Sunday, October 2, 2011


Sunday, 02 October

Or, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum Barbecue

When we left poor Mena on Friday morning, she was in such pain from the arthritis in her back that I didn’t know how she was going to manage to put together a barbecue for Saturday afternoon. I suggested we cancel it, but she wouldn’t hear of that. I offered to bring half the food, but she said she was going to prepare things that were easy to do and she had it all planned, and I must not bring a single thing.

Still, I decided to bring some devilled eggs. So early Saturday morning, off I went to Nikoletta’s general store, two or three blocks away, and bought a dozen eggs. You can get them closer to home, but I didn’t trust their freshness there. (Eggs here aren’t usually refrigerated. They’re sold and eaten while still fresh.)

These eggs did smell strange and not all that good while they were boiling, and when I removed the shells afterward and sliced each egg open, the yolks were orange, not yellow, but that, I decided, must be some sort of local variation. Different breed of hens or something. Besides, my kitchen is breezy this time of year, so the Impending Doom was not obvious. I put the egg halves into a bowl and covered it with plastic wrap. This, plus bottles of spices and a bottle each of mustard, mayo (new and unopened) and vinegar I put in a tote bag to finish the project at Mena’s house, thus avoiding to expose mayo-filled food to the Greek heat for the hour and a half it would take us to get there.

All was well in the taxi ride to the bus depot. The problem didn’t begin until after we were aboard the bus. I must have carried the tote somewhat carelessly, because the boiled eggs, moist and slippery, came right out of the bowl. I didn’t realize that at the time; all I knew was, something was beginning to reek. I hoisted the tote to my lap and tried to seal the opening by folding it back, but the odor was only increasing.

When the conductor same by, the man in the seat behind us said, “Something stinks.”

The conductor sniffed and said, “It’s something from outside.”

I sat still and didn’t say a word.

“The odor will go away once we leave this place,” said the conductor. Demetrios and I looked at each other, knowing it wouldn’t.

“You ought to be more careful about the ingredients you put in those eggs,” said Demetrios, stiffly.

Stung, I protested, “I haven’t added any ingredients yet!”

“But they’re obviously in your bag.”

“Sealed up in bottles!” (Well, except for the chopped onions and the Herbes de Provence, but they were each wrapped carefully in foil.)

All the people around us began to look sick. If I could have thrown the bag out the window, I would have. But as I couldn’t, I just sat up a little straighter.

Then, gradually, the nose detected something else blended in with the smell of the rotten eggs.

“Do you smell vinegar?” I asked Demetrios.

“Yes, I think perhaps I do.”

“I think I’d better look.”

“No! Do not open that tote for any reason!”

He was so obviously right. Better to let the vinegar keep leaking.

So there we sat all the way to Nea Syllata, 50 minutes, everybody near us fighting nausea, my skirt and sweater becoming ever more saturated with vinegar, both of us embarrassed out of our minds, and hoping against hope nobody would figure out the origin of the offense.

They did; you just know they did, at least by the time we stood up to get out of the bus (gathering about us whatever shreds of dignity we had left). But by then we didn’t have to face them any more.

We found the nearest public trash receptacle. I momentarily considered trying to save various spices, but the eggs, now sodden with vinegar, had slid all around and between the various bottles and stuck to them. I raised my eyebrows at Demetrios; he nodded. We tossed the whole thing, tote and all. I wanted to cry: from relief at getting rid of that stench; from the hope that whoever collects that garbage will forgive me; from sorrow that my attempt to help Mena failed; from gratitude that God spared me serving those eggs to anybody.

At Mena’s house, the very first thing I did, before greeting her or Kostas, was go around to the back and rinse off the vinegar-soaked portions of my clothes with the garden hose.

I intended to sit in a lawn chair and dry off, but Mena found me a skirt of hers to wear (“From Paris,” she said.) and hung mine on the clothesline.

She hadn’t been kidding when she told me she didn’t need any help with the barbecue; she had tons of wonderful food, which, together with the even more wonderful company, drove the whole mishap from our minds. Ioannis was there, the theologian, with his wife, the other Mena, and Manolis with Vasilea, and Vasilios, Mena’s and Kostas’ son.

Vasilea, who seldom tries to tell anybody what to do but when she does you do it, directed the seating arrangements, alternating the men and women for a change, pretty much forcing the men to talk about more than just politics. Then to ensure a long interlude, she made a point of asking Demetrios about his book.

As for trying to help Mena, my eggs having been such a smashing failure, I sneaked in and did dishes afterwards, putting a good dent in the work before she discovered me and drove me out of the kitchen.

Oh, and I’m pleased to report that Mena has been feeling much better. Demetrios had suggested some pills for her and taking those for two days seems to have helped her considerably. She was actually able to enjoy the barbecue.