....ever....

 

Jotting things down about our latest visit, made me think that although there are plenty of people who holiday in Greece because it has everything the tourist can possibly want, there are some of us who need the real Greece because it has become part of us. We need to hear it, smell it and taste it, eyes wide as we consume.

The Greek people and Greece have given us a grip on life, an awareness that we never had before and for me, as I get older, it grows stronger.

Greece taught me what it is to live and to laugh, but its particular magnetism I will never understand. Here are a few random gimpses through my window onto Greece.

 

 ...such as...

 

Somethings in common

The very first time I set out to explore the islands of Greece, I was queuing on the quayside at Piraeus waiting to board a ferry to Crete. It was early evening, freezing cold and raining. Just to be polite, I nodded to the Greek guy standing next to me and asked him where he was from.

He ran a hand over his face, flicked the water at the ground and put an arm around my shoulders. Very seriously, he looked me in the eyes and slowly said, 'My friend, I am from the planet Earth.'

Then he nudged me and broke into a smokey laugh, then he nudged me again and soon we both had tears running down our faces, laughing like fools in the steady downpour. I have never forgotten that crazy, happy man.


With Theo

One early evening during my mad summer stint of working in a Greek kitchen (see p.13), a honeymoon couple returned who'd spent a small fortune the previous evening and asked Theo if it was OK to sit at the same table outside but not to eat, just for a couple of lemonades.

Unusually, Theo was delighted and even served them himself. When they came to settle their bill, he smiled and said, 'Please, no thank you. This time with me. You pay last night.'

 

Just one Greek coffee

I spent one hot morning in Crete walking along the shoreline from Agia Galini to Timbaki and by the time I arrived, my body was drained. I had no more energy. I spotted a kafeneion near the beach and there, dived into a cup of coffee. By the time it was empty, I felt so much better. I went to the counter to pay and to thank the proprietor, 'That cup of coffee was absolute perfection. Delicious! I feel sixteen again!'
He looked horrified, 'Please! Don't have another one!.' 

 

 Business Opportunity

I asked the passing gypsy lady where I could find some drinking water. The little boy at her side, runny nose and dirty curious face, stared at me with narrowed eyes and spoke defiantly.

I don't know what he said but the lady smacked him hard over the head, shoved some money into his mucky paw and sent him scurrying barefoot out of sight round the corner.

When he came back a few moments later, he was struggling with a huge bottle of mineral water. I gave the lady some money and she sold me the water. It wasn't until I rounded the corner that I saw the supermarket just ahead.

 

 

 

No Price

One late evening after a whole day of walking, Sandy and I dropped into a couple of chairs outside a small kafeneion in the Hora on the island of Kythira. At the next table we watched two men in animated conversation. After some minutes, one of the men looked over at us and asked, 'You want something?'

'I'd love a Raki, please and a Fanta for my wife.'

He got up and returned with Sandy's drink and an old Cinzano bottle full of raki which he placed between us on our table. The men continued with their discussion. After I'd drained a couple of shots from my glass, I excused myself and asked how much I owed. 'How do I know? I'm not open yet.' 

He came over and sat with us, saying his name was Byron and from then on, each early evening for the rest of our stay, we would drop in and listened to tales of his friend, Jacques Cousteau; the island's mythology; it's waterfalls and island life in days gone by. Whenever he brought our tray, he would pour Sandy's Fanta then, each time, place the whole bottle of Raki on the table and tell me,

'Please, help yourself.' I remember our bill was usually just 3 Euros no matter how much we consumed.

One evening his wife phoned from upstairs to tell him his dinner was ready and as we shook hands and prepared to leave, Sandy joked, 'Do you always go when your wife calls?'

He grinned, 'I like my dinner hot...'

 

I Pee All Over England

I was enquiring about a car hire and chatting to the guy in the Pigadia  office on Karpathos. He was curious.

'What nationality you?'

