[MGSA-L] Greece: Once Upon a Spittle
june.samaras at gmail.com
Thu Dec 4 20:54:35 PST 2014
Greece: Once Upon a Spittle
Posted: 12/02/2014 1:50 pm EST Updated: 12/02/2014 1:59 pm EST
I Discovered two widows and a waitress in Greece. I think they may have
slipped off the pages of a Grimm's fairy tale and tumbled to soft landings
in mountains near the sea. These creatures are precious witches with warty
skin, vibrant souls, and eyes that hold the truths of their lifetimes. I
tracked them down in a labyrinth of ancient passageways, and I captured
them, hoping they would share their magic with me. It was their spittle
that I was after. The Greeks believe the gesture of spitting wards off
misfortune and stops the power of the Evil Eye. The tradition is a simple
"ftou ftou ftou" delivered from the mouth of a wise old woman to the
forehead of a vulnerable young one. In this scenario, I'm the young one,
and I wanted some blessed spit. I felt an urgency to collect the good luck
offering as time ran out on my travel adventure.
"That one. I choose her," I say to my Greek friends when I see a woman
walking alone on the road that takes us through the hills of southern
Greece to the coast in Mani.
The lady is plump. Bright eyes peek out from the black shawl draped over
her head. An apron sits snug around her waist. Twisted fingers wrap around
the handle of a basket, while the other hand negotiates balance with each
of her waddling steps. This dear granny just may have the magic spittle
that I'm looking for.
"I want *her* to spit on me!" I demand my friend to stop the car. But
Leonidas can only laugh at the naiveté of his foreign passenger, and he
makes good on his promise to tease me about this for months. The woman in
my rearview mirror disappears. I will not let the next granny get away.
village hidden in the slopes of the Taygetos is invisible until you're in
it. Quiet until it exhales. Byzantine churches built in the 10th century
dot the landscape that is eerily silent, land that begs for a breeze. I
walk slowly because each footstep seems to disrupt a centuries-old
stillness. I pause to look around at the shapes of the stone bricks in the
wall, the uneven steps leading to the tower, and the salmon-colored
rooftops popping against green hills. I am alone in the enchantment called
naptime in the Peloponnese. Only 80 people live in the village of Kastania,
and I'm convinced the summer heat has lulled them all into an hours-long
trance. I walk to the top of a small incline where a thin, dark figure sits
in a chair. Helene Falideas is wide-awake. She gazes into the heat; it's a
"She will never leave here, but be in the earth," Helene's grandson, Ajis,
is with her and welcomes me with his English. I'm relieved to hear someone
>From our spot in the shade, Helene can see the house that she was born in
83 years ago. The pictures of her wedding day are lost somewhere, but the
church in those old photographs stands just a few feet away. The sacred
building is 1500 years old, and it's closed today.
"Because this village is everything," Ajis just returned from Athens. "It
gives you life. Mountains. We have the sea. We have food. It's the feelings
"What else do you need?" I ask the young man. "Nothing?"
"A girl!" He laughs.
Helene blinks with heavy eyelids. I've stumbled into her vault, where time
has witnessed generations of her family. Helene is a great-grandmother. Her
life's signature is Ajis and the others she'll leave behind. She is proud.
She stands to clear the dishes off of the table. In the hour we spend
together Helene laughs but rarely smiles. The widow wears black and offers
me sparkling lemonade. The round bow under her pointed chin makes me wonder
to what degree her life is composed of opposites. Before I leave Helene
wants me to understand that she visited America once as a young woman.
"Boston," she says in Greek. "But it was not my Greece," she adds smiling.
