Monday, October 31, 2011

A Hint for Lace Knitters Especially but not Exclusively

The following are hazards when working lacy patterns (or when knitting anything, really):

Untrimmed fingernails and hangnails

Buttons on cuffs

Buttons down the front of your shirt (You can tie an apron around your neck.)

Jewelry: watches, bracelets, brooches

Another Hint for Lace Knitters

One of my lace pattern books admonishes me that “lace is worked in white.” Well, white or off-white, traditionally. Nobody knows why, and today we are allowed to work lace in any color, although white is still usual. If you tuck into your knitting bag a cloth of contrasting color, perhaps a napkin or placemat, you will be sure to have something upon which to lay your work and see what it looks like.

And do stop to admire your work often. Very often.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Another Hint for Knitters

How large should your gauge swatch be? Standard advice is, at least three repetitions of the pattern, or four inches square. I think it should be more. I think you may as well make more use of your swatch than merely to get the correct gauge. You should use it to test your pattern in various ways: to find out what sorts of mistakes you tend to make and where, to find out if you actually like the pattern and enjoy knitting it or whether it turns out to be a crashing bore, and to get the pattern properly into your head. Keep working your test square until you know what you’re doing instead of the instructions being just abstract words, until you have worked out your little cant (what you will recite to yourself to keep track of what you’re doing): “first decrease, first hole, second decrease, second hole, knit four …” that sort of thing. Keep working until you can recognize a mistake within a few stitches after you make it or at least by the next row instead of 26 rows later.

It’s well worth the investment of time. Plus, you’ll end up with a potholder, a little doily, a pillow cover, a quilt square or a pretty mat. Or at the very least, you’ll have a sample to pin to the instructions afterwards before you file them away.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Friday, 28 October: The Best Ochi Day Ever!

(And I’ve experienced some wonderful Ochi Days, too; see here.)

Ochi is the Greek word for no. It’s what the Greek ambassador to Italy said to the Italian foreign minister on this day in 1940, when the Italian said, “Surrender now, or we invade Greece at dawn.”

OCHI. NO. The 28th of October has been celebrated in Greece ever since, with speeches and church services and especially with parades. There’s even a street in our neighborhood called “Twenty-eighth of October Street”.

I should tell you first that in recent years, people have been discouraged from attending the parades. The parade in Thessaloniki has been made into a shadow of its former self. When I first came to Greece in 2005, it included roaring tanks and jet fighters screaming overhead, and it was a long parade, and it began in the center of downtown. More recently there have been no tanks or jets; the parade has been considerably shortened, and it has been moved from the gracious and elegant downtown to our own poor, rather shabby little neighborhood.

Well, the first thing that happened here in Thessaloniki was, Greek flags bloomed all over the city this morning, more than I’ve ever seen before. Next thing that happened was, the churches were well attended. After church, a multitude began gathering along the parade route, not the few hundred souls of recent years, but tens of thousands. We were sitting at a corner café there, having our after-church snack, and watching the people assemble, but then, as the parade was still an hour away, we walked home for a little rest beforehand. (That’s an easy 10-minute walk or a brisk 5 minute one.)

We had just gotten home when the President of Greece arrived with his entourage, to take their places in the reviewing stand, a few yards from where we had been sitting. We were unaware he was coming, or we might have hung around (at least I might have), just to boo him a bit.

Never mind; others did it for us. No sooner had the politicians appeared than the crowd began to shout them down, yelling, “Traitors! Traitors!” and “Thieves, thieves!” and they kept up the shouting, ever more loudly, more and more people adding their voices, until guess what? The President of Greece and all his bodyguards and all his cohort departed. Yes, they simply stood up and left, under military escort.

(Ironically, Anthimos, Bishop of Thessaloniki, was among them, although he has been a strong opposition leader. He’ll no doubt have some choice comments about all this, which I wish I could hear, but he’ll probably keep them private.)

Fear for the safety of the politicians was of course not unfounded, as an angry crowd can so easily turn into a mob, and once they’ve branded someone a traitor they may feel justified in giving him what traitors deserve. I’m pleased to tell you, this crowd preserved its self-control.

We were watching all this on the local television station, which announced that with the departure of the officials, the parade had been cancelled.

I said to Demetrios, “I can’t stay here another minute! No matter what happens, good or bad, I have to be there with the people!” So out the door I flew, carrying three small Greek flags in my hands, while he couldn’t unglue himself from the television. (He did come 15 minutes later, however.)

On the way I met an old man and wished him Many Years, which is what you say to people on feast days. He smiled and asked, “What happened down there?” meaning down by the sea, where the parade route was. I said, “I wasn’t there; I’m going there now.” Then I gave asked him if he would like one of my flags and he said yes, so I gave it to him and said, “The flag is very precious, you know, because it’s a symbol of freedom.” Freedom, not fascism. He nodded and took it happily and said, “Be well!”

The crowd at the parade site was milling about restlessly, not knowing whether to stay or go home. The police were out in very large numbers. Some of the people were carrying painted protest signs. One showed the Greek flag with a black swastika superimposed on it and the words, “NO to the Fourth Reich!”

Another was a big banner that simply said, OCHI, “NO” in letters 18” high. (That was my personal favorite, because it couldn’t be faulted. NO is, after all, what this day is all about, yet everybody knew that this NO didn’t so much refer to 1940.)

A few people were leaving, small children in tow. I asked one of those, “What’s happening?” and he said, “Nothing. The parade is cancelled.”

When a TV reporter asked one young man the same question, the young man said, “What’s happening? Can’t you SEE what’s happening? They’re all working for foreign interests, and the Greek people have found it out!” And he shrugged and walked away from the camera.

