Take me to the shoe store, and all I can think of is blisters. (My toes prefer the feel of beach sand and water.) Shopping for clothes? As fast and infrequent as possible. Jewellery and accessories? I don’t care much. But set me free on the Athenian street market, something happens to me. I am unstoppable. I shop till I drop.
The λαϊκή (pronounced la-ee-kée) is an institution, and my weekly fix of health and fresh. I love everything about it. The vendors are friends; they ask about my family, my work and my travels, and even my mood the occasional time I forget my smile at home. They chant, they yell, louder and louder as the morning goes by and they still have oh so much produce left on their stalls. “Thirty cents, everything for thirty cents” shouts the guy where I buy my happy-chicken eggs and generous bunches of garden herbs. His neighbour, who looks like he must be well over 70 years old, sings a lot louder: “Come and get my stuff, buy it all, I need to get some Botox for my shrinking little mother.”
Maybe not for his wrinkly old mother’s beauty treatment, but buying his stuff I do. It’s all seasonal, abundant, local, colourful. I get my litres worth of oranges. Peas, half of which I know will never make it to the pan; I eat them raw while taking them out of their pods. I queue for salads at Christos’ – he has the most amazing variety, and the ladies like him, so his stand is always in demand. Strawberries – it’s that time of the year – I get more than I will be able to eat. Olives, a weekly indulgence, so many varieties, and all just taste wonderful to me. A chunk of Cretan cheese, a few little bags with unsalted nuts. I buy funnily shaped cucumbers, courgettes and carrots – Greek veggies refuse to be defined by EU regulations and definitions. A fresh milokopi fish – not sure what they call it in English, if anything, the flavour seems too uniquely Mediterranean to translate – will be cooked in the oven tonight after sprinkling with some olive oil and sea salt, so simple, so good.
I can’t carry more and I start heading back. Done, my weekly journey to the slightly exotic, to colour and fragrance. At home, my kitchen will be filled with souvenirs. (As will my stomach, eventually.)
I hate to say it, but I’m going to say it, that most vapid of tourism clichés is actually, in this rarest of cases, entirely true: Jacoline’s Greece is the real Greece. And so much more interesting and engaging for it. Get in touch with her to plan out your trip.