Easter at a distance

Quarantine Culinary Connections Through Cultural Expressions

Easter is a thing. In Greece it’s a big thing. I can’t describe it in any other way; but as the most important religious holiday of the year. Christmas has nothing on Easter. Christmas is an American construct, Greek Easter is a religious and pagan ritual. Most Greeks just stick to the copious food and wine of the obligatory break to the 40 day long lent, that follows the days of distance from meat (aka Apokries) between February and April. Easter is a time of celebration and rejoicing following a time of renewal, rest, and (νηστεία- lent) that certainly dates back to the ancient Hellenic rituals cleaning before the coming of spring. It is a culmination of a journey from one pagan/christian holiday to another.

Easter is a huge thing in the Greek community of any major American City. Among Greeks Easter or Pascha is a unifier. We all celebrate it in small and big ways. I’ve never intentionally set foot in a church, I’m not religious and I’m largely a vegetarian and hardly drink but like so many others absolutely love Easter. Greek Easter is defined by three things meat wine and red eggs; plus a dash of spirit (yes the holy one). During this time of quarantine and self isolation, I wanted to find a way to bring the tradition of Easter Sunday lunch which turns into dinner, story telling, music playing and drinking into this time of quarantine and isolation. This year has been incredibly different, difficult and eye opening.

Easter is a time of gathering. Not just to “receive the holy light”, not only to gather in a church and listen to the midnight sermon, not just to eat the thick, hot aromatic leek, liver and entrails soup (served at the stroke of midnight on Sunday, but to be together with dear friends and lovers, family and people you care about. It’s about community, conversation, deep embraces and kisses on the cheek with the slight aftertaste of wine, salt and lamb grease. Easter is about flavors, music, and a promise of a bountiful summer. This year despite that aching feeling of isolation and lack of human interaction; didn’t feel any different. These things can still be shared, despite the distance.

I woke up this past Sunday morning with a strange joy I’ve not felt in a long time, because of Easter. Yes I the atheist vegetarian needed, wanted this connection with ritual, tradition and belief, plus lamb and potatoes in the oven (aka Αρνί με πατάτες στο φούρνο). This dish is synonymous, in its many different renditions with traditional Easter Day fare. Lamb on a spit or in the oven if you live in a city, is Easter on a plate. This time of quarantine has given me a chance to explore things that I’ve needed and wanted to understand better for myself, through the lens of forced separation from my community.

before

Easter is about family. The one you are born into and the one that you acquire along the way. We gather and share in this tradition, with those we love and cherish the most.

Easter is inclusive. Regardless of religion or belief, people gather to be together and share food and copious wine (I must stress this) with anyone who wants to be included.

after

Easter is about being close, about sharing stories into the late afternoon, before you take one last swig of wine, watching the sun quickly vanish into the horizon. While savoring the last morsel of potato covered in lamb grease that you will probably heat up again next week, you lick your fingers and taste just one last rush of thyme, rosemary and garlic; you promise yourself that next year, your embraces will linger a little longer, your stories will be that much more rich and the tradition regardless of our belief is there to bring us just a little closer.

Χρόνια πολλά….

More tomorrow from the quarantine diaries.

Quarantine Diaries: A strange quiet in the Air

How do we learn to navigate this ever changing new reality.

We are weathering an unpredictable storm. Massive life shirts in a matter of days. Every week that passes there is a new norm we must contend with. A quiet space we never had has suddenly been created along with a new rhythm to our lives. Everything and everyone we want so deeply to connect with has been kept away from us. Our loved ones out of reach, our moments of human connection so deeply skewed, distorted and altered beyond any previous experience or recognition. Technology brings us close, when at the same time it keeps us apart. This unending conundrum of how do we stay connected when we aren’t allowed.

