This time it was nothing to do with being forced by the Mrs to make a long drive to beaches packed with lobster red, blubbery, North Europeans where the sound of ghastly music was omnipresent and where the Daily Mail could be purchased not far from the Irish pub. I think the Mrs has agreed that, for the sake of our marriage, I will never have to visit Stoupa again. When I die I shall, for my sins, find that I am in Stoupa for eternity forced to sit on the beach in the blazing heat next to a man lying on a Stoke City towel, only able to gaze up at the mountains but never able to leave what is, for me, hell. This resentment was rather different.
It was Wednesday evening and as agreed we were driving up from the Greek Hovel on the windy road that leads up from Kambos into the mountains for supper with the Guardian-reading loons L&G. This time our destination was not their home village of Vorio but Chora which is even higher up in the Taygetos and thus even closer to suffering fatal depopulation. But it survives for now and has a very pleasant restaurant/local store and we all enjoyed a good meal celebrating the fact that 10 minutes before we arrived G had become a grandmother again. I suppressed my resentment during the meal but nonetheless felt it badly.
I had explored Chora myself a long while ago in the winter months and remembered a gushing spring with water flowing across the road. It is a charming place but too cold in the winter for me. I digress.
As our car pulled up what I once dubbed monastery hill, before learning that the abandoned building had, in fact, been a convent I was surprised to see almost a dozen cars parked by the convent. We wondered what was afoot and at that moment the father of the guy who runs one of the two hardware stores rode up with his Mrs on his motorbike. He speaks English and the couple are devout members of the Church community so I asked.
It seems there was a service at the tiny church within the convent. No doubt the most amazing woman would be there. And that is exactly where I wanted to be too. To see inside the convent and its small church, and to celebrate the fact that – in the run up to the most holy of days that is today, when all Greece celebrates the Virgin Mary’s ascent to heaven – the convent was, in a sense, still alive.
The most amazing woman walks there in the evening gloom to water its flowers each night, to light a candle and say a prayer. She walks home, carrying her hosepipe, in the dark delighting in her quiet private devotion and seemingly not one bit frightened, as I would be, by things rustling in the bushes or the sounds of wild dogs barking in the fields. She insists she is keeping the place ready for when nuns return, she is keeping it alive. That is her faith and shamefully I have doubted whether God will answer her prayers. Maybe he is starting that process now. There has been a lot of work done on restoring the place which was crumbling and now the sound of prayer and singing is, albeit for just one evening, being heard again.
The convent is our nearest neighbour. I really wanted to be not in Chora but at that service with the most amazing woman, shamed by my doubts. Joshua said that we could go next year. I do hope that he is right but wished that we had been there this week. This is nothing to do with the Guardian-reading loons, just about being where I feel most at home with people I can really respect.