Pebbles in Duffle Bag...Toes, carried on.
I always go with one suitcase and return with at least two. Towards the end of my Greek stay, I make my annual trip over to Platia Kanigkos (in Athens) , around the corner from where all the drug addicts hang out, and purchase another duffle bag from the same Greek man--some twenty plus years my senior--despite the fact that he tried to pick me up after my fourth yearly visit. What do I fill this duffle bag with? Ah, contents that are guaranteed to confound California agricultural inspection agents and add a minimum of thirty extra minutes in customs.
So, here’s what’s inside:
Greek sea salt—yes, it tastes different and is different. (And I hope a certain cousin reads this, as we had a rather heated debate about this several years ago in Athens; it took a Nutritionist PhD to put him in his place! Yes, you know who you are. And of course I still love you and think the world of you—you’re still a food God—just not a Greek salt God.)
Greek nutmeg (whole)
Bottles of Greek cinnamon—tastes great on everything! Today, I accidentally shook some (I thought it was pepper, woke up with blurred vision) on my tuna salad. It was fantastic! Take note: that’s how you know you’re Greek—when you start putting cinnamon and lemon on everything, and it tastes better.
Greek saffron—probably the best in the world.
Greek pinenuts—really sweet. I’m partial to this flavor, because my special island, Skopelos, is covered in short fat stubby pine trees, and everything smells like them, including the wonderful Skopelos honey.
Greek pistachios—the ones from Aegina are famous, but there are many wonderful ones from other Greek locations
Greek basil—the dried variety, of course. A sprig of the live variety is given to visitors when they leave, in order to guarantee their return to Greece.
Greek oregano—another great herb, tastes different from our varieties.
Minerva olive oil (as many bottles as I can drag)—There are many wonderful Greek olive oils. Other than my friends’ homemade varieties, Minerva happens to be my favorite.
Greek Muesli cereal—what can I tell you? I like their cereal too, and, no, it doesn’t taste like ours. Not at all.
Several jars of Skopelos honey (heavy breakable glass jars, of course) YUMMMMM. Worth the ridiculous amount of effort to carry, cushion and pack, not to mention the toll on my back.
Several evil eye pendants—come in handy for all occasions. I have one in every room, nook, cranny, corner, car, suitcase, purse, duffle bag…
About 2kg of yummy chewy fruity candies from Thessaloniki (with flavors like peach, pineapple, raspberry)—my favorite sugar high. I allow myself this unhealthy extravagance only in Greece, since I’m usually walking eight hours a day and burn the quick energy.
Several bags of Gigantes (giant beans)—Mom and I are still trying to figure out whose recipe is the “right” one. Each of my friends cooks them differently. Oh, and yes, California Agricultural Inspection allows them into California—whew!
Greek suntan lotion—it’s just better. What can I say? (Even though it’s made by Johnson & Johnson in the EU somewhere—France?—has some fancy EU name, and is probably really bad for your skin.)
Greek dishwashing soap—now, I’m pretty sure this is made in Greece. I prefer Ava. Their hand dishwashing liquid, as well as their dish sponges, are just plain better than ours. I guess I’m the only American that uses her hands to wash the dishes. (That reminds me of a visit from my then three-year old nephew, who wandered into my kitchen, stared intensely at the stove, then turned to look at me and asked where my dishwasher was. I answered that he was looking at it.)
Plomariou ouzo—this is also heavy and breakable and has to go into checked luggage, because it's liquid. I still haven’t figured out the duty-free shopping. I imagine, if I were on a direct flight from Athens to San Francisco, I could probably purchase it in the airport’s Duty-free shop and then carry it on; however, there is no direct flight from Athens to San Francisco—so we’ll never know.
Caprice hazelnut chocolate-filled cookies—several cans—These are cigar-shaped and taste better than any cigar I’ve ever tasted or smelled. Highly addictive, though—once you open a can, be prepared to eat its entire contents in one sitting.
A few clothes items from Zara and Bershka—(Yes, I know, neither are Greek, but the prices are too good to pass up.) I used to fill up my entire duffle bag with clothes; I’ve gotten much better. My shopping addiction, as you may have noticed, has turned to food items. So, yes, I’m naked, fat and happy these days.
A couple pairs of new Greek shoes—hard to resist—no relation to their American counterparts—I mean, you will have an incredible urge to burn (or give away to charity, please!) your entire domestic shoe and clothes collection when you return from Greece. Sorry, European fashion rocks! And Greek shoes are amazing.
A handful Greek music CDs—my lifesavers! When things get bad, put on the Greek music, break open a bottle of ouzo, create a party—real or virtual (plenty of Greece-lovers on Twitter who are willing to comply) and dance. OPA!
Several stones from my fave Skopelos beaches (Yes, there are rocks in my duffle bag) and (shhhhhhh!—did you see that, I mean shhhhhhhhh) from Delphi. (No, I can’t tell you where, exactly, in Delphi, or I might get thrown off a Greek cliff, quietly, when no one is looking. That’s right, that form of punishment is reserved for more than the physically impaired, and, yes, these “rituals” still exist in modern times. They outlaw smashing dishes, but it’s still perfectly legal to throw a foreigner off a cliff. Oh, for heaven sakes, NO IT’S NOT. I’M KIDDING. IT WAS A JOKE, OKAY?)
Are you still with me? Have I convinced you to pack light? Believe me, you’ll wish you had—or you’ll be paying for that third checked bag!
Future post: What’s in my carry-on?