Think of a man… Had to migrate from a small island to a big city when he was 8 years old. Worked in restaurants for many years. Then had to migrate to another country. Worked in ships and could see his family only twice in a year. With all those experience, became an important cook in restaurants… We are talking about Dimitrios Koulurgioti : A Life in Ships and Taverns
Dimitrios Koulurgioti was born in 1937 in Imbros which is also known as Gökçeada. His family was not too rich, and they were living in a small village with five children. Because of the conditions, Golfo ,the mother of Dimitrios, told him that he was old enough to work and sent him to Istanbul while he was eight years old.
Dimitrios was an islander, it was not possible for him to live far from the sea. In Istanbul, he directly came to Sarıyer. He started to work in restaurants here, he was washing the dishes. He always told that, as he was a child they put a stool under his feet to reach the sink. By time, as he grew up, became headwaiter in restaurant. The restaurant that he was working for was famous in city : Canlı Balık Restaurant. Canlı Balık Restaurant was well-known and as we know it has been visited by Burt Lancaster, Marlon Brando and Sean Connery.
In 1962, he married with Andonia ( Maria-Antoniette Koskeri ) from Buyukdere, Sariyer. They had three children. But in early 1970s, the situation was not as expected. The crysis between Greece and Turkey because of the Cyprus, scared many Greeks who lived in Turkey. They thought, there will be problems like in the past ( September 1955 ). Koulurgioti Family, had the same idea and they thought to migrate Greece as there were some family members. Firstly, they’ve sent their first daughter Golfo to Athens near her grandmother, Theodora Akasi. In 1974, Dimitrios, Andonia and their children Theodora and Nicholas migrated to Athens.
It was not easy. A new country, new people and of course it was not like Istanbul. Dimitrios started to work in a carpenter shop but it was not a good idea. After two years, one of his friends from Sarıyer visited him in Athens and offered him to work in ships as a cook and worker. It was a good idea for Dimitrios and he started to work in ships. Working in ships were not easy. Long distances on the sea, long times without family, hard work….etc. But by working in the ships, Dimitrios saw and learnt many things. He travelled a lot, Italy, Spain, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece and many other ports.
One of his interesting memories from ship days was the eagle that felt on ship. One day when he was in the middle of the sea, he saw a big eagle in the sky. But there was something wrong with the eagle. Suddenly the eagle flied through and felt on the ship, it was dead - they say eagles seek for a land to die if they fly on the sea. Dimitrios was shocked but he had an idea. He planned to keep the eagle for taxidermy ( The art of stuffing, and mounting the skins of dead animals for exhibition in a lifelike state ) as soon as he arrived in Athens. He kept the eagle in the coldroom of the ship. Days passed he arrived to Athens and found a taxidermist, he left the eagle there. But when he visited to take it back, the taxidermist told him that the eagle was not suitable to stuff and spoiled during process. Dimitrios never believed him, and always thought that the taxidermist sold it to someone else….
Let me share with you a memory of mine with Dimitrios. I was 11-12 years old, and we were talking with Dimitrios. He asked me if I knew, the giant crabs. I said no, and I thought it was impossible. Then he asked me if I knew the dwarf goats. I said no again, and I thought he was making fun of me. He explained me, but I didn’t believe. After years, I saw the giant crabs and dwarf goats on National Geographic. I was shocked, they were like Dimitrios explained. I was quite angry with myself, as I didn’t believe him. He was right for sure, he was a seaman, travelled a lot and of course saw many things.
After the years in ships, Dimitrios decided to open his own restaurant together with his friend. He had the experience from restaurants in Sarıyer and also from the kitchen of the ships. At first everything was perfect but a motorcycle accident ruined this work, and he couldn’t effort his own business . Then he started to work as a cook in fish restaurants in Athens. He had the experience, he had the pleasure. That’s why he became a well-known cook in fish restaurants. Sometimes he cooked at home, but the funny thing as he was experienced to cook for over hundred people, at home it was hard for him to cook for three people.
Dimitrios was an ingenious and clever man. He could find a solution for a problem immediately. My mother Theodora told me that, one day they invited many people to their home. But there was something that they missed : The table was not big enough…It was not a problem for Dimitrios. He displaced the door of one of the rooms and he created a bigger table.
He had different ideas, different jokes. Let me ask you one question. Can you put a big lemon into a small soda bottle , without cutting the lemon or breaking the bottle ? Dimitrios could. I remember, we have visited Athens years before. While we were sitting around table, Dimitrios came with a bottle in his hand, and inside the bottle there was a big yellow lemon. He asked us one question, ‘how is it possible’ ? We thought a lot, discussed in each other. But we didn’t have an idea. Then Dimitrios explained. Actually to make this joke, he waited for months. When the lemon tree in his garden started to bear fruits, he put the small lemon into the bottle without cutting the branch. Day by day the lemon growed inside the bottle. When he saw that it’s going to break the bottle he cut the lemon. I never forget that moment and of course I will use the same method to make surprise my children.
Dimitrios spent most of his lifetime by working. Sometimes he came from work to home very late, sometimes he couldn’t see his family for months. He was tired but never complained. He always wanted the best for his children, grandchildren, briefly for his family. I would like to spent more time together with him, but we had to live in different countries. His memory will always remain and will be told to our next generations.
Photographs are from the archieve of 2mi3museum, Deniz Salkım and Golfo Koulurgioti.
Written by : 2mi3, April 2019