In writing about Greece it’s difficult to know where to start. The birthplace of democracy, the land which gave us scientists such as Archimedes, physicians like Hippocrates, philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, mathematicians, architects, astronomers, sculptors, and beguiling Greek mythology.
From the towering Mount Olympus, home of the legendary ancient Gods and from where we derive the Olympic games, to its beautiful sun-soaked beaches, magnificent structures such as the Parthenon, art, literary classics such as The Odyssey and The Iliad Greece is one of the great lands of antiquity. Spread, as it is, over nine different regions, its 6000 islands surrounded by four different seas it is also a land of stunning diversity, but one unifying trait of the inhabitants of this ancient country is their love of life.
In ancient times on long and perilous journeys, the old Greek explorers and warriors relied on warmth, food and shelter from the people they met, and this tradition of kindness to strangers or philoxenia is still found all over Greece.
Whether it is a rowdy lunch in a tavern, a party in honour of a Saint’s day, a wedding or a baptism the Greeks love to celebrate with plenty of locally produced red wine or Greek brandy.
In restaurants in most of the world, the sound of a plate hitting the floor normally portends some kind of culinary disaster. Not in Greece where the tradition of hurling plates onto the floor or the fireplace was popularized by the movie Never on Sunday in the early 1960s.
Nowadays the plates are specially made of plaster and some 500,000 a year are hurled around tavernas, restaurants and banquet halls to ecstatic cries of ‘OPA!’
On the Greek Island of Ikaria, the residents routinely live into their 90s, perhaps because of another Greek tradition of drinking what is called ‘mountain tea’, an infusion of the herb ironwort. On Corfu (where Odysseus stooped off on his way home from the Trojan Wars) they swear by the anti-oxidant properties of their olive oil and a hot drink made with Mastic, a tree resin.
So whether it’s to the sound of hands clapping as they step out in the traditional Greek dance, or the sound of the Bouzouki playing rembetika, the Greek version of the blues, the Greeks not only live a long life but know how to enjoy it.
The name means ‘The Land of Silver’ and in earlier times Argentina was by far the wealthiest country in the Americas. Famed for its rolling plains the pampas, and its indigenous cowboys, the gauchos, Argentina is a land of old traditions, none more widely known than the tango, the sinuous, sensuous dance which is synonymous with the fiery Argentinian women and their pointedly macho menfolk.
In Argentina, the focal point is the parilla, the grill, the Argentine version of the barbecue. Here family and friends will gather, the proceedings starting by handing round maté. This is a drink made from the dried leaves of the yerba maté plant. It is traditionally handed round in a hollowed-out gourd, everyone drinking from the same cup. The party then continues with red wine and soda and the picada, a plate of cold meats, olives and cheeses followed by choripan, Argentinian sausage on grilled bread. Then comes the course for which Argentina is famous, huge charcoal-grilled steaks washed down by copious amounts of Malbec wine.
The feast can continue with loud conversation, laughter and of course, more wine until the small hours of the morning. It’s the Argentine path to happiness.