Archive for November, 2009

Athens under construction…use caution

November 30, 2009

There has been quite a lot of construction on my street lately.  It started about three weeks ago and not much progress has been made.  The sidewalks are being ripped up for new ones.  This makes walking to school, or anywhere in my hood a little complicated.  Before the construction I already consistently felt in the way walking down the street.  Passing seated old men who take up the whole sidewalk or gossiping elderly woman always requires awkward maneuvers.  Do they think they own the sidewalk? Well yes.  And walking around them is never really an option because that means walking in the street where cars drive the wrong way, buses will run you over, and motorcycles speed like bats out of hell.

 Construction is ever present here in Athens.  Even the Parthenon is having work done.  The reconstruction of the Acropolis began in 1983 and from what I can tell it’s not exactly nearing an end soon.  There is a lot of scaffolding that most tourists voice their distaste of.  Understandable, as no one imagines seeing such an international landmark covered with bars and stairs.  But, if you can look past the scaffolding, and beyond the tourists you can see the Parthenon for what it really is-a timeless piece of architecture.

 Other areas of Athens are ridden with construction.  Often, taking longer than planned because of newfound ruins, which halt progress.  However, Athens was not built on a city plan of any sort; very reflective of the culture.  Planning is just not a concept that most Greeks take to heart.  They don’t plan out their days or their city.

 While I walk down my street that is full of construction I often find myself looking down to watch my step.  And sometimes I loose all of my other senses in the midst of my navigational concentration.  I miss seeing the butcher who I always wave to.  I miss smelling the aromas of my favorite bakery.  I miss hearing the very public conversations of my neighbors.  All for self-preservation-but then that’s not really living.

 My wake-up call came Sunday night.  My roommate and I went out with some Greek friends.  I thought that Sunday was the day of rest, internationally?  Well in Greece rest is easily found all week long.  Not to mention that a considerable amount of Greeks don’t work on Mondays.  Anyways we were having a great time enjoying the atmosphere when suddenly I was being pelted in the head by something?! 

 The bartenders had put out roses (just the buds) on the bar and our Greek companions immediately grabbed them to throw at us.  OK, this is a different way of getting flowers?  Turns out everyone else in the bar was doing the same thing.  I asked what was going on and one of our Greek friends replied, “it is a tradition; a Greek thing to throw them.”  When I asked what the significance was behind this rose throwing business I was told, “Just because, it is what people do.”  Well I guess that’s reason enough.  I immediately grabbed the remaining roses and threw back.

 Walking up to my apartment, I was still finding rose petals in my hair.  As I shook them out, I realized that my street was a lot easier to navigate at night without all of the construction.  And I started to notice things that I had been missing.  The butcher shop had Christmas decorations and the bakery was full of traditional holiday cookies.  I guess it took getting hit in the face with roses to really wake up and smell the flowers. 

 Now when I walk down my chaotic street of endless construction I remember to notice those small things again.  To pay attention to my neighborhood through all of the street work.  Because in a way we are all under a little construction.  Some of us are temporarily blocked off, sinking into a manhole, or under reconstruction.  But that’s ok because underneath the cement and past the caution tape is something great-something worth preserving.  It’s always important to take caution when navigating through the chaos that is life, but it’s even more important to look around, smell the roses, and maybe even throw one or two-just for fun at someone you love.  After all, life is sweet.




Thriller Night

November 22, 2009

Greece may not celebrate Halloween, but that doesn’t mean things don’t get a little spooky around here every once in a while.  Not scary spooky, Athens truly is one of the safest cities in Europe.  More like eerie spooky, along the lines of the twilight zone if you will. 

 Even getting dressed everyday, I find myself configuring a new costume in my mind.  Who do I want to be today?  Funky?  Eclectic? Trendy?  Minimalist? Fashionista?  Edgy? Breakfast at Tiffany’s? Jackie-O? Jet setter?  The list goes on and on.  While we are all in a sort of costume, a disguise, every time we get dressed, Athens is a playground for style.  The many drastically different neighborhoods of Athens allow for varying costumes.  In Kolonaki, the dress-code is expensive chic (I don’t exactly fit in there).  But right next door in Exarchia, dressing up means dressing down, preferably in black, the more worn your clothes look the better.  Of course you should stay true to yourself, but sometimes that means stepping out of your box into a fabulous pair of heels.

