As Greece’s blighted economy plunges further into the abyss, the couple are joining with an exodus of Greeks who are fleeing to the countryside and looking to the nation’s rich rural past as a guide to the future. They acknowledge that it is a peculiar undertaking, with more manual labor than they, as college graduates, ever imagined doing. But in a country starved by austerity even as it teeters on the brink of default, it seemed as good a gamble as any.
Mr. Gavalas and Ms. Tricha chose to move back to his native Chios, an Aegean island closer to Izmir, Turkey, than to Athens. They set up their boutique farm using $50,000 from their families’ life savings. That investment has yet to pay off; they will have their first harvest later this year. But the couple are confident about their decision.
“When I call my friends and relatives in Athens, they tell me there’s no hope, everything is going from bad to worse,” Ms. Tricha said on a recent afternoon, as she walked through her greenhouse, where thousands of snails lumbered along onrows of damp wooden boards. “So I think our choice was good.”
At a troubled moment when the debt crisis has eroded the country’s recent economic gains — perhaps irrevocably — there is much debate about whether a return to the land or the sea is a step forward or backward.
Ms. Tricha knows where she stands. “My parents were from the countryside. They were farmers when they were young. I studied to avoid becoming a farmer. They were teachers. And then their daughter studied and then went back to being a farmer,” she said. Nevertheless, she added, “for me it’s like going forward, because I think we neglected the land.”
Yiannis Makridakis, 40, a Greek novelist whose work touches on themes of tradition and regionalism, represents a different strain of refugee, with a more political tinge. He said he moved from Athens to Chios in 2010 as an act of defiance against a global financial system he found unsustainable. He bought property with a well and grows his own vegetables.
“I came to the conclusion that I want to live this insignificant life of mine as one human being among others,” Mr. Makridakis said on a sunny afternoon, looking down from his balcony on the rooftops of his village, Volissos, and the blue sea below. “According to the old ways, where people work to secure their basic needs.”
An older woman interviewed there tells the times that all her children are college-educated, and live in the city. If they returned to their village, she would consider that all her efforts for them were “wasted.”
What an odd thing for a mother to say: that if her children returned to live in their ancestral village, she would consider herself a failure. Is this her failing — which is to say, a sign that modernity has corrupted her? Or is she wise, not foolishly romantic? You know what I think. What do you think?