I say goodbye and Ajis says, "Super." His grandmother tells him to say, "It
is super to see you."
the other side of the canyon in what a poet once called a "bewitched
valley," the larger village of Milia sleeps, too. Another old soul escaped
the spell, and she stares at the church that was a witness to her long
life. Conversations from Sofia Hanzea's past must be stored in the air
here, because when I approach her she seems to be listening to them. Milia
was her playground when she was a child. It provided a husband and a life
for the couple as they raised their four children. Sofia pulls long tangled
hair into a braid and wraps the streaks of gray and white twice around her
head. This darling has whiskers on her chin, and an endearing giggle. She
rarely sees visitors, and I wonder how long it's been since she's seen a
camera because she loves mine. She picks flowers from the garden next to
the church, and hands them to me. I'm pleased when her friend Viki wakes up
because she speaks enough English to explain that Sofia turns 90 this year,
her husband died 15 years ago, her two sons are in Kalamata, and will I
please mail the pictures to Sofia? She'd like to send them to her two
daughters in Australia. They haven't seen her in such a long time. Yes, I
think that is the very least this intruder can do. [image:
"Are you alone?' Sofia asks.
"I am," I say.
"Oh," she says.
I have yet to be spat upon.
On my drive back to Kardamili I see an older woman holding greens and
walking up a hill. I park, and I run after her. Maybe it is the "ftou ftou
ftou" sound effect I attempt, or perhaps the rapid pointing to my forehead
that confuses her? Clearly the woman does not consider me a candidate for
good luck. I've never seen an elderly woman dart up a hill so fast.
I've been in the country for a month already! For the love of Zeus, will a
Greek grandmother *please* spit upon me?
I've grown to love naptime in Greece. On the island of Hydra, the streets
are empty. The shops close. The tourists stay in the water, away from the
heart of the village. The donkeys, the only transportation allowed on this
island, enjoy a respite from the heat, too. A quiet rustling on the street
means an awakening.
Ostria Café opens for dinner, and I'm the first one here. I'm starving.
I've waited all day to eat at Ostria because the locals tell me it's the
best, most authentic dining experience on the island. The waitress plops a
plate of calamari on my table along with a can of Coke.[image:
"Ah," she pauses and looks down to examine my face. "Pretty. The eyes."
She puts her hands on my head and gives me a "ftou ftou ftou" and walks
I get the blessed spit with a side order of *the *most delicious calamari
on the *planet*, and I didn't place an order for either. Now isn't this
just like a perfect moment? Refusing to be forced, presenting itself only
when *it *is good and ready, and certainly better than I could have
I'm glad I listened to the locals. Anastasia is, by far, the youngest, and
the feistiest witch in the spittle saga. She gets her own drink, sits next
to me, and begins chattering away about everything except the "ftou ftou
ftou" she just bestowed upon me. She delivered the lucky spit, which is
really more of a noise presentation than actual saliva, the same way she
puts napkins on all the tables: dutifully. She and her husband, Stathis the
Cook, have owned the restaurant for 19 years. He delights in telling me
that Anastasia is the interesting one, and I believe him. [image:
Café has a reputation for more than its mouthwatering calamari on Hydra.
The "blonde lady, you'll like her, she has a big personality," was the
encouragement I received toward Anastasia before arriving here. And I find
her to be self-deprecating, and probably the kind of girlfriend who brings
levity to situations.
"Oh, no," Anastasia looks at the picture I just took of her, and gives me a
sincere eye roll. I can't help but laugh when she puts her hand on my wrist
as though *this* is the wisdom she has to impart. "You *don't* want that."
Before I leave to catch the ferry back to Athens, I hear a "Wait! Wait!"
Anastasia darts into the restaurant, bumps her husband out of the way, and
grabs a small, glass bottle of liquor.
"You need this for your trip back to America!" She shoves the bottle into
my hand and kisses my cheek.
I'm sipping from that bottle of bitter Ouzo, family reserve 1875, as I
write this travel tale months later. It's the story of a journey that drew
me out from my routine in Seattle, and delivered me to naptime in mountains
near the turquoise sea. I searched for superstition in Greece, but found
three truths instead: Helene, Sofia, and Anastasia. The women are precious
memories of aged hands extended to me, solitude shared with me, and good
luck sent with me. They let me capture them in these photographs so I could
share their magic here, with gratitude for the two widows and the waitress
I met in Greece.
*Follow Sabra Gertsch on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SabraGertsch
2020 Old Station Rd
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Tel : 905-542-1877
E-mail : june.samaras at gmail.com
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