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
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
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
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
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
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