And then—drums! Not on Alexander the Great Boulevard, where the parade was to have been; that street was blocked by police cordons and official vehicles. But on Queen Olga Boulevard, the next parallel street, the street where I was standing, came a loud, defiant, BOOM! BOOM! BOOMDITTY BOOM! and one lone band marched past us, a look of determination and perhaps unease on their faces. And ahead of them, ordinary people, clearing the streets for them. Then they struck up the music, which for once I recognized: “Macedonia the World-Renouned, home of Great Alexander…” People clapped and cheered and I waved my two flags.

I walked behind the band some blocks, as far as I could, the ferocious BOOM of their drums resounding in stomach and ears and down to the tips of the toes; but they were marching faster than I could walk, and I can still walk pretty fast, for my age. I had the impression they were eager to do their bit and then get out of there, before they might get into any trouble over it.

And THEN, I don’t know what happened; perhaps I’ll find out from the television, but it seemed that this one, solitary marching band, and the cheering and applause it engendered, heartened other elements of the parade, because then, along Alexander the Great Boulevard (the planned parade route, now somehow unblocked), came an echoing reply, “Macedonia” being taken up by another band, this one holding up signs on tall poles that read, “Greeks, Save Macedonia!” And the people cheered wildly and yelled, “Bravo!” and clapped and waved their little flags, as behind it came more marchers, and then more.

Every group that marched, every single one, was preceded by the Greek flag. That was never so, as I recall, in previous parades. There were various organizations, each carrying its banner, and groups in various sorts of traditional Greek dress. The men in traditional fighting attire were loudly cheered.

There were even a few modern-day military units. I don’t know what (if anything) that says about their loyalty to this government, but there were Navy SEALS (or the Greek version thereof), and Army nurses and Alpine troops. (There are no Alps in Greece, of course, but you know what I mean; soldiers in white camouflage with skis strapped to their backs.  You can see them in the video below.) Demetrios says the Greek military has traditionally stood by the Greek people. The people evidently thought this was what was happening, from their enthusiastic applause and cheers.

Many of the marchers had a solemn expression on their faces, but some, seeing their heartfelt and more-than-enthusiastic reception by the people, were grinning broadly. There was one contingent of young people with Down’s Syndrome, and they had the biggest grins of all, as if to say even they could understand enough to want a free Greece, like the rest of us, and they wanted to do their part, if only by marching. They received some of the biggest ovations.

In the final two groups, which may have been Girls Scouts and Boy Scouts, every single girl and boy was carrying a large Greek flag on a very tall pole – topped by the Cross, no less, another touch which has been discouraged by the government of late. They made a perfect grand finale.

Here are a couple of minutes of video from our parade.

It was a micro parade, a third its usual size, but that didn’t matter. That it took place at all, minus the government officials and without their blessing, was the important thing. A small victory for the people, but even a small victory seems so major.

When the parade was over, the crowd spontaneously burst into the national anthem.

I went home literally wiping away tears.


We’ve learned from the television news that the same thing has happened today all over Greece. In towns and villages the length and breadth of the nation, the people have chased away their members of parliament and proceeded to have their parades without them. In one village, they threw coffee all over the politicians. In another, the people never even let them take their seats, but blocked the reviewing stand the whole time.

In Corfu (I think, but can’t remember for sure), the people let the parade proceed as usual, more or less. But as the marchers passed the reviewing stand, instead of turning their heads to face the officials, they turned their heads the other way; and school boys were filmed making a certain contemptuous Greek gesture as they marched past the politicians. The crowd waited until immediately after the parade and then turned on the traitors to assault them, but the police intervened and the officials got safely away.

You can see more videos of parades in more cities on this blog.

Today, the Greek people said a new OCHI. Today, the whole Greek people, as one, humiliated their government and drove it physically from public view and symbolically out of office. I’m so, so proud of them! They also seem proud of themselves, and much heartened. There’s a celebratory feeling in the air along with a grim certainty that all this patriotism, all this passion for freedom, cannot really be completely useless. As God is still in heaven, it will count, somehow, some way, in the end.

OH – and of course today, in Greece, is also the Feast of the Protection of the Theotokos, no small factor in what has happened. Other Orthodox Churches celebrate it October 1, I believe, but in Greece it has been moved to Ochi Day because World War II is commemorated here on Ochi Day, and because during that war, the Theotokos was so often seen hovering above the Greek troops and spreading her mantle over them.

I think today even an atheist could hope the Theotokos might somehow protect Greece again.

Not only her prayers, but your prayers count too! Wherever you live, please add Greece to your prayers for your own country.

St. Demetrios Festivities

25 October, Tuesday

The Feast of Great Martyr Demetrios fell on a Wednesday this year, and since we knew some of our friends would not feast on a fast day (which Wednesdays are), we planned a small get-together the evening before and a big gathering the day after.

The evening before, we were to meet Mena and Kostas and Pelagia and George at our favorite café, Maxim’s. Mena and Kostas were to pick us up at around eight o’clock.

We waited until 8:40 and they didn’t come. We tried both their home phone and Mena’s cell phone, which she always has with her, but there was no answer on either. We tried Pelagia and George on their home phone (we didn’t have their cell phone numbers) but there was no answer there, either. So we decided we’d better walk over to Maxim’s, which after all isn’t far, to see if any of them might be there.

Approaching Maxim’s, we found Pelagia and George, who were just leaving, having given up. So back inside we went, to try to sort it out.

