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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 25 August 2018
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 25 AUGUST 2018 15 FEATURE Xanthi, Thrace (Below). PHOTO: WEEKLY HUBRIS Traditional Thracian dress (Below). PHOTO: DISCOVER GREECE .NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 25 AUGUST 2018 15 FEATURE Xanthi, Thrace (Below). PHOTO: WEEKLY HUBRIS Traditional Thracian dre L.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 25 AUGUST 2018 15 FEATURE Xanthi, Thrace (Below). PHOTO: WEEKLY HUBRIS Traditional Thracian dress (Below). PHOTO: DISCOVER GREECE parent parent spirit itself - tsipouro/rakija,” writes Billinis. fraught beauty. Back then, we drank coffee with the owner and talked art and politics. A decade later, I walked into a gallery clearly on a downward spiral from better days. It was April, still quite cold in northern Greece, and my opening the door brought in the cold and stirred those inside. I remembered the artist; he did not remember me. His work was good but naïve, the product of practice rather than schooling or great talent. He answered my questions bloodlessly, worn out by life. In a corner, a white-haired man with a moustache and intelligent eyes eavesdropped from behind his newspaper. I bought a Xanthi scene for my wife and as I was going out, the man dropped his newspaper. I told him I was writing a piece on Xanthi, and I inquired where he would recommend that I eat. "Easy," he said. "Go to To Dromaki ('The Little Alley') and tell them I sent you." For reasons that became apparent shortly thereafter. I have forgotten his name. A few minutes of navigation through cobbled lanes lined with old mansions, and I reached To Dromaki. An older man, the owner, greeted me and sat me down at a table with a glass of water. His accent was faintly like that of Bulgarians who speak Greek, but Greek accents in Macedonia and Thrace often have a slightly Slavonic cadence; I did not think much of it. With the first appetiser, fried green peppers with feta, came the first tumbler of tsipouro (rakiya, rakija, grappa). Having set the items down, a 30-ish fellow with thinning blond hair sat down opposite me. "Enjoy! We are pleased to have a guest from America," he said with a flourish. "I'm Selim, the owner's son." Speaking of America, he was quick to remind me that Rita Wilson, Tom Hanks' Greek American wife, was "one of us"; her father is a Pomak who converted to Orthodoxy. Suddenly, his father's faint Bulgarian accent made sense. These were Pomaks, an ethnicity not easily placeable in a region where identities are explicit and definite. Muslims, they converted, like so many Balkan Muslims, rather later in the Ottoman era, and under unclear circumstances. They speak a dialect of Bulgarian, but consider themselves separate from Orthodox Christian Bulgarians. Though they are Muslims and, under the Treaty of Lausanne between Greece and Turkey, they are educated in Turkish, they do not consider themselves Turks. While such matters are varied and subtle, they are often considerably fairer-haired than their Greek, Turkish, and Bulgarian neighbours. Selim took me on a tour of the taverna's - and Thrace's into his cellphone and within a few minutes another friend arrived. Both were teachers, one at a music academy, the other on the agricultural faculty of the University of Xanthi. As we demolished the starters, a culinary tour of the Balkan and Asia Minor peninsulas, we spoke, as Greeks often do, of We were all Greek citizens, and proud to be: yet we were so different ... At one table, we represented a plethora of ironies, immigrations, emigrations, and expulsions, but we were all there together drinking a single transparent spirit which fostered a spirit of transparency. - cuisine, with a plethora of peppers, cheeses, and grilled meats washed down by multiple shots of strong tsipouro. Early in the 'lesson', the fellow who suggested To Dromaki arrived, greeting Selim's father like the old friend he was, and settled quickly into a chair at our table. He punched a few texts origins, professions, family, and a bit about our days of military service. We spoke, of course, in Greek, with occasional lapses into Bulgarian or English; we all understood enough of all of these languages to banter. It was one of those alcohol-fuelled afternoons that I adore: good cheer, drink, conversation, food, and intellect, all centred upon a diverse table. We were all Greek citizens, and proud to be: yet we were so different. I was Greek yet American-born and bred; the other three were born in Greece, and in Thrace, specifically. One of the professors had origins in Asia Minor; the other was Thracian, but with roots in Eastern Thrace, now Turkey. The only true local, from Xanthi, was Selim, the Pomak. At one table, we represented a plethora of ironies, immigrations, emigrations, and expulsions, but we were all there together drinking a single transparent spirit which fostered a spirit of transparency. One of our most spirited debates was not about politics or religion, but rather about the transparent spirit itself - tsipouro/rakija. I offered my considerable experience with Hungarian palinka, Vojvodina Serbian rakija, Romanian tuica, and various Bulgarian and Slav Macedonian rakiyas, and Turkish raki, to arrive at my favourite: A raspberrydistilled rakija I bought off a waiter in the Serbian mineral spa resort of Vrnajcka Banja. This moment of tsipouroinduced honesty did cause (Above) A mosque in Komotini. a bit of a ruckus, and Selim sought to bolster his argument with his own "personal stash" of homemade tsipouro - a strong argument indeed. As the afternoon rolled on, I remembered that I was expected, for dinner, back in Kavala. Abruptly, the tsipouro left the table - actually we emptied the tumbler, and it was not replaced. Turkish (or Greek, or Bulgarian or Pomak) coffee arrived, together with a local sweet, the first, again, of many. Saying goodbye was tough, because such afternoons deserve to go on and on, and I could only imagine the fare for supper. I left bearing a muchneeded infusion of fellowship and intellect, served on the mosaic table that is Thrace. If only all the problems of the world, and the region, could be spread out across such a table, and spoken over with open palates and open minds all round. Then the diverse spices of the cuisine, and the debate, might enrich us all, rather than divide us. How often, however, this is not the case. I closed the door, and I stepped back into the chill wind. * This article originally appeared in Weekly Hubris.
18 August 2018
01 September 2018