The Summer of My Greek Taverna
Simon & Schuster, $24
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Lots of people fantasize about running a restaurant, but most lack the imagination—or the occasion—to do so. Tom Stone, an American writer and a former Broadway stage manager, actually carried out his fantasy—at a seaside café on an idyllic Greek island—with disastrous results. These are at last redeemed, three decades after the fact, by The Summer of My Greek Taverna, his sweetly lyrical evocation of an interlude in his early 40s. (The author remains studiously vague about his story's time frame and has changed the names of characters, including his wife, presumably to protect the innocent—and himself—from the threat of libel suits.)
In 1969, Stone jettisoned his life as a fledgling stage director in New York for Greece. His travels took him to the island of Patmos, where he settled in to write novels. There, he met a French painter he calls Danielle. They married and moved to Crete, where Stone earned a pittance teaching English as a second language. Soon they found themselves with a daughter and a son and barely enough income to make ends meet. It seemed a gift from the gods when a friend from Patmos, who owned a taverna overlooking a pristine stretch of beach, called with a business proposition. He suggested that Stone, an accomplished amateur chef, become his partner during the crush of the summer season. For a modest investment, the two would share major profits.
Danielle is skeptical ("You are crazy," she informs her husband) and points out that Theológos, the Greek friend, has earned a nickname: O Ladós—the oily one. Stone scoffs at his wife’s objections: "Let everyone else—the cynical French and the suspicious Greek—be wary of Theológos. I was not only going to prove them wrong...but the two of us were going to make a tidy little sum in the process."
Stone was seduced, too, by the prospect of returning to Patmos, the glorious little island revered as the place where John the Evangelist is said to have experienced the visions set down in the Book of Revelation.
Stone soon discovers, though, that running a restaurant is a lot harder than it looks. And as the tourist season progresses, he also begins to realize that he is being taken. He slaves in the kitchen and waits on tables, while Theológos avoids nearly all work and shamelessly fleeces his friend. Stone, who readily admits to being "blindly trusting and laughably naive," lost most of the money he invested in the enterprise.
In the end, though, his loss is our gain. The author, who today makes his living as a screenwriter in Hollywood, is very good company indeed. The taverna may have cost him some cash and even more illusions, but the experience has yielded a colorful and richly observed memoir. As a Greek friend tells him after reading a portion of his manuscript for this book: "Thomáki, you haven’t changed! You tell wonderful stories, but you're always making things better than they were!"