Thursday, June 18, 2009

My Big Fat Greek Adventure

Below is a summary of my first month in Greece. I’m sorry it is long-winded and mixes seeds with stories of my journey in general. In the first weeks I took language courses in Ikaria, explored the traditional island, travelled to my ancestors village, collected seeds, visited athens and much more. Click read more to read the whole post.

My first weeks here I missed Peru and the simple beauty of the Andean people. I was shocked by how many abandoned farms there are, and the large percentage of young people which move from the villages to go to Athens or America. My days were easy as I took Greek classes, walked to the sea, and chatted with old men in the square. However, I found myself constantly judging the life around me. People worked very little yet still had fairly lavish houses, cars, phones, etc. Even most of the rural people on the Island of Ikaria seemed disconnected from the land to me. Albanian immigrants worked the fields and drinking wine was more of a priority to the Greek men than anything else. I was able to move past these judgments as I learned more about Greek history and accepted that I was in Europe – the so-called “developed” world.

Instead of harping on the negatives I finally opened my eyes and saw how beautiful my surroundings were. I found old ladies who still did cook the wild greens and save seeds, asked everyone I could about their seeds, and dove head first into my Greek classes. Another turning point was when I gave a slide show on my travels/research to some people at the Greek school. Sharing my photos and stories never fails to fill me with hope and remind me my path in this life. At the end of two weeks at the language school I could speak a little Greek, knew much more about the history, and felt excited to tackle my big, fat, Greek adventure. Instead of leaving the island immediately I hitchhiked to the other end where I had met a man who knew a great deal about the local plants. Elias and his wife Thea (a Greek American) run a restaurant and hotel. I got a beautiful room on the sea and made an appointment to spend to whole next day collecting edible plants with Elias.

My first three weeks in Greece were spent on the island of Ikaria. Some of you have heard about Ikaria because it was featured in the news (CNN, BBC, and National Geographic) recently as a place where local people live the longest. When I arrived to the island, a large film crew was just leaving. They are part of a project called The Blue Zones which studies humans’ longevity and the reasons why in some areas people can live much longer than average. The reports painted Ikaria as a very remote, undeveloped island, in which people still live connected to the land. Some of the reasons they gave for the people’s health are that the Ikarians eat many wild greens, make teas from wild herbs, are not rushed and stressed, work outside or walk a lot, eat a balanced diet of local foods, and have a strong sense of community. After hearing this on my first day I had high expectations for the island. However, in my first days I ate no wild greens, felt the people were not kind, and wondered sadly through empty farm fields now filled with weeds. The island did not seem remote or magical to me – it seemed developed and very modern after coming straight from the Andes. Villagers did not greet me with soup or a potato as I passed their house and instead often ignored me or grunted quietly. Part of my disappointment is because the Blue Zone story exaggerated a good deal to make the news and a large part is because I simply had trouble adjusting to life in another new culture and way of life. After so many transitions this year I know that each country or drastically different place throws my emotions for a loop, but there is nothing I can do to stop this.

While walking back from the store with my yogurt Elias spotted me in his truck. He was headed to feed the animals and do some work on his farm. There were language barriers and I wasn’t sure if he had forgotten our meeting or what. However, everything seems to work out better than I could have guessed. He showed me all the parts of his farm (which jutted out over the sparkling blue sea!). We picked some plants along the walk and I harvested a sack full of wild oregano for the restaurant. Life is about the moments – not the days and there are few moments as beautiful as picking oregano and thyme while gazing out at the blue sea, with the wind in my hair.

Elias didn’t have time to show me many more plants, so I offered to help him work. This took him by surprise, but we were soon hard at work- digging and preparing the small fields to plant. After work I was fed a Greek feast by his wife and they refused any money. The next day our work continued: cleaning pig pens and planting tomatoes. After a hard morning work his wife made a picnic lunch for me (two homemade cheeses, local bread, cucumber, tomato, and local olives). I ran up the river which ends at the sea next to their hotel and dunked my sweaty body in the cool water. I ate every bite of the delicious food and fell asleep in the shade next to a rushing river. Upon waking I swam again in the cool water and frolicked naked up the valley. In the evening I worked again with Elias. As the sun set majestically over the sea we looked back on our work and enjoyed Elias’s homemade wine. Life couldn’t get any better!

