Tuesday, July 30, 2013

ετσι ειναι η ζωη: Livin' the good life, Greek-style.

My Frappe: Metrios Me Gala

ετσι ειναι η ζωη: Such is life.
(phonetic: etsee-eeneh-ee-zoe-ee)

This was one of the first phrases I learned from my Notre Dame-North-Carolina-Indiana-Jones Professor upon arriving in Ancient Corinth in 2003.  Such is life.  At the time I was in full Greek-immersion mode, "efharistoe"-ing my way around the picturesque village, downing bowls of avgolemono and living mostly off of homemade wine bought from the little old lady's back room in a tiny village outside of town, that we, naturally, used to store in large, plastic gasoline containers on the front porch.  Life seemed good.  It seemed very good.

When I think back to that brief period on the Peloponesos in the summer of 2003, I recall nothing but the ideal of what life was: hot summer days, the esoteric beauty of piecing together Ancient yellow-limestone Corinthian roof tiles to reconstruct a geometric era temple, of meeting third-generation Pot-shard experts from the local village and watching them apprentice their sons for the same, the views of the peninsula from the top of Acrocorinth (Ακροκόρινθος), that first dinner at the local taverna where I learned how to properly pronounce Moussaka (μουσακά), eating raw garlic by the clove with 20-hour cooked mutton and homemade bread and cheese in the mountains, pathetic attempts at sketching Penteskoufi (a tiny ruined village nestled in a beautiful valley near our house), learning to orient myself based solely on the Isthmus and the surrounding mountains, diving into the impossibly beautiful waters of Perachora on a hot summer day and admiring the bountiful sea urchin next to the ancient Greek ruins of the Heraion (Ηραίο Περαχώρας), eating freshly washed, ice-cold cherries at a roadside restaurant with a view of the ocean and a nice breeze after cruising at indecent speeds in our cooky professor's dilapidated, A/C-less, white Lada, window shopping in modern Corinth while sipping a Greek Frappe (Metrio me Gala, for the record), learning bazouki songs after a giant outdoor barbecue of a whole lamb in a hand-dug charcoal pit, laughing and singing and telling stories late into the night, every single night, with a tiny glass of wine (ποτηράκι) in hand.

I didn't tend to think about the less than ideal aspects of the "good life" in a tiny village in Greece: village gossip - especially about expats and the new "archeology arrivals," constantly changing rivalries between family-owned restaurants and bars which effectively reduce your eating options by 50%, no hot showers - and no indoor showers, for that matter - oh, and no indoor toilets either, no air conditioning (even when it's bitterly hot), being jokingly punished for too much drinking by being forced to climb Acrocorinth while seriously hung-over, a mostly-vegetarian diet (this was particularly painful for me), sleeping in a room with crumbling ceilings and a perpetual fear of rodents, lizards and spiders crawling between your sheets, endless afternoons spent sketching temple blocks on graph paper in a hot room, or even more endless afternoons spent sorting through endless piles of said-ancient temple blocks to catalog and re-sketch them again.  The list goes on.

Still, that summer, like many others I've lived, is one suspended forever in my mind and heart as representing a form of true happiness - the kind built upon utter simplicity and freedom, making it ever-memorable and, in its own imperfection, perfect.  And the one culinary memory that best represents that carefree Grecian summer for me is the Greek Frappé.  I drank them every chance I got.  They were one of the first things I learned to order on my own.  And they hit the spot on a hot, dry afternoon of too much antiquity.

Summer these days is, admittedly, full of neighborhood pools and play dates more than leisurely dips in pristine Hellenic waters, but, one day in June, on a perfect Denver afternoon, I decided to take a moment for myself by making a frappé after almost a year since touching my $13 / can Greek Nescafe.  It transported me immediately.  And reminded me that whether it's the Colorado sun, or the Corinthian heat, summer is summer.  Happy is happy.  And ετσι ειναι η ζωη: Such is life.

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To make your own frappé, first, find a Greek grocer near you and purchase this.  Then go to Frappé Nation and check out their real Greek recipe and method.  I prefer mine metrios (2 sugars) "me gala" - with milk.  If you have regular American Nescafe, just add more coffee.

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