Nobody knew where Mena and Kostas were, and Pelagia had tried Mena’s cell phone at least 20 times, with no result. (And Mena always, always answers her cell phone, even if she’s in the middle of a meal with her guests and her mouth is full.) Our own cell phone had mysteriously stopped working. What to do next? Finally, Pelagia had the idea to call her own house, where her son was, and get him to look in her phone book for Elpida’s number, Elpida being Mena’s married daughter, and the one most likely to know anything.

“Where’s your mother?” asked Pelagia.

“At my mother-in-law’s,” said Elpida, “Having her hair done.” (That’s where I went recently to have my hair done, too, so I’m aware that it takes much longer there then you had expected.)

“Where’s your father?”

Elpida didn’t know.

Okay, here’s where things get a bit complicated, and I’m not sure I have it all straight. But Elpida called Soula, her mother-in-law, and found out Mena had been under the hair dryer for the past half hour, so hadn’t heard her cell phone. Soula got Mena to the phone.

Where was Kostas? Mena said he had come to our house, by bus, to pick us up and walk with us to Maxim’s. Except that he had never arrived there.

So we sat around and worried for a while. Then Pelagia tried one more time to get Kostas on his home phone, and this time he answered. He had gotten off the bus and the wrong stop and had gotten lost. He went up one street and down another, hither and yon, but never could find our apartment. Finally he had given up, and had just arrived back home. (This is a bit worrisome, because Kostas has been visiting Demetrios’ house since they were teenagers.)

“Come here by taxi!” said Pelagia. “Tell the driver Maxim’s, behind the hospital, at the corner of Karamanlis Street.”

Then Elpida had to be called, to inform her her father had been found, and Soula had to be called as well, and then Mena, who had just left from Soula.

At last, everyone arrived and we enjoyed nice cups of coffee or chocolate over our little reunion, We stayed together until midnight, when everyone wished Demetrios Many Years for his name day, and we all went home, Kostas and Mena by car and the rest of us, together, on foot. (Pelagia and George live a couple of blocks past us.)

Christos called and, and hearing about our malfunctioning cell phone, gave Demetrios some instructions and it miraculously began working perfectly again. We still don’t know how Demetrios had turned it off, but now we do know how to turn it back on next time.

26 October, Wednesday

With horrible memories of attending the Church of St. Demetrios on the Feast of St. Demetrios some years ago, we were reluctant to go there again this year. Instead, we went to St. Sophia. (I read recently that when St. Sophia was first consecrated, the Byzantine Empress Irene was in attendance.) It was half full, unlike St. Demetrios, which would have been tightly packed. And of course its other major advantage was the cantor, Charilaos, who is eighty-something and still has the most incredible voice, so sweet, so rich, so full, so expressive.

After the service, Demetrios went up to the cantors’ stand just to be near him, and you could see a sort of reverent glow from his face. There he stayed until everyone else had received their antidoron from the priest; then he went up to the priest and asked if he could have a copy of the sermon, which, he tells me, was exceptionally beautiful. That of course sparked a little conversation, the upshot of which was, Father Lazaros invited us to go to his office, where he would join us later.

So we did, and shortly after we got there, in came Charilaos with three or four other cantors. Charilaos took the big chair behind the desk and a young woman named Anastasia served coffee and water, while the cantors began trying out on The Teacher (Chariloaos) their thoughts on Byzantine music. “The words of the hymn,” said one, “are just dead text. It’s the voice, the voice, that gives them life!”

Charilaos corrected him: it’s the Holy Spirit gives them life, sometimes through our voices.

Fr. Lazaros arrived a bit later, with a half loaf of bread from the same dough, he said, as this morning’s communion bread. Sitting on a hard chair on the wrong side of his desk, he cut this into thin slices on a plate and passed it around. Somebody else had tiropita, cheese pastries, to share. Then another Demetrios arrived, the step-son, I think, of Charilaos (who is widowed and recently remarried), with a box of chocolates to be handed around. Fr. Lazaros could see I love chocolate, and he put three in my hands.

So we passed an hour or so with these most delightful people before going home for our nap.

Over at St. Demetrios, we learned, the government bigwigs, who always come from Athens to attend, had been very heartily jeered and booed outside the Church. Just as I’d hoped, but we were doing something even better at the time, sitting with these glorious people. We exchanged contact information and hope to meet some or all of them again.

27 October, Thursday

We had our big feast for St. Demetrios the day after, or rather the night after. George and Pelagia came to pick us up in their car, and we drove toward the taverna in Kalamaria.

Nobody in the car knew quite where the taverna was, never mind we'd been there last year. AHHH, so this habit of setting off for somewhere without finding out first where it is is not peculiar to Demetrios!!!! That was worth finding out.

We arrived in the right neighborhood; the three of them were all sure of that much. Finally, Demetrios called the taverna and found out it was one diagonal block from us, so we got there only a few minutes later than most of our guests.

There were 20 of us altogether, Demetrios and I and some of the dearest, kindest, best people on earth, which guaranteed it would be a wonderful evening. And for icing on the cake, almost all of them had been not only Demetrios’ friends, but each others’, from childhood, or had at least known each other that long.

Nikos, a pathologist, brought his German wife this time. Brigitta is a lovely woman, and she and I could chatter away in German (although sometimes my words still came out in Greek). She told me she had grown up in Stuttgart. I said, “Oh, Demetrios once lived in Stuttgart, about forty years ago, though, now.”

“I know,” she said, a twinkle in her pretty eyes. “That’s where I met him!” And tonight was the first time she’d seen him since those days in Stuttgart, so it was another happy reunion.

