Home Sweet Home

Photo courtesy of Nicholas Econopouly Collection

July 1st

We have just moved into our house, at least I have. I can hear the girls, still bickering across the ravine in the apartment we rented for last night since this house was not ready, for whatever reason. It's a one room traditional village house with a kitchen and enough windows and doors to keep cool. Actually today is overcast and looks like it could rain at any moment. There's that North Carolina-style humidity but it doesn't really bother me. It doesn't feel so relentlessly heavy, plus the cool, beckoning sea is a one minute walk from our front door.

It seems to rain and be cloudy here much more than anywhere else in Greece. I think it's because all the clouds get hung up on the ring of mountain peaks that surrounds Kalohori on three sides, with the sea on the fourth. Whatever the reason it adds another dimension to Greece that other places lack with their sunny sameness.

Arriving in Kalohori yesterday was like a homecoming. Amarandi had been having a great time on the Flying Dolphin, running around talking and playing with her imaginary friends. I showed her the passing mountains and ports of the Peloponessos, but she couldn't care less. I've noticed that we can take her to the most beautiful, fun places, but she's not truly happy until she is in the hotel room.

After the usual disembarkation hysteria we walked up to get the key from Yorgo who was working at his fathers store. He informed us that the house would not be ready until the following day. They put us temporarily in a little apartment behind the main house of Katina Poulakis' sister. It had all the modern comforts of home...flush toilet, shower etc. Later Andrea took Elaine down the path to show her the house which we had rented for the month of July. When she saw it Elaine became terror stricken and began actively campaigning for us to stay in the temporary house. Maybe the out-house scared her. Or it could have been the fact that there is no hot water. Anyway Andrea suppressed her mother's attempted mutiny and regardless of how Elaine feels about it, for the next month or so, the old stone house in the riverbed is our home.

Andrea remarked on the change that has come over Amarandi since we arrived. She loves it here. She runs around singing. She's less clinging and doesn't demand that we hold her when we go for walks. It feels like home for me too, much more than Sifnos and even more than Chapel Hill. It's too early to say but I am in a great mood. I am even able to stop myself from being mad at Andrea. I will get angry with her for something she says and then think to myself that its no big deal and not worth arguing about.

We had lunch with Jack and Sue Marlowe. Elaine kept us all entertained by talking non-stop about the deterioration of Greece using the long story of her terrible trans-Atlantic flight as evidence, which she would repeat at dinner for the benefit of Vasili the greengrocer from San Mateo. After that we went to the far beach for a swim leaving Amarandi with her grandmother, and baby-sitter for the next four weeks. When we got there it was full of Germans. Well, full is a relative term in Kalohori. There were about a half dozen or so stretched out along a quarter mile beach, but two of them were making love on the shore and we all exclaimed how tasteless it was as we fought over the binoculars.

We lounged in the water and talked about the boom about to hit the village. Prices had skyrocketed as the villagers discovered the value of the place. Unspoiled Greek villages by the sea are a rarity these days. Kalohori could be the last. It wouldn't be long before we would be locked out of our ancestral home. Already the side of the small mountain behind our house has been sold to a developer. We talked about the arrogance of the Germans who came to this country fifty years ago during World War two. They occupied the country and took what they wanted while the Greeks starved. Now they have returned with their powerful Deutschmarks to buy up all the old houses in the very villages they had burned, driving the price of real-estate up beyond the realm of affordability for us and other returning Greek-Americans. The one room house next door with a collapsed roof is for sale. They are asking for sixty thousand dollars. They'll probably get fifty-five.

We couldn't help but think about the day of our arrival two years ago, when we came with Jack and Sue to this same spot. That day there was not a soul in sight as we walked down the beach marveling at its beauty and serenity. Just as we put down our towels, two enormous motor yachts sailed into the bay and stopped within thirty yards of us. A guy climbed into a speedboat towing a rope tied to the yachts' stern and walked right across our little beach blankets to tie it to the jutting rock we had been using to shade our sunscreen and water bottles. After securing it, he then got back into his boat and raced back to the yacht without even saying a word, like "excuseme" for example. Then they lowered into the water a pair of jet skis and they all took turns racing around, back and forth and in circles right in front of us as the fresh air filled with exhaust fumes. A few minutes later some of them got in the speedboat and took turns water-skiing. Then it was time for lunch and the inhabitants of both yachts ate on the rear deck while being served by waiters in bow-ties. They yelled back and forth to each other about how beautiful and quiet it was. After lunch they pulled out their toys again and raced around the bay some more until they grew weary and went back to take naps. The whole scenario was beyond belief. We felt like God was playing a cruel joke on us, turning our paradise into Grand Central Station before our very eyes. Perhaps it was a foreshadowing of what is in store for Kalohori. When enough people fall in love with an idealic little town, it ceases to be ideal. Mykonos was nice in the sixties. So was Manhattan at one time.

