Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hint from Helen for Husbands, Wives, and Teens

And Anyone Else Who Pulls this Gaffe

When you arrive much, much later than your parents or spouse expected you and you didn’t phone, either, to say you’d be late and when you were coming, there is only one correct thing to say, and that is, “I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”

That may not get you very far because of course it begs the question: “If you know enough to be sorry now, why didn’t you know enough just to call earlier and skip the being sorry? If you know you shouldn’t do it again, why did you do it this time?” If you receive this kind of response, admit right away that you have no excuse. And you really haven’t, face it, because how are you going to describe, plausibly, how you couldn’t manage to get your phone out of your purse or pocket and take a few moments to make that call and you couldn’t use any of your friends’ cell phones, either? No, any excuse you give will backfire. (“I forgot,” for example, only invites a parent to respond, “Well, let’s make sure you don’t forget again. You’re grounded!”)

Simply say, “I’m sorry,” and be sure to add, “It won’t happen again.” This may not get you off the hook, but it may help a little. It’s also the one and only thing that at least will not get you in deeper.

P.S.) Above all, do not remind the other party that since you did have your cell phone, he/she/they could also have called you.

House Tour

Sylvia and Dwight, my dear friends, are planning to be here in about three weeks, and to spend 13 days with us. I'm so excited I think about it all the time! In the process, I dreamed up this little tour of our tiny apartment here in Greece. Well, not so little, but I thought you might enjoy it if you have time for a rather lengthy post.

Here are your keys to the house. The small one opens the front door downstairs, the door to the building. The other key, the skeleton key, opens the apartment door.

The front hallway, or rather, the hallway, period, is of genuine, cut and polished, burgundy and white concrete aggregate. All the other rooms, as you can see at a glance, open onto it. The radiator is an example of the brand new heating system the government here mandated a couple of years ago. Whereas before, our building’s wise and fearless president used to decide when the communal heating would be turned on in the fall, now each apartment controls how much heat to use.

The two chests of drawers in the foyer are part of the apartment’s original furnishings. The smaller of the two mirrors, the one above the chest of drawers on the right, in that crummy-looking gilt frame, is a family treasure, because it is one of the few things that came with the family when they were forced to flee from Constantinople. (We do not call that city ‘Istanbul.’ Mostly we just call it, “The City”.)

The copper pot which now contains silk flowers is another family treasure. It is engraved with the words, “Anastasia, 1893”. Anastasia was Demetrios’ grandmother. The pitcher, which is actually copper-coated tin, was probably a wedding present. The icons are of the Anastasis (Resurrection), for the lady of the house, and of Great Martyr Demetrios, patron saint of this city, for the man of the house. The other icon is of Christ as He looked when he appeared to one of our local saints, Fr. Paisios; it is a print of one painted by nuns under his direction.

To your right as you enter the apartment is the bathroom. If you’ll just walk on past me, I think we can probably fit two at a time in the bathroom.

The bathroom is a work in progress, but considerable progress has been made.

The sink is original. The tap is new, although of course you cannot tell this from the condition of the supposedly stainless steel.

The shower is also new in the past couple of years. It replaces a half tub that used to sit here [point]. It took two weeks to remove it and install the shower, two weeks in which we had to keep clean by means of sponge baths. The tile in the shower is meant to contrast with the tile on the walls. It is, however, the same size and shape in order to line up correctly. You will note that it does not line up correctly, but that is too long a story for this tour. It doesn’t much matter because some day we are going to rip out all the tile and put in something wild and fun.

The toilet, unlike the original one, does not leak. It looks American but is not. This means whatever is put in it has an approximately even chance of landing in water or on bare porcelain. Note the brush kept handy to avoid embarrassment. Also note that you usually need to flush twice.

Greek plumbing systems are not built to accommodate toilet paper; hence, the wastebasket beside it.

The new washing machine also does not leak. It has 18 different programs you can select. Nearly all of them take two and a half hours. This Italian model heats its own water and cleans clothes better than any clothes washer I’ve ever owned in America. It can also spin at the rate of 1,000 revolutions per minute, or three times as fast as a typical machine in America. You don‘t want to spin most clothes that fast, however, as you will never get the wrinkles out if you do.

The window is new. The old one was of louvered glass and couldn’t be tightly closed in winter. It also lacked framing, so all the insides of the walls showed. We’ve had this elegant little thing put in just in time for your arrival. It can open a little, or it can tilt in a lot, for cleaning.

Now if you’ll come two steps in this direction, you’ll be in the bedroom. The combination wardrobe and linen closet on your right was custom made for the spot in which it sits. The top drawer contains towels and washcloths. The middle drawer contains bed linens, and the bottom drawer contains table cloths and assorted pieces of crochet, needlepoint, and embroidery. Blankets and pillows are on the top, together with several large pieces of beautiful fabric we think were woven by Demetrios’ grandmother. One of them is the blanket in which he was wrapped as a baby.

The nearly king-sized, extra-long bed with mirrored headboard and matching nightstands is also custom made for this space; as you see, it takes up most of it. At the foot of the bed, you can pull out a double drawer, and if you lift here [demonstrate] the whole mattress assembly lifts up, revealing that the entire space under the bed is a storage box. After you have unpacked, we’ll put your luggage here.

A question? Oh, yes, that tall piece of furniture behind the door that looks like a stack of small drawers is actually a shoe rack. We take off our shoes and wear slippers in the house. The laundry hamper is further behind the door, on the other side of the shoe rack.

Notice the little chandelier. Like the others in the house, it is of brass and is very ornate and old-fashioned looking. They aren’t actual antiques, but they are so old they are probably unique by now, so they have been left here just because they’re rather interesting, in our opinion.

The sliding glass door on the other side of the bed opens onto the balcony, which we will tour shortly. The window opposite the bed looks straight into several other people’s kitchens.

Our own kitchen is our next stop, if you’ll move four steps to your right as you exit. That’s not dirt on the kitchen floor; that’s the color of the tiles, white and gray – or at least that’s their color now. They will be replaced in due course.

The bare bulb hanging from the middle of the ceiling is going to have a good-looking shade some day.

The sink and countertop are brand new, installed just in time for your visit.

As you know, there is an international convention about water taps: the hot is on the left and the cold is on the right. Here in this kitchen, it’s backwards, but the tap is marked accordingly, so if you’ll check this little blue and red symbol here, you won’t be confused.

One thing that is expensive in Greece is energy, so we use as little hot water as possible, and as little energy as we comfortably can. That doesn’t mean we take cold showers or sit around perspiring instead of turning on the air conditioning – we’re all on vacation here! We aren’t going to make ourselves miserable. But we’re careful, is all. We don’t dawdle in the shower or keep lights on in empty rooms and so forth.

The refrigerator is original and serves to keep food for up to three days – four, if you remember to defrost regularly.

The stove is also original. It has four burners, each a different size. The tiny one is for brewing Greek coffee. The oven temperatures are of course marked in Centigrade; check the Internet for conversion charts. The burners have two settings, “off” and “high”. One burner has a deluxe additional feature, which is the ability to select among six different temperatures.

The sliding glass door opens, as you can see, onto the balcony, and you can probably see the clotheslines just on the other side of the balcony. We don’t need clothes dryers here; the sun dries our laundry very quickly, within half an hour in summer.

The icon box next to the door contains an icon of Christ and a very special icon of His Mother, the story of which we can discuss after the tour.

The collection of bright and/or decorated bottles on the top of the wall cabinets is to hide two copper pipes that are a part of the new heating system. You can still catch glimpses of those copper pipes where the bottle collection is incomplete.

Now if you’ll step across the hall into the living room.

The reproduction French provincial sofa, loveseat, and chairs with the royal blue upholstery were bought for Demetrios’ mother some 30 years ago, but are still serviceable.

The fine pieces of crochet, worked by his mother or grandmother, distract attention from the furniture under them, which is pure, authentic junk.

The hardwood parquet flooring is mostly intact and only missing its finish in less than half a dozen places. It will be refinished or replaced in time.

The wall unit is a combination china hutch, wine rack, bookcase, and entertainment center.

The television gets some 20 channels and the use of the remote will be demonstrated later. You can usually find some American shows with Greek subtitles.

The old Singer sewing machine is our third and last family treasure, brought from Constantinople, together with the pitcher and the mirror. It is still threaded and it works fine.

Do I hear a question? Oh. How do we clean the curtains? Good question, as the ceilings are so high. As you see, we have only sheer curtains in every room. If we need privacy, we use what we call the “shutters,” which are siding doors, behind the glass ones, of perforated metal. Well, the curtain rods in each room can actually be lowered by a pulley. Then you simply unhook the curtains and toss them in the washing machine.

Any more questions? The picture above the sofa? That’s a needlepoint landscape, worked by Demetrios’ mother. This apartment was hers.

As you see, this room also has a door to the balcony, which begins here. If you’ll just step through the sliding door…

Five stories below you, as you exit from the living room, is Gambetta Street. It’s a semi-major thoroughfare in this part of town because it’s relatively long. Over there on the corner is the butcher, and around the corner from him is the nearest pharmacy. The general store is on our side of the street, so hard to see without leaning over awfully far. It has coffees of every description and they grind the coffee for you. It also has a bakery and a good wine cellar. Now if you’ll kind of scrunch around the corner of the building, the balcony continues. That’s Maria’s house, straight across on the same level. She’s a childhood friend of Demetrios’.

Now we are overlooking Baron Hirsch street. (Hirsch because this used to be a Jewish neighborhood, before the War.) That place over there is a taverna, or pub. It has good food. The park below us is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it puts distance between us and other buildings, so we aren’t looking out our windows straight into someone else’s. On the other hand, the park is a gathering place, late at night, for teenagers, motorcyclists, and drunks. (You did remember to bring your ear plugs, didn’t you?) That’s the bar, over on the far side.

This little area of the balcony, where you see the little table and chairs, is where we have breakfast, weather permitting. We’ve bought new chairs, just for you. Over there at the other end of the balcony, around this corner, is the utility area, where we keep a step-ladder, clothespins, mop and broom and the like.

