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The spirit of a true Greek

Half way through our Christmas lunch in the Greek sunshine, a man appeared at the table, seemingly out of nowhere.

He muttered hello to our host Vasilis Pantazis, who gestured to the large plates of food as if to say, help yourself, while pouring the guest a glass of retsina.

He took a large leg of turkey, his plastic cup of wine and bade us farewell.

“You have just witnessed philotimo,” whispered Bernd, our German friend, and guide to all things Greek.

“That chap, he lives down below somewhere, he may be a drug addict, he has nothing.

“But here in Greece, he is treated with respect, with philotimo. This is why I love Greece,” concluded Bernd.

Philotimo, as Nigel explained in an earlier post, literally means “a friend of honour”, doing good for others in a selfless, respectful way.

The Pantazis family welcomed us, two strangers, into their home on Christmas Day, with the same warmth that they welcomed their wider family and friends.

We shared fantastic food, cooked by 81-year-old Fotoula, and wine made from grapes grown by Vasilis.

The turkey tasted like no turkey I have cooked over the years. It had a rich, almost gamey flavour, was succulent and the skin was glazed a deep chestnut brown.

“Mustard,” said Fotoula, as she mimed stuffing the bird with a rich, savoury, yet slightly sweet stuffing of pine nuts and minced giblets.

We left the table after three hours, contently stuffed, not only with food and wine, but with philotimo.

George Michael, probably the most famous Greek in Britain, died around the time we started tucking into our Christmas lunch.

Others, far more qualified than I, will write about his important musical and cultural legacy.

He leaves behind a generation who instinctively start dancing (usually badly) as soon as they hear the first few chords of Wake Me Up or Faith, or cry (silently) all the way through Careless Whisper or Jesus to a Child.

What is far less known is his philotimo.

George Michael was one of the UK’s most generous philanthropists, but unlike many of his peers, he did not boast about his giving.

As well as numerous gifts to individuals and charities, he gave millions to Childline, helping hundreds and thousands of children survive terrible abuse, lonlieness and neglect.

Just as yesterday Vasilis shared his Christmas table with a vulnerable stranger, so George Michael shared his hard-earned fortune with countless others, and asked for nothing, no public thanks, no honours, in return.

His humanity, which shone like the brightest star through his soulful music, was very special, and very Greek.

Rest in peace Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou. A friend in honour indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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