With the conversation becoming redundant I donned my mask, snorkel, flippers, knife, fish-bag and speargun and went off to satisfy my primordial hunting urge by killing a few fish. I chased some big ones but settled for several perka and barbouni. When I shot one of the perka, he was completely cut in half and inside was a one-inch baby octopus that he had eaten. I immediately felt justified in my hunting by telling myself that by decreasing the perka population I might be increasing the octopodi. That also would justify my hunting of octopus since it was I who was responsible for their increased well-being. I felt like lord of the octopi. He that giveth can also taketh away. I suppose it's the same principal behind the Mafia.

When we returned to our room I went down to the dock to watch the sea. The waves were starting to get choppy and the fishermen were all moving their boats to the sheltered areas on either side of the bay, not taking any chances.

That evening we stood in Yanni and Esther's bar watching the Greece-Spain basketball game. The winner would go to the European Final Four and also compete next summer in the Atlanta Olympics. Everyone in the bar was yelling and cheering but soon were moaning and groaning as Greece let a 10 point lead with less the a minute to go, be whittled down to two. They still hung on to win and we all agreed it was one of the most enjoyable times we'd ever had watching a basketball game. Even Andrea's mother was excited and couldn't stop talking about how she had been a star forward in high school. Andrea had no interest and was proud of it. She wandered off, but returned just as the game ended. The girls and I went to Thea Katinas for dinner while Jack and Sue went to celebrate his fifty-seventh birthday in quiet romantic fashion at the restaurant on the hill owned by the woman they call Bony-Marony. They ended up sitting next to a big table of Athenians who were all talking to each other on cellular phones.

At Katina's after greeting everyone in the place, we took a table outside. Before we knew it, it was covered with food. Kontosouvli, horta, a salad and of course the fried potatoes which Katina is most famous for. They also gave us the best wine of the summer. It was a pale kokinelli that was so dry you could drink it like water, which we did. Even Andrea who was horrified at the amount of food we had ordered loosened up within minutes and began to needle her mother in good-natured humor rather than the usual irritation and aggravation. Elaine was wearing out and kept her stories to a maximum of several long run-on sentences. I realized that she was afraid to drink. She says that it gives her a headache. I think she is terrified of letting go.

I took Amarandi up to use the bathroom and to have her first experience with Turkish squat toilets. We discovered that the normal toilets were more practical for her. It's funny that after the invasion of Cyprus, the Greeks changed the name of everything that had been called Turkish. The harbor of Turkolimino became Microlimino (Small Harbor). Turkish Coffee became Greek Coffee. But Turkish Toilets were allowed to retain their heritage, their name being the last remnant of a five-hundred year occupation. I look at the Turkish toilets and I wonder what it was they replaced. Did the Ottoman invaders gradually purge the country of what they believed were inferior Greek toilets? I know the Turks consider squatting a much healthier way to shit. The western style of sitting with magazine is considered decadent and bad for the intestines. But the Minoans had the worlds first flush toilet, its ruins found in the palace of Knossos. Is it not possible that they went on to improve on this design for the next four thousand years, only to have all traces of it wiped out?

The toilet in our house is interesting. First of all, it's in an outhouse across the street. It's not much of a street but it's the only access that the two houses beyond ours have to the village. Luckily one of them is collapsed and uninhabited but there is still the possibility of being run down one night on the way to the bathroom by our neighbor Monemos, the village contractor, in his truck, or by one of the two Albanians who take care of his horse and tend his sheep. I think I would rather be trampled by a flock of sheep than run over by a horse or a truck on my way to the bathroom. If I had a choice I'd rather it be on the way back from the bathroom.

The toilet bowl is hand-made of clay, more of a Sifniot then a Minoan style of toilet pottery. The shower is also in the outhouse and consists of a hose and two water bottles that were rigged up by two French people who spent a few months here. We haven't been able to figure out how they work and we will probably be perfectly happy just to squirt ourselves with the hose. The French have the reputation of taking only one shower per week (according to my prejudice English friends), so it's funny that they would put so much effort into creating a device that would simulate something that they don't like to do very often. My English friend Dave says that the average Frenchman goes through two bars of soap per year whereas the average Englishman will go through two per month. That doesn't necessarily prove to me that the French don't like to wash. It could mean that the British get dirtier. And what about places like Newcastle? I bet the coal miners push the national average way up. And who keeps these statistics? Is it like a gallop poll where they interrupt you during dinner and ask how many bars of soap you use a year? Even if you knew, how could you answer them seriously? Maybe in Germany where they keep receipts and records of every purchase and can tell you precisely with a couple clicks of a computer keyboard exactly how many bars of soap they bought last year. But I maintain that the average French or Englishman doesn't really know and I would challenge these numbers. To believe the French are unclean I would need more proof than an English poll. Just the fact that they rigged up a shower using string, plastic water bottles and a hose that is so complex we can't even figure out how to use it, seems to be evidence of a superior bathing culture.

I stayed on at Katina's after the girls left, to talk with Vasili the Greengrocer from San Mateo. He has always been my most prized source of Kalohori information due to his fluency in English and Greek. He told me there is land available in Metropolis and houses still available in the upper village of Vrissi, but it is going fast. I can just see this place in ten years with multi-family traditional Greek dwellings available for time shares. It's time to buy or say goodbye.

