Coffee, Food, and Religion


I realize I’ve been lacking in the writing department lately.  I’ve had very few posts since people returned to Athens (back in the fall), the days turned shorter, and the winter winds arrived on the island.  There’s not a lot to report when you spend your days doing the same thing day in a day out.  The children go to school for the day, and I spend the hours they are gone cooking, cleaning, shopping, and preparing their American school work for our afternoon “lessons.”  I’d like to say I’ve visited the gym that I was so pleased to finally get the key, but I haven’t been.  I was only able to get the key to work in the door on that first day.   After multiple tries I gave up, and now I am waiting for a new key.  Anyway…from the moment the kids walk in the door at 3:30, they consume all of my time until I’ve finished reading to them at almost 10pm.  Before I arrived I had dreams of reading a long list of books, organizing home movie clips on the computer, playing games with the kids, building puzzles, and possibly even spending an hour a day drinking coffee, practicing my conversational Greek with someone in exchange for time practicing their conversational English.  But I don’t seem to have large amounts of “free” time.   Nevertheless, what I have done is found a few cultural differences I could share.

Sitting and talking, something I talked a lot about in the summer months, is still a huge part of the daily life.  Just today I was driving to the nearby town to buy a few groceries.  On my way out of the village I saw a friend, Nico, and I asked him if he needed anything or would like to come along.  He asked why I was going and I told him what I needed.  He then asked if we could have a coffee while we were there.  In my American mindset, I looked at my watch and told him I had to get back home to make dinner before the kids got home from school and I didn’t have much time.  He jumped in the car and said, “To go to the store and not stop and have coffee is a sin.  It’s unheard of!”  I laughed and said that even though I’ve been here for 7 months, I still have an American mindset….I have an agenda each day and want to check things off and move on to the next thing.  It was good that he came along, because we did sit and have a coffee.  And although we didn’t spend a lot of time there, it was nice. We sat under an awning at Rififi and talked as we the rains poured down around us, waving to those we knew or recognized.  When we weren’t talking, I looked out on the harbor and reminded myself to relax and be thankful–I know I won’t have this opportunity (or view) back home.  Sitting at a cafenio is truly part of the Ikarian culture.

And also like the summer, the restaurants and stores still close during the afternoon hours and don’t open again until 8:00 at night.  This, I have found, is one of the things that frustrates me the most.  I would LOVE to take the kids to dinner once a week…one night when I didn’t have to make an entire meal from scratch.  I have to make just about everything that is a staple in my cupboards at home–croutons, bread crumbs, tortilla chips, spaghetti sauce, granola bars, icing, and the list goes on–and it is exhausting.  What I wouldn’t give for a good pizza–and I wouldn’t even need to have it delivered.  I’d be willing to drive and get it.  A few weeks ago I was talking to a few mothers at a birthday party and asked what time Zacharias started serving his souvlaki.  When they told me 8 or 9 p.m. I commented that was too late to eat.  Needless to say, they all laughed at me and teased me for quite a while. “Too late?  What time do you eat?  5:00 like the Americans?”  I just smiled and laughed with them (We eat around 6:00).  They asked me why I thought 9:00 was late, and I just shrugged.  I knew that there was no way I could tell them that the kids are getting ready for bed come that time.  They then told me to come down at 1:00am and have a drink and eat patsás with them.  I nodded. “Nai” I said.  I’d come.  But eating tripe isn’t something on my bucket list, nor is eating it in the middle of the night and washing it down with tsipero, the island moonshine.

People have asked me about the religious aspect of being here.  For the most part, it isn’t much different than it was in America for us because we are Greek Orthodox.  Religion in Greece is just a way of life.  It is not uncommon to see an icon hanging in what most people would think is a very unlikely place.  I have seen them in almost every building I have entered from the gym, to the olive press, to the government buildings, to the tavernas, to the grocery stores.  To the non-Orthodox, icons are something that are different. Something they don’t see regularly or know a lot about.  But for Greeks, they just are.  They are in our churches, our homes, our cars, and our wallets–our day-to-day life.  As for the church services, to us, they look the same and feel the same as we’ve always known, with the exception that they are performed completely in Greek and not in both Greek and English.  Just like in America, when the service begins, there are only a few older adults present.  The majority of the people arrive when there is less than half of the service left.  The one difference to be noted is that here, all of the men sit in the front half of the church and the women sit in the back–yet, just like at home, everyone has their own “spot.”   And the children, they are brought up with religion outside of the house.  The school day starts with the children standing and reciting The Lord’s Prayer with their classmates.  Many times this year the teachers and children have walked to church for a weekday service, instead of having regular lessons.  And, no matter where you drive, or what goat path you walk along, you come across a church. I haven’t counted, but am thinking it might be an interesting thing to do.  I bet there are over 100 churches on this tiny island that is only 100 square miles and of that space, only a fraction of it is inhabitable.  I know that for my kids, having this piece of the culture everywhere is somewhat of a comfort to them, because it is so familiar.

The culture in Ikaria isn’t the same as the rest of Greece. I’ve always known that.  And I keep reading about it in article after article I see on the internet.  It’s the island where people live to be 100 years old.  Why do they live so long?  Maybe it’s because they don’t have agendas.  Or maybe it’s because they sit and relax and drink their coffee and talk to their friends.  It could be that they don’t eat processed foods or they spend their days working the land and staying active. I wonder if it’s because they live by the sea or because they eat their dinner after 10 pm.  It could be any of those things.  Or maybe it’s because of the tsipero.