I spent a few days with Elias and his wife Thea – working, running up the river, and feeling the calming powers of the sea. When I went to leave they would not accept a cent for the hotel room or all the huge meals they had fed me. At this time I became convinced of the Greek hospitality which everyone speaks of. People like Thea, Uncle Yiannis, and the other locals who I met during this week showed me what Greece has to teach me. They told me stories of the time they spent in America and how they couldn’t stand the life there. They hated having to compete with their neighbors over houses and cars, they missed the relaxed Greek life with less pressure to constantly work, and they longed for a community like the one which exists here in Ikaria. They may not farm much anymore – but they all still make their own wine, oil, and often cheese. Nearly everyone has a vegetable garden. They know which wild plants can be eaten and many save the ancient seeds from their garden – which are adapted to the harsh, sea conditions. It is very different from the agrarian lives of Peru or Ethiopia, but has a lot to teach me nonetheless.

To my surprise, I found out there was an NGO which had a seed bank on the island. My Greek friend helped me to call them and for the first time I was refused a visit to a seed project. The guy who runs the seed bank accused me of working for Monsanto and coming to the island to steal their seeds – he wouldn’t let me explain myself and hung up the phone suddenly. Ahhh, the extremes of Greece! People are either incredibly kind or truly rude (not even acknowledging you when you say hello or ask them a question). I decided to be persistent and after many calls made an appointment to meet with some of the regular staff without the boss knowing. To be honest, my favorite part of the visit was my walk through the rural mountain villages to get to the seed bank. It was the first time I was disappointed by a seed saving project this year. They had collected many old varieties from Ikaria and other neighboring islands. They had hundreds of samples neatly organized in a fridge. However, the fridge had been broken for many months. The room was hot and nobody was allowed to enter the fridge which had two padlocks on it. Very few of the seeds were being grown out and the staff told me it was not their intention to give out the seeds. Families called to ask for some seeds and they were told no. For some reason, the boss had a real fear of who got the seeds and what was done with them. Samples were sent to the national Gene bank, but these seeds sat here to rot.
The seed bank was one small part of their NGO which does great work on environmental research, protection of the sea, etc. The staff explained that while working on environmental issues here they saw the importance of protecting local seed and recognized the huge loss of agricultural diversity in Ikaria. In a valiant effort they traveled and talked with many old people to collect their seeds. Unfortunately little has been done since then. They do not want to make a community seed bank or enlist the help of small farmers and gardeners to grow the seeds. It was a strange visit and showed me a bit about how I don’t want to run my future project (as an all controlling boss filled with knowledge and passion that are trumped by fear).
I left Ikaria sad to say goodbye to Elias, Thea, the magical river, and quiet mountain villages. I had the cheap seat on my ferry back to Athens and found myself surrounded by immigrants from Africa, Turkey, and Palestine. They had snuck into Greece from Turkey and reached an island where this ferry began. For hours they told me their sad stories as they made their way from their homeland to some promise of a better life in Europe. We discussed the state of seeds and farming in their villages and laughed together at the strange antics of Greeks. If there is one skill I have honed this year it is the ability to listen. I have learned that each person we meet on this earth has a great deal to teach us – whether it be a professor, a chemical salesmen, or an illiterate farmer. I was amazed by how much hope this group of immigrants had. Most of them had no money, knew no one in Greece, but were filled with joy and excitement because they had arrived.

