Thursday, August 4, 2011

Going Greek - Meeting the Poet Sandal Maker

DB~ and I were married a couple of weeks ago and were fortunate to save our Canadian Pesos up for a 9 day honeymoon to Greece. There will be a whole series of blog posts about our adventures, people we met, and food we ate over the course of the next month.

Our first two days of the trip were spent in Athens, the cradle of democracy. We are both researchers, so we did a lot of Googling for places to check out. One that caught my eye was The Poet Sandal Maker in Athens.

Pantellis Melissinos is a 3rd generation sandal maker in the heart of downtown Athens. His grandfather started the business in the 1920's and passed it on to Pantellis's father in the 50's. Pantellis's father caught a break one day when Sophia Loren wandered in to the little shop one day and was enamored by the sandals. She bought some and put the store on the map.

After that celebrities made his store a regular stop, such as Barbara Streisand, Lily Tomlin, Jackie Onassis, and John Lennon. When the store was officially passed to Pantellis in 2004, stars like Jeremy Irons and Kate Moss still show up among many others. He is known as the Poet because in addition to making hand-crafted mid-priced footwear, he is actually a poet and renowned playwright. He had a very highly reviewed play a few years back in Athens that was a modern re-invention of the Greek Gods known as Bacchus.

Let me interject for a second here and mention about my footwear. These toes have not seen the light of day for many years, pools not withstanding. They are regularly encased in Nikes or Steve Maddens or Timberline hiking boots. I have ugly feet, in my opinion. But I was so taken with all of the sandal stores over there and the idea of having sandals hand made by the Poet, that I decided to get a pair.

The Poet's store is a neighborhood called Psiri. It started a few blocks from our hotel, but at night the Psiri gets a little edgy. It's darker than the more touristy Plaka district, with more locals inhabiting the area. During the day, the Psiri is artisan shops like leather makers, tinsmiths, and markets. At night it turns into bars and restaurants.

After dinner on Tuesday night, we were trying to find a good entry point into the Psiri, but every street was dark and narrow and edgy. We said "let's try one more" and wandered onto this street where we were greeted by the Poet's shop. Dumbfounded by our good luck and surprised it was still open, we wandered in. It was a tiny, crowded store with sandals strewn in no apparent pattern all over the walls. Very dimly lit, it reminded us of the Asian food markets back in the Strip District.

Sprawled on a bench, taking a nap, was the Poet. A young man was hammering away at sandals in the backroom. After he awoke, he handed us the color list of his 30+ styles of sandals he makes and asked me to pick what I like. I asked which were the men's sandals and he said all of them were unisex. We both giggled at the idea of a man wearing the laceup gladiator sandals popular with women, as shown on the sheet.

I picked the Diogenes model that the Poet himself was actually wearing. He asked my size and got a template down from the shelf. Once it fit, he hammered the sandal onto the sole and added extra nails for support and strength. He did this right in front of us, which reminded DB~ and I of our friend Tony from Jamaica who made our fish right in front of us. Both the Poet and Tony had hands that told a story of their hardworking lives.

So now I have sandals from a famous cobbler. I wore them all around Greece for the rest of the trip. My big toes, unaccustomed to such things, got huge blisters on them, but it was worth it.

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