Visit number two is different. The Girl has been here before, and wants to see a little more. I am indifferent, but trust her judgement – she knows about fun stuff. And I am a bit lazy organizing when there is someone else willing to organize it (this I do not like this about myself, and something The Girl & I have some discussions about).
The Girl often confuses me, as she seems to know these streets intimately (she doesn’t really, but reads a map well, and shames me again because I am lazy). Suddenly we veer off down a street, or an alleyway, or into a shop. We are going somewhere particular, and as we get close she begins to recognize it, and casts off the map. I am trailing her again, but this time it is a little more intentional, I let her go ahead. We walk with some pace, through a market-place – it’s about 3pm, the market seems to be closing. Just a couple of shops, one of them a fish stall with the proprietor washing down the shelves and display cases, another with a small store-front, the owner tidying away the outdoor merchandise. She hopes it’s open she says, as she leads me down a dark alleyway, that smells of rotting vegetables and dusty footpaths.
To a little café, a little brown café. It straddles a corner of a back alley of the market – an L-shape, half white – the counter area, with what I think is a large chest freezer with a few metal chairs scattered and occupied by a couple of ancients; and half brown (the actual restaurant), all brown wood-panelling, brown formica tables, brown wicker chairs. The menus are attached to the tables by string, and slipped into plastic covers, clouded and faded with age.
Clouded and faded with age too, are the clientele.
In the white area a group of old men sit, and don’t move from their posts during the entire time we are there. They appear to be the cadre of the owner, a large man with a friendly but slightly distrusting face, who wears the white coat of a fish-monger. Three or four men sit here, talking, laughing, smoking. Old-timers – faces creased and well acquainted with the sun, bewhiskered, Almost clichéd Mediterranean men, handsome, beautiful even. They watch us the entire time we eat – not threateningly or fearfully, but seemingly curious. I suspect this place is a social hub for these men, where they spend most of their days.
In the brown restaurant section we sit against the window, facing in. A group of four, they look like workers, probably from the market. They are loud, jocular, enjoying each other’s company. Another man sits by himself, self-conscious as most people are when they eat by themselves in a restaurant.
Everyone smokes. In the white room it sits in a haze around eye-level, at least one of the cadre seems to be smoking for the duration of our visit. In the brown room, they smoke only when they have finished eating.
We order. Fava beans - mashed and with the consistency of a rough hummus, sprinkled lightly with olive oil and red onion; sardines, grilled and liberally doused in olive oil and oregano; calamari – battered and fried in pieces but with very small whole squid; a white bean salad, in a vinaigrette with parsley; bread – dusty Greek country bread, saganaki cheese – very salty, fried. A half kilo of wine, served in a carafe with two glass tumblers.
It is so basic this meal, but so great. Certainly the best meal we eat in Greece, maybe the best ever. Good food, cooked well.
And we talk, and laugh, and recognize how lucky we are – to be able to do this, to be here, now, sharing this moment. We’ve already been to Mycenae, the Acropolis – done the sites, been to one of the islands, visited monasteries, churches, beaches, done boat, bus and train trips. But just now, it all seems to culminate in this meal, this restaurant, this place that no one really seems to go to. This meal is made up of the sum of its parts. And the parts stretch out before it, and after it, the axis. It doesn’t define this trip, but it does define the memory of it, because it is the one moment that contains the entirety, contains everything that the trip has encompassed. Every moment, compressed and concentrated into this one singularity.
We talk with the owner, Yioryious, after we’ve eaten – or rather The Girl does, I cannot speak one iota of Greek. Times are tough; he’s been here thirty years, and it’s hard work. Rather, there isn’t enough work. He is a big, friendly, nice man, who tells me my Greek will improve.
I resolve to help in the only way I know, by speaking about this place when I get back, whenever I get a chance.
Ouzeri Delphini, Likourgou 4. In Piraeus – behind the market, in a corner, down a dark alleyway.