All fathers are donkeys… – Our Europe

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All fathers are donkeys…

The animated conversation between Vasilis and Berndt, who is German, was in Greek. I speak neither language, but even I understood it was a joke about mules, donkeys, and cheese.

I never did get the punchline, but Vasilis’s cheery assertion that “all fathers are donkeys” made me, and the rest of the table, laugh heartily.

There were ten of us around the table on Monday night, with another ten or so in the one at the kitchen table

We were enjoying the Pantazis family feast to celebrate the name day of Spiros, Vasilis’s son, and his four-year-old great grandson, also Spiros.

It is traditional for Greeks to be named after a saint; in Spiros’s case, St Spyridon, the patron saint of Corfu, Cyprus and potters. Your name day is a more significant celebration than your birthday.

There were four generations at the table, headed by 81 year-old Vasilis and his wife Fotoula.

The food, cooked by Fotoula, was better than any taverna.

My mouth still waters at the memory of the pork, fish and potatoes cooked as only a good Greek cook can, the bowls of cabbage and radish salad, fresh that afternoon from the garden, and sharp, salty feta, the subject of the donkey joke.

We toasted Spiros with rose wine, diluted with Sprite, and gossiped about everything, and nothing.

Vasilis and Berndt had both visited the UK, and told tales of their visits to London, York and the Highlands.

Sixteeen year old Vasilis, who sat his University of Michigan English exam last Sunday, translated for us, so we managed to keep up with most of the banter.

But we didn’t need an interpreter to understand the love and friendship that bathed the feast.

Like all families, the Pantazis have had their share of grief and sadness. Maria, Spiros’s sister, died last year from cancer while only in her forties.

Her mother Fotoula will wear black for the rest of her life, and Spiros’s name day was for family only, out of respect for her memory. It made our invitation even more precious.

You can easily over-romanticise family life, especially when you are two thousand miles away from your own, and contemplating your first Christmas without your sons and four grandchildren.

But there was something special in the Pantazis house on Monday night, which will be in millions of homes during the Christmas holidays.

It was the warmth of people who love each other unconditionally; bound together by marriage, by birth, by death, and yes, friendship.

Spiros’s mother and father-in-law were as much a part of the celebration as his own parents, and we, strangers who happen to be living on the farm for a month, were made to feel as welcome as long lost relatives.

It is those strong bonds of love and solidarity that have held Greece together these last few terrible years, as its economy crashed and EU technocrats made the Greek people pay for the sins of their elite.

And thousands of families survived only because their parents and grandparents shared their hard-earned pension across the generations; pensions that were slashed in order to meet the draconian bail-out conditions.

Earlier this week, the Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras announced a one-off Christmas bonus for those pensioners.

The Greek economy is growing. The government is meeting its debt payments, and its deficit is smaller than Scotland’s.

But the technocrats disapproved of Tsipras’s generosity to the people who helped keep Greece alive, and are freezing the country’s short-term debt relief as punishment.

Vasilis and Fotoula didn’t cause Greece’s crash.

They did not manipulate their country’s economic figures so it could join the Euro, so helping realise France and Germany’s ambitions for monetary union, to say nothing of eye-watering profits for bankers such as Goldman Sachs.

Yet it is they, and thousands like them, who are still suffering because of the sins of a rapacious elite.

I don’t know if all fathers really are donkeys.

But I do know that most of the elite are rats, dirty, yellow-bellied rats.










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