Tag Archives: Lent

The Navratri “diet”

28 Sep

I don’t know who India’s equivalent of Oprah is, but I’m sure this has been featured: the healthful effects of Navratri fasting rules.

Few things are more irritating (“might make you grouchy” my friend E. says) than traditional dietary practices of depth, subtle abstraction, intelligent symbolism and transcendence being given new, healthy, “life-style” meaning.  Being retroactively rationalized, in short, into meaningless utilitarianism.

That Jews and Muslims don’t eat pig meat because “pigs are dirty” is probably the most ancient one.  Because they’re not.  Pigs actually have high self-hygeine practices compared to other domestic mammals and that’s generally attributed to their relatively high intelligence compared to other mammals.  (I’m always tempted to think it’s just that pig meat tastes so good — like shellfish and wine — and banning its voluptuousness was just one of those random rules that monotheism needs to build its puritan edifice and get its rocks off*).  The chicken whose steroid-bloated, skinless, grilled pec you’re eating lives in far filthier conditions and even in free range eats worms and its own feaces.  Then there are the vegans who think that their diet and a Hindu’s vegetarianism come from the same impulse and have the same objective.  If that were the case Indian vegetarian wouldn’t be so wildly delicious and vegan food so unswallowable.  Or the male soy-dieter, wreaking havoc on his endocrinal system and flooding his body with estrogen, because Zen must have something to teach us about health.  It does, just not that.

And then are those occasions when it’s spring and you explain to someone the guidelines for Orthodox, Lenten fasting (Because they’re guidelines, suggestions, not rules like in Catholicism.)  “Oh,” inevitably comes the response, “that must have started as a wise way to cleanse your system for spring — and you must lose so much weight.”  No.  You don’t.  You end up eating a ton of cheap carbs and sugars on the halva and lagana diet and on Easter you’re ten pounds fatter than you were at Carnival when you were gorging on fat and animal protein.

So Jai Ganesh Deva”!  Eat Navratri foods if you want and offer the right prasad.  Pray that Sri Ganesh, in his wisdom, prevents any anti-Muslim violence — something a little more important than your anti-oxidant consumption — and skip the diet part.

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* Don’t wear wool and cotton blends.  “Thou shalt not round the corners of thy head.”  “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk.”

Huh?  Not just the randomness of the injunction, but the obscurity of the language… What are these rules even dictating exactly?  What are the corners of my head?  Last time I looked my head was round already.  Is it just the mother’s milk?  Then why is all milk prohibited?  And on that one weird line we construct a whole dietary culture and an entire constitution of domestic order that must be an insane expense of energy to maintain…

Off topic?  Yeah, well…

comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 

Photo: Athens metro — “Today is the nameday of…”

3 Dec

IMG_0833In recent years — I don’t know how long — the Athens metro system has began to add a list of daily namedays to the signs on platforms that give passengers the date, time and weather — so they don’t forget to at least call or text and well-wish their friends and relatives.  A nameday, for those who could possibly still not know, is the feast day of the saint you were named after.  Above the weather, the sign in the photo, which I took back on October 21st, says: “Today is the nameday of: Artemios, Artemes, Artemis, Artemisia, Artemida, Gerasimos, Makes, Gerasimina, etc.”  It’s really different versions of two names — Artemis and, the most popular among them, the male Gerasimos, the patron saint of the Ionian island of Cephalonia — but the Orthodox calendar usually celebrates more than one saint on each day of the year, since it didn’t go through their files the way the Catholic Church did after Vatican II and remove from the calendar those saints whose miracles didn’t have the requisite scientific backing (……)

Saints’ days and namedays have come up on several occasions on this blog, probably the most detailled exposition of the tradition on my part is this post from last December: Today is my nameday,” from which there’s a money quote below in case you don’t want to wade through the whole text.

This is all a part of a very tender traditionalism that has taken hold of a segment of the Greek soul since the current economic and social crisis began, the kind of refuge a society is wont to take in comforting old forms of social behavior and interaction under such circumstances, but had begun before things hit rock bottom the way they have now; it had actually started to lift as soon the the heavy malakia of metapoliteuse thinking had started to wear off as early as the 90s: this term — metapoliteuse – is defined briefly in the first footnote of this post: “Careful what you wish for…Erdoğan and Ottoman Turkish” — but culturally included a rejection of all things Church-and-Orthodoxy-related as part of the reaction against the right-wing, the monarchy and the Church of Greece’s unforgivable support in the 60s and 70s for the junta that tormented Greece with its idiocy until it fell in 1974  (See much of Pamuk’s commentary on the much more radical spiritual vacuum in which the Turkish Republic’s anti-clericism left his own class in Turkey and that may be part of the state that society finds itself in today.)  I owe readers a post that will be called “The Perfect Metapoliteuse Idiot” to borrow the term and subject matter from Mario Vargas Llosa‘s book “Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot” which describes a sociological phenomenon and type startlingly similar to its Neo-Greek counterpart.

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And so the nameday makes a comeback.  Not that the Western birthday celebration and its obnoxious gimme-gimme narcissism has not also taken root here; it has.  (And like everywhere else, no one thinks about what a baby learns about the world when a glowing piece of confectionery is shoved in front of his face and all the big, powerful adults in his life chant to him like he’s the emperor.)  But the nameday celebration, in which you give and, generally, don’t expect to receive, is still going strong.

