Greece has a lot of problems but bread (psomi) isn’t one of them. This lovely half-kilo (1.1 lb) loaf of ciabatta came from a bakery in Kiato, a town about 5 miles east of here. Bread is price-controlled, and this loaf cost us .80 euro. We buy one every other day. Every village has at least one bread bakery, called a fourno, or oven. Ours is about 200 yards down the road. Towns and larger villages have more than one fourno, so one or more of them usually expand into sweet shops, which make and sell cakes, baklava, cookies, etc. The regular fournos usually sell savory snacks that folks eat mid morning in lieu of breakfast — mainly cheese and ham-and-cheese puff pastries.
In the old days, the fourno served as the village oven. Meals to be roasted were prepared at home and carried to the fourno where the baker would oversee the cooking for a few drachmas. Someone went back to the fourno at the appointed hour and brought the cooked dish home. You may be certain that this running to-and-fro was invariably accomplished by women and girls. I saw a rare instance of this ancient practice in a bakery in Xylokastro, the town on our western border. As I was waiting in line, the baker carried an enormous round pan of stuffed peppers and tomatoes from the back of the store and handed it to the woman in front of me. When I left the shop, she was carrying the pan down the road, stepping carefully I’m sure. I don’t know whether the pan wouldn’t fit in her oven or whether she didn’t want to heat up the house, but she knew exactly how to solve the problem.
We were surprised to find that Greece (this part of it, anyway) doesn’t have regional bread styles. Every fourno seems to bake a different kind of bread. In this village, the bread is fine-textured, white, and good for sandwiches. We like more rustic, crusty bread and the two bakeries we visit in Xylokastro fit that bill, including one that offers brown bread. We usually travel to Kiato because the oven is wood-fired and because…well, because it’s ciabatta! Kiato also enjoys the trade of a sensational sweet shop. We avert our eyes when we pass it on the road but man, oh man, what a way to pack on pounds.
We live in Korinthia, a prefecture that includes half of the southern coast of the Gulf of Corinth — about 40 miles of coastline. The strip along the shore is what most visitors see — Korinthos itself is a port city, and just to the east is the spa town of Loutraki. The highways to the west run right along the coast. The villages that string along the highway, including ours, are a procession of summer resorts. But south of this thin strip — the entire interior of the prefecture — is agricultural. Grapes are the primary product here. Not only the awesome red wine grapes (agiorgitiko) for which this region is (nationally, soon-to-be internationally) famous but also table grapes and, wonderfully, raisins. Driving the mountain villages in the fall, one sees raisins drying outside under sunscreens. Fresh raisins are sensational; the leathery version we get in the Dole boxes give just a hint. Citrus is also a major crop, oranges and lemons. Fresh squeezed OJ is simply expected here but, oddly, I’ve never seen a lime in this country, which puts a real crimp on my gin-and-tonics. Olives, of course, are ubiquitous. And there are vegetables. The area is mostly mountainous but the limited flatlands produce tomatoes, cukes, melons, zucchini, string beans, and all of the other stuff we grow in our home gardens in the mid-Atlantic. What seems strange to me, with my own definitions of agriculture, is that there are no field crops in Korinthia. No corn, no wheat, no soybeans, no hay. Seems strange that there is an entire agricultural region without any of that stuff. Those crops are grown in the flat heartlands to the north of us but here it’s mostly crops that can be grown on hillsides.
Susan shot this photo through the windshield as we were winding our way (very slowly) to the butcher shop in Melissi. It is a walk-behind tractor pulling a cart. Ma and Pa are sitting in the cart, steering and operating the hand controls to prevent mayhem. These rigs drive the Old National Road (Greece’s Route 1) past our apartment occasionally and I love seeing them. It’s a refreshing change from the Athenians crushing all in the the paths of their Mercedes’ on the way to their beach houses. We see more of the farm trucks, usually small Japanese pickups with “Agrotiko” painted on the sides — the equivalent of our “farm use only” — than these tractor-and-cart rigs. But they all have in common some of the sweetest, most modest, hardest working, unpretentious, most comfortable-in-their-own-skin folks you would ever want to meet. And they’re always ancient. I guess it takes the self-confidence that comes with age to pilot one of these along roads terrorized by Ducatis and wonder-wagons.
A dusty store window in Xylokastro, the town next-door.
This hideous snarl of wires inhabits a deep, dark, damp pit under our parking lot. It is the junction for the telephone wires leaving our building and the cable that connects the complex with trunk line in the street. If you look closely, you’ll see the little splices in the twisted pairs. If you look even closer, you’ll see 2 or 3 inches of water in the bottom. As far as I know, the water is permanent. Last year I joked with the telephone company guys about fishing in it. Har, har. Predictably, every time we have phone/internet trouble the fix involves a fresh splice. In the meanwhile, every syllable and every bit of data from us to the world goes out through that pit.
Arthur C. Clarke wrote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Here, it’s indistinguishable from the miraculous.
NB: Susan, in a fit of pique raised by OTE, the Greek National Telephone company, commissioned this post.
PS: All too appropriately, the day after I posted this, the telephone portion of the service went out. Mercifully, the internet side remained operational. At our local phone emporium, a very nice young woman speaking great English called the repair service for us and, 12 hours of patience later, a phone call came in from OTE to inform us that the problem, QED, had been fixed. Hallelujah!
Odysseia, the name of this fishing boat on the Sykia beach, is Odyssey in Greek. Many Greek fishing boats are named for saints, particularly Agios Nicholaos, the patron saint of mariners, but not all. Many are named for wives and daughters, places, or they bear words I don’t recognize. The Odyssey is Homer’s tale of Odysseus’ 10-year journey from Troy back to his home in Ithaki — the island we call Ithaca. His trials during that voyage make Odysseus perhaps history’s most famous and most reluctant sailor. I don’t know if the master of the craft on our beach is alluding to Odysseus’ fame or reluctance but it’s nice to see a reference one of ancient Greece’s finest contributions to world literature.
Recently, archeologists have cast doubt on the island of Ithaki as Odysseus’ home. It is said that Homer’s description much more closely resembles the near-by island of Kefalonia. But ruins of the appropriate era have yet to be found on either island so, for now, the Odyssey tours and the Homer tours still conclude at Ithaki.
It was a windy day in Sikya, with the west wind blowing straight down the Gulf at 8 Beaufort. What’s a Beaufort, you say? The Beaufort scale was devised during the age of sail, with subjective measures for each of the twelve steps on the scale. One is dead calm, twelve has the wind whipping the tops off the waves. I’d read the term in a book but had no real understanding of the scale until I returned to the States after particularly windy ferry ride to Santorini, and looked it up in the Bowditch Practical Navigator. As an intensely nautical nation, Greece uses the Beaufort scale to measure wind speed — although the scale is a more objective today. The 9 measured just west of us was given as 77 kph, and two places in the country measured force 12 winds, given as 135 kph. The ferry captain told us that at 10 Beaufort he is permitted to use his discretion as to whether he sails — above that, he must stay in port. Our experience with the Spring and Fall winds have made it clear why the ancients, in their rowed galleys, adhered so strictly to the rather short sailing season in this part of the Med.
This pretty picture was shot just before sunset when the wind had dropped off, leaving only the high surf and the wild clouds as evidence of what had gone before.