Now we’ll conclude our tour with the sitting room, which doubles as a guest bedroom. If you’ll come with me back around the corner and through the door just before the one leading to the living room.

The sofa is new, and it converts to a bed simply by removing the back cushions. Then, under it is a trundle bed, which slides out – thus – and as you see, the trundle pops up to the same level as the sofa, so you can make them into one big bed or use them as twin beds, or even wheel the trundle bed into the living room if you wanted to. Those are “orthopedic” mattresses, very comfortable.

We bought extra lengths of the same fabrics used in the sofa and cushions to recover these easy chairs and ottomans someday. Oh, by the way, the seats of the chairs lift off, and you can put your bedding in there during the day. The tops of the ottomans also lift off for more storage. There are coat hooks with hangers behind the door.

We hope you will be very comfortable and cozy here, and will enjoy your stay as much as we will. Welcome!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Hint from Helen for Husbands

The man who decides to save his wife the trip and does the grocery shopping for her is a dear, a darling, a considerate, a thoughtful, a wonderful husband.

But if ye would be perfect – Helen assumes this to be the case – check with your wife first. Get a list from her and, with rare exceptions, stick to it. Do not make your shopping a surprise, because the surprise may be on you.

You go to the fruit and vegetable man and you buy:

10 tomatoes, because they are your favorites
10 bananas, because they are her favorites
a kilo of green beans because the ones you had last week were so great
a cantaloupe
8 red peppers to roast in the oven
8 navel oranges
a bag of onions.

You manfully pass up your other favorite, cherries, hoping the price will come down some.

You pay your 6 Euros and bring the goodies home, only to discover that your wife has also been to the same fruit and vegetable man (Does he even know you’re married to each other?) and she has already bought:

5 tomatoes to add to the 3 she already had
6 bananas because they are her favorite
half a kilo of green beans, because the ones you had last week were so great
6 peppers, already roasting in the oven
6 navel oranges
a bag of onions
2 baking potatoes
a half kilo of cherries because they are your favorite

So now youhave 18 tomatoes, 16 bananas, 14 peppers, 14 navel oranges, two bags of onions, 5 pounds of green beans, a half kilo of cherries, a cantaloupe, potatoes, and there’s still the mousmouli to eat up; see below.


That’s pronounced “moose-MOO-lee”. What is it? Darned if I know. Some sort of fruit that grows on trees. George, the carpenter, brought us a small bag of them this morning; they are from his own tree in his village. (No, he hasn’t yet installed our new kitchen counter/drawers/sink because he hasn’t yet received the laminate to put on the top. But it’s otherwise all built and should be ready in two or three more days. He measured a few things a few more times while he was here, and put the new knobs on the upper cabinets.)

Mousmouli. It’s a fruit about the size and shape and color of an apricot, but with smooth skin, not fuzzy. Its texture is like a grape. It looks fairly appetizing, and people do eat it plain. But it is very sour, rather like eating a raw cranberry.

Okay, well, we know what to do with cranberries, don’t we? Boil them with a little orange juice and a little water and a lot of sugar. Oh, and that tangerine liqueur might be good in the mix; it isn’t fit for anything else, heaven knows. Maybe a hint of nutmeg. Yes, and another hint of cinnamon…there! Delicious! It doesn’t congeal like cranberry sauce, but if you wanted to, you could add a little flour or cornstarch. Hmm, and with a little butter, we could have a delicious pie! Rather like rhubarb pie, perhaps. Meanwhile, the stuff I boiled up will make a great ice cream topping. Will go buy some ice cream later today from the corner shop.

“Look what I made with the mousmouli!” I said, delightedly, to Demetrios. “Have a taste; it’s wonderful!”

Another hint for husbands from Helen: It is not prudent to ask, “Did you remove the pits?”

UPDATE: I got the name of the fruit wrong. It's mousmoula, pronounced, "MOOSE-moo-lah."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Cry of the Seagull

Sunday, May 24, 2009

There’s a taverna (pub) across the street from us named, “The Cry of the Seagull” and that name, after today, takes on a whole different meaning. (Okay, so technically there’s no such creature as a “seagull.” There are Laughing Gulls and Herring Gulls and this kind and that kind of gull, all sea birds, but none bears the redundant name of “seagull.” I use the term because I don’t yet know what species of gull we have here in Thessaloniki.)

At six o’clock this morning (Sunday) a neighbor of ours named Christos, who is Elpida’s father-in-law, walked out onto his balcony to see why the seagulls were making such a ruckus.

The gulls here have a weird call in any case; they always do sound strange. But today was different. Today the gulls were very agitated and making all kinds of even stranger cries.

Christos stayed out on his balcony, watching the birds, long enough to smoke a cigarette, then walked back into his apartment and told Soula, his wife, “There’s going to be a seismos.”

Oh, yes, you do know what a seismos is, because you know the words, “seismic” and “seismograph”, right?

What to do? Get out of Dodge? Not really, because, well, on account of seagulls? Plus, you never know whether you’ll be going farther or nearer wherever the epicenter of the quake will be.

That’s what they did, though; they got out of town, bringing Soula’s sister, Demetra, with them. They didn’t do it immediately, not to be alarmists or anything, but in the evening they set out for Nea Syllata, where we were, to help us continue the celebration of Kostas’ nameday.

That's why they were out of town when the quake hit Thessaloniki.

We didn’t feel anything in Nea Syllata, 30 miles away, and neither did they, because they were in the car en route to us, but they heard about it on the car radio. It was a 5.1, not too shabby a quake, either.

So we all sat around, over Mena’s homemade pizza, followed by tiramisu, and traded earthquake stories and then storm stories.

Soula and Demetra told us of a hailstorm that once hit their village. They said it was very narrowly focused; it struck the village but not the surrounding fields, where it would have killed everybody working in them. They said the hail destroyed all the roof tiles of all the houses. That let in the rain, which was falling copiously. The rain soaked the reeds and plaster which are under a traditional Greek roof, and everybody’s ceilings caved in. The villagers took refuge wherever they could, mainly in a warehouse their father owned.

While watching the television, we noted there was also some sort of catastrophe in Florida, but we didn’t get the details because of all the surrounding noise of the party.

At about 11:30 we packed up and all went home to make sure everything was okay.

“Oh, it knocked over our lamp!” said Demetrios. But no, I had laid that lamp across my pillow to prevent the breeze knocking it over. (We leave windows open in this weather.) Our building, and our apartment, are fine, and we think everybody else’s are fine, too.

The townspeople are now waiting to see whether there will be any aftershocks – or whether today’s event may have been only a prelude.

Lord, have mercy!

UPDATE: There was an aftershock, I'm told, later the same evening. We still weren't in town yet; we came an hour later. Apparently, the aftershock was a very minor affair.

Monday, May 25, 2009

If It Works, Grab It

There are elections coming up here, to determine who will represent Greece in the European Union’s parliament. And what do you think the left-wing party’s campaign themes are? Change! Hope! And, “Yes, we can!”

Feast of Sts. Constantine and Helen

Friday, May 22

Today we celebrated Kostas’ nameday and that of his little grandson, Konstantinos. It wasn’t much of a big deal, as the main celebration is going to be in their village, Nea Syllata, over the weekend.

Demetrios went to a bookstore downtown, where he ran into Manolis’ sister, Eirini (Irene). He mentioned he was in search of a good book about St. Constantine for Kostas, and Eirini said, “I’ve just bought this one for another Kostas,” showing it to him. “I’ve read it. It’s excellent. It shows how, despite what some people say, St. Constantine was a very great Christian, a very great saint, and a very great man.”

“Oh, then, I’ll get the same one.”

“Take this one,” she said.

“Oh, no, I’ll just…”

“Take it!” and she thrust it into his hand.

And that’s how Kostas received a book inscribed to him “from Anastasia, Demetrios, and Eirini.”

Saturday, May 23, 2009

There’s a weird way certain villages in Greece celebrate the feast of Sts. Konstantinos and Eleni, that we watched on television today. It is to walk over hot coals. That is, people don’t exactly walk over the hot coals; they dance over them, slowly, clutching icons, and when their feet are not burned, they claim it is a miracle.

There’s a two-day preparation the participants undergo. It’s secret, so we don’t know any details, but it involves going into a trance. (And dancing, to monotonous drums, helps.)

The Church has tried to wipe out this very pagan-feeling custom, but without success.

A Praying Parrot?

Father Porphyrios had a small parrot that he taught to pray in order to illustrate the absurdity of some Christians’ empty repetition of the words of prayer, as well as the ridiculousness of the opinion commonly presented in Eastern relgions that someone can make moral advances by physical exercises of breathing techniques. Every so often, the parrot would mechanically say, “Lord, have mercy.” The elder would respond, “Look, the parrot can say the prayer, but does that mean that it is praying? Can prayer exist without conscious and free participation of the person who prays?”

The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios, by Dionysios Farasiotis (St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, California.)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Elder Paisios in the Light of the Transfiguration

One day…when I was leaving Elder Paisios’s cell, I recalled something that was troubling me and I mentioned it to him: “Elder, that yogi, Niranjan, was able to produce a light.” “:What kind of light?” he asked. “Once, when we were all sitting around him, his body suddenly started to give off a golden-yellowish light in the form of a continually expanding sphere, which eventually engulfed us all. I wasn’t the same afterwards – it altered my way of thinking. What was that light?”

Without saying a word, the elder gently lifted up his hand and placed it on my head. Suddenly, the entire yard was flooded with a light that welled forth from the elder and could be seen in all directions. It was as powerful as a flash of lightning, but it was continuous, showing no sign of passing away. Although it was intense, it didn’t hurt my eyes. On the contrary, I couldn’t get my fill of looking at this sweet, immaterial, noetic light. And, although the light was supernatural and rare – not like a white light, but more like glass, or water – there was still something so very natural about it that it didn’t startle me, but instead granted me a profound sense of joy. This light was all-embracing and intoxicating, yet it left my movements peaceful and my mind extremely lucid. Although I was absorbed by the vision of this light, I continued to see my natural surroundings. My five senses continued to function normally, while alongside of them another sense, a spiritual kind of vision, had begun to function as well. Although it was around noon and the sun was shining brightly, when the immaterial light began to emanate from Father Paisios, the sun’s light seemed weak by comparison, like that of the late-afternoon sun.

