Greek Carnival begins in a few days on January 28th and comes to a roaring conclusion on February 18th. That’s three weeks, 22 riotous days, before Clean Monday. Kathara Deftera (Καθαρά Δευτέρα) or Clean Monday marks the beginning of Lent. Carnival is called Apokries (Απόκριες) in Greek, which literally translates as “without meat”. The Latin carnem levare (“to remove meat”) from which the word Carnival is derived is similar. Apokries or Carnival is, in effect, a prolonged and indulgent goodbye to meat in preparation for Lent.
The last week of Greek Carnival involves masquerades, a phenomenon that some attribute to the influence of centuries of Venetian control in many parts of Greece. Unfortunately, we are headed back to the UK early on during Carnival season, so will miss some of the festivities. But, to get into that Carnival spirit, I was reminded of a painting I recently saw by John Craxton, a British painter who was a longterm ex-pat. This is his painting of Carnival masquerade, taken at a recent exhibition. He was fond of goats which appear in many of his paintings.
Craxton was a close friend with another ex-pat, the resistance hero and travel writer, Patrick Leigh Fermor. Both were friends with the celebrated Greek artist, Nikos Ghika. The three spent quite a bit of creative time visiting each other and, when not visiting, corresponding the old-fashioned way by letter. A few months ago, the temporary exhibition about the friendship between these men was on display at the Benaki Museum here in Athens. Below Ghika appears on the left in the 1958 photo on the cover of the exhibition book (well worth buying – filled with well written text and many photographs). Ghika is followed by Craxton and Leigh Fermor on the right and both Ghika’s and Leigh Fermor’s wives also appear – respectively Barbara and Joan. Soon, in March, that exhibition “Charmed Lives in Greece” will be opening at the British Museum. If in London, it is an eye-opener to a creative world of post-War Greece in the 20th century.