Kafenio: the Magic of Greek Coffee Shops

When I first came to Crete last year and was going around different villages for my thesis on the carob, I often noticed the older men peacefully sitting outside cafes or kafenios, with their coffee cups, clicking their beads or komboloi or just watching the cars pass by. I then had the pleasure of staying at Gonies, at the Heritage Management Organisation’s Summer School on Archaeological Ethnography and for one month, we mingled with the locals and tried to blend in with the ways of the village. And as usual, the local kafenio or Greek coffee shop was instrumental at helping us bond as we spent hours chatting to the old men and playing the game of tavli, or backgammon, over ice creams, cups of cold coffee or raki with watermelon. The kafenio, just like our cha-er-tong or the khoka, all around the Indian sub-continent, was the lifeline of the local community. You needed information, searching for a new house, had a complaint, needed a doctor, the cafe owner or kafezis was the most resourceful man for the job!

So, last weekend when I visited a friend in Thrapsano village, where she was living to be closer to the local government office she works at, we all experienced the magic of the kafenio.  We drove from my city Heraklion and after about an hour reached closer to the mountains, with a colorful children’s play ground next to the parking lot. We were carrying our bags and ingredients for the cooking session later, as my friend was expecting guests. We reached her door but my friend could not find her keys.

We turned the bag over, checked inside the bag linings and finally, she resolved to wrench open one of the doors with a light lock. But after huffing and heaving for about 15 minutes, during which we called the land lady and everyone we could think of, as the door wouldn’t budge,  I insisted we abandon all and grab a coffee at the kafenio.  I was positive we could find help there! So with the kind of belief Harry had upon the powers of Hogwarts and the Gryffindor sword, we told the Kafezis (along with the 5 other older men gathered for their afternoon gossip session) about our problem. The owner’s son was instantly dispatched off to help us and with an almighty wrench he pulled at the door with the light lock and it just opened instantly! Oh the joy at realising our weekend was NOT going to go to waste after all! The magic of the Kafenio had struck once again!!