At Home on the Island of Warmth and Hospitality

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In Crete, people are known for the generosity and hospitality they show strangers. And it may even have something to do with the hot climate on the Greek island.


Now, to another place impacted by climate, a warmer place. And this story is not about geopolitics. It's about how climate changes people. NPR, together with National Geographic, is spending a year on a project we call Climate Connections.

For this report, NPR's Joseph Shapiro traveled to the Greek island to Crete. There, he discovered that the island's famed hospitality is linked directly to climate.

JOSEPH SHAPIRO: The story begins with six cucumbers. They're in a plastic bag carried by an 89-year-old man with a bushy, white mustache. His name is Kostas Pinakoulakis(ph). And he's on his way home from the village market. He meets the American journalist - that's me. We start to talk. But first, he gives me a cucumber from his bag. We've finished the interview and he gives me two more cucumbers. Then, he invites me to his house for dinner. That night, I sit at his table and I eat the other three cucumbers.

He serves them with cheese that he made himself and raki, a strong alcoholic drink clear as water. It seems everyone in this village called Avdou, homebrews their own raki. They offer it to visitors. I got some when I checked into my hotel, every time I went to dinner, even when I interviewed a widow at 10:00 in the morning. Dinner tonight with Kostas is outside in his courtyard. Grapes, the ones he uses to make his raki, hang above us. I asked Kostas about hospitality here in Crete.


Mr. PAUL TAIGANIDES: (Retired Professor of Engineering, Ohio State University): That's how we grew up from our ancestors.

SHAPIRO: Paul Taiganides translates. He's a retired professor of engineering at Ohio State. He was born in Greece. And his whole family gathers in this village every summer. They pretty much adopted me when I got here.

Mr. PINAKOULAKIS: (Greek spoken)

Mr. TAIGANIDES: The whole of Crete will be hospitable. It's born inside us.

Ms. MARO YAPATE(ph) TAIGANIDES: I think the weather is so nice that the people are always outside.

SHAPIRO: Maro Yapate Taiganides is Paul's wife.

Ms. TAIGANIDES: So when you're outside, you say hello to your neighbor. When you are in a cold climate, that you never get out and you never are in your yard, how are you going to see anyone and exchange a word?

SHAPIRO: Things are different once she's at her home in Ohio.

Ms. TAIGANIDES: In Columbus, I - my - probably 30 years in this house, and I do not know one of my neighbors. Nobody's out in the street. Nobody's out in the yard. Whether it's summer or winter, it makes no difference. Summer, they go for the air condition, in the winter, for the cold. So I don't know anybody.

SHAPIRO: In this village, I was a stranger. But I get offers of food, drinks and cucumbers. Maro says when you meet someone here, they like to share.

Ms. TAIGANIDES: So if he has something cooked, or whether it is food or sweet or fruit of whatever it is, he will always call you and say, come on, let's have a coffee, or let's have a raki and try my cake or something.

SHAPIRO: Maro was a little girl here after World War II. Life was dictated by weather. In the winter, people in the mountains were cut off by ice and snow. In the summer heat, they worked in the mornings and evenings to avoid the hottest part of the day. People were poor. They had to help each other, like when they bake bread in the communal oven.

Ms. TAIGANIDES: The wood-burning oven, it was used from a lot of the neighbors. They would make their bread there. And then of course, they would all go eat fresh bread because it smelled - the whole neighborhood smells when it was ready - and they would bring cheese, olives, what everybody had; and they would have a glass of wine and try the bread and whatever they brought. Because they had to work everyday to the fields, so they could not make bread everyday. And you could not buy it either.

SHAPIRO: Tonight, almost everything Kostas and his wife, Sofia(ph), served, they grew themselves - the potatoes, the olives, the cherries. What they grow and eat depends on the season. Even the rabbit, Kostas caught himself. He made the wine, too. He keeps it in a round, wood barrel a few steps away from the table.

Katerina Taiganides de Ezcurra(ph) is Paul and Maro's daughter. She thinks hospitality here has something to do with the pride people in Crete take in their lives and their island, and to a uniquely Greek ideal called filotimo. There's no word like it in English. Literally, it translates, love of honor.

Ms. KATERINA TAIGANIDES DE EZCURRA (Paul and Maro's Daughter): Money and beauty and power can have nothing to do, have no place when filotimo's involved, because filotimo is about offering of yourself, expect nothing in return, and only because you want to create, perhaps, beauty or a wonderful moment for somebody because you're inspired to do it.

SHAPIRO: Here in the courtyard on a gentle summer night, the stars shine brighter. A full moon rises over the mountain. And Kostas and his guests break out in song.

(Soundbite of people singing)

SHAPIRO: The song says, patience, patience, and the sky will begin turn blue.

(Soundbite of people singing)

SHAPIRO: The lemon trees again will bloom.

Joseph Shapiro, NPR News.

BLOCK: And there's more about how climate shapes our lives at and in the latest issue of National Geographic Magazine.

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