I’ve had a lot of fun these past months, helping Maria figure out just how to bring this Zēlos dream to life. When a family crisis took me to Greece for several weeks, I offered to visit a few of the Artisans as a welcome distraction. The experience was eye-opening for, until I actually saw them on their home turf, these Artisans’ stories seemed almost too good to be true. To be honest, I may have even had a niggle of a doubt as to just how “authentic" they could be, given the crisis Greece was living.
I shouldn’t have doubted. Maria has found incredible examples of resilience and innovation and I was inspired at every turn. Philippos Hellenic Goods was no exception, a true gem of an enterprise, nestled in the fields of the island of Aegina. A quick 40-minute ride on the hydrofoil from Pireas takes you to the port, where Philippe’s new shop is located.
After a short visit, we made our way into the island’s hinterland to visit the site of Philippe’s small facility. He walked us through the premises with justifiable pride, telling us of his desire to invest in the island he had become so fond of and the challenges inherent with working there and not on the mainland. One example: because of the risks of sea transport, he has set up in-house production of the nitrogen oxide that runs between the walls of the storage tanks to keep them cold (that’s my husband’s hand confirming that they're cold, indeed!).
I had never seen such a spotless facility and my husband and I joked that the Swiss side of Philippe Poli must be the driver behind the order and cleanliness….or perhaps it is the Greek sense of νοικοκυριό, literally translated as “housekeeping”, but a word used to express precisely that order and cleanliness and conscientiousness that extend into a shop, a factory, a business. It was more than evident there, to the point that when we spied a small pool of oil at the base one of the tanks, I took it as reassurance that there was indeed olive oil in those shiny cylinders!
After our tour, I met with Philippe and his small team in his office, where his amateur photography graced the walls. The view from the windows was peaceful and light, and I immediately understood why he chose to leave the hustle and bustle of Athens for this sanctuary. When he unexpectedly invited us to his home for a simple, improptu lunch, we could only say yes. We left the building, passing by the generator, water pump and fire extinguishing unit necessary for his ISO certification, a reassuring sight given the fires that were raging in Greece in those days.
Lunch was a simple al fresco affair - fresh salad and homemade pesto on Italian pasta (all drizzled, of course, with Philippe’s extra virgin olive oil), accompanied by a crisp Greek white wine and a view that embodied Philippe’s favorite ancient Greek concept,“εΰ ζην”, live well. And in the fashion of true Greek hospitality, we left with gifts of oil and olives and the island’s famous pistachios, accompanied by Philippe to the port. Just across the Saronic Gulf, Athens awaited and our productive yet idyllic day came to an end.
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