One Palestinian man told me about the death of his entire family in the war (mom, dad, two brothers, and nephew). He had been travelling with no money for two months and had been beaten and starving. When the boat pulled into Athens he hugged me deeply, tears filling his eyes. Before this embrace, I was secluded in my own emotions. The port we were entering was the same one in which my family had left 100 years ago. Thinking of their difficult journey to America filled my eyes with tears and joy. Like these immigrants – they faced war and hunger in their homeland. They gave up their entire life to board a boat for an unknown land because of its promise of freedom and possibilities. Our world has changed a great deal since then, but a new batch of immigrants now emerges with the similar emotions and dreams of a better life. We have “developed” some countries like Greece, but left many others to be abused and dominated. I felt helpless as this Palestinian man told me of his plight from his home and smiled from ear to ear now that he had “made it”. This was the” first day of his new life”, the” first day of a better life”, and he said that he couldn’t be happier. Nonetheless, he was entering Athens with no money, no food, no contacts, and no prospects. He was convinced he would make a good life for him and his future family. I couldn’t bear to tell him how hard it is for immigrants in Athens now – so I gave him the money I could and wished him all the good luck in the world. He refused the money at first saying we were friends and I have helped him enough. Sadly, I could hear the deep rumble in his stomach as he finally took the money and promised he would use it for food. We parted ways and my Italian friend met me at the port. I was forced to accept again my privileged white life.
The next week I spent working on an organic farm with my friend Francesca. Francesca and I first met while weeding rice fields together in India and we now found ourselves happily weeding onion fields in drastically different surroundings. Francesca had come to visit me in Greece for a week and wouldn’t come unless we could work on an organic farm. After some failed attempts at contacting farmers in Greece we got in touch with Dimitri- our kind host. We found Dimitri through WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms). WWOOF is a network which is now found in dozens of countries worldwide. People like us pay a small amount to join. You are then provided a list of all the organic farmers in the country you desire, with a description of the farm and the requirements of volunteers. It is an excellent way for farmers to find free labor and willing workers to travel free and experience a country in a different way.
Dimitri’s farm was more a garden than a farm. It was smaller than expected and this time of year there is less work to be done as the prime crop is olives. Nonetheless, we did all the work we could (weeding, mounding potatoes, watering, etc.) and settled into the slow pace of Greek life. Dimitri lives in Antirio, a small town just across the bridge from the Peloponnese. When not working we found ourselves relaxing at the local café on the sea. Each day Dimitri’s mom prepared true Greek feasts for us. She taught us how to make spanikopita (spinach pie) from scratch. I have never seen somebody roll out dough with such skill and grace as her. I practiced my Greek with her and tried to make her laugh by butchering as many words as possible. Francesca struggled with such a slow paced life – but I found that after 11 months I can adjust to anything and am used to spending ample time just loitering and enjoying the company of other humans. In a typical day we spent four hours working, chased the chickens around for a while, drank ouzo (Greek Liquor) by the sea, and listened to Dmitri’s many stories. Dimitri fed us, housed us, woke us up with coffee and fruit, showed us the local sites, and treated us to everything you could imagine. Not a bad exchange for a few hours of weeding and some information about seeds.
Dimitri was very excited to show me his seed collection. He has been saving seed the past few years and has gotten some unique varieties from Peliti (the Greek seed exchange network). He gave me tomato seeds from the island of Santorini that grow with practically no water. I love to see the joy on people’s faces as they open their box of seeds and tell me the stories and information behind each variety. There is something magical about seeds, which excites many of us when we hold them. Perhaps it is simply their beautiful shapes and colors or their promise of future security and tasty food. No matter what, it is undeniable that so many people like Dimitri are hooked on seeds after they are given their first local variety or they save their first seeds from a plant they grow.
Also, the Greeks in Dimitri’s village were incredibly kind. Children greeted us with screams and mispronounced English words. Old women gave us sweets or a snack and one man even prepared a whole bag for us as a going away present. He ran the pharmacy next to one garden we worked in and on our last day selected everything he had in his store which would be useful for each of us (from toothpaste to sun block and work gloves). After feeling frustrated by the hard exterior of many Greeks I am blown away by the incredible kindness of strangers once again. This entire year I have been given gifts of every shape and size. People with much less money than me have treated me to trains, meals, and everything you could imagine. Strangers have fed me, housed me, taught me, and shown me what it means to be a decent human. All year I have travelled without an exact plan. I have remained extremely flexible and opened myself to what the world has to teach me. With genuine intentions and an ability to listen, help in any way, or sleep on floors I have seen the beauty of humanity. We do not need to be rich, but we need to treat others with respect, help them when they need it, and give more than we receive! The extreme hospitality and kindness I experienced in India continues 11 months later in Greece.
When I left Dimitris' I entered the unknown again with no confirmed plan for the rest of my time in Greece. My first goal was to make it to the village where my ancestors were from. A relative of mine had given me the name of the village and so I boarded a bus to the closest city. Megalopolis is not impressive, to say the least. Two power plants line the town, constantly pumping out smoke. Except from the central square filled with old men sipping coffee, the town has a very industrial feel to it. Every hotel told me they were filled with workers for the power plant; finally I had one which could offer me a room. After a good old Greek Souvlaki I struggled to sleep – thinking of what might happen the next day as I entered the village of my ancestors.
It is hard to explain why I came to Greece and feel so drawn to see this history. My dad has told me I have no direct relatives left in the village, just some people with the same last name, and some distant relatives in Athens. After a whole year of studying other people’s cultures, history, and heritage I felt a deep desire to find mine. I yearned to discover some roots I have or connection to an agrarian past. I am a modern American and have no historical connection to a place or culture. For years I have struggled with not having a “home” or roots. I often found myself jealous of the Indian villagers with such a connection to a place with all their family. I grew up in central New Jersey and after finishing high school both my parents moved away and remarried. After high school I travelled to Nepal and Tibet, lived in North Dakota, worked on a farm in NJ, and then settled at The Claremont Colleges in California. I even spent a summer working on community gardens in NYC. My friends are in California and my family is spread out along the East Coast. Basically, I am a transient, unrooted young man – like so many Americans. I felt the need to come to Greece and after many sleepless hours convinced myself that no matter what happened the next day I was glad I came.
I woke up early and followed my local map to find the road to my ancestor’s village. What appeared on the map as an unpaved country road was now a bustling highway filled with traffic headed to the sea. After getting honked at by crazy Greek drivers in the blazing sun I found an old railroad track which seemed to head the right way. Two hours later I emerged on the small road which went to Elinitsa (my great grandparents’ hometown). Men working in the fields would stop to stare as I passed and asked where I was going. My broken Greek could not explain that I hoped to find my roots and some connection to an agricultural past. The area, Arcadia, is filled with rolling hills, olive trees, and a plethora of birds. Arcadia is written about in many myths and stories as an idyllic, rolling forest where Pan played his flute, frolicked in the hills, and seduced women. Unfortunately, there were bad wildfires two years ago and much of the area is still burnt. It still has a calm, magical feel.
