We’re thrilled to host Marjory McGinn, life-long traveler throughout Greece and author of Things Can Only Get Feta.
GIB: When did you first fall in love with Greece?
MM: I fell in love with Greece, or at least its lifestyle, even before I went there. After emigrating with my family from Scotland to Australia as a child, my first friend was a gregarious Greek girl called Anna. I quickly got inducted into the Greek notion of parea (company) and went to many long Sunday lunches at her house, with her extended family, where everyone spoke Greek. Though I didn’t understand a word, it was all so madly exotic to a shy young Scot. Something of this magical time stayed with me and when I left Australia in my twenties to travel, I went straight to Greece, and stayed for a year in Athens. That was the start of my lifelong infatuation with the country, and with Greeks, and their maverick attitude: live in the minute and don’t give a damn about rules, even if that’s what might have got the country into economic strife in the first place. In Greece I always feel more liberated than anywhere else.
GIB: How did you start writing?
MM: I started my writing career as a journalist in Sydney and later became a feature writer on a Sunday newspaper which I loved but deep down I had an urge to write a novel but never quite got round to it at that time. My first book came later in life and is non-fiction. It was the result of a long adventure my partner and I, and our crazy Jack Russell dog Wallace undertook in 2010. We had such an amazing time in the rural Mani, southern Peloponnese, and had met so many unique/eccentric characters that I wanted to capture that time forever. It formed the basis for my current book Things Can Only Get Feta.
GIB: Have you written any other books?
MM: I did eventually write that novel, while living back in Scotland and freelancing a few years ago. It was a chic-lit romp set in the newspaper industry, but I failed to secure a publishing deal and it’s still languishing at the bottom of an old trunk. I am still itching to have another go at publishing a novel though.
GIB: How do you feel about Greece’s current plight? What do you think the outcome will be?
MM: Having lived in Greece from 2010 for three years during the crisis, it made me angry to see the heavy-handed way our European partners have dealt with Greece’s economic woes. Most of the blame for the crisis should go to successive corrupt Greek governments and greedy bankers who threw loans at Greece they knew the country could never repay, signing it up for decades of fiscal dependency. Greeks themselves are also partly to blame, for their rebellious habit of not paying taxes, but the austerity measures the EU forced on Greece, and continue to insist on, have been inhuman. We saw first-hand how much hard-working Greeks were hurting, from goat farmers to parish priests. One unmarried village friend with a serious health condition had her small disability allowance cut completely, leaving her with no income at all. We also knew of many young people who had had to leave their families, reluctantly, to seek work abroad. It has been a disaster for the country.
As for the outcome? Greeks are very strong, stoical people. As Greeks I met in the Mani constantly reminded me: “Look, we’ve had wars, German occupation, a junta, earthquakes. We can survive the crisis as well.” I do hope so.
GIB: What’s the funniest experience you ever had in Greece?
MM: The funniest, and also most mischievous, experience was during our stay in the Mani when we smuggled Wallace the dog into an archaeological site near Kalamata on a quiet winter’s day. We turned up with the dog and were told by the attendant we couldn’t take him in, so we went back to the car, put him in a backpack with the lure of chicken sandwiches (his favourite) and took him in without anyone noticing. It was very amusing and became one of the chapters in my book.
GIB: What are the best and worst meals you’ve ever had there?
MM: The best would have to be lunch with a wonderful old guy we met once in Santorini. We ate grilled fish and salad and drank homemade wine on the balcony of his house overlooking the Aegean. And an old radio hung on a rusty nail nearby playing Greek folk songs. Heaven!
The worst was tsikles, in the Mani, the little pickled birds with the heads on. I tried a slither of meat. That was enough.
GIB: What’s your single most cherished memory of Greece?
MM: We had a farewell dinner when we left the hillside village where we were living in the Mani. A local woman came up to me to say goodbye, took my hand and said we would be missed. “You’re one of us now. Don’t forget it.” That has to be the best thing any Greek can ever tell you.