I have a soft spot for Greece, so on one of my channel-flipping adventures I gave My Greek Table a second look, and I ended up watching the entire program.
The show features Diane Kochilas. She's a middle-aged average-size woman, attractive, with an infectious personality, who uses a lot of extra virgin Greek olive oil in everything she cooks, sips a little of the wine she frequently adds, and always takes a big bite of whatever she prepares.
For a non-cook to watch her show says something about her charm and how and what she prepares.
My infatuation with Greece has built up from several journeys through almost every part of the country. Vertis and I spent our fifth wedding anniversary in Athens, and since that trip, we have been to every section of the country. One of the more interesting things about our Greek journeys are the surprises we've encountered.
When we were in our 20s and really wet behind the ears, I was working for Esso Libya, and we took a long weekend trip to Athens. We had seen the movie Never on Sunday, and that dose of Greek music made us want to hear more.
After settling into our tiny hotel room, we decided to spend one night listening to authentic Never on Sunday music. Since we were in the Plaka, the old section of Athens, we figured Greek music was just around the corner. We asked our desk clerk, who started to direct us to Constitution Square, where the big hotels are. But we told him, "We want to go where you would go." It took a few minutes to convince him, but then he found a city map and marked an X.
"This is a local bar and restaurant and only Greeks will be there, but the bouzouki music is the best in the city. Is that OK?"
"Sure," I replied. "About what time should we go?"
"Not before 10."
"Uh, well, OK."
Around 9:30 p.m., we headed deep into the Plaka, and after wandering around for about 45 minutes we came to a big whitewashed building at the end of a dead-end street.
"This is it, Vertis," I said, pointed to a bouzouki hanging from the doorway.
We walked through the door and into a big room with maybe 30 tables and just stood there. It was full of Greeks of all shapes and ages, but they had one thing in common. Every person in the place was dressed in black. I glanced at Vertis, who was dressed totally in white. I had on black pants and a white shirt. I took a deep breath as the man who seemed to be in charge rushed up to us. Just from his expression, he seemed to say, "How on earth did you get here?"
Still, he was extremely gracious. I was eyeing a table against the back wall, but he beckoned for us to follow him, and as we wound through the tables, talk about turning heads! As you might guess, he took us to a table right down front.
Although the music was great, amplified bouzouki music from not more than 10 feet away might be why I have a hearing loss today. The Greeks made over us like we were royalty, and that experience solidified our love of the Greek people.
We were much older when we took another Greek vacation, and as with all the other times, we rented a car and drove. Leaving Athens, we headed for the Peloponnesian Peninsula with our good friends Steve and Clara Jones. Our first stop was at the ancient ruins of Mycenae, which dates back hundreds of years before the classical Greek civilization. The Lion Gate, a stone carving of two lions rearing up on each side of the fortified city's gate, is a sight any visitor will remember.
Our next stop was Corinth, situated on a narrow strip of land that connects mainland Greece to the Peloponnesian Peninsula. It's only 15 miles or so across from the Aegean Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and during the time when Paul preached to the church there, slaves pulled ships across the narrow strip.
During Roman times, one of the Caesars proposed cutting a canal, but Egyptian engineers told him if the Aegean Sea was connected to the Mediterranean, it would flood Rome. The canal that cuts through was built centuries later. It saves a long journey around the Peloponnesian Peninsula.
Our journey took us down almost to the tip of the peninsula to the town of Monemvasia. It's a no-car town. We parked, walked in pulling our bags, and settled into a small hotel. That night we dined a few blocks away at an excellent restaurant, and just as we finished paying our bill, the lights went out all over town.
It was a moonless night, and when we stepped out into those dark streets, you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. Finally, someone in our group produced a package of tissues and after some looking, we found matches. Then it was light a tissue, throw it out in front of us and walk about 30 feet. We used our last tissue as we came to the steps leading up to our hotel and felt our way along until we came to our room and bed.
Another journey by car took us to northern Greece to the Meteora area. As a geologist I really appreciated this part of the trip. The Meteora are vertical weathered spikes of sandstone several hundred feet high. The sides are vertical and the tops are the size of several football fields. During medieval times, monks built monasteries on the top of a number of them. The only way to the top of the one we decided to visit was a basket hanging on ropes.
I asked a simple question, "Do you replace the ropes often?"
"Yes, we do ... When one of them breaks."
We decided not to take the basket trip.
The next trip took our group as far north in Greece as you can go, and after getting lost and finally getting directions from a car load of Bulgarian tourists, I stopped at an old monastery.
"Richard, why are you turning around?"
"Aha, Bulgarian tourists! We're not staying at a monastery!"
Finally we pulled up into the little town of Lofoi. There was a small billboard listing several places to stay, and our more or less bed and breakfast was listed, but everything was in Greek.
As I stood there a young lady walked by and I asked, "Do you speak English?"
"Yes, I'm an exchange student from USC."
Just another little incident in a country that never seems to disappoint me.
Email Richard Mason at email@example.com.
Editorial on 07/07/2019
Print Headline: RICHARD MASON: The attractions of ancient and modern Greece