(Let me make just one note here: the “traditionalism” of which I’m speaking has nothing to do with the invented, racist, cruel Neo-Traditionalism of Golden Dawn and its supporters; theirs is the obnoxious militaristic “tradition” — including its revolting Spartan/Leonidan warrior pretenses that has nothing to do with any real past — of a reborn Greek fascism.)

Music, food, a renewed interest in agricultural life and processes — often as a form of survival — tiny gracious gestures of etiquette — all of these are parts of this renewal.  But what surprises me the most are the ones that concern religious observations.  Often these are performed in recognition of their cultural beauty and not necessarily as expressions of any deep spiritual impulse.  Still.  All the more, in fact.  I, for example, had always been terrified of having to spend what I thought would be a barren, empty Easter in modern Greece, which I had never had to in my life; when I finally did last year (see: “Σήμερον κρεμάται επί ξύλου…“) I was pleasantly surprised at how immersed the society was in the observation of this central, defining pole of our identity.

And now we’re in the middle of the Christmas fast, which began forty days before Christmas, on November 15th.  This is the period known as Advent in the West, for those who still remember, and as the word implies, indicates that Christmas, like Easter, was once an anticipatory holiday, with a forty-day period of fasting and relative sobriety preceding it, like Easter still is and has in the East.  Christmas was not the consumption orgy that now starts in late October and a tree that goes up on Thanksgiving and gets thrown out before New Year’s even.  Christians waited for Christmas: and it began on Christmas Eve — with the setting up of the decorated evergeen in the northern European tradition, as the West’s entire literary tradition has it, and then the celebration of the “twelve days” that ended on January 6th.  But all that was scrapped because it doesn’t fit in with distinct shopping-spree periods or quarterly earnings reports and didn’t allow enough time for too many exhausting, gluttonous “holiday” parties with people you don’t want to be with and for buying plastic crap to hang on your door.

So that bright Sunday Attic afternoon, the first day of the Christmas fast, I was sitting here (below) in a very, sehr cool little cafe-bar in Pagkrati (a very cool little neighborhood), when a pretty, elegant twenty-something girl suddenly said to her boyfriend in a testily audible voice: “Σου είπα ότι είναι νηστεία σήμερα και δεν αρταίνομαι ” — “I told you it’s the start of the fast today and I don’t partake” — using an archaic form for “partake”“αρταίνομαι” — that I can’t find the etymological root of.  I nearly fell off my chair.

Plastera Cafe 1Plastera Cafe 3

Plastera Cafe 4Plastera Cafe 2

And then Venetis, a large bakery-patisserie-café chain here — which actually has some pretty good stuff — has this notice on its tables: “Νηστεύετε;” – “Are you fasting?”  And on the back: “40 μέρες νηστεία…60 νηστίσιμα προϊόντα.” — “40 Days of Lent…60 Lenten Products.”  

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Commercial.  But a commercial use of something latched onto in the zeitgeist air.  Un-heard of…laughing-stock corny…less than even a decade ago.

Quote from “Today’s my nameday” that I mention at top:

“What I most love is that, among Greeks, your nameday is a day critical to your honor and reputation…

“…It’s a day when it’s your obligation to give and serve and prove your noblesse and not, as Western birthdays have become, a day when you sit around waiting for others to do for you or give you gifts.  Western, American, birthdays are only slightly less gross to me than the totally American ugliness of wedding and baby showers: “I’m getting married and/or I’m pregnant; so I’m having a party where you have to bring me things.”  And don’t even start me on bridal registries, where you tell people, not just that they have to bring you something, but what they have to bring you.”

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Kale Sarakoste to everyone: Alexander Schmemann and “the bright sadness of Lent”

2 Mar

orthodox-worship

“The general impression, I said, is that of “bright sadness.” Even a man having only a limited knowledge of worship who enters a church during a Lenten service would understand almost immediately, I am sure, what is meant by this somewhat contradictory expression. On the one hand, a certain quiet sadness permeates the service: vestments are dark, the services are longer than usual and more monotonous, there is almost no movement. Readings and chants alternate yet nothing seems to “happen.” At regular intervals the priest comes out of the sanctuary and reads always the same short prayer, and the whole congregation punctuates every petition of that prayer with prostrations. Thus, for a long time we stand in this monotony — in this quiet sadness.

“But then we begin to realize that this very length and monotony are needed if we are to experience the secret and at first unnoticeable “action” of the service in us. Little by little we begin to understand, or rather to feel, that this sadness is indeed “bright,” that a mysterious transformation is about to take place in us. It is as if we were reaching a place to which the noises and the fuss of life, of the street, of all that which usually fills our days and even nights, have no access — a place where they have no power.

“All that which seemed so tremendously important to us as to fill our mind, that state of anxiety which has virtually become our second nature, disappear somewhere and we begin to feel free, light and happy. It is not the noisy and superficial happiness which comes and goes twenty times a day and is so fragile and fugitive; it is a deep happiness which comes not from a single and particular reason but from our soul having, in the words of Dostoevsky, touched “another world.” And that which it has touched is made up of light and peace and joy, of an inexpressible trust. We understand then why the services had to be long and seemingly monotonous. We understand that it is simply impossible to pass from our normal state of mind made up almost entirely of fuss, rush, and care, into this new one without first “quieting down,” without restoring in ourselves a measure of inner stability.”

Read the rest here: The Bright Sadness Of Lent

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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