I arrived at the Athens airport exhausted. It was one in the morning in early September 2015. My friend Chris Argyrakis and his wife Maria greeted me and drove me to Xeropygado, a village near Argos in Peloponnesos.
The ride was uneventful. In fact, it was pleasant and comfortable driving in the dark in a lighted outstanding national highway. I entered my hotel room at four in the morning.
I woke up at eight o'clock. I met George Argyrakis, hotel owner and brother of Chris. His wife, Vasiliki, made coffee for me and offered me two small dry pieces of white bread for breakfast. While sipping the Greek coffee and eating the bread, I explained my visit to their village: I wanted to see as much as possible of Argos and its valley. Were the villages around Argos self-reliant in food? Did the farmers use toxic sprays?
George promised to drive and guide me in the exploration of the countryside around Argos.
The real passion of George, it turns out, was not his hotel but a garden he maintains in the rich land of Argos. He spoke about his fig trees and, right away, I asked if I could accompany him to his visit of his garden.
"Absolutely," he said with a smile.
He drove me to his garden in a hair-raising experience. The man, more than 80 years old and with vision problems, drives fast. I tried but failed to remain camp while he drove like a maniac in the quiet but narrow village roads. "Don't worry," he said, "I have been driving fast all my life."
He spoke rapidly about the fast disappearing farms, crops, churches, monasteries and expensive large houses at the feet of a mountain kissing the sea. "These houses," he said, "belong to Germans."
Within twenty minutes or so we were in the fertile Argive valley where George has his garden. Entering his small garden opened a river of emotions. Suddenly, I could see Odysseus glancing at the garden of Alkinoos, the hospitable king of Phaiakians. Nausikaa, daughter of Alkinoos, guided Odysseus to her father's palace. But before entering Alkinoos' palace, Odysseus saw his home, Ithaca, in a garden that was bountiful year round: sweet figs, apples, pears, pomegranates and olives, Homer recounts in the seventh book of the "Odyssey," never die. The breath of the west wind keeps the garden alive with fruit ripening one after the other.
Like the garden of Alkinoos, the garden of George is a living example of the richness of agrarian life and tradition. I was astonished by the variety, order, and sweetness of the fruit. Fig trees caught my attention immediately. I started eating the soft round fruit - and it was heaven. The fig skin and inside flesh melted in my mouth, leaving a taste for more.
I kept eating figs until I saw large bunches of white and blue grapes. I ate grapes and thought of the magnificent agrarian culture of god Dionysos, without doubt one of the pillars of Greek civilization.
Meanwhile, George turned the water on. It flawed to the tomatoes, beans, squash, eggplants, lotus, sunflowers, grape vines, and fruit trees. The day was hot. The water quenched the thirst of the land and vegetables.
I asked George to speak about his garden.
"This is a special place for me," he said. "I did all kinds of work in my life but never found the satisfaction and pleasure I have discovered in this small garden. I love the trees, fruits and vegetables. I have been taking care of them for a long time. I don't use hormones and medicines [pesticides]. But I must tell you most farmers do spray their crops - routinely. As a result we don't have many birds left. I used to be a hunter, so I have noticed the decline in bird population as years pass by. Farmers falsely claim they cannot grow food without medicines [pesticides]."
I thanked George for his great figs, grapes, vegetable - and wisdom.