As I strolled into the village before ours I was stopped by an old man and woman on a bench in the square. They beckoned me to come sit down, immediately handing me mint leaves and a beautiful red flower to smell. I explained to them why I was here. They were both very excited and the woman kept telling me she loved me. I couldn’t understand a word of her twenty minute rant about my family’s history except that they ran a food store in a village, and that she loved me and enjoyed pinching my face (more enjoyable than expected). I was anxious to continue but the old man wouldn’t let me walk alone. He got his car and along the way we picked up a Greek American man in the village because he spoke English. I was immediately shocked by this man as he shoved three business cards in my face (for various fast food ventures) and asked me how rich my family was in the states. I quickly found out that everything he promotes in life is directly opposite what I stand for. In a ten minute drive to the village I learned about his 5 cars, his new fast food chains, and his hookers in Vegas. He asked me what I do for a job. I explained my research and told him when I get back I will be an organic farmer. The man then translated to the old man that I was very rich and my father controlled the organic food industry in the US. I am not sure how he possibly made this up and have become convinced the man is fully insane. Nonetheless, he helped explain to people in the village who I was.
Upon arriving in the village, Elinitsa or Mami, where my family is from we were greeted by a gruff man with the same last name as my Uncle in New York. He pointed to the other part of the village and said that’s where my relatives were from. A small crowd formed as we walked to the house where my great grandfather would have lived. Other villagers greeted me and told me about how smart and successful my family was with their food store and other businesses. They told me they were great farmers and knew how to make money. One man showed me the Ellis Island card for his father in 1904 as this was the same time my family went. My father had told me that many people left the village for Athens and America, but I had no idea it was this bad. In the early 20th century and after World War two there were large mass migrations to America. At these times wars raged in Greece and there was promise of work and the industrial revolution in America. During and after the Second World War, the USA funded development of industry in Athens. This was designed to cut off the supply to the communist forces and push Greece away from communism into democracy and capitalism, as it was a crucial area in the Balkans. This led to the abandonment of many villages. Additionally, the young people have continuously left the village for work in Athens. I found out that only 15 people live in the village now. Some have the same last name of my family, but the large majority is old and cannot even leave their homes. A few people have moved back to start farms or just to retire.
It was moving for me to see the house where my great grandfather would have lived (it is now a decrepit stone building, falling apart). On my families property there is still a standing stone house covered in grape vines. The man who owns it, a distant relative of mine, now lives in Athens and only comes in the summer. Some people have started a garden around the empty house. However, the property is surrounded by abandoned fields. I was led to an old water mill, which was amazing to see. My crazy Greek-American partner, Soitiro, translated some stories for me about how this area used to be covered in wheat, olive trees, and grapes. One old man told me how great the festivals were here when the grapes were harvested; wine was drunk all night with local bread and goat meat. They complained to me about how they cannot get good bread anymore and no one wants to farm here. I continuously asked Soitiro if they had any old seeds from this area but he did not get why I wanted them. He would just ignore me and try to talk about his plans to open “In and Out Burger chains” in Greece. On one hand I felt amazed and moved to see the house where my ancestors lived, their old farm fields and water mills, and the square where they danced the night away. However, while drinking coffee with the old women I realized finally that I did not have to search in some distant land for my roots.
I laughed to myself as I finally accepted that I am an American, from New Jersey. The people here may have the last name as my grandma and they were kind as they served me coffee and water. But, I have no relatives here and after a few minutes the crowd lost interest in me and went back to their chairs. I was left with a crazy fast food man and a kind old man who wanted me to bring him a beautiful 25 year old girl from America. It was then that I realized how happy I am with my modern existence. I may not have a hometown or an epic story to tell about my history. However, I have a mother, father, and sister who love me deeply. I have an extended family with all kinds of in-laws or step-parents and wonderful friends all over the world. I am happy I came here, if only because it satisfied my desire that I need to find my roots. Instead I now know that my home lies with my family in America. It does not matter that my relatives in the states weren’t farmers. What matters in that they love me and my heart truly lies in crazy America and good old dirty Jersey!
If anything, the Greeks in this village were much less kind and welcoming than nearly all people I’ve encountered this year. People from drastically different backgrounds than me have continuously accepted me into their homes, called me brother, trusted me with their seeds and children, and given me all the love I could I ever hope for. It took me years and many hours flying to accept that I am a modern American man with a love for the soil, music, family, and friends. I do not have to search anymore as I know that my roots and my inspiration can be found anywhere. I can learn a great deal from the Indian villagers or Ethiopian farmers, but will always return to my homeland, filled with its crazy politics, offensive media, and eccentric people. We often search for the things farthest from us, while ignoring the beauty right under our nose. It has taken me travelling around the world to truly appreciate all that lies ahead for me at home. For once, I am proud to be an American!
After meditating for a few minutes on the old foundation of my family’s house I was beckoned to leave. I exchanged numbers with the villagers and got back in the car with my new guides. They took me to a spring in the forest where all the villagers come in the summer to picnic, drink wine, etc. We then went to Soitiros' farm; he was very excited to show me all he had planted over the last week. He was working a lot outside so he could lose his gut and attract young women again. Soitiro had no interest in traditional seeds and blatantly ignored my question each time I asked. He bragged about how good the chemical fertilizers were and I was dumbfounded about why he wouldn’t even answer me regarding seeds until I realized he just ignored my comments all together. I told him I really love to eat hippopotamus and he responded by saying that he has a beautiful daughter who I could meet if I want and if I am rich enough (maybe she likes to eat hippopotamus?).
That night I returned to my power-plant surrounded hotel room in Megalopis because I had already paid for it. George, the old man from the bench, really wanted me to stay with him so they would come the next morning to pick me up. After waiting for hours, they finally came at midday and we began our adventure. First, we went to an old friend’s house who played clarina (traditional Greek music with clarinet) and who supposedly could get any woman in Megalopi. He was a stylish older man who still lived with his very old parents. While his mom prepared us bread and coffee he serenaded us with Clarina and George led me through the house in a traditional Greek dance. The rest of the day was filled with wine, visits to friends, plenty of Clarina music, talk of the old days in Greece, plans about how to get rich, and plenty of souvlaki and cigarettes (like true Greek men).
