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Peas Please

May 25, 2009

Travel is intrinsically linked with food, food that is different from ones own culture.  We often have cravings for particlar types of food, even when not travelling.  Here I was in the Greek Capital, having returned from a few weeks on the island of Crete.  It was evening and I was ready to treat myself to a hotel meal, not some small taverna.  Syntagma Square has lots to offer the weary traveller, but at this point I had a yearning for green peas.  Not, I imagine the staple diet of the Hellenes.

Having found a large international hotel I ventured into the dining room.  Somewhat bleak and empty but my stomach was telling me vegetables and the vegetable was peas.  As a child I had a distinct aversion to peas.  Those boiled ones my mother used to serve up, far from tasty, but a staple in Australia in the 50’s, usually with meat and potatoes.  This was before the frozen variety.  I was given the job of shelling them before dinner.  I guess my mother thought that as a 10 year old I could not possibly make a mess of such an easy task. As I grew into adulthood, all those veggies that made my stomach turn, were now tasting so delicious.

The dining room of the hotel was vast but empty except for myself and two elderly wimmin dining together.  I sat at a table some distance from the both of them, me alone.  This was my treat after living on the island of Crete for nearly a month and peas never appeared on any menu that I can recall.   Of course we all know that Lamb is de riguer in Greece.  Eureka, there was a dish, peas!  The voices of the wimmin resounded in the cavernous dining room and it was clear to me they were english speaking, in fact they were English, the accents made it clear to me, they were certainly not Australian.

The food arrived and my mouth began to water with the prospect of consuming the ‘umble pea.  I had travelled alone for many weeks.  I was on my third trip to Europe, and my third trip to Greece.  I had tasted as many Greek dishes I could and enjoyed them all.  The ‘pea’ obsession had only gripped my febrile brain that evening.  I think it was a kind of search for comfort and as we know, food is a great solution.

But my interest in the dish of peas was being distracted by the voices of the two wimmin.  They looked interesting.  One was attired as you would have expected Margaret Thatcher to look like, the coiffure, the pearls, the whole shabang.  It was her companion who took my eye.  Short, grey cropped hair, a mans shirt hanging over her jeans and yes, a string of pearls.  Quite a look I thought.  I beckoned the waiter in my limited knowledge of Greek and asked him what the wimmin were drinking as I had decided to buy them a drink.  Probably a means of making contact with english speaking people.  ‘Oh she is drinking Whisky and soda”  I told him to put a round of drinks on my bill and serve it to them.

Some time passed and there was no acknowledgment of my having drinks sent to their table.  Ungrateful cows I thought!….Having chowed down on my peas and other dishes I decided to go to their table and make my presence felt.  I walked over and introduced myself.  They were welcoming but in that terribly British way, not aloof, but not overly warm and friendly. ‘Excuse me but I am the person who bought you those two whiskies”…’Oh thank you kindly’, they replied.  I said, ‘Well, are you going to ask me to sit down?’  ‘Oh please do’ they chorused.  Introductions were made and the three of us sat together post pea prandium..oh there is that Latin creeping in again.  Not slow to ask questions I listened to some of their story.  They were in their 70’s.  Had met each other only recently but were both from Britain.

Older people had always been a part of my life both in the sense of family and outside the family.  In my early teens I had belonged to a church group which had a program whereby we visited elderly people in homes, I think it is now called assisted living.  I would, each Saturday morning, visit the hospital not far from my home.  I am not sure what we spoke about  but they were always pleased to see me on my visits, the skinny, bespectaled boy.  I can still evoke the smells of age, the smells of a nursing home.  I knew I was doing good works and felt very proud of myself.  Of course the other boys were playing sport, and I was visiting old ladies in a nursing home. I think my parents thought it strange as they did about many of my pursuits in those years.

Greece, one of the great cultures of philosopy, sat well with me.  I wanted to ask these wimmin a question.  ‘Tell me, what is the secret to longevity?’  They paused then the one smoking the non filter cigarettes with a voice to match, tobacco and whisky tend to give a distinct timbre to ones voice over time, looked over her glasses and said a sonourous tone,” Young man, keep asking questions and keep being interested”  It was a fair enough answer, not that I had intended to ask the meaning of life as it were.  They were more than twice my own age and this is why I had asked them.  The young have no stories, not their fault, just that in a short life less happens than in three score and ten.

This night is etched in my psyche, give the Greeks some credit for their contribution to the development of language, as I have concentrated on the Latin more.  The excitement of discovering that I could find a plate of green peas in Athena faded.  I was now bouyed up by meeting two people who had lived all over the world, travelled for over 30 years, and were still, in the words of a dear friend, ‘Out there’.

And now as I near the same age as those two wimmin, I can only add, they were right!  Travel is certainly a catalyst for one to keep asking questions and keep being interested.

As we are all pilgrims on lifes journey, we should embrace each nano second of life, tempus fugit and carpe diem…yeah, yeah, more Latin I can hear you say.  In fact I have heard there has been a re-renaissance of the language of late, even new dictionaries have appeared with 21st Century latin vocabulary.  I wonder what the latin form of Blogger/Blogging is….And remember, always eat your peas, but mind your ‘Q’S”….

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