BY THE LATE, AND LOVED, PETER SCHIRMER
‘I thought you were going to stop drenching your fish and chips in vinegar during Lent?’ Hera’s greeting was waspish. The first day of March, and after only four days during which the air of the main penthouse lounge had again smelt fresh and sweet with a hint of the sea, today Zeus had returned from Casemates in a miasma of coarse vinegar and cheap cooking oil.
The Father of the Gods had developed a taste for fish and chips soon after the Olympians arrived on the Rock when – during one of his few attempts to earn honest cash – Zeus had posed as a statue in Main Street. But, ever-impatient, he had fidgeted and glared at the onlookers. It was soon obvious that his venture had failed, and hunger pangs had quickly driven the god and his handful of coins to the nearest ‘chippy’. There, though he had disdained the accompaniment of ‘mushy peas’, the battered cod with chips and vinegar delighted his taste-buds, and Zeus had found what was to become his unvarying lunch.
Food scooped onto a slip of kitchen paper, then swathed in newsprint as insulation, the fat from the deep-fryer and the rank Spanish vinegar with which the chippy doused his products, seeped through the wrappings, permeating them with a distinctive odour.
Atop the Rock, in the Olympians’ first months of alfresco living, the wind had dispersed the pungent tang as rapidly as the apes had disposed of any unwatched wrappings, but in the luxury penthouse apartment the smell clung to curtains and upholstery wherever Zeus had chosen to spread the newsprint.
For he had resisted Hera’s attempts to serve his meal ‘properly’ on a plate with cutlery, insisting that the ‘correct way’ to eat fish and chips was with his fingers and directly from the wrapping. He had seen BBC television reporters at the seaside eating this way, so it MUST be right. And he liked to spread open the newsprint to read while eating, often finding ‘interesting’ news items about mortals’ foibles, he pointed out.
Like so many of the Great God’s enthusiasms, it hadn’t lasted.
And the lingering rankness had resisted all Hera’s efforts. Aromatic candles, air-fresheners promising the scent of spring flowers, roses, lilies, burning incense sticks, even a pomander crafted by Hebe; the smell of tired fat and coarse vinegar defied them all.
Then, unexpectedly, a wrapping had come to Hera’s aid – on an inside page of a year-old Daily Telegraph, which listed the Lenten Sacrifices of the ‘Top Ten’ international financiers. Zeus had been easily persuaded to join the elite ‘club’ and scrub vinegar from his luncheon menu. But, like so many of the Great God’s enthusiasms, it hadn’t lasted.
Picking at the last piece of batter, today Zeus had uncovered a further small headline in the newsprint: UN celebrates International Mother Earth Day.
‘Mother Earth Day,’ he huffed, ‘what a load of old cobblers,’ – irked by the item, but savouring his recently discovered synonym for ‘nonsense’. ‘Everyone knows that the earth had a father – my father, Cronos… and, as his heir, it is I who should be…’
‘I wouldn’t be too quick to brag about Gran’pa,’ Aphrodite called from the lounger where she was topping up her tan in the last of the winter sun. ‘He had some nasty hang-ups… and your Casemates cronies wouldn’t be so welcoming to the son of a cannibal who gobbled up his own kids.’
Zeus ignored the barb. Lenten enthusiasm forgotten, he was struggling to recall memories, snippets gleaned from other fish-lunch wrappings, or infrequent TV newscasts.
‘There seems to be a remarkable number of these special “days”,’ he mused. ‘You might wonder if a year has enough days to contain them all.’
“Mother Earth Day,’ he huffed, ‘what a load of old cobblers,”
‘Not as complex as the Catholic hagiography, where there are so many martyrs and saints that several – sometimes as many as six or seven – have to celebrate the same day.’ Artemis joined the conversation, keen to share knowledge acquired in preparing a talk for her recently-founded Gibraltar Women’s Society of Philosophical Research.
‘The world day calendar is pretty crowded, too,’ Athena looked up from her iPad, fingers dancing across the key-pad as she spoke, “world days” already Googled. ‘Later this month UNESCO’s World Poetry Day is on the same day as the International Day of Nowruz, which is an ancient Persian festivity marking the first day of Spring and the renewal of nature. There are special rituals, ceremonies, a special meal, and new clothes are worn.’
‘I rather like the sound of that one,’ said Aphrodite. ‘New clothes… what date did you say it was on?’ already reaching for the newest Monsoon catalogue.
‘Hang on.’ This time Hermes intervened. ‘Why Persian? The country doesn’t exist anymore. It’s now Iraq, or Iran… one of those places where they’re always blowing each other up with mines, and bombs, and rockets as part of the Middle East peace process.’
‘It doesn’t say,’ his sister replied, continuing to run a finger down the long list on her screen. ‘But I suppose it’s a bit like the old Athenian Thargelea, though that was an autumn celebration of harvest, rather than cheering on the new shoots of spring. But do you remember what fun we used to have on Thargelea when we went down to Athens from Olympus to join the mortals as they danced and sampled the new wine,’ she added wistfully.
‘Does the UN have a Sweet, Fresh Air Day?’ Hera called through the kitchen service hatch as she tipped today’s soggy newsprint into the rubbish disposal chute, following it with a blast of aerosol air-freshener.
‘No. But they do have a Clean Air Day – it’s always on the Wednesday in World Environment Week,’ Athena continued her search. ‘This year it will be on June 3rd.
That was long weeks and months ahead, thought Hera. But, if she started some gentle nagging now; perhaps persuaded the Father of the Gods that World Environment Week was, somehow, part of a global scheme to honour Zeus’ great works over many millennia – his ego was sufficiently huge to fall for such flattery – Clean Air Day might celebrate a spell free of vinegar and grease. She sighed. It might work.
If not, surely there was someone in Gibraltar who could sew new sets of curtains.