A Grecophile. It is how I describe myself, or one part of myself anyway. It is an important facet of who I am, woven into the fabric of my very being. If you google it, the definition is simply, ‘A love of Greece and all things Greek’. Which does sum it up in a very rudimentary way. But it seems a little vague to me, as it is actually so much more involved than that. Perhaps that is because a dictionary only describes the meaning of a word, when a word can actually portray feelings as well. So when I say I am a Grecophile, it transcends a simple turn of phrase but rather implies a range of emotions enmeshed into my soul from a lifetime of experiences and the nostalgia that brings.
For example, I can think of nothing finer to do that to buzz through the Olive Groves on a Honda 90 as the sun is low in the sky and the world has taken on that almost surreal half light glow, somewhere between orange and pink. The feel of the warm breeze on my face, the smell of the air, fragrant with Sage and Goat poo. Yes Goat poo, even that conjures fond memories for me, for that is part of the ever present smell of the Greek countryside. It is all part of the whole that is the aroma of Greece. The sound of the crickets chirping in the grass, the promise of good food to come.
When I was in my twenties I worked for Sunsail once year, 1994, Club Spartia. A few months living on the Island of Cephalonia. On days off we would sometimes take a yacht, sail around the island, or perhaps to Ithaca, find an isolated bay and lay the anchor. Drinking beer and eating food, diving into the clear water to swim or snorkel in the warm waters. Then sailing home with the strength of the afternoon breeze, tacking and gybing down the coastline, trapezing over the water moving fast below. Dolphins joining us for the ride, riding our bow wave. Then drunken nights eating good food in tavernas by the sea.
The hours I spent with friends and loved ones, or just alone, sitting in these tavernas, the best food in the world to eat, the most perfect food for me, Spanakopita Kia, the simple Greek Salad, Tzatziki, Gigantes, all the oil mopped up with fresh bread and washed down with a glass of Rose, or perhaps a local Red. Even breakfast is a delight, with Greek Yoghurt and fruit, local honey poured over and Greek coffee of course. There is a reason the name is in so many of the foods, the Greeks just do it perfectly.
Or perhaps just a lazy beer or two in the afternoon, when the towns are quiet, the locals taking a nap. Just watching the town or the sea, or the hillside, just living the warmth of a perfect hot day. Listening to the sound of the cicadas in the air, their static buzz like electricity in the air, watching the eagles soaring high above as they hunt their prey. Feeling drowsy, but not wanting to miss a moment.
The afternoons I have spent walking around the towns and villages, following twisting paths between white washed buildings, flashes of bougainvillea, vivid pinks and reds contracting with the houses. Every doorway a feature, domed churches filled with tin relics, geckos climbing the walls and hiding from the sun, waiting for the dark and electric light to draw in mosquitos for their supper. Rounded ladies dressed in black sweeping floors and calling to their neighbours.
The people live in a time warp, moving at their own pace, never to be hurried, always aware of the energy every action takes in the heat of the day. They exaggerate the Greek origination of everything in the world, and underestimate distance constantly. They will quite often tell you ‘Avrio’, tomorrow when you desperately want something right now. But that is you being put in your place by those who live in the land of the gods and have no reason to rush when life is all around them. When you take the time to have an honest conversation you always come away feeling both enlightened and refreshed.
Then for me there are the mountains. The harshness of the hollyoak and the terrain that seems to claw at the flesh from every angle, navigated by following the goat tracks, you climb higher and higher till you can look out at the world around, the silent perfection of the flowing land and the deep blue sea. Here you can find true peace and tranquility, for never in all my years have I ever encountered another soul upon a mountainside. A lot of goats yes, a Tortoise once, and plenty of buzzing life, but never another person.
You can find good food in other countries, you can find lazy, slow towns in the heat of the afternoon. You can climb the mountains, you can sail and swim in the sea, you can have rich conversation with the inhabitants, but is the imperfect perfection of all of the parts of Greece that add up to a whole I love. And not because I want to, but because my soul has fallen in love with the country, as the heart falls in love with a woman beyond your control.
I have spent my adulthood visiting and revisiting Greece. From that first two weeks as a teenager spent sleeping on the rocky and uncomfortable beaches of Paxos. To my trips there with my two boys, as a father bringing my passion to them. I can no longer count the trips. Some years I went two or three times, others not at all, I have lived and worked there once or twice, and wherever I have roamed on this planet, Greece has always been pulling me back. It has been over 30 years now, and when my kids have grown up and left me to live their own lives, I will probably spend as much of the remainder of my years back there, sailing, travelling, climbing the mountains, or just sitting in a taverna watching the world go by.