COMMENT

Finding the golden mean

By Alexis Papachelas

Many years ago, as a student, I had traveled to one of Greece’s beautiful Cycldic islands. I arrived at a small fishing village that had one taverna and a ceramics workshop. After an afternoon swim, my companions and I asked whether we could get a late lunch at the taverna. “We’ve got nothing,” was the response. We asked whether someone could prepare a simple salad and some fried potatoes for us but got the same response. One of my companions pressed the issue. “You don’t have any tomatoes?” “Sure we do.” “What about cucumbers and feta.” “We’ve got some of that as well. All right then; I’ll whip something up for you,” the owner finally conceded. What came next was one of those memorable Greek meals and, of course, we were served much more than a simple salad and potatoes.

I went back to that same fishing village this summer. I had heard from friends that it had changed – for the worse. Indeed, the village now counts a few more houses but it has lost nothing of its simple charm and allure. You feel that it will not spoil over the years. What a far cry this is from once-quaint corners of Spain, Portugal and Turkey, which have been bulldozed by over-development.

It seems we have done something right in Greece. Despite a period of flagrant prosperity that we went through, despite flouting traditions and esthetic standards in so many different cases, we have managed to keep many places relatively unsullied. Of course these untouched parts of the country are becoming fewer and farther between.

Another thing that impressed me about my visit was that the same taverna was right where it was back then, probably being run by the old owner’s children and grandchildren. They have made a lot of changes but nothing that is over the top or tacky. The new proprietors were friendly and obliging, the entire place was spotless, the wine was cheap but good and the food was just as I remembered it.

There is nothing lovelier than this kind of marriage between evolution and tradition. It fills your heart with joy to see young men and women reaching higher, doing it better than their parents, acting professionally, while at the same time honoring their roots.

I personally do not share the anxiety of some that these beautiful parts of Greece are on their way to extinction. They survived through times when people were a lot less sensitive to the importance of tradition and the need to protect the environment. I want to hope that they will survive for many more years to come and that our children will not have to tell their children tales of a Greece that not longer exists. I believe that this new generation of Greeks that I met this summer will achieve that golden mean between evolution and tradition.

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