Wednesday, May 31

IN WHICH I MEET THE RUDEST COUPLE ON EARTH

Today, I decided "bikini-figure-be-damned" - I'm going to have an ice-cream!" So I stopped at the periptero to pick up the yummy frozen goods on my way home.
Hovering over the ice-cream fridge was a couple. By the looks of it they were in their mid-twenties. But judging by how they were acting they could have been 5 or six.
The two of them were prancing in front of the freezer, blocking access to it from all angles, while squealing delightedly and trying to decide which ice-cream flavour to get.
Now, I'm all for acting like a kid sometimes, so I smiled on them benevolently while trying to edge past and grab my tub of "Scandal Extra Gooey Caramel Nut" or whatever it's called. But as soon as I tried to dodge in to the right, there'd be an oblivious, happily shrieking body between my hand and the ice-cream. Try from the other side, same result. I felt like I was trying to get a ball into the net past the offense or something.
Finally, with great agility and perseverance, I managed to reach in and snatch my prize from behind the human wall, and went to pay. Behind me, the couple continued making a spectacle of themselves - but OK. I had my ice-cream, I was happy. I reached into my bag, pulled out some money, and went to hand it to the periptero lady.
If this was a movie, the next scene would be shot in slo-mo: my hand extending towards hers, hers towards mine, frozen in a Michelangelian pose. Then, just as she was about to grasp the dough, the couple appeared at my side and the girl proceeded to SHOVE ME out of the way, and thrust HER OWN money in the periptero lady's face, all the while screaming "Se parakalo! Emena prota! Emena! Ella, Ella, Se Parakalo!" (Please, me first! ME! Come on Please!)
The periptero lady and I stared at each other a moment, stunned, then the amazingly unphaseable woman shrugged, rolled her eyes, and gestured to ask if she could let them go first - since apparently there was no saying no to them. I shrugged back, and gestured in turn expansively in their direction (all this gesturing was necessary because making oneself heard over the girl's screeches would have been impossible).
While the obnoxious brat - ahem, sorry - girl, got her change, I just stared open-mouthed at the guy, silently asking him what the hell planet they were from. He kept right on giggling - though to give him credit his giggles did start to get a bit uncomfortable, and was I imagining that he looked a bit shame-faced?
The best part of all this was that they were in no kind of rush: after they had paid, the girl continued to look over stuff in the drinks fridge while I continued to exchange disbelieving glances with the periptero lady. (What the heck do you call the periptero people anyway? You can't call them shop assistants, cause they're not in a shop, right? Any ideas?)

Now I know a lot of you are going to be saying I should have said something to them BUT:
a) either they were on drugs (though it didn't look that way) or so ridiculously unaware and self-centered that nothing I could have said in my not-so-sophisticated Greek would have gotten through to them, and
b) doing so and getting into an argument would just have raised my blood pressure and put me in a bad mood for the rest of the day...
...so I chose to laugh it off instead.

But REALLY!!!! I'm still speechless!

Tuesday, May 30

IN WHICH I LEARN NOT TO COMPLAIN SO MUCH

On my way back from work today I sat on the bus directly in front of two immigrants. I’m not sure where they were from, but they were communicating with each other in very broken English, so evidently not from the same country.
The woman was trying to fill in some official document, and the man was trying to explain to her how to do it: “This is for your name, this is for you passport number. Then you have to go to the police station to get it signed, then somewhere else to get it stamped…” and so on. I think we all know the steps involved in getting official documents in Greece.
So I was remembering what I had gone through to get my docs when I first got here – barely speaking any Greek at the time – and what a hair-pulling, nerve racking hassle it had been. And I had had GREEK people helping me. Greek people who not only knew the system perfectly, but also spoke my language and were able to explain everything clearly.
Listening to these two people struggling to figure out what the hell they were supposed to be doing, I suddenly felt ashamed for the amount of moaning I had done when going through the same crap. I can only imagine that what they go through is at least 100 times worse than what I did – not only do they have more papers to get, they have no one to show them the ropes thoroughly, and are likely to be treated with a lot more disrespect and impatience than I was by the public employees.
I really don’t know how they manage it, but they have my respect for their courage and determination.

