A Note To My Father

by achilleas ambatzidis

This is how it was told to me, so I will repeat as I know it to be true, but of course we all add our own dreams to the story.

Well before I was born, well before my brother was born, before you had met mom or even your first wife, you visited the island of Rhodes in Greece, and went to the town Lindos. You were just about to leave at dusk – the sun coming down giving that golden warmth that only Greek islands are lucky enough to get. Sitting in the town square, with that large tree in the middle, when an old woman came up and asked if you were looking for a place to rent, I’m not sure you were, but regardless, follow her you did. A bit out of the main part of town, up a small hill and down a long driveway was where you first saw it. What you would later name Xenomania, a small two story home, built in 1888. The space from the beginning of the driveway all the way to the front door was filled with yellow poppies – Glaucium flavum – a flower that only grows by the sea. This would become our home until you suddenly passed away in 1999.

Last summer I spent five beautiful months in and around Lindos, swimming, sailing, singing drunk, and smiling with the people I love most. Some nights we would do that same walk you did so many years ago, but now the poppies are gone, Xenomania looking as though it could be ancient ruins from far far before 1999, with weeds growing through broken windows, and walls falling down from the cooking sun. Most of any resemblance of what it once was is gone, but you, my sweet Baba, are most certainly still there. When I’d walk through the small streets of Lindos with friends from California, some of your old buddies would come out from their shops, eyes wide, as if they’d just seen a ghost, and tell me about you. I’d sit at cafes, and have strangers pull their chairs up to tell me of the night they met you. How you used to take orders upon a horse, writing down requests for wine and trotting off to fire up the grill. They would describe the jewelry on your fingers, the way you’d smile with those eyes, they’d tell me about the summer you met mom, the winters when the whole village was empty except a few of you who’d sit in the bar and pass the time with filterless cigarettes, you pressing the remote to fast forward through the boring parts of films. Then, after some time they’d usually get quiet, with that far off look, smiling at the idea of you, then back at me, with the sweetest, you had to be there look in their eyes.

These images are from that time and this book is filled with people who make food, just like you did. It is packed with the people who inspire me, the artist behind the grill, the bakers and makers who fed me between the words and questions. Maybe it’s because you were a chef, or maybe it’s that I really like Anthony Bourdain, but there is something romantic about being a chef, with knives, sweating brows, the seriousness of cooking, the beauty of the thing they make, how delicious it can be, how necessary it is to survive, how happy it makes me to sit across from someone and talk for hours and hours over empty plates and half filled cups. Maybe because I feel closest to you not on your birthday, or Father’s Day or the anniversary of your passing, but rather when I cook some chicken at home, soaking with lemon and olive oil, tomatoes popping open on the hot skillet, and mom comes by with a smile saying, “That’s just how your Baba would make it.” Whatever it is, as everything, I feel you in the wind, in the crook of my neck and the tips of my fingers, I feel every part of you because, well ... you had to be there.

All images shot between June and October of 2022 in Greece.

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