 Most Athenians really pay attention to their costumes at night.  They are vibrant and alive from the darkest hours of the evening until daybreak.  Kind of like a vampire-only they don’t bite, most of the time that is.  The most social beings, Athenians walk all over at night from bar to bar, trick-or-treating their way around the city.  And in a city of nearly 5 million people, it’s always a treat to see a friendly face walking your way.

 While Athens has never really given me the creeps, I experienced some eerie behavior this past Wednesday at the theater.  My roomies, Melissa and Emma accompanied me to the movies.  Emma really wanted to see the film, “Paranormal Activity.”  Melissa was in the mood for a flick, and I, well I just wanted an excuse to eat gummies.  Apparently “Paranormal Activity” is a scary movie.  In fact it is the highest grossing R-rated film of the decade.  And I can tell you I was scared, yelping and grabbing Melissa’s arm.  Although I wouldn’t recommend it to my mom, sister, or most people in general-I was very entertained.  Entertained by the movie, but also entertained by the Greeks surrounding me. 

 My friends and family know how much I love the movies.  I realize that in general, everyone likes the movies.  But I feel a little bit more singular than everyone-I love love love going to the movie theater.  It’s like a mini-vacation.  For ten dollars (or 8 euro) you can go to another place, another era, another life.  Needless to say I am familiar with the movie theater experience.  Or at least I thought so upon entering the movies here in Greece.

 My ticket included a seat number-which is abided by very seriously I learned.  In a country that invented the art of relaxing, I never expected such strict rules in a movie theater.  We walked into the theater and were escorted to our assigned seats.  As we waited for the film to start the seats started to fill up.  Everyone around us was talking and laughing loudly.  I felt like I was at a bar.  And when the movie did start the talking continued.  Well, this is weird.  The whole point of going to the movies is to shut up and loose yourself to what’s happening on the screen in front of you.  I no longer felt familiar with the movie theater. 

 I was slightly annoyed that so many people were talking and commenting throughout the movie.  But then what did I expect?  Athenians are the most social butterflies.  Fact.  They flutter around the coffee shops by day and the bars by night.  Of course they were going to be just as social in a movie theater.  And the assigned seating thing I realized is not about regiment-it’s about socializing.  Everyone is seated next to each other in one big group; and you never know who you might sit next to.

 Well my notion of the “movie experience” was completely altered to say the least.  From my viewpoint, the real paranormal activity was not occurring on the screen but rather in the theater itself.  But how could I come to Greece and expect to experience something so familiar to me in the same way?  At home I go to the movies for a getaway via the special affects.  However, here in Athens I don’t want a getaway- I want a layaway.  As in me, storing myself away here forever.  Clearly, Athens has it’s own special affect on me.  Things can get a little bit paranormal and weird at times for sure.  Sometimes Athens is sour and sometimes it’s sweet-but either way you’re in for one big treat.



My big fat Greek family

November 18, 2009

You can find family in the most unexpected places.  In this 21st century world, family is a flexible and very subjective term.  Family is mom and dad; siblings; best friends; roommates; boyfriends; co-workers; neighbors; pets; teachers; bartenders; bakers; and the old man in the coffee shop.  In Greece especially, the term family applies to more people than one might consider.  Of course I miss my “immediate” family back in the states, but I’ve managed to create a pretty great one here in Athena. 

 Here in Greece family is BIG.  It’s a big deal and also for the most part, quite literally big.  Perhaps that is why Greeks don’t generally stray far from home.  In America, a man who lives with his family past the age of 23 or 25 is generally considered to be a deadbeat (disclaimer: personally, I’m not as judgmental honestly).  But here in Greece, it’s normal for men to live at home until they are in their late 30s, when most marry and move out.  Although that is changing, it’s still ever-present.

 While Greeks consider their relatives to be sacred, they treat their friends the same way.  Athens is without a doubt a single city and a lot of that is reflected in the way they value friendships.  Greeks see their friends very often and spend extensive amounts of time with them-just talking, listening.  Getting coffee is not a 10-minuet endeavor in which you try and catch up quickly with one another before separately running off.  It’s sitting and talking for however long you want.  Needless to say, the Greeks are loyal.

