When one pictures Greece, one often thinks of the idea of philoxenia, or “love of a stranger,” thanks also to the extensive photographic works of Robert McCabe.
McCabe has documented the astounding beauty of Greece through his camera lens since his very first visit to the island of Santorini in 1954.
It is through his lifetime of work that one can truly understand the depth of philoxenia in Greek life.
In his recently published work “Santorini – Portrait of a Vanished Era,” one sees the island of Santorini prior to the onslaught of mass tourism, and the Greek generosity of spirit is encapsulated in every photo. Not only does McCabe capture the island’s images, but he shares the stories of the people.
One story in particular stands out among the rest — that of Loucas’ Restaurant.
When visiting Santorini with friends, McCabe would share two or three meals a day with Loucas at his taverna.
At the end of every meal, McCabe would of course request a bill — but the response he received was always “later.”
By the end of the week, at the final meal they would ever share on the island, the group of photographers told Loucas that they were leaving and asked for the final bill — and the response was simply “souvenir… souvenir.” Loucas would simply not take any payment from them.
McCabe recalls in his book: “He was insistent that we could not pay for anything! It was a gesture that none of us will ever forget. He was in business, struggling to raise a family. What was he thinking? How could this be? (In the end one of us sneaked into the kitchen and left some money under a plate.)”
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1. Loucas and his son Gerasimos, outside their restaurant. 1963. From the new book “Santorini: Portrait of a Vanished Era”. In 1963 five of us spent six days in Santorini and had 2 or 3 meals a day at Loucas‘ restaurant. Each day we would ask for the bill and Loucas would always say “later”. By the end of our stay we knew we had accumulated a huge food and beverage bill. But we had no real fix on the total. On the last day at our final meal we told Loucas we were leaving and asked for the bill. His incredible response was: “souvenir…souvenir“. He was insistent that we could not pay for anything! It was a gesture that none of us will ever forget. He was in business, struggling to raise a family. What was he thinking? How could this be? (In the end one of us sneaked into the kitchen and left some money under a plate.). 2. Alonissos 1963. Yiayia with her two grandchildren. From the book “Greece: Images of an Enchanted Land 1954-1965” 3. Kasos. August 15, 1965. Savvas Perseris, the renown lyra player, at a celebration of the Virgin’s nameday. 4. Mykonos. 1955. Lunch at a baptismal festival on the Saint’s Nameday at Saint Panteleimon Monastery. Repost @mccabephotos Photographer Robert McCabe
The authentic philoxenia that Loucas showed his guests that week would not go unforgotten by McCabe, even after all this time.
The stories of Greek philoxenia are nearly with our number, but few people have captured the generosity of the Greek people, the elements of their everyday lives, and the sometimes stark beauty of the country’s landscape, quite like Robert McCabe.
It is through photographic works such as these that he has been recently become an honorary Greek citizen, a great distinction for the lifetime phillhellene who has brought the beauty of Greece to the entire world.