New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
“If you’re in Athens or anywhere else in Greece in August, you might have the extraordinary pleasure of celebrating the full moon, the panselinos, at one of the archaeological sites or museums that has full moon celebrations,” says writer Sherri Moshman Paganos, who met her Greek husband in 1980.when he was a student in New York.
That was the beginning of Moshman’s present life. In1983 they went to Greece for a 2-year stint so her husband could fulfill his service in the Greek Army. 2 years became 30 years, and those three decades have enhanced Moshman’s joy in living in Greece, particularly the excitement that she feels at the approach of the Greek summer, an excitement that shows no signs of fading.
“The special beat of summer means sitting outside at night on your balcony, in a garden, or by the sea under the starry sky and feeling the cool dry clear air on your skin,” she observes, “All of life is played is played outdoors in the summer.” We say: Yes, yes, yes! Let’s Go To Greece This Summer!
“In Athens there are outdoor cafes, tavernes, concerts, theater, and cinemas in the summer. Outdoor cinemas, in fact, are one of the most endearing of all the Greek summer rhythms,” says Moshman, who waits for the summer cinema across the street from her house to open so she can “pore over the summer schedule, check out the colorful posters in front, see the jasmine and bougainvillea being watered and creating a feeling of freshness on the summer evening.” And, as we recall, as well, “at all the outdoor cinemas little tables are set up where you can rest your orangeade or beer and your cheese pie or even souvlaki comfortably next to your chair as you watch either a first-run film or an old classic.”
Some cinemas in Athens are legendary, she adds, naming the Cine Paris in the Plaka, “where you have the feeling that the Acropolis is right above your head,” and the Cine Thiseio (dating from 1935 and recently listed one of the world’s top 10 most enjoyable movie theaters in a CNN rating). The Cine Thiseio also has a stunning view of the Acropolis… and pots of basil and geranium on both sides of the screen.” For a perfect Greek summer night experience, Moshman suggests combining your cinema outing with a late dinner in the inimitably atmospheric Acropolis area.
Moshman confirms that the beautiful and expansive pedestrian walkway, Dionysiou Aeropagitou, that starts across from the Temple of Zeus and passes the New Acropolis Museum (which just celebrated 5 years) down to the Thiseio area is a “must” way to enter the Acropolis area. “You can join the other tourists or locals and stroll from one end of the walkway to the other, or get one of the red 4-person bicycles.”
While Athens plays tantalizing summer rhythms, the Greek islands are the place to be in the summer. says Moshman. “Henry Miller talked about the happiness of being on a boat in the Aegean in the summertime. What she lives for every summer, part of her own “slow summer cadences” is to visit islands, usually the Cyclades, on a slow ferry, not the sea jet or flying dolphin. Everyone has seen posters of the windmills of Mykonos and the magical view of the caldera in Santorini, she says, but “lesser known islands, not as crowded, beckon as well, the dazzling white houses and little churches contrasting with the deep blue of the sky and sea.”
The Cycladic islands’, “stark colors, dryness, and wind, can be seen as being “harsh”, but therein lies their beauty, says Moshman, and the dryness is balanced by the dazzling “lure of the sparkling sea,” adding that “Many beaches are blessed with tamarisk trees, which hold moisture in their leaves, and offer welcome shade from the fierceness of the sun. Besides tamarisk trees, olive groves, and thymari (thyme) growing wild, are an intrinsic part of Greek scenery. “It’s the pungent smell of the thymari that gives the characteristic smell of the Greek summer landscape, and “in some greener islands, you can walk in pine forests and inhale their divine scent. If you’re quiet, you can hear the pine nuts cracking in the heat, but you don’t need to be particularly quiet to hear the continual tsi tsi of the tsitsikia, the wonderfully onomatopoetic word for crickets… the hotter it is, the louder they sing.”
A rapturous image: “Spending some days on an island means nothing more strenuous to think about than what beautiful beach you’re going to swim in that day and in what taverna you’re going to eat at night,” says Moshman, conjuring up our ideal picture, “If you’re lucky, you can sit right on the beach and look out to sea as you eat. If you’re even luckier, your taverna has freshly caught octopus hanging out to dry. Surely a taste of heaven is grilled octopus marinated in wine sauce accompanied by a glass of ouzo. It goes without saying that there’s so much more to Greek food than the ubiquitous moussaka, Greek salad, and retsina.”
Crete holds special fascination for Moshman. “While I love the Cycladic islands, Crete has a special place in my heart. Even before I came to Greece, I had felt an almost mythical connection with Crete from reading Nikos Kazantzakis’ autobiographical novel Report to Greco. ‘Whoever sets foot on this island senses a mysterious force branching warmly and beneficently through his veins, senses his soul begins to grow’, he writes. Besides Report to Greco, I had, of course, entered the world of Zorba the Greek, Kazantzakis’ most famous novel. But more than the novel, it was the film that fired my imagination about coming to Greece. While I never actually saw Alan Bates and Anthony Quinn dancing the syrtaki on the beach to the sweet strains of the bouzouki and Mikis Theodorakis’ music, one day I did get the chance to meet and share a carafe of wine with Walter Lasally, the Oscar-winning cinematographer of Zorba, on the very beach where Zorba was filmed,” she says, noting that Lasally is currently playing in the film Before Midnight, which was filmed in the Mani, in the south Peloponnesos.”
The Zorba’ beach is in Stavros, on the Akrotiri Peninsula near Hania. She is one of the many who believe that Hania is one of the most beautiful towns of Greece, says Moshman. “My husband and I were visiting Hania during the last 9 years while our son was getting his engineering degree at the Polytechnic University of Crete. We had been fortunate to find him a 16th century Venetian stone house in the old Venetian Harbor, which is a delight to walk along, as are all the winding streets of the old town, including the walk along the ramparts that leads to the magnificent Venetian faros (lighthouse) that graces the town. You could spend days in Hania eating delicious Cretan specialties like Cretan salad, calzounia (cheese or vegetable pies), lamb kleftiko or tsigariasto, and drinking raki. The whole island, full of history, beauty and culture waits to be explored. You can’t miss, for example, the Minoan settlement of Knossos outside Irakleio. And the ‘mysterious force’ that Kazantzakis mentions? This force might be unleashed if you go to a village paniyiri, where you succumb to the beat of the Cretan lyra and laouto, and join in the dancing. Truly let the music nurture your soul. Drink a glass of raki, a glass of wine, to the Greek summer rhythms!
Let’s Go To Greece This Summer!