I stood up, halfway through the meal, to propose a toast. I don’t often have much to say, on account of my very limited Greek, so when I do speak, people stop to listen out of plain curiosity. I said, as I now always do, “To freedom! Hail, hail, Freedom!” and everyone shouted, “Bravo, Anastasia!” and clinked their glasses together.

Then we sang. Well, mainly the men sang. I don’t know why, but it’s usually the men who sing at table, although the women sometimes join in. As there were ten of them, and at least half of them are cantors in church, they all sounded very, very good together, like a choir.

It was the best time I’ve had this year in Greece. Mena puts on a mean feast, and Vasilea has the mother of all meals, serves (I counted, this year) 15 dishes plus the desserts, which are 5 more, but tonight all of us were together, housewives and schoolteachers, poets and painters, theologians and lawyers, doctors and authors, all delighting in one another. Tonight my tongue loosened up (without benefit of alcohol) and I was able to converse fairly freely with a number of people, sometimes in English, sometimes in German, sometimes in Greek. Tonight, the topic was love, love, and love. The food was great, the company, better. We all just glowed. Tonight was a foretaste of heaven, as we all agreed.

Twenty Questions

Or, How Free Are You?

The forms of freedom, of democracy, of a republic, do not necessarily indicate the reality. Even China calls itself “The People’s Republic of China,” and even the Soviet Union had elections. There are elections in Iraq, too, but hardly anyone is naïve enough to suppose any government there is not going to answer to the United States.

So how can you tell how free and independent you really are? Here’s a quiz I hope will help.

1.) You are allowed to vote for Candidates A, B, or C. But are you allowed to select which candidates will run in the primaries? Whoever gives the go-ahead to would-be candidates are the real power brokers. Can anybody run, or are there party bosses whose behinds must be kissed first?

2.) Do your newspapers and television networks give equal coverage to third-party or obscure candidates, and are these allowed to participate in televised debates? Or is that much power is being denied to third parties?

3.) Is there any limit on how much an individual can donate to a candidate for public office? If so, does this limit, by being high, discriminate too much in favor of the rich?

4.) Are corporate entities (companies, banks, unions, etc.) barred from contributing to a candidate for public office? Or is there a limit to how much they can give? Or can they contribute a couple of million or so for every thousand you donate?

5.) Must candidates for public office disclose all contributions; instead of there being so-called “soft money” that does not need to be disclosed?

6.) You are allowed to debate the issues of the day, but who determines what those issues are? Whoever does that is exercising power.

7.) Is there any legal limit to how much of your money your government can take from you (taxes, fees, etc., etc., etc.)?

8.) Can labor in your country organize itself into unions if it desires, so they hae some leverage with management, or has that become a useless idea since most of those kinds of jobs are have been exported to other countries?

9.) Can a laborer in your society work without joining a union if he so desires, and without undue pressure to join one?

10.) Newspapers and television networks wield enormous influence, meaning power, and can also become powerful propaganda tools, especially when concentrated in the hands of a few. Do only a handful of corporations own most of the news outlets in your country? If you don’t know, find out!

11.) Are there companies in your country “too big to fail’, thus requiring the people (you!) to bail them out as often as their executives ruin them (for their own personal enrichment)?

12.) Does your government, without a court order, listen in to your phone calls or intercept your e-mails?

13.) Does your local library spy on you, report to your government, upon request, what books you have checked out?

14.) Is your doctor required to supply your medical information to your government upon request?

15.) Is it legal, in your country, for you to disappear in the middle of some night, without access to a lawyer, without your family knowing where you are, and to be held indefinitely without trial?

16.) Does your government use torture, even if they call it something else? Or does your government hand over suspects to be tortured by other governments, to maintain appearances? (You can be sure any government that crosses this line will be equally willing to torture you, should it ever deem this necessary.)

17.) Is your country free of any significant dependence upon foreign aid and/or loans from other countries or big banks or the International Monetary Fund? My husband once had coffee and doughnuts with a banker who remarked, “I’d love to give you a mortgage, the bigger the better!’ And when asked why, the banker said, “Because then for the next thirty years, you’ll be working for me!”

18.) Does your country have separation of “church and state” (the word “church” to include mosque, synagogue, or temple)? Can your country tax religious institutions or otherwise regulate them, or does your country officially support one or two religions only?

19.) Are members of certain religions treated as second-class citizens by your government or in your society?

20.) If you vote out (or force out, as in Egypt) one government in favor of another, do any of these things actually change? In other words, ignoring the lip service, which is often just theater, is there in practice a dime’s worth of difference? Or do your political leaders all behave as if they were all in the pay of the same elite clique?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Do Just as You Please; Makes no Difference

Tuesday, 25 October

The garbage strike is over. The garbage collectors lost, predictably. The strike, like the protests, was predicated upon the mistaken assumption that the government was accountable to popular opinion and could perhaps be influenced it. The gang that runs things doesn’t care even if you vote out the current office-holders; they have more of their own (in both parties) waiting in the wings.

Anyway, it’s over, and just in time, too, because by now the garbage is beginning to smell. We are grateful to observe that it has been collected from various neighborhoods, although not yet ours. On our corner, the garbage heap is as tall as a person and by now is blocking one lane of each street at the intersection.

Tomorrow is the Feast of Great-Martyr Demetrios, the patron saint of this City. It will be a national holiday and there will be huge crowds at the Church of St. Demetrios (and the other churches). All the highest-ranking Greek politicians will be at St. Demetrios, including the President and Prime Minister. I’d like to go there just to boo them, but there’s no point. (I still hope somebody does, though.)

