39 Coffee-Houses and one Barber-Shop

“39 coffee-houses and one barber-shop” by Jelly Hadjidimitriou

kafeneio coffee house in Crete

Crete University Press. ISBN 960-524-044-0

“THE COFFEE HOUSES which Jelly Hadjidimitriou photographed in Mytilene are like old pieces of china kept in the dresser with the glass panes and the mirrors. Bright and shiny. Their architecture and their spontaneous beauty represent facets of a dying culture. They give the impression that they have always existed. There is a certain timeless quality about them. They belong to a far-removed past as well as to yesterday.

They are full of light. The light of Mytilene. Their colours are those of the flowers in the fields. Their patrons’ faces are illuminated by a sacred light. There is a feeling of serenity about them. They stand there, before the arrival of the messenger. They will soon be demolished and replaced by new multi storey buildings. They have not yet lived through the various unidentified departures – death, migration, illness.

kafeneio coffee house in Crete

Glasses of water, spoonfuls of sirupy sweets, countless cups of coffee – those are their weapons. Their chairs are like those in the paintings by Theofilos or Tsarouchis. Their tables are like those in the poems by Elytis or Ritsos.

kafeneio coffee house in Crete

The coffee houses in Mytilene photographed by Jelly Hadjidimitriou are like flowers clinging to the edge of a precipice – the precipice of the life and death of the islanders. Of the people in the whole world. They remind me of a dying art. The art of serenity, where heart problems and high blood pressure have no place. This is why they look like churches consecrated to unknown deities. To lost paradises. When we behold them, their beauty makes tears well up in our eyes. Tears of a pure soul.”

kafeneio coffee house in Crete
kafeneio coffee house in Crete

Yorgos Chronas

Traditional Coffee Ηouses in Greece

Coffee houses or kafeneia, as they are called in Greece. Coffee houses on the island of Mytilene or Lesvos look so similar to the coffee houses in Crete or other areas in Greece. This similarity should come as no surprise, as all areas of Greece share a common historical and cultural heritage.

Coffee houses represent a very important aspect of social life in the villages of Greece. This is the gathering place for all men: young and old, single and married. Even to this day, coffee houses are not a place for women.

Men usually gather here in the evening, after the end of a busy day. They come here to meet friends, learn the news of the village, talk about politics, play cards or just relax with the monotonous clicking of worrybeads (kompoloi) in their hands.

kafeneio coffee house in Crete

Coffee houses are still very popular in the villages of Greece. In towns and cities they still exist, however they are gradually being replaced by cafeterias and bars visited by both men and women.

Jelly Hadjidimitriou has managed to create an excellent collection of photos of these coffee houses. The photos together with the bilingual (Greek and English) texts are a precious aid to understand this significant part of the Greek culture and preserve images that have been a quintessential part of the Greek landscape for centuries, but are disappearing as the years pass.

39 coffee-houses and one barber-shop” by Jelly Hadjidimitriou is a highly recommended book for all friends of Greece.

Yannis Samatas

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