Monday, May 29

A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY

On Saturday night I went over to my cousin's house to celebrate her having gotten a new job. (Here's hoping this one is better than the last few!) I passed through Syntagma to get there, where they're selling lovely plants and flowers at the moment (and I heard that sometime in the next few days they'll be giving them away free!!! Can it be true? I must get myself down there to check it out as I'm busy filling up my balcony to capacity with greenery at the moment, and a few free plants wouldn't hurt.)
Anyway, I picked up a couple of pots of pretty flowers for her as she'd been saying that she'd like to get a few; her one plant, a jasmine given to her by her grandmother, hadn't fared too well over the winter.

When she saw the plants, she continued telling me her jasmine saga: it being pretty much dead, she had cut it back down to soil level in the hopes that it would grow again. And sure enough, something had sprouted - but to the side, not out of the main stem. However, something wasn't right with the newly growing jasmine plant... she wasn't sure what, but she couldn't get it to wrap around the trellis, and it didn't have many leaves. Her sister had even come over to have a look, and had proclaimed that the jasmine would be fine, but my cousin wasn't so sure.
Intrigued, I went out on the balcony to have a look.
"But... where is the jasmine?" I asked.
"Right there," my cousin replied, pointing to the long green stalks coming out of the pot and looking at me as though I was blind.
I walked over for a closer look... already trying to hold back my laughter.
"See," she said. "Here's the old stem, and this is the new growth which has come up. But it just won't stick to the trellis. Can you tell why?"

"Well," I replied. "It could be because what you have growing here is a very fine specimen of GRASS, with some clover thrown in for good measure!" Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the so-called jasmine was in fact some very long, wild grass - the kind with the feathery tufts on top. And my cousin was complaining of allergies... wonder why!
Anyway, after much mirth on my part, and embarassment on hers, the death of the jasmine was mourned over a bottle of wine.
Bad luck for the grass, which had been enjoying frequent watering, love and attention, and will now be promptly uprooted!

Monday, May 22

IF I HEAR THE "E" WORD ONE MORE TIME I'M GOING TO THROW SOMETHING

OK so on Saturday I joined most people in watching Eurovision.

We laughed, we cried (if we were Anna Vissi anyway), and we were fairly well entertained.

But then, on Sunday, I wanted to do nothing, take a day off and doss about in front of the TV.

Unfortunately, it seemed that on every single channel all one could find were panels of talking heads discussing WHY IT WAS THAT GREECE CAME 9th.

And not one person had the courage to come out and say - "Hey, maybe it was because the song sucked?'

Yeah, Greece loves you Anna.

But really, enough already. Please. Cause if I hear the word Eurovision one more time....

Thursday, May 18

THE VILLAGE VS. THE CITY

OK, Seawitch’s post “Waiting” has finally inspired me to put my nose to the grindstone, gather my notes, double check a few sources, dust off the keyboard, and write: THE VILLAGE VS. THE CITY. Seawitch, this post is dedicated to you!

First instalment: The Village. Wait – what’s that you say? What are my qualifications? How can I claim to be an authority on village life? Well, actually I can’t, having only really lived in a village full-time for a year. But being the avid observer of society that I am, or think I am, it was enough – or at least it’ll have to do. So, let's get started then, shall we?

Having just finished university and needing some time to chill out, de-stress, reflect, meditate on life, and all that stuff that recent graduates feel compelled to do, I went and stayed with my father, stepmother and two half brothers (who, since the last time I’d seen them two years previously, had exploded into fully grown, larger than life teenagers) in my “home village” of Molivos/Mythimna, on the spectacular island of Lesvos. I arrived in November, and left the following October, for Athens, just one month shy of a year.

