The strength of any country is its people. The ability and stamina to carry on is inherit in the Greeks. Evident in their struggles to overthrow invading armies, occupation of foreign powers, wars, economic turndowns, and day to day living that is simply called life.
I have developed an enormous interest in the older generation. Perhaps it is because I am now semi-retired and that classifies me as being “elderly”. One of the most fun conversations I had with my cousin Maria in Greece, when we were reminiscing about my past trips there, was about the conversion from being called Miss to being called Madam! These two words are an expression of respect, I know, but it hit me hard! And this was 30 years ago! Maybe it was because I was with my niece, who does resemble me so it might have been natural to assume that she was the younger and was, well… the elder!
In touring through Greece, it became very apparent that the older folks were out and about. Their actions spoke loudly. On city streets and country roads; going to the market and walking back with their little bag of groceries or pulling along their carts. To and from church, certainly. Often, they were lined up outside a store or a bank patiently waiting for the doors to open. They get their hair and nails done. They walk their dogs. They held cell phones and it was quite charming hearing them yell into it as though it required a stronger, louder voice than just speaking into it like a landline phone. Some had canes they used to help them walk and some held them as props. As I was coming out of the pool one day, an 80-year-old was slowly coming down the pool steps and holding on to the banister; I stood by just in case she slipped…she said, “I’ve got to watch where I am going these days, as I don’t move as fast”. I smiled and said, “Me too!” She got in, with her little hat, and began her swim as though she was a mere youngster.
Throughout the day, from early morning till late in the evening, they could be found at the local kafeneeo, especially the men. Time and time again, around five p.m. a group of women, all freshly dressed up, would gather at the kafeneion and spend their evening enjoying little snacks and their kafe. Some were even seen smoking! They animatedly chatted and laughed, often calling out to a nearby table, filled with yet another group of ladies. Those that didn’t go out, were seen sitting on their balconies talking with their neighbors who sat on their own balconies as pastries were passed back and forth.
The really old are modestly dressed in dark colors; the not so old wear modern clothes with a good smattering of pants and tops, which in my mothers’ day was unheard of! Even when I visited here as a young woman, back in the 1970’s, older women wearing pants was just not done. Hair is neatly combed, and many sported the “just came from the salon” look. One night, while having dinner with our friends, Lambro and Maria, a woman about 65 years old walked by with her family. She had on a nicely cut dress with large swirling black and white flowers on it, a white sweater over her shoulders, pearls around her neck, black low-heeled shoes, and a black patent leather purse. I nearly burst out crying; that is just what my mother wore, along with my aunties, when “going out” for the evening. The classic look never gets old.
For many, work has not stopped…not sure if it is a needed income issue or if they do it to keep themselves busy: the guy with the big white apron that is hawking the fresh fish caught that day; the lady selling embroidery and linen tablecloths at the open air market; the man picking up empty cups and trash and then combing the sand at 7:00am so the visitors are welcomed to a clean beach, We saw them driving tractors and motorbikes (yikes!); many greeted us as we sat down to a meal and then served us dish after dish; my cousin Spiro is 86 years old – he is in excellent shape, smart as whip, works the cell phone like a twelve year old, drives and does some traveling – he also care takes his wife who is not that agile. As we enjoyed our meal one day, we were serenaded by a man who played the accordion and sang our favorite Greek songs.
We saw quite a number of these elderly people working the fields. Bent over from the waist, they lifted and pulled all sorts of crops and loaded up bags or small trucks. Some were hoeing, some were planting. You wanted to shout out to them to stop – that someone younger should be doing this hard labor, but innately they know that if they stopped, they would simply fade out of life. For this IS their life – it is what keeps them going – it is what they know. I salute them all.
What is their secret? How they eat for sure. It has been said that Greece has one of the best diets in the world, if not THE best. A large amount of seafood is consumed; natural greens and other vegetables appear at every table; feta cheese (my personal favorite) along with fresh fruits are eaten daily. The island Ikaria has been touted “as where people forget to die” – they live into their 100’s in good shape and with sharp minds.
Walking everywhere has sustained them. It is simply a fact of life established early on when they were children where transportation was sporadic at best. My mother often repeated the story of how she went into labor and began the long walk to the clinic; and how, along the way an army jeep pulled alongside and swept her up to take her there.
I liked the fact that they are so independent. They just do what must be done. Perhaps they might have a relative, neighbor or friend, who can do their errands or drive them, But why? They get up, washed, and dressed and then tend to the business at hand.
Observing them is an inspiration. For sure, when I grow up, I want to be just like them! Aiming for that goal, it is necessary for me and Zaf to Retire Well, Helene
All photos From the Personal Collection of Helene and Zaf
For more information about Greece, visit: www.greektravel.com