What does one do when one of your most dear friends from university invites you to his housewarming party in a Greek seaside village? You tell them you are too busy working on your dissertation, that you have family obligations and that your graduate student budget does not allow for adventures in Greece. What does one do when he insists and ends up sacrificing his last frequent flier miles to get one’s sorry ass over in business class? You humbly and eagerly accept and pack some serious sun protection.
This is exactly what happened to me this summer (except the sun protection bit). My dear friend Matthew, who has been patient enough with me to be a groomsman at my two weddings and who came to visit me in Madrid last summer did just that.
I had not been to my beloved Greece since the mid-nineties, so going back – and for such an event was very especial. Mark Miller, the third musketeer, came in from New York on the same day as me, and Matthew drove us a couple of hours to his house in the lovely village of Toló, near the old Greek capital of Nafplio, on the Peloponnese mainland.
The house is more of a compound, high on a hill overlooking the sweet village of Toló, the sea and the beautiful islands. It includes Irina’s 8 Cooking Hats Cooking School and the house. When we arrived, construction crews were working frantically to finish all the last-minute details, and they would continue for the next two days before the grand opening party (but not before I befriended the construction guys – soccer is the key here – and they let me sign my name on some wet cement!)
The cooking school building has a bunch of guest rooms. Mark and I settled into the gym / Pilates / Zumba room and also temporary storage and staging area for all pre-party supplies: liquor and wine, fireworks, furniture, and random nick knacks. Not to mention two queen sized pull down beds and our own bathroom.
The first two days I must confess where hectic: Helping Matthew and Irina prepare everything for the party: peeling pistachios, making big paper flower pompoms – and hanging them up, shopping for enough supplies to feed a hungry Roman Legion, chopping and prepping all sorts of food with Alex (who would become a dear friend, my little grasshopper), Susanna and George, buying and transporting enough alcohol to fuel a year of parties in Ibiza, helping the DJs set up speakers and cables, organizing. Lots of organizing and cleaning. Lots of cleaning. Unfortunately Mark was suffering from acute chronic jet lag so he seemed to spend the first days just eating and sleeping. But he is such a fantastic sport that he took all our joking on the subject in stride.
For me, preparations for the party continued until even after the first few guests arrived, with just time for a quick shave and shower before helping to pass around mountains of food. Once the party started I could finally enjoy a gin and tonic, a cigar, and dancing. Lots of dancing.
Matthew’s wife Irina learnt about Toló from Nelly, a classmate at hotel and culinary school in Switzerland. Nelly owns an adorable boutique hotel on the beach with her brother Manolis where Matthew and I would stop in between chores (remember, Mark was mostly sleeping) for a coffee, or frappé. Petros, Nelly and Manoli’s dad who adores Matthew, would insist on cooking us some eggs. It will be hard for you to find a nicer family than the Vlachakis.
Irina is a popular food blogger in the Russian Interweb, so we received plenty of Russian food bloggers and friends (picking them up and shuttling guests around was another fun chore!). We were also lucky that Alfonso, another of our dear friends from university was in the area with his sailing boat: the beautiful, sleek, state of the art Athina, so he also came, bringing with him his friend Alessio, a true Italian bohemian, ex actor, world traveler and master storyteller and his captain José.
All in all Irina and Matthew gathered an awesome group of beautiful, high energy people. The days after the party we went on excursions to the ancient Greek theater of Epidaurus, to George Skouras’ vineyard and winery, to the town and castle of Nafplio, even on a boat cruise to a remote island, with its obligatory Greek Orthodox chapel on top – where coincidentally the aforementioned Nelly was baptized. Neither my hack writing, nor my hack photos can do justice to the time we had.
For me, to use a Greek word, my visit to Greece was cathartic. It had been about twenty years since I had been to Greece and I have such fond memories that I can now add to. This summer also marks the fifth anniversary of my full catastrophe (to use Zorba’s expression), so having ten days of fairly carefree sun and sunshine was a welcome relief.
Besides meeting a bunch of phenomenal people, I managed to go to church the morning after the party (getting up was a bit rough) for a beautiful Greek Orthodox service, eat lots and lots of delicious Greek food, spent the day sailing on Alfonso’s boat from Toló to Spetses (returning on his speedboat), visiting with friends and basically forgetting all my responsibilities for ten days.
It is at times like these, when you relax, let your defenses down, that life comes creeping back in, you can joke, laugh, feel, allow yourself to love and appreciate friends and allow yourself to be loved and appreciated by friends.