Things Can Only Get Feta (Bene Factum Publishing, London) by Marjory McGinn is a non-fiction travel memoir about the author’s first year, living in a remote hillside village in the Mani, Southern Peloponnese with her partner Jim. The experience of trying to live like locals during the crisis had some heartwarming and funny results. In the following extract Marjory (called Margarita in the Mani) and Jim were invited for a traditional August 15th lunch with a local family where there was more on the menu than they expected.
The book has regularly been in the top 10 on Amazon UK’s ‘Greece’ category and also regularly in the top 100 for general travel (Essays and Travelogues). The book is now available in North America (scroll down for all author’s links).
Also check out Marjory’s inspiring workspace view and read her WIP Q&A published on MM Jaye writes.
Extract from Chapter 10 – Hedonism and a stairway to heaven
Later that day, Jim and I were invited for lunch at the home of some of our village friends. Eftihia lived in a modern two-storey house with her mother Pelagia and her brother Yiorgos. A long table had been set out on the terrace of the house that was deeply shaded under a thick vine sagging with fat bunches of succulent grapes. It was a welcome refuge in the blistering 40 degree heat of August for the dozen or so people already crowded round the table.
Eftihia means happiness in Greek and it suited this woman’s personality perfectly, with her round smiley face, curvy figure and glorious black eyes. Her laughter was rich and deep and we often heard its uplifting tones rippling across the olive groves. Eftihia was a smaller version of her mother Pelagia, who had an ample build and the family characteristic of thick, black wavy hair, almost untouched by grey. When the two women sat side by side, which was very often, they were like two voluptuous bookends.
Eftihia and her visiting siblings moved in and out of the nearby kitchen, ferrying platters of food: Greek salads topped with slabs of feta cheese drizzled with fresh green olive oil, mounds of garlicky beetroot, boiled horta, the leafy greens gathered from the hillsides, lemon potatoes and a stacks of still-sizzling, deep-fried courgette fritters, and plates of barbecued meat.
Like most Greek women, Eftihia liked to see guests eat as if they were all pregnant with triplets. Anxious that Jim and I would waste away before the end of the day, Eftihia was on a mission to fatten us up. When I took some of the Greek salad as a starter, she scolded me for the tiny amount on my plate and proceeded to stack it higher from one of the many platters spread down the centre of the table. There is no point in arguing with Greeks intent on this form of extreme hospitality, so I left her to stack, except for one element of the salad.
I shouted above the din of nearby conversation: “Not too many roof tiles for me, Eftihia.”
Guests stopped what they doing and stared at me with quizzical faces, including our farming friend Foteini, who was seated at the other end of the table, about to set to work on a stacked plate of potatoes and horta. Eftihia laughed heartily.
“Margarita, I think you mean kremidia (onions) not keramidia (roof tiles)!”
The rest of the diners joined in the laughter, though it was more appreciative than mocking. All Greeks seem to love a language mix-up, as even they say they get their Greek wrong at times. I’d just fallen foul of a fiendish pair of Greek words that almost sound the same, like the night at a local taverna where I’d asked for “moussaka with a side helping of window shutters”, instead of beetroot, since the two words are similar, patzari for beetroot and patzouria for shutters. At least the blunders made people laugh and they somehow never forgot you, replaying your Greek mix-ups again and again when you next met them, which was strangely gratifying.
It was a long, leisurely lunch that passed without any other linguistic or culinary tangles, until Yiorgos, who had been busy attending to the barbecue, made a certain discovery.
“Margarita and Jim, you haven’t tried the tsikles.”
I’d seen them, of course, piled on a plate in the middle of the table, their small bodies pathetically frail. Tsikles are whole pickled birds, usually thrushes, with the heads left on. This is a delicacy in the rural Peloponnese and every autumn you can hear the thump of rifle fire on hillsides day and night as local farmers bring down the birds, as well as hare and rabbits. The Mani turns into a war zone and in village supermarkets at this time you will see boxes of ammunition stacked behind the check-out counter beside the cigarettes. Yiorgos also liked to hunt, and these birds were his proud catch.
Jim and I exchanged nervy looks when the bird plate was pointed out, but mercifully this was one dish that Eftihia wasn’t about to foist on us, even though it was she who had pickled them expertly in oil, garlic and herbs.
“I don’t like them,” she whispered across the table, and Pelagia nodded in agreement. But Yiorgos was adamant.
“Come, my friends, try one.”
My heart sank. Jim and I had tried every kind of food in Greece but I drew the line at the tiny birds. Until now. Okay, time to take the plunge!
“How do you eat them?” I asked.
Eftihia put one on my plate with a resigned shrug. I pulled some of the flesh away from the brittle ribcage and chewed gingerly. It had a gamey but not unpleasant taste. Everyone looked gratified that I liked it. Foteini, who had sat strangely silent all through lunch, suddenly became animated and clapped her hands, saying loudly,
“Bravo, Margarita!” as if I’d passed some difficult initiation ceremony.
“Beautiful, eh? Now you, Dimitri,” Yiorgos said to Jim.
Jim gave me a thin smile. “Here goes,” he said, reaching across to my plate and pulling a shard of glistering brown meat away. One burly man nearby, a cousin of Eftihia’s, who confessed to a passion for tsikles, seemed determined to show Jim the pack drill. He plucked a bird off the central plate and then in one swift movement, bit its head clean off and chewed it, making a dull crunching sound that seemed to go on forever. Jim and I looked nervously at each other.
“You eat the whole thing. The bones are soft,” said the man, his eyes imploring us to follow his lead.
“No way,” Jim whispered to me.
I caught Pelagia’s eye. She gave us a sympathetic smile. “That’s enough of tsikles now,” she announced loudly to the table with matriarchal authority, and everyone returned to their own dining experience.
Yes indeed, August is a strange month.
Marjory’s FB author page is http://www.facebook.com/ThingsCanOnlyGetFeta
and her personal page is http://www.facebook.com/marjory.mcginn
you can find Marjory on Twitter @fatgreekodyssey
Things Can Only Get Feta is available on Amazon in the UK
And from May 1 the book is available on Amazon in North America
The book is also available at Barnes and Noble in America
and Longitude Books
and in Greece at Evripidis bookstore in north Athens and through the Public website
For more details on where to buy the book visit http://www.bigfatgreekodyssey.com/greek-book.html