A STORY OF A XENOPHILE IN XANTHI, GREECE
Colourful ticker-tape blew all around as the parade made its way through the streets of Xanthi. Locals and tourists lined the route, cheering, waving and dancing along to the loud mix of music. Bright, garish and traditional costumes were everywhere. The atmosphere was intoxicating, and this was before the Ouzo had even been broached in earnest.
Today was the end of the Spring festival, held every year for a fortnight in February, celebrating the folklore and history of Thrace and northern Greece, as well as providing entertainment, concerts and the final parade.
Michael had come here straight from the Venice Carnival at the start of the month. Last year he had been in New Orleans for Mardi Gras and Rio. In terms of size Xanthi could not compete with those larger and more famous events, but as Michael had found, that was to its benefit. This was a friendly, personal carnival. The locals joined in with enthusiasm rather than cursing the influx of tourists. Michael had lost count of the number of houses and cafés he had been invited into to enjoy the hospitality of strangers. The locals, a mixture of Greeks, Turks, Macedonians and Bulgarians, who seemed to co-exist in perfect harmony, were unfailingly exuberant, outgoing and companionable.
He had taken in open air musical concerts in the ancient amphitheatre, street theatre, historical reenactments and numerous exhibitions. He had heartily enjoyed the local fish, salad and meats all washed down with Raki and Tsipouro. The hangovers and sleeping until midday had been worth the zealous pace of living over the fortnight.
The parade arrived at the entrance to the Old Town, next to the Kosynthos River, where the crowds gathered in a swirling celebratory mass as dusk gave way to night. Here the carnival would end with the Burning of the Tsar and a spectacular fireworks display. The partying would carry on late into the morning.
Reality could wait until the morning when Michael would have to think about getting out of the country. The money from home had run out. The gap year was coming to an end. The thought of the London School of Economics and four grey years of studying lay ahead.
Unless he didn’t go back. It was the first time the thought had expressly presented itself, although it had been lurking in his subconscious unformed for the last few months. What was stopping him? Expectation, for one; his parents for another; Brexit more than anything, although there was still no settlement on the rights of UK citizens living and working within the EU.
But given the choice of a simple life in the Mediterranean sun working odd jobs and moving from one adventure to the next, or the stuffy safe career in the city, it was obvious which he would prefer. And while he still had that choice his mind was set. The first firework shot into the night sky, the crowd roared, Michael raised his bottle of Ouzo and drank, the strong aniseed flavour catching his breathe. To my new life, he thought.
There was so much of the world still to see, so many new people to meet, and that night Michael determined to see as much of it as he could.
Written as part of The A to Z Challenge 2018. Click HERE for more details of the challenge.
Each day in April we will visit a different town or city in the European Union, whose name will begin with the letter of the day – today its Xanthi in the Northeast of Greece – for a story based on a theme also corresponding to the same letter.
Over the course of the month and 26 stories, we will visit all 28 member countries to complete a farewell tour before Britain leaves the political union next year, touching on the history, politics, culture and people at the heart of Europe.
For a full list of stories and places visited, visit here: THE A TO Z CHALLENGE 2018.