutes from Agrinio one can whittle away the hot days of summer under a canopy of large maple trees. We sat here for food and a few nice afternoon drinks. Near-by is a playground where the kids can play. Although we saw many non-venomous snakes swimming in the lake we never saw any on land. Local fishermen never mentioned anything about the snakes but claimed fish weighing up to 5 kilos (11 pounds) could be caught in the lake. A fisherman's story? Who knows, but I'd sure like to find out for myself. 
The magical lake of Trichonida where one can sit under the shade of large maple trees and soak in the peaceful serenity of the lake.


On Big Friday (Μεγαλη Παρασκευη) the effigies of Christ are brought out from the churches of the town and brought into its center. We had a wonderful view from our 3rd floor room at the cozy, and central hotel, Hotel Leto. Because this is the day that Christ supposedly died a full band followed the effigies to the center playing some very moving and emotional music during the course of the procession. We were all very impressed by the bands harmony and unification.
View of the square from our  hotel. 
On Saturday (Μεγαλη Σαββατο) after church (around midnight) we went to the home of the Ketsilis Family for the traditional meal which consist mainly of a soup called Margiritsa (Μαργειριτσα). It is the religious custom for Greek Orthodox Christians to fast from eating meat and animal by-products, amongst other things, for 40 days and 40 nights. On Saturday, when it turns midnight, this special soup is eaten. The ingredients may sound disturbing to the outsider, ingredients such as: lamb intestines, feet, heart, lungs, brains, kidneys & any such combination which varies from Greek household to Greek household, but I stand by the old saying when it comes to new, and sometimes bizarre, foods, "Don't knock it till you've tried it." If you can get past the thought of what it is you're eating you'll most likely say its one of the best soups you've ever had in your life.

Easter Sunday we were up at 9am to take that country road to that farm house in the hills, Agrinio Style. I had heard the night before that Mr. Ketsilis, the grandfather, had been up since 5 in the morning preparing the lambs that he butchered, cleaned and began cooking for us at the wee hours of the morning. These weren't lambs he bought at the local butcher but ones he had raised himself! Later I discovered that not only did he have a large number of sheep he was raising singlehandedly  but he had chickens, rabbits & goats, plus 20 acres of land that was producing fruits, vegetables, herbs, grapes (of course wine) & even tobacco! Everything we ate, right down to the herbs and spices, was from his land! The most unimaginable, or rather astonishing, part of the story was that Mr. Ketsilis was doing virtually everything on his own at the age of 72!!!

When we made it through the beautiful and fertile countryside we finally made it up a narrow dirt road to the farm. We were then greeted by the Ketsilis family and the other guest. Traditional Greek Music, one would most likely hear in the mountainous regions of Greece, played in tune with the harmony of the nature that surrounded us. Mr. & Mrs. Ketsilis didn't rest one minute, and in between running around in preparation, cooking traditional Greek foods, roasting lamb, keeping the fires going and so many other things they amazingly found time to make sure our cups were full and that all of their guest were comfortable. My one wish is that when I reach their age I will be just as strong and full of life.
Lamb on the spit. Sometimes one just isn't enough!

Kokoretsi (κοκορέτσι) The stick of meat you see under the roasting lamb is what use to be inside the lamb. It is wrapped and tied together tightly with its intestines, cooked thoroughly and eaten. Another unusual, but delicious, Greek Easter Food.


Wild chickens and roosters ran rampant and everywhere, even among the grape arbours where that delicious homemade wine comes from.

Mr. Ketsilis and his son-in-law keeping an eye on the roasting lamb.

With lightening bolt speed Mrs. Ketsilis made this massive macaroni pie (μακαρονόπιτα χωριάτικη). Folks this is handmade from scratch! I watched her make the pastry doe with a bag of flour and some water! Nothing was store bought or pre-made.


Check out the little bunnies in the red basket. The kids loved them.

Rabbits everywhere!





Goat milk makes good Feta Cheese.


Some of the surrounding area. Nearby is a clear cool river.


Remember that handmade Macaroni Pie?

I have never seen a pie (pita) cooked like this. Does it get any more traditional than this....?

Mrs. Ketsilis checking on that macaroni pie.

Some traditional music

If you thought that Macaroni Pie was done you were wrong.

It's gotta be flipped, put back in the pan then back onto the fire!

Hanging out in the shade & keeping an eye on the pie. Nice bike!

In Greece the Easter Eggs are all dyed red.

Mr. Ketsilis' new recruit.


Once the lamb is cooked it is hung upside down to drain it of any extra fat and whatnot.


Kokoretsi looks about done to me.

This is not kokuretsi but another Greek Dish called _______ which is only the intestines of the lamb and not the intestines and organs like that of  kokoretsi.

We have to sample it before serving it.

Just the beginning of the Great Feast, Macaroni Pie & Kokoretsi

Mrs. Ketsilis homemade bread...DELICIOUS!

Gathering around the table.



One of Mr. Ketsilis many small plots of produce. The tiny plants in the background are tobacco plants....this man has everything!

The lucky ones

Fresh Milk anyone

The milk is boiled and strained then served. How many people can say they've had milk only 5 minutes old? Yum!