I didn’t say a word, but I understood many things. Afterwards, when I reached the Monastery of Koutloumousiou, the monks could see that I was deeply changed and asked me, “You’re coming from Father Paisios, aren’t you?” I nodded my head. This experience left a mark on my soul that I can still feel twenty years later, even though the intensity of my feelings waned within a few days. It left my soul with a sweet peace, which deeply changed me in a mystical, hidden way.

Truly, if I had remained ignorant of the light that came forth from the elder, I would have remained impressed by the enchanting light of the yogi – which was, in fact, truly remarkable. But after my experience, I naturally made the comparison between the light of Niranjan and the light of the elder. These two lights were as vastly different as an old piece of tin differs form a bar of solid gold, as falsehood differs from truth, and as man differs from God. The elder’s invincible light not only surpassed the light of the yogi, but it utterly prevailed over it. … words just weren’t sufficient to grant me true understanding, so he had granted me this spiritual gift so that I could understand the difference by experience.

Once, when I was speaking with the elder about the lights that one sees during meditation, he told me, “We don’t want to see those kinds of lights, so we turn away from them. When I was at the hermitage of Saint Epistimi in the Sinai desert, I would leave my cave at night and go to pray at a neighboring peak … One night, when I had walked a few steps from the cave, there appeared a light as bright as a spotlight that illuminated the whole region as though it were day. I realized that it was from the evil one and said to myself, ‘I don’t want to see that kind of light,’ and I returned back to the cave.”

The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios, by Dionysios Farasiotis (St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, California, 2008, pp. 258-260)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Drunken Duck

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Within one block of where we live are all sorts of business establishments, including but not limited to: two car repair shops and the antikleptika shop (anti-theft devices for car or motorcycle), a butcher, a baker, a pharmacy, a taverna, George the carpenter, a general store with wine cellar, a greengrocer, a paint and hardware shop – and a bar, whose patrons seem to arrive mostly by motorcycle, with a sign above the door in English: “The Drunken Duck”, which seems very appropriate.

Demetrios used to pray that the place would close, as it is one factor that keeps us awake nights. But gradually we have become reconciled to the noise and it seems, most of the time, like just part of life here. I wear ear-plugs at night and Demetrios moves to the other room if he can’t sleep.

But last night, for the first time we’ve known, a full-fledged barroom brawl broke out, and it appears absolutely everybody in the bar became involved. The shouting and cursing were formidable. Then it spilled out into the streets, as two men (bouncers? friends?) forced a third man out and tried to keep him away from some others who followed, all wanting to fight. Some woman got into the fracas, too, begging the men to cease and desist, but her loud bleating was drowned out.

Don’t bars keep their patrons in order around here? Aren’t policemen supposed to arrive at some point, when the mêlée has gone on so long? I don’t know.

The weather was miserable, as much for the humidity as for the heat, even past midnight. Maybe that contributed to the fight.

I had been standing on the balcony watching all this and was turning the corner of the balcony (which wraps around two sides of our apartment) when I nearly collided with someone: Demetrios, coming from the other direction. I’m not sure who scared whom the more; we both startled. Then we laughed and stood there together for a minute or two, watching the fray below.

A large, red motorcycle was parked directly under us and it was already well past midnight. Who knew when that engine would rev up and the drunken owner roar off home?

“I had a fantasy of dropping my glass on it,” I said, raising my water glass.

“I had a better thought,” said Demetrios. “A bottle of olive oil!”

We stood in silence for a few delicious moments.

I said, “Can you imagine both of us having to confess that, about a month or two from now, when we began to think maybe we were sorry? And the priest would say, ‘My child, what were you thinking?’”

“And I know what you’d say. You’d say you obviously weren’t thinking.”

“And you’d say, ‘It seemed the thing to do at the time.’”

That’s a line from our favorite short story by our favorite humorist (P.G. Wodehouse, “The Bishop’s Move”), so we had a good laugh and went inside.

We closed up the house and turned on both air conditioners. The new one, in the bedroom, is nearly noiseless unless you turn up the fan’s speed, so we did. With the windows closed, the temperature lowered, the humidity removed, air conditioner’s motor humming, the ear-plugs, and the sleeping pill, I heard nothing, and managed to get a very fine and badly needed sleep. Demetrios says he did, too.

That new air conditioner is worth its weight in gold

Friday, May 22, 2009

Emphysema is a Progressive Disease

Monday, May 18, 2009

“Well, I’ll go and have coffee with Christos now,” said Demetrios. “Do you want to come?”

“No thanks,” I said. “I’ll stay home and play Happy Housewife. You have fun.”

“I’m just trying to keep him alive.”

“Keep him alive, oh, give me a break! It isn’t as though Christos were going to – ” But the look in his eyes made me stop. I just stared at him.

“Is he really that unwell?”


Okay, Demetrios is a doctor. So he knows whereof he speaks. But he never speaks this way, ever.

“But didn’t he just get a good report from his lung specialist and from the CT scan? Didn’t he tell us his emphysema hasn’t gotten worse since the last scan a couple of years ago?”

“Well, he likes to think that way about it. “But can’t you see for yourself? He’s fading away.”

It’s true. It’s the first thing we noticed when we arrived in Greece; we said he was looking quite gray. Friends of ours have also commented that Christos isn’t looking well. And yes, he has gotten even worse since we were here, feels weak and tired, doesn’t sleep well.

I didn’t realize that emphysema is a progressive disease, and there’s no cure. How often I’ve wanted to snatch Christos’ pipe from his hand and tell him to give it up. But now, may as well let him enjoy his nearly only pleasure in life.

The heartache his children daily inflict doesn’t help matters, either. (Remember I told you that at Pascha, his adopted daughter Danai came from London to visit him, looking beautiful and behaving charmingly? Well, she turned his joy to sorrow by asking him for 10,000 Euros to pay her debts. As if he had any money.)

If you are a praying person, please add Christos and his children (Danai, Vicki, and Phideas) to your prayer list, as the need is great.

And if you smoke tobacco or anything else, add that to your prayer list, too. And quit before it’s too late!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

“Blind Faith”

Recently, I was telling a Greek that there are non-Orthodox people whose interpretation of the Bible ends up in contradictions, and these people think it virtuous to accept the contradictions they’ve made, to affirm both sides and the contradiction itself.

“This is virtuous? Why?”

“Because it’s how they remain humbly faithful to Scripture. To what they think Scripture says, that is, of course.”

“They have taken the leap, then.”

“What leap?”

“The famous ‘leap of faith,’ the blind leap, the leap into the mysterious darkness.”

So I’ve been pondering that term, “leap of faith,” for a while since that conversation. It means, in effect, you just sort of talk yourself into deciding to believe and then, as it were, you close your eyes and jump. You take the plunge, blindly.

But listen again to what St. Paul says, that verse I am so fond of quoting, Hebrews 11:1: “Faith is the reality of things hoped for, the clarity (obviousness) of things unseen.” In other words, faith is not blind; to the contrary, faith is the surer way of perceiving and knowing. You don’t leap into the darkness; you embrace Christ, Who is not a dark unknown, but Who has revealed Himself (and hence, the Father) to us very intimately. You follow Christ, Who said, “Whoever follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of Life.” You don’t decide to throw reason to the winds and accept to be irrational if that’s what it takes, because it doesn’t take that. Christ is God’s own Reason, His Logos, and God is not irrational. (Deciding to overthrow your intellect is emphatically not what the biblical distinction between human reason and God’s Wisdom is all about.) I do not mean we should be able to understand everything, but I do mean we do not have to accept nonsense. Nonsense is always man-made and never inspired by God.

If you have taken the leap into blind faith, please, please, keep searching until you find the Light of the World, in Whom there is no contradiction and “no darkness at all”. Because ultimately, blind faith will fail you. Ultimately, blind faith shows up for what it really is: only a head game, a charade. You don’t need that; none of us needs that. We all need our eyes opened to the Real Thing.

Lord, have mercy!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Truth, Goodness, and Faith

As we were sitting in the park by the sea, Demetrios was enlarging upon his new-found discovery about the unconscious, and various related topics. He was telling me how clear it has become to him how violating the principles of truth and goodness does us actual bodily harm. I asked him to explain how that works.

“Well, truth has to do with mastering ourselves and our environment, dealing correctly with them. Take this glass, for example. The truth of this glass is that it is meant to be used for drinking. Now if I pick it up and smash somebody over the head with it, I have violated the principle of truth.”

“Yes, but how does that affect you bodily?”

“Well, because I need my fellow man! I need him for all sorts of things, even for my very survival. So the more I alienate him, bit by bit I make my life and his and even my survival that much more difficult.”

“Plus, you’ve established a neuron path in your brain that then makes it easier to do the same thing again, right?”

“Right. Every time you repeat any behavior, you reinforce that path along the neurons, so to stop doing that thing, you literally have to fight your own body, your own brain.”

“And how about the principle of goodness?”

“Goodness is whatever makes man and his environment flourish and grow and be as they ought to be. So if I smoke cigarettes, for example, I violate the principle of goodness.”

“Oh, I see! And it’s not that smoking cigarettes somehow triggers some other thing that harms the body; the smoking itself does. You are saying what I say in theological terms, that sin is self-punishing!”

“Indeed. And any other violation of the principle of goodness likewise harms us, soul and body.”

“By definition.”


Theologically, we say goodness is whatever conforms to God’s will. But of course God’s will is not arbitrary; it's rooted in His love. His will for His creation is that it develop and grow and flourish and be everything He created it to be.

And it’s not as though God sat up above and beheld man below and said to Himself, “This one is sinning. I must punish him.” No, what God wants to do is save us from the harm the sin is already doing us – not to harm us further!

