Athens-Guest Starring Kevin Costner

October 18, 2009

Today I went to the new Acropolis Museum for my art and archaeology class.  This is the second time that I have gone to the museum for that class.  The first time, if you recall from an earlier blog, I passed out.  So this time I was hoping to remain vertical.  I prepared myself accordingly: I ate fruit, followed by a socolat croissant, and I hydrated myself.  I also brought a large water bottle, more fruit to revive me, and I wore layers to avoid overheating.  How responsible right? It’s only taken me 11 years to, as the Greeks say, “know thyself.” 

I walked outside and it was cloudy and cool.  Noticeable since it’s always sunny in Athens (not Philadelphia, that show got it wrong).  Although I love-crave the sun, I’m more susceptible to fainting when it’s hot.  Athens Forecast:  partly cloudy with a chance of Jayna fainting. 

So we arrive at the museum and I am feeling good!  The lack of natural light in the museum works to my benefit-it’s cooler inside.  The constant standing no longer bothers me I guess since I walk everywhere anyway.  And my breakfast really was of champions!  I’m a free bird and I can tell that my body isn’t going to faint today.

Or is it…suddenly Kevin Costner rounds the corner.  Yes the real Kevin Costner.  Field of Dreams?  The Upside of Anger? Now Kevin might not be that big of a celebrity sighting for most people but I actually have a massive crush on him.  He is a great actor, nice and rough around the edges you know? He is like a nice classy bottle of wine who gets better with age.  I realize he is a lil older than me/he is married/he is married to a beautiful blonde model 20 years his junior.  However, I choose to overlook these minor mishaps.  I then brainstormed what to say!

“Hey Kev! First time in Athens? Well lucky for you champ, I live here so I can reconfigure my sched and show you around.  If you want?”

“O Kevin-is that you? Gosh I didn’t even notice.  Do you want to know anything about that pediment over there because I’ve studied it in class.  Maybe after we could get gyros?”

“Costnaaarrr. Hey, what brings you to Athens?”

“Hey Kevin, what’s your sign?”

I considered that last one.  I mean I am genuinely interested in horoscopes.  So much for remaining vertical!  From the moment I spotted the Costner I was a little nervous you know?  Gosh is it getting hot in here?  There he is again!  My professor literally let us follow him and his posse around the museum.  And his posse?  Now there are a lot of dudes with the Costner and two of them are lookers! 

Wait! What am I doing?  I’m staring down strangers and looking at them.  O, I’m just being Greek.  Well it’s about time-I’ve withstood enough harassment here to gain the divine right to stare at whatever the heck I want, even Kevin Costner’s butt.  Hey, it’s a two way street right?

Two girls in my class got his autographs.  I chose to remain Greek and just stare, mumble to my friends and say something in passing.  Classy I thought.  The girls returned saying that he didn’t say anything to them; the consensus was that he was rude.  Rude?  Invading someone’s personal life is rude in my book.  Sure it’s his job but leave the man alone. 

 Later on I went to Thission to meet my next class, Athens Onsite.  Sweet a free bench.  I happily planted myself ready to people watch for the next half hour sipping on my frappe.  Then three old men who were strolling stopped in front of my bench.  The stood there for a while, flipping their worry beads.  After a couple of minuets one of them sat down next to me and asked me something in Greek.  O I see.  This was their bench that they sat at everyday and I was intruding.  At first I was pissed.  It’s a free country! No, it’s Greece.  A country where men are served first in restaurants, the elderly are well respected, and ancient habits (legal or not) never die. 

 So maybe Kevin Costner is entitled to his personal space, but the three old men in Thission are apparently equally entitled to their personal space too (or rather personal bench).  And if you forget, they’ll kindly remind you.



Ps Kevin Costner was in Athens for his band’s concert.  (Kaite remember we saw all those commercials for it in Santorini?)


If the shoe fits, it’s probably from The Poet

October 13, 2009

Greece is a land of sandals.  In nearly every shopping area authentic leather sandals sit beside cheap metallic gladiator sandals.  And while the tourists reach for those shiny, strappy gladiators the Greeks reach for the leather.  Not to say that Greeks are modest with their clothes-sequins seem to adorn every outfitted mannequin here.  But sandals are a basic here-a true Greek necessity.

