The unnamed narrator whom I have cleverly called “N” in my notes, received a call from her mother-in-law, Isabella, with whom she has a frosty relationship. Isabella had been unable to contact her son, Christopher, putting N in the embarassing position of having to admit that she had no idea where he was. Isabella, ever the organizer and meddler, after locating Christopher’s general whereabouts, made all the travel arrangements, and much to her own surprise, N quickly found herself in a luxury hotel in the small fishing village of Gerolimenas in southern Greece, waiting for her husband to return from an excursion. The story is revealed through N’s musings, so the reader perceives things from her most private thoughts. N is a perceptive woman, someone who watches people carefully and empathetically. For example, after watching an encounter between Stefano, her driver, and his girlfriend, Maria, N later notes that impatience is Stefano’s fatal flaw.
The writing reminds me of Ian McEwan in its focus on the inner musings of the main character. The literary references: Lady Macbeth, Colonel Chabert by Balzac, Billy Budd by Melville, all serve to explain situations in the character’s lives efficiently and succinctly. The descriptions of the physical landscape are vivid. I had trouble following the dialogue at times for the lack of quotation marks. Another distraction was the use on every page of em dashes, rendering the sentences long and cumbersome. I had to reread so many sentences, some several times, that the prose lost fluidity. Minor problem compared to my overall enjoyment of the book.
N stayed in a luxury hotel in a very small fishing village on the Gulf of Messenia on the Peloponnese. While I couldn’t find such a hotel online, I imagined it to look very much like this, which is in Kokkala, just 35 minutes from Girolimenas on the Gulf of Laconia. When I was in Greece in the mid 1980’s, my friend and I were staying near Marathon, north of Athens, visiting a friend of hers. We took a car trip to the Pelopponese, stopping in Epidaurus to see a play in the ancient amphitheater. The theater was part of a complex dedicated to Asklepios, god of medicine (whose symbol was the caduceus). In ancient Greece, a visit to a god’s holy place would have included theater, where catharsis was considered a route to good health. In that spirit, knowing only a few Greek words, the three of us went to see The Persians, a play by Aeschylus, that was part of a trilogy, a form that Aeschylus frequently employed. In The Persians, Xerxes has angered the gods with his expedition against Greece in 480/79 BCE. The drama mainly focused on the defeat of Xerxes’ navy at Salamis. Aeschylus had fought the Persians at Marathon in 490 BCE. Sitting there in the hollow of stones worn down by the weight countless Greeks, both ancient and modern, it was quite a thrill to know that I was touching the same stone that some person had sat on more than 2000 years ago. I listened for the two Greek words I could remember. Parakalo (please) was used several times, but karpouzi (watermelon), not once!
N has an uncomfortable dinner in the hotel with one of the staff. N chose pasta and a Greek salad. I went to Greece on my first trip abroad in the mid 1980’s, and was blown away by the delicious food and gorgeous scenery. I still rave, all these years later, about the food. For almost every meal I had tsatsiki and pita, some form of pasta and a Greek salad. I swear you could taste the sunshine in those crisp cucumbers. For awhile, I believed that supermarket tsatsiki was as good as homemade, until a meal at our local Greek restaurant reminded me just how good homemade is, and with readily available, good quality Greek yogurt in the grocery stores, eliminating the time-consuming step of draining regular yogurt (to make it thicker), tsatsiki is easier than ever to make at home.
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded 1 tsp white vinegar
and finely chopped ½ tsp salt
8 oz Greek yogurt 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T extra virgin olive oil
Blend all ingredients. Chill at least one hour before serving. Serve with crudite, pita bread or a baguette, or any combiation thereof. A word about the garlic. If you are not a garlic fanatic, you can use less to suit your taste, but the dish does need the garlic seasoning. You can also soften the flavor of raw garlic by warming it in the microwave before mincing. If you leave them in too long, they will cook. If using 3 cloves, try microwaving for 1 minute, as every microwave heats differently. You can adjust the time relative to your microwave.