Friday, November 16, 2007

Tourists, at Last (Sort of)

After a day of rain and gloom, today shone bright, dry, and warm, so we at long last decided to do something touristy, namely to go see the Laographico Mouseio Makedonias, Cultural Museum of Macedonia.

As usual, we hadn’t walked three blocks before we ran into Old Friends, Stelios and Anastasia, who live very near us. They were just getting outside for a walk. So Anastasia linked arms with me and we chatted, and our husbands chatted, until we got to where our ways parted. They were going to walk along the waterfront.

That, of course, is the place to walk, because besides being beautiful, the promenade there is very wide and open, whereas everywhere else in town is an obstacle course. The reason is that when this city was massively revamped, in the 'Sixties, nobody dreamed Greece would one day be so prosperous that more than a few families could afford cars – much less could they foresee every family owning two! The result is, nobody made provisions for parking. There are no parking garages, parking lots, etc. Cars park wherever they can, and double park, and park partway on the sidewalk if necessary, and between them and the dumpsters (nobody saw those coming, either; they populate every other corner) and the illegal sidewalk cafes, there’s no good place to walk around here. Heading toward the sea is the thing to do if exercise is what you want.

We had just parted from Anastasia and Stelios when we looked up to see – another Old Friend. Nikos was in medical school with Demetrios. They were also together in Zoe, a para-ecclesiastical movement, and they sang together in the Zoe choir. Nikos went to Germany to continue his studies, and Demetrios met him again there, in Stuttgart, when he (Demetrios) was in the U.S. Air Force, stationed at the military hospital there. Nikos is an oncologist and a surgeon. Before he retired, he was head of the Cancer Institute here. He speaks English and German, so we were all able to have a nice conversation.

We had almost made it to the Museum, when we crossed the street and a man we were passing suddenly stopped, staring and staring at Demetrios. I glanced up at Demetrios to see that he was staring back. There was a long moment of silence while the two stood looking at each other. Finally, the man said, “I know you…”

“And I know you, too…” said Demetrios.

It only took them only a few moments to realize they had been in high school together. The man’s name was George.

Please tell me, how do these people recognize each other after fifty years?? They were only kids; now they’re senior citizens.

They hadn’t been particularly close or anything, so a few words sufficed and we finally reached our goal.

The museum is well worth the visit. It has a whole floor of traditional costumes, not only from Macedonia, but from all over Greece. It has another floor full of 19th and early 2oth Century technologies. There are two 20-minute videos, each with English subtitles, and the guides also speak English.

The basement was full of children’s drawings of what they had seen at the Museum, and it was delightful.

The whole place had once been a private home, a mansion, owned by a Jewish family. We live, as a matter of fact, in what used to be a Jewish neighborhood. That was before Word War II. What happened to them is similar to what happened to Jews all over Europe. During the German occupation, they were made to move into the center fo the city (with the connivance of the rabbi, according to rumor) and to wear the yellow star. Then they were carried away by rail, and mostly never seen or heard from again.

There's a synagogue near our house, with a Jewish school. Both school and synagogue are behind a tall, iron fence topped with barbed wire. There are concrete-filled barrels in front and behind the property, to keep car bombs at bay. There are two security checkpoints in front of the synagogue.

The Museum, in Demetrios' student days, housed a military school. Young men lived there who were studying to be doctors; the Army would pay all your expenses, food, clothing, housing, etc., and you would owe the Army 15 years of service afterward. Demetrios applied, but (fortunately!) was rejected. He had top marks in school, but the students who were accepted were those who had the right connections. (Demetrios' mother, who couldn't afford to keep supporting him, was so furious when he was rejected, she wrote a letter to Queen Frederika about it!)

Demetrios bought some postcards showing costumes, and then we headed home by a different route – which, however, had been taken over today by an outdoor market. I love these markets! As the prices of vegetables were half of what we usually pay, we bought as many as we could carry: tomatoes, bananas, chestnuts, romaine, green beans, eggplants, clementines (in season and very sweet just now), and fresh spinach, among other goodies. We’re all set for the fast, now, for a while. My tiny refrigerator, about 4 feet high, is crammed full.

After dropping off our purchases at the house, we went to a nearby eatery for a very late lunch. I had just finished eating when I noticed a short, very thin, grizzled and stooped man heading in our direction. He had a grimace that suddenly was – familiar! Christos. I waved; he spotted us and sat down with us. Unable to reach us all day by phone, he had been heading to the Bambolina, a coffee house where he and Demetrios often meet for coffee, hoping to find Demetrios there. That’s where they are now. I came back to put my new fruits and veggies in order and start cooking some of them.

The doves know when we get home. Don’t ask me how they know; they just do. They come right away to be fed.

They also know which room you’re in, and they come to whichever part of the balcony looks into that room, and they sit there on the railing cocking their heads at you as if to ask, “Where’s our food?” Who has whom trained?

Nowadays an intrepid house sparrow often comes with them. The male dove, performing his duty assiduously, usually drives it away, but sometimes the sparrow sneaks in unnoticed and gets a share of the spoils.

Demetrios is particularly fond of the sparrows. He wonders how such a tiny brain as a sparrow’s manages to contain all the information the bird needs. “He knows how to build his nest, how to rear his young, how to fly and how to land, and he knows what to eat and where to find it. How does he know which foods are good for him? Yet he does! Such a miracle, a bird is!”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KELLY, my sweetie! You are growing up so fast!