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TraveLit--A blog about travel literature. 

     Even with the best of maps and instruments, we can never fully chart our journeys.

Review: The Summer of My Greek Taverna

The Summer of My Greek Taverna
By Tom Stone. Simon & Schuster, 2002, 250 pp.

What is it about running a restaurant that has such great appeal? So many people I know have longed to do it. I myself once planned on opening a restaurant with a friend, and I don’t even like to eat!

Tom Stone is—or was—one of the smitten. As The Summer of My Greek Taverna opens, he receives a call from a friend, Theologos, on the island of Patmos, where Stone lived before moving to Crete with his French wife, Danielle, and their two children. When Theologos asks if Stone would like to rent his taverna for the summer, the author finds it hard to resist. He loves to cook. He remembers sitting for many hours in that taverna and thinking he could absolutely do a better job of running it. Moreover, he has heard from friends who own restaurants in Mykonos that you could make enough money in a summer to last a year. He could stop teaching English, Danielle could stop painting tourist-trade icons, and they could get back to being artists.

From the first, Stone drops signs that all might not go smoothly. A work permit is mentioned but ignored. Danielle says, “You are crazy.” He alienates a good friend by inviting her to be a partner in the deal but cutting her out when Theologos refuses to accept her. And there is also the minor detail that Theologos is known as O Lados, “the oily one.”

This is the set-up for The Summer of My Greek Taverna, and Stone plays it out well, with good storytelling, vivid descriptions, and a nice dose of self-deprecating humor. Moving back and forth in time—a bit too jumpily at the start—the narrative fills us in on his earlier years in Patmos while taking us through the trials of his restaurant ordeal, which include overwhelming exhaustion, varicose veins (a reminder that he is 42), the apparent curse of the Evil Eye, and an uncomfortable lesson in trust. Stone’s comments on Greek life and his historical descriptions of Patmos (about which he has written a guide) are entertaining, and he renders his own story, however painful, very enjoyable. I haven’t tried the recipes that conclude the book, but his customers certainly seem to have liked them—one reward of this cautionary experience.

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