 Even my Greek relatives are loyal to me.  I didn’t know anything about them until I lived here-but it’s as if I’ve known them my whole life.  Jane is my mom’s cousin.  She went abroad like me, married a Greek man and never looked back.  So far I have no such plans…yet.  An adventurous chameleon to say the least, Jane can speak Italian, German, Greek, and more.  Her husband is named Panjortis and his sister is Maria.  Jane and Pan have two daughters, Mina is the one I’ve met here.  Mariana has two kids, Philip who is just walking and Eva who is in Kindergarten.  Got that?  O and they also have a dog.

 I had lunch at their house this week.  Or rather a magnificent feast that Maria cooked.  They made mini tiropitas, Greek salad, lemon beef, and mashed potatoes.  I had seconds of everything and not just because I’m a starving student, but because it was that good.  At the end of the meal, Pan brought out all different types of cheese for dessert.  Mina took a bite and asked, “is this French cheese?”  Pan replied, “no it’s not French it is made in Greece.”  The cheese was really good and could have been easily mistaken for a fine French cheese.  But the company could pass for nothing other than authentic Greek family.

 Other members of my Greek family include my two roommates Melissa and Emma-wonderful girls who I have learned so much from.  And my Greek professors-they tell me where to go in Athens.  My neighbors, an elderly Greek couple who I speak maybe ten words to but who nonetheless I communicate with regularly and genuinely.  Our cleaning lady, Olga-she has seen me right when I wake up (lucky her!) and walked in on me changing numerous times (awkward) so I figure that makes her family automatically.  My Greek family also includes Costas who works at my favorite coffee shop-he knows my order by heart.  And I can’t forget the infinite number of stray dogs scattered throughout the city. 

 Evidently, my Greek family is quite large.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way-because family will always always be there for you.  I knew this before Greece with my immediate family in the states.  But it’s nice to know that family can be found everywhere, even if it’s a little unrecognizable at first. 

 When I walked up to Jane’s apartment door on Monday, an older man was waiting to be buzzed in.  He held the door for me when I saw him.  I said thank you and then we both realized who one another was.  The man was Panjortis and I hadn’t recognized him.  Pan said, “here I thought you might be a robber that I was letting in, but it’s you.”  The truth is, we all do not know all of our relatives very well.  Upon first seeing Pan he was a stranger.  But once I looked a little closer, I saw family. 

 For now, I’m going to see another family member, Costas for a nice coffee and then I’m off to see my professor in literature class.  Family reunions are generally scheduled in America, but here in Greece they are everyday occurrences and that’s just great.



Athens Pays it Forward

November 14, 2009

Athens is full of surprises.  Especially when I have visitors.  It’s almost as if Athens knows that my peeps are coming and decides to act up.  My roomie from college, Ang and two of her friends came to visit me this past weekend.  However, when Ang and I went to get on the bus to pick up her other friend the buses weren’t running.  The main roads had been blocked off for the Athens Marathon-the original marathon that begins in Marathon, Greece and ends at the stadium by my apartment.  Ok so this wasn’t exactly a surprise-it was my forgetfulness.  Of course Ang and her friends thought that it was cool-I thought, great more tourists in my neighborhood (as if I’m not a part of that category too?).

 Later on that day I took Ang and her friends to the best gyro place in Athens-I get minimum 4 a week.  Only to discover that it was closed.  I was really beginning to loose my “I live here, I know where it’s at” façade.  But the truth is even the Greeks are not all-knowing here in Athens. 

 Just the other day my roommate Emma and I were waiting to catch a bus home from the city-center.  It was a normal workday so the buses run often.  Thirty minuets pass.  The other Greeks at the bus stop are up in arms.  I love it, seeing them get angry because they are soooo heated.  After sixty minuets I was beginning to feel some Greek heat too.  Personally, time is of no concern to me here, but I had a midterm in two hours, which I needed to study for.  Taxi? Forget it, everyone at my bus stop was going to the same neighborhood and taxi drivers were saying no, because they didn’t feel like it.  If an old Greek woman can’t get a taxi, I had no chance. 

 Soon the roads began closing.  No one around us seemed to know what was going on.  Turns out, Athens closed the main roads so that the president of the European Union (who was in town that week) could drive to his hotel.  As I watched his car pass, surrounded by numerous other vehicles, I thought the roads would then open back up.