Last year, at this time, Greek flags were blooming all over town. This year, from our balcony, we can see exactly 3 in the one direction (not counting our own) and two around the corner in the other direction. I don’t know what this means. Perhaps the propaganda has taken hold, which says the national flag is a symbol of fascism. And racism, implying that one thinks the Greeks are better than everyone else. (As you will know, if you watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding, there’s a grain of truth in that! But the racism bit is a canard, is nonsense.) This flag was carried by the heroes of the wars of liberation, when Greece liberated herself from Turkey; it symbolizes freedom and independence. It was carried in World War II to symbolize the same. THAT’S what it’s all about, just as the American Flag is about freedom and independence and bravery, and not about the jingoism and chauvinism in vogue with flag-wavers recently.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Is the Bible True?

Check out Fr. Stephen's post on whether the Bible is true.

It is, of course -- but not in the sense usually thought of by believers and unbelievers alike.

Aspasia’s Marrying!

Monday, 24 October

She’s the daughter of Thomai and Zisis, our downstairs neighbors, and she’s forty-something, so her parents have worried for years about her getting married. But she has found and/or been found by a wonderful young man in Constantinople, who works in the Patriarchate and is very devout and good-looking, as well. (A couple of weekends ago, I asked Pelagia and George if they knew the fiancé, and Pelagia said, “Of course. Everyone knows him. He’s a good boy.”)

The engagement ceremony is tomorrow and the wedding is to take place in Constantinople next month (a few days after we depart for Richmond). Thomai and Zisis have engaged four buses to take people from here.  More are coming by airplane, paying their own fare.  Thomai ans Zisis are going to have 200 guests, and the bridegroom is going to have 200 more.

And guess who is going to preside over both the engagement and the wedding? Patriarch Bartholomew. The Patriarch, when he was introduced to Zisis as “Aspasia’s father,” said, “Oh, Aspasia! I love Aspasia as if she were my own daughter!”

We are absolutely thrilled for them all.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Greek Funeral

...or Rather, a Greek Burial
Thursday, 20 October
Last night, Ianna’s mother died, at the age on ninety-something. She had lived a good life and even had her husband with her right up until last year.

So we got the word in the late morning and the funeral was to be at two o’clock. (Bodies here are not embalmed because that’s not actually the Orthodox way, so they are put into the ground with all due haste.)

Well, due to the strikes, there was no bus or taxi service for us, so Mena agreed to come pick us up; that would only make us a tiny bit late, she said.

What she hadn’t realized was, her car was out of gas. Long story we can skip, but refueling the car caused more delay.

Then the traffic was heavier than usual, as everybody who couldn’t use a bus or taxi was driving a car.

So the upshot of it was, we missed the funeral service altogether, and only arrived as the coffin was being carried from the on-site chapel to the grave. The graveside service consisted of one short prayer by the priest. Then the coffin, still open but with the body wrapped in a sheet, was lowered by hand into the ground. I was surprised to see the grave was no more than four feet deep. People threw flowers on top of the body. Then the lid was put on, and then the shoveling commenced, while we were still standing there.

We moved on over to the reception hall, where we were all seated at one very long table. They don’t have a *makaria* the way Greeks in America do, no huge meal, just cognac,coffee, water and coffee to drink and small muffins and chocolate candies. You sit there for a while, you sip, you munch, you stand up eventually and go hug the family and take your leave.

I have to tell you, this cemetery is a full-service place. It not only has a real church on site, it also has a bus stop, a café set up for receptions, and a flower shop. Maybe they even sell caskets; I don’t know.

The memorial stones are not like ours. These are thick little monuments, with built-in glass chambers where you can put your icon/s, and some of them even contain a box with a lock where you can keep candles and incense, for when you visit, or a vase for fresh flowers. You can also have a photo of your loved one somehow made permanent, printed on stone it looks like, attached to the marker.

I think Ianna was still in shock; I mean, there had only been a few hours between the death and the burial. The whole thing’s over with before there’s even been time to quite realize it.

She’s doing okay, though. It’s not as though we grieved the way pagans would, who have no “sure and certain hope” of the resurrection.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Greece in Uproar

Thursday, 20 October

Yesterday the Parliament in effect jettisoned the Greek Constitution. The issue was not simply whether to enact into law the newest, even more oppressive demands of the EU (the French and the Germans); that was never really a question. The issue was whether to do it without any period of discussion, as required by the Constitution and also by the rules of the Parliament. The argument was that this was for the good of the country; the demands of the Europeans must be met NOW or there would be no more financial aid (in the form of a loan to pay off other loans, if that makes any sense). So what’s best for the country is to become a lawless land, or more accurately, an outlaw nation. Obey the Constitution whenever it may seem expedient; otherwise, just ignore it. I think it was Barry Goldwater once said of the American Constitution that unless you respect it, it’s only a piece of paper. (Demetrios points out it’s not as if the American government had never violated the Constitution.)

Last weekend there were demonstrations here in Thessaloniki, as well as in Athens, and in 951 other cities around the word. Yes, that’s nine hundred fifty-one, in 82 countries! I’m glad people are finally waking up and letting their feelings be known, but the problem is, it does no good whatsoever where the government is not accountable to the people. The people can demonstrate, strike, riot, whatever; a government really not working for (or paid by) the people doesn’t care in the least, isn’t vulnerable to popular opinion. Go ahead, ventilate your pent-up frustrations; your government will encourage this and point to it as a sign of a free society – but beyond that will not pay any heed at all.

