It has been too long since our last good food-and-life books. I think of John Lanchester's "The Debt to Pleasure" or "Pass the Polenta" by Theresa Lust, not to mention the writings of M.F.K. Fisher or Elizabeth David. Now and then it is good to have these elegant reminders of slow meals and adventurous appetites.
The Summer of My Greek Taverna is also an expatriate's tale, the story of a writer and a painter and their two young children trying to live in a place that inspires them. Tom Stone adds something to his chosen genre: graphic descriptions of his own querulous doubt at each new decision. It is too easy to forget, in the Peter Mayle world, that these lives require a great deal of risk. There is never enough money, never enough security, and always one is forced to run on instinct: to trust strangers selling houses and, in Stone's case, Greeks bearing gifts. To stick to the dream.
I have come to believe that these memoirs, well and honestly written like Stone's, are extremely important; for some of us, a map of the road not taken.
In this feast for all senses, Stone brings readers into the tiny Greek island world of Patmos in a prose that feels as languid as the pace of the Patmian people. At 33, Stone, a Broadway stage manager, puts $10,000 of an inheritance in the stock market and leaves New York for what he intends to be a five-month stay in Greece, where he would fulfill his dream of writing a novel. But five months quickly turns into love, marriage, two children and several years when he meets Danielle, a 23-year-old French painter. After moving to Rethymnon, Stone teaches English as a second language while Danielle continues to paint until an old Patmian friend, Theologos, phones and invites Stone to become his partner for the summer in his beach taverna, The Beautiful Helen. Leaping at the opportunity, Stone, and a very reluctant Danielle, pack up their two children, a Cuisinart and Stone's many recipes, and return to the island where they fell in love and where they would soon learn the hard lessons that come with Greek traditions, bargaining, the ever-present Evil Eye, and their naive trust in Theologos, known to all as O Lados, "the oily one." This nicely told memoir and travelogue is interspersed with Stone's recipes, sensual descriptions of food and place, and the love of his wife and children. (July) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Patmos, the small Greek island where St. John lived and wrote, is the setting of this brief but charming autobiographical travelog with recipes. Stone (Greece: An Illustrated History) is in love with Patmos, most of the people who live there, and especially his French-born wife, Danielle, whom he met and married there. One summer, when asked to take over a friend's restaurant at the height of the summer tourist season, Stone was able to turn his cooking avocation into a real job. In this bittersweet memoir, he recounts the reality of working from early in the morning to late at night, with almost no time for friends and family which ultimately forced him to reconsider the allure of his dream island and start thinking about how to live his life in the future. Stone also relates the seesawing friendship between himself and the taverna owner, an old friend who cheated him of thousands of dollars. Although written in the genre of Peter Mayle and Frances Mayes, this down-to-earth travelog certainly does not present a vacation world viewed through rose-colored glasses. Recommended for larger travel as well as cooking collections. Olga B. Wise, Compaq Computer Corp., Austin, TX Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Sometime stage manager and screenwriter Stone describes a sojourn in the eastern Aegean darkly tinged by recrimination, doubt, and regret. Perhaps it’s the author’s decision to disguise the exact location of his foray into food service on the Greek island of Patmos, as well as to change the names of pivotal characters, that brings overtones of contrivance to haunt this narrative. In his early 40s, Stone leases a taverna in partnership with the owner for a single summer of fantasy-fulfillment. He’s accompanied by his French wife Danielle, a cipher save for the attributes of sensual beauty coupled with textbook Gallic moral superiority, and their two young children. From there ensues a series of events in which a stereotypical American babe in the woods enraptured by a foreign culture bumps up against the reality of how its actual members live day to day. While Stone is eminently capable of setting the scene and telling a story, he is not a natural humorist. His shtick is to overindulge in self-deprecation while vacillating between idolatry and assassination of supposed Greek national character traits. The author maintains, for example, that if you are a guest in a Greek’s house, “he’ll give you the shirt off his back,” but that if you have done prior business with him, “it’s probably your shirt.” This less-than-subtle approach assures that readers will feel foreboding even as the lights twinkle in the summer night and customers flock in, confirming at least temporarily Stone’s theory that an amateur cook with his expertise could successfully upgrade a typical taverna’s fare. (He includes a few recipes from a menu of mostly familiar Greek dishes, with a couple of eclectic additions likechili con carne.) When the denouement arrives, replete with temptation, betrayal, guilt, and alienation, it lands like a plate of cold moussaka. Wistful, bittersweet odyssey of a bad business deal.
The New York Times Book Review His infatuation with the place (whether "fueled by an excess of retsina" or not) is infectious.
Time The summer's best travel writing...like Kitchen Confidential with ouzo.