I woke the next day in the village, gazing towards my ancestor’s house and listening to the sounds of chickens and old women sweeping. I had no idea what to expect for the day, but George soon served me coffee and explained to me that we would go to visit his cousin. Yesterday, George had heard my request for old seeds and he now presented me with two types of beans from his father. His family had grown these beans for generations in this area and a tear filled his eyes and he urged me to plant a few in his garden and bring the rest to America. He told me that he had never made it to America, but his families seeds would (another magical moment).
The entire journey to his cousins house we blasted traditional Greek music, clapped and sung together (I simply made strange, deep sounds with my mouth and pretended to know the words). His relatives lived in another nearly abandoned village. Nonetheless, they had an incredible view of the rolling hills and sea below. We drank wine for hours and feasted on what they had cooked for us over the fire (mostly all from their farm). After eating, the old woman forced me to take a nap with the other men. She gently tucked me in and patted my forehead, reminding me how much I missed my beautiful mother. The snores of the other men truly frightened me and I struggled to sleep. Upon waking they gave me some seeds and bid me farewell, promising we would never forget each other. For the next four days I packed up my bag each morning, preparing to leave, but ended up staying another night with George. For two days I went on adventures with my crazy friends as they encouraged me to try to lure young women to them, showed me the sea with the most beautiful girls, and fed me the best souvlaki around. After each excursion I returned to the square in the village and chatted with old women as they pinched me and continued to tell me stories I couldn’t understand. They competed over who would feed me and some days I ate three dinners because I couldn't bare to tell one of the ladies I had already eaten.
At night I would hang out at the café in the square and try to talk farming with everyone who came out for a coffee or wine. The first night, everyone told me they didn’t have seeds and had no interest in speaking with me. However, after I stuck around for awhile and they saw how excited I was to learn my family’s history and help them in their gardens, their hard exteriors began to fade. By the third day, old women were waiting for me on the road to secretly hand me their old seeds. As I ate lunch in their house, they would prepare bags or wild oregano, chamomile, various unknown spices, vegetable seeds, and a piece of pie for the morning. My days were filled with extremes, vacillating between missions to find prostitutes for the old men (something I was forced into) and amazing meals with the village women as they filed my stomach and pockets with their stories and food.
One day, I finally broke away from my companions and walked alone back to the house where my ancestors were from. I stopped along the way to drink coke, coffee, and lemonade with various villagers. In the square I encountered a younger man and explained why I was there. He told me he had heard about me and explained that he was a retired police officer, with the same last name as my great uncle. Instead of welcoming me with open arms, he grilled me about what my father did, where I came from, what my intentions were, etc. Finally, he accepted that I was not lying and showed me into the villages’ museum. It was very exciting to see a wall covered with photos and drawings of many of my ancient relatives. I was most enthralled by the old agricultural tools, and images of what life was like here before the mass migrations. The visit to the museum truly capped my time here as it allowed me to learn about the history of my family and accept my current existence and passions which shaped my life more than the name of my great grandfather.
After a week I finally decided to leave George’s house and continue onwards. I was sad to leave the rolling hills and the kind old women, but happy to break free from the pressure of the fat, souvlaki-eating, chain-smoking, horny Greek men. I had heard about a beautiful mountainous area nearby, so I decided to head there. Luckily, I just barely made both buses and ended up in Dimitsana. With a small backpack and an excitement to be alone again I hit the trail, following signs for the river. After about an hour of frolicking joyously down the valley, I heard somebody yelling in English for me to join them for coffee. I had stumbled upon another Greek man who had been America for years and now returned to his home village. I gobbled down coffee, goat meat, various cheeses and breads, two types of Greek liquor, and two local sweets. I then hit the mountainous trail again, embracing the ironies of my Greek adventure as my stomach rumbled in confusion. As the sun was setting a German man honked his car from the road and asked me if I was headed to the monastery. I had no idea there was a monastery, but told him yes anyway. He gave me a ride to the end of the road. I was blown away by this ancient monastery built into the rocky hills. Before entering the impressive structure I wondered through the gardens and then stumbled into a cave. To my surprise the cave was filled with praying monks. One monk stood up and strictly scolded me. All I understood was, “Never enter the cave, Never!” (another lesson learned in Greece).
For the next days I hiked up and down the river trail, entering every ancient monastery I could find, bathing in the river when I got hot. The Greeks I passed or monks I met asked me where I was going and where I would sleep that night. When I answered I don’t know in Greek, they were taken aback and asked at least another 5 times, thinking that I didn’t understand the question (when someone doesn’t understand our language we often yelling – thinking this will help). The truth was that I had no idea. For two days I slept under the stars in between the trail and the river. I hid myself from passing people, fell asleep to the sound of monks praying, and woke to the loud gong at 5 am. It was a time for thinking and enjoying being alone. When I got lonely or tired I simply took out the bag of seeds and fondled each one gently, remembering the old woman who had slipped them into my pocket and dreaming of all those who had grown this variety and cooked it.
On my walk back to the town it started pouring rain. I had left all my rain gear or warm clothes in the city. Scampering from tree to tree I tried to stay as warm as possible. After hours of shivering and yelling at myself for leaving behind my jacket I emerged on the road and found a warm tavern to eat some fresh goat meat and wine. With a contented stomach and wet clothes I boarded the bus to Athens.
My next few days were spent exploring Athens. I felt that I could not leave Greece without seeing Athens and its famous historical sites. On my first day, I found myself putting off the Acropolis to chat with recent immigrants from Nigeria and explore the neighborhoods for the meat market, fruit and vegetable market, and smaller weekly farmers market. The first thing I noticed is that the markets were much cleaner and better organized than those in Peru. They lacked the friendly old women with every color of potato imaginable, but still featured some smiling farmers and a beautiful display of fresh food. The choices are less exotic and resemble much of what we grow and sell in the states. The unique things were the many types of “wild greens” sold, aromatic plants, unique eggplants, plethora of seafood, and strange pieces of animals. I found one farmer who was excited to share information on growing biologically and told me about the seeds he saves and how much better they grow than the hybrids he used to buy. However, most sellers were not interested in speaking with me.
The Acropolis, National Museum, Ancient Agora (market) and other sites were impressive. I was awed by the massive architectural undertakings, long history of “civilization” or democracy here, and complex system of mythical gods. I also searched out any information on agricultural history and found a man in the museum who showed me the importance of wheat and barley to Ancient Greece (some say they have been grown here for 8,000 years!). In many sculptures, Demeter (the mythical god of wheat and agriculture) is depicted handing a piece of wheat to the other gods. Other sculptures depicted women grinding flour or kneading bread. I loved seeing the plethora of ancient art and learning how important music and dance has also been to Greece for thousands of years. The sites were not as pristine and powerful as Macchu Pichu, but still emotionally moving and beautiful. After three days in the bustling city I boarded a night train to the North. Once again, I was headed to the unknown, returning to the world of seeds. I was to be met on the other side by the head of Peliti, the most important NGO for the collection, preservation, and dissemination of local Greek varieties.