Similarly, it isn’t as if God were looking at man below and saying, “Aha, that one has faith in Me. Therefore, I am pleased with him and I will save him.” No, the fact is that true faith already IS our salvation. Because faith enables us to love God. And loving God motivates us to stop being so wounded, so sick, so destructive – and to stop being all those things is what salvation IS. And as love gives the motivation, faith provides the strength, the courage, the foundation.
Faith is not something that, although God-given, merits a reward called salvation. Instead, to have true faith, to LIVE true faith, already is your salvation. Just for starters, it saves you from living any other kind of life, every other kind of life being, in comparison, miserable and wretched. Then it initiates you into the whole, indescribably beautiful realm of Love. And then you understand how Love is greater than death, and how Love is the only true Joy… and on and on. To have faith, meaning to live faith, is to have peace, love, joy, hope, wisdom; in a word, to have Christ, the Immortal One. If you have all that, what else should salvation be?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Grandchildren Photos

(As usual, you can click on these to enlarge them if you care to.)

Here's Kelly at camp, getting ready to slide down the zip line, and looking a little skeptical...

And here are her twin brothers, Ryan in the orange shirt and Connor behind him, having fun in the driveway.

Showing Off

Or, Midnight Observations From my Balcony

What is this all strut and display
When teenage boys come out to play?
Is there some universal, unwritten rule
They must constantly prove they’re super-cool?

The younger boys whip out their cell phones:
If yours takes pictures and has GPS
Sends voicemail, e-mail, photos, and text,
Why, that’s nothing, that’s just the bare bones!
Look, mine has the features that you’ll want next.

Cell phones? Nothing but children’s toys!
There’s something much cooler for older boys,
And that’s a motorcycle, with which you try
To make a louder roar than the other guy.

It’s also cool, at night, to bellow;
Between smokes, to out-shout the other fellow,
To show off their voices, newly deep,
And keep their elders from going to sleep.

What makes teenage boys
Think making a lot of noise
Is an indispensible one of their ploys?
And what makes male adolescents,
Feel showing off is of the essence,
whether with voice or bike or e-mail?

It’s the adolescent female.

Monday, May 18, 2009

In Which I Learn Another Way to Be Ripped Off

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Today I determined to find a flash drive so I could update my blog. I had seen a store near the sea yesterday that looked promising. When I mentioned this to Demetrios, he said he planned to spend the morning in the park by the sea where we were yesterday. So we walked there together.

Passing the Synagogue and its school, we saw children in the playground, for I think the first time. A tall man in a blue uniform was guarding them. I won’t go so far as to say he was armed, because I only glanced at him, but I have the impression he was. Oh, my! To the best of my knowledge, Jews in Thessaloniki have lived in peace since the end of World War II, so this strikes me as a bit overdone, if indeed that man is armed.

“Shall we stop on the way and see the kitties?” asked Demetrios, with sparkling eyes.

Of course!

The man in the shop told us the mother was out for a walk, so it was a good time, but we should come any time. Sure; he’s hoping we’ll adopt one of them. I must say, that little calico is adorable, and so is one of her sisters, a white cat with tabby saddle and crown. And we definitely would adopt at least one of them, if we didn’t already have two cats in the States.

Demetrios then went his way and I went mine, heading off to the supermarket in search of makeup.

Almost nobody here over about 40 wears makeup. I thought of giving it up myself, but I have acne rosacea, which means a too-ruddy complexion, and it needs toning down. So I need some. Today I discovered one reason people don’t wear it: a little tube of ordinary Maybelline foundation costs almost 17 Euros! “Maybelline of New York,” it’s called here. What a rip-off.

I didn’t have 17 Euros on me, so I went to the check-out without that item. And that’s where I encountered yet another rip-off technique.

I had just gotten in line when a man and young boy gave me a look I thought meant, “May we go ahead of you?”

“I only have two items,” said the man. That’s how many I had, too, but I nodded and gestured for him to step in front of me.

“I’m sorry,” he said, repeatedly.

“It’s alright,” I kept replying. “No problem.”

“I’m Roumanian.” (I think that’s what he said; either that or “I’m Romi,” Gypsy.)

I smiled, without replying.

He began “helping” me by unloading my items, which he placed on the counter next to his. That’s when alarm bells began ringing in my head. Their volume increased when the man stepped three paces forward, as though he had already gone through the check-out.

I instantly made two decisions. I don’t know whether they were good ones (and you are welcome to supply your opinion), but the time I had to think was short. I decided (1) I would give the man the money he needed, and (2) his getting it this way was not on the program. I picked up my two items and moved to the next check-out.

“Five Euros,” I heard the cashier tell the man.

He emptied his pockets and gave her change amounting to about one. She said she couldn’t accept less than the set price. So a rather noisy debate followed. At one point he looked around, spotted me, and said to the cashier, “Oh, there she is, there’s the lady…” but I kept my head down and my eyes averted and the cashier understood.

Meanwhile I was paying my money and was getting ready to hand him five Euros, when the lady in front of me, still bagging her groceries, beat me to it.

I suppose the man knew somebody would do that. Maybe he does this regularly.

On my way home, I passed a low balcony upon which was lying a mini poodle, or at least I thought that shaggy thing must be a poodle under all that mass of not-so-white hair. Her head and paws were sticking out through the balcony railing, so I reached up and petted her. “What a good doggie you are!” I said, in Greek of course, so she could understand me. She seemed to like that.

An elderly gentleman stopped and made some rather lengthy but obviously friendly comment about the dog that I couldn’t understand; perhaps he was her owner.

Later, in the evening, Demetrios and I passed that balcony again on our way home from having spent the afternoon in the park by the sea, and the dog was in the same spot, but hardly recognizable: she was clean and most of her hair was short. Her poodle nose was revealed to be long and slender and elegant, as a poodle’s should be; her newly-brushed ears were long and silky. There were ribbons above the ears and there was polish on the toenails, er, that is, claws. There was a pom-pom at the end of her long tail. (Poodles’ tails here are left their natural length.) I hardly dared touch her, she was so gorgeous. She even smelled sweet.

We took a pair of Demetrios’ shoes to the cobbler this afternoon, whose shop is around a corner from where we live. He said he couldn’t replace the soles, which have holes in them, but he could cover them up with a new layer.

“How much?” asked Demetrios.

“Five Euros.”

Involuntarily, Demetrios laughed, and the man immediately began justifying this cost. He never realized Demetrios had laughed at how LOW the price was.

The shoes will be ready on Monday.


I once knew a woman who worshipped, as a living god, a guru called Babaji. The author of the book I've been reading, Dionysios Farasiotis, was at least curious to know if Babaji were really a god, so went to visit him, in an attempt to find out. Here's some of what he has to say.

From The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios, by Dionysios Farasiotis (St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, California, 2008, pp. 154-156):

Part I

We then began to gather in an old building which had a roof supported by large pillars, but which did not have walls, being open on three sides. I was among the first to enter … Soon, everyone else gathered and the pavilion was packed. Then Babji made his entrance with his entourage, the five or six yogis who made up the tight circle of his closest disciples. Interestingly enough, they were all Westerners.

At this point, Babaji reclined on his dais, and the others began to pass in front of him to worship him and offer him gifts. There was something so uncanny about him that I couldn’t take my eyes off him … and I tried to come to some conclusion about this baffling creature. I was engrossed in his every movement and expression, hoping to find some clue to his identity. I could see him incessantly practicing much of what I had read about in books about witchcraft. On the wall behind hum hung a large embroidered tapestry portraying three mountain peaks and a peculiar depiction of the sun. I had seen this symbol before in a book on witchcraft I had read in Greece, which presented it as the secret symbol for high magic, and I recognized it at once. …

Three times I was approached and urged to worship him, but I didn’t budge. I simply tried to look at him straight in the eyes. Babaji’s eyes roved around the room and at a certain point our eyes did in fact meet, although he wasn’t looking at me purposely. As soon as this happened, I lost all contact with my surroundings and fell into an ecstasy. It was as though I were looking into my chest, and in that inner darkness I saw my own heart in the most lurid colors and engulfed in flames. The very next moment I regained consciousness and realized what had taken place. I was quite impressed and continued to watch him carefully.

Again, someone approached me and told me to go before him, but I didn’t reply. … I couldn’t figure out just what Babaji was, and the idea that I was required to worship him without knowing why was frightening. It was obvious he had power – great power – but I would not bow down to him only for that. I wanted to know: Was he humble, did he speak the truth, did he love?

Suddenly, Babaji become tense, straightened himself up, and sat in the lotus position. His acute concentration and vigilance were obvious. His eyes became as dark as coal and as piercing as lightning. A man was in front of him worshipping him unreservedly with a deep devotion that could be seen in his whole demeanor… He had also offered Babaji many precious gifts. Babaji fixed his powerful eyes firmly on the man, who suddenly folded his hands together in front of his chest, as though giving a traditional Indian greeting, and moved his legs together. Although the man’s body became as rigid as a stone column, he began to tremble where he stood and to leap up and down in a most unnatural manner, as though he had springs attached to his heels. He began uttering the most deafening groans and moans, like a wounded cow or an enraged bull. Babaji kept the man in this state for about a minute. He then let him go for a moment, but, before the man could come to, he seized him even more vehemently, so that the man began to vibrate like a jackhammer and wail at the top of his lungs. We were all flabbergasted by the shocking spectacle taking place before us. Babaji then released the man, relaxed a bit, and laid back to watch the rest of the people pass in front of him.

A woman standing next to Babaji spoke to the crowed, informing us that the guru had just granted the man illumination.

Part II

The ritual was basically the same as that of the day before. Babaji … was again the central attraction. … I watched him, struggling to find some sign that would uncover his identity.

In the middle of the line [of people waiting to pass before the guru to worship him], there was a couple from Australia with a four-year-old boy. Suddenly, Babaji asked them to bring the child to him, and one of the yogis in his entourage went and took the child from his mother. The child was peaceful as the yogi held him in his arms, but as soon as he came close to Babaji, he began screaming and bawling with the most heart-wrenching cries. He even hurt himself while desperately struggling to get away from the guru. The parents just stood there, making no objection at all. Babaji then took the child in his arms and put his thumb in the boy’s mouth and his index finger in be3tween the boy’s eyebrows. Abruptly, the child feel into a deep sleep, or perhaps he was simply hypnotized. In any event, Babaji kept the child in that state for the entire duration of the ritual.

