Melissa had given me the address and phone number of a man in Athens before I'd left home with my backpack. And at one of those unromantic points, alone in a new country, wasted on the youth hostel experience, down to my last dollars, my expensive camera long since ripped off, I dug up Iannis's number. These calls were always hard for me. I had developed such an intense deal about self-reliance, I bristled against having to need or want anything or anyone. Ever. But here I was in Greece and I couldn't even read the alphabet on the signs in this new country. I'd eaten nothing but a raw red onion, a sack of salted pumpkin seeds, and a glass of warm dry vermouth on the previous five days, and so I gulped down all my embarrassment about having to ask for help and called ahead to this stranger, Iannis.
He couldn't have made it easier for me. "Yes!Yes!" he shouted into the phone, speaking excellent Oxford English. "You are most welcome here! I will be at my offices in the afternoon. Can you make you way into Athens from Piraeus or shall I come and retrieve you?" he shouted.
"No! No!" I shouted back. "i can make my way. I will just make my way into the city and call you again, if that is okay with you."
"Yes!" he shouted back, his welcome palpable. "I will await your call! I will be waiting!"
Iannis, probably twenty years older than me, with a big mustache and laugh lines all around his green eyes, met me in Omonia Square, brought me to his apartment, and without even inquiring, set to work frying in olive oil two eggs with the darkest orange yolks I had ever seen, then sprinkled them with a coarse sea salt and cut a slice from a thick, crusty loaf of bread. In a blender he mixed apple, honey, and milk and set this incredible, refreshing meal in front of me, beaming his huge smile. I was craving salt and starch. Eggs and bread.
In the evening, we were joined by a friend of his, and we walked to a restaurant near to the Acropolis. They knew the waiter by name, and he didn't even bother keeping track of how many drinks we ordered, he just brought to our table the big bottle of ouzo, put a rubber band around the bottle to mark the level of the contents, and then let us self serve as we wished. However much we depleted from the rubber band mark by the end is what we paid for. Iannis, without wasting a moment on that awkward and tedious conversation that will unhappily precede so many hundreds and hundreds of future restaurant meals in all of our lives - whether to share or not to share and whether or not there are food phobias and dietary restrictions among us - simply ordered food for the table without even consulting a menu, and so set the standard for me for all time of excellent hospitality: Just take care of everything.
Is it considered more hospitable to discover your guests' preferences, their likes and dislikes? Is it rude to deny your guests choice and control over their experience? I don't know, but I forever want to arrive somewhere hungry and thirsty and tired and be taken care of as Iannis took care of us.
I love this, and I want to be hospitable in this way.