Sunday, 31 March 2013

Christmas at Easter (Χριστούγεννα το Πάσχα)

The weather is an important topic of conversation in many countries, often in the form of a complaint. In Greece, we often complain about the sun because it gets too hot. Even in the middle of winter, when the sun comes out, it sits on your back and soaks through your clothing into your skin, giving you a damp humid feeling. In rural Crete, we make the sign of the cross when we see rain because of its relative absence and its great importance for our agriculture. Our prolonged dry spells are another cause of chagrin: dust accumulation. Even when it rains after a long dry spell with southern winds, the rain will fall together with the dust, causing what is known in Greece as the 'red rain' phenomenon.

I often read about how much the Brits moan about their rainy cold weather. Now that I spent a week in London during one of the coldest ever Marches, I can understand why they moan so much. In the seven days we were there, I can actually recall the moments I saw the sun. The first time lasted for about half an hour. We saw it from the train window during the trip from Stansted Airport to central London, at about sunset. As we passed through picturesque countryside, where we saw hundreds of carefree-looking bunny rabbits enjoying the sunshine (and to think, I was carrying rabbit meat in my suitcase - how easy it must be to cook up a stifado in this country!), a few scurrying squirrels, some ducks wading through streams and a quick glimpse of an allotment that was enjoying the sun's rays, that little bit of sun made the bare flat English fields look quite enticing.

By the time we arrived at my friend's house in southeast London, the sun had disappeared, giving way to the evening darkness, which looked very Dickensian as we walked past the pretty red-brick terraced houses of Brockley. They had a Christmas look about them: a faint light could be seen from the opaque window pane of the main entrance, and one room would also be lit up with the curtain drawn, so you could see the interior, where someone was often working at a desk on a computer. One house even had red fairy lights around one of the windows. That was the only yellow light we would see for the next seven days, except for one brief moment when the sun suddenly appeared from the sky like a lightning bolt, lasting all of three minutes - in between the light snow and the gritty hail - in Hendon. We felt its warmth through the windows from inside a shop where we were buying my son's fencing equipment. And that was basically it. We never saw the sun in its round yellow form while in London, and we didn't get any other glimpse of the until we returned to Crete.

Instead of spring this year, Britain is going through a prolonged winter, which seems rather unfair, given that summer hardly appeared last year. I can still see snow from the windows of our Cretan home - but it's sitting on the top of the mountain, out of harm's way, not under my feet. Our weekend in London was spent watching the snow flakes falling onto the ground, and amassing into ice on our hosts' potted herbs and flowers, the black soil in the miniscule garden, and the wooden fencework. All the surfaces seemed to be gradually getting covered in the white stuff, all except for the footpaths and the roads; our hosts told us that this was a good sign because it meant that you won't be wading through snow and the public transport will continue to run, although the cold will turn to frost and everything will freeze as the snow turns to ice - if that is any consolation!

The snow fell in tiny ice drops, like confetti. As we walked from the house to the shops (according to my self-styled itinerary, it was Primark shopping morning), we did not feel cold. The slight wind kept the snow moving, which stopped it from settling, melting it and generating a slight sense of heat from the humidity. Luckily we got back home early enough to watch the snow turn into a blizzard at about 2pm; suddenly, the snowflakes were moving around as fast as a swarm of buzzing bees in a hive that had just been upset. Visibility dropped, the atmosphere fogged up, and it carried on like this for about an hour. That put the remaining day's itinerary out of whack - we would have to miss the concert we had booked to attend at the Hellenic Centre in Paddington St. The snow did not have to stop us from going - but it might have stopped us from coming back home.

Still, I only have good memories of my time spent in snowy London. It was an interesting experience. We took no risks, therefore we didn't fear it. The cold was bitter, but we kept ourselves wrapped up warm. Travelling further out of the concreted part of London and into the snowy countryside in the northwesternmost part of greater London, we experienced the eerie beauty of the snow-capped landscape. The snowy surroundings reminded me of a Dickensian Christmas, even though we were fast approaching Easter, albeit calendar, not Greek! Any part of our body that was not covered in clothing (lips, nose, fingertips) simply froze. The children's biggest disappointment was when our hosts told us that the snow we were seeing wasn't the type you could play in or make snowballs with - and if you stepped off the concrete and onto the snowy fields, your shoes would be trashed because they would become muddy (you needed gumboots).

The weather plays a significant role in our life. I'm a homebody; this weather would suit me to a tee. Not so my husband - it would drive him crazy to be stuck indoors most of the time. Cold snowy weather - it isn't everyone's cup of tea.

Speaking of tea, something I rarely drink in Crete, I ended up drinking gallons of the stuff in London. The cold weather makes it go down more easily. And you want to eat a lot. We did not have any difficulties scoffing down roast meat and floury potatoes, with crackling, Yorkshire pudding and thick gravy, followed by stodgy pudding and scones for tea.

This was the best meal I had during my stay in London. The cook must have been a good one to make it so tasty, but I think it was the love factor that she added when preparing this special meal, specially for us. Not only did the wine pair well with this feast - so did the weather.

(And if you want the recipes, here they are:)

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