At his cafe in Paros, Charis spent nights talking to me and my friend Micaela about tourism in Greece, the economy, and how to make homemade alcohol.
“The economy is all a game,” he said. On Paros, an island supported largely by tourism, he said he had seen no change over the years, even with Greece’s news-dominating recession. “In Athens, people can’t send their kids to school or eat, but here, nothing is different,” he said. In fact, this summer his cafe (and the next door hotel run by his sister), were busier than ever.
On Tsipras, Greece’s leftist prime minister who sparks lots of opinions in lots of people, Charis was equally blasé. “Eh,” he said, waving his hand in dismissal when I first asked about him. “There was a referendum and people voted no, then he turned around and did the opposite,” he said, “but politics is all a game.” That seemed to be his theme.
On Paros and running the cafe though, Charis was more enthusiastic. “Paros is the best island,” he said. “It’s even more relaxed than Italy.” Though Santorini and Mykonos are famous and beautiful, he said Paros is more laid back and local. He told us about how he buys ingredients from nearby farms, let us play with newborn ducklings, brought us halloumi and baklava, and let us in on his secret for making homemade souma. (Hint: Distill, distill, distill and hope your guests like their liquor strong and burning).
Then, as we were about to leave for Athens, he informed us that he and his wife were heading there too and invited us for dinner with them at their favorite restaurant, Thanasis Kebab.
We sat down for dinner at 11pm and feasted for two hours. And I mean really, really feasted. I don’t think I’ve ever been so full in my life. We started with saganaki, fried cheese that melts in your mouth, salad, and fries. Then came the kebabs – hands down the juiciest, most delicious kebabs I’ve ever had. We were so full about halfway through, but Charis wouldn’t let us stop. “EAT!” he would shout and bounce in his chair each time either of us looked close to defeat. I was reminded of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. His wife, the sweetest woman, spent a lot of time rolling her eyes and asking if we were ok.
And then there was dessert. Baklava (“the really full kind”), ice cream, a cream filled cake, and portokalopita. This last one, an orange cake soaked in honey syrup, was something I hadn’t had before and was fantastic.
Eventually, we waddled away, Charis and his wife joking as we passed each food stand near the Acropolis -“Don’t you want gelato?” “Gyros?” Micaela was not amused and actually looked ill.
Pain and pleasure are sometimes synonymous, right? And despite losing the ability to move for a few hours, the meal was one of the best and most entertaining I’ve ever had.