Friday was one of those few days of the year I spend wishing I were in Thessaloniki. (There are a few more, mostly in the week preceding Easter.) You might not know that, but Thessaloniki is my hometown; and Friday was the day the Greek Orthodox church celebrates the memory of Saint Demetrius. And you probably don’t know that, but Saint Demetrius happens to be the patron saint of Thessaloniki as well as the saint associated with my name. Which means that the 26th of October is not only my nameday, but a holiday where I come from, too. In a way, the whole of the city is celebrating along with me — even if it is only for the fact that they don’t have to go to work for a day. But it is not only that, not really. There are banners on the streetlights, chrysanthemums in the centre’s flower beds, phonecalls for wishes across the city, and the occasional old lady walking down the street dressed in her Sunday best, carrying sweets wrapped in shiny paper.
And the weather. There’s also the weather. If you think of the year as having four seasons, the last week of October is unremarkable; but if you think of it mostly consisting of two, summer and winter, this is as good a time as any to admit that summer is well and truly behind you — just as Easter is the perfect time to celebrate finally having got rid of it. And the weather in Thessaloniki seems to know that, because it usually takes this chance to bring the winter down from Russia, all bitterly cold northern winds, tumbling the sparse city leaves and rubbish on street corners, and occasional foggy days on the seafront that take the edges of things away and make them melt into each other — the city and the sea, too.
Really, these are the things that make me say Thessaloniki is the sort of city that looks northwards more than anything else — that it belonged to the Balkans before it even thought of belonging to Greece, that it still does for that matter. Little old sleepy Exmouth’s sea winds seemed almost gentle in comparison, the town almost Mediterranean at this time of year as I walked down Rolle Street, among the fallen leaves and the blooming flowers, under blue skies and fluffy grey clouds.
This was going to be the first part of a longer post, but I never got round to finishing it and now it is too late. By the way I would like to say thank you to everyone who sent me wishes for my nameday, especially sunbeam. Oh, and another thing. Any resemblance between this post and Wednesday’s XKCD is entirely and utterly coincidental. Stop sniggering at the back, William.