'I'm English. Imai Anglos.'

'Ah, England. I pee all over England.'

'Excuse me. I don't think I understand.'

'My uncle, he has restaurant in Liverpool. I pee to London, I pee to Manchester, I pee to Plymouth. I pee all over. I like - but too much wet.'

  

Sometimes I Don't Go Back

Working in Crete one summer, I used to try and get away from my village at every opportunity to have a look round. One day I took a boat taxi to a remote beach approachable only by sea.

As we chugged along, I noticed the boatman kept staring at me,

   'Tell me, you are German, yes? You look German.'

'No, no. I am English. Why do you ask?'

'If they are German, sometimes I don't go back for them.'

Then he winked.

 

Part of the Family

After the first week in Aghios Ioannis, on the Pelion, Sandy and I became very friendly with the family who ran the mini market next door to our hotel. One day I was walking along the promenade when I caught up with the 'yiayia', the grandma, who was steering a pushchair containing the very new grandson. Suddenly, as we chatted, her mobile started whining and, unable to work it with one hand, she passed me the pushchair in panic and signalled for me to keep up as she marched along chattering away. It wasn't long before she was deep in conversation and I was some way behind, left holding the baby - but feeling deeply honoured.

 

Man Alone

In the dark and shady tourist shop of a remote mountain village, two teenage girls, Poppi and Maria were making a big fuss of me and hoping to sell me some hand-woven linen. The little round lady owner stood watching them until finally, she shooed them away.

She stood close by my side and smiled into my eyes and whispered, "Forgive me, but are you a man alone?" She took my hand and stroked it softly.

I nodded, 'Why, yes, I am.'

'Then you will want the single cover for your bed. It's hand woven. Good price.'


δημοκρατία 

possibly my favourite

Another time when meandering round Kassos I made the aquaintance of an anthropologist visiting the island from Athens. One evening we attended a public meeting at the village hall to witness a discussion between all the townsfolk and the town council.
The problem was an ancient bridge that the people used as a short cut to the fields from where the majority of them earned their living.

The council declared the bridge unsafe insisting that it must be replaced with a more modern construction supplied by a very famous and reputable building organisation from Athens.

The discussion became a fierce argument with the usual shouting and suspicious accusations until I felt it was becoming rather uncomfortable and might just reach overspill any second. So, being a brave man, I went and stood outside. Eventually there came a surprising hush and when my friend appeared, I asked him what had happened.

He shrugged and said, 'Oh, they've sacked the council!'

 

Trust

On my first ever visit to Greece I was with a party of eight of my friends. Our carousing on the patio took us well into the night but when I went to pay, the restaurant had closed. I looked through the glass door and caught the eye of the proprietor. He was at the till. I waved some notes for him to see but he just shook his head, 'Too late. Pay tomorrow. I have finished with the money.' This trust in absolute strangers has become familiar over the years - but that first time was unforgettably reassuring.

 

 

Everything Under Control?

I'd got talking to the owner and had hardly paid a penny for my dinner in his restaurant the night before. It was late when Yiannis was finishing his life story and we had drunk quite a lot. He'd made a marriage of convenience, he'd said. A New York Vanderbilt; she'd set him up for life. I saw him the next morning sitting astride his Harley. From somewhere in his beard, he called out, "Hey, Andonis, everything under control?"

I waved and nodded, "Yes. Yes thank you. Everything's under control."

He shook his head in despair and held his hands out from his sides. "WHY?"

 

Cook Your Own

The last morning of my stay in Sfakia was the first day of Easter. The town was very busy. My little hotel was overrun with new guests and people dropping by to say hello to the three brothers who ran it. I didn't want to pressure them any further so I started to take the road into town for my breakfast.

The eldest brother came running after me, 'Hey, Andonios! Where you going?'

'Oh, just to get some breakfast.'

'Why go into town? You can cook can't you?'

 


 ...forget?...no...no...never...

 

 

 

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