I once worked for an English couple who ran a
cafe on a bluff above a beach on the island of Corfu. It had been my
intention to find my way to that border Greece used to share with the
country once known as Yugoslavia. Outside the port town of Piraeus the couple
had picked me from the side of the road. And one day later I was
washing dishes with water of uncertain origin.
plan had been devised primarily around alcohol. My employers were aficionados'
of Ouzo. In the mornings many hours were spent in quiet reverie,
while I washed the floor in preparation for lunchtime. Their coffee
was Turkish, dark and strong. Their cigarettes American
Winstons. Their bread and groceries were delivered by a three
wheeled vehicle in the early afternoon. By sunset life was
merry. By midnight there was often dispute amongst the clientele as
to the nature of closing time.
In that outside space behind the kitchen,
protected from the neighbors goat by a fence there were straggling tomato
vines wretched from lack of care upon which tomatoes grew that set for me
the standard for tomato flavor.
Years since I have always wondered
why they tasted this way. I was ill-fed, perhaps, from that onerous lifestyle that is
hoboism. It was fresh food, perhaps, with associated trace
elements the body craves but sometimes does not find in a diet designed
solely for the purpose of filling the stomach. Perhaps it was the
water these plants took off the outflow from the sink where I washed the
dishes. Perhaps it was the soil replenished by goat droppings and sea
air. And perhaps it was because they were the first tomatoes I ever
picked and ate.