“Philoxenia,” or friendship to strangers, is an ancient concept that developed when Greeks believed that gods, disguised as strangers, walked amongst them. The ritual of this reciprocal hospitality seems to persist today, and is a point of pride for many Ikarians.
Grocery shopping for two items may last for several hours because the shopkeeper wants to pour us wine, feed us homemade food, and socialize.
We’ve lost count of how many times we’ve gone to pay for our drinks at the end of a night in the village cafe, only to find out that one of our Greek friends has already covered the tab.
We also get frequent invitations to people’s houses. Because it is a small village, there are no addresses here. People give directions using landmarks instead.
Today we are going to visit Mikalis, an acquaintance who lives outside Magganitis. Our only instructions are to walk west a few miles out of town and look for his house near a small church called Agios Nektarios.
Mikalis lives in an area that was once a fertile and desirable place for villagers to have their gardens. Now it is mostly barren – with rocks, small trees, and the occasional goat.
Luckily, his house is easy to find because it is incongruous with traditional Ikarian architecture: he has built a North American-style cabin using large cedar logs that his son transported from Chillawack, British Columbia.
Not all bathrooms in Greece have shower stalls, and even fewer have bathtubs. For instance, after we take showers in our apartment bathroom (the whole room is the shower stall), we squeegee the water down the drain with a dustpan and wipe down the floor with a towel.
Almost no toilet in Greece can accommodate toilet paper. There are small bins in all bathrooms where waste paper must be disposed of.
The wine pictured in the carafe is homemade, like much of the wine encountered in Ikaria. It is all within a year old – and at the rate Ikarians drink it, does not last into the second year anyway. The flavor of each family’s wine is unique, and most do not resemble the commercially distributed wine we are familiar with – but instead have varying degrees of dry earthiness, sweetness, or band-aid like aroma (high Brettanomyces yeast concentration) that take some time to get used to. Nonetheless, the local wine tastes clean on the palate and pairs well with most of the simple food here.
Visiting Ikarians is an open-ended endeavor that could potentially last all day. People are profoundly generous and are often inexhaustible hosts.
And of course, all Greek households have an infinite supply of bread, feta, wine, and stories, thereby giving guests no excuse at all to ever leave.