 As family and friends have often called me a “flip-flop” girl, you can see that this is one Greek treat! to which I have had absolutely no problem getting accustomed with.  In fact it might be one of the first things about living here that I have not had to adjust to.

 When the fam visited, I took them to “The Poet” sandal store.  Internationally recognized, this simple man hand-makes leather sandals and fits them to your foot in the store as he writes and publishes his own poetry.  Poetry and shoes, now there is a combination you don’t find too often.  They are the BEST quality and extremely comfortable.  He has sold pairs to the likes of John Lennon, Jackie Onassis, Sophia Loren, Kate Moss and so on.  Katie was in heaven.  You would think that with all of his fame, not to mention famous customers, that by now his prices would be in the Jimmy Choo category.  But they are actually extremely reasonable at 24 euro per pair.  Well, 27 euro if you have big feet…a little discriminatory right?  I thought so.

 Anyways, I got the “Jackie-O” style that was designed for her and have been wearing them around everywhere.  Katie bought two pairs and was also equally satisfied.  Walking around in my new sandals really put a spring in my step.  They are certainly an upgrade from my deteriorating rainbows which I’ve had since 2005…I couldn’t get away with calling them “vintage” anymore.  My sandals made me feel like a Greek goddess.  However, in Oia-a beautiful village on the north end of Santorini-my goddess status did not translate.  As Kait and I sat at a café with our Frappes I relaxed, stretched out, and put my feet up on a ledge as we overlooked the ocean.  The waiter then came over.  Maybe to offer us some food I thought.  But instead he said, “um, small favor?” and nodded at my feet.  What? My feet are not welcome in Oia?  Katie reminded me that he probably didn’t want the other customers to see my grotesque feet.  I didn’t realize until my family came how rough they have gotten here in Greece.

 They are scratched up, blistered, scarred, and pretty much constantly dirty.  It seems as though wearing sandals everywhere comes with a price, beaten feet.  My ugly feet soon became the joke of my family’s trip.  Sure I could use a pedicure, or three, but my feet are the way they are because I’ve been places.  They have hiked a volcano, walked all over Athens, danced in gay bars, tripped over ancient marble, ran-no sprinted across streets, climbed flights of stairs and more.  I’m proud of my mangled feet and I don’t see the need in perfecting them with pedicures when I’m just going to get them beaten up again.  I also don’t see the euros in my wallet to do so.  

 So maybe my feet are not worthy of goddess status right now.  But my sandals are and that should count for something.  Until then I plan on trying to acquire ankle wings; you know like the ones Hermes has.  Not the designer Hermes, the god Hermes.  Although I might pitch that to Hermes now that I think about it.  Flying designer sandals?  I’ll take two.



 p.s. For my language class today we went to an Andy Warhol exhibit where I viewed some of his famous images of Jackie Onassis while wearing my “Jackie-O” style sandals.  How fitting.  I guess sometimes the shoe really does fit.

Athens Meets the Parents

October 6, 2009

When I really love something, I get a little nervous about exposing it to the ones that I love.  I want them to like it too.  Of course no one has the same exact interests as one another; and no one should (how boring).  But when it comes to my passions and interests, I want approval from family and friends. 

So, you can imagine my anxiety about my family coming to visit me in Athina.  I’ve come to truly love Athina-in fact I would say that we’re dating.  I know its getting serious fast, but I just cannot deny our chemistry.  We go for long walks through all different areas and have nice coffees for hours on end.  We go exploring, always eager to try new things.  And Athens and I have even developed our own little language-Gringish (Greek combined with English).  Sounds great right?  Introducing Athens to my family will be a breeze.

Maybe not.  Athens is not perfect and although I have come to love its “flaws,” my family might not.  For one thing, Athens is a little rough around the edges.  Taxi drivers will not always take you where you want to go.  And if they do, all too often they rip you off.  Don’t count on street signs to help you out either, as most streets don’t have them.  Spray paint is endless in certain neighborhoods.  Sometimes stray dogs follow you for blocks…and at other times harassing men.  Public transportation ends at 1am, when Athens nightlife begins.  Which can make getting home either expensive via taxi or strenuous via heels.  Not to mention that second hand smoke is inescapable; breathing is equivalent to smoking.  And you cannot always count on Athens to be on-time, prompt, or organized.  Just last week the 11 bus stood me up. 