This time of forced quiet and self-reflection is deeply needed. If we take this time apart from our daily lives, we can discover something far more important that we have not quite acknowledged. Quiet Time. I live in a pretty noisy neighborhood. Not as noisy as some parts of New York but like any densely populated part of the city; my neighborhood can be very busy. People come and go, cars drive by with loud radios playing and now the whole neighborhood is empty. The cars that used to honk at 7.30 in the morning are no longer there. The line that used to form in front of the cafe down the street is no longer there. No one is going to brunch, no one is hanging out till 2 am in front of a bar. The city is at a standstill. A held breath, waiting to exhale.

It’s a full moon. And I’m sitting in front of my window gazing in awe at this urban sky that for once seems clearer and more serene. More than any other time in the seven years I’ve lived in New York, this city is . Yet I feel an unease that can’t be explained. I associate New York with as much noise as possible and now the silence has given me a moment to really ponder what is important and what is frivolous.

As I grapple with the waves of fear, insecurity, calm, anger, calm, reassurance and back again. The silence allows for the thoughts to dissipate and looking up at the sky that surrounds us all, I’m comforted by the fact that we’re all in this. For how long? Predictions aren’t my game; but whatever the length of this pause, I hope we learn something useful for the next chapter of our lives.

Be Safe, Be Well, enjoy the silence.

27 Day Challenge Revisited- Quarantine Edition Day 1.

Finding balance in uncertain times.

It’s midnight March 29th, 2020. Two days after my 27 day challenge has drawn to a close; I celebrated my 42nd birthday in the confines of my living room, thankfully safe and in good health. Truth be told I’m lucky. I have a place to live, I have my health, and for a brief moment after I wake up, for about 10 minutes before I’m fully aware of time or the day, I allow myself the illusion that everything is normal.

Today was another rainy cinematic day in New York and despite the general fear and uncertainty surrounding our daily lives, I got into my bright aubergine raincoat and took a long overdue walk. I’ve been self quarantined for a full two weeks. The days keep blending into one another. I don’t know about you but the waves of fear, anger, panic, calm, self study, and quiet reflection are on rinse and repeat. I had an image of my self in my mind the other day of trying to stay afloat in the open sea, with choppy water and trying oh so desperately not to swallow sea water again and again. Being able to stay afloat mentally and emotionally is like calling upon all the skills I’ve ever studied over the years and actually putting them into full action. There is no more pretending here, either it will work or it won’t.

I’ve spoken to many of my close friends and one thing that keeps coming up is this deep desire for an anchor, a connection point. We’re all feeling a mixture of extreme feelings of loss, grief of whatever normalcy our lives had, and repeated moments of deep need to connect and be heard. Social distancing doesn’t however mean isolation. We are not alone. You are not alone. Keeping that balance however difficult is necessary, imperative even.

Reaching out, writing about this, on a daily basis as my new 27 day challenge, has morphed into an open diary, discussion hub and reflection center. I welcome anyone who would like to share their experiences in a live discussion that I will set up on zoom in the days to come.

Till tomorrow… ride the waves, and breathe.

Day 0. Soup For the Soul

Communities built, sustained, and healed on the sharing of a bowl of soup

This is a little bit of a departure from the hunkering down of previous daily posts. I needed to revisit a post I had been planning on sharing for some time but tonight is as good a time as any to talk about how communities sustain and protect each other not only in times of joy but also in times of need. During these very uncertain times, some of the communities I’ve been and continue to be a part of, and who have sheltered me over the years here in New York; are coming together to support, connect and sustain each other when isolation and a global health crisis has brought us to a very poigniant reconing.

I’ve been living in New York for seven years now. More than I ever expected to last and fewer than most would accept for a person calling themselves a New Yorker, so in this eternal grey area of half existence I have picked my communities from very different parts of this city. Many of these communities have opened their hearts to embrace, assist, accompany and comfort during this very challenging and stressful time. Without them I’m sure we would all go a bit mad. I have only placed a small pebble in this vast web of support but we all have something to offer and contribute during these trying times.

