Today, we have the pleasure of meeting Sara Alexi, author of the Illegal Gardener Series.
GIB: When did you first fall in love with Greece?
SA: My first visit to Greece was on a spontaneous getaway with some college friends. As soon as I arrived it felt as though I’d come home—the people, the landscape, the flowers in the spring. I returned to England on my scheduled flight. The bus from the airport travelled at ten miles an hour in the lashing rain. When I climbed off the bus, I went straight to the travel agent and arranged to fly back to Greece the next day. I’ve lived in Greece off and on ever since.
GIB: How did you start writing?
SA: I’ve been an artist all of my life and a psychotherapist for many years. Writing about people and their interaction combines these two interests; I see my novels as painting with words and voicing my awe for people’s adaptability and resilience.
Before ‘The Illegal Gardener’ I hadn’t written anything, but I felt compelled to write this first book. I was moved by an illegal immigrant who helped me, for one day, with my garden in Greece–his plight like that of so many others. The decision as to who owned the garden and who worked in the garden was decided by our places of birth. Even though I was sure our mothers have loved us both the same, our outcomes were already decided. I felt I had to express my feelings on this subject and the general unfairness of the cards dealt him. Although I only met the man who inspired the story once, I talked to many other illegal immigrants who followed him through the village. All had something to add to the story.
GIB: Have you written any other books?
SA: This first book naturally led to more. I felt I had a lot to say, and have since published ‘Black Butterflies,’ and am currently working on ‘The Rogue Husband,’ both of which involve characters from the same village.
GIB: How do you feel about Greece’s current plight? What do you think the outcome will be?
SA: I find Greek culture is far more human than British culture. I believe that’s both a positive and a negative. I find Greek bureaucracy can be frustrating and the outcome often seems to be determined at the whim of the person working that day. For example, you can go in to have a blood test and the queue can be thirty people long, all needing a great deal more than a quick blood sample, but because you strike up a conversation with the girl at reception, she takes you to the pediatrician who, as she has no work, takes your blood immediately. In England, the rules are the rules and they seem to come before both common sense and people.
I think the human side of Greece will prevail and Greece will find its feet again but on its own terms.
GIB: What’s the funniest experience you ever had in Greece?
SA: My funniest experience in Greece was when I was learning the language and got Kolla (glue) and Kolo (bottom) mixed up as well as Ksillo (wood) and Psilo (tall).
I went into a hardware shop and asked for wood glue. Meeting blank faces, I mimed two pieces of wood sticking and unsticking by opening my hands like a book whilst saying, “tall bottom!” The men dissolved laughing with me having no idea why.
GIB: What are the best and worst meals you’ve ever had there?
SA: As a vegetarian, I love Greek food—the choice of vegetables and the way they are cooked is so varied. The best meals I’ve had been at Ta Fanaria in Nafplio; and I’m ever so slightly ashamed to say the worst food I’ve had has been from my own kitchen! It is something I admit I don’t do well.
GIB: What’s your single most cherished memory of Greece?
SA: Greece has been kind to me with regards to company. I met one of my best friends the first time I visited, and our relationship has continued across continents ever since. But my single most cherished moment was when I first saw my Greek/English husband-to-be (smiles). We have now been married fifteen years.