Charlie Patseas said...

The Holy Father gone to Turkey to redeem and consecrate the Greeks, so don't need no more soviet temples. Don't need no gyro blimpie Bart when got a regular Pope without the diner attitude. My pop kept hitting momma with a skillet on the head. Friends ended up in the hospital after their pop beat them. Pops got drunk and ruined my first car. Killed two cats and a dog, thrown out the window. Neighbor drowned the canaries in ouzo, lit, ate them. Ma overdid whip so she could give less pie. All our stuff came pilfered, with logos. Greeks overcook all meat so no one knows is bad. Another banned tenants flushing toilet paper. Waiters inpune sanitation because "dirty is natural and healthy." Priests just answered "behave, respect, tradition!" Now priest comes "no intercommunion!" Where was he when we needed him to protect us from our crazy parents? Don't sell me "educated Greeks" because we know all them Trojan Horse cheated on the exams. Besides it's just TV repair school. Remember all those jailed old disco Greeks, tax cheats to "protest" Jerome Ford stopping the Trojan Horse in Chyprious? We can't get good jobs because no one trusts Greeks, because of Trojan Horse. They always faked reading Greek. That's why we borrowed regular Catholic books instead of read Greek. Sure, we sacrifice to Greek myths three times a year to please yiayia, and she's nun the wiser when we go to regular Catholic Mass on Sundays when she bummed from bouzaki dances. Ain't need no more Bart, just the regular Pope. That's why we all married regular Catholic when we grew up. So they can trust us.