Yesterday there was news coverage of a petropolemos in Athens. You probably know that petros means “rock”, as in “petrified” or as in “Peter”. And polemos, well think “polemic”: a war or a fight. So that’s what they had yesterday in Athens, and it went from rock-throwing to something worse. One demonstrator died, although we aren’t sure how it happened. Anyway, that turned the climate even uglier; today the footage showed fires and tear gas.

There has been and will still be a whole series of strikes, so many the television shows you lists of them, and the dates: these workers will strike next Monday and Tuesday, those workers, from Tuesday through Thursday, etc. Yesterday and the day before, there was a general strike of all public workers, so we had no taxi or bus service, no libraries open, no schools, etc., etc. Our garbage is still piling up; has been since last time I wrote you it had been collected. It looks worse now than the pictures you may have seen several days ago; there’s twice as much garbage piled up on nearly every street corner. It’s a miracle it doesn’t smell very bad. Maybe it’s because all the older, more rotten, more odiferous stuff is buried deep under newer stuff. Plastic bags help, which everybody uses, and the cool weather is also a godsend, in the circumstances.

Nobody is complaining about the garbage. The only complaints we hear are about the government; the other day a lady passed me coming out of a shop, and looking at her receipt (showing the heavy tax), she said in a shrill voice, “Thievery!”

Sunday, October 16, 2011

It Seems to me Approximately True

…that the more alluring the temptation appears, the uglier it really would be if we were to succumb.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Another Visit to the Kommoterio

Thursday, 14 October
A kommoterio is a beauty salon. I’ve only been to a kommoteria once before. It was downtown. Relatives by marriage of Kostas and Mena owned it, a man and his wife and her unmarried sister. (I recounted that charming little adventure in this blog here.)

Well the man died and his wife Soula and her sister Demetra moved in together, and they now run their salon out of their apartment, which happens to be one block from ours. The sisters are wonderful people, hearts of gold – literally, too, in the case of Demetra; she has a gold-plated valve in her heart. So of course I called them up when I could no longer do without a cut and perm, and this morning at 9:30 was my appointment.

There’s a small waiting room that could seat as many as six people, but a certain Kyria Maria was the only other customer there, just finishing up a koulouri, a piece of crusty bread baked in a thin roll and coated with sesame seeds.. There are also two chairs with built-in hair dryers in the waiting room, and a television.

The shampoo station, one of those sinks you lean back into, is in a tiny bathroom with bright, flowery tiles all over. And the chair where you sit to have your hair curled or combed or blow-dried is in the hallway, in front of a chest of drawers topped by a large mirror, and having the bottom drawer removed so the customer has a place to rest her feet.

First there were ten or fifteen minutes of socializing, then it was K. Maria’s turn to have something done I didn’t understand, but it had to do with color. Maybe a root touch-up or something. I looked through a Greek magazine full of gossip about Greek celebrities. I don’t know who they are, but I do know, now, who had a romantic weekend with whom.

My turn came after about forty-five more minutes. Demetra did the shampoo; Soula, who is the actual cosmetologist, cut my hair alarmingly short. I don’t mind as it will be easy to maintain and Demetrios, who always gives his honest opinion about such things even when you wish he wouldn’t, says it looks great, and in any case it’ll be just right for Christmas.

The haircut took a long time not only because Soula is very careful, but mostly because of our talking. Somehow, we managed to have considerable conversation despite my broken and very basic Greek. She told me about her spiritual father, who knows things about her before she tells them; e.g., “Why have you stopped saying your morning prayers, my child?” and about a beloved schoolteacher who is still alive and spends all her money feeding the poor, and about the day of her husband’s forty-day memorial service, when the apartment was ransacked and the television stolen.. “But I had 800 Euros in the house they didn’t find!” she said.

She has a little stand of wire that looks like a plant stand, but it is topped by a circular plastic tray containing rollers, hairpins, perm rods, and such, and she now keeps it in front of the door to the apartment. That way, if anyone opens the door, the cart will be upset and perhaps the noise will frighten away any intruder. In any case, the new security door is going to be installed next month; then she and Demetra will feel safer.

Demetra told about the time immediately before the replacement of her heart valve, when she died and was resuscitated. I didn’t understand any of the details, unfortunately.

Kyria Maria was finished by about 11:15, but she was in no hurry to leave. “She wants company,” whispered Demetra, who obliged by chatting with her in the waiting room while Soula put in my rods. (At 11:45, the cab driver telephoned to enquire whether K. Maria were ready, and Soula said she would be ready by 12:15. How’s that for kindness?)

The perm itself, once applied (with a rag) takes exactly one minute. You sit there with a plastic cap on while Soula stares at the clock, and 60 seconds later, you’re ready for Demetra to rinse and neutralize, while Soula keeps K. Maria company.

Soula has a krayoni (“crayon”, like a fat tube of lipstick) she daubs around your hairline just after the mousse. This krayoni comes in various shades and hides your roots until your next shampoo. (Note to self: Brand is Roux “Tween Times”.) Then she rolled my hair and put me under a dryer with a timer and a switch so I could choose either hot or warm air. Then Demetra brought us all treats, tall glasses of water and candied figs served on tiny glass plates. I never had such a delicious fig!

Kyria Maria, departing, told me I had beautiful teeth (!!????) and asked, “Are they your own, or are they dentures?” Demetrios says people in Greece didn’t have adequate dental care until very recent years, and when he first came to America and visited a dentist, he had 32 cavities! So for someone my age to have good teeth is somewhat unusual, he said.

At last my hair was styled and sprayed with half a bottle or so of lak (think “lacquer”). It feels like steel wool or a Tuffy pad. That’s okay, too. I won’t have to do anything to it for some days and it will rinse right out.

