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The Greek House

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Then one day, five years after his first visit, an islander, out of the blue, offers to sell him a house. The little whitewashed spiti (domicile) in the middle of an ancient village didn’t even have running water or electricity. But Brechneff was enchanted, and being an all-or-nothing sort of person, he borrows the money from his parents ($7,500), and just like that, the tall, blonde, 27-year-old Adonis the islanders called calo pedi Christo (good little Chris) becomes a Sifniot. And for the next 25 years, as the proud owner of an island home, he rides a roller coaster of agonies and ecstasies, from painting beautiful morning sunrises in his new addition to managing lying property managers; from growing fruit trees to dealing with psychotic neighbors.

"The Greek House" is a mix of many different genres – travelogue, memoir, international real estate guide, anthropology, art – the kind of book that bookstores will have the devil of a time categorizing. From beginning to end, we see the rare and magical sights of a culturally pure island world as told through the eyes of a painter with its shadow-casting mountains, fig trees and olive groves, sheep and goats and mules and donkeys, dovecotes (“little stone pyramids worked together as in a house of cards”), and "crowning every peak ... monasteries and their churches, white, white against the blue, blue sky.”

And, of course, there are the people – treacherous shop owners, fearless taxi drivers, wicked spinsters, jocular widows, world-renowned artists, spoilsport ex-patriots – a full and lively cast of characters. But please, don’t call them charming! (Snake charming maybe.)

For example, when Brechneff’s neighbor, the spinster Aphrodite and her mother Evangelia with whom he shares a courtyard wall, come over ostensibly to talk about one of the many renovations projects Brechneff has recently completed on his house, it soon becomes obvious that, well: “Then out of the blue, as her mother went on talking, Aphrodite, not so young anymore and never pretty, started to unpin her hair and let it down, shaking it out over her shoulders, a fairly terrifying sight, with her mustache and this long, thick graying hair, a grim, dark-faced wild woman, half Medusa, half Madwoman of Chaillot.” 

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