“She really really wants to rent your house, Papa Giorgi”, my translator Yiannis said to the old, bearded priest as we walked briskly beside him towards his home in the center of town.
“No,” came his translated reply, “there’s no electricity. It’s not safe.”
“Tell him I don’t mind ” I told Yiannis. “Tell him I’ll have gas lights and don’t need a fridge, or anything that will need electricity, since I’ll only sleep there and it’s only for the summer”.
I waited until my answer was relayed but was disappointed when the old man raised his head up, closed his eyes, and made a “tsou” sound. It meant no.
“But why? I heard that he used to rent that house for the summer. Has he already rented it to someone else?”
“I don’t know,” said Yiannis. “He doesn’t say.”
It was two weeks before Easter on Mykonos, 1988, and I was looking for a place to live for the summer. By driving around on the island, I had found a lovely little single room house, high above Agrari Beach, looking out towards the sea and the island of Naxos. It looked like it had an attached bathroom, a water tank on the top of it and a donkey wildly braying in its front yard. Perfect. Since my working hours were so long and I spent so much time in the shop, I didn’t need more than a place to shower and sleep. I didn’t want to pay a fortune for this, so if there was no electricity, I knew it couldn’t be very expensive. Gas lights and camping gas burners for the odd coffee were all I needed. I had found out who owned it and hoped they would rent it to me for the summer, since there was definitely nobody living in it, even though it looked very well maintained. Apparently this was not going to be easy.
After spending the following week searching unsuccessfully for alternative accommodations, I went back to Papa Giorgis’ house and tried again. This time without a translator. I found him in his living room room sitting on a chair, surrounded by palm fronds, busily weaving something out of a single palm leaf. He waved me over as if he’d been expecting me and showed me what he was making. It was a cone shaped container made out of the interwoven leaves of the palm frond. He picked up a palm leaf off the floor and gave it to me, motioning for me to make another one. So I did. Many many more. Two hours later we were still sitting there in peaceful silence making these strange palm leaf vessels when a neighbor of his came by with a plate of food for the priest. He asked me in English what I was doing there, and I explained how I had ended up there and why.
“Dear girl, he’ll never rent you that house,” the neighbor explained. “Not any more. Not to anyone.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Do you remember last year when that monster was loose killing the girls?”
“Yes, very well. I had an escort to and from the shop every day during that time.”
One year prior, a convicted serial killer had been released early from a Dublin Prison, due to a fatal heart condition. But before he succumbed to the ailments of his heart, he succumbed to his sick mind by heading to southern Europe and continuing his cruel killing spree. His particularly horrid modus operandi quickly notified Interpol to his presence in Greece, where young women had started to disappear. Some from the island of Mykonos. He was eventually found in Athens while trying to burn the car that he had used to incapacitate his victims with. He was brought back to Mykonos where he proceeded to show the police where he had buried some of the women. Afterwards, he was placed in a holding cell on the island of Syros where he was found hung the next morning.
One of the women had been buried on a property belonging to Papa Giorgis. The one with the house and the donkey that I wanted to rent.
“So you see, you will have to find another house to rent, ” the neighbor explained.
I tried. I really did. But that house and that sad story kept coming back until I finally drove out to the property again. I stood at the low wooden gate and called to the donkey I knew was there. He ran out of his stall but stopped when he saw me, braying so loud I was worried he would attract attention. I calmed him with some fruit I had brought, then I walked into the yard next to the house I liked so much. To the left of the house when looking out to the sea, was a rocky area. It was close to the road and leaning against one of these boulders, I saw an unmarked plain marble gravestone, hardly visible from a distance. I suddenly realized what I needed to do.
I returned to town, packed myself a sandwich, a bottle of wine, a bottle of water, a beach mat, and a sleeping bag, and returned to the house. The sun was just setting and the view was gloriously amazing as the sea reflected the colors of the setting sun. I threw the beach mat down near where the gravestone lay, unrolled my sleeping bag, and made myself comfortable against one of the larger stones. The donkey stood attentively nearby, happy after more apples, while I ate my sandwich. It was calm and peaceful. Every now and then, I heard a car drive by, but I was invisible where I sat and tried to see if I would sense any of the pain, despair, and fear that the unfortunate young woman must have suffered in her final hours. But I sensed nothing of the sort. I wanted to say to her, “I’m here, don’t be afraid, he’s gone forever”, but I didn’t feel a presence to say it to. I don’t know whether the alcohol had made me bolder or numb, but other than peace and quiet, and the donkey rustling in his stall, there was nothing. I stayed there many hours, then dragged my sleeping bag to the front inner yard of the house and slept.
The next morning I went back to town to find the neighbor and asked him to go with me to visit Papa Giorgis.
“Please tell him there are no ghosts. Please tell him what I did.” I said after we were standing again in Papa Giorgis’ living room. “Tell him he is not responsible.”
When the neighbor had finished, Papa Giorgis looked at me, then got up from where he was sitting to go into another room. He returned holding a key, which he softly folded my hand around.
“Ευχαριστώ (Thank you),” he said to me, then a few words of Greek to his neighbor.
I was told the ridiculously low amount of rent I would owe and that I had the responsibility of making sure that the donkey always had enough water.
Salted Triple Chocolate Pistachio Cookies
(this recipe originally appeared in Gourmet Magazine, May 1998, was adapted by Yvonne Ruperti, and posted to Serious Eats: Recipes, on February 29, 2012)
2 1/3 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
20 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped
coarse sea salt for final sprinkling
Preheat oven to 350F (170C). Make sure your baking shelf is situated in the middle of the oven, not too high, not too low. Cover cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Sift together flour, baking soda, cocoa powder, and salt. Set aside.
Cream together butter with sugars until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla until well combined.
Slowly add dry ingredients until just combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary to incorporate ingredients evenly. Add all chocolate chips and pistachios until just combined.
Place heaping teaspoons about 3″ (6cm) apart on baking sheet. Lightly roll into balls and flatten them slightly. Sprinkle a few flakes of sea salt onto each cookie.
Bake until cookies have puffed and small cracks appear. About 12 minutes. Immediately remove from oven and let cool on sheet 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire cooling rack.
The cookies pair fabulously with a Gewurztraminer or a port. If you would rather not bake all the cookie dough right away, you can also, roll it into a log, wrap it in cellophane, and freeze it. Don’t forget to label what it is!