Whereas last time Soula seemed reluctant to charge me anything, in this difficult time, with business down a lot, she didn’t hesitate to name her price, and it was very reasonable.

I walked out of there, quite pleased, just after 2:00.

Have Fun!

It’s what life is all about! Isn’t it?

NO. No, it is not. A human life is worth so much more than that, is so much more precious than just that. Your life is meant to be filled with deep and beautiful meaning, to have value that is lasting and significant. To squander it all in the transient and trivial is such a perversion!

Your life is supposed to be about love, which in the first place means God giving Himself totally to you, and you giving yourself as fully as you can to your fellow man (and growing in your ability to do so) and your fellow man giving himself as fully as he is able to you, and growing in his ability to love you more, and all of us living together in mutual sacrifice and forgiveness and healing and creativity and growth and glory. Most of all, our lives are supposed to be about becoming godlike, and more than that, about sharing in the living of God’s own Life, both now and forever.

Fun is fine, but to devote ones life to it is definitely, most certainly, not. It makes us shallow, self-indulgent, spoiled brats. It makes us greedy, because more money = more fun = more fulfillment of our supposed meaning in life. It puts us into competition with one another because we feel envious if someone else has more pleasure than we have. It sets us angrily against each other because it’s inevitable we sometimes, whether on purpose or otherwise, interfere in one another’s fun. No, fun as a god is a terrible, ferocious, soul-sucking tyrant.

To avoid falling back into our addiction to fun and/or to wean ourselves away from this tyrant is perhaps the main reason an Orthodox Christian practices certain mild forms of asceticism (or, for a few, not so mild). It has nothing to do with punishing ourselves for our sins (a concept foreign to Orthodox Christianity) and everything to do with freeing and preserving ourselves from this seductive form of destruction.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Historical Facts of St. Raphaels’ Holy Monastery

This is the title of a book Mena and Kostas brought me. They visited that monastery on the island of Lesbos, now called Mytilini, and the book, in English, is from the monastery book store.

The author is the Mother Superior, Evgenia. The book purports to be about St. Raphael of Thermi, a saint nobody knew existed until he began appearing to people and telling them the story of his life and death. Mother Evgenia is one of the people to whom he chiefly appeared and still appears, and most of the visions recorded in the book have to do with how the Saint himself chose Mother Evgenia to head up this monastery for women, and how he guides her and how he blesses the monastery, and through it, the whole world.

In short, it’s not so much about the glories of St. Raphael as about the glories (and the not-to-be questioned authority) of the all-holy Mother Evgenia, in her own words. And in the words of others, in the Preface and Introduction. There are also, in the last chapter, lengthy lists of all the awards she has received (10 pages), of the 95 books she has written, and all the books written about her (a six-page bibliography).

Kostas and Mena acquired the same impression from their visit there, and so did Demetrios, when he read the Greek edition of this book several years ago.

I think St. Raphael’s Monastery may never appear on my list of places I’d like to visit some day.

The Gypsas

Wednesday, 11 October

This building used to be heated by a communal, oil-burning furnace down in the basement. The old system circulated hot water to all the units and Zisis, our building’s Mostly Wise and Usually Fearless Leader, had the thankless task of deciding, each year, when to turn on the furnace, balancing the need for thrift with the need for heat.

Three or four years ago, the government mandated that everyone switch to natural gas, as being cleaner or something. Which meant we not only had to install all new radiators, but also to connect them to our new, individual, gas-fired heating element. So we’ve had all these new, copper pipes showing, in the kitchen, hallway, and bedroom and mostly on the balcony, because we took great trouble to route our new pipes in such a way as to have as few as possible show inside the house.

Plus, we never removed the old pipes, because Zisis told us all to leave them in place in case we ever had to revert to the oil system. (That was in the days when Russia was cutting off natural gas lines to Europe when various disagreements arose.) So in addition to all the new pipes, we’ve been living with all the old pipes, exposed in every room and in completely different places from the new.

Gypsum, here, is what’s used for sheetrock. So the gypsum man came and cut away all the old pipes (with Zisis’ permission, of course) and closed in all the new pipes, and everything looks very tidy. We’d gotten so used to the ugliness of those pipes we’d forgotten how ugly they looked, until they were gone or hidden. The gypsas and his helper did a nice, neat job and are very good people, besides.

Zisis came to inspect, and he was as satisfied as we are.

But now every room has bare sheetrock, taped and smoothed, but unpainted – and some rooms have places where the old pipes used to be but there was no paint behind them, so now what’s left is ugly stripes of bare concrete, which is what walls here are made of. The upshot of it all is, painting this place has become imperative, and quite soon. We are anxious to have the inside done and Zisis is anxious that the outside gypsum (special formula for outdoors) be painted the same creamy gold as the building. (Enforcing the standards is another of his thankless jobs.)
Little by little, this house will become quite nice looking.

Politics: I’ve Done a Complete, 180 Degree Turn

I’m interested! I’m passionately interested, because by now it has become clear what is going on, what everybody here in Greece except Demetrios and me seems to have caught onto some time ago. And it’s so appalling and we have been soooo naïve!

Our first clue came when we heard the German leader, Angela Merkel, speaking, and she said the EU was seeking “a long-term solution for Greece.” Well, now, that’s the last thing Greece wants, a long-term “solution” to what Greece desperately hopes will be a short-term problem. The Greek people heartily resent the foreign Troika dictating all this country’s policies, and want that to stop as soon as possible.

