Why a Greek home is where the heart is

25/08/2011 15:36 BST | Updated 21/10/2011 10:12 BST

My earliest childhood memories were Athenian ones. Souvlaki in Plaka,

olive trees in our backyard and feta cheese pie for breakfast. Those

halycon days came abruptly to an end when my sister became sick and we

moved back to London. I them switched from peachy balmy life to a

chilly rainy one.

Gone also was the big family lifestyle - the noisy Tavernas, the whole

Lamb on a spit for Easter with all my cousins and animated dinner


Nothing was ever quite the same. Everything was glacial by

comparison. Christmas was often us four - rattling around the house.

My parents of course surrounded us with love but something was

missing. No amount of cracker pulling and Slade at full volume could

fill that void. Nostalgia - a Greek word - means pain from a past

wound. That wound was going to fester until I had reconnected wity my


Until I met my long lost big Fat Greek Family. My father passed away

and his cousin George came to visit him in his final hour. I have

never seen my father's eyes so bright - photos of Uncle George, Great

Uncle George and you guessed it Great Great Uncle George were passed

round. There was so much hand gesticulation but my father was not

remotely tired.

My uncle George was the same spirit as my Father. And after my

father's passing when we visited my uncle and his family in Piraeus it

was like going home. The Greeks get a bad write up - bad food, bad

economy, in fact for a nation that established civilisation it has not

really followed its own code. Yet despite the streets being full of

litter and paving broken they love life. They are so alive that they

drive like maniacs, they have no sense of urgency (everything is avrio/

tomorrow) and they scrape their way through problems.

There is an apocryphal story that the day before the recent Olympic

the stadium was still half unfinished. The story goes that the main

site manager on being challenged about the potential disaster said -

'isa ok. We still have this afteroon to fix it'.

There is nothing like their warmth, joie de vie and depth. They may

not move mountains but they can have a good discussion about how to do

it. Cafe culture has never thrived so much. Men line the terrasses,

putting the world to rights with a sugary espresso and flicking worry

beads. My family - the Kesses - have taken my beau and I under their

wing. I have never felt such hospitality. Every meal is a

celebration - mezze to share turns a dinner into an immediate party.

Big dishes of tasty meat, potatoes - all terribly simple but with

olive oil and oregano more delicious than any Michelin affair.

At Easter - the biggest and holiest celeration in the year - they go

nuts and set off bangers at midnight around the church. This is

followed by a weir soup made of lamb innards. Having fasted through

Lent it is the first dish they eat. A little queasy making but giagia

- the granny of the house - tucked in like there was no tomorrow.

Going out is also a total hoot. Despite the economic depression bars

are heaving with fun loving Greeks. The best music is pumping and the

whole family dancing around their table. There is no separation. Teens

drink champagne and groove around with their Dads. In every club I

have ever been to around the world there is an implicit code - first

to dance is a loser. In Greece the first to dance wins all - and it is

usually the Kesses clan. My uncle George and my beau with cigars arm

in arm, my cousins jumping around like beans and me highkicking of


The day my uncle's wife prepared nourishing chicken and lemon soup.

Then my beau had a disco nap and my uncle touchingly tucked him in

with a blanket. It was then that he told me about the conversations he

had with my Dad. How he planned to go to Greece with me. Sitting in

his smoky office, surrounded by Greek nicknacks - religious icons,

evil eye charms, worry beads - I never felt more at home.

They say people who emigrate never really leave behind their country

of origin. I may be half British in birth breeding and accent but my

spirit is Hellenic. I am from now on and very proudly Elisavet Kesses.