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Crete on the Half Shell: A Story About an Island, Good Friends, and Food

review by Jerry Stamatelos

crete on the Half Shell couldn't have arrived at a better time. Spring had entered our lives with a vengeance. What better way to rid the snow and slush than with armchair travel to a Greek isle nestled in the wine-dark Mediterranean Sea?

Crete on the Half Shell

Also, on a more personal note, I've felt the bonds of Greece receding lately. Food writing and memoir in this case was a perfect alloy in bringing back a vein of accounts from my own experiences in Athens as a columnist. And who better than Montreal-based restaurant critic and chef Byron Ayanoglu? The noted foodie has also penned cookbooks, restaurant guides and stage plays.

Ayanoglu knows Crete, and writes about it not with the fabricated affection of a tourist guide, but as if it was his possession, his and only his. Private and passionate, like a love affair. Whether it's a meal, or an olive tree, he's able to draw out intimacies and the beautiful belongings that only a lover looks quite so hard to find.

Byron is in the throws of a midlife crisis, and decides to cure his affliction by retiring on "the epicentre of the earth" as the Zorbaesque Theo refers to Crete.

Byron's rather moderate retirement plans-write and eat-are soon foiled by Theo. Retirement, it seems, wasn't what Byron was looking for anyway.

Ayanoglu sprinkles the local flavour judiciously with tales of one-upmanship between himself and the shady Theo in their quest to open up a curry restaurant in a seaside resort. What follows is a comical series of misadventures. Cretans cling to traditions and customs much like the wild pervasive plants along its gnarled cliffs, and Byron's Curry House provides the backdrop for the precarious old world-new world tightrope.

When Byron just can't seem to find what he's looking for, when he's at the cusp, his tonic is food. The sights, sounds, smells, a smorgasbord of sensory data, reverberates throughout the prose.

Byron's return to his homeland brings with it an aroma of inclusiveness, a fusion of memory and longing. It's not so much the place, but a state of mind where self-definition begins.

published by HarperCollins Canada
ISBN 0002006359

Jerry Stamatelos is an educator, translator, freelance writer and aspiring novelist.

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