What is it about the Greek character that has allowed this complex culture to thrive for millennia? The Greek Isles are home to an enduring, persevering people with a strong work ethic. Proud, patriotic, devout, and insular, these hardy seafarers are the inheritors of working methods that are centuries old. On any given day, fishermen launch their bots at dawn in search of octopi, cuttlefish, sponges, and other gifts of the ocean. Widows clad in black dresses and veils shop the local produce markets and gather in groups of two and three to share stories. Artisans stich decorative embroidery to adorn traditional costumes. Glassblowers, goldsmiths, and potters continue the work of their ancient ancestors, ultimately displaying their wares in shops along the waterfronts.
The Greeks’ dedication to time-honored occupations and hard work is harmoniously complemented by their love of dance, song, food, and games. Some of the earliest works of art from the Greek Isles--including Minoan paintings from the second millennium B.C.E.--depict the central, day-to-day role of dance, and music. Today, life is still lived in common, and the old ways often survive in a deep separation between the worlds of women and men. In the more rural areas, dancing and drinking are--officially at least--reserved for men, as the women watch from windows and doorways before returning to their tasks. At seaside tavernas throughout the Greek Isles, old men sip raki, a popular aniseed-flavored liqueur, while playing cards or backgammon under grape pergolas that in late summer are heavy with ripe fruit.
Woven into this love of pleasure, however, are strands of superstition and circumspection. For centuries, Greek artisans have crafted the lovely blue and black glass “eyes” that many wear as amulets to ward off evil spirits. They are given as baby and housewarming gifts, and are thought to bring good luck and protect their wearers from the evil eye. Many Greeks carry loops of wooden or glass beads--so-called “worry beads”--for the same purpose. Elderly women take pride in their ability to tell fortunes from the black grounds left behind in a cup of coffee.