The word rustic, when used in bourgeois circles, is used to denote the presence of trees, accommodation lacking some modern conveniences, less than ideal WiFi speed perhaps, and cuisine unsullied by pretension or French monarchic tradition. The word is not used outside of bourgeois circles.
When asked, I have often described the tiny village of Galasades, roughly 60 houses clinging to the lush slopes of Mount Telethrion in northern Evia, as rustic. Subpar internet speeds not withstanding, this is an inadequate descriptor for a locale that seems to sit almost wholly outside outside the sphere where terms like rustic have any sense. I say almost wholly due to the yearly arrival of myself and les Américains, with our concerns about 4G availability and our cooing over tomatoes, cucumbers and onions doused in oil and vinegar: the most basic version of a “village salad.”
Beyond a generous curiosity, our arrival has little apparent effect on the rhythms of life in the village. In the morning the men go up the mountain to cut timber or make charcoal so excellent for grilling that it is the topic of erudite foodie after dinner conversation in the wealthy Athenian suburbs of Ekali and Kaffisia, scarcely two hours away. Those who can afford to purchase, maintain and fuel one, climb the mountain by pick up truck or moped. Others walk. The charcoal is made in large tents, where the wood is slowly blackened under low oxygen conditions. The faces of the men who make the precious quantity turn equally black. In the evening, old men sit largely in silence on the terraces of the tavernas, sipping Tsipouro.
In late summer migrant labourers arrive to work the fig fields. Lacking not only liquidity, but also capital in the form of land, transport, or fruit bearing trees, they can be seen camping near fields and riding around packed onto the flat beds of trucks that will later haul the precious crop of white figs destined to be dried and, rumor has it, delivered to the House of Windsor to be consumed by the last remaining Greek royalty, Philip Mountbatten, otherwise known at the Duke of Edinburgh.
About five minutes drive down the mountain from Galatsades sits the village of Kamatriadis, home to Taverna Mastroianni, a large pink building occupied by several generations of the Mastroianni family and the local siege of the influential left-faction of the Telethrion Mountain Political Association. The Mastroianni family grows a great deal of the food they serve on the plot of land behind the Taverna which encompasses vegetable gardens, vineyards and many many beehive boxes. The eye follows the gentle slope of the mountain over pine forest, fig and then olive orchards, and finally to the mouth of the Gulf of Pilion.
The order is always the same, beets, wild greens, tadziki, frites and lamb ribs. After years of gentle jingoistic bantering about the superiority of Gaulic cuisine – I believe they call this “charm” – the Frenchman has cajoled the stoic grillman to cook the ribs à la française, aka rosé. “C’est comme chez nous.” We however, les Américains, are true patriots of this mountain, we want none of this pink meat, which the Greeks assure us is highly dangerous; cover it in oil and salt and throw it into the heat, char it, burn it, I want to taste the coal and the sweat of the mountain men who make it. If this were not the siege of the left-faction and if the Frenchman were not such good company I would call these Freedom Ribs. They are of course magnificent. We give our bones to the children to lick clean and satiate their primal desires.
It’s not just the meat. If life itself has a taste, it is surely the earthy sweetness of a simple pile of beets, followed by the intense garlic rush of the tadziki. I feel overcome by an urge to eat the dirt that has nourished these majestic little purple balls.
The wine is sweet and cold, served in large glass pitchers, drunk from small glasses. You could not drink it anywhere else.
Mastroianni fils brings us tomatoes from the garden, but we’re not the first to get to them. A little Mexican worm is ravaging his small crop. First came the tomatoes and then the worms, it’s only fair that they too get a taste of home.
Correction: AP hastens to point out that she is not actually an American