 However, surprise surprise, they did not because there was a riot on the next street up in front of Parliament.  I’ve been told that November is a feisty month in Greece.  Lots of memorial-riot type events such as November 17th (I’m sure I’ll have material for a new blog after that day).  Novermber 17th recognizes the revolutionary group called 17N referring to the final day of the 1973 Athens Polytechnic Uprising, a protest against the Greek Military Junta.  But there is a lot more to it than that.

 Eventually, Emma and I decided to can public transport and just walk home.  On our way we stopped by the riot-which was more like a demonstration.  One of the students informed us that they were protesting the current economic situation.  Greece is experiencing massive unemployment rates.

 Angie and her friends returned last night from Xios (pronounced “Hios”).  They were with me for one more night and that’s when I realized; Athens wasn’t acting up at all when they were here last weekend.  It was just being itself-unpredictable, passionate, and full of surprises.  Last weekend Athens was a little feisty and unreliable.  But that’s ok because the pendulum swung the other way this weekend.  I took the girls to one of my favorite restaurants using public transport successfully I might add.  We had a great time and the waiter kept giving us after dinner shots of “Greek Water” because he liked Obama.  He was the first Greek that I have encountered who actually liked Obama.  Last week politics inspired riots, this week politics inspired “yamas” (Cheers).  The girls were very impressed with the food and even more with the bill- “I live here, I know where it’s at” façade is back.

 The good karma continued when I found 15 euro on the street today! I used it to take my roommates out to coffee.  And you know what? It tasted a little bit better because it was free.  Maybe Athens was a little difficult last weekend at an inconvenient time when I had guests.  But it fell back into my good graces by treating my friends and I to coffee.  And honestly, Athens will always be in my good graces.  Because even when Athens is at it’s worst, I will always love it unconditionally and irrevocably.  I think that we will be very happy together…



“Spark”notes of Athens

November 10, 2009

This past week I have been a little unlucky to say the least.  It seems that I quite literally repel technology-and unfortunately my roommates have to deal with the consequences.  One night I was using our communal euro hair straightener and managed to break it-the same night I also semi-broke our communal euro hairdryer.  Then the next night I quietly tiptoed into the kitchen to get some water.  I touched the light switch and seamlessly blew a fuse on that entire side of the apartment.  All of my roommates were sound asleep-not a creature was stirring not even a mouse-well except for the mouse that lives in our quarantined bathroom.

 I was so exhausted that I planned on going to bed and dealing with the fuse in the morning.  Our switchboard is labeled in Greek-as it should be-and I wasn’t about to try and play around with each one until I fixed the fuse.  I can barely read Greek in my language textbook-never mind trying to decipher it on an electrical switchboard at 2am.  I don’t even attempt that stuff when I’m in America and the labels are in English.  So I crawled back into my bed.  But then I thought-wait, the refrigerator is in the kitchen…which means that it isn’t currently working.  I can live in the dark (lets be honest, I pretty much do live in the dark), but I can’t live without food.

 So I got back up and considered waking one of my roommates, Emma, for help.  She fixed the last fuse that I caused (shocker huh? -no pun intended).  But seeing as I have weird anxiety about waking people up, I easily talked myself out of that one.  Looks like it’s just me and the Greek fuse box, duking it out.  Talk about a power struggle.

 Greece is really becoming a catalyst in the development of my problem-solving skills.  The thought of my Greek yogurt, spoon sweets, cheese, and eggs all going bad was egging me on (pun intended) to fix the fridge.  And in other news, apparently I only consume dairy products?  So, I grab my notebook from my Greek Language Class.  I used it to attempt deciphering the Greek words scribbled in pencil under each switch. 

 After about half an hour, I figured out the word for lights and flipped the switch.  It was the right one thankfully and our fridge came back to life!  Well I managed to break three different electronic devices-so I must be at my quota.