Naturally, as a girl in love, I’ve rationalized all of these flaws.  The bus didn’t come? Just playing hard to get, which means that actually it really did want to pick me up.    No offer for a ride home after a long night out?  Athens just wanted to walk me home, how romantic.  Spray paint everywhere?  I do like scruff. 

Well, maybe my family will be able to see what I see in Athens.  On the first night I decided to lay all of the cards on the table: Dinner in Athens ExTremeeE style!  In my mind I was picturing an Anthony Bourdain adventure!  I took them to this great, authentic, cheap Greek restaurant called Barber Yannis.  I forgot to mention that getting there would require walking through Exarchia, a “student neighborhood.”  One street was crawling with college kids just sitting and drinking.  But a tourist might assume they were doing drugs and shit.  My sister was fine with it and I have honestly been bothered more in the richer areas of Athens than in Exarchia.  But Mary and Gary…having arrived less than 24 hours ago were a little, well shocked.  Oops.  I was only thinking about my stomach I guess.

But they all loved it.  That’s right, even Gary Roberts, he who does not eat chicken, vegetables, seafood, or fruit (except for orange juice but that doesn’t count).

And as we spend our last night in Athens tonight before I take a long weekend with them in Santorini, I daresay they might miss Athens.  Dad was impressed with the markets and the potatoes? Mary liked the history and the desserts.  And Katie? Well she liked the jewelry and the gyros.  Now that the formal introductions are over, we can all relax in Santorini.  Did I say that I was just dating Athens exclusively?  Because I’m also seeing the Greek Islands on the side-it keeps my relationship with Athens fresh and fun.

Who knows, maybe I’ll stay with Greece for the rest of my life.  It would be a big commitment, but one thing is for sure, things would never get boring.



Life is a runway

September 30, 2009

Today I had no classes because my professor is in Paris for the week.  She went for business, not pleasure; fitting seeing as no one seems to work here in Greece.  Everyone is always drinking coffee.  I guess you have to go to Paris if you want to work.  So my roomie and I took advantage of our free day to walk around and explore Kolonaki.  Kolonaki, apparently, is where it’s at in Athens.  It’s the fancy rich neighborhood where everyone goes to be seen.  Every woman in Kolonaki was complete with a Louis Vitton bag, enormous sunglasses, high heels, long hair extensions, and tight clothes.  And I thought I was looking good with my ray-bans and eclectic little necklace that I made….more like looking not rich.

 Hey, fine by me! I’ve mastered the art of window-shopping and people watching.  And man, were there peeps to see.  We walked down a little side street lined with cafes looking for one to enjoy a nice 3-hour coffee.  As we strolled, I began to feel like I was on a runway.  Except that I wasn’t the model, I was Carrie in that episode of Sex and the City (The Real Me) where she falls down and becomes runway road kill.  Per usual I stuck out, but not just because of the blonde hair this time.  I stuck out because I wasn’t wearing designer duds, carrying shopping bags, or trotting with a sugar daddy.  O an open table at the next café straight ahead! Relief.

 And then I realized something, the café that I was at, the street that I was on, the city that I am in is designed for people watching.  ALL seating at ALL cafes and bars face the street.  And everyone is looking at you.  If you don’t like the spotlight, then this isn’t the country for you.  I know what you’re thinking (if you know me well that is), I hate, absolutely despise the spotlight.  How can I love Greece so much?  You’re forgetting that I’m also oblivious to my surroundings and can use this to counter the stares.  But you know what? I’ve also gotten used to it.  And I do it too, I’ve become a starer.  I no longer think that I am being sexually harassed when Greeks stare at me, question me, or give me free food.  They are just being Greek and they do this to everyone.  Greeks are the most interactive and amicable people. 

