Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Café Tempest: Adventures on a Small Greek Island

What is it about Greece that makes it so exotic, so romantic, so tantalizing that it’s right at the top of everybody’s bucket list – the one foreign land they’re longing to visit? Our dreams are made on Never on Sunday, Zorba the Greek, and more recently My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Mama Mia.

Café Tempest: Adventures on a Small Greek Island is a witty, evocative, beautifully written novel that puts you right in the heart of Greek island life. It’s so alive with the sights and smells and tastes and characters of Greece that you can pick it up and start your Mediterranean vacation on page one. On a deeper level, the book is filled with the kinds of observations, reflections, and arc of self-discovery that make Eat, Pray, Love so compelling.

“Welcome to Pharos. Laugh and dance in the hammock—not the cradle—of Western civilization,” says author, lyricist, and theatrical producer Barbara Bonfigli. “I’ve been falling in love with Greece since I was old enough to drink retsina. But if Sarah hadn’t captured my imagination you’d never know how I feel about friendship, feta, and the abundance of grace that turns friends into lovers and fishermen into kings.”


When Sarah, a thirty-something American theatrical producer, is asked to direct the locals in their summer show, she picks Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. What follows is a hilarious adventure in casting, rehearsing, and consuming. Her neighbors are excited about acting but delirious about eating. Their rehearsals in a deconsecrated church become a feast in four acts.

Armed with a sizzling wit, a dangerously limited Greek vocabulary, and a pitch-perfect ear for drama, Sarah navigates the major egos and minor storms of a cab driver Caliban, a postmaster Prospero, and a host of fishermen dukes and knaves.

When she falls in love, there are even trickier seas to navigate. Her own offstage romance provides an exhilarating, unpredictable counterpoint to Shakespeare’s story of magic, intrigue, and the power of love.


[from Chapter 23, edited for length. Sarah, the novel’s main character, is an American theater producer spending several weeks on Pharos, a rustic idyllic Greek island. This evening, she’s at a taverna –owned by Dmitri --with her friends Alexandra (Alex) and Petros, and Petros’ new Swedish girlfriend Monika]

“I love these fish places,” says Monika. She’s wearing a halo, the sun having bleached her blond hair river gold. Below that is a black-and-white Joffrey Ballet T-shirt tucked into black hipsters; the dancers are pas-de-deuxing over Monika’s small unsupported breasts.

“But you must have the same thing in Sweden,” says Alex, who’s chosen the poor-fisherman-dangling-threads look tonight.

“Lots of places that serve fish, but they don’t have this atmosphere. Even the outside cafés there are all . . .” Monika makes a sour face that does nothing to dim the voltage. “. . . modern.”

“Dmitri thinks this is modern,” says Petros, raising his arm off the back of her chair, “covering the lights with fishnets.”

“Mykonos fifteen years ago,” I recall.

“Do you think Pharos will be spoiled?” Monika addresses this directly to me. “No,” Petros answers for me, “no airport, no discos.”

“No movie theaters,” says Alex.

“No music,” I say.

“Music? You like music? We have.” Dmitri has appeared with his order pad. “Tomas has coffee, then he plays.”

“Great!” we all say.

We’re in luck. Tomas the shipwright is a terrific fiddler, and his younger brother Takis plays wizard bouzouki.

“You eat something?” asks Dmitri.

“Oh yes,” says Petros. He spreads his arms. “Octopodhi [octopus] everyone?”

“Not for me, thanks,” I say. “I’ll have tsipoura [grey sole].

“And I’d like kalamari,” says Alex.

“Me too,” says Monika in English.

Petros contracts slightly. “But the specialty is octopodhi . . .” He looks from face to determined face. “Well, I’ll have it. And a pitcher of your house white.”

Except Dmitri’s house white will take baked-on bugs off your windshield.

“Dmitri,” I say, arresting him, “let’s have a bottle of retsina too.”

Dmitri brings a collection of mezedes [appetizers] with the retsina and we dig in.

Yasoo, Sarah!” Iannis the postman slaps a letter on the table, “I lose a few days,” and departs.

I inspect the envelope closely: “God, it’s more than a week old.”

“A week old? Isn’t he the postman?” Monika asks. She’s new here, and from the north.

“You’ve heard of the Peter Principle?” says Alex.

Monika shakes her head.

“The what principle?” Petros says.

“It’s a theory that describes why nothing works very well,” she says. “The idea is that when people are good at their jobs, they get promoted. Till they finally rise to their level of incompetence. And that’s where they stay. So no one’s really good at what they do.”

“The author’s name was Peter something,” I add, turning to Petros, “so think of it as the Petros Principle.” Petros looks pretty miserable. Sometimes irony doesn’t leap the cultural divide.

“It’s just an amusing idea,” I say. “If it were always true we’d never have walked on the moon.”

“Right,” says Petros.

“Why are we walking on the moon?” says Alex.

Tino’s wife has made fresh tarama,[fish roe salad] and the feta is soft and sweet.

“Let’s get some more tarama and pita,” I say.

“Even the retsina’s good,” says Alex, dropping the moon. “Can’t we give up and come here every night?”

To learn about Barbara Bonfigli and Café Tempest, feel free to visit any of these sites.

Barbara Bonfigli’s website –

Order Café Tempest directly from the publisher - or from Amazoné-Tempest-Adventures-Small-Island/dp/0981645313

To see the complete tour schedule visit


Nikki Leigh said...

Hi Yvonne

Thank you for sharing an excerpt from Cafe Tempest. I'd forgotten about Momma Mia, but I recently saw Shirley Valentine - it is a beautiful country.

Nikki Leigh

Yvonne Eve Walus said...

Hey Nikki

Every time I watch Mamma Mia, I sigh and think: "I miss Greece!"

I love the islands, the food, the sea, the atmosphere and the men....


Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Yvonne Eve Walus said...

Thank you for that, Sara. :-)