My friend Dimitri recently invited me to join him on a trip high up into the mountains to his cute little stone and timber country home in the village whose name translates as “Chestnutville.” I’m always up for an adventure, so we set off on the three hour trip before dawn and arrive at the home of a friend of Dimitri’s by 10:30 am. As we walk in, a group of four men and two women are finishing breakfast around a cozy fire on this cool, wet day. They welcome us warmly and offer us raki, the local firewater. Dimitri accepts and I demur, saying it’s a bit on the early side for me. This brings on a hearty round of laughter—what clever witticisms the foreigner makes. A large glass of raki is placed in front of me.
I have what some might consider an excessively high tolerance for beer and wine after noon on any given day of the year, but cannot stomach straight hard liquor at any time, much less before lunch. I smile and surreptitiously look around for a plant or other suitable receptacle for my moonshine, but none is at hand. Bottoms up it is.
It is entertaining to accompany Dimitri on a stroll through the village. He appears to know and be known by everyone and, despite being a city slicker through-and-through, seems to be completely accepted now after some 15 years as a homeowner there. Dimitri points out many abandoned or semi-dilapidated homes and notes that most of the families that own them have long since emigrated to Australia. Indeed, walking through the village we encounter an elderly couple who told me that they’d been living in Australia for 35 years and were back visiting. Just as in Mexico, certain Greek villages established ties decades ago with far-flung towns and cities and the towns have taken on a strange international character.
We spent a very pleasant day in the village visiting various friends of Dimitri’s and kibitzing with the locals about the weather (lousy) the relative quality of this year’s chestnut harvest (not great), the latest government actions that make it impossible to make a living in this country (Greeks’ favorite topic of conversation), and the condition of the young man who had been gored by a wild boar in the hills above the village, despite having successfully shot said boar several times prior to his charge (I made a mental note not to accept any invitations to go wild boar hunting with the villagers.) We ate pork with chestnut sauce, chestnuts in sweet syrup, chestnut pie, and a variety of other chestnut-related sweets offered to us by the locals. We returned home loaded down with bags of chestnuts and I have now become something of a chestnut soup expert, having made chestnut-fennel soup, chestnut cream soup with bacon, and chestnut-apple soup. And Helena has introduced me to devilishly rich chestnuts dipped in chocolate sauce. Yum.