 Later on we found a great lunch spot.  Cheap, delicious, and the menu had no English (all good signs)! “number, number,” the waiter said.  I thought he was trying to tell us that we had a certain number for our order?  No, he wanted to give us his number.  Maybe a few weeks ago I would have left and thought that he was a creeper.  But lets be real, I was hungary! and if I lived by those standards I would never be able to go anywhere in Athens.  As we finished up our kotopolo gyros the waiter gave us some stuffed mushrooms on the house.  They were sooooooooo good.   

 New Englanders would be skeptical of free food, and offended by such interactive strangers.  If you looked at someone in Boston, like they look at one another here, you would be a dead man.  But maybe that’s what makes Greece so great.  Greeks want to know who you are, what you’re all about.  And they do so through the five senses, in a way.  Looking, listening, talking, offering you food, and well smelling?  I can’t make that one work.  They are just curious about humanity-and in this way they are more conscious, more alive.  Sure there are creepers here and there.  But all you have to do is look straight ahead and keep on walking.  Because in America life is a highway.  But in Greece, life is a runway. 



The truth about the blue booth

September 29, 2009

Currently in Athens city-center, Syntagma Square, there are large blue stands with loud pop music playing and flat screens televisions.  Initially, I thought that they were set up for some sort of performance.  But, it has been over a week and no performance has enveloped.  They have tables and chairs set up outside of them and I see groups of people sitting in them all of the time.  So, one day I decided to sit at the mysterious blue stand and see what happens.  Nothing happened. 

 I didn’t know what they were, but I knew that I wanted them gone soon.  They are annoying and they ruin the atmosphere of the square.  So I asked my Greek Key teacher Maria.  In Greek Key, we go on walks all over Athens to areas that we otherwise might not explore on our own.  I saw a mini blue stand in the neighborhood we were exploring and pointed it out to Maria. 

 “O, those are for the elections coming up.  They are for the extreme right, very conservative party.  Such fucking shit. I hate them,” she explained.

 Mind you, I’m still trying to get used to my European professors and their badass nature.  Maria, and the rest of Athens I later discovered, rolls her own cigarettes.  The first time that I met her she was smoking one, but it’s homemade look made me think that my professor was smoking the wacky tabacky.  Professor Stavros even cussed out some Italian tourists, in Italian of course, because they were letting their child run around the Acropolis as he was trying to teach.

 But the real shock is that I, a member of the Cousineau-Roberts liberal mecca, sat at a right wing party propaganda booth in public.  Hilarious.  I guess ignorance really is bliss-and sometimes the truth is just plain embarrassing.  Well, if I’m gonna be a pseudo-conservative it may as well be in a foreign country. 

 On the bus ride home yesterday I was thinking about Greek politics and asking Joanna (Arcadia social director) about the right-wing party and their elaborate set-ups in Syntagma. She said, “I don’t really understand why they are playing such loud happy music.  We didn’t really have a great year with the fires and financial downturn.”  In that same moment, a fight broke out on the bus.  Between some punks? No between two (and then three) old men.  I mean yelling, hands up in each other’s faces fighting.  I have never seen someone that old become that heated about anything.  It was great.  I waited till the next stop to get off because I didn’t want to miss anything (like I can understand right? It was all in Greek).  But their tones and movements said enough.  Apparently, they were arguing about politics with the elections coming up. 

 For the first time I really saw Greece in it’s true form-as the birthplace of democracy.  As the home to the original freethinkers.  While I may not know about everything that is going on around me (ie the blue booths), I like to think that my curiosity might make me a freethinker as well.  A democrat wouldn’t have sat at the blue booth…but maybe a freethinking (and genuinely spacey) person would have. 

 (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it, Uncle John)



Undefined Greek Time

September 28, 2009

Greeks do what they want.  They are not concerned with time or following a precise system.  Much of this stems from the fact that Greeks are freethinkers – the original freethinking man.  Discussion is perhaps the most valued Greek pastime; and man can conversing Greeks pass the time. 

 10 minute coffee break on the job? Try 3 hours over which 1 (count um 1!) drink is enjoyed/sipped.  It’s really an art form, to make your beverage last that long.  Think that the owners will get pushy if you stay that long and only order a 2 euro drink?  Quite the opposite actually; they immediately think tourist.  Lucky for me, my general appearance identifies me as a tourist rather than the rate at which I drink coffee.  What happens over this long coffee?  Just talking with friends.  I have never known a culture that values friendship so strongly.  No one is ever too busy to sit with his or her friends and converse for hours on end.  No blackberries, no laptops just good company.

