Some years ago, I took my mother away for the weekend. It was hard work getting her to agree to come – the idea of putting her needs over those of my husband and children was anathema. Still, once I’d booked the accommodation, she begrudgingly agreed.
I’d planned all sorts of nice things for our first ever weekend away, things I thought she would enjoy – a spa experience, fish and chips on the beach, breakfast at a café, dinner out. But the hot waters of the spa raised her blood pressure. And the fish and chips gave her indigestion. We spent the first afternoon in, trying to recover from all that decadence. On the second day, all she wanted to do was go to church.
And so we found ourselves winding up to the extensive grounds of the Monastery of Panagia Kamariani in Red Hill on Victoria's Mornington Penninsula. Us and a few thousand other people. We’d chanced on the annual Festival of the Grape. The festivities were reminiscent of a Greek village square on a feast day – we danced, watched children squish grapes, and ate souvlaki among the olive trees. There was just one thing missing – the rest of the family. I vowed to bring them next time.
Fast forward to February 2015, when I learn that the festival is on again. I shoot off a quick email to half a dozen close family and friends. The festival is only a week away, so I’m not holding my breath for a good turnout. Still, as the week progresses, texts and emails fly back and forth. A bunch of people are coming – and they’re bringing their parents too.
On the night preceding the festival, I lug out the picnic basket. Pull some of George’s home-made bread and my theia Georgia’s spanakopit.out of the freezer. I dish up some home-made olives, boil a few eggs. Cut up some home-grown tomatoes and cucumbers. This, along with the souvlaki and fried honey donuts (loukoumades) available for purchase at the festival, should be enough. I worry about how our friends and family might all sit together. It’s going to very crowded. I throw half a dozen old blankets into the boot of the car.
On the morning, we wake the kids early. George leaves the house at 7 to bring Mum back to ours. By 10, we are parked in a dusty parking lot – us and hundreds of elderly people who are trampling off to church. Mum joins them. Clearly those with young children are having a sleep in. Which is what my kids would like to be doing. They look around – what is there to do here?
But my first priority is to mark the territory – George can tend to the grumpy children. Most of the tables near the church and bandstand are already taken. I practically jump on the last remaining table set back under a massive pine. I dust it off with a tea towel, spread a tablecloth over it, and it’s ours. I quickly lay the blankets out around the table. The territory-marking exercise is complete. George and the kids huddle under the remaining blankets, amused and a little mortified. My inner Greek has been unleashed – today, we are hosts; we need to look after our guests.
‘Is anyone coming to church?’ I ask. I eye my daughter’s denim shorts, bright red socks and purple Doc Martens. Emmanuel is now exploring the best way to climb up the pine tree. George has his phone out. Maybe not.
I join Mum in church. It’s packed, bodies exuding warmth. I’m enveloped by the scent of candles and incense, the colourful glow of ecclesiastical paintings in the naïve style, the meditative chanting. But I'm preoccupied – the family is outside, huddled against the cold.
By the time I return, some friends have arrived. The kids have a souvlaki each. The loukoumades are satisfyingly crisp and sticky. Dancing has started. And our guests are bonding over homemade wine, salami and bread. The blankets around us sit unused. There is plenty of room for everyone.
Now I can relax. Homemade olives anyone?
Photos by George Mifsud
Check out this video of the day by our young guest John Stamellos.