Right next to the bar is the shop. It sells all the usual staples, like daily bread and cheap local wine, hunks of cheese and carefully cured meats. Great wedges of watermelon are piled high in the fridge, dwarfing imperfect red tomatoes of all shapes and sizes.
In charge of it all is a super efficient woman who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Her son, aged about 20, is as serious, but slightly softer in a masculine kind of way (i.e. he doesn’t scold). Between them they run the shop from early morning until late at night, seven days a week, in the small Peloponnese village of Thermisia.
One day I go in, prepared with my smiliest smile and ask for some bread, indicating the loaves racked up behind the counter. No, says the owner with a firmness that’s hard to counter.
Right, but I really would like a loaf of bread, so I repeat my request with a pleading parakaló (please)?
No. Tomorrow. That’s today’s bread and it’s far too late. Tomorrow. Conversation closed on the slightly stale bread.
It’s busy the next morning and as I take my place in line I become mesmerised by two staggeringly tall, middle-aged women (sisters, I guess), whose voluminous hairdos (one blonde, one dark), and formal attire make them more impressive still. They are helping their elderly mother with her shopping. The older woman directs them from where she rests on a pile of boxes, while her daughters advance through the shop with purpose and gravitas. I imagine they descend from Amazons.
And maybe the shop owner is their much shorter cousin – the way she admonishes a young man for trying to jump the queue is legendary.
But it’s her unabashed method of processing transactions that tickles me the most.
When I pay for my bread, she takes my card, slots it into her machine, and beckons me closer to punch in my PIN. She grips the device hard as I stretch for its keypad and openly stares as I stab in each of my secret numbers. Brilliantly unconcerned by the social niceties surrounding PINs.
Each time I visit the shop and pay by card, it’s the same awkwardly intimate ritual. By the end of our stay in Thermisia, I’m sure she can recite my PIN forwards and backwards in both Greek and English. No wonder everyone else pays with cash.
But there is a sweet side to the shop keeper. Not only does she warm up when she recommends me a particular Greek wine, and almost blush when I admire her English, and that of her son, but she also sells the ripest, skin-splitting figs I ever did see. And when she gives them to me, she very nearly smiles.
Note the lack of photos of the shop. I confess I wasn’t brave enough.