I believed then and still do that small children have better instincts than adults, because they’re so innocent. Their intuition springs from the fact that they use their heart to directly experience the world, without the mind interfering and confusing the heart with various speculations that may have no basis in reality. The child’s negative response and fear made an impression on me, especially when I recalled how the children mentioned in the Gospel embraced Christ with trust and joy.

Again, they approached us and urged us to go and worship Babaji, but neither Noni nor I moved an inch. … After everyone, except us, had passed in front of him, we dispersed. In a short while, our hosts told us to leave the ashram, because they were not pleased with our behavior. What had we done wrong? We hadn’t worshipped Babaji.

My friend was relieved and cheerfully started to gather her belongings, but I felt torn. How could I leave without coming to a definite conclusion? … I decided to request to see the guru. They went to ask the proper party and shortly thereafter led me to Babaji.

As I entered the courtyard, I made the sign of the Cross and asked God to help me. As I drew near to Babaji, I felt as though he were influencing my mind, causing it to no longer function properly. When I was within about six feet of him, I looked around for a place to sit, because I thought we would have a conversation. Babaji gave me a dirty look, as though he both feared and loathed me. He had been sitting comfortably, but now he shrank back in his seat, turning away from me in disgust. He loudly shrieked, “Get out!” I was flabbergasted by this response and looked at him in disbelief. He shrieked even more loudly, “Get out!” I said, “Only one question.” “No questions here,” he bellowed, “Get out!” I made an about-face and left in a daze. I was astonished – what was I to make of his behavior?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Feast of St. Therapon

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Manolis and Vasilea had special services today at the church they built on their property. So we got up early and caught a cab, to be there by 7:30 for Matins, followed by Divine Liturgy, followed by Artoklasia. (I don’t know what that service is called in English. “Blessing of the Loaves”?)

The occasion was the anniversary of the day their son, Stephanos, stood up for the first time. Why should that be celebrated and commemorated with special church services, you ask? He was six years old at the time. His legs were crossed and he couldn’t uncross them and neither could anybody else. In other words, it was a miracle.

Something, I’m not sure exactly what, happened during Stephanos’ birth such that he didn’t get enough oxygen and his brain was damaged. His intellect is certainly normal, but he is spastic. He can walk and swim and feed himself and do many things, but he cannot speak and he drools continuously.

I can also say, without reservation or qualification, that Stephanos, now nearly 42, is the happiest human being I have ever met.

So his parents have celebrated this day, the feast of St. Therapon, every year since then, in their very own Church of St. Stephanos the Protomartyr. And after the services, Manolis recounted all this for us, in a choked-up voice. Vasilea was crying, too.

It’s a real church, meaning consecrated, and it’s fully equipped. It has candle stands and proper hangings for the altar, and red velvet curtains for the doors into the altar, with gold fringe and embroidered gold crosses. It has the Pantokrator (Ruler of All) icon on the ceiling (the place of highest honor), as Orthodox churches do, the Theotokos with Christ icon in the place of next highest honor, behind the altar; the cross with the icon of Christ hanging upon it, proper chalice and paten and so forth. It has real oil lamps in front of the icons on the iconostasis, and a very ornate, brass chandelier complete with three double-headed eagles molded in. (It would have been hard, had the previous Archbishop of Greece, Christodoulos, taken his dispute with the Patriarch into schism, because the Patriarch’s symbol shows up everywhere in churches in this part of Greece. The double-headed eagle is carved into wooden furniture, molded into brass stands and lamps, woven into curtains and carpets, inlaid in marble floors.)

The Church of St. Stephanos has, over the altar, an arch outlined in colored glass, through which the sun streams in. (Orthodox altars face east.) There are two more glass-outlined arches on either side of the altar, in what would be the transepts or the cross aisle in a larger church. The arch to the left of the altar (north side of the church), is where the cantors stand, and it has a real, intricately carved, stand, where the cantors’ books are propped up on a rotating table top. The arch to the right of the altar (south side of the church) delineates the space where the bishop’s throne is, in case a bishop should visit. The floor in the nave looks like wood but is laminate; the altar area’s floor, and the steps leading to it, are of marble.

The church can comfortably accommodate about 50 people; twice that number if it were standing space only, but there are folding chairs, including small chairs for small children. There were about 35 people there, I think, possibly more. Most of them were family. Maria was there, the conductress whose concert we attended earlier in the week, and Sophia and Georgia, her sisters, with their husbands and children, and Ioannis her brother, with his bride, Aspasia. (Say “Ah-spa-SEE-ya.” A funny thing happened at their wedding; see here.) And of course Stephanos was there, the oldest, beaming the whole time, as he always does. Manolis’ sisters came, and sat near the cantors to assist them, and made pretty harmony. Manolis’ brother who looks like his identical twin but isn’t, didn’t come because he is sick. The two brothers who are identical twins did come. And bless their hearts, they conversed with me, too, afterward. Not everybody takes the trouble, and it is some trouble, to include me in a Greek conversation. They did. It was a theological topic; namely, whether it is appropriate to designate absolutely all human beings “children of God” or only Christians. Of course, the answer depends upon what you mean by the phrase; that’s what was causing some confusion and debate.

After the services was a brunch out on their huge veranda, featuring spanikopita and tiropita (cheese pie) and tsoureki (Pascha bread, sweet, almost like cake), and sausage pita and cookies. The food was good and the setting, beautiful, with enormous pine trees and an abundance of climbing roses, plus hydrangea and other things I couldn’t name.

On the opposite side of the lawn is a new house, quite large, built since we were last here, for Ioannis and Aspasia on the occasion of their wedding. (Does that remind you of That Movie? My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Ioannis, the theologian, has a similar joyous arrangement for his children and grandchildren.) Ioannis and Aspasia live on the first floor of the new house and Maria lives on the second.

The Magpies were busy among the trees, and the Scissor-tailed Swallows were darting about in the air in pursuit of insects. (Are they one reason we have so few of them in Greece?) Vasilea’s calico cat paid us a brief visit. An almost microscopic green thing landed on my arm; I had never seen one like it before. (Don’t you wonder how many creatures there are that you’ve never seen or imagined?) It was awfully cute, so after admiring it a few moments, I brushed it off as gently as I could.

We were sleepy from having gone to bed late and arisen early, so we were very glad when Ioannis drove us home, dropping us off around noon. The first thing we did was fall asleep.

The second thing we did was go for a late lunch to a nearby restaurant that serves all casseroles.

Then after lunch and another little rest, we headed, for the third day in a row, down to the sea, with my knitting bag and his book by and about Descartes. This time we also took some stale bread, soaked in water, and tossed it to the sparrows. So for a crust of bread we had the joy of watching them up close eating it. A mother sparrow repeatedly fed some to her begging baby, who, when the mother had hopped away, demonstrated his perfect competence to pick it up and eat it all by himself. We laughed.

As the sea was gray today, and the breeze brisk, we didn’t stay long. After an hour we came home for a supper of salad and bread, and now it’s bedtime. Goodnight!

P.S.) St. Therapon was a priest in Cyprus, martyred (at the hands of the invading Ottoman Turks, if I’ve understood correctly) in the year 600.

When God Meets Us

What happens, do you think, when the all-good, almighty God comes in Person to visit a desperately sin-sick, immoral, mixed-up person? He will zap him, you may say. No, no, no; that’s some fictitious deity! The true and living God will heal him instead, as He healed His prophet, Isaiah by touching his lips with the mystical burning coal, and as Christ healed and saved even the most outcast of sinners.

The sinner will be terrified, you may think. No, the soul will greatly rejoice and be comforted! Except, of course, when the soul has no intention of turning away from its own evil, but of retaining it. Then certainly, the sinner will be terrified. That’s where such terror comes from: the intention to keep on sinning! But he who hates his sins will be comforted when God visits him.

The sinner, encountering God, will want to run and hide, you may suppose. To the contrary, the sinner will, so to speak, invite the Deliverer to dinner.

The Gospel is Good News, pure Good News, not like a good news / bad news joke.

Here is what it is like, written by the author of the book I’ve been reading, The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios, by Dionysios Farasiotis (St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, California, 2008, pp. 84-85). This visitation from God happened to the writer while his worst sins were still ahead of him, and before the time he went seeking out gurus in India, thereby opening his soul to so many demonic influences that Fr. Paisios had to cast the demons out of him when he came back. Before all that, while the soul had nothing that even the most absurd pride could imagine to be a claim upon God, when God knew the young man would, for years, trample upon the gift, this happened:

I was praying alone in my apartment [when] I felt Him approaching me. I came to know the *perfect love* that *casteth out fear* (I john 4:18). He was so present, although He was invisible. He was so immaterial, although he was almighty. He was so unapproachable and intangible, although He was so near. He touched me, but not just on the surface. He touched he innermost depths of my being, filling me and permeating me. He united Himself with me so closely that we became as one. I was intoxicated by God, and I became like fire so that my very body burned. I wanted to be completely open towards Him, without a single corner of my soul remaining hidden, no matter how ugly or filthy it was. I wanted everything to be known to Him, so I confessed to Him and showed Him all my crooked and filthy ways, all of my vices. I longed for every corner of my soul to be visited by Him, by this vast infinite Love coming from all directions and filling all things. As Saint Symeon the New Theologian cried, “O Deifying Love that is God!” This Love holds the universe together, connecting every part of it, giving it the strength to exist, and being the very cause of its continued existence.

At the same time, however, I felt so unworthy and so unfit to be with Him that I fell to the ground with my face to the floor, in order to sink into the very concrete if I could. [Houses is Greece are constructed of steel-reinforced concrete.] I was so full of vice, so unworthy to exist and to be united with Him, that I wished I could stop living. I remained motionless, but this Love drew near to me, this Love that welled forth from the One Whose gaze is directed towards all things and Who pervades all things, the One Who has always existed.

