Sunday, April 19, 2009

Kalo Pascha!

Happy Easter! Here are the red eggs and the Easter bread called tsoureki. My Greek friend Yotta writes from her village near Delphi: I am at my home town with my old parents. We are roasting the lamb on the spit. The whole village is covered with smoke which went up higher and higher and made a cloud this morning.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy, Uh, Palm Sunday

We don't always celebrate Easter the same day as everyone else. This year, while many people are having Easter egg hunts and eating chocolate bunnies, we Orthodox are celebrating Palm Sunday. My sons were born in Greece and I have always tried to keep up the Greek traditions for them. You might say that when in Rome, etc., but I have been Orthodox for more than 50 years and anyway am used to being different and not fitting in.

The main reason that Greek (and Russian, Serbian, etc.) Orthodox Easter sometimes falls on a different Sunday from Western Easter is that it must come after the Jewish Passover,which began last Wednesday and lasts for seven or eight days. The rest of the calculations for Easter, involving lunar calendars and something called a golden number, are really beyond me.

Added to this complicated business is the fact that many Orthodox did not accept the Gregorian calendar when it was introduced in 1582 (there is a reason for the word Orthodox) and still use the Julian or "old" calendar, which is 13 days behind. All Orthodox churches, however, celebrate Easter on the same day.

So on Saturday, Eastern Orthodox people will go to church around midnight and wait silently for the priest to bring out the candle which represents the new light and to announce "Christos Anesti" or whatever the word is in the local language. The Russian is something like "Christos Vaskreshi". The flame passes from candle to candle until every taper is lit, and the people try to keep the flame going until they get home, when they will smoke a cross over the doorsill and light the lamp in front of their own icon stands.

Our church stands on a hill in San Francisco. When the Easter service is over, you can wait at the bottom of the hill and watch a candlelit procession as some 700 smiling, sleepy people guard their little flames on the way to their cars. Driving home, usually at about two in the morning, you can sometimes see another small flame dimly illuminating a nearby car.

(Giotto, Palm Sunday)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Bird By Bird

Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird, subtitled Instructions on Writing and Life, is one of those books which should be written with a capital B. To summarize the premise would deny a potential reader the great pleasure of reading Anne's words, but it is a thought about which I need reminding from time to time.

The Greeks have a saying (don't they always?) which goes "Fasouli, fasouli, yemis' to sakkouli". Bean by bean, the bag is filled. A friend once told me that her sister, overwhelmed by an out-of-control yard, decided on the salami method of gardening: One slice at a time. She would take care of the weeds directly in front of her and save the rest for the next time.

In my old Skyline piano class, we had a motto for learning a piece of music: Particular by particular, we approach the general.

Nicodemus has completed 38 of 40 radiation treatments for prostate cancer. We have been told that this has a good chance of eliminating the tumor. Since his diagnosis four months ago, it has been difficult and necessary to remember, as he marches off every day for treatment, that Fasouli Fasouli Gemis' To Sakkouli.

To help, every Friday we have a bottle of champagne to celebrate getting through another week. Since we are not big drinkers and there are only the two of us, it takes several days to get through the bottle, so our tasteless low-fiber no salad meals (which minimize the side effects of radiation treatments) still somehow have a festive touch to them.

Whatever works.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Cold Room Diet

I have lost 20 pounds this past year. I am healthy as far as I know and have made no changes to my diet, but it has been an unusually cold and windy year on the Coastside. Now it seems that there is a relationship between being cold and losing weight.

The New England Journal of Medicine, quoted in today's New York Times, says the answer is brown fat. Nearly every adult, the paper says, has blobs of brown fat, so called because it is filled with iron-rich mitochondria, our cells' little energy sources. PET-CT scans show that brown fat burns glucose when activated by the cold.

In other words, you can lose weight by sitting in what the paper calls a chilly room, 61 to 66 degrees (the average temperature in my historic but uninsulated redwood house).

We have insulated curtains, vinyl film on the windows, draft-stoppers on the windowsills, sheets of styrofoam glued to the walls, a thick rug on the tile floor. I have caulked everything caulkable, and still we have to wear heavy sweaters indoors. I won't even tell you what we wear to bed, but you might think of eskimos.

I suppose it is some consolation that we can keep on slathering butter on everything and still button our jeans, but it's, well, cold comfort at best.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Marauder

Although this is a residential community with the usual dogs and cats, we have a great number of other domestic animals and quite a few wild ones as well. There are a few chickens and goats, horses from the stables down the road, and even miniature donkeys which bray once in a while.

We get occasional forages by deer and rabbits and our gardens are eaten by gophers, snails and banana slugs. Ravens swoop about and call raucously; robins feast on whatever berries are growing, whether ivy, cotoneaster or blackberry. Once in a while a gray squirrel will climb the cypresses and run along the telephone wires. A mole made a neat little road of hillocks in the front yard.

At night, there are the owls, the rare possum, skunks and raccoons, lots of them. I am not a friend of the raccoons because they can open the most tightly-sealed garbage can with their dextrous little paws and will scatter the trash far and wide, looking for tidbits. If they get under the house, they will tear out insulation or styrofoam to make nests. They look cute with their little bandito masks, but they will growl and show their teeth if you cross them.

So after a small earthquake and a power outage which lasted longer than usual, we were not sympathetic to the big raccoon who was banging the crawlspace door, trying to get it open. We leaned out the window, shined the flashlight on her, and told her to get a move on. She backed off a bit and waited to see if we would go away. Her eyes were like headlights. Finally she crept away in the dark.

I try to meet the critters halfway. There is a small A-frame down by the fence, under the ivy, where they can get out of the wind, and I keep water for them in a concrete bowl out front. Beyond that, I am not feeling very hospitable when it comes to the raccoons.

"I hope she wasn't pregnant," Nicodemus said.