Friends in Athens

  • Author: Jim Toner
  • Date: Oct 10, 2013
  • Location: Athens

Before seeing anything in Athens, before the Parthenon or the Acropolis or the world-famous museums, there are the two hours with Dimitri and Jennifer and their two-year-old son, Nossos.


IMG_7228This is the lovely family that is renting us their apartment for five days. It’s in the Plaka district of Athens, a hip area of pedestrian walkways that is just beneath the Acropolis itself. We stepped out of the taxi and met Dimitri, an unusual-looking Greek who stands about 6’5” and has streaks of red in his hair and resembles the actor Jeff Goldblum. Between his legs stood Nossos, who was shy for a few minutes and then emerged to play with Liam—and stayed playing with him for the next two hours.


We all hit it off immediately and discovered that we have quite a bit in common:


+ Jennifer is from Chicago and studied at the Art Institute of San Francisco, and her father lives in Cleveland. I’m from Cleveland and studied at UC Berkeley, and when she tells me the location of her father’s apartment in Cleveland—“on the corner of St. Clair and 6th”—I know the exact spot well.


+Dimitri moved to Los Angeles because “I just knew I had to get away for a while.” In LA he went to a community college—yes, I teach at a California community college—and then went to film school at USC. The films he makes sound experimental and avant-garde, so we had an easy conversation about all things artistic.


+Jennifer and Dimitri collaborated on an art project in 2008 that is chronicled in a book sitting here on the coffee table. It takes place in Limerick, Ireland, where Dolora’s Irish side of the family originates. They went from house to house in Limerick with bags of groceries in their hands, knocking on doors and making a very unusual offer: to come in and cook dinner.


Would you accept? Imagine a very tall Greek with hip glasses and his wife at your door, utter strangers, asking to be let in to that intimate part of your home—the kitchen—where there are knives. “We’d like to cook dinner for you tonight.” Who offers that? Are they lunatics, or missionaries, or pranksters, or thieves? What do they want? Surely they must have an agenda. Did I hear right: Do they want me to cook for them?


Fascinating experiment, isn’t it? If I have the figures correct, out of 500 doors in Limerick that they knocked, only nine opened up and took them up on their offer. Nine. I’ve only read the first couple of entries but am finding the whole enterprise fascinating—this unusual expression of art that gives rise to so many central issues of life: trust, fear, the stranger, the warmth and generosity of a meal, the alchemical properties of food to change strangers into friends.


Don’t you like them already? They’re fantastic people, and if you ever consider coming to Greece, this is the place to stay and these are the people to know. Here’s the link to their apartment:


Meanwhile, Liam is off to the side drawing planes with Nossos, and playing peek-a-boo, and picking him up and carrying him around the apartment. Those two rode down the elevator together, and out on the street they held hands and shared ice cream. There he is, my son Liam in Athens with this sweet little Greek boy—and once again the realization hit me that this scene alone is worth all the trouble and risk and uncertainty of this trip.


It was lovely, this meeting of sweet strangers, and though Athens and the Acropolis were right outside the door, I was content to stay right here in this apartment. Dimitri and I drank a beer, chatting easily about art and movies and writing, about Greece and possessions and hubris, about America, about fatherhood. When it was time to leave Dimitri and I exchanged a bearhug and a promise to get together soon.


How strange the way all of this works. What invisible forces brought the six of us together—here in Greece, here in the land of myth and gods?


After they left, Dolora and Liam and I strolled the neighborhood and walked up toward the Acropolis. We looked up, and there IMG_7232

IMG_7231was the full arc of a rainbow spanning across the entire Acropolis.




  1. Jane Andrich

    You’re talking about our daughter, son-in-law and grandson, Jennifer, Dimitri and Nasos. I’m delighted to be reading your blog. Sounds like you’re having a wonderful trip and what a great idea to travel like this for an extended time while you’re young. We’re glad you like the Limericka Cookbook. Good luck with your travels. Jane and John Andrich

  2. Jim Toner

    Jim Toner

    Hah, that’s great to read, Lainie. I’ll tell them to try their experiment in Lakewood. By the way, I’m really missing you guys these days. Any chance we could do a FaceTime one of these days?

  3. Lainie

    Loved, loved, loved this story: do you think they could come and knock on my door in Cleveland, Ohio and cook for me, Joe, and the boys? A dream come true to have someone do this after a long hard day at work……

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