This post has been hard to communicate since a feeling of helplessness has overtaken many of us during these past few weeks. We are all in a state of being and not being. Existing and not existing. Communities of all forms are even more important now and thankfully more and more of them are becoming a resource and a virtual meeting place for those who might need it. Yoga and meditation has become my guide in very uncharted waters, as more centers are using their vast network to become a compass in a very uncertain storm.

Yoga classes, lectures, live streaming, meditation and dance sessions and my own practice has been a life saving line and connection to the community that has in the past and even more now been a savior and peace of mind. Daily meditation sessions, breathwork, movement and walks, keep the body and mind connected. Now more than ever my old Ashtanga family is coming together to share, inspire and support. Without that I am sure my capacity to deal with the extra stress and feeling of uncertainty would inevitably become that much harder.

There are countless other resources out there that are being created on a daily basis. Art, dance, theater, music. These things matter, now more than ever. They are vital for all of us to become closer, kinder, and more productive. Writing on this blog daily brings me closer to those who might be feeling exactly as I am and I’m determined more than ever to keep going. Reaching out, connecting in these times of isolation ( self or otherwise) is key to weathering this dark storm. If you need to move move, if you need to breathe breathe if you need to read read. And if you need comfort, there is always a community available to you, no matter where you might be.

As I sit in my kitchen with a piping hot bowl of homemade vegetable soup, I can’t help but wonder how we build who we are when we find ourselves in between places, and in great uncertainty, things we have otherwise have taken for granted, just cement a community in the simplest ways.

In trying times like these, we are called to build families, connective tissue and communities in ways that are never clear cut, but always necessary for survival and healing.

Till tomorrow… stay strong.

Day 19. It’s the simple things.

It’s day 7 of voluntary social distancing here in New York and staying at home has been a challenge and a blessing. Now we have all the time in the world to focus on the things that we could never catch up on before. Time has become a loose and fluid entity these past few days. Hence why I’ve taken a couple of days off the daily challenge to just reflect and connect with my breath and my thoughts and write something different.

I’ve slowed down so much from my previous rhythms, that I’ve had so much more time to reflect on what really matters here and what doesn’t. There are opportunities in this global health crisis we can’t afford to miss. We’ve been either forced to stop what we were doing before but also take stalk of what the hell we’ve been doing to our planet to each other and ultimately our own health. We’re nothing next to this enemy within.

We’ve been told to stay home, help the collective good for once instead of the personal gain. We’re going stir crazy in our forced solitude, and all of a sudden it’s become a reflection on the little things. That is all that truly is on my mind these days. The grind has stopped and sharing a cherished moment talking to a loved one has taken ultimate priority over anything else.

I ( hope) know this too shall pass but we’re at a pivotal point in our existence and the space we inhabit and no amount of analysis will change it. Here’s a few things I’ve taken from the past

In the past week, I’ve cooked a home made meal for me and my housemate every night. I’ve listen to music and read a book with so much attention I forgot to stop at 2 am. I’ve stretched and moved with my friends in Athens who are also cooped up in their homes without any clear idea of when this will end. And all that I am craving is the little things that make life worth living.

The delicate and personal, the memories and the things we share with those we most cherish. The beauty of this planet and the connections we build. The smell of a home cooked meal and the clink of a glass of wine with friends in a shared tavern table just at the foot of the Agean sea. The crisp folding of a page from a book I can’t put down and the feeling of clean air against my face. Quiet mornings sipping a cup of coffee with my family before the day unfolds. No amount of technology can replace it although taking to friends and family daily is of utmost importance. The list of little things is like a treasure trove that we nibble at when all the supplies have been depleted. And here we are cherishing all that we took for granted. Living what we thought was a given and saying all we thought was understood.

Let’s hope we share on those small joys more often.

Onwards to day 20.

