Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Always Remember To Say The Captain Sent You

Roland, my brother, was driving. I was in the passenger seat. In the backseat was our brother-in-law, Christian. We headed down the driveway, through the Greek seaside village with the patio-style restaurants lining the beach, and up into the hills of this mountainous island.

A valley in the hills of Lefkada.
Our mission: Visit a butcher to procure meat for the evening’s cookout. This butcher, who ran a restaurant in a remote village, had been recommended to us by the owner of the house in which we are staying. The owner was a longtime freighter captain.

“Tell them the captain sent you. Everyone knows me as the captain.”

We chatted and joked as we rode up the narrow, snaky road up into the hills. Roland imitated the jerky motions of an unsure driver. We gossiped about the family members back at the house.

Every few hundred yards, we noticed miniature chapels on pedestals alongside the road. Memorials, we assumed, to those who have died on these roads.

A roadside shrine in Lefkada, Greece.
I started photographing them, asking Roland to slow down when we came upon one. But he was zipping along so speedily that by the time we noticed one, usually in a curve, or by a steep cliff, it was too late. A few times, there was enough warning to see one and pull to the side and let me out to shoot some photographs. A dangerous operation on these roads. We joked about it.

An abandoned shrine.
“There’ll be a chapel next to that one if you don’t watch out,” Roland called after me as I darted across the road.

A ramshackle, but still attended shrine.
We arrived at the restaurant.

“Yassas,” we greeted the assembled men, sitting in wooden chairs on the restaurant patio, smoking cigarettes, and watching a soccer match on TV.

The one boy who knew English came out to help us.

“Yes. Meat. You come this way.” He walked us through the dinner tables set for this evening, inside to the few tables indoors, right through to the kitchen, where a stubbly-faced man wearing a white tee shirt sat on an overturned bucket and pealed potatoes. We greeted him and the two guys by the stove. “Yassas.” And they echoed back, “Yassas.”

The boy rattled Greek to one of guys, all of them now exchanging glances with us. The boy turned to us again.



“What kind? Pork, lamb.”

“Yes. Please. Parakalo.”

The boy and one of the guys took us into a small, tiled room off the kitchen. Against one wall was a butcher’s table, laid out with large knives and a huge bronze item that looked like a fist-sized chess pawn. A scale and cash register was on the facing wall. On the third wall, was the stainless steel door of a walk-in refrigerator.

The boy’s English was surprisingly good, but nevertheless we somehow felt the need for supplementing our interactions with gesticulations.

Soon, half a carcass was on the block. A knife was wielded. Lamb chops. A cleaver came out. Pork cutlets. The bronze chess piece, was used as a pounder on the cutlets.  Sausages were rolled into wax paper.

“Is good? More?”

“Do you have veal? The captain said maybe you have veal.”

“The captain?”

“Yes, the captain. We are staying at the house of the captain in the village.”

“The captain,” Christian said, placing his open hands on his belly and pulling them outward. “Big man.”

“Ahhh! The captain! Yes.” the boy starts laughing and rattling Greek with the butcher. They both start mimicking Christian’s gesture. “Yes, we know him.”

And in one movement, from somewhere in the fridge, appears some plump, red ribs. The best cuts so far.

We should have referenced him to begin with. With efficiency, the whole assortment was wrapped in wax paper and bundled into a plastic bag. Meat for a dozen hungry people. 42 Euros. Our eyes popped at the price we thought would be easily double.

We gave him 45 and were on our way again, zipping along the windy roads.

This one could be called a miniature chapel.
And it had a mythical and mysterious interior. I want to know what the note in the bottle says. I want to know more about the god riding the four-horse chariot.
“Slow down just after the next village,” I said. “There’s a place that sells the chapels. I want to get a picture of that.”

Roland and Christian laughed at me. “Pick the one out we’ll need for you.”

We made it back home safely, the men, returning to the cave with mastodon. And me, with fodder for another blog.

I downloaded my photos and researched the chapels. Kandylakia, they’re called. And yes, they do mark where loved ones have died. But many of them are altars of thanks to patron saints who spared the lives of loved ones.

Leaving home. It’s when we depend most on the mercy of the heavens. Accidents on the road are the leading cause of death after illness.

I like that the Greeks constantly remind themselves to be thankful every time we return home. Back to family. Back to a cookout. Back to safety that’s so hard for us not to take for granted.


Steve Garlick said...

Hi Mathias,

Are you back in Greece? With boat or without? We wintered in Lefkas and love the place. Pavlov is currently anchored in the Venizia lagoon, just outside Burano.

Denis Lambert said...

Hi, Mathias! I couldn't find your email anywhere or a contact link, so I figured if I posted a comment perhaps you would get a notification. Don't know if you remember me from your days at the Courier... just thought it might be fun to catch up sometime. Best wishes. - Denis

Stephanie Frederick said...

Mathias.... It's been along time since Burlington days. I've enjoyed reading about your physical and emotional journey. Wondering what lies ahead for you? The plans that divert from the original are the most savory.