I wasn’t always a cook
I wasn’t always a cook. For three years, I travelled around the Aegean in a small sailboat, working as a cook, as a carpenter, as resourceful Odysseus gathering experiences. Now, far away from these images, above my pots, I can remember it as a summer dream.
Two years ago, before the start of my journey to Kithira, I bought a sailboat, I found her abandoned in a dirty marina in the port of Piraeus. Her indifferent owner was selling because, from the day he bought her, she began slowly being destroyed through his boredom and neglect.
The sea is jealous of those who take pleasure in her. She ruined everything on that neglected boat that a dreamer’s eyes like mine could see, and everything they couldn’t see.
Two whole years I spent unscrewing rusty screws, endlessly questioning engineers, carpenters, upholsterers and painters. I cleaned and dirtied, spoiled and fixed a sailboat fastened to posts in a dockyard where I could not even see the sea.I ranted and cursed and was truly disheartened. I spent money; sometimes borrowed, sometimes from bosses who had other dreams than mine. My friends avoided coming to help me. Along with me, they preferred to dream of their holidays at sea in the boat that I had always dreamed of owning; which by then I knew could not possibly be ready to sail in the near future. Eventually, when my friends did decide to visit, wasting my time, they made wicked remarks concerning the reigning chaos and disorder. At the same time, having seen it for themselves, they showed more than a little sympathy and understanding of my plight.
Those two years seemed interminable. When they finally came to an end I realised that I had derived so much pleasure from the actual repairing of the boat, I wondered if I would feel the same sense of joy when she floated on the water as I felt when she was immovable and fixed to posts in dry dock.
ON THE WATER
Small excursions close to the port. Many problems! First the engine then the sails, next the kitchen then the toilet. Concerning the passengers, who lugged on board huge suitcases filled with clothes and bedcovers, they quickly tired. And I? Was I captain of a ship of the line or a cheap cruise ship? Responsible for the weather, responsible for the narrowness of the boat, and responsible for my passengers precious time being stolen by me and my dream.
BEFORE ARRIVING IN KITHIRA
When we left Kavo Malea there was a light westerly wind coming from Elafonissos. It was seven o’clock in the evening. We had been sailing for almost twelve hours when two large dolphins, like small whales, crossed in front of us about ten meters from the boat. Suddenly one of them turned back and swam toward the boat, made a small circle around it, then swam away again fast, catching up with its mate that had never left its original course. Later, I realized that a door existed near Kavo Malea and on that door was written “YOUR DREAM”. I believe that the dolphin came back just to open it for me and make me feel welcome.
There is a traditional belief in Greece that dolphins swimming close to a boat bring good fortune to its sailors.
The wind slowly dropped as the west wind usually does at dusk, and the sun was beginning to go down behind Elafonissos. We started the engine and began to prepare for the night sailing.
My passenger continued to steer the boat while I bound the sails and arranged the ropes. I then went inside to take another look at the map of our course and form a last opinion of our progress before the sun set behind Elafonissos. I sat in the prow of the boat and began to count the lights as they lit up the capes of Kithira. The sky became brighter from the light of the stars, while the sea still held the light of the sun which seemed to sit within it. The night was a fact and began to play with its dreamer passengers, allowing its stars to shine much brighter than usual. The sky lost the mystery of night and darkness and became so clear that even the human mind could catch it. The sea became black and lost its surface. Plankton, abundant in the area of Kithnos, started to play and sparkle in the moving water at the prow of the boat. The stars were reflected in the sea and the line of the horizon was lost. Everything, including the sky and the sea, became only sky.
We were close to Avlemonas, where there is a narrow passage between Kithira and two small islands just before you reach the harbour.
APPROACHING THE HARBOUR OF AVLEMONAS
The sea was calm. The two small islands and Kithira appeared as three immense black shadows to the left and right and it was impossible to make out just how far away they were. I could not determine the far distance of the sky and stars, and our boat had become a small alien spaceship traveling through the darkness. The only sign indicating its position was the plankton shimmering in the sea below.
Sitting in the prow of the boat, I was desperately trying to identify the lost horizon line when I felt a chill of fear assail my whole body. Are the waters too shallow? Are we heading in the wrong direction? The still waters had unexpectedly darkened, was it from some stagnant debris or shadows from the depth of the sea? Were we, as I hoped, in the middle path of the narrows, or was it possible that the night had fooled me? All these doubts! My lips were dry. I was exhausted, burnt by the sun, starving hungry, and on a boat that was possibly untrustworthy, with its old diesel engine. Here I was, totally inexperienced at night sailing, in a strange and unknown place. What should I do? Was it worth it? I
wondered, what could be behind the door the dolphins had opened for me earlier that afternoon? As traumatized as I was I remained alert, with my eyes wide open, facing this dense mysterious curtain. I was ready and waiting to hear the crack of the keel as it struck a reef.
I looked at the luminous sky, the sparkling plankton and the shadows of the islands. Surrounded by so much natural beauty and wisdom I was living the pain. “Awe” I whispered to myself, “awe”. I cannot imagine any other way to define this sense of wonder except through the actual physical pain of my intense fear. Thank you Lord for allowing me this particular pain at this particular moment for now I feel I can comprehend more profoundly the true essence of “awe”.
I wondered “are the dolphins far away”?
The Agios Efrosinos Tavern is located off the main square of Loutraki. Loutraki is a pleasant seaside town adjoining the city of Corinth.
Not by chance did Michalis, the proprietor and chef, give this exceptional, traditional, Greek restaurant its name; Agios (Saint) Efrosinos is the Patron Saint of cooking.
Michalis, who trained as a chef at some of the top culinary schools, and, has been chef in many well-known Greek tavernas and restaurants, throughout mainland Greece and its islands, had always had a dream, a dream that one day he would own his own restaurant. A place where people could share his incredible passion and nostalgia for healthy, wholesome, home cooked food.
Open everyday from 12:00 to 17:00, except Mondays
Agiou Ioannou 17, 20300, Loutraki
Phone: +30 274 402 2247
Mobile: +30 697 303 2913