Opinion and Editorial

No strings attached

Omaira Gill (Life)
Filed on March 29, 2014

Kite-flying in Greece is civilised without attacks by other flyers

Winters in Greece are short. They sweep in late, starting to make their presence felt around mid-October and into November. January and February are the coldest months, and then by mid-March, the first warm fingers of spring start running their fingers through your hair.

The streets are humming at the moment with the promise of new life and already the orange trees that line every street intermittently with olive trees are bursting with orange blossom. The result is gloriously sunshine-soaked spring mornings with the perpetual heady scent of orange blossom.

There is an added buzz to this time of year. We are drawing ever closer to Easter in Greece.

The start of Lent in Greece is marked with a variety of rituals, the first and most important being food. Since the start of Lent, or Clean Monday as it’s called here, is also considered the start of spring, it’s tradition to cook a grand meal and consume it outdoors.

Meat is not consumed in keeping with the tradition of Lent, whereby meat, dairy products and certain types of oils are not consumed. It should be pointed out here that it is widely known that Greek orthodox priests fancying a bit of steak have been known to publicly baptise pieces of meat as vegetables to get around the no-meat clause that their position of keepers of the religion requires.

Baptisms are enormously important in Greek life, this being the point in your existence when you finally get your name, a part of your identity that you will carry for life. So if the priest says you are a cabbage when you are in fact a goat, you are a cabbage, no questions asked.

Another tradition is to fly a kite. It is said that in doing so evil is dispelled. I remember watching this for the first time after moving to Greece. Greek kites are traditionally hexagon shaped, with decent, first-world nylon strings wound onto handy reels. I watched these kites take flight and dance in the air, happy children tugging merrily at the strings.

It was so civilised and proper, almost jarringly peaceful compared to my own childhood memories of kite-flying.

It’s the things that my life in Pakistan have with my life in Greece that I always find admirable. This time of year is also kite season in my home country. But there, kite-flying is nothing short of a blood sport. First, children will swap tips on who is making the best kites at the moment, what the best design is and other little quirks like whether a tail helps or hinders flight. Next, they will purchase the best type of kite string they can get, and this is where things get truly psychotic.

The ultimate stage before the kite launch involves collecting shards of glass from around your neighborhood, the more unhygienic and dangerous the source the better. The shards are then pounded into glass powder, mixed with glue and this paste is run along the length of the kite string. Two friends standing at a distance are particularly good for this, as are appropriately spaced trees or street lights.

That’s what I realised was wrong with the image when I stared up at the sky on my first Greek Good Monday. I was unused to seeing a kite being left to fly without another moving in like a Stealth bomber to assassinate it.

Omaira Gill is a freelance journalist based in Athens

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