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Photo: Michèle Witteveen

Ain’t no village festival like a Greek island village festival

I write from a noisy, jam-packed café on the waterfront in Spetses. A small island, only an hour or so from Athens by boat. Tonight, in commemoration of  the famous warrior princess Bouboulina, a small boat will symbolically be set on fire in the harbour. As far as I can tell, the entire city of Athens has descended by row-boat onto this sleepy isle to witness the event. It’s a miracle the island doesn’t sink under the weight of people walking back and forth, shouting and screaming at each other in that uniquely Greek way that always makes visitors think they’re angry with each other, but really means just that they’re having a good time. A brass band marches by. The Greeks are clapping. The band is dressed in white, like a troupe of brass-buttoned nurses. Somehow the order required for a brass band to march and play in time, and the pomposity of the music, doesn’t quite suit the Greekness of the scene. Indeed, the streets of the town seem to be too narrow and winding for the usual ordered parade, so they strut the one wide stretch of street on the island, down by the water, back and forth, trying not to catch their shiny shoes on the parquet pebbles. The President is here today. Everybody arrives by boat, since cars are not allowed on Spetses for visitors, so the tiny harbour is like the Grand Canal of Venice, with boats whizzing everywhere, back and forth to the mainland, just 12 euros of taxi-boat fare away.

Tonight, the whole island will be a huge party. I’ve no idea what will happen. There’ll be some dancing, plenty of music. They mayor will give a speech, perhaps the President. Everyone will eat lots and lots, and old men will drink ouzo late into the night, though it won’t be like usual because even if they do this every night, tonight is special. In the early hours of the morning, little children will still be running around the streets playing, while their parents promenade, sit and chat, drink, and kiss innumerable cousins.

The scene on the street reminds me of sheep being sheared in Patagonia. As they are herded by their thousands into the pens, they press up against each other so closely that, squeezing through the narrow gate, sheep are actually popped up into the air. Now it seems that the whole of Greece is squashed into Spetses town. If one more person steps off a boat in the harbour, like a physics experiment, another will be forced into the sea at the other end of town.

Jack Dancy had a great time at Spetses’ yeary Armata festival, and then left his camera in a café. 

As far as I can tell, the entire city of Athens has descended by row-boat onto this sleepy isle to witness the event.

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