«If Paradise was on earth, it would be here», wrote my favourite author Nikos Kazantzakis when he visited the island of Naxos
This makes me anxious to see the island.
I stayed in Naxos Town. I arrived on the island before the final weekend of the Carnival to visit the customs in the mountain villages of Naxos. If you do not travel and live in the province of each place, you only see half the picture of what it truly is.
Passing from the village of Eggares, I hear guns shots and loud voices. The noise led me to the place where they were gathered and celebrated. Young and old danced together in traditional clothing. Some were masked. A kind of Tsolias but with many colourful ribbons. They were the infamous Cordelades. Some of them dance outside in the fields.
The story I was told was that the men who danced there with the local ladies were from an adjacent village. The young men from Eggares visited the next village to dance with the girls there.
It is an old custom when young people had no other way to meet their partners and they were doing it to avoid mixing people from the same families.
On Saturday, the torch parade takes place in Naxos Town. I had many expectations because the parade would start from the castle and through the narrow streets would end up in the harbour. It was as I had heard and read it. Dressed with white sheets and candles. It was however very difficult to photograph as they did not light the candles in the streets for fear of fire and the fact the parade was passing through main streets with some new shops and cars, which sometimes spoils the emotion. It attracts a lot of people from all over Greece and the feast lasts until the morning on the streets.
On Sunday morning I visited Apeiranthos where the custom of the Koudounati takes place.
I always prefer to get to the place where the custom is to scout the location and get familiar with the people.
It's a nice day and I sit in a small square with an old café to drink my coffee. For my good fortune, I learn that it is the square where the custom will take place. I drink my coffee and it is time for me to get up and find the place where people prepare and get dressed.
Always, in every custom there is a place where they gather to dress. The easiest thing to do is to find a local to ask. By pure luck, I met the person who had the house where everyone would get together to get dressed! The house, although new, was in an ideal location, in a narrow, arched street with cobbled stairs.
Inside the house, the bride got dressed, a man always makes the bride, and the Koudounati, the local musicians and many children who would take part in the custom were gathered around the back yard.
The procession begins with the musicians in front accompanying the bride. Passing through the narrow streets we reach the square. There the Koudounati start their own unique performance. I remember hearing only voices and bells. With the bats that they hold in their hands, they tease the crowd.
I took a hard hit because I got close enough, I have a wide-angle lens and I could not do it any other way.
At some point, some people flinched away from others. From curiosity and instinct, I followed them. They went dancing over the memories of their dead friends who, while living, took part every year in the custom. A Kundunati kid spent a lot of time on a memorial and was trying to make the most of the noise he could.
On Clean Monday I met Kordelati and Koudounati in other villages like Filoti. I did not come to Filoti to photograph. I was full of pictures, smells and thoughts from the past days.
The trip was really worth it...