SO, YOU THINK YOU WANT TO LIVE IN A VILLAGE...
The number one complaint of those who live in villages is that there is nothing to do in winter. And rather than try and convince you otherwise, let me tell you exactly how I passed the wintry months there, and let you decide for yourselves.
Days were spent in quiet contemplation – or in building my dream house on the Sims deluxe edition – and evenings were spent huddled round the kerosene stove, reading or having inspiring conversations with my stepmother. Believe me, we figured out how to solve the world’s problems many times over that winter – and more! Alternatively, if there was a good film on telly, we’d all gather round to watch. We also all, as a family, became incredibly addicted to the first season of Six Feet Under, which I’d brought with me on DVD, and, when there was a power failure (which is often on Lesvos), we’d assemble around the old, large scarred table which dominates the main room and play board games like Trivial Pursuit.

I also had plenty of time to try my hand at cooking various dishes – sometimes to the satisfaction of the critics, sometimes not (my dad just can’t understand what is pleasurable about vegetables that have not been cooked to death, and then cooked some more, so Chinese stir-fries were not always met with favourable reviews) and attended various courses – Greek and photography lessons organised by the dimos and “dancercise” classes offered by a long-time ex-pat. I also toyed with the idea of joining the “Carnival committee” and helping to build the floats for the parade, which looked like a lot of fun if a bit kitch, but, unfortunately, the times they met conflicted with my scheduled English lessons.

These English lessons were a bit of work I’d picked up upon arriving, in order to have some pocket money on hand, and were a nice slice of enforced order on my otherwise haphazard days. They were also a great source of exercise! Twice a week I would make the trek into the village from our country house, a 15 minute’s walk away. I’d then schlep up numerous flights of steep, worn cobblestone steps to the castle, and enjoy an hour or so with two eager Bulgarian teenagers. Then it was back down the steps, and another fifteen minutes walk into the country in a different direction, for a lesson with a bright and winsome, though lazy, 12 year-old, who had the curious habit of replacing every verb in the English language with the word ‘take’ – perfectly conjugated of course. Then back into the village, towards the harbour, and up an incredibly steep street to the last lesson of the day – my least favourite – with a psychotic 7 year-old who, though he jumped for joy each time I came and sulked when I left, would spend the entire lesson trying to stab me with a pencil or scattering my materials across the room. Needless to say, my thigh muscles have never been so sculpted, and the steep streets of the village, which had at first left me gasping for breath, were soon overcome as I galloped my way happily up and down them.

If I was in the mood for a night on the town, we’d meander over to the small but cosy Manda bar, one of two places open in winter, and have a quiet drink to the reggae tunes emanating from the oh-so-high-tech tape deck. Or, for more high energy action, I’d join my brothers at Nuevo, the main teenage hangout, and get down to some Skilathika (and if you tell a soul about that I’ll have to kill you!). When I got really bored, I even attended some meetings of the dimos (municipality), of which my father is minister of the environment, and though I couldn’t really follow the proceedings, everybody seemed be terribly enthusiastic about the issues being debated, judging at least by the amount of shouting going on. And of course following these meetings, over lunch, we’d all hash out what had been said, and update each other on all the village news and gossip.

My father being a huge nature/environment buff, there were also a great many excursions out into the wilderness: to cut down a Christmas tree (only one growing right next to another tree, which would therefore not survive on its own, would do), to collect mushrooms and then, later, wild asparagus. Excursions to the hot baths were also organised, and trips up into the mountains to eat at poli paradosiaka tiny village tavernas. Or, often, I'd just set off for a walk into the strangely green (I'm used to seeing them in shades of ochre and rust) fields, camera in hand, snapping shots of curiously formed bifurcating olive trees and crumbling dwellings, and soaking up the gorgeous nature and wildlife.

If all this sounds like heaven to you, then move to a village, now! If it sounds like the 10th level of boredom, you’re probably better off sticking to the city.

