A Living Experience
Review of "Honey, Olives, Octopus: Adventures at the Greek Table" by Christopher Bakken.
Imagine that you could extract the oils of all of the pulpiest olives of Greece, harvest the bounty of its finest wines, its wildest cheeses, its freshest fare from the sea—all picked, gathered, baked, or caught with your own hands. Plucked from the tree of life the classical Hellenic lifestyle, lineage, and the captivating history of how those flavors came into being. Imagine that you could taste the entirety of that experience, all encompassing. That is the experience of extraordinary travelogue by poet and professor, Christopher Bakken “Honey, Olives, Octopus.”
Only pages into the book—I sat it aside, to meander into the kitchen, grabbing olives, feta, figs, homemade bread, a sprinkle of fresh field greens, an assortment of other pickings—and after drizzling this plate with honey and a side of olive oil—poured myself a glass of wine.
With Bakken’s outstanding poetic execution of his tale of the Greek dinner table and lifestyle, one can easily taste the flavors of Greece vicariously. As well as make some great friends along the way.
What is perhaps most powerful about this book—besides the places it takes you to, are the characters that Bakken delivers, as well as the journey that we get to take with them. Making this book unique to most in Travel or Food literature, in that it is a living experience—brought to us directly by the author, as it was lived. Akin perhaps to the journeys we get to take with writers such as Anthony Bourdain.
Bakken took great time, care, and elegance, to not only live in Greece, but to live Greece. Such as in Thasos, where he picked olives with one family the way it has been done for centuries—without the use of Italian-made machinery (as two of our much beloved characters did from this family, beside him).
Thus, just as Bakken painstakingly picked these olives for countless hours, for weeks on end, he takes his time to deliver a unique reading experience, enriched with the most vital juice of that which is “Greece,” and not simply a series of romantic anecdotes about its food and culture.
Bakken takes us to Thassos, Crete, Kythira, and Cyclades - allowing us to palate each place and it’s beauty, everyday people, and history. Demonstrating the vitality and life-essence of the most ordinary daily practices.
Much in the way Bakken could not wash away the bitter, indescribably astringent taste of a raw olive from Thasos, so he also accounts of a modern Greece that cannot wash away the astringent tastes of a collapsing economy, or the decades of oppression brought to her in the 20th century. Bakken also provides a taste of a culture modernly oppressed, but not as much by any particular political force, so much as the subcultural sink of Americanization—with fast-food chains and shopping malls, replacing Taverna’s and the old-world marketplace.
Yet in the same manner, Tasos, one of the many vibrant characters that Bakken delivers to us from the beginning of his tale, tastes this same raw olive without such displeasure. Embracing the fullness and simplicity of its flavor. Here we are reminded that the spirit of the Greece, and her way of life, remains as it was - with people and places that continue to embody the wisdom of this ancient culture.
After a hard days work, where the oil of the olive and all that it provides, is itself the wage for labor—this book regales us of the importance of simply living:
"In spite of all that gets accomplished in a single day at Pension Archontissa, the urgency to live well trumps every other necessity and the pace is always relaxed."
Bakken reminds us that it is not only the little things—but absolutely the smallest things—that enrich our lives with fullness and beauty. With “happiness” not simply aspired to, living well is simply a way of living—in this abundant living experience of a read “Honey Olives Octopus: Adventures at the Greek Table”
Christopher Bakken—poet, author, and food journalist, teaches at Allegheny College, and has visited Greece frequently over the past 20 years.
Join us for a book signing and reception with Bakken—join us at Topo’s 403 in Bloomington, IN Wednesday, November 13th from 7-9. RSVP Here: http://event.celebrations.com/HoneyOlivesOctopus
Or you can purchase the book on Amazon.