The silver tips of the olive trees at the end of the patio are straining towards the harbour. An autumnal wind is blowing over Ithaca and memories of swimming in the warm Ionian waters at Sarakiniko feel suddenly distant now the sky is covered by a layer of grey cloud. The autumnal air is bringing the rain.
It’s not the first time it’s rained since coming to Ithaca — we arrived to a great summer storm that lasted three or four days, with thunderclaps loud enough to terrify and lightning that lit up whole swathes of sky — but it’s the first to stir feelings of cosy winter evenings sitting by the fire with a mug of hot cocoa. Sadly, there’s no fireplace in the house and we’re out of cocoa. All the shops are closed for Ochi (No) Day in commemoration of Greece having rejected Mussolini’s ultimatum on 28 October 1940. This refusal to allow the Axis forces into Greece led to an invasion by Italy that same day, bringing Greece into the Second World War.
Fortunately, the sun shone on the Ochi Day celebrations earlier this morning, which began with a service at the Old Cathedral, a modest building the size of a small church. Representatives from branches of the military stood up front on the right, and children wearing white shirts, fidgeting and chatting, were gathered on the left. People continued to arrive and slot themselves into a vacant spot while the priest delivered his sermon. At the end, everyone filed out and crossed the street to the war memorial. A children’s brass band trumpeted past the church to join the military men and white-shirted children who had gathered around the memorial. Watching the girls in their white blouses, tights and gloves, I realised this could have been me if the winds of fate had blown differently.
After much wreath-laying and a host of foot-stamping salutes, the ceremony ended and we all made our way to the main square. A string of Greek flags fluttered between lampposts and a single large flag flew above the carpet-decked podium. A short procession around the square was followed by an anti-fascist speech by a local official. A final bout of precessing and band-playing topped off the morning’s proceedings.
The festivities over, adults swarmed to the outdoor cafés and the younger children to the round intersection in the square that doubles as a football field, where the openings to the pathways form perfectly sized goals. Sean and I sat on a wall soaking up the warmth of the sun while munching still-warm spanakopita and sharing a freddo cappuccino.
Looking at the darkening skies I can’t imagine having another freddo cappuccino until the weather warms again next year. But perhaps we won’t have to wait that long. We’ve been assured there are still many warm days to come, despite the autumnal air indicating the contrary.
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Mufidah Kassalias is a writer, photographer and slow-travelling digital nomad. She’s also Co-Founder & COO of CreativeThunder.co, working with creative businesses and individuals, worldwide, to build tribes of loyal customers via strategic websites, visual storytelling and social media.