Chapter One Paradise
Greece is the most extraordinary country in which I have ever lived and it’s easily the closest to Paradise. This is the country that invented democracy and theater and these came thousands of years before Robespierre. Whether democracy and theater are the same thing I leave to you but I’ve come to regard Greece as the Mother to the West in many ways.
Greeks show a deep and sincere pride in the country and that manifests itself as much more than parades and shooting off fireworks. Constantine Cavafy, the Greek poet who wrote “Ithaka,” seems to be known to just about everyone. Melina Mercouri, the actress who starred in “Never On Sunday” and who went on to politics to defend the Greek culture, is another in whom Greeks take great pride. Mercouri has waged fierce battles with the British Museum as it houses multiple antiquities from ancient Greece and she has fought but was unsuccessful in getting them back.
A wonderful part of the Greek identity is in the music. Where folk music is something that’s been preserved from the past in the U.S., traditional Greek music is as live today as it has ever been. It lives through music being written today and it continues to grow with much of it featuring the bouzouki. This instrument is a bit like a guitar and the musicians who play them are often wizards. Their music is brilliant, compelling and timeless. Nothing I can write will adequately describe Greek music so I very much encourage you to take some time to listen to it.
The song is my own interpretation but go over to Greece and hear people who have been doing this for millennia.
That Greek pride has nothing at all to do with weaponry is a beautiful thing to me. There is very much a sense of pride in the extended Greek family and that may sound patronising but it isn’t at all; it’s a marvel. Their sense of what is important runs very deep and they understand it better than any people I have ever known.
Where the economic troubles of the current times have defeated many people around the world, the Greeks will never be defeated by anything. They may be broke for a while and they know the government cannot or will not help. Instead they help each other but it’s with a sense of family rather than charity. People who think this way can never be poor.
I tried, with minimal success, to learn Greek and the fact that I was sincerely trying was endearing to them and they cheerfully took me into their lives. As with each other, it was with a sense of family rather than charity that I was adopted and this is one of the biggest reasons I came to love Greece so much.
My friend, Harry, said multiple times that I should find a Greek girl and stay there. I suspect no-one would have been more charmed than he would have been had I done that. He also said that Greek marijuana is the best in the world but the laws against it in Greek are quite strict so I didn’t do that either. Harry didn’t use marijuana but he knew well every other plant in the meadow that would serve nicely on the dinner table and he taught me some of that too.
Harry was a large part of the color of Greece and not just to me. He sold cars and motorcycles, rented vacation houses, and ran the Melrose Rock Bar where he loved to feature new acts but not in the summer time. It would get so hot in the summer that he would have to open the doors and there was no way to contain the noise from the band if he did that. Everyone knew Harry.
Young bands played here during the week and Harry sought to find them. Breaking out new bands is a big part of his thinking and he's good at it. The bands were tight and gave good, strong acts. Note the name on the door, this is rock and not Greek bouzouki music but this still a Greek vibe to it.
There are simple things I loved as shepherds took their flocks of sheep to various meadows around Katakolon and they followed the road to do it. The flocks were not large and it usually took only one person to tend to them. I would see a shepherd most days as I went to the bakery for my bread and each of them came to recognise me. We didn’t get to know each other past saying, “Kalimera (good morning),” to each other but they knew I wouldn’t hurt or scare the sheep as I rode past.
Simple things are often taken for granted but few things are that way in Greece. The Greek bread I went to buy in the morning is really wonderful as it has the perfect crust with a delicious taste and texture within. It’s the best bread I’ve ever found anywhere and I’m told the ingredients that differentiate it are olive oil and honey but some disagree so you will need to experiment to bake your own … or you will need to go to Greece.
The people in the bakery came to know me as well. It was always the bread I was coming to buy and, after a while, they would start wrapping a loaf for me as soon as I walked into the place. As with practically everywhere else, they took no offense at my pitiful command of Greek and it was a small exchange each day but a delightful one.
I even liked the crazy man who always walked down the middle of the road. Every day he would walk from somewhere around where I lived and go down to Katakolon. He would walk the entire way in the middle of the road. There weren’t so many cars on the road but he had no concern about them when they did come. Let them drive around.
I met the crazy man once when I was walking and he said only, “Tsigara? (cigarette).”
I offered him a cigarette from my pack. He took two and then, without a word, shuffled on his way, right down the middle of the road. He was a crazy old guy but he was utterly harmless.
Andreas and his wife owned the market about a kilometer from where I lived and they became very special to me. After I had been going in there for a while they came to know I was struggling and they helped wherever they could but it wasn’t through giving me products from the market. Easter is very important in Greece and Andreas’ wife gave me things she had baked for her family’s celebration. I tried to pay for them but she just laughed and waved to me to get on my way home.
That market drove my knowledge of Greek more than anywhere else as I hardly ever spoke any English when I went in there. They would talk slowly so I would have some hope of understanding and this was how we came to know each other. I would greet them with Kalimera (good morning) but I was at a loss after lunch as, to this day, I don’t know how to say good afternoon and I did look. Kalispera means good evening but I leave it to you to discover what one says in the afternoon. In the absence of anything more accurate, Geia sou (hello) is alright as it translates generally to a friendly hello, less stiff than Kalimera.
While Paradise to some may be sitting about and listening to music while virgins feed you grapes, my view of it is what I saw in Greece. Virgins feeding me grapes sounds pretty cool too but that will keep for future adventures.
Katakolon and Pyrgos
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