Greek Altar Boy Crib Sheet: The most common incantation in the Greek Liturgy is "Gyro Lays On" which is to bless the slapping of meat on gyros a shadow set of altar boys are making in the basement. The next most common is "Docks apartheid, go carts for nobody" to bless the racial segreagation of Greek ships, which were the primary vehicle for bringing slaves to America. They also say "To rhapsody the duckies, shoot them, shoot them some more" and "Socks on we must go that not just egg nog sold by garlic Louie" Their lordie prayer is really a witches brew: "Butter lemon on the horizon against dominance, alter the fasolia sou, general tomatoes, eastern horizons, obtuse geese, does the mean simmering, tuna tuna is monitors in pussing, coffee serve offering man, eastern offer toffee latte, alter geese, obtuse boners"

Anonymous said...

hello Adam
Great blog and photos. I appreciated specially your entry about Ikaria. Being a lover of that particular island and feeling in many ways the same like you in the issues of nature and rural heritage, I reproduced part of your blog and a few of your photos in my own blog. I hope you won't mind.

Always travel creatively and share.

Nana from Greece

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Richard Vantage said...

I've been to a couple of resorts on the Greek Isles, but have not yet been to Athens which I'd very much love to, I love Greek history ... one of my goals is to run the historic Athens marathon in the next year or two ...