Today is the 28th October which makes today in Greece, Oxi Day. Oxi Day commemorates a particular moment in history when Greece stood up to the tyranny of the Axis armies. In 1940 in the midst of World War 2, the Italian army were on the borders of Albania hoping to plough there way through Greece. Greece was strategically placed to facilitate their operations and the Italians wanted access through the country. Mussolini had sent an ultimatum to the Greek Prime Minister, Ioannis Metaxas via his ambassador ‘asking’ them to either give the Italian army safe passage or to go to war. Prime Minister Metaxas didn’t actually say “Oxi” or no. He responded with “Alors, c’est la guerre” “Then it is war”.
And so it was. The following day the front pages of the Greek newspapers were covered with the word “Oxi”. Greece said no and so entered into World War2. At the Albanian border in the Pindus region of Northern Greece, a bloody battle between the Italian army and the poorly equipped Greek army commenced. The battle known as the Greco-Italian War lasted for around 6 months and tragically over 14,000 Greek soldiers were killed. The Greek army although lacking adequate weapons, with courage and determination managed to drive the Italians out.
This was a major achievement against the axis armies and re-ignited the determination of the allied forces to defeat the enemy. The courage of the Greeks was recognised by the famous line from Winston Churchill where he said “Hence we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks.”
I don’t know how the village Molyvos will be commemorating Oxi day. I’d be surprised if there wasn’t some kind of event. Yesterday I’d spent the evening in a Google frenzy until I was nearly cross eyed. Social media told me that there was to be a parade in Petra taking place at around 11am. Firstly before making plans to head around the coastline I was going to scout out any signs of activity in Molyvos. But first breakfast. There is a lovely little cafe bar along the back of the beach called Sunset. I’ve been here for a drink before and it has a lovely friendly feel about it so this is where I head towards.
As I walk from Eleni’s Studios and reach the main road I can see that the school has decorated it’s frontage with flags and bunches of laurel leaves. This is promising! From the main road I take the path that runs between the small church of Agia Paraskevi and Pergola Cafe. Bearing off to the right leads me to a small square (which is actually a circle) that is festooned with Greek flags. In the middle of the circle sits a tall white stone monument topped with a spread-eagled bird (probably an eagle). The front of the monument has an image of a burning torch and the words “Municipality of Mythymnis for the fallen of the fatherland and their children”. This is how Google translate translated it anyway. The big giveaway that there will be some kind of event is a speaker that is playing war time music. Just next to this square, adjacent to a childrens playground is another communal area that takes the form of a small ampitheatre – a place for families to meet and socialise. From here I can see people beginning to gather on the main road above me. I sit on the steps of the ampitheatre and listen to the music trying to pre-empt how the event is going to play out. I reckon that there will be a parade starting on the main road above that will culminate in a service at the monument. I don’t think that you need to be Miss Marple to work that out!
Now I have this figured out I head to Sunset for breakfast. The ladies that run Sunset are really friendly and seems to be a place that local families come to socialise. You can access the narrow stretch of beach just below from the cafe terrace. I don’t hang around too long because I don’t want to miss the parade.
I head back up the steps past the children’s playground and the small square and onto the main road. It looks like I’ve timed it just right because the handful of people that had gathered earlier has now turned into quite a crowd. Everyone seems to be dressed up in their Sunday best especially the older members of the community – a sign of respect to commemorate the importance of the day. There is a palpable ‘frisson’ in the air as everyone waits in anticipation for the parade to begin. After a wait of around ten minutes I can hear marching drums. Up over the brough of the hill comes the children grouped by class and going up incrementally in age (and height!). Those little ones at the front melt my heart. They are marching like tiny little soldiers whilst a teachers blows a whistle to keep them in time with the drums. Parents and grandparents watch on proudly calling out words of encouragement. Behind the school children are the scouts marching alongside the priest. The parade takes the side street down to the square and I follow along with the last few stragglers.
I’m conscious that this isn’t my history and this isn’t my custom. As much as I’m really interested to observe it, I don’t want to get in the way whilst taking photographs or videos. The ones that I do take are from the periphery so as not to be an imposition or to get in the way.
Down at the square, the children, the scouts, the priest and a couple of dignitaries take their place around the monument and the service begins. I hover around the perimiter of the square rather furtively I think! Words are said by the dignitaries and readings are made by the children which prompts loud rounds of applause and shouts of “Bravo”. Then it’s the turn of the priest who conducts a short service where everyone hangs onto his words. Shortly after people begin to leave and make their way back to the main road and beyond. The ceremony at the monument lasts no longer than 30 minutes but it was very special nonetheless.
As I also make my way back up to the main road, a lady makes her way through the crowd and hands me a piece of Loukoumi wrapped in tissue paper. I was quite taken aback and really touched that she had made a point to include me in this small way. My heart melts again. This is a small gesture but it really meant the world to me. When you travel solo and especially as a mother and grandmother, family events like this can make me feel very homesick and lonely but this really lifted my spirits. Filoxenia at its best.
I hadn’t really decided on how to spend today but as I’m close, I decide to go and look at the olive press. It’s unlikely to be open today as it’s a national holiday but I’m curious and I have time so there’s nothing to lose. I take the steep Eftalou road up and before the road begins to drop again I see it. It sits just beyond the pine wood at the top of the hill on the right.
The building itself is closed but outside are a pile of sacks stacked onto a pallet. To the left of the main building is a tall hopper which is where I assume the sacks of olives are emptied into. To the right of the building is a basement pit which looks as though it is full of waste from the oil production process. I wonder if this by product is used as a fertiliser or such like? I’ll have to ask Christos next time I see him.
It’s still early afternoon and I’m conscious that my stay in Molyvos will soon be at an end. I want to take another walk around the village in case I missed anything on previous walks. I don’t climb to the Kastro but cut across the village about halfway down the hill. It’s this aimless wandering that I love and an excellent way to relax and so good for the weight loss! Whilst in the village close to the bakery I bump into a lady who has her ankle strapped up. We stop to chat and she tells me that her name is Sylvia, she’s from Germany and here on holiday on her own. It’s not her first time on Lesvos and she has stayed in Molyvos before. However, this time she has hurt her ankle whilst walking over the cobbles but this isn’t limiting her ability to get out and about to explore. We continue chatting for about 20 minutes before continuing our separate ways. I follow the street down to the marina before circling back on myself to the main road.
I spend the rest of the afternoon pottering around at the apartment – washing clothes and relaxing on the balcony. Later that evening I decide to eat in Molyvos village. Whilst walking there today I noticed there was a small strip of taverna’s and bars that sit on a balcony overlooking the bay. I take a table at a restaurant called Martins. I had imagined that this may have been a restaurant owned by a British expat who’d made his fortune in the city and decided to give up the rat race for a better life in Molyvos. Anyway, the host is very much Greek and I recieve a lovely warm welcome. I’m handed a menu and before I’ve really had chance to read it, my host tells me that I should have the vegetables to start. “Okay? I say not quite sure what is meant by vegetables exactly. Of course I know what vegetables are but I can’t say I’ve had ‘vegetables’ as a starter. Vegetables it is and with meatballs in tomato sauce and wine.
The vegetables are exactly what it says on the tin – a plate of cold vegetables drizzled in olive oil – and they taste delicious! The meal is completed with a complementary dessert of semolina based Halva.
It is just a little early for the sunset and I know exactly the place to go for final drink. Sunset by name and Sunset in nature. It’s just the best place to be for the – well – Sunset!