Saturday, November 3, 2007

Glimpses of Life in Greece

Yesterday and the day before were entirely consumed in buying two new items for the house. One purchase was indirectly the result of Demetrios’ cold. He decided, for the duration, to sleep on the futon, in an (apparently successful) effort not to give the cold to me. Well, that futon is hard as brick! We really cannot expect a guest to sleep there.

The other item we need is what I call a “wall unit” and the Greeks call a syntheto because it consists of various matching elements you can purchase separately, such as shelves, small display cabinets, small solid-fronted cabinets, a unit that holds your television and DVDs, and so forth. You then arrange these as artistically as you can upon the available wall space. Or you can buy them all built into one large piece of furniture.

The problem with shopping for furniture is that the showrooms are all outside the city, and getting there is always an ordeal. This time the ordeal was exacerbated by the construction along the Egnatia. The Egnatia is the main road of this city, in fact, one of two main roads in all of Macedonia. It is the road St. Paul traveled from Philippi to here and from here to Berea. Well, he would probably prefer not to travel the Egnatia in Thessaloniki today, as it is being dug up for the new subway system. (I’m hoping and assuming great care is being taken with these excavations, as the entire city is obviously sitting atop a priceless archaeological site.) It took us two buses, a longish hike, and a cab ride to get where we were going.

One scene along the way made up for a lot. We passed, by foot, a vacant lot, fenced in, which houses some unidentified ancient ruins. (Unidentified doesn’t mean nobody knows what they are, only that we don’t. There are no signs.) Ancient ruins in this part of the world always house cats. There, among some 20 feline friends, mostly calicos that reminded me of my Molly Malone, I spotted a young woman sitting quietly. All around her, pages of newspaper were spread out, upon each of which she had put food for the cats.

My heart rose straight up into my throat. I got as close to the woman as I could and when she stood up to greet me, I pulled the ever-present baggie of cat food out of my purse and tossed it to her over the high fence. She caught it, smiled, and said thank you and we moved on.

One of the nice things about buying furniture in Greece is that you pick out what you want from the showroom, and they build it for you, happily making any modifications you require. We required some, the rooms in this house being small. Anyway, we ended up with a sofa that becomes a bed simply by removing the back cushions. But the really cool part of this thing is that the front, below the seat, which looks solid, pulls out and is a separate trundle bed. This trundle bed is spring-mounted, so that with a lever, you can pull it up to the same height as the seat of the couch. Thus, you can have either two single beds or a double bed. You could even roll the trundle bed into another room if you wanted to. I love the versatility! The washable (!) upholstery looks like velvet and is very moderne. The kanape (sofa) itself will be upholstered in melon. The rear cushions are to be a splashy pattern of melon, cream, black, and burnt orange, and the decorative pillows are in the same burnt orange. Anybody who has been acquainted with our very classical, traditional taste will appreciate what a departure this is for us; we feel so adventurous!

The syntheto is more traditional. It’s all one piece, in walnut.

Delivery to be December 7. Our departure from Greece to be December 10. Close shave. Par for the course with us.

On our way home Thursday night, we had to change buses right at the corner where McDonald’s is, so we stopped there and had a Big Mac and a Quarter Pounder. Let’s face it; Greek food is fabulous, but an American, now and then, just gets a hankering for a hamburger!

We got home a little earlier last night; I sat out on the balcony at dusk and watched the crows and the ravens gathering on nearby TV antennas before heading, in groups, to their respective roosts for the night. The beaks of the ravens are so big you can see them clearly against the evening sky.

I love watching things from that balcony! There is a woman across the street from us we call the “flei├čige Dame,” industrious woman, but we use the German term because it somehow sounds more like what we mean. She’s always, always hard at work cleaning her house. She comes out on the balcony to shake her dust rags, beat her rugs, fetch a broom or bucket. She airs out her bed sheets daily on her clotheslines unless it is raining. She dusts the railing of her balcony every day, too. (She doesn’t have doves hanging out with her all day as we now have. I have to scrub my railings! And no, that does not get done daily.) Today she brought out each large cushion from her sofa and beat it five times with her carpet beater, and took it back inside. Watching her, I feel like a complete slob.

This morning I went around and did my marketing. That’s always fun; makes me feel so Greek, because all the other housewives are doing the same thing. (Except the industrious woman; she's too busy polishing door handles or something.)

By the time I got to the butcher shop, I was loaded with shopping bags from Nikoletta at the corner grocery and Anesti, the fruit and vegetable man. Another woman came in with me and ordered a kilo of ground beef. Then the butcher’s wife asked me what I wanted. I said, “The same.” The other customer said, “Oh, give her mine, and I’ll wait. She has so many heavy bags!” Then she turned to me and said, “You do want half and half, don’t you?”

I said I didn’t know what that meant.

“Here in Greece,” said Parthena, the butcher’s wife, speaking slowly and clearly, “we put half beef and half pork into our ground meat. It is very tasty that way.”

“Where is she from?” asked the other customer.

Ameriki. But she’s Orthodox, and she is learning Greek. She can already write it.”

(It’s never, “She’s American and Orthodox. Everyone always says, “American but Orthodox.”)

I thanked both of them very much, but declined to take the other woman’s order, with a promise to try the half-and-half next time.

Parthena has always loved telling her other customers about me, ever since the first time I ever went into the butcher shop by myself. I wanted ground beef, and it never occurred to me until I had actually entered the shop that I had no idea how to say that in Greek.

I was rather embarrassed, but decided to see if I could make myself understood. “Sorry,” I said. “I don’t speak Greek and I don’t know the word for what I want…” Then I remembered the word for meatballs. “I want to cook some meatballs,” I said.

Parthena nodded, then turned toward the back wall of the shop, where there are posters of various animals. She pointed to the poster of the cows. “From that?”

“Yes, from that. Please tell me, what is it called?”

So she told me and I whipped out my tiny spiral notebook and wrote it down, with her help. And she has been telling people about that ever since.

People here are so kind!

Another kindness has been shown to me, too. Ioannis, the Theologian, found me a priest who speaks excellent English, studied in London, who is willing to take me under wing while I’m here. I haven’t phoned Fr. Athanasios yet, but shall, very soon.

Kostas is still in the hospital; today is the 16th day! However, there is still talk of discharging him tomorrow or soon thereafter.

Hint from Helen: You can make an exception to the rule and attend the home church of a saint on that saint’s feast day after all, provided the saint isn’t one of the more hugely popular ones and provided, further, that the church happens to be within easy walking distance of your home, as is the case with the Church of Sts. Cosmas and Damian.


Matthew the Critical said...

This is just a comment to say "HELLO"!
ever since I read one of your comments a couple of years ago, I've wanted to tell you what really wonderful name you have. It is just "WOW"! If i ever write a story with a Greek female character, I will name her after you.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

How kind of you, Matthew!

When I went to see the priest to tell him I needed to become Orthodox, one of his questions was, "You'll need a saint's name. What name will you take?"

"Somebody told me it's up to you to decide that," I replied.

"Yes, it is up to me, and yes, I will. Now, which name would you like me to choose for you?" With a big smile.

So I said I had always wanted to be Anastasia.

It is a common name among Greek women.