 Smaller stores don’t abide by exact hours of operation.  Restaurants will serve you till the wee hours of the morning, but not generally before 1pm ever.  And taxis do not always take you where you want to go.  “Gazi parakalo,” we asked one cab driver Friday night.  “Ohi, too much traffic sorry.  I can take you to Syntagma?”  Huh?  No?  Isn’t that illegal?  Did he say no because we weren’t Greek?  Maybe, it happens.  And there are no laws (like there are in NYC) that prevent taxi drivers from denying someone a ride.

 Our professor later told us that the taxi driver probably said no merely because he didn’t want to drive through traffic.  But even our professors are caught off guard sometimes.  When I ventured with Joanna to buy a student monthly transportation pass, we were told, “Ohi.  We might have some on Monday.” Even though they were posted as being available.  Joanna was certainly annoyed, as it requires a specific student id, passport, and passport picture for me to attain the transport pass (essentially the same requirements for a student visa).  But she wasn’t surprised and I wasn’t really either.  After all, in America the DMV is in no way anymore helpful or efficient. 

 As much as I’ve come to love living on Greek time, I wouldn’t say the same for Greece’s transportation system.  And while, you can’t always get what you want, you can try sometimes, and you just might find you’ll become a little more Greek.



And just like Splat!

September 25, 2009

Athens is not exactly known for its cleanliness.  One classmate of mine asked Joanna (Arcadia social director), “I thought that Athens was cleaned up a lot since the Olympics.”  She replied back, “it is cleaned up.  Now there are people who pick up the trash off the streets every night.”  This is true as I have spotted them occasionally.

 But, Athens is a little grimy.  Everyone smokes.  Everyone.  And, everyone smokes a lot; 25 cigarettes a day? That’s a light smoker.  Also, everyone smokes wherever they want even though a law was recently passed that prohibits smoking inside.  There are still ashtrays at every table and cigarettes are often sold at restaurants and bars.  Even the vendors at the market that I frequent smoke heavily, over all of the fresh produce.  Smoked pears anyone?

 Athens is also full of graffiti.  It’s on the buildings in my hood and on churches too.  Not to mention the presence of stray dogs everywhere.  And get this, today I’m strolling down the street when SPLAT!  A bag of trash comes flying out of someone’s apartment window and lands inches in front of me as it bounces off the dumpster.  Hmm, that’s funny the dumpster is shut closed; were they aiming for me?  Well, it certainly wasn’t the first time I had something unwarranted land at my feet in Greece.

 However, apparently Athens is going through a renaissance.  What used to be an old factory district is now an area full of great bars and large restaurants.  And the graffiti is considered decorative news, not destructive vandalism.  As for the stray dogs, they are all collared and vaccinated-and also quite fat because they get fed often.  I’m not going to be petting them anytime soon, but now they aren’t so bad.  And the cigarette smoke? Well, I’m getting used to it.

 Athens is a little bit dirty, that’s for sure.  But sometimes it’s the grit that makes it shine.  And when the grit lands directly in front of you, it might just make you shine (that is if you’ve got a sense of humor about such things). 



Greek Street Cred

September 24, 2009

Being aware of my surroundings is not exactly something that I excel at.  Sure I notice the Temple of Zeus when I pass it on my way home and the Panathenian Stadium is hard to miss.  I certainly seem to notice details, like the funny little trashcans at the acropolis in the shape of a pillar (my classmates think it is a coincidence).  But as far as street smarts go, I’m lacking. 

 However, in this very busy city, I am learning (whether I want to or not) to be more observant.  It comes as a necessity here in Athina when cars/mopeds/motorcycles/four-wheelers do not stop on a red light unless a pedestrian is crossing the street.  “Jan, I’m a little bit concerned about crossing streets.  Red lights seem to mean nothing here” one student said to Jan, Arcadia Center’s program director.  “Well, you just have to hurl yourself into traffic once the walking light is green.  If they don’t stop just give them a dirty look and they will.”  Or they might not; two students got hit by mopeds last year.

