April 12, 2007

Greece, day 6: garrigue in Greece

‘‘Never nature appeared so touching, so sensitive to me.’’
- Vincent Van Gogh

"Garrigue. Characteristic low-growing vegetation on limestone hills in the Mediterranean area, consisting principally of bushy plants (including broom, juniper, wild thyme, rosemary and lavender) and holm oak, resulting from the destruction by logging, cultivation, and fire of the Mediterranean forest which originally grew here. It is differentiated from the maquis (more common in Provence) by the underlying geology which favours different plants."

Today, we encountered the ancient ruins of Thira, the remains of a Hellenistic civilization dating back to the 9th century B.C. atop one of the highest elevations in Santorini. I was struck by the quantity of wild aromatics growing on the relatively dry mountain.

Wild thyme (probably drought-resistant), capers, and scores of other plants I didn't recognize, but which filled the air with a rustic aroma of windswept savory goodness... if I was going to roast meat over an open fire in Santorini, this would be the spot!

We finally found out what "Santorini tomatoes" are: they're cherry tomatoes grown on the island, with a reputation of having and incredibly bright and intense flavor. We had this salad at a cafe along the beachfront in Kamari. While our general experience with tomatoes in Greece has been pretty amazing, these little guys were on the disappointing side... kinda like out-of-season cherry tomatoes from the U.S. Still nice to look at... and one can only assume that when they're in season, they must be pretty awesome (given the hype).

For dinner, we headed to Oia for some simple taverna food at Thalami, a charming taverna seemingly tucked right into the mountainside in the middle of town. We sampled some tasty dolmathes, the stuffing of which was seasoned with that fantastic aromatic combination of spices reminiscent of the holidays in the U.S.; hints of allspice and cumin scenting the rice and cheese...

Still on our fritter kick, we opted this time for zucchini fritters. We were a bit disappointed, as these were relatively heavy on extraneous filler.

Lastly, here's a picture from earlier in the day. I'm putting this in because as we've continued on this trip, I've come to realize the importance of "the bakery" in making us feel at home. It really is amazing how in so many cultures, the role of the bakery is a central focus for comfort and familiarity, all borne of a certain specific necessity. While a lot of things may be new and different here, everything we've seen in the bakeries we've visited has almost instantly resonated.

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