Because He loved me, He allowed me to approach Him, and He purified me and healed me, thoroughly and deeply, of all my pains and sores. He drew me gently, steadily, and safely from darkness to light, from filth to purity, from non-being into being. He granted me a more intense, true, and vital existence, not because He had need of me, but because He is love.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Lazy Day But Excellent News

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

We slept in this morning, but after breakfast, by about 10:00, we were ready for the day. We decided to walk the six blocks to the sea. We passed the church of Sts. Kosmas and Damianos, where a sprinkler was watering the lawn and a crow was enjoying the shower. Across the street from the church is a waterfront park and where you can buy refreshments. We sat at the table nearest the sea, in the shade. Demetrios had an espresso lungo, and I had a vissinada, cherry juice from black cherries. Demetrios brought along his book. He’s still reading Descartes. That is, he has finished the actual work, plus the introduction, and now is reading a section in which Descartes replies to various objections to his theories. Demetrios read and I knitted.

The waitress came by after a while to remove our empty dishes, and when she glanced down into my lap where my knitting was, she smiled and said, “Ah, bravo!”

I turned to Demetrios and asked him, “Why do I always get this reaction? Thomai praises me for knitting, Mena tells people, ‘She knits!’ and now the waitress says ‘Bravo!’ and in general, everybody seems to think very highly of the fact that I knit. Why is that?”

“Well, because you’re being productive. You aren’t just sitting around wasting time. Knitting shows you are being industrious.” Then after a moment, he added, “You know, I feel that way about it, too.”

REALLY? I remembered that the other day, I picked up my work just to try to do a row or two while we were waiting for I don’t remember what, and Demetrios smiled and said, “You don’t want to waste a moment, do you?” and I didn’t know what he was talking about.

Ha! For me, knitting is a hobby. It isn’t sitting around wasting time, but it IS sitting around having fun when perhaps I ought to be doing other things. In Greece, my fun is viewed as work; fancy that! Well, well, far be it from me to disillusion anybody.

“When I was a boy,” said Demetrios, “every stitch of clothing I wore, all the way through high school, was made at home by my mother and grandmother. But now that knitted things are available ready-made, knitting is something of a dying art in Greece, and people are pleased and happy to see it being preserved.”

We spent two hours by the sea, reading, knitting, watching the ships come in. Then on our way home, we stopped and had bougatsa for lunch. Well, I had. Demetrios had a *spanikopita.

After naptime, Demetrios said he would go to a favorite kafenion (coffee house) and sit and read there for a while. I said I’d stay home and catch up on housework.

He was gone a long time, over two hours, and when he arrived home, he said, “I have good news.”

“I’m always in the market for good news,” I said.

“This is very good news, excellent news.”

Litsa had her baby and it turned out to be twins? That would be good news. Ianna’s biopsy was repeated and a mistake was discovered and it turns out her breast tumor wasn’t malignant after all? Kostas won the lottery? Queen Elizabeth is coming to town We’re invited to spend a week with friends in Santorini?

“Okay, do tell! What is this fabulous news?”

“I now know where the unconscious is located in the brain!”

I must have looked blank, because he hastened to explain: “This is very big, huge! It has all sorts of implications concerning the memory, concerning schizophrenia… it reconciles all sorts of seemingly contradictory observations. It shows a link between the person (the soul) and the body. It means thoughts and emotions do not follow, one from the other, but both come from the same place. Many, many things now become clear. In fact, this is so to speak the centerpiece of all of psychoanalysis and psychiatry!”

“But you already told me years ago you had a complete theory.”

“Well, that’s the problem in this field. You think you have it all, only to discover you don’t. And you really have to have it all before you really understand any. I’m like Tantalos, condemned to have everything seemingly in reach, but when you reach for it, it moves. But this is truly huge. Nobody has ever understood this before, with this kind of clarity!”

So he spent the rest of the evening and night in a sort of euphoria, and hardly slept at all.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Cramming Too Much into One Day

Monday, May 11, 2009

George the carpenter came by today to measure the kitchen drawers, and now we definitely aren’t going to be able to buy any replacement windows this trip, because George sold Demetrios on a much bigger job than merely reconstructing our drawers.

He said, “I see your countertop is finished,” meaning at the end of its useful life. That’s true; it’s terminal. The Formica is warped. “Ah, here’s the problem; the molding between the counter and the backsplash is warped,” said George. “It allows water to spash in, under the laminate. I will make you a new countertop and put in a proper backsplash, so that won’t happen again.”

I wondered aloud if a new countertop could perhaps be two inches higher than the existing one. “This is for little girls,” I said, “and I’m a woman.” It hurts my back, tall as I am, to work very long at counters made for midgets.

Yes, the countertop could be made higher, and look, that change could almost make room for the fake drawer to become a real one, said George; it would work if we also put in a narrower sink. Well, the existing sink has three bowls, the middle one quite small, and who needs it? (It’s also old and discolored.) But another drawer in this small space would be extremely valuable!

So George took us in his car to the store that sells sinks and we picked out one. Then he brought us countertop samples, and we chose one.

Everything will be ready in a week, George says.

The original estimate, meanwhile, quadrupled.

Demetrios suffered a brief spell of buyer’s remorse. He called up his brother and asked his opinion. Christos suggested we sell this place and buy an up-to-date apartment, in good repair and in a better location, preferably overlooking the sea. But this is home for Demetrios; this is where he grew up, and that makes it irreplaceable.

There’s so much this poor house still needs. We’ve done a lot over the past four years. We’ve put in a new toilet, a shower, and a new washing machine, we’ve bought a bed, a sleeper sofa and a wall unit; we’ve replaced the heating system (because the law required it); we’ve had George make all the doors close properly, and bottom of the bathroom door has been raised half an inch so we can fit a small rug/bathmat in there. But we still need double-glazed windows with real weather-stripping, all new tiles in the bathroom, new floor tiles in the kitchen, and to refinish or replace the hardwood floors, which are gray in places. We still need a good paint job, too. And even before that, there are various pipes that need to be boxed in so the bare pipes don’t show. All that will have to wait and we’ll do it gradually as we become able.

George took up our entire morning and Alexis took up our entire afternoon and evening, installing our new air conditioner and cleaning and servicing the old one. So now, at least, we shall not suffer, come June, so long as we are in this house. I think we’ll have to invite our friends here instead of going to them.

We were exhausted when it was all over. We were just getting ready to relax when we remembered it was NOT all over! We still had an evening event to attend. Our friend Andreas, a cardiologist and poet, had a new book coming out. It was going to have its formal debut tonight at the Center for Thessalonica’s History. So we freshened up and grabbed a cab and arrived a few minutes before the scheduled start time, 8:30. (Scheduled, I say, because it didn’t actually begin until 9:00.)

You virtually had to buy a copy of the book, because they were on a table beside the door to the auditorium. So we did, of course, and Andreas autographed it for us.

It was a small auditorium, but I’m estimating there were some 100 of Andreas’ closest friends there.

There were two lectures. One was about 12 pages long, single-spaced, I’m guessing; it took more than half an hour to read. It was about Andreas’ vision, his emphases, his poetic techniques, the depth of his thought and feeling…

I spent a lot of that time trying to read the plaque on the wall; it was a large facsimile of the “Protocol for the Handing Over of Thessaloniki” – the Turks surrendering it to the Greeks, that is. The surrender document was in French. It was handwritten, which made it difficult, but I could understand as much as I could read of it.

The second lecture was just under half an hour.

That means, that as the book consists of 70 poems, half a page each with wide margins, there were are more words said about the book than are in it.

Demetrios, however, told me both lectures were excellent, and the second one was mind-boggling for its erudition and profundity. “I wish I could tell you all the wonderful things he said, but I couldn’t possibly get anywhere near it.” Okay.

Demetrios was extremely eager to meet this man, but unfortunately (or not, depending upon your perspective), he had to rush out and couldn’t spend any time conversing.

We were still more exhausted than before, so we got out of there fairly quickly, after shaking Andreas’ hand once more, and kissing his wife, Thomai, and meeting their beautiful daughter, Marina. We stepped out into the cool and were just about to head for the bus stop when – Tassos appeared, the other cardiologist friend of ours. He had been at the books debut, too. He is the one who used to let Demetrios use his books in the university. Demetrios was too poor to buy books, but Tassos (Anastasios) was a year ahead of him, so when he was finished with his books, he’d lend them to Demetrios for the following year. He is a wonderful man.

It didn’t take long to agree to go for a walk together, and to stop at a café along the way. Okay, no matter how tired one is, one still needs supper. We found a sidewalk café where we talked and had “tost” (grilled cheese sandwich) for the men and a cheeseburger for me –– and we exchanged news and reminisced.

Two Choirs, Two Principles

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Today was the first time I’ve had Holy Communion in Greece without any problem or embarrassment. (Mind you, I don’t receive it as often here as at home, for that reason and because I can’t get to confession with an English-speaking priest as often.) I remembered that here, the priest isn’t going to take that spoon out of the chalice until your mouth is open wide. (In Richmond, you don’t open your mouth until the spoon is already out.) I remembered not to wear lipstick. The priest didn’t ask me if I were Orthodox. He didn’t even ask me my name, probably because the churches here are crowded and the number of communicants is large. An adult acolyte, hand on my neck, pushed my head down to the level of the chalice (for the priest was short); I opened my mouth, the spoon was put in; the acolyte bobbed my head down to the red cloth so my lips touched it.

We ate our usual Sunday morning breakfast of bougatsa, then rested during the afternoon, in preparation for the concert in the evening.

There were two choirs performing. One was from Canada and the other was the women’s and children’s choir directed by Manolis’ daughter, Maria Melingopoulou. This is a choir that has won many international awards.

We arrived in time to greet Manolis and Vasilea and to find good seats. The only problem was that in my (limited!) experience, Greek audiences seldom know how to behave. They move around all over the place, even, sometimes, during the performance.

