Thursday, 31 May 2018

Authenticity (Normal Service Resumed)


As usual, I was sitting in the "Top Three Pub", as Spiros likes to call his bar, the other day, and we were chewing the fat over all the various usual topics, cruise liners whose guests swamp the Old Town occasionally, but spend very little (after all, they can eat and drink themselves to their heart's content on-board), the strange weather, the fact the All Inclusive holidays are now having a really noticeably negative effect on the bars and restaurants and their 'footfall', and thus their takings, that kind of stuff. 

Spiros also takes every opportunity to inform anyone who asks, entirely understandably I ought to add, that he is due to get his state pension next year and it will add up to not much more than €500 per month. His four children are now past university age and three of them are married. But he refers to the fact that, in days of old, before the crisis that is, grandparents here in Greece would usually bankroll their grandchildren through university. That's now an impossibility.

Spiros is a humble Greek who's spent all his working life doing just that - working - and working hard. His family, like so many here in Greece who live and work in tourist areas, works every hour God sends from late April through to around mid-November and the idea of a 'holiday', or 'vacation' to them is perhaps a trip to some other locale to stay with family during the winter months.

Yet, for his customers he always has a smile and a joke. Maria, his wife, is a homely-looking woman who nowadays begins the season already tired. She too has worked for decades and is now in her early sixties, still dragging beer kegs along the floor behind the bar and generally keeping house and home alongside all the hours she spends at work.

This extremely likeable couple can be rightly proud of their children. What I've come to understand relatively recently is the reason why they have some fiercely loyal holidaymakers and ex-pat residents at a bar which, on first glance, I probably wouldn't have considered my type at all.

Spiros has adorned the bar area with football scarves from the UK teams. Me? Football leaves me comatose. Plus, I (well, perhaps I should say 'we' as it applies to us as a couple really) usually seek out bars and restaurants that have that 'authentically Greek ambience'. You now what I mean. I admit that it's a form of elitism when you come down to it. The thing is, if I hadn't started working on excursions, I probably would never have started coming to the Top Three and thus would never have met this family. See, there are occasions when that certain 'Greek ambience', in all honesty, has been created by designers and decorators to merely give the right impression to a completely new re-fit. 

What makes an establishment 'essentially Greek' isn't the faux rendered walls and old fishing nets hanging on the walls, the pretend water-well with its distressed old chain and bucket, the huge dried fish hanging over the bar; no, what makes a place essentially Greek is the people. And you don't get more 'authentic' than Spiro and Maria.

Their three boys are all well-mannered, respectful and useful members of society. Loukas is a skilled doctor, who specialises is an area that escapes me at the moment. Kostas worked for many years in a bank, but now he and Dimitris (son no. 3) work full-time at the bar because it seems to me that, sadly, their parents won't be able to keep up their punishing schedule for very much longer. Their daughter, who often comes into the bar with her three very cute and very beautiful toddlers, is a complete stunner. She's usually in a black leotard, blonde hair tied in a pony tail and she is, trust me, a head-turner. There's no other way to say it. Her husband, too, looks like he's just stepped out of one of those posh TV ads. Small wonder that Maria and Spiro literally glow when their daughter and her kids turn up.

On Tuesday, one of my excursion guests asked Spiro: "Why do you call the bar the 'Top Three'?"

Beaming with pride, Spiros replied: "Because I have three sons and one daughter. But 'Top Three Plus One' doesn't work!"

The moral of the story? If you're looking for the 'real Greece', don't be fooled by appearances. It's the people that make it, not the trappings. And the Top Three Pub (Have to admit I still find it difficult calling it that) has authenticity in spades.

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