Falling for Greece

Peter Liacouras was 37 before he first visited. Since then, he's made up for lost time.

In the town of Koroni, the Liacourases “have a home away from home, and a sea to ourselves,” Peter says. He believes healthy Greek living “has extended my life.”

Anyone who knows him well associates Peter Liacouras with Greece - the land of his ancestry - but his first visit was actually rather late in life. "I've been to Greece more than 40 times in the past 40 years," says the retired president of Temple University, "making up for zero in my first 37."

"As a child," he writes in an e-mail, "I had no interest in visiting Greece because, even though I was raised in early years as a Greek at home, I considered myself American, not Greek."

His first trip was strictly business, a quick stopover on Liacouras'his way to India, where he was on for a two-month assignment for the State Department.

As soon as he landed in Athens, "I thought to myself, 'My folks never told me about the beauty of Athens.' " (They'd never been there, so they spoke to him only about village life in Greece's Peloponnese, the expansive peninsula to the southwest of Athens.) "From that moment," Liacouras says, "I was hooked."

He spent eight months in Greece in 1971 during a sabbatical, and fell in love with the country's natural beauty - which, at age 50, he decided to fully enjoy by teaching himself to swim, snorkel, free-dive and mountain walk. In 1993, he and his wife, Ann, built a home in the small town of Koroni, on the southwest tip of the Peloponnesian mainland - with the feel and look of an island, he says.

"We have a home away from home, and a sea to ourselves," Liacouras says. "I swim three miles daily in the summer, walk six miles, and eat properly . . . only to return to Gladwyne and resume bad habits. I'd say that Greece living has extended my life."

Greek Orthodox Easter, as both a social and a religious event, is the country's major holiday, so that time of year often finds Liacouras in Koroni, where Good Friday services begin at 9 p.m., interrupted by firecrackers in the streets.

After the services, "the symbolic bier of Jesus is lifted and placed in a carrier in each of the two Koroni churches," Liacouras says. "It is carried outside with each congregation, and later the entire town of 1,500 walks behind the biers with 1,500 lighted candles."

After more services and a 24-hour fast, many Greeks from all over the nation return to their ancestral village roots for a festive Easter Sunday. They grill whole lambs and goats, and eat mageritsa - a soup made of lamb organs - as part of a traditional feast.

About the mageritsa, Liacouras says, "ugh." You can take the college president out of Gladwyne, but . . . .