submitted by James Victor Prineas on 03.12.2005
A lot has been written about the cafes which Kytherians set up and ran after they migrated, comparatively little though about the cafe culture on the island. Anyone who regularly visited the village of Mitata in the 1980s and '90s probably ate at George and Maria Stamatakou's restaurant which was perched near the ravine on the roller-coaster-road out of the back of the village.
The months I spent each year on the island are unthinkable without the unique and tasty culinary delights cooked by Maria and served by George. In the summer the regulars would sit out on the front veranda while the xeni watched the sun set over the gorge on the back veranda. The menu may have had its limitations but the authenticity of the dishes didn't (except perhaps for the Dutch feta which sometimes made it into the salads...): fresh vegetables picked daily from their perivoli and local meat and fish of the highest quality. Whether it was the sophisticated rabbit casserole in a delicate clove sauce or the honest blandness of a yellow chip omelette, one always left the restaurant heartily fed and often a little drunk.
But to tell you the truth, even if the food had been less wondrous, I would still have eaten at Maria and George's a few times a week. Firstly because every evening, no matter who or how many were dining there, it was like a big family meal. Indeed, many Mitatan families whose elderly matriarchs no longer felt obliged to cater to visiting relatives from Australia and the USA every night of the summer would eat at Stamatakou's because it was home cooking without cooking at home.
The second reason why I dined there as often as possible was because Maria and I had adopted each other. Although I towered two feet above her she called me "Dimitraki" (little Jim) and would scold and pamper me as if I were her grandson. During one of my longer periods of vegetarianism
she pointed out how pale I was getting as a result even though I was brown as a peanut from the Grecian sun. And she was sure that my incessant letter-writing on the poorly lit front veranda would send me sightless overnight and duly slapped on all the lights as soon as I produced a pen, blinding all those around me as well as myself.
Her sparkling speaking voice could be heard half-way across the village, and her regular squawks at the dozen kittens she kept underfoot probably kept the Viarathikans from across the valley up until late. She giggled like a schoolgirl and laughed like a dainty bell. She could handle a compliment without any false modesty but never forgot to give God his fair due of credit for her skills.
She and George kept the restaurant open well into their retirement years which gave the village a huge advantage over many other Kytherian horia who barely managed to keep a general story open during the daylight hours. I'm sure I'm not the only "youngster" to have Maria and George to thank for keeping the village lively enough to inspire us to stay on and come back year after year.
George died a few years ago to the great sorrow of the whole island not to mention his family in Australia and those of us to whom he showed ceaseless hospitality. Maria laid down the spoon and had a couple of years retirement before opting for the kind of service she had offered so many thousands of guests for decades: she took a room at the nursing home at Potamos.
Last week I learned that she had passed away in November. One of the great mothers of the island – although ironically she had no children of her own – is gone. But as with all those who have loved and inspired others, she remains with us in some of our fondest memories.
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