Eating Cucumbers in the Mountains
We had started out that morning from Florina, weighted down with liters of water and fortified by a good breakfast of yogurt, honey, cheese, fruit, juice, and strong, thick coffee. The day would be hot, but a mythical fountain -- the best, the most pure water ever to touch mortal lips -- beckoned from the dim coolness of the sheltering trees high up the mountain.
We climbed, drank our tepid water, swatted at flies. A few cars passed, stirring up dust on the dry road. Their occupants looked at us as though we were very slightly crazy; it seems that not many Greeks embrace exercise to the extent that we foolhardy Americans do. After a few miles I wondered if they had the right idea and less than a mile from our destination we did accept a lift from one of the old men of the village who probably would not have accepted a refusal anyway.
They -- the old men -- had all gathered there with supplies of meat and bread and cheese and tomatoes and cucumbers. They looked a bit askance at me for not eating the meat, and then also for only having a small drink of ouzo (before noon!), but when they saw my genuine enthusiasm for the cucumber I was forgiven. And what a cucumber! It was rough and knobbly, as proper cucumbers should be, but since it was grown in a small organic garden on a sunny slope it was clean tasting, and sharp. We held them under the cold water from the fountain, dipped them into coarse salt, and gnawed away; it was refreshing, invigorating, and totally delicious.
Afterward, I stood among the trees eating a large piece of watermelon, juice trickling down my hands down to my elbows, looking at the stream as it flowed through a patch of sunlight. In the distance, I could hear the faint tinkle of bells as the goats moved slowly through the forest. I listened to Greek and broken English and Albanian spoken by the men behind me. I could get lost here, I thought; I could stay here forever in these woods, drinking this water, eating this cucumber. In Greece.