Day 16. Closeness and Distance

Isn’t it ironic, that it takes tragedy, horrific global events, and forced isolation to make us understand how much closer we are and should be with each other. Day 4 of self quarantine in what is reported to be a deeply unpredictable sweeping Pandemic, and I have sought and received more contact, communication and connection with the people that are far away; more than any other time in the seven years I’ve lived in New York. Suddenly we’ve been given the gift of time.

We have no where to go but be at home. Some are alone, some with their families, forced to spend more time together in a week than we’ve spent in months and how delicate, beautiful and strange that balance is. I’ve read more than I’ve done in years, I’ve cooked more beautiful, meals than I’ve prepared in a long time, I’ve dedicated to sharing my Yoga and strength training practice more often than any other time simply because we all crave connection, reciprocity and a deep wanting to feel like we’re not alone in this.

Technology however faceless has become a useful tool to bring us together when we simply cannot. Social distancing, despite its ominous tone, has given me the chance to reflect on who I truly care to spend time with and how we all take that for granted. All of a sudden we can’t go outside and all we want is to do just that. All of a sudden we have all the time in the world to write, meditate, sit in silence, and figure out the next step without the cacophony of constant planning.

Finding connection through distance is the secret weapon we’ve been gifted in these trying times. I for one am scared much like the rest of us. These are not normal circumstances we find ourselves in. Yet ( always a yet) here we are. Connecting, through forced distance and finding the beauty in taking one day at a time. Stay safe out there and here’s a quote from my new favorite read

Andre Aciman’s new novel : Find Me

“None of us may want to claim to live life in two parallel lanes but all have many lives, one tucked beneath or right alongside the other. Some lives wait their turn because they haven’t been lived at all, while others die before they’ve lived out their time, and some are waiting to be relived because they haven’t been lived enough.”

Till tomorrow Day 17 and 18 with a twist. Drink up it’s just another day.

Day 14 & 15 Isolation and Literature

One thing is for certain, this is one crazy March challenge. I never thought my daily posting would turn out like this, but for these last few days as the world is gripped by uncertainty and fear, I’m more determined than ever to turn to the things that bring a sense of calm and comfort in these insane, and troubling times, and to share them with you. We are all slowly being asked to self isolate. Something I’ve become quite good at in New York, and given the extra time and space I’m spending at home, I’m compiling my list of books that I’ll be reading during these next few weeks.

Nothing is certain at this point other than taking life day by day. As we all slowly become gripped by fear and panic, there are some certainties that give me some hope and an anchor on this crazy boat ride. As a continuation of my previous post, I’ve put together my top 10 Desert Island Books, to accompany you dear readers while you’re at home, some are in English some are Greek and some in spanish, and all are a great way to stay at home and catch up on some much needed ( no screen time )

My 10 — Desert Island Books for Covid-19 reading list: Along with: The complete works of Shakespeare.

– A Jane Austen Education by : William Deresiewicz

– The Penelopiad by: Margaret Atwood

– On Love by: Alain De Botton

– Εγκώμιον Απραξίας — Φρανσουα Ζυλλιεν

– Κωμικοί Έρωτες — Μίλαν Κούντερα

– Heroes by : Stephen Fry

– Just Kids— by: Patti Smith

– Water Dancer — by: Ta- Nehisi Coates

– Find me — by: André Aciman

– Leonard Cohen — The complete poems and songs.

The list grows longer and longer in my mind but I had to cut this to my 10 current picks. And I leave you with a verse from Leonard Cohen’s poem// song:

OUR LADY OF SOLITUDE:

All summer long she touched me
She gathered in my soul
From many a thorn, from many thickets
Her fingers, like a weaver’s
Quick and cool
And the light came from her body
And the night went through her grace
All summer long she touched me
And I knew her, I knew her
Face to face

And her dress was blue and silver
And her words were few and small
She is the vessel of the whole wide world
Mistress, oh mistress, of us all

Dear Lady; Queen of Solitude
I thank you with my heart
for keeping me so close to thee
while so many, oh so many, stood apart

And the light came from her body
And the night went through her grace
All summer long she touched me
I knew her, I knew her
Face to face

Day 11. Caught in Flight

Nature is under scrutiny and constant attack; still she has a way to keep going despite our efforts to overpower her. Devour her.