NOT ALL A WALK IN THE PARK...
For me, at that time, it was heaven. Whether it would have continued to be heaven year after year is hard to say: it was not all quite as idyllic as I make it sound - the reason we huddled around the stove was because it gets bloody cold there in winter without central heating, and the howling winds and trips up and down the muddy path to the house sometimes got a bit much. Similarly, the frequent power failures (and the tendency of everything else to break down frequently – and take ages to fix) would have become nerve-racking after a point. And the problems being debated at the dimos meetings were serious in nature – ranging from garbage disposal issues (every year, in August, the dump catches fire and spreads noxious black fumes over the area), to arsonists setting fire to large chunks of forest so as to build on the land, to people pushing for (horrible) measures which would allow more cars to pass through the village… and other matters concerning the constant desecration of traditional life, the struggle to preserve of the look and spirit of village and the areas surrounding it – all a losing battle in the face of the money to be made from cheap, poor-quality tourism.

Then there were the courses – attended more in the interests of getting out of the house than in the hope of learning anything. Needless to say, they were terrible – the photography class, especially, I could have taught better than the camera salesman they’d managed to round up for the job. The dancercise lessons were nice, but following them we’d usually go for an ouzo and mezedes, which meant several hours of listening to 50 year-old and up ex-pats moan on about how horrible Greece is. Greek language lessons were also followed by similar ouzo sessions, but at least the people there were less negative (being recent arrivals, and thus still enamoured of their adopted country) and, generally, more interesting.

This, of course, highlights another of the main problems encountered in village life: there is not a huge selection of people to socialise with, and often you are stuck hanging out with people to whom you would not normally give the time of day. If there is one person in the village whose company you actually enjoy, and with whom you have real things in common, you can count yourself lucky. The rest of the time, either out of desperation, or to be polite, you just go along with the crowd and manufacture things you can all talk about.

Why be polite? you may ask. Well, because in a village with a population of 1000 people, max, and three places to go out to, having enemies is something you want to avoid at all costs. If you have had a falling out with someone, you will run into them continuously, everywhere you go, and so you will either be forced to put your misunderstandings aside, if possible, or, when not possible, look through said person as though they are air. Which is a rather strange and awkward thing to have to do, is it not?

And since everybody knows everybody, lines are soon drawn delineating whose side you’re on in other people’s battles, so you get sucked into these things even if you, personally, couldn’t care less, and find yourself giving the cold shoulder to people who’ve never personally done you wrong. Or, worse, you walk into a taverna full of people you drank and ate with just the other week, and are conspicuously not invited to join the party. In short, there’s no such thing as neutrality in the village – or at least it’s nigh on impossible to maintain. People living within shouting distance of each other are sure to have interpersonal issues, and, at some point or other, you too will become involved - don't kid yourself.

These enmities occur because in a small place, with not much to do, people pass most of their time gossiping about each other. So you hear from so-and-so that someone has called you, say, the biggest slut on earth, and are then faced with two choices: pretend you never found out and greet that person cheerily every time you see them, or make them your enemy. This of course means that, often, you are pressured into being friendly with people who you not only have nothing in common with, but whom you think are the scum of the earth and would rather be sending death glares.
Get the point?

But if you find a way around the gossip problem, and find one or two good people to pass the time with, you’re set for the winter. Basically, for lack of anything to do, you make your own fun, sort of like the pilgrims, and often this turns out to be more fun than more orchestrated and pre-coordinated forms of entertainment.
I can honestly say that in my year in the village I was never once truly bored.

WHEN THE MOUNTAIN COMES TO MOHAMMED...
But what happens when the winter is over? Everyone has just spent the season moaning about how dead it is, then suddenly, with the arrival of the summer months, the village is crammed with tourists, xeni, and everyone starts moaning all over again about how busy and crowded it is. And rightly so. Driving anywhere becomes a nightmare as you must navigate past gaggles of tourists (who apparently don’t have cars where they come from) and all your favourite, quiet haunts are suddenly invaded by them. On the beach to which you have been coming with your dog to enjoy moments of solitude, you are suddenly confronted by obnoxious German tourists telling you how unhygienic it is to bring animals to the beach and that they’ll report you to the authorities. Your ears are filled with inane chatter every which way you turn (“Oh! What a nice castle! It’ll be great when they finish building it!” and “Hey – this doesn’t look like Portugal… Where are we?) and the balmy, jasmine scented evenings are shattered by the sound of music and revellers from the open-air bar. For a young person, it’s actually pretty fun (like I need to tell you that!) and teasing the tourists (or in the case of my brothers, doing their best to pick them up) is always good for a laugh. But for those who came to the village to find peace and quiet it can get trying.

