Please read, a small interlude with some wiseguys in New York, first ( in older posts )
A tiny hill village, Peloponnesus Greece.
It was going to be another hot one – 35 and climbing, and it was only 10.30 in the morning. The heat had been in for over a month now and showed no signs of letting up. I was making the first frappe of the day and swearing because I’d forgotten to fill the ice trays again, an act that was unforgivable at this time of year. I’d overslept and missed the fish van too, now I would have to come up with something else instead of the seafood ravioli.
It had been Yannis’ fault I had not gone straight home as soon has I had closed the caf’e, he’d pulled me to the table outside his small bar in the square.
“ Joe, Joe, eh just one drink, I need you please eh, I need help, come, just one small ouzo to help with the dreams eh? These idiots they send me crazy, they try to tell me, me ! that you can use riganni with eggs “.
At this point he starts to appeal to my wife “ Betty please eh? Look Joe, he works so hard in the kitchen, so hot, so busy, one, maybe two drinks then I send him home to you eh? Is better he more awake eh, more power”.
Betty knew the routine, she knew it would be more like four or five ouzos and she knew that I would certainly not be more awake or have, as Yannis elegantly put it ‘more power’.
She was resigned to the fact that once or twice a week I would be waylaid by my small pack of inebriate Greek chums on the way back from our cafe. The fact is that she actually liked the idea and the truth is it made both of us feel part of the village.
We’d been here 4 years now, and at first we were nervous about being accepted into a small Greek community such as this. So with her blessing, and after reminding Yannis that she too worked in the cafe, not only doing front of house but also washing up, cleaning, doing the books and generally keeping everything in order, a chair was produced and, like magic, out of nowhere a glass of ouzo appeared.
Over the next two hours we tried to put the world to rights; topics involved politics, football, the difference between the way men and women think, war, the health of Spiros’ goat, whether its correct for the priest to kill a mouse, and of course food – Yannie’s favourite subject. He had worked in one of his cousin’s Italian restaurants in Little Italy New York and we had become firm friends from the first time we met, a week after moving out here.
At the time, I had gone out to buy some cream not knowing that the local shopkeeper was away in Athens. After scratching my head for a few dusty minutes, I decided to try the little bar next to the plane tree in the square. All the seating was outside under the tree and there were only two sounds- the loud rattle of cicadas and the rolling of dice. Inside, the café was minute, barely enough room to swing a cat or, in this case, get a haircut. In the middle of the bar sat the oldest person I had ever seen, behind him stood Yannis holding a pair of what looked suspiciously like poultry scissors. I later found out that the oldest person I had ever seen was the grand father of Yannis’ cousin Alexandra, he was one hundred and nine years old and still the proud owner of four teeth. His great age, I was told, is not unusual in these parts and is prescribed to a diet of olive oil, tomatoes, fish, and ouzo for breakfast dinner and tea. Yannis had cream he could let me have, but was intrigued as to its use. When I told him I was cooking chicken estragon he looked shocked then brought out a copy of Laruse Gastronomique to look up tarragon. For me, food has always been an obsession and I suspected I had stumbled upon a brother addict.
A few hours later I was working in the coutyard with only cicadas for company and they were loud enough to enable Yannis to creep up on me. He had managed to get to about six inch from my ear when he said, “easier in a blender man”. I had jumped, and it had shocked me. When I had been in the other job, the job Betty won’t even let me talk about out here, he wouldn’t have even got within touching distance, and if he had, he would now be out of the equation. I pretended like I hadn’t moved a muscle. “ Bull shit ! Gaspacho in a blender? S’for pussy’s. Look, you put all the stuff in a blender that shit just comes out like slop. With this soup you have to take time, because it’s a chilled soup, you have to sweat a little when you make it, that way by grating all the ingredients by hand you get the individual textures coming through in the finished soup”. “Katsa kai scatsa Yanni” literally translated – sit down and shut up.
I proceeded to go through the ingredients and recipe:
2kg ripe organic tomatoes
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1 medium cucumber
2 plump cloves of garlic
30 ml (1fl oz) best quality sherry vinegar
4tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large cup breadcrumbs
500ml chilled spring water
2 hard-boiled eggs
1 handful of fresh basil leaves
Using the finest grater you have, grate all the veg with the exception of the garlic which you make into a paste using the back of a heavy knife and some salt.
Mix together in a large container and add the olive oil, vinegar, breadcrumbs and water and refrigerate for at least 4 hours to let the flavours develop.
Add two ice cubes to each serving, serve in glasses not a bowl and sprinkle with a little chopped egg and basil to finish .
“ Me , Joe, I don’t like so-much the cold soup. I don’t know why, but it’s not so good, I prefer soup like maybe the bean soup I show you in the winter”
“Jesus Yanni its 10 o’clock in the morning and its already into the high ’30s and you want me to make bean soup? Or maybe you would prefer a nice bowl of stew and dumplings to warm you up”
“ I like the stew Joe, but I don’t know dubliks, they good?” “ Eh Joe how about we go in the boat a little eh, put some nets, maybe find one big fish
we can do in the caf’e with a nice salsa verde?”
“ Now that Yanni, is a good idea, get out on to the sea with a little wind and sea spray to cool us down”.
“And if we are lucky, you never know we might even catch a few dubliks so I can make you that stew after all”.
“ Joe, maybe it’s good to ask Betty if she likes to go, we can stop for swimming, maybe she can wear the new bikini she buy, you know the one by Le Perla, the black one with the gold pieces at the side?”
“Shit Yanni, if she finds out that you’ve been scooping out her gear on the washing line again, she is gonna kick your ass.”
One hour later we were slowly chugging out of the tiny harbour.
I never tire of the view from the boat; the mountains seem to start right at the sea and change from the green of the olive groves to the brown red of the rock, and finally a dark violet for the top few hundred meters, backed by a vivid blue sky. And here and there are settlements, some only a few houses clustered together,others real villages like the one I live in – 100-odd houses and 49 churches. And some so high up the mountain that at night when they’re lit they seem to float just beneath the stars
The boat leaves a perfect v-shaped wake and the scent of wild herbs from the mountain is around us.
It’s at times like this when I start to feel slightly nervous; everything seems just a little too perfect; I live in a picture- perfect setting, I don’t owe money, I run my own business, I love my work, and I’m married to a beautiful woman who, inexplicably, has the hots for me. But I have always been a little on the pessimistic side, what could possibly go wrong in a place like this?
“ Joe, me I have one problem I need to speak about”
“ What’s up Yanni, did your G Q lingerie special not arrive at the post office yet”?
“ No Joe, it came last week, you want to see it?”
“I don’t believe it, finally Yanni I’ve found a use for you”.
“Joe, some men, they coming to kill me”!!
To be continued ……