Maria is such a masterful conductor; you can tell even just by her movements. She’s also gorgeous, with huge brown eyes and blonde hair, almost shoulder-length. The music she had chosen was just right for the choir, and they performed wondrously. The children sang separately some of the time and I have to tell you, they sang just as well as the adults. I don’t know how you teach children to do that well.

During the intermission, Vasilea brought Maria to our seats, so we were able to congratulate her very warmly.

Then came the Canadian choir. “They will be very lively,” Maria had told us, “and they will interact with the audience.” That didn’t sound very encouraging to us, and we were right.

The first piece was the only one we liked, and the one everybody else liked least. “We are going to sing a Sixteenth-Century French piece now,” the conductor told us, “and it’s noisy. It may not be beautiful; it’s – it’s – French.” (Wild applause.)

The Canadian choir sang Gospel music. I like Gospel music, but I have this theory that a predominantly black choir probably performs it better. Also, I like older Gospel music better than contemporary.

This stuff involved as much hip-swinging, hand clapping, moaning, and jumping up and down as singing. There was one piece, composed by the choir’s conductor, which even involved about two minutes of nothing but clapping in a fancy rhythm.

They brought down the house with “O Happy Day”, with the audience singing (and clapping) along. They received two standing ovations.

Afterwards, I told Demetrios I thought Maria’s guiding principle was to maximize beauty, while this other conductor’s was to maximize fun. “To maximize sensation,” he said, meaning sensory experience, “which some people consider fun.” Right.

I called Mom after the concert, early evening her time, to wish her happy Mothers Day. Wendy was there for a couple of days, which pleases me, so I got to speak with her, too. Good to hear voices from home!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hell is Locked From the Inside

Sometimes it is hard to imagine how people could actually choose hell instead of heaven, actually prefer it. Here is an actual example, from the book Demetrios recently bought me.

From The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios, by Dionysios Farasiotis (St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, California, 2008, pp. 274-276):

I was in [a state of spiritual bliss, joy, and peace] when I boarded the hydrofoil to go back to Athens, pondering this gift I had received. What could it mean? It was then that I saw Demetrios on the deck, sitting off on his own, reading in a chair … So I walked over to him, and we took up our conversation where we had left of five yeas earlier …

I told him about my trip to India, emphasizing this aspect of my life. “How are you doing?” I asked. “Are you still just studying, like you used to, or have you started practicing the things you’re reading?”

“Of course I’m not just studying. We get together regularly to practice witchcraft techniques.”

Naturally, I already knew this, but his open declaration, not typical of Greeks involved in the occult, struck me. Of course, he was under the impression that he was speaking with someone like himself. He had left his old job and found a new one using his connections with Masonry, around which his interests and hence his life revolved.

I told him, “I visited the Monastery of Saint Nectarios. That place is filled with energy. You should go and check it out for yourself.”

“No way. I’m not going there. It’s not my style. It’s the opposite of where my soul leans. I just don’t like that place – I find it repulsive.”

I was both surprised and deeply saddened. How could there be people who felt like that? How could they dislike the grace of God so bluntly and categorically? I had felt such joy and peace in the saint’s presence. He must, I thought, speak this way out of ignorance.

I told him about my experiences and described in detail what I was still feeling. I admitted that I had changed and become a Christian.

“Okay,” he replied. “Christianity is a very exalted philosophy, but as a religion it doesn’t have anything to offer.”

Although I always had wanted to believe that such arguments were used exclusively out of ignorance, our lengthy conversation, in which I had the opportunity to explain the Christian Faith to him, convinced me otherwise. We disagreed many times, although I no longer recall over what points. But one of his comments stands out in my mind. It was said with such an insane obstinacy that I gave up trying to persuade him. He told me, “If what you are saying is true, then I would rather be in hell with the devil.” It’s true what they say about the effects of one’s inner choices in this life. The doors of hell are closed from the inside.

(But now it’s time for me to admit that I once said the same words to a Calvinist, whose idea of God was at least as morally repugnant as his idea of the devil.)

A Day In Katerini

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Today was the “rain date” for Christos’ “party” in Katerini, and we had a splendid time.

Katerini is about an hour’s drive from Thessaloniki, and Christos drove us there in his car, together with our mutual friends Paul and Chara. Paul spent many years in America, mostly in New York City, where he managed perhaps the most exclusive hotel there. He married Chara after he had returned to Greece, I believe. Chara’s hair is the same color as Lucille Ball’s, except brighter. She has large, brown, laughing eyes and a kindly expression that makes you love her right away.

It was a glorious day, with bright sunshine, blue, blue skies, and a very few fluffy, white clouds to add a festive touch. I was admiring those bright clouds on the way to Katerini. I couldn’t see them very well because I was sitting in the back of the car and looking out the front window, but at one point, it seemed to me that there was something wrong with the cloud straight ahead. Its lines were straight instead of puffy; its angles were sharp instead of curved; and the contrasts in it of white and blue were too stark. I was just leaning forward to see if perhaps it was really a snow-capped mountain or something, when somebody said, “Olympos.”

“Yes,” said Christos, “It is Olympos.”

Now I’ve been to Myrta and Elias’ house many times, which is straight across a bay from Mt. Olympus, but I’ve always been at night, except once during the daytime, but it was foggy. So I can explain why I never saw Mt. Olympus from there. We’ve driven past it before, too, but at such close range you couldn’t see the mountain for the trees. What I can’t fathom is why I never before noticed it going to or coming from Katerini. Mount Olympus! You’d think a person would do more than just notice that! But I’m sure this is the first time I’ve ever actually beheld it. The home of the gods! And right there at the highest peak was Zeus’ throne!

Yikes. I wouldn’t want to live in that rocky, snowbound place. Why would the gods choose it, other than for its inaccessibility? They tell me the mountain below the snow is absolutely beautiful, that’s why. But the gods lived on the top, didn’t they? I say they had poor judgment. The seaside is so close by!

Mt. Olympus is also the highest spot in Greece, and very impressive on that account, too. Christos says (again) he will take us there sometime. I think during Sylvia’s and Dwight’s visit should be that time and will ask him.

For the rest of the day, I was aware of that mountain’s looming presence, like somebody standing behind your shoulder.

The first thing we did was go to a taverna in Christos’ little village, which is actually just outside Katerini. We sat outdoors, on a wooden platform, beneath an orange canopy. We enjoyed chicken, kokoretsi (sheep gut), beet salad, romaine salad, and French fries. I tasted the kokoretsi this time. It wasn’t bad, at least the bite I had wasn’t. I admit, though, that the bite I took was too tiny to be able to tell much and I wasn’t interested in further investigation.

Paul is an extremely interesting man, having led a most colorful life. He recounted the story he had told me a couple of years ago, about a time Aristotle Onassis showed up at his hotel with Jackie. Now it happened that Maria Callas was on the 20th floor, the former Mrs. Onassis was on the 17th, and Onassis’ daughter and her aunt were on the 14th.

Paul first seated Jackie comfortably in his office, then brought Aristotle into the lobby and said, “Now, then, which floor will you be visiting today?”

Onassis smiled and said, the fourteenth.

Paul also worked as a bank manager in the Sudan once upon a time. One day, he said, an employee walked by Paul’s desk, and Paul heard a metallic sound: click, click, click. It wasn’t the man’s shoes, he said, because all the Sudanese employees went about barefoot, since the climate was just too hot to wear shoes (about 110 Fahrenheit, he said). The second time the same man passed Paul’s desk, he again heard tap, tap, tap. This time he called the man over and asked him, “What’s that sound?” The man examined both his feet and discovered a thumbtack stuck into one of them! “That’s how thick their calluses are on their feet,” Paul said. “The man never even felt the thumbtack!” He pulled it out of his foot with a smile and deposited it on Paul’s desk.

Paul himself bought a pair of shoes in the Sudan. He was walking home from the shoe store along an asphalt road when he noticed the going became harder and harder, and finally, the crepe soles of his shoes stuck in the asphalt altogether, so that he couldn’t move. Now he had a problem, because walking on that road without shoes would burn his feet. So after a few moments’ thought, he hailed a cab. Then he fell sideways onto the sand, removed his feet from his shoes, and, in his bare feet, took the cab home, leaving his ruined new shoes stuck in the road.

When we had finished a leisurely meal and paid the bill, we drove to the beach and went to the Hotel Panorama, Christos’ favorite sitting place. We sat in the back, a few yards from the sea, on wooden folding chairs with blue fabric backs and seats, right on the sand. The tourist season in Katerini is already underway, and half a dozen people were in the sea. So were several sailboats, further out, and three ski-dos streaked by. The sun was warm and the breeze was cool, so the setting was perfect for sipping cold drinks and continuing with the stories. (It wasn’t, in my opinion , perfect for swimming, however; not yet.)

Paul told about the time Ava Gardner arrived at the hotel drunk. Two men in a garbage truck had given her a ride, and brought her into the hotel. Somehow, the garbage truck remained outside the front of the hotel for a long time; the night manager wasn’t sure how to deal with the situation. Finally, he asked his famous visitor would she please ask her chauffeur to park her limousine elsewhere. She did.

Then there was the time the Israeli consulate called Paul and said 14 members of the Knesset (Israeli parliament) would be staying at the hotel for two months. For security purposes, would Paul provide a list of all employees, so background checks could be done? Paul did, and a few days later, the consulate called back telling him to fire a certain assistant manager who was from Lebanon.

Paul telephoned his boss, the hotel’s owner, and protested, saying this was a valuable employee and he couldn’t just fire him because the Israeli consulate wanted him to. The boss, who was a Jew, agreed, adding, “Those _____s at the consulate want me to give them a million dollars – every year! – to be donated to Israel. Now they want to tell me who to fire? You tell them no.”

So Paul gleefully did. The Knesset members ended up staying at the hotel anyway. “And I made them remove their security guards, too,” he added. “I went up to the floor where they were all staying, stepped off the elevator, and found a bazooka stuck in my belly, and a soldier said, “Who are you?” and I said, “Who are YOU?” and told the consulate to get rid of these guys immediately. And they did.”