Desert anyone?
 A Very, Very Special Thanks to the Ketsilis Family for all of the Hospitality & Hard Work. We Thank You Very Much! 

                
                                  Part II:
                   In Search of Lord Byron

When we got the invitation to Agrinio I was curious about its history and surrounding area because I knew very little about the place. When looking it up on the map I discovered that Agrinio was very near to Messolonghi. For any lover of poetry will most certainly know that Messolonghi is the place where the Great Poet Lord Byron died. I've never been certain how accurate the story is/was, but according to legend Lord Byron's heart was buried in Messolonghi while his body was interred in England at St. Mary Magdalene Church in the family vault only because Westminster Abbey refused Byron's body (most likely because of Byron's lifestyle).

As I did my quick search of Agrinio history it seemed to me that other than some beautiful countryside there really wasn't much of an anceint history, or "main attractions", concerning Agrinio and the surrounding area. Lord Byron was the best thing going, or at least for this traveler.

After the midnight service on Friday I decided that my son and I would give mommy a break. Saturday morning came, we had breakfast, packed a little lunch/snack, kissed mommy goodbye and hit the road. I had thought it would be a good idea to maybe find some nice place to take my son to go swimming and decided to inquire along the way, but before the swim we would have to pay the Heroes Garden and Lord Byron a visit.

A few minutes after driving through the Kleisoura Gorge we saw signs pointing the way to Messolonghi. Coming up to the town of Messolonghi we were greeted by a fortified wall lined with cannons (what a greeting). One can only guess but these walls were most likely constructed in the 1800's to hold off the Ottaman Turks. If these were the walls that did the deed back in 1822-1823 then they did a good job, that is up until the point when the Greeks attempted a mass breakout which resulted in 1000 Greeks escaping their Turkish oppressors. So what's the bad news? Well, 1000 made it out safely, but the other 8000 did not.  For the Greeks that remained in the town behind the fortified walls, and for those that hadn't the strength to leave, either committed suicide, or were slaughter or sold into slavery when the Turks breached the walls on Palm Sunday, the next morning. Of course the Ottomans wouldn't stop here. After the slaughter, ruin and devastation 3000 severed Greek Heads were displayed atop the remaining fortified walls. 3000 heads! One would think this would be a sure loss, which it was, a great deep loss of human life, but this savage action actually sparked the sympathy of Western Europe to join in the fight for Greek Liberation and Freedom. With Byron's death one year later, in the area where this senseless slaughter took place, it further increased others to join in the fight. It should also be noted that Byron was such a Lover of all things Greek (Philhellene) that he donated a very handsome sum at that time of 4000 lbs to the Greek Forces. Because of his involvement, his love for the Greeks, his generosity to Greece and ultimately his dying for a Greek cause Greece considers Lord Byron not only a great poet, but a National Hero as well. Monuments of Byron can be seen in many other parts of Greece as well, not just the Heroes Garden. Here are some pictures of our interesting journey to pay our respects to that Poet, Hero & "Greek" Lord Byron:  
Opening hours. The sign says open everyday from 8am-6pm and in the summer from 8am-9pm. The very top says (literally) Garden Hero


Map of the city, although  I'm not so sure there's a lot to do in Messolonghi

A monument dedicated to a famous Greek Poet Dionysus Solomos, who wrote Greece's National Anthem.


This is just a monument as Dionysus Solomos' Grave is located in Zakynthos

National Anthem

Ironic that the main entrance takes you straight to Byron

Lord Byron in suit and toga.











The engraved words literally mean, "Girl of Greece"


I think this was a monument for the Polish soilders who fought for the Grek Cause.








One for the Americans


Tropical













1 comment:

  1. Greetings

    Inscription of Lord Byron's statue
    ΒΡΕΤΤΑΝΙΗΣ ΟΜΟΤΙΜΟΝ ΑΘΡΕΙ ΣΤΑΣ ΞΕΙΝΕ ΒΥΡΩΝΑ ΟΝ ΠΕΡΙ ΚΗΡΙ ΦΙΛΕΥΝ ΜΝΗΜΟΣΥΝΗΣ ΘΥΓΑΤΕΡΕΣ ΤΩΝ Δ’ ΕΥΕΡΓΕΣΙΩΝ ΜΝΗ-ΣΤΙΝ ΣΩΙΖΟΝΤΕΣ ΑΓΗΡΩ ΕΛΛΗΝΕΣ ΕΣΤΗΣΑΝ ΛΑΪΝΟΝ ΕΞ ΕΡΑΝΟΥ ΕΥΤΕ ΓΑΡ ΕΛΛΑΣ ΕΓΕΙΡΕΤ ΕΛΕΥΘΕΡΙΗΣ ΕΝ ΑΕΘΛΩ ΗΛΥΘΕ ΘΑΛΠΩΡΗ ΧΑΡΜΑ ΤΕ ΜΑΡΝΑΜΕΝΟΙΣ.

    Translation

    "Britain's nobleman Byron stay and look passer-by. Daughters of Mnemosyne (nine Muses) loved him with all their heart. For his actions which Greeks will always remember, they built this statue after fundraising. When Greece was fighiting the great struggle for freedom, comfort and joy had come to the fighters."

    We will always remember our great national hero, worthy son of Britain, George Gordon Byron. God rest his soul

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