We are at the mercy of her. This earth we have with hubris & destruction overtaken. We will awaken to our limits and have no where to go.

Running away from extinction destruction and greed. No deed left unpunished. No scheme left unscathed. We are unfazed by our audacity our capacity for change. And we choose to remain unchanged.

How long will it take? We remain chained to our past mistakes. What does it really take ? We underestimate the rate at which we will be outnumbered and overtaken.

By our own hypocrisy, their autocracy, this is not a democracy. It’s a fallacy, a game.

We’re all the same in the eyes of god they say? which god is that? I’d like to have a word please. With the higher power up in a tower that no one can see.

This one is on me…

You say your life story as your pour me another drink, I didn’t order and didn’t need. Take heed, listen to the powers that be, as you take the last sip of poison before you leave.

Day 9.5 & 10 – Self Care

How does the Body Politic go into the private sphere of influence ?

Public Doubt — Leads to Body doubt and self doubt. Uncertainty about public health, leads to uncertainty about our body’s health and ultimately the health of who surrounds us. It starts small and reverberates to all aspects of our experience.

We are given no choice but to doubt ourselves because someone else is making decisions for us. Taking back our bodies and exercising our self love and connection with our true nature, is an act of defiance. Tipping the balance back to self knowledge self agency and to taking back out true self reliance is almost considered a revolutionary act.

Not allowing the public sphere to infiltrate our private space is akin to moving out into a personal wilderness with little influence from the “civilized” world and connecting to nature and ourselves once again.

some personal tips: and I’m not hear to preach to anyone but keeping a level head requires self discipline and self love:

– Spend time with your body in silence. Listening, breathing, meditating.

– Move, sweat, sing, dance, let go of the tension in both body and mind.

– We are ALL in this, together so helping each other, practice loving kindness even though its easy to blame the world for our problems, resist.

Stay sane and safe dear readers. Tonight Day 11. with a twist.

Day 9- The Body Politic

What are we losing by allowing others to decide how we exist?

We push our bodies to the limit because someone said it’s good for us. Eating, drinking, exercising in ways that are determined by others. Experts, scientists, doctors, all there to give their two cents on what and how we should be. We end up blindly following rules, dogma, routines and health fads with no consideration or self exploration.

Are our bodies really our own? And if so, how are we allowing others to dictate, decide and decode them?

The mere act of self reliance, self discovery and self care is becoming a political and revolutionary act. Taking agency over our health, and our wellbeing is a statement of defiance and solidarity.

Especially as a woman in this moment in time, I’m increasingly being dictated to, and told how and in what ways my body and its functions are still a political and social bargaining chip. Instead of moving towards body independence, we are still being told how to be; what to weigh, what to wear, how to heal and how to express and impress our corporal identity.

Human bodies are a commodity, a major political agenda, and a currency that is far beyond just health and wellness. Multi billion dollar industries are built on re-defining, re-arranging and re-telling of the human form, and for women especially it has become essential that we buy into the idea that EVERYTHING we are starts and ends with our face and our body parts. We are not a sum of our parts, we are just parts.

The human body is under constant attack, surveillance, and scrutiny. We belong to someone else from the day we are born to the day we die. Especially the day we die. We have to ask for permission to exist and we can’t decide for ourselves if we wish to cease to exist.

How can we create change in the world if we can’t claim ownership over our own bodies? How can we claim to be free thinkers, doers and beings if we are told to ask for advice and permission from others on how to exist ?

How can we create personal body freedom?

Till the next episode… Rest, reflect and recharge.

Featured image by : Alexandros Koromilas