“Fourteen members of the Knesset, staying in New York two months?” I asked. “Didn’t they have to go back to Israel in all that time to conduct their business?”

“No. Their business was in New York.”

Now that, in my opinion, is worth pondering.

When the sun began to sink so low we were becoming chilly, we drove to a coffee shop and ordered desserts. Christos and I each had a chocolate mousse cake; Chara had some sort of a crème-filled pastry, and Paul and Demetrios had ice cream. We again sat outside, watching the magpies in the distance.

I tried to tell the story about the time my mother got lost in Rome. She didn’t speak Italian, but she did speak Spanish, so she thought maybe if she said, “I’m lost” in Spanish, an Italian might understand. So she approached a policeman and said, “Perdito.”

She asked directions of the policeman and when she followed them, she ended up in a public restroom – but I never got that far in the story, because immediately, Paul said, “Oh, no. She wanted to say, perduto, not perdito. Perdito is fine in Spanish, but in Italian…”

Yeah, I know; that was going to be the punch line. In Italian, it means “I am leaking.”

How many languages does this man speak? Seven: Arabic (because he was born in Egypt and grew up there), Greek (because his parents were Greek), English (from his time in America), French, Italian, and Spanish, from I don’t know where; probably, he is time in Monaco.

“You really must write a book about your life,” I said. “Actually, just put your stories on an audiotape whenever you remember one, and then give the whole collection to a writer.”

“I know I should,” he said. “In fact, I’ve even got a title for the book: It Was Fun.”

Chara’s cell phone rang, and she learned that one of her best friends had just been hospitalized, so as it was about time to leave anyway, we headed for home, passing plane trees (at least that’s what I call the Platonos trees) and palm trees and, Chara pointed out, a few banana trees.

We dropped Chara off at the hospital. For those who want to pray for her friend, her name is Evangelia.

Home again, I sat out on the balcony to watch the twilight arrive and deepen, and to see if I could see any ravens. I saw something fly by that probably was a raven, but I couldn’t be sure. In the fall, at dusk, they congregate on television antennas nearby before flying together to wherever they roost at night. (Some roost in one of our trees.) But this time of year, their behavior is different. I’ve only seen one raven for sure, so far.

We watched “Biography” on television, with Greek subtitles, and now we are getting ready for bed.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sakis, Again, and Imam

Friday, May 08, 2009

Today, we went looking for Sakis, who made us such a nice bathroom window, to look at the available options for sliding glass doors and windows. The ones we have are single-paned and the weather-stripping is so old it’s practically non-existent. In winter, the wind blows right through them. So we walked into Sakis’ shop.

He wasn’t there. Kostas, his assistant, told us he didn’t know where Sakis had gone or when he would be back, but we were welcome to wait.

We declined, saying we had other errands to run. (We were puzzled, too, because we knew Sakis has a cell phone…)

Next stop, supermarket, or what passes for one here. We had reached the supermarket door when Sakis came into view, heading in the opposite direction, toward his shop. That makes the second time in three days Sakis has just appeared when we needed him. Does he make a habit of this, or something?

So, back to his shop we all three went. He has some good-looking sliding doors and windows (or rather, small samples), for he custom makes each order), insulated, double-paned, with the option of bright brass grids between the two sheets of glass.

He will call us with an estimate. We probably can’t afford new windows and doors this trip, but we can at least get an idea what it will cost when we are ready.

Then, back to the supermarket for a few things only it carries, and from there to Nikoletta’s grocery store, where we bought everything else and she kindly repeated to me her recipe, which she had given me a couple of years ago, for Imam. It’s an eggplant casserole sort of a thing that the local Turkish ruler here was known to enjoy; hence it is named after him. Here’s how to prepare it.

In a large skillet, put ground beef, tomatoes, garlic, and onions. Chop off the top and bottom of the eggplants; with a potato peeler, take off stripes of the skin. Cut each eggplant almost in two and lay it, face down and open, on top of the sautéing meat mixture. By the time the meat is done, the eggplant should be soft. (You can also fry the eggplant in a separate skillet until it’s soft, but Nikoletta says that means you use olive oil and that will make the meal “heavy”.

Stuff each eggplant with the meat/tomato sauce mixture and lay it, open-faced, in a baking pan. Sprinkle parsley over it. Cover with very thin slices of tomato to keep things from drying out. Bake until – well, it wasn’t clear how long.

Neither are the amounts of anything clear. One must experiment to get it to ones own taste, I suppose. Or use common sense, or pretend it’s spaghetti sauce.

Update on the Circle of Life (Erin's Robins)

Today I received this from my daughter:

I talked with my resident Dr. Doolittle (my friend Lisa here at work) and she said the crow came and kidnapped the babies to raise themselves. Blue Jays and mocking birds do the same – raid other nests for babies so they can raise them instead. So at least we know they will be OK – but isn’t that the wildest thing??? And she said the robins will lay again immediately but probably not in the same nest.

I am heartbroken along with you and Sydney.

I didn't know that! Didn't know creows or jays or mockingbirds kidnapped other babies. Imagine that!

Ripped Off Twice – In One Morning!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Yesterday we went downtown, in search of a replacement glass for one of our chandeliers. The chandeliers in our house are old-fashioned, and each bulb has a tulip-shaped, glass shade around it. We had broken one of them. What was the chance we’d find one just like it? Slim to none, but if we could even find the right size, we could buy four of them (which is how many bulbs there are on that chandelier). We had tried before, last week, with little success. That is, we had found several models, none exactly the right size, and none particularly pretty. This time, though, we had in hand a card from a shop that apparently specialized in chandelier glass.

So off we went, on the bus, and traipsed happily around downtown, asking our way. Nobody knew where the street was. They would say things like, “I think it may be that way,” so we went that way. Still nobody knew where it was, until suddenly, we were on it, and there was the little shop.

We entered it and, having brought along one of the other glasses just like the broken one, showed it to the man.

“I had one just like it,” he said. “I know I had…” He looked around, and a few moments later, produced one identical to the one we had brought. Amazing! It’s approximately 35 years old.

Now what I should have said is something like, “That’s good, but Demetri, do we really want that particular model, or shall we look around, while we’re here, for something prettier, and buy four of them?”

But what I said instead was “Doxa to Theo! Glory to God!” so then the man knew he had us, as in over the barrel.

He smiled and wrapped his merchandise in newspaper for us, then wrapped our own piece similarly, and put both in the bag. And then charged us twice what everybody else in town had quoted us. That made it one expensive piece of glass!

We walked out rather miffed, but still pleased and amazed to have found exactly what we needed. To cheer ourselves up and rest our sore feet, we headed toward the sea, where there are a lot of sidewalk cafes, and had lunch at a very nice one, just sandwiches.

It was a glorious day and the sea was sparkling and showing some whitecaps. A large ship was anchored out in the bay straight across from us, but in the distance, waiting its turn for a berth in the port, so it could be unloaded and perhaps re-loaded. A ferry boat was making its way in roughly our direction, and a tugboat also passed us.

The parade of people was also fun, teenagers in Mohawk haircuts or in plum-colored hair; businessmen who at first appeared to be schizophrenic, until you realized they had cell phones clipped to their ears; shoppers, tourists. A beggar woman came by and said, “I am the mother of two; give me some money.” Numerous African vendors came by our table with large pieces of corrugated cardboard, to which they had affixed their displays of sunglasses, CDs, postcards, trinkets. You look AWAY from these people to signal your lack of interest. I looked away. Into the distance.

That is a big mistake in Thessaloniki these days. When people approach you, especially Gypsy beggars, the first thing you should look at, immediately, and glue your eyes to, is your purse. Mine was beside my chair and a little behind it, and behind the shopping bag, to make it both less conspicuous and less reachable. Somebody did reach it, though, because when we got up to leave, it had disappeared.

There wasn’t much in it, for that very reason. I had less than ten Euros in it (that is, less than about $14) and two pairs of glasses from the dollar store that had literally cost me a dollar apiece (but I had two more pairs back at the house), and lots of clean tissue left over from when I had that cold. There was a flash drive which I regretted losing because it’s how I transport what I write at home on my laptop to the Internet Café where I have access to my blog and my e-mail. It also had pictures of my granddaughter, Kelly, on it, which I shall have to ask her mother to re-send. I was about to post the cutest of them on my blog… But a flash drive is easily replaceable. There was a set of keys to the house, but that’s also easily replaceable. (Christos says we should now change the lock.) There was no credit card, no checkbook, and nothing with our Greek address on it. My Virginia driver’s license WAS in the purse, so that will be a minor nuisance when I get home. I had taken our passports OUT of the purse and put them in a drawer. In fact, the main thing of value the thief got was the purse itself! Or rather, that would have been the case when the purse was new. It can’t be worth much now, though. It was my mother-in-law’s, and she’s been dead 9 years, and I’ve been using the purse four years. In short, somebody sold his soul very cheap!

When we got home, I called the credit card company, just in case, and also notified my bank, just in case. Then I lay down on the bed and cried.

“I don’t know why it’s so upsetting,” I blubbered to Demetrios. “It was only a purse, and there’s no catastrophe involved…I just feel, well, as if I’d been sort of violated!”

“You were violated,” he said. “And made to feel foolish, too, which hurts the pride.”

Bingo! Damnable pride. Yes, I’m stung that somebody managed to sneak my purse right out from under my nose, when I thought I was being so careful. I even had one leg stuck out sideways thinking maybe if anybody approached he would trip over my foot. But somebody outfoxed me. Pride, pride, pride! The incident wouldn’t smart if I weren’t proud. Humility would have protected me from that. Lord, have mercy!

On our way to catch the bus, we passed three shops specializing in purses, but didn’t find what I wanted. Oh, well, I have another purse here that Mena once gave me. I shall try to get by with that, although it is small.

Hints from Helen:

Always carry a purse with a shoulder strap, and always use that shoulder strap. That way, even if you are sitting at a sidewalk café, you can keep your purse attached to your person at all times.

A cheap-looking purse might possibly be less attractive to a thief than a designer purse.