So here we are in the house that we have waited all year for. It's been raining all day long. Sometime it's a drizzle and occasionally a downpour, but it's at a time of year when even clouds are rare so it feels special. A giant centipede looking for a dry spot came through a crack under one of the windows. I had to kill him quite brutally as a lesson to others. Centipedes get big here and the last thing I want is to wake up with one in bed with me. I woke up once in the middle of the night sharing my bed with one that seemed to my frightened teenage mind to be about a foot long. I feel I have learned whatever lesson that was supposed to teach me and I would rather not repeat it. I still have not recovered even though it was twenty years ago. I'm sorry that this poor wet centipede had to die for the centipede sins of the past but the rules of the house have to be laid down early for all creatures, human and insect.

Kalohori is actually made up of three villages. We live in Paralia which means beach. This is where my grandmother was from. She was born in the ruins of a house in the center of the village that has become a point of conflict between me and my family. I have wanted to fix it. Other's in my family say to let the past die and have allowed the house to deteriorate. It's a long, painful, ever-continuing saga.

On the other side of the long stretch of stony beach is the village of Metropolis. It sits on a hill and there are two restaurants across the street from each other. The restaurant known as Lulu's which Jack calls "Bony Maroni's" (because the owner is skinny) faces the east overlooking the soccer field, basketball court, a fine view of the sea and Paralia. Tiri's restaurant, or as Jack calls it "Double Limpy's" (because the owner uses two canes) has an enclosed courtyard overlooking nothing but is still very beautiful.

The upper village is called Vrissi. It's a half-hour uphill walk. There is a spring that comes from a crack in the mountains and runs through the village. Everyone has lush colorful gardens, of which they are very proud. It's a sore spot between the villages because the people of Paralia and Metropolis want to develop. They want to build hotels and cafes and attract hordes of tourists. To do this they need drinking water. The Vrissiotis claim that since the water runs through their village first, it belongs to them. They are not about to give up their gardens for a cut of the tourist trade since their share would be minimal because they are so far from the sea. It's been an ongoing battle.

The irony is that there is water everywhere. The little stream that they are fighting over is the only place it runs above the ground, but beneath the green fields there are rushing rivers. The sea around Kalohori is a mixture of salt and ice-cold fresh water. In some places the tide pools are totally drinkable. In others, the spring-water pouring from cracks in the stone cliffs just below the surface, make the sea so cold you need a wet suit. Still they fight over the stream. That's OK. As long as they can't come to an agreement there is hope for Kalohori.

July 2nd

The Jerome women have decided the house is too expensive. They want to meet with our landlord Yannis Zaferis to tell him so and if he won't come down in the price we'll move out. They go around asking everybody in town if they agree we are being ripped off. Some agree and some don't. The ones who agree increase Elaine and Andrea's anger. The ones who say it's a fair price are ignored or labeled co-conspirators. I tell them to forget about it. Even if Yannis were to raise the rent an extra thousand a day I would stay and since it's my money and I don't care, why should they? Yesterday it was the most wonderful house in Greece and they wanted to pawn everything we own to buy it. Today they point to all these flaws and shortcomings: the attack of the giant centipede, not enough coffee cups, ripped screens and a bed that Andrea calls "the black hole of Calcutta." (They haven't even seen the dead lizard in the kitchen that the ants are slowly dismembering.) So Andrea wants to send her mother as our representative to negotiate a new price. I tell her no. If she feels so strongly that we are being ripped off then she should speak to Yannis herself and not send her mother. Elaine, offended that I doubt her power of diplomacy and persuasion, corners me to tell me the story of her success as a tele-marketer for McCarter Theatre in Princeton, complete with climactic moral lesson on the wisdom of age. In the nick of time Amarandi returns from shopping with her brand new potty saving her father from a more lengthy version of Elaine's lecture. It's a double blessing. Twenty times per day Amarandi says she has to go to the toilet and one of us has to escort her and protect her from the perils of our outhouse. More often than not it's a false alarm or what she calls a "gas-poop." Now she can go by herself anytime in her mobile toilet that her butt fits perfectly on, if not a little tightly. When she does her first little turd it's a moment of great celebration and she proudly displays it to all of us as we respond with cheers and applause. Being a parent has its moments. I just hope we didn't overdo it with the rejoicing and send her the wrong message turning her into a compulsive pooper the same way my sister's German Shepard was about chasing sticks. Sometimes too much positive reinforcement can be a bad thing.

I start the dreaded trek up to Vrissi to present Jack with his birthday present. I don't have to walk very far because Kosta Monemos, the contractor, gives me a ride up. I see the horrible cinder block house that had been erected next door to Jack and Sue by their neighbor who had become bitter after they had refused to buy the tiny piece of property for an outrageous price. The house cuts off their view and as a further insult has windows that look directly down on their patio, destroying any sense of privacy they had. I tell them if they would put up half the money to buy the house, we will put up the other half and then they would be assured of having good neighbors. For a little extra we might consider eliminating the offensive window. Of course I was only joking since Andrea would never consent to buying a cinder block house, even if it were for half-price and located in heaven.

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