In many ways, food shopping on Lesvos throws me back to how it was in the England of my childhood, but it doesn’t ignore the modern world. The biggest Lidl in Europe is just outside the refugee camp at Kara Tepe, rather giving the lie to the idea that there is no financial dividend to housing refugees. Lidl is too far away for me, however, so I asked if there was a nearby supermarket. “Oh yes,” I was told, “a large one, just around the corner.” Not large, as it happened, but close. It reminds me of the Co-op we used in Beirut last year: same tired and dingy appearance, same two-storey set-up, same narrow aisles, same miniscule check-out counters, same stony-faced cashiers (though I am as determined as I was last year to make them crack a smile.) And it has everything I need, including a separate butchery, cheese, and olive counter.
But I also use when I can the individual shops, reminiscent of my youth: the butchers, fishmongers, cheese-shops, greengrocers. A bakery every fifty yards or so too, though, as in France, the bread is wonderfully fresh and crunchy first thing, much less so by the evening.
On a smaller scale, there are also the entrepreneurs: from the guys selling fresh produce from the back of a pick-up, to the pair pushing a supermarket trolley laden with boxes of vegetables round the restaurants, to the man with a cart of dried flowers and herbs, to the lady squatting on the pavement with a basket of tomatoes.
Like I say, it makes for an old-fashioned style of shopping, picking up what you need as you need it. But that’s the modern way too.