The living room of Niko Abramis’ house in the village, or more properly, the only room, save for a tiny kitchen and a sort of lean-to at the back, is a long narrow affair. It used to be two rooms, I realise as I am putting up a new wooden ceiling to hide the underside of the ancient concrete roof, though you can still feel a difference between the two halves.
The space nearest to the street door clearly used to be the best room, the room you see if you look in at the open door, and boasts dowry chests, a heavy polished table and a rag rug. Black and white family photographs in pitted chrome frames stand on crotchet mats. Old Frosso, Niko’s dumpy wife, often sits on a chair just inside the open door, looking out across the narrow street. Above her head on the outside wall hangs an old tin Karelia cigarettes sign. Years ago, the family house was also a kafineon.
As you pass further into the house, you come to the space that used to be the living room, and the atmosphere is different. Here stands the television atop the tall deep freeze with its orthodox Christian fridge magnets. In the winter, long branches burn in the big fireplace, the unburnt ends sticking out into the room. As the burning end is consumed, the branch is pushed further in. Saves on cutting logs.
There are beds around the walls; Niko’s bed, he being paterfamilias, is placed most conveniently for watching the TV. There is a long plain table, a wooden bench and a few rush bottomed chairs; nothing like a sofa or an armchair, no carpet on the cement floor.
Last year, Dinah, Niko’s unmarried daughter, asked me to put up a shelf on the wall above the table, on which now stands an assortment of little icons, lamps and other religious trinkets. Dinah goes to church twice on Sundays, but then why not? It’s only fifty yards away down the narrow street.
I hear that there are more than twenty churches within the village boundary, most of them very small. Dinah’s shelf is a sort of shrine, I suppose. She lights the little lamps on name days, at Easter and other church festivals.
In the summer when the weather is hot, the family spend most of the time outside, in the vine shaded yard that beetles over the Rintomo gorge. It’s a most uplifting thing when you first pass through the gloomy house and come out into the back yard. The view is stupendous: below your feet the gorge drops away a thousand feet, while further off the blue bay of Messinia hangs like a veil. To the left rise the summits of Taygetos. A number of village houses stand along this crest, to catch the cooler air, Niko says.
Though by more affluent standards, the Abramis house might be considered very basic, almost primitive, it is of central significance for the family. For village Greeks, the house, the spiti is primary, and even if they move away, to the city or abroad, the family house has an abiding place in their hearts.