Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Reminiscence

Demetrios has gone to Katerini to visit his brother. Two friends of his are going to be there, who want to ask Demetrios some questions about a friend of theirs who is suffering from depression. I elected to stay home. In the first place, the conversation will be in Greek, but also, I think the proceedings need some privacy. (You never know, for example, who the “friend” may turn out to be.)

That leaves me Home Alone for a good 8-10 hours, I estimate. That’s good! Everybody needs some alone time. There’s plenty to do. That wind storm the other night blew all sorts of dust into our house! And the writing bug has bitten me, so I’m working hard on my book. And should I get tired of that, Demetrios took me to a yarn shop he discovered yesterday right here in our own neighborhood, and I picked out two different kinds of yarn. Of course, like any True Knitter, I have my knitting bag with me, complete with everything any knitter could reasonably need. So I look forward to creating something lovely, don’t yet know what.

Last time we were here, it was I who went without Demetrios to Katerini with these two friends. They are very nice. Chara is from right here, this very neighborhood. Paul is Greek, but born and raised in Cairo, Egypt. He later lived in America for many years, 30, I think, and when he retired, he came here – for the first time! He knew and can tell you stories about all sorts of famous people, like Aristotle Onasis, La Jackie, Maria Callas.

They want to take us to Egypt one day. They love it there and they say the Egyptians like the Greeks. (They do not like Americans, though!) Well, maybe. Maybe they’ll make plans with Demetrios today, for all I know.

The time I visited them, we all took a bus back to Thessaloniki together that evening, arriving about 9:15. Then, at the main terminal, they hurried me onto the bus to get back to my neighborhood. That was when one of my favorite adventures in Greece took place, which I here reprint from the journal I kept at the time. The entry is dated 01 June, 2006.

It wasn’t until after the bus had gotten underway a moment later that I thought I’d really better check what number it was. I knew I needed a 3, 33, or 39. (Thank goodness I had learned all the Greek numbers over the winter; before then I could only count to twenty!)

There was a young blonde damsel sitting across from me, with spiky hair and gothic makeup. I said, “Excuse me; what number is this bus?”

“Trianta-ena,” she said with a smile, and then, in English, “Thirty-one.”

“Ohhh, I’ve made a mistake.”

“Where are you going?” in Greek again, very sweetly, eager to be helpful.

“Hippocratio,” I replied, the name of a hospital in our neighborhood – and the name of the corresponding bus stop. (Yes, the genitive form of Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, as in the Hippocratic Oath; isn’t that fun?)

“This bus will be good, then,” she replied.

Well, okay, but I had never taken a 31 before and didn’t know where it might stop. (Afterward I discovered it would have been perfect.) In fact, I had never had to get around town by myself before at all, so I sat watching nervously. Yes, okay, we were on the Egnatia, as we should be…we were passing all the elegant shops I had seen before…

Then the bus stopped, not even at a regular stop, and the driver said, “All out.”

I looked quizzically at the spiky-haired blonde, who said, in Greek, “The road is closed.”

Sure enough, there was a big ribbon across the main road of Thessaloniki, and blue police lights swirling. And as I climbed down onto the pavement, a roar met my ears, thousands and thousands of men shouting, chanting. I thought every motorcyclist in Thessaloniki under the age of 40 must be there, and quite a few over 40, too, many with girlfriends. There were not hundreds, but tens of thousands of motorcycles, with hundreds more automobiles, and all blinking their lights, leaning on their horns, and gunning their motors.

Flares were lit; there was smoke everywhere. Horns were honking; flags were waving, unfamiliar flags. In the intersection was a monument of some sort, and two men atop the statue were leading the crowd in shouting slogans and singing songs. A car sitting with an open sunroof had a bass drum mounted on its roof; a man was standing up through the sunroof beating it vigorously, keeping time for the chant. Other men along the route were functioning as more cheerleaders and traffic directors.

I didn’t know whether to be frightened or not. This was obviously some sort of extremely passionate protest; on the other hand, the guys looked peaceable; in fact I thought they were rather enjoying themselves. Several of them were taking pictures with their cell phone cameras.

Everything else had come to a standstill. Store owners and employees were standing outside their shops watching the commotion. You couldn’t do anything else, couldn’t go anywhere. You couldn’t even cross any street. Not only the Egnatia, but several cross streets were blocked off for blocks and blocks. More motorcycles were coming from everywhere to join the throng, traveling along sidewalks if necessary.

I thought about telephoning Demetrios; there was even a phone booth nearby; but on second thought I wouldn’t be able to hear him, or he me. Nothing to do but stand there and enjoy the show. How to get home would have to be worried about later!

I stopped and shouted to a young couple, “Excuse me. I am a foreigner. What is this?”

“You speak English?” asked the girl, shouting back.

When I nodded over the din, she yelled, “It is a problem with our football team.”

Then I looked at the flags more carefully. They said, PAOK, the name of the local soccer team. It is in some financial trouble and is scheduled to close down or be sold or something, much to the outrage of its fans. This was a gigantic pep rally! These were the team’s fight songs!

After a while, I managed to wiggle my way behind two teenaged girls who were determined to cross the street. Eventually, they did, darting in and out recklessly between motorcycles, and I was right behind them.

Once out of the major part of the congestion, I thought, well, we usually catch buses on the road nearest the sea, so heading toward the sea seems the reasonable thing to do. I walked a bit and found myself between the YMCA and the sports arena. Two policemen had cordoned off that intersection, as well. I went up to them to ask where to catch my bus, but they ignored me and kept talking into their walkie-talkies.

There were no cabs in sight; obviously they were giving this event wide berth!

I spotted a number 39 bus, my bus, headed in the wrong direction and unable to move. So I motioned to the driver, who slid open his window, and I asked him where to catch a 39 to Hippocratio. Pointing down a cross street, he said, “Go right down there, to the first stop.”

So I did, arriving just in time to catch the right bus!

The only seat left on it was facing backward, so sitting there wasn’t very smart. I almost missed the stop, only realizing at the last moment we had arrived!

It was 10:45 when I walked in the front door, and Demetrios and Christos were on the phone, worrying about my absence.

“Turn on the television,” I said, “and you’ll see why.”

Demetrios asked, when I had told him all about it, “Did you ever see anything like that in the States?”

I said, only the protests against the Vietnam War and never before that or since.

I went to bed enormously pleased with all the day’s adventures, especially with having met Chara and Paul, and having gotten home all by myself in adverse circumstances. Not bad, for someone whose sense of direction is totally dysfunctional.


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