The big white monastery on the hill next to Palamidi, the Venetian fortress keeping guard over Nafplion, always seems to glisten in the sun from anywhere in town. Maybe it's the mosaics of biblical scenes catching the light that greet you from either side of the front door. Standing in the large front courtyard, one could be distracted here for an hour before ever going inside, held by the stunning views over the red-tiled rooftops of the Old and New Towns, out to the bay and beyond.
If possible, the view becomes even more picturesque by the small bell tower perched on the edge of the parking lot between the church and its precipice. The details of the church interior itself, beyond the mosaics and the front door, are a lost memory to me. It's most likely hiding in one of the trillions of unmarked boxes of similar lost memories in that ludicrously large and ever-growing warehouse in my mind which somewhere holds the true chronology of my fragmented childhood and the exact shade of my grandmother's eyes.
What holds firm in my mind is the long, narrow room next to the chapel's entrance, an open door at one end inviting you in... if you're not afraid of flickering darkness. Built against the rock, the back wall is a series of natural boulders. You realize as you enter that it's not truly dark but lit by candles lovingly placed along the stone ledges covered with countless icons of the beloved Mary and her son. The candlelight bestows magic on them...or is that just their own magical quality that enthralls much of our planet?
St. George is here also, ever-slaying the formidable dragon as in every church and altar across modern Greece. I've visited this stone altar several times and each time with the same sense of awe. Maybe it's the natural stone contours that slope down into the long narrow chamber. Maybe it's the care and prayer with which the "room" glows with candles lit by loving hands and those icons of Mary and Jesus standing upright along the boulder's craggy dips and ledges.
That awed feeling is reproduced from anywhere I can see the monastery in town, from where we sit eating lunch in the New Town's "Take Out Chicken Place", so called by us because the sign is all in Greek leaving us no idea how to describe it when recommending or trying to decide on a lunch venue. That feeling is reproduced as I sit in warm sunshine at its sidewalk tables in front of one of the New Town's three busiest roadways. I can see the monastery looking across the street and over the top of a massive skeleton of a bare-bones building never finished, these which endlessly dot modern Greece's urban and rural landscapes alike. Up the hill to the white monastiraki, the flickering dark-light altar haunts me...even while I consume roasted chicken and potato rounds layered in devilishly-creamy lemon gravy, Ed's favorite sweet cabbage salad, wilted wild greens picked by Greek women and my favorite Greek salad with tzatziki... all washed down with a crisp, tender white wine of the region. The magic of that altar beams at me from the mosaics glinting in the sun... which spills into the food on my plate... which spills into me... which infiltrates my thoughts. That magic makes my very cells seem to shimmer with the beauty of it. Or is that the wine?
I watch the monastiraki for as long as I can see it on our walk home. We dodge the New Town's typical Greek traffic which has very few rules beyond the main rule of "Me First". As we walk, we contemplate an after-lunch nap...Or a walk around the bottom of akronafplia from one end of the Old Town to the other...Or a trip to our favorite bakery for the dark-brown bread sticks rolled in sunflower seeds which we'll have for dinner later with a piece of fruit after our decadent (and huge) lunch...Or a drive out to the tiny white and blue church along the water's cliff side. Here, past Evangelistria and beyond the big beach a few miles outside of town, down a short trail past the parking lot and in another dark chapel overlooking the sea, St. George is again saving the day. I don't have to be afraid of flickering dark-light...because I know that at every such altar, St. George will be there.
(Photos copyright: Kirsten Steen)