“Do you have lamb gyros?” I asked every Greek sidewalk bistro.
Jennifer & I walked the Plaka. Nestled in the shadows of the Acropolis in Athens, for centuries Greeks walked the cobblestone streets in search of entertainment, trade for goods, and the meaning of life.
Our quest proved to be more of a challenge as every place did not have lamb gyros. The headlines of 2011 encompassed the Arab Spring and the cultural casualties from the harsh austerity sanctions forced on the people of Greece. Our tour should have had fifty to sixty people but only seven of us dared to keep our reservations.
On our second day in Greece, the five other tourists had ventured to see the Oracle at Delfi. Seasoned travelers, we knew there would be more adventure if we explored Athens on our own.
With a baker’s dozen of “NOs” from the sidewalk callers out front of the cafes, we searched undeterred for our ultimate prize. “Do YOU have lamb gyros?” I queried the man out front of the empty patio restaurant.
“You are from America, yes?” the gentleman shot back at me.
“Yes,” I stated baffled how he could know my nationality.
“No lamb gyros in Greece. Go to America. Eat Lamb gyros. I have good food here. Come.” he related in a staccato tongue.
The table and chairs rocked back and forth atop the uneven stone dining area. The guy brought over utensils and napkins. The table top was worn down past the varnish. I ran my finger over the grainy wood in an attempt to appreciate the moment.
The man squeezed my shoulder with his hand and proposed, “I will bring good food.” His hand tapped me twice as I heard him walk away. We had no idea if the food would be eatable. Our intuition lead us to trust he was honorable and could back up his ambiguous claim about his culinary talent.
As we awaited whatever cuisine would be brought to us, we people watched. Two men hurried by. Each had wooden poles with leather purses draped on hooks. The satchels bounced as the men awkwardly shuffled onward. A few seconds later, Jennifer & I heard a low murmur of a engine echo through the walls of the open marketplace. A Greek police officer slowly putted through on a Honda motorcycle with the strobe lights flashing.
As Jennifer described the stone faced officer, we pondered if the two events were related. Our intrigue deepened as the two men tried to stealthily flee in the opposite direction away from the motorcycle officer.
“Gypsies!” our dining host proclaimed as he placed a bottle of water upon our tabletop.
Almost like a rehearsed dance, the motorcycle chugged back by at a snail’s pace. The officer could have walked faster than his motorcycle. It appeared the officer was in no hurry to bust the counterfeiters who probably planned to take advantage of some unsuspecting tourist.
As our delectable, traditional Greek food arrived, the sounds of music reverberated down the ancient passage. Our host went back to the kitchen as the music got louder. Several children rushed in front of our table. A tiny, frail girl with a jeweled metal headdress that jingled and sparkled as she danced. A smaller child stood beside her with a Casio keyboard cranked up to ten. The gaunt girl finished her jig and held her delicate hand out for a tip. Jennifer placed a few Euros in the gypsy girl’s hand. Wasting no time, the band of youngsters started to run off.
Our host returned from the kitchen and placed a plate on a table where he intended to sample his homemade delicacies. The foreign girl approached the seated man and pointed to his plate.
His stern expression and forceful “no” shocked us. We assumed that this scene may play out daily; however, the kid just wanted to eat. Before our feelings got bent out of shape, the man reached into his pocket and handed her a twenty Euro bill. The girl’s frown vanished and a beautiful smiles beamed from her innocent face. Her eyebrows flare upward as she sings out her declaration off gratitude and performs an impromptu dance.
His generosity added a flavor to our mediterranean morsels of yummy goodness. This owner/chef showed us that we picked the correct location to dine as we found a kindred spirit. In a decision to not go with the flow, our side excursion gave us a lively memory of that moment in time.
Off the beaten path, our thirst for an authentic experience of the native culture has yielded some of our best memories. As tourist are guided to a planned display, our traveler’s instincts drive us down side streets to absorb the local atmosphere. You can be assured our Greek restaurant owner got a hearty handshake and equally generous tip.
As ancient Greeks pontificated universal truths in the Plaka, Jennifer & I found that smiles transcend all languages. During times when the seats of his bistro were empty and he thought no one would witness his act of kindness, we observed one universal truth that while one’s plate may be full, there may be those who have no plate at all.