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Greek translation Greek dictionariesEleni Vainas [ CV ]
Faces from The Markets at Argos & Napflion

Sometimes, when I still lived in Seattle, Washington and trudged through the all too regular rain that falls in the Pacific Northwest, I would smell the lanolin of wet wool and remember the open-air Farmer's Market in Argos, Greece, on the Peloponnese. Strange thing to trigger memories of a farmer's market, I suppose. It wasn't the smell of the live sheep for sale I recalled, but the aroma of the natural wool sweater I found there. Hand knit, roughly textured, it was the oatmeal color of natural wool.

Closing my eyes now, I still remember the feel of the soft rough wool and the complicated fisherman's design. The lanolin scent that rose around me when it got wet was a comforting reminder of that first trip to Greece and my experiences there.

Sweaters wear out; memories remain.

The first time I found the Argos market in 1979, I was traveling from Sparta to Athens by cab. With three of us and our luggage, it was far more comfortable than the train or other public transportation, not too expensive, and we could sightsee and stop whenever we wanted. Besides, determined to bring back half of Greece in this, my first trip, tied to the top of the cab were seven large kalathia (traditional hand-woven baskets) I had purchased from a grocery store on a side street in Sparta.

There it was: an accidental find on turning a corner in an otherwise sleepy village on my way to somewhere else. At once there was a cacophony of sounds: animals bleating and chirping, voices calling; a thousand aromas hanging in the air; it was an explosion of color and life.

We stopped.

The busy, bustling market entranced me; there was so much to see, and it was all so different from the farmer's markets I was used to at home. A major distinction was the goats, chickens, and other barnyard smells and sights. Another, the people, many in the elaborate costumes of remote villages, selling the fruits, vegetables, and products of their labor, or buying their week's supply of fresh foods.

The first Argos memories were alive and well when I returned by design last summer to see what treasures I could unearth. This time the riches I found were quite different from what I expected at the largest farmer's market on the Peloponnese. A Saturday, I also made a side trip to visit the smaller market a few kilometers away at Napflion. For an inveterate shopper, two markets in one day, doubling the opportunity to find something unique, is nothing short of heaven.

Argos is an open-air market town, traditionally set up on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the large central square across from the museum. The four streets that comprise the square: Vasilios Georgiou B, Danaou St., Vasilios Konstantinou, and Vas. Olgas St. are the principal avenues of the city and somewhat correspond to the four points of a compass.

The usually empty square is transformed on market days. Colorful tents cover market stalls carrying everything from home-cured olives, meter-long Garlic garlands, fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers in season, dried and fresh herbs and fish caught that morning to Italian shoes, sexy or serviceable underwear and all the pots and pans, brooms and baskets you could ever want. Not so different from the local Athens farmer's markets, the Laikis. Unless you consider the sheep, goats or chickens for sale. Live.

The last time I was there I paid 1,000 drachmas (at the time about $4.25 American) for a pair of gold Italian sandals that I had seen in Glyfada, a suburb of Athens, for more than $60.00. Huge bouquets of flowers were the equivalent of $2.00 American. The fruits and vegetables fresh picked in remote villages were colorful and aromatic and of equally good value.

However, the biggest attraction for me wasn't the bargains or the profusion of color coupled with the powerful scents of varicolored produce; not the masses of oranges and lemons covering tables, nor the dried herbs used for cooking and health. On my last visit to both the Argos and Napflion markets, despite the wealth of color and delectable foods, the people were the riches that drew me. First their inquisitiveness and friendliness charmed me, then the way life had defined their faces through deep-set lines, stamping or carving expressions on their features that spilled life histories whether they were speaking or not. They seemed to be living in bodies reflecting the cares and confidences of decades lived in a symbiotic relationship with nature.

At the Napflion market a woman who sold peaches offered me several; a gift. All I had done was smile and gesture that I wanted to take her picture.
The major olive seller at Argos grinned and, nodding assent when I lifted my camera, told me she expected to see me next summer with a copy of the picture I took of her.

Gentlemanly older men with graying stubble on weathered cheeks sat quietly behind tables, the quality of their produce speaking for them.

Others, raising voices strained from years of bellowing attention to their wares, called out the freshness, the sweetness, the price, persuading me to buy from them.

My Greek is not the best, but purveyors made it easy to shop. Pointing, smiling, chuckling, urging me to try this or that, I was invited to sample, caress, feel the texture, examine the quality. There were home cured olives and home made wines. Sellers pointed to another aisle, another seller if they did not have what I wanted. Displaying their wares, offering samples, smiling in the sunshine, in many ways it was not unlike any Farmer's Market, but it was all Greek and it entranced me!

On my first trip I felt I had never seen such a variety of fresh foods available in one place: so many olives or dried herbs in profusion; grand piles of oregano and sage and every herb imaginable covering tables. Riches from a country of rich earth and potent sunshine: eggplants a regal purple, vegetables brilliant jewels within reach: rubies, jades, and emeralds; greens from a palette any painter would envy. Now that I have lived here for a time, I realize that the riches from the earth here are not only located on the Peloponnese, but at local Farmer's Markets set up in various neighborhoods all over Greece.

The home made wine of this region is sold at one stall; recycled water bottles are filled to the brim.

Sounds like any Athenian Laiki, I suppose. But there is a major difference: the more relaxed atmosphere of a village setting as compared to the markets in Athens neighborhoods, where sellers are often a little more hard-edged.

My day continued with a short bus ride to Napflion where the Saturday Market is much smaller, the booths strung out along one side of a road making it easier to get around and shop, but without the carnival atmosphere.

Quite near the Argos market are countless cafes located one right next to the other with tables and chairs spilling over sidewalks, but if you are planning an overnight trip to this region, it would probably be best to plan to stay in nearby Napflion or Tolo as there are few hotels.


 
 
 

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