Then autumn comes, which is a lovely time of year weather-wise, but also a melancholy one because, as the tourists fly out, shops close, and the village slowly empties of life, you realise you were just getting used to the hustle and bustle, and suddenly everything feels dead, devoid of life, and you start looking to the winter with apprehension, wondering what you’re going to do all these months with nothing open and no one to talk to.
And so on, the cycle repeats itself.

THE PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING...
My mother couldn’t hack it. After 7 years of collapsing roofs and errant plumbers, she’d had enough and called it quits.

My stepmother has kept going now for 20+ years, and loved almost every minute of it. But, with my brothers grown and flying the coop, and with many of the close friends, whose company she relied on, spending more and more of their winters abroad, she is finding herself a bit at loose ends. With nothing constructive to do with her time she is, herself, trying to get away as often as possible to Athens, England, or Dubai (where her brother lives).

The other ageing ex-pats I know are doing like-wise. After years of contented life in the village, they are now getting the inescapable urge to pick up and leave, and go somewhere with a bit more life and culture.
Strange how, as all these people have gotten older, the quiet life which suited them when they were young is no longer enough. With each passing winter, they’re feeling the call of the city ever more strongly. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way round?

TO BE CONTINUED...
But anyhow, next up, the place they are all flocking to: the grand and the glorious, the stinky and filthy, the, to quote Devious Diva, “small and horrible and great and secretive and special and disgusting and wild and unpleasant and wonderful and surprising and different” city, Athens.


Sunday, May 7

2 DEGREES OF SEPARATION FROM JON STEWART... SORT OF

So my friend Liz went to New York and got to go see the Daily Show and sat 10 feet away from Jon Stewart and I'm insanely jealous.

Read about it here.

PUPPY GIVEAWAY!!! YOU COULD OWN A CUTE, HELPLESS, HOMELESS PUPPY!!!

On a more serious note: My cousin found two puppies last week and needs to find a home for them.
She was walking her dog late at night when she came across a box in the middle of the street. And in the box were two adorable puppies. So of course she brought them home with her.
She's taken the puppies to the vet and they've had all their shots and received a clean bill of health.
The puppies are 3 months old, and probably a cross between a German Shephard and a Collie.
So if you have a big house, yard, farm, etc. (cause they'll be big dogs), please, take pity!!! They're really, really cute. And homeless. And someone just dumped them. They'd probably make great sheep dogs!
Contact me via e-mail (link top right below my profile).

The really ridiculous thing is that all she's gotten from her entire family is flack for taking them in! They're all making her feel bad, telling her it wasn't her problem and she should have ignored them!!! Now, I really don't understand this behaviour. If you don't have the guts to do the right thing yourself, don't make others feel bad for doing it! Like having to mop up puppy pee isn't enough of a challenge (two puppies = a lot of pee - but she's working on getting them house-trained), to have to deal with unsympathetic family members as well is too much! (And no, she's not sharing accomodations with any of them).

And lastly, to the people who dump their dogs and cats like that: SHAME ON YOU YOU HEARTLESS BRUTES LEAVING PUPPIES TO DIE AND FORCING OTHER PEOPLE TO CLEAN UP YOUR MESS!!! GET YOUR DOG NEUTERED OR SPAYED, OR FIND GOOD HOMES FOR THE PUPPIES THAT WILL RESULT. TAKE SOME RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR ACTIONS!!!

