The Mountain Men of Mount Parnassos Part 2
When we arrived Aegli Hotel, it wasn’t the beautiful black and white tiles nor the elegant marble table that caught my attention, but the rows and rows of trophies. Before disappearing to his job, my husband pointed out the Olympic torches to me.
Olympic torches? I was confused… I followed my husband to this job because I heard from several local friends that Aegli Hotel was the best hotel in Arachova and I wanted to have a look, but no one told me that they sold trophies and Olympic torches… or was this like a mini museum?
While photographing the Olympic torches, I noticed that Vangelis Koutras, the owner of the hotel and whom my husband was speaking to earlier, was next to me. ‘Where did you get these torches?’
‘I carried them.’
‘And you bought them?’
‘No, I carried them.’
‘And you kept them?’
In my head I imagined him carrying an Olympic torch and instead of passing it to the next runner, he ran back to Arachova with it. Later I realized that only the flame was passed on, and not the torches.
I recently acquired my first complicated phone(because my mum is on Whatsapp!) and became addicted to taking photographs. So I asked Vangelis for a photograph. ‘All these cups belong to you?’ Me, my father and my sister. My father is here,’ said Vangelis pointing at a man sitting next to me. I asked his father to be in the photograph too.
A family of ski champions! I became curious… Vangelis offered me a coffee (Ένα φραππέ μέτριο με γάλα και μαύρι ζάχαρι, παρακαλώ! A medium sweet Greek style iced coffee with milk and brown sugar, please!) His father Mr. Kostas Koutras whom I named Mountain Man #2 came and kept me company and I started asking (too many) questions. At that point I didn’t intend to write this article. I asked questions because this is what one does when one gets curious.
‘Miànbāo.’ Said Mr. Kostas. That’s the Chinese word for bread. In Greece almost every day someone would say a Chinese word to me, usually hello or thank you. Bread is a first. Mr. Kostas said when they had Chinese guests, he showed them how to make bread in the outdoor oven. He said he didn’t know how to say hello or thank you in Chinese as he thought these were not important to know. He thought the 3 most important things in life were bread, sleep and something else that I can’t remember now.
I was on stalker mode and kept snapping away as Mr. Kostas talked about his early skiing days. He was the first ever ski instructor in Greece and acquired his first trophy in 1973. He used to live in Greece during winters and Italy summer because skiing was possible there during summer months. Now he runs this hotel and ski shop with his family and he teaches skiing sometimes.
I was surprised at his ease in front of my phone camera and I told him that the light was good (I mimicked what my husband the Photoman would say) and that he looked good in photographs.
‘Yes, I know.’
‘How do you know?’
‘Because I am a photographer.’
‘No, you are not. You do ski things and you run a hotel.’ I was confused again.
Mr. Kostas began working as a photographer at 17 using a Russian brand camera which he said was very cheap but very good. He also developed all the photographs himself in the early days, until colour films were available. He used to go to ski area to take pictures for people and he started skiing himself too and that was how he started his ski career. We walked back to the hotel foyer and he showed me some of the photographs on display there.
‘What else do you do?’ ‘Many things. Every day I’m doing something and every night I think about what I do tomorrow.’ Mr. Kostas showed me how earlier that day, he spent 5 hours watering and tending to his olive trees. ‘I think about what else I can do better. I want to do better. Make things better.’ I can see how his attitude helped him to excel on everything he did.
‘Do you want to ride a donkey?’
‘No. You have a donkey?’
‘Yes, I have donkeys. I have sheep, rams, pigs –
‘What? You have pigs? You eat them?’
‘No. I like looking at them. Some people like to look at dogs; I like looking at pigs. I have dogs, too.’
‘What else do you have?’
‘I have many things. I have children, grandchildren. Dogs, cats. Do you want to ride a donkey?’
‘No. I want to ride a dragon. Do you have dragons, too?’
‘No. No dragons.’
Mr. Kostas didn’t know what a unicorn was. I looked up some pictures to show him. I also told him that unicorns existed in real life although I don’t think he believed me.
‘Boat? Do you have a boat?’ ‘No. No boat. I am man of the mountains.’ Hence the name Mountain Man #2.
Mr. Kostas then took me to the garden and showed me his donkeys. ‘Do you want to ride a donkey?’ He asked again. ‘No.’ It seemed he couldn’t accept my disinterest. Actually I wanted to pat them but didn’t say. Maybe he sensed that and so he kept offering. Maybe next time.
He showed me his rams also. Then his trees and plants. There were so many! Apple trees, fig trees, almond trees (I didn’t know almonds grew on trees), cherry trees, pear trees, walnut trees, leek, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, garlic, broccoli, strawberries and many more that I don’t remember or never heard of. He patiently pointed them out to me one by one while we walked around in his garden.
‘How do you know what they are?’ It was only March and the trees were mostly branches with a few leaves. ‘I know them. I put them there myself.’ Mr. Kostas bought the land from different people back in 1987 and since then he started cultivating the garden as well as building the stone houses. He started a small hotel at the beginning and the present Aegli Hotel began at 2008.
Mr. Kostas told me on which precise days the fruits and vegetables would be ready. ‘If I were to come back in May, can I come here and eat?’ ‘Of course! For everyone!’ He showed me how there were too many apples on one tree last year that the tree broke.
Kostas planted many more tree buds everywhere, in pots and in soil. He said he would give them away or transfer them to different part of the mountains. He took me across the road and showed me a variety of plants he planted there. He said he put the plants there so everyone can eat. He wanted to have plenty for everyone.
‘What about flowers?’ ‘No flowers. Only food.’ ‘Yes you have.’ I pointed at a tree with white flowers.’ ‘That’s a pear tree.’ Ok… He pointed at some weed growth in between the stone tiles. ‘See these? Next time you come these won’t be here. Only for food.’ He said he liked to be self-sufficient and not to rely on shops.
From time to time during our garden tour, some friendly locals walked passed and stopped for a quick chat. I felt so privileged to have met Mr. Kostas, our Mountain Man #2 who was in harmony not only with the mountains, and all sorts of life forms. He is like the keeper of the mountains. I can’t wait till our next visit to taste the fruit of his garden.