Friday, December 16, 2011
THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT!
I have come to believe that those compliments which are the most treasured are those which are totally unsolicited and completely unexpected. On my first return trip to
Crete in 2008, I received what I consider to be certainly one of the nicest and most sincere compliments of my entire life. That year, during my three month stay on Crete, one of the first people whom I met and became friends with was George Stamatakis, the owner of the MariRena Hotel. George was a short Cretan man with thinning dark brown hair, olive-colored skin, dancing dark eyes, a jovial disposition and a pleasant smile which seldom departed his face. George’s English, which was far superior to my Greek, was articulated with a heavy accent and most often spoken almost like prose or poetry. It is my opinion that many Greeks in general and Cretans more specifically, possess that natural ability to speak in such a smooth, flowing manner that it more closely resembles literary honey than a spoken language.
At that time I frequently ate at the Dionysus Taverna which adjoined, and was part of the MariRena Hotel. George Stamatakis would often spend the evening hours at the Dionysus Taverna, moving from table to table and spending time with his customers, almost like a culinary ambassador. One particular evening I had enjoyed a delicious dinner at the Dionysus Taverna and sipped a carafe of chilled white wine which was a perfect accent to my meal. Upon seeing that my carafe was empty, George directed that an additional carafe of white wine be sent to my table along with his compliments. Even though the meal had satisfied my hunger and I was quite full, there was not even the remotest possibility that I would turn down the wine and risk hurting my friend’s feelings. Therefore, I slowly sipped the second carafe of wine and as I did so, could feel that warm glow which had gathered in my stomach, begin to make its way upward to my face and most notably, my cheeks. By the time that I had finished the second carafe of wine, most of my cares had disappeared just as surely as the contents of that carafe had also vanished. In most tavernas on Crete, it is customary that upon completion of the meal, a plate of fruit consisting of watermelon pieces, cantaloupe slices, or an assortment of grapes, be brought to the table, along with a small flask of raki (tsikoudia), and the Dionysus Taverna was not an exception to that unspoken tenet. Shortly after the fruit and raki were placed before me, George joined me at my table, asked me how my meal was, and then encouraged me to enjoy the fruit and raki…which I did….slowly….very slowly. As I partook of the fruit and raki, I couldn’t ignore the fact that my speech was becoming slurred and everything at or near my table had been duplicated, including George. When he spoke, his speech resonated and echoed as if he were either speaking from inside a deep barrel, or else I was hearing from deep inside a barrel. As we continued to talk, I began to relate to George of my love for
Crete, its people, history, heritage, culture, language, and food. When we had concluded our conversation, I rose to my feet, and holding to the edge of the table to steady myself, turned to George and said, “Sometimes I think that I should have been born a Cretan.” These were neither idle words, nor were they words which were alcohol-induced. George smiled and then spoke, saying, “But, there is no need…for you are already a Cretan…right here.” And with that, George reached forward and tapped on my chest directly over my heart. I was at a complete loss for words and perhaps that was best, for even if I had been able to find the appropriate words, I’m not sure that I could have found the necessary composure to have spoken them!
Take care, stay well, and let me hear from you.
Your Friend and Fellow “Silent Warrior”,