Thursday, January 14, 2010

Cicadas and Salad

Into the silence

sound pierces the rock—

a cicada shrills

Matsuo Bashô, 17th century Japanese haiku poet, wrote these lines about his visit to Yamadera, a mountain temple in Yamagata Prefecture, northern Japan. He might just as easily have written about the cicadas on the island of Crete. I visited Yamadera some years back and listened to Bashô’s cicadas and I know now they can never surpass the incredible shrilling of their distant cousins at the site of Knossos. Entering the compound of this old city site on Crete, I am almost swept off my feet by a harmonious and gathering surge of sound coming from the pine trees around me. Hundreds of insects sing in absolutely perfect synchrony and pitch, with undulating waves and stops altering and breaking the rush of sound. I am thrilled, but afraid to look over my shoulder for fear of seeing someone behind glass manipulating dials in a sound studio.

Some hours later, walking along a road the air still ringing with the sound of cicadas, I stop to look carefully into the branches of a roadside tree, thinking I can spy one of them up close. At the moment I stare into the tree the sound abruptly stops, almost as if the insect were looking back at me and halted its rasping out of shyness. As soon as I move off down the path the cicada’s song picks up again just where it left off.

Lunchtime and I stop at a sidewalk cafe, a tabepna in Greek. A tavern. Here I have the first of many Greek salads which I will eat over the next two weeks. The menu lists it as a ‘country salad.’ This isn’t the elaborate Greek salad we often see in places other than Greece, but simply tomato, cucumber, a few leaves of lettuce, red onion, green pepper, a couple of Greek olives, a slice of feta cheese, a sprinkle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.


Salads are a favorite I enjoy in all varieties, preferring most often the standard Italian green salad. Over the years I have learned how to make what I believe is a flavorful salad. Greece turned out to be a Utopia for the kind of salads I enjoy. It was also a modest salad-classroom, each restaurant offering a tip, simplifying some of my ideas on mixture. The variety of salad made depends upon where you are, what is in season and to some degree a knowledge of, or feel for what goes well with what. I discovered anew the true Greek salad, and learned that it differs greatly from other so-called ‘Greek salads’ I have eaten outside of Greece.

Recipe for a simple but delicious salad:

Ripe tomatoes cut into pieces

Cucumber sliced

Red onion sliced or roughly chopped

Green pepper sliced

5 or 6 Greek olives

Feta cheese sliced or cubed

A handful of fresh basil, or some lettuce (a small amount)

Salt, pepper, lemon, olive oil

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America