The second clue came when we heard that various other countries are making much more “progress” with their debt problems than Greece is. Whaaaat? How so? What are they doing that Greece has not? Are they complying with as harsh measures as Greece has been? Have they been subjected to such hardship? Well, I’ll tell you how other countries have made better progress. Take Italy, for example. Mr. Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, says Italy is ready to give up all sovereignty and independence if that’s what it takes to solve her debt crisis. Ah, now there’s “progress”! There’s the example to be followed. The Greek leaders are equally willing, they just don’t (yet) dare say so. Well, actually, the president of the Parliament did say exactly that five years ago and there’s a video of him on Youtube saying it. You just have to pay very, very close attention to catch these little morsels of truth.

The “long-term solution” means the EU is figuring out how to control Greece – indeed all of the EU countries – completely and indefinitely. It means the EU countries are supposed to cease being sovereign states, cease having their own ethnic identities, and all unite under one imposed government (under the guise of democracy, of course, and world peace). That’s why the borders of all the EU countries are wide open, and Paris is now more like a North African city than anything French, and London is described in one encyclopedia I saw as a multi-cultural metropolis on the River Thames. That’s why proper Greek is not taught in schools. That’s why history books are being re-written. That’s why so many, many things. All in the interest of a pan-European government, and of course, eventually, a world-wide government. (Don’t laugh; we’ve just watched a Youtube clip in which the Greek Prime Minister actually says, “We need a world economic government,” three times.) It all suddenly makes sense when viewed through that lens.

Greece is just the hardest nut to crack in Europe, because the Greek people are stubborn. And not stupid. Greece is to the EU what Iraq was to NATO: the one take-over that must not fail. Have to get Greek compliance or the whole thing falls apart, because other countries might follow a Greek example. That’s why Greece is being singled out.

Now there’s a group of retired military officers who have formed an organization, and this organization says the Greek government, having sold out the people, has to go. And if they don’t leave, this group says they will force the government out. How they plan to do that I don’t know; the classical way would be to make sure the key people in the military and the police are on your side, then move in during the middle of the night and arrest all the top government officials and declare a coup in the morning. That would make very little difference to Greece in one way; it would only be moving from an implicit to an explicit dictatorship, from a covert to an overt one. At least it would be Greek rule, not foreign. But then again, such a move would be terrible for Greece in another way, because all the Western countries would be so outraged, would go on and on about how Greece is the cradle of democracy and how intolerable to have a dictatorship there, and they’d profess to feel called upon to liberate the Greek people – and occupy or at least control Greece indefinitely. Greeks of course are incompetent to deal with their own problems. Not a few Greeks, succumbing to propaganda, have come actually to believe that.

If Greece were to default on her debt and/or secede from the European Union(which EU officials have already said Greece cannot do), the EU would find ways to punish Greece very severely, making an example of her. It can no more be done than Hungary (1957) could break away from the control of the Soviet Union.

So the Greek people are hunkering down. Along Delphon Street here in Thessaloniki, a major shopping street, at least 1 in every 3 shops is closed, with a “For Rent” sign in the window, but nobody has the capital to start up a new business, so the shops stay empty. (Furthermore, taxes on small business are now exorbitant.) The State, which pays the salaries of Orthodox clergy (as part of a deal made years ago, in which the Greek Church ceded to the State about 94% of her property and a third of her income from offerings) , is talking about cutting those clergy salaries in half, and only paying for one new priest for each hundred who retire or die. That’s one of the troubles, isn’t it, with making a deal with the devil. He never feels obliged to uphold his end of the bargain! New property taxes are included in one’s electricity bills, so anyone who thinks of protesting by not paying has his electricity cut off. (However, we’ve heard that there are employees who, when they come around to cut off your electricity, come right back and turn it on again, their method of resistance.)

I know of very little other resistance so far; nobody knows what to do. I have learned that our recent problem with garbage collection is because protestors have occupied the city dump, so there’s no place, or very little place, to put the garbage. People aren’t complaining because they sympathize with the protestors. But how disrupting the garbage service is supposed to help anything I do not know. The Orthodox bishops have, as a synod, also stood up rather courageously, saying the people shouldn’t pay all these new taxes.

The KKE, Communist Party of Greece, is organizing, it’s ready to fight. But of course, they’re a hopeless bunch and most people consider them totally out of touch with reality. They still want a Soviet-style government, as if that sort of thing hadn’t been thoroughly discredited decades ago, as if anybody could possibly still take communist ideology seriously. And of course if the communists ever do get control of Greece, that’s another scenario that will cause the Western nations to take swift action to “liberate” the Greek people.

Qui bono? Well, France benefits and Germany, especially, because they are the two major EU powers. People are saying what Germany couldn’t achieve in two world wars she is now achieving by economics through the EU. Much of Europe stands in a fair way to become, in effect, Franco-German colonies. The European leaders all benefit, too, because they are handsomely paid off for their cooperation, including the Greek leadership. But all the foregoing is relatively small potatoes. The major benefit goes to multi-national corporations, especially banks, because all the new laws and regulations and so forth are written to benefit them, allowing them to rape and plunder the people and the land, and because one government is easier for them to deal with than many, and because, in the case of the banks, they’re the creditors (who lent the money knowing this would happen, and they’d be bailed out). Okay, it’s not actually the banks and corporations themselves that benefit, either, because they are only tools for the gaining of personal advantage by their executives. It’s those top executives who are the main beneficiaries of all this, sometimes even if they ruin the company to get rich. They are the elite who run this world. Israel benefits too, because while many people within the multi-national gang care only for profit and thus have no national loyalties at all, the many more who do are loyal usually to Israel and they share their wealth and wield their influence accordingly.

Demetrios found our Greek flag, which we usually only fly on national holidays, and put it up, out over