Greek Salad - A Dionysian Travelogue

Review by Willard Manus

Miles Lambert-Gocs, the author of GREEK SALAD--A DIONYSIAN TRAVELOGUE, is an unusual travel writer. Most of his colleagues follow their head or heart; he follows his belly.

A Hellenophile from his student days (when he boarded with an Athenian family), his interest in Greece deepened when he worked there for the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1979-1987, during which time he researched his first book, The Wines of Greece.

As an agronomist, he traveled on assignment to many parts of rural Greece, always managing to find time to sample as much local food and wine as he could. After leaving the USDA, he continued his gustatory excursions, always in a spontaneous, carefree way. Based in Athens, he'd catch a cab to the port town of Piraeus, check the weather reports and ferryboat time tables, picking a destination on the spot.

Lambert always voyages round the Aegean by boat, braving rough seas and winds. It's the authentic way to enjoy the historic Greek islands, he believes, and a means of insuring that "the barnacles clinging to my encrusted faculties will be scraped away" by the time he arrives.

Once on land, he checks into a modest hotel and sets out to investigate the island, by foot, bus and taxi. Forget the archaological sites and museums; he makes a beeline to the nearest winery to sample its homegrown brew. The more unknown and earthier the wine, the better; whether sweet, dry, red or white, resinated or not, Lambert will sample it without hesitation or fear. He will also scarf down any local dish put before him, everything from pseftokeftethes ('psuedo-meatballs,' meatless fried patties) to splinantero (spitted sausage soaked in sheep and goat's blood) to spetsofai (another goat and sheep sausage simmered with tomato and green pepper in olive oil). The man has a gullet made out of copper tubing.

An admitted disciple of the wine god Dionysos, Lambert once chased all over Naxos in search of a certain homemade, semi-sweet wine, only to come up empty-handed. On the other hand, he has often stumbled across humble but memorable wines in the unlikeliest of places, such as the theion poton (Homer's divine drink), a "brisk, brusque and bruising" red wine he sampled at an obscure wine festival.

GREEK SALAD is packed with Lambert's impressions of a dozen-odd islands, plus his warm, idiosyncratic views of such well-known mainland destinations as Naoussa, Larissa, Pelion, Arachova and Patras. He visited some of these places accompanied by his teenaged daughter (brave man), but mostly on his own (getting by with a little help from his friends). His love of Greece, combined with his unabashed interest in food and wine, make for heady, satisfying reading indeed.

Published by the Wine Appreciation Guild, $14.95 ppbk, available at bookstores and online.