Beaten Not Boiled -- A Story of Greece

In the Greek Islands, they are known for their grilled octopus, but before they can be seasoned and grilled, they must be tenderized.
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They must have swum the Aegean Sea like gods when they were young. In, at the very least, the autumn of their lives, the two of them sat on large gray rocks that lined the ocean beachfront instead of being in the water. One had a pipe in his mouth, the other a cigarette. I couldn't make out their names, as they laughed and jabbed at each other.

The taller one, had a good belly on him, and at first impression, looked like he was just a typical elder fisherman just hanging around; but upon further review, I was able to tell that his tan was just right, and though he only donned a plain white tee shirt with weathered blue shorts, the tongue on his boat shoes had that little red stripe that read PRADA. With that kind of boat shoe, this man didn't need to fish for his own meals.

The other man, who looked a bit older, and significantly shorter had a more athletic build of the two. His skin and brown shorts were equally weathered and he looked every bit an island man, as he kept his shirt and shoes off the whole time. He looked to be more believable as a person having made his living from the sea, with his beard matching the color of the ash that was ready to fall off his cigarette.

They sat together laughing while giving instructions to two younger men that were wading in the shallow part of the water as to how to beat the octopus they had just caught. In the Greek Islands, they are known for their grilled octopus, but before they can be seasoned and grilled, they must be tenderized.

In the islands, the tenderizing method doesn't start with boiling, but with a tedious beating of the octopus on the rocks that line the beach. Under the hot summer sun, this is what the two young men were learning from the two experienced gentlemen.

It was reaching noon so I decided to sit under an awning outside of a taverna facing the sea. I ordered a starter of taramosalata, a tangy fish roe dip. I had spread my stale bread heavily with it, which went perfectly with my dry white wine. I chuckled to myself as I watched the play unfold between the four men and the octopus. The old men without taking a breath from constant chuckling were working the young men hard. Galvanized, the two young men took turns pounding the tentacles on the rocks until their arms felt as rubbery as the octopus itself.

My wife, having just come off a dip in the ocean, pulled up a seat to join me. Her skin still had a sheen from the water as she let the sun do the drying. I ordered her a salad from the waitress who introduced herself to me earlier as, Georgia.

The tables had started to fill with patrons, so Georgia took off her apron and walked toward the two older men. She gave the two of them a kiss on both cheeks and pointed them toward the taverna and got them off their perch. The shorter one put on a button down shirt and left it aggressively plunging, slipped his feet into driving moccasins and started walking over. The taller one stayed behind and waved the younger ones over to join them.

The taller older man caught up to his friend and they continued in their jovial way. They acknowledged us with a nod as they took the table perpendicular to where we were sitting.

A few minutes had gone by when the two younger men came from inside the taverna carrying four glasses with ice and a bottle of Ouzo. The two older men were drunk on life, they didn't need Ouzo, but they took it anyway. The four of them sat and had their drink. The two younger ones didn't do much talking but seemed keen on listening to the elders. You could tell they were all happy to be together.

The taverna had filled up, and Georgia was joined by other young women taking orders and doling out plates upon plates of mezethes to the tables. The energy was wonderful, the room was filled with locals and families, and a smattering of English and German being spoken signaled the arrival of the tourists. The sun seemed to have gotten the best of everyone as the fair skinned women inspected themselves to see if they had gotten burned, and every man ordered a cold drink before they can even sit.

After having finished their Ouzo, the taller of the older men got off his seat and went into the kitchen and arrived back with a big plate of grilled octopus. The aroma was unbelievable as he passed us. He must have heard my wife gasping, so he cut off a few pieces of the tentacles, put it on a plate and without hesitation or asking, he smiled at us, and set the plate on our table. He pointed at it and said, "htapothi scharas" (grilled octopus); and ordered us to eat along with them.

>Whenever I hear about the economic problems Greece is experiencing, I think about what may have happened to those octopus aficionados, especially the two elder ones. I wonder if they knew how much they had enriched both our lives that day.

They must be at the winter of their lives now, and I wonder how many more generations they taught the art of octopus tenderizing. I think about the lives they lived, and wanting it for myself. A life lived simply, through laughter with friends, is a life never bankrupt. I also think about how many more times they were able to swim and cut the waves like the gods they were.

This is an excerpt piece of work in Dish Our Town. He's also on Instagram and Facebook