Saturday, May 6

I'M BACK

Hi all, I'm back.
In case you hadn't noticed I was gone, I was away for easter over... well, easter, and returned to a.) tax time looming ahead (don't ask - usual hassle over getting required veveosi from bank) and b.) a big pile of dog poo at work that required lots of overtime and such... including woking from home the entire trimero. This whole job thing is getting rather tiresome. When is my grade 11 (last year of high-school in Quebec) art teacher's prediction for my future going to come true???
Curious? This is what he predicted:
The last day of class, he told everyone what they would be when they grew up - he was kind of an eccentric ex-hippy guy. Anyway, around the class he went - you'll be a graphic designer, you'll be an architect, you'll be a this and a that, and when he got to me he said... "You... you're going to marry a Greek millionaire and live on top of a mountain in Greece and paint all day." At the time I was insulted, but now that real life has reared its ugly head I must admit the idea is growing increasingly attractive by the day.
ANYWAY that's OK I don't need a millionaire. I've got my own plan to escape from the drugery of the 9 to 5 - or 8... or 10... or even 10:30 when the secretaries start calling me up and telling me to leave or they'll lock me in - grind.
Yes I know I've been keeping you all on tenterhooks since my last post about just what this plan is. Ha ha.
(Thanks all for your comments and support by the way. I'll get around to answering at some point when I'm not as lazy as I am now.)
But you'll have to remain breathless for a while longer. All the details aren't yet worked out and I don't want to broadcast something that just aint going to happen. Or maybe I'm just sadistic.
However, my time away at easter was well spent back in the horio, doing a study of all the minutae of village life, that you may all benefit from my experiences there. Based on my tireless and selfless research, I am now preparing a brilliant sequal in what has become known around the Net as the "V.S." series. It will be called BIG CITY BLUES vs. THE VACUOUS VILLAGE.
Sorry. See. Too much work and stress makes me vent through ridiculous, and probably highly unamusing, sarcasm. Therefore someone should offer me a better job in order to stop me from writing this kind of drivel. But seriously now, I am writing up a little post on the subject - as it seems to be one of interest to everyone, with strong feelings on both sides... patience please, it's simmering away in there.
In the meantime: two things I have been doing to de-stress at the end of each long day, which you, my fellow bloggers, may enjoy.
The first, in fact, should immediately be added to your REQUIRED READING list, if you haven't read it already. It is called EURYDICE STREET, by Sofka Zinovieff, a British anthropologist who married a Greek and (after living in MOSCOW - !) moved with her husband to Athens when he was transferred here. Not only will ex-pats identify with much of what she goes through adjusting to life here, everyone (including native Athenians) will learn a lot about Athens, or at least get a new perspective on the city. And never fear, though Zinovieff doesn't shy from discussing the problems she encounters, she doesn't fall into the trap of "Greek bashing" either - extra brownie points from me.
The only criticism I have of the book is that the couple are wealthier than average (her husband is a foreign minister) and her experiences may not be entirely representative of the average ex-pat's - they live by the beach in Vouliagmeni, and think nothing of socialising with a Papandreou and the likes of Koulouglou (from Reporters Without Borders - gasp! I really admire that guy, and got a thrill when I realised who she was having coffee with!) Anyway, I'll stop before I get too book-review-y and bore everyone to death. Here's a real review. (Btw the book is also available in Greek.)
The second mode of entertainment I discovered are three games in a series called Hapland which I think are just really cute and whimsical - not to mention tough. If you don't resort to walkthroughs they'll take you hours, if not days to complete. I cheated, I must admit, but to deter others from doing the same, here's some useful info that might have helped me not give up so soon (it'll make sense once you see the game):
- The torches are those little bracket things over the archways.
- It's not enough to click on things in the right order - you have to click on some things simultaneously as well.
- Little round green things are grenades. You can throw them. Where you are standing and which arrows you click will determine where they are thrown.
- Try to see where the beginning must be, then determine where you want to end up, and what is standing in your way. Then, using logic (and trial and error) figure out how to remove the roadblocks and set everything up so everyone and everything is where it needs to be for the finale - like a complicated piece of disassembled machinery.
- Lastly, as the instructions say, click on EVERYHING, in different sequences and combinations, until some things start to happen that make sense. Then try to string these events together in an order that works, based on your observations from the point above.
Good luck!
And with some luck on my part, I'll soon have enough time and energy to write something with a bit more substance... Here's hoping anyway.