It is not only unusual foods that make Greek meals interesting. Here are ten things that can assist you in staying on that diet:
1. Carnivorous wasps: Most people think that bees and wasps just go for lemonada, the sweet carbonated lemonade drink, but Greek wasps prefer meat or fish. Their persistence is quite entertaining. The Greeks have come up will all kinds of solutions, such as burning ground coffee. Basically, you can’t win. If your food is not already smoked from the cigarettes it will be from the burning coffee. The carnivorous wasp story winner goes to an unlucky worker on the set of Mamma Mia at Agios Ioannis. The wasps were determined to take down as many of our plastic-boxed lunches as possible. As we were driving along the serpentine sea-cliff road back to town a screaming ambulance sped by in the opposite direction. We later learned that one poor soul had battled a wasp for his lunch and lost. Actually both he and the wasp lost when he swallowed it whole. Even worse, he was allergic. So, if they say that no living thing was injured during the making of Mamma Mia, they’re lying. (See Pic*)
2. Location, location, location: The Greeks are not too particular about where they place those outside tables and chairs. Some tavernas are set up in the middle of the street, literally. One of my favorite Mamma Mia behind-the-scenes stories is about the unusual way in which the camp trailers crossed over mainland Greece to the harbor at Volos. Suffice it to say that they took a wrong turn somewhere in the mountains near Delphi and found themselves on a road less traveled, so less traveled that the taverna workers had to remove every table, chair and customer from the road.
3. Weather: For a typical weather story see Red Poppies, Greek Easter. About once every other year, we get September thunderstorms on Skopelos. We’re talking bad enough that grandmothers get washed into the sea and motorbikes have to be tied to the sides of buildings. The Greeks, however, are prepared. They encase entire tavernas in plastic wrap. It almost works. The only problem they haven’t yet solved is the river under the tables. As long as you remember to keep your feet on the chair stretcher next to you, you’ll do fine. Otherwise, you might end up in the sea with Yiayia.
4. The Eccentric Locals: Beside the obvious impossibility of anonymity (I swear they’d all come join your table if one could make it big enough!) you may have to contend with some rather unusual sites. One of my favorites was the guy walking down the street carrying a white toilet.
5. Cats: The wasps are not the only native carnivores. You’ve never seen cats dine like this. They don’t touch anything that isn’t fish or meat, even if they’re starving. The situation is, however, greatly improved from its cat-Zambian past. Some brave Great Britain vets snuck their way in and spayed a bunch of cats, despite local protests. This helped solve the cat overgrowth problem, but back-fired with the rat and mice populations.
When will we learn that it's not nice to fool Mother Nature?
6. Cigarette Smoke: The Greek #1 form of birth control also acts as an appetite suppressant—both for smokers and non-smokers. Two, two, two benefits in one. I can’t believe that they actually passed a law that divides inside restaurant space between smokers and non-smokers. You can imagine how effective that one is.
7. Neighbor Proximity: As hinted before, the Greeks would all sit at one table if given the chance. If you treasure peace, quiet, alone time, then how the heck did you end up in Greece? I mean, what were you thinking?
8. Natural Demolitions: You have entered the land of natural decay. Everything, previously-living and not, degrades in this country. You can’t walk down a Greek street without running into a carcass of some sort. Even the buildings decompose. The Greeks are really great about allowing whatever they don’t possess to rot. My favorite was in the small picturesque harbor of Agnondas, known for its fresh fish. I was enjoying a beautiful sunset with a Dutch friend, had just finished a perfect saganaki midia and RUMBLE…BANG! CRASH!! Were we having another earthquake? No, the small dilapidated single-room abandoned house across the street finally took its last breath, shuddered and collapsed. No one blinked an eye--no one, that is, other than the two of us.
9. Unwanted Stares: This goes along with #4, #6, and #7. Put them all together and you get eccentric Greeks walking down the street carrying white toilets while smoking cigarettes, staring at you, and looking for empty seats at your table…an everyday occurrence. Welcome to Greece!
10. Uncomfortable Chairs: My back, butt and arms ache already… I ran across my Greek chair fantasy one day, in a back abandoned lot on Skopelos…
*Wasp picture courtesy of my friend Loes