Aegean Greece

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Armenoi, Creta, Greece, June 2004. Feasting on snails (yes! not only the French eat them) and wild, raw artichokes prepared the local way in this far eastern Cretan village. Il n’y a pas que les Français qui mangent des escargots, mais il n’y a peut-être que les habitants de ce village à l’extrémité orientale de la grande île qui mangent des artichauts sauvages crus.

Our lifetime friend Giorgios enjoys good food, and he is very luckily married, for we tasted six new dishes during our 3-day stay in this easternmost point of the big island, far, far from the maddening crowds.

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Armenoi, Creta, Greece, June 2004. Lighting a candle at the little chapel of the Holy Spirit. Notre hôtesse allume une bougie dans la petite chapelle du Saint Esprit, construite dans la montagne, sur un rocher où coule de l’eau miraculeuse.

More than eat new dishes, we endlessly heard new stories. On our first morning our host woke us up at 6 a.m. to take us to the Holy Spirit. Back in the 60s, the little girl from Eleni family’s neighbors was guarding the sheep up in the mountain. Her eyes used to be swollen and painful from some disease. She took refuge from the sun in a cave and got some water that had accumulated in the small cavity of a rock, and she washed her face with it… and her eyes became well, said Eleni in her singing, story-telling voice. The little girl’s parents who were very religious confided in the papas and they all went to the cave and saw that the water was dripping from a spot on the overhanging rock. They looked all around and eventually found the icon of the Holy Spirit. They proclaimed it a miracle and built a chapel in the small cave, and now hundreds of people come from all over to cure their eye and other diseases. We saw all the amulets hanging in front of the saints’ icons, as well as the water very slowly dripping which gave a strong smell of mold to the chapel. They keep the door shut not for the thieves but for the… goats.

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Armenoi, Creta, Greece, June 2004. Drinking the famous raki at a café during a noon work break. Pause-raki, Cette image est trompeuse, les Crétois aiment se battre, contre les Turcs, les Allemands, contre eux-mêmes.

Don’t let this picture fool you into believing Cretans are brotherly. They were always fighting against somebody, the Turks, the Germans, themselves, a.k.a. banditry. Every and each mountain is enclosed by a fence, unheard of in the rest of the country. Actually, mountains are private and rented for the grazing of sheep and goats which can roam freely. I won’t tell you my friend’s story, when they sneaked through a fence, climbed a mountain, were called by the furious owner — “A wild man” — who let them cut artichokes when he discovered one in the group was a policeman who had arrested him in the past during a manslaughter probe…

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Keramoti, Greece, June 2004. Scène typiquement grecque l’extrémité nord de la mer Egée.

Want more stories? there are plenty too in Keramoti, on the northern side of the Aegean, just across from well-known Thassos island.

Simos is the quintessential Greek, another Zorba, without the santuri (although he dances) and the wit, but good at talking and bluffing, “Alexandre! Your second group left and they told me, Wunderbar! we have never been to such a great hotel!!”

BS of course, as everybody always complains about the lack of hot water (takes twenty minutes, watch in hand, to start in the morning, due to typical Greek plumbing), the curtain-less shower which makes a mess of everything in the bathroom (think of the second person getting in), and the noise — one 10 pm he started banging and nailing a complementary board to strengthen a broken bed on the upper hallway, while his obese Neo-Zealander renter was looking for the spikes (with a harbor and an airport nearby, many foreign technicians spend months around), “I told him many times not to fall like a sack of potatoes on the bed”

Perpetually unshaven, his battered car littered with garbage, he is a kind of local mafioso, i.e. always helpful for his friends, knowing where to go to eat or find additional rooms or anything, once he came under the blazing midday sun to fetch us inside Nestos delta when our bus got stuck in the mud, he almost got lost as he has never been there although he lives next door, meanwhile a tractor had already hauled the bus out (these groups are great for that, wherever you get stuck, they scatter around looking at birds, or even plants and reptiles, never get bored).

Simos has now the help of his brother who sold his Gaststatte somewhere in Germany and came back to Greece with his dynamic and polyglot Polish wife. They could not stand anymore German contempt and disparagement, “Even if you live several years among them, they know you are not German”, imagine, a Slav among Aryans!! Fertile ground for many Hitlers to come. “Even though I speak perfect German, we always felt second-class citizens”.

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Folegandros, Cyclades, Greece, May 2006. La vie n’est pas si simple qu’il ne paraît sur cette petite île de 600 habitants. Beaucoup courent de gauche à droite pour assurer leur lendemain.

Don’t let this picture fool you into believing life is tranquil on this tiny island of 600, former jail for anti-junta activists during the 1967-74 pro-U.S. military dictatorship, older men sipping coffee under the shade of plane trees, women cooking local dishes for the eclectic few tourists, Albanians leisurely refreshing one of the dozen or so churches.

Panayotis and his Danish wife juggle between a tiny, old café serving breakfast as well as extremely tasty food (we awarded him a prize for his goat dish, let alone his artichokes!) in a truly charming inner yard, full of wandering cats and net-weaving spiders, a pottery studio, a house in Athens where their kids go to school, and a home in Denmark…

Mr. Giannis too, sweet like most Folegandroans, is rushing from his taverna (equally delectable) to his small vineyard to his olive trees to his fields, now he came to his 3-suite guesthouse, tastefully decorated with old artifacts, called The Drones of the Aegean – “for we built it ourselves with labor, care, and love”. He is filling the tank on his truck with water from the garden, “The bees have nothing left to drink, too hot! I have to run! Then I must cut horta (herbs, served as salad) from our garden for tonight’s dinners. So much angchos!”, stress makes him run to his island even during the winter which most islanders spend in the capital.

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Spetses, Saronic Gulf, Greece, March 2005. Few (real) cars allowed on this small island, not far from Athens. Peu de (vraies) voitures sont autorisées sur cette petite île pas loin d’Athènes.

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