 I guess my quota is a little bit more than three though in Greece.  The next day I opened the refrigerator and the light didn’t come on.  Well, shit now it’s really broken and this time it wasn’t from a fuse.  No easy flip of the switch fix here.  We called our housing manager for help.  It was a Saturday-no repairman could be there until Monday.  And lets be honest, even that was a stretch.  No food for the weekend.  Any excuse to buy myself more spanikopitas though is good in my book.  The housing manager said, “don’t worry it will probably fix itself.”  That is a common outlook in Greece.  No one strains themselves-not even refrigerators.  It’s not a laziness thing-it’s a wonderful thing.  All the more acceptable in a culture that takes coffee breaks like it’s a sport.

And you know what?  The fridge did fix itself.  And so did the hair straightener and hair dryer that I broke earlier.  Maybe it was my bad luck.  Or maybe it was just another practical joke Zeus played on me.  Either way I now open my refrigerator with a little bit more caution.  And when that light comes on I have a lot more appreciation.  Greece is a culture founded on old values and ancient ruins-not everything is going to run smoothly all of the time.  Not even modern day electronics or appliances.  Greeks do what they want when they want, that’s for sure.  So it should come to no surprise that my Greek refrigerator does what it wants too-temporarily breaking.  After all, everyone needs a break at some point right?

 It’s not all sunshine and roses here in Athens.  But one things for sure, my fridge is now running-and that is a beautiful thing.



Who let the dogs out? Thessaloniki

November 2, 2009

This past week I went to Thessaloniki with my abroad program.  All that I knew beforehand was that it is the second largest city in Greece, formerly of Macedonia, and that it was gonna be cold.  Well it certainly proved to be cold, I seriously considered buying a down jacket.  The only thing holding me back was my lacking economic flexibility, and maybe the fact that they all came equipped with fur-lined hoods-too baby gap for me.

 While I was cold, the city was certainly hot.  Hot with young people and activity.  Everyone in Thessaloniki was young, dressed well, and beautiful.  Even the babies had better outfits than me-one child was decked out in a GQ worthy toggled coat that conveniently matched the color of the stripe on his puma sneakers. 

 And the food was equally hot.  For my first night I had mussels saganaki…or essentially deliciousness in a hot bowl.  Another night, my professors took us out to a taverna where I sampled more hot food-and I mean spicy hot, not just temperature hot.  Finally! Spicy food in Greece- not watering of the eyes spicy, but I’ll take what I can get. 

 I found more hot food during “Oxi Day.”  It is a national holiday in Greece, it means “No Day.”  No I will not go to work!  But more importantly, it is a celebration of the day Greece said no to the Italians during WWII when they invaded Thessaloniki and tried to take over the territory.  There was a huge parade of military forces, every type imaginable.  Ski police?  They marched, with their skies.  I even saw scuba men, I’m not kidding.  They were decked out in wet suits marching around the city; oxygen tanks included.  Scuba Steve was followed by sailors, guards, and the coastguard.  There were even jets that flew overhead.  I had been wondering the previous night why there were so many sailors out and about.  I had thought that it was Fleet Week or something. 

 Anyway, after the parade we walked around and I saw lots of street food.  There were tons stands and they were all serving the same thing, hot dogs.  That’s right, hot dogs in Greece.  Well of course I had to get one.  I asked for one with everything…more so because it’s easier to say.  And it certainly came with everything, and then some.  The hot dog consisted of a large bun filled with two, count um two, hot dogs pilled with French fries, mustard, ketchup, tzakiki sauce, seasoning, and onions.  It tasted like a hot dog gyro-delicious.

 The next morning at breakfast I took what I thought was a mini sokolata croissant.  But, it turned out to be a pig-in-a-blanket.  Well Hot dawg!  This isn’t chocolate! 

 Essentially I decided that my trip to Thessaloniki was worthy of Gary Roberts approval.  It is colder than the rest of Greece because it is far north-no blazing sun! Check.  There were lots of officers and displays of weaponry-military paraphernalia! Check.  And there were so many hot dogs that one even showed up in my breakfast croissant-endless amounts of meat! Check. 

 But I have to say; Thessaloniki is definitely worthy of my approval as well.  It is beautiful, historical, and spicy.   It is a city on the edge of the water and also on the cutting edge; young, vibrant, and culturally unique.  And most importantly it is a city where you can get a hot dog complete with the works-or not, if you know the words to order it that way.  Then again, there is an upside to my limited Greek vocabulary-it forced me to taste it all, and that, in my opinion is limitless.