What’s in a name?

 

In the Greek Orthodox calendar, October 18th is the day of St Luke, my name-day, and St Luke’s church in Kolossi, where I was has a special service where they bless every Lucas in the country who has made a donation. They don’t exactly go “Lucas, Lucas, Lucas, Lucas…” for seventy-five hours,  they say something which includes everyone, and it makes you feel content in the same way that a child setting up props at a school play would be proud of a phrase in the programme like: 

“Space does not permit us to list all the people who supported this production.”

 

In Cyprus we take names and name-days very seriously. This is probably because remembering somebody’s name-day is far easier than remembering their birthday. Calendars with saints’ days are easy to acquire, but to remember everyone’s birthday you need a large diary or a larger brain. It is often better to get your mother or sister to call you up and remind you, which means that the only birthdays you absolutely must remember are theirs. Women remember things like birthdates, whereas men remember all the names of the Manchester United treble winning squad and their heights and fighting weights.

 

So on his or her name-day, a person is obligated to offer cookies/ chocolates/ pastries/ something vaguely edible to everyone he happens to meet that day, or over the next few days. This is to thank people for remembering your name day. Birthdays are different- in this case, your friends bring you gifts to congratulate you on surviving for another year, and you take them out for dinner to thank them for forgetting how old you are.

 

I was named after my late grandfather Lucas, a tall and dignified man, a real ‘leventis’ until his 80s. His parents had actually planned to call him Doukas, But he was born on St Luke’s day and so they chose Lucas instead. I’m glad they did.

 

So now each year I visit Kolossi with my family. This year our visit was spoilt by an incessant drizzle. I looked up at the church to see any signs left by the training jet that recently grazed off the roof and made Kolossi famous for a while, but I could see none. So I went into the church, which is by far not the prettiest in the area (that distinction must surely go to Ayios Andronikos),  made my way to the icons, payed my respect and then walked out in the chilly October night.

 

The sun was down by now, but it was raining harder. The stalls selling food (kefteri, shoushouko, palouze, lountza and other local delicacies) were draped with waterproof nylon, as the sellers sat, patiently waiting for anyone starving or crazed enough to brave the elements. Across the road, some men sat sipping coffee in the kafeneion, but the streets themselves were empty of people. Usually they are buzzing. Usually even we buy something from the stalls.

 

The stall merchants have been hit hard, but there are more fetes to go to, more name-days to celebrate, more people who will buy kydonopasto and pastourma.

 

We drove past the castle on our way back to town, and I took a few photos from inside the car as the rain fell around us. Then we drove away. We can buy shoushouko anywhere. What I feel when I visit Kolossi every year is far rarer and more valuable than anything you can buy in a supermarket.

 

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