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"There were some other ouzo taverns (ouzeri) at Missolonghi, but not very big or fancy. All kinds of people have visited it since 1901 when it first opened. Lawyers, doctors, merchants, fishermen, farmers and labourers, all meld together in the same place. It was a place where class did not matter, it used to connect people and bring them close".
Pantelis Trikenes, a distiller from Missolonghi, is nostalgically recalling the past and dislikes the way people have fun today: "The noisy music and the foreign heavy drinks reign in our days, things that are too far from tradition. Nowadays the big companies produce ouzo, which even the small shops have to sell. The young people see some ouzo labels advertised on television and when they go to the bars they ask for those labels and not ours, which is made by pure materials and with special care".
Today people have very complicated ways of entertainment, while having a word with their company is not a priority. Some years ago at Trikene's ouzo tavern the clients used to chatter for hours, while eating boiled potatoes with vinegar, sprinkled with thick unrefined salt from the salt pit of Missolonghi. Boiled shrimp garnished with tomatoes, lettuce and radishes is also a popular snack. The first customers of the day for the ouzeri used to be fishermen, returning from the lagoon, fishing spears in hand. They not only used to going fishing at night with lamps, but also in the morning, when the waters are calm and clear. The city professionals came after the fishermen, to drink some ouzo with ice, and spend some time before lunch. Everyone used to drink authentic ouzo, which was a bit sweeter and stronger than bottled ouzo. Traditional ouzo is not to be kept in the fridge so that it doesn't crystallize and lose its essence, neither left in the sun so that it doesn't get bitter.
The shop displays were wooden and carved, and this is special because few had the craftmanship back then. The distiller exhibits books of up and coming writers in his shop, because he has an inclination for art. "Kostis Palamas the poet and Charilaos Trikoupis, ex-prime minister of Greece used to eat and drink here, as well as Thomas Gkorpas the poet, who passed away a few years ago. Actors on tours used to come here Demetres Zaverdas, the owner of cinema halls used to bring them after the shows. People say that this place looks like a university, because you can hear and learn lots of things ".
Threatened by evolution
There are still houses with courtyards and flowers in Missolonghi. At its "prehistoric" harbour, the gipsy kids make spectacular dives. The fishermen catch delicious delicacies in the magical lagoon. It's a pity for the traditional taverns in this picturesque town to be lost. They're not only being threatened by the big companies, but also by hereditary rivalries and claims, who disregard their cultural value and sell them off for peanuts.
TEXT-PHOTOS: GEORGE ZAFEIROPOULOS