Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Living in Greece, Part 03

Taking Time to Enjoy Being Here
Thursday 02 September

Mena and Kostas, having tried without success to reach us in England, took a chance and telephoned us here Tuesday night and were happily surprised when we answered the phone. They immediately invited us over, and we went last night. (They’ve invited us to go to their country home in Sylatta this weekend, too, but we are too tired and too busy.)

The conversation was mainly about politics. Okay, I can understand wanting to say some things about that. But why do these two men want to keep saying the same things to each other, day after day, year after year? (Kostas and Demetrios also do this by phone, year ‘round.) I’m so sick of it. So depressing! Isn’t there any other sort of thing to discuss?

Oh, yes, there is: geramata. Geriatric ailments. A favorite among people in our age group. Sigh. Mena’s back is hurting more or less all the time from arthritis. She limps, walking bent. She has let her hair go gray.

My back also hurts more or less all the time, but it seems to be muscular, not in the bones.

Kostas is well; you’d never know he had such a terrible heart operation last year.

We woke up at 9:30 this morning, both still feeling very tired, I suppose from our rough journey to London. It’s unlikely to be on account of the time difference, for it is only two hours. We got dressed and walked the two blocks to the kafenion (coffee shop, but this one also serves certain baked goodies with the coffee) where we had our first bougatsa of the year. Bougatsa is hot, flaky pastry, baked in a flat pan, with a firm custard in the middle. Cream-filled doughnuts are the nearest thing to them we have in the U.S.

The old man who used to run the place wasn’t there. We inquired, and learned he still works there occasionally, but has slowed down.

The streets are noticeably cleaner then they used to be, and somehow the sidewalks are not quite such obstacle courses as they used to be, although they still are, just less so. There aren’t as many feral cats as there have been some years, though more than last year. They are lean, but not emaciated, as sometimes in the past. When I get around to it, I will buy cat food to keep in a baggie in my handbag.

Times are hard here. (And, as in the States, the government keeps discovering that the financial problem is ‘worse than we knew.’ If you believe them, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you for more than you knew. Are all our governments perpetually made up of idiots, who just never get it? Not at all! They are very bright people and they know exactly what they are doing. They just prefer us to think them inept instead of dishonest.)

Our favorite fruit and vegetable vendors, Vasiliki and Anesti, have closed up shop. Last year we wrote down their telephone number, however, and we hope we can find it again and get in touch. Anesti was having back pain, leaving him unable to lift the crates of produce. Now we buy from our second-favorite greengrocer, the one whose father tends an ever-growing family of feral cats.

The taverna across the street is still there, The Cry of the Gull. But we can no longer see the logo on the canopy or watch the outside diners from our balcony, on account of the trees.

Nikoletta and Stelios are still at their grocery shop but Nikoletta’s hair is now graying. We stopped there to buy some of her specialties, especially her tarama and some cheeses and salami. We forgot to get some of her wonderful eggplant salad, but will get it another time.

Iannis and Paraskevoula still operate the butcher shop across the street from us. She caught sight of us on the sidewalk and greeted us warmly. We bought some lamb chops from them.

The street musicians still come around, singing and playing the accordion. We haven’t yet heard from the one who, after several years of practice, could only play Blue Danube, but our favorites, the accordionist and the woman with the sweetest, most haunting voice, are still around. They didn’t come close enough this time for me to toss them a euro over the balcony, but I hope they will soon.

It’s strange, crossing streets where people drive on the right! We had become quite accustomed to the English way. Now we still have to exercise extra caution.

It’s also quieter in our neighborhood (even when our windows and doors are all open) than it used to be. One street being closed due to subway construction a couple of blocks away has reduced the noise; there are fewer motorcycles coming through our intersection. We think probably a lot of the citizens are still living in their summer houses in their various home villages, because there are fewer people than usual in the streets. Part of the (relative!) quiet may also be due to the recession, people can’t afford to shop as much or frequent the bars as often. Even the nightly revelry from the Drunken Duck seems a bit quieter. Of course, it’s not yet the weekend!

In the evening, we walked down to the sea, which by checking my journals from earlier years I discover is what we usually do on about our second or third day here. It’s an easy outing for tired travelers. We just sat in the bright warmth, sipped our drinks, and watched children playing. Then as the sun hug lower over the Aegean, we joined the other people walking up or down the promenade, and when we began to grow weary, we came home. A lovely day altogether.