It is said that Greek people are so hospitable because, in ancient times, one never knew if the traveling stranger at one’s door was a mortal or a god or goddess in disguise. Well, this weekend, if I were a goddess, I would have been a very happy goddess indeed!
My student Sokratis (you know you’re a teacher in Greece when…) lives with his parents in Kastoria, a small town in the northern part of Greece, near the Albanian border. He invited me home for the weekend, which also happened to be the weekend of his seventeenth birthday!
We arrived in Kastoria on Friday evening, and that night, Sok and I went to a bar. After midnight had come and gone, we realized it was his birthday! We celebrated a bit and he taught me how to play backgammon, which may as well be the Greek national sport. It’s a fun game of strategy and I really enjoyed playing. I also promised to teach him how to play cribbage in return!
The next day, I got the official tour of Kastoria. It’s an absolutely gorgeous town, set on the shores of a large lake. With coniferous trees all around and snow-capped mountains in the distance, this Montana girl felt right at home! The first stop on the tour was the top of a nearby mountain, which offered beautiful views of the town and surrounding area.
Next, we went to a cave! It’s called the Dragon’s Cave, and even though I’m claustrophobic, who on earth would refuse a trip to something called the Dragon’s Cave?!
The final stop on the tour was a visit to a church dating back to the 11th century. It’s amazing; the sheer oldness of sites in Greece never ceases to blow my mind. In Montana, “old” for us typically means Old West. We don’t really do ancient in Montana, or anywhere in the US for that matter!
Since Saturday was Sokrati’s birthday, I brought a few things to give him. Sokrati loves to read, which is most definitely something I want to encourage, so I gave him Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad and my copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. It’s not too hard to find books in English here, but they still feel like treasures! I also made him a card with a word search puzzle inside, and a CD of some of my favorite music.
And that’s how I found myself sitting at the dining room table of a Greek family, eating delicious homemade kolokithopita (Greek pumpkin pie), and listening to Ani Difranco and Tom Waits.
As for the rest of the weekend, it’s a blur of constant eating, with Sokrati’s father refilling my ouzo glass and shouting, “Water is for the frogs!” The delicious, homemade Greek food made by Sokrati’s mother just kept coming. I hadn’t had homemade food like that in months, and looooordy lordy, folks, it filled some deep need within my soul. I ate like a starved woman, and just when I thought I was going to burst, my hosts were there to tell me I was falling behind; and just like that, my wine/ouzo glass was magically refilled, and there was yet more food on my plate. In fact, on Sunday morning, we slept late, barbecued plate upon plate of sausages grilled by Sokrati’s father for a snack, and then immediately went inside and sat down at the table for lunch made by his mother.
If Heaven exists, my friends, I hope that’s exactly what happens there.
On Sunday afternoon, Sok and I headed back to school. His parents told me that since I am now “like a daughter” to them, I must come back to Kastoria when I am in Greece again. I was put on the bus with two sandwiches, two huge pieces of kolokithopita, and a bottle of wine.
The bus ride was two and a half hours long, and I spent the whole ride listening to music, gazing at the gorgeous countryside out the window, and simply swimming in my love for Greece and its wonderful people. I’ve heard time and again that Greece is a great place to visit, but a horrible place to live. Having lived here since September, I can say that there are definitely certain aspects of life here that make that statement ring true. But I must say that no matter what happens economically or politically in Greece in the coming years, these people will always be simply delightful. They’re full of surprises, larger-than-life and committed to their fellow man in a way that many other world citizens may never experience.
At this point, I have less than two months left in Greece. But when saying goodbye to Mr. and Mrs. Tasiopoulos, I wasn’t just saying I’d see them again: I believed it. I’ll be back. I dare say Greece couldn’t keep me away if it tried.