 Okay, note to self:  Glare both ways before crossing the street.  Today, as I tried to cross the street a moped was going full speed ahead towards me.  I put my new street cred into action and glared at him.  The moped stopped.  Hmmm, this new awareness of my surroundings thing is going well so far.

 Later on, my art class went to the new and very controversial Acropolis museum.  Well I was certainly observant there.  Everywhere that I looked there was something to see.  Up there was the reflection of the Acropolis.  Down, through the clear floors, there are newfound ruins that were discovered during the museum’s construction.  Left there was ancient Greek pottery; right there was the renowned (and cheap) Acropolis Museum Café. 

 I was so aware of my surroundings in fact, that I became unaware of myself.  Was I feeling O.K.?  Hmm, is it hot in here?  When can we sit down again?  Mayday Mayday, Jayna’s going to faint.  And I didn’t even realize it like I normally do.  Mind you, I generally am aware and choose to ignore it.  But this time I was unaware of my own very familiar symptoms.  Great.

 When my hearing started to go, I finally ended up mumbling, “vasalvagal…hypoglycemic” to my professor as I ran towards the nearest bathroom.  The museum guide was laughing at me.  I managed to get myself together and I ate a pear that I brought with me.  Of course that was all that it took for me to feel better. 

 When I rejoined my class my professor said, “ok? Now you present your statue.”  Cool.  I had to speak to the class about a statue that I had been observing. I don’t really know what I said seeing as I was just regaining consciousness.  All I know is that it could have been a lot worse.  What if I had fainted onto a statue (they are freestanding, no glass).

 A mortal fainting among the gods, how fitting.  And as long as I’m mortal, I better continue to build up my street cred.  But apparently, street smarts will only get you so far.  Self-awareness is also required to reach the finish line, and maybe, if you’re lucky, to Olympic gold.



Goldie Locks and the three (or five) bakeries

September 23, 2009

It has become quite clear that there are a lot of bakeries in Athens.  On my two-minute walk from the Arcadia Center to my apartment I pass by five.  FIVE bakeries.  Naturally, I have chosen to endeavor on a hunt for the perfect cookie.  Greece has all these different types of little cookies-kind of like those ones that you find on federal hill, but more.  I have tried chocolate dipped, sesame, coconut, almond, and spicy pepper? amongst others.  But I haven’t found “the one.”

I have bought these different types of cookies from all of the bakeries near me.  I bought almond cookies from the extravagant one on the corner…good but not great.  I tried chocolate dipped ones from the new one that opened next door to my apartment…up there!, but I like their baklava better.  I also bought some sesame ones from the bakery across from my ATM…they were good but their olive bread takes precedence.

So, quite literally I felt like Goldie Locks trying everything.  How do I distinguish which bakery has “the cookie.”  I mean honestly if things kept on going like they were, my hips/wallet was going to be collateral.  What to do, what to do???

Well, the woman in the bakery next door spoke English to me when I tried ordering in Greek.  Much appreciated, but I don’t like that.  Surprisingly, I’d rather make an ass out of myself butchering the Greek language than speak English.  “ena froule parakalo?” (one strawberry please? Referring to the mini strawberry cookie).  “You want the strawberry one?” she replied.  And I’d rather struggle to understand her reply in Greek than hear English….that bakery is too English.

 The woman at the extravagant bakery on the corner is pleasant but not interested in having a relationship with me (crazy sounding to expect right? Well I’ve come to expect it here.  I wave to the butcher everyday and haven’t spoken more than two words to him.)  That bakery is too aloof.

The bakery across from my ATM is certainly friendly, but it’s a little expensive compared to the others.  If I shopped there frequently I would need to walk across the street and hit the ATM afterwards every time.  What a fitting location.  That bakery is too pricey.

 However, the bakery near Arcadia Center is considerably cheap.  The women who work there are always friendly and inviting.  And the best part is, they only speak Greek.  Well isn’t it obvious then that this is the bakery that must have “the cookie.”  Not necessarily, I initially thought.  It already has the best chocolate croissant, it can’t also have the best cookies (I reasoned.  Great logic huh?).  I just had thought that every bakery would have something special to offer-something specific that it was great at making, and I already deemed this one as chocolate croissant heaven.

 Well it turns out that it also houses “the chosen cookie.”  I order a sampling of three different types to have during my two and a half hour kaffe today before class.  The first one was too sweet.  The second one was too small (I wanted more).  But the third one was the one.  It melted in my mouth.  It was lemony and covered in powdered sugar, and just plain delicious. 

Yesterday I was at the Acropolis for my first class and then at Dionysus’s Theater for my second class.  I went to the market and then had an amazing language class with Apostolos.  A monumental day (literally) to say the least.  And today, I slept in, did some homework, strolled my neighborhood, took a long kaffe break and then went to my Greek literature class.  Uneventful? No equally monumental to yesterday because I found “the cookie” that I enjoyed at “the café.” 

Sometimes I feel like Athens is so large that I can’t possibly find the best of everything while I am here.  But today I was reminded that the best of the best is often found in unexpected places; and sometimes right around the corner.



Don’t talk to strangers. Unless you are in Greece

September 22, 2009

The concept of privacy, of minding your own business is not exactly an everyday value in Greece.  While I realized this as soon as I arrived, it has become especially apparent lately.  I am not criticizing this cultural norm, I am just trying to get used to it.  And I’ve been going to bed every night thinking that I was getting used to it.

 That is until Olga woke me up yesterday as she cleaned my floor.  No, Olga is not my fourth roommate-she is a woman who cleans our apartment.  Imagine my surprise when I open my eyes to see a woman who I do not know in my bedroom mopping my floor.  Not only was I just waking up, I was also quite confused that someone would even be cleaning my apartment.  “Kalimeraa Kalimeraa.  Tikanis?” Olga says completely normal, as if it was no big deal.  “poli kala, esis?” I said.  Meanwhile I’m searching my brain for “I’m confused?” “who are you?” in Greek.  But just like in class, I blank and continue to repeat the four or five words that I remember.

 Maybe she is a neighbor?  One of my classmates had a neighbor come into her apartment looking for a feather duster once?  Nope, she’s already got a mop.  Hmmm.  Flight or fight?  Definitely flight. (Have I ever chosen fight?).  My roommate informed me that she was our cleaning lady.  “We have a cleaning lady?”  I’m still trying to wrap my head around that one.  Olga continued to talk to me when I was eating in the kitchen, and flossing in the bathroom.  Apparently, my ratty boxers and morning breath were not going to prevent Olga from talking to me.  I only felt like an idiot for not knowing more Greek.  Generally, this feeling occurs later on in the day rather than immediately when I wake up.

 Later on that day my Professor took a classmate and I to an art gallery opening for American artist, Mark Titchner.  The Exhibit is called, “The Age of Happiness.”  It was great and had captivating installations.  She (our professor) offered to take the whole class but it came as no surprise that only I and another girl, my roommate Melissa, wanted to go.  Going to a gallery opening with a Greek who has connections? What’s the hesitation? On the way there our professor asks us every question under the sun.  She wants to know everything about us and she wants to help us in any way that she can.  Sure my professors at Elon are also interested in their students-but man, southern hospitality’s got nothing on Greece.  So we go, and meet the exhibit director and all these other important people with her. Everyone she talked to who worked at the exhibit wanted to know who we were?  What we thought?  It was strange to be amongst so many clearly upper class Greeks.  It was stranger when they wanted to actually talk to us and apparently to also know our life stories. 

 One vendor at the market today certainly acted like he already knew my life story, “you are form America.” (I only spoke Greek to him, again I think it’s the hair? Or my height?)  “You like george bush.  I like him. He is gay though.  I like obama.  Welcome to Greece.  You will like my oranges.”  I will not buy your oranges again malaka.

 It was only after that rather one-sided conversation with the smartass orange vendor that I fully appreciated “Greek nosiness.”  (not sure what else to call it)  Because unlike the orange vendor, most Greeks are not looking for a laugh from the blonde giant roaming their market.  They are merely curious and caring.  Their questions are genuine and so are their hearts.  Mind your own business?  What kind of rule to live by is that?  We are each other’s business, all of us.