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The Greek Hovel summer 2023: Death in the Square – Part 1

Tom Winnifrith
Monday 4 September 2023

It was the arrival of Thomas, opening a new restaurant in what was the old hardware store that changed the dynamics of the Square in our local village of Kambos. Thomas had trained in Britain and his grandmother was Miranda, of Mirands’s fame. His restaurant was one too many for Kambos, not a tourist destination but a village on the road to places such as Kardamili and Stoupa, to bear. What was Miranda’s is now on its fourth ownership in three years.

Old Kambos was a laid-back place but Thomas touts for business aggressively from folks walking into the square. The locals and longer-term Hellonophilic visitors like myself don’t take to it well. It is the sort of thing that happens in resorts like Stoupa, down the coast where the Daily Mail is on sale and folks from Britain wear football shirts and start drinking just after breakfast. This year Thomas has upped the ante by renting a field and advertising free parking to attract business.

Unfortunately for Thomas this has been a poor tourist season. Prices of everything from flights to hire cars to hotels are sky high and both Greeks and foreigners have given this region a bit of a swerve. And, with we longer term foreigners in Kambos and the locals largely boycotting Thomas’s he seems to have had a bad year. The beaches, where I was dragged last week, are emptying rapidly. The “season” is over. So Thomas must face a bleak autumn, winter and spring. He seems to have deep pockets but I’m glad I’m not in his shoes.

I should say that part of Thomas is a very kind man and, on his day, his cooking is jolly good so we do go there now and again.

The new owners of Miranda’s are the family involved in THIS episode. The lad involved in the murders is now out on parole and is a very attentive waiter and a thoroughly nice chap. Its food is solid if not exceptional but it is cheaper than that of Thomas and has local support. Fingers crossed I shall spend the evenings of the olive harvest huddled inside. Unlike Thomas it ignores the smoking ban and the air is thick with nicotine and the smell of ouzo and tsipero as harvesters enjoy a meal and a few drinks ahead of another day in the snake fields..

The new kid on the block is the ouzeria opposite the olive press which again does decent food at a reasonable price. It allows smoking inside and has a very pleasant courtyard at the back which is great at lunchtime but seems to have rather too many mosquitos in the evening for my liking, especially as mosquitos are clearly racist, avoiding my wife and mixed race kids but devouring me greedily.  

Back in the Square there is now a butcher’s shop on the other side of the road but the fortress on the corner is the Kourounis taverna and shop run by lovely Eleni and her family. It is where I shop. It serves up pizza, baclava, Greek salads and wherever we eat we end up there with ice cream for the Kids and a Metaxa for myself and the Mrs. It is packed every night especially when there is a football match on the telly.

And so life ambles on but there is something else at play. As I discussed in a podcast at the weekend, the arrival of the Athens Motorway at Kalamata has slashed journey times to the Mani. Now we discover that Kalamata airport is being privatized and will probably be run by India’s GMG which has transformed Heraklion in Crete. That means many more probably cheaper, direct flights to this region and that the airport will run all year, rather than just April to end October.

Prices of the sort of houses foreigners or richer Athenians might buy are rocketing and my fear is that Kambos will slowly change. A large tower house at the bottom of our road has been renovated, rather flatteringly, in the style of another house higher up in the Mountains. I fear that those buying into our region will be the sort of folks to whom Thomas might appeal. Money usually coarsens everything in life and maybe that means that our quiet laid back world in Kambos changes.

Of course, who am I to bemoan folks here getting richer, having more money for material goods and becoming less Greek and more western. I have struggled with this before as I return to childhood holiday destinations in the Pindus mountains, Metsovo and Anelio. I bemoan the loss of a simple life but I don’t have to live there suffering a simple life, not having a TV on which to watch the Prima Donnas of the premier League, and having to drink a cheap rustic wine rather than beers trucked in from Athens.

I can’t stop progress but I can opt out of it. If Kambos loses the numerous mass participation church processions around the village, rituals no longer seen in westernized/tourist villages; if the olive harvest shrinks and another hardware store becomes another bar; if there are more aggressive sellers of over-priced food and drink oiling up to foreign passers by, I might, having built a home here, just sell up.

The Mrs. is horrified by the idea. And I don’t think it will happen or that there will be much change for many years. But that I could even consider selling my retirement home is driven by what is happening and what may happen.

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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