Diana Farr Louis Remembers Mad Moments With Oldways


It always happened. No matter whether our destination was a Greek island or the Italian mainland, at some point there occurred an explosion of joy, fun, affection and deep appreciation that swept both hosts and Oldways trippers off their feet, figuratively and literally. In 1997, on the final evening of my first Symposium we had dinner in a school house outside Heraklio, Crete. Well before dessert, the combination of velvety trahana soup, roast pork, rust-colored wine and foot-tapping music got mustachioed waiters (with boots and breeches) teaching Bostonian foodies how to dance the syrtiko and hasapiko. Before long everyone was linking arms like Alan Bates on the beach with Zorba.

As an American food/travel writer who’s lived in Athens longer than I ever lived in New York, that surge of exhilaration that Greeks call “kefi” did not surprise me. Greek hospitality and high spirits are legendary and contagious.

But the following year I was invited on two more symposiums, in Liguria and Puglia, and the same thing happened. In Badalucco, the effect was produced by an unlikely meal consisting of a succession of bean dishes followed by stokafisso (dried cod), mellow wine, and a chorus of amazing male voices. In Alberobello, the town with the “Munchkin” trulli (cone-roofed houses), it took place in a downpour in a cold warehouse hastily converted into a street fair. The townspeople who had cooked a feast for us were undaunted by the weather, and soon their generosity and lively tunes had us dancing and hugging them when it was time to say “grazie, arrivederci.”

So it wasn’t just a Greek thing.

In Lesvos, I witnessed this spontaneous eruption of love and closeness in an ouzo factory where the workers had made us mezedes; in Salerno a lesson in a pizzeria provided the spark.

Of course, we know that good food, alcohol and music usually create a happy atmosphere. But I think these particular occasions exemplify the success of the Oldways talent for picking the right people as guests and as hosts and just letting the Mediterranean way of life (which is what diet or diaita means in Greek) do its magic.

You don’t have to live in Southern Europe to enjoy the benefits, but I have never regretted leaving the Big Apple for the Big Olive 40 years ago. I switched from the roast/grilled meat and two veg, butter-and-cream-rich meals I’d grown up with to slow-cooked stews and baked dishes laced with olive oil, garlic and herbs, and often with no meat at all. Lingering over them with local wines and dear friends near the sea or a poppy-filled olive grove, I came to think of them as soul food. Their versatility and long history have inspired my cookbooks, Prospero’s Kitchen and Feasting and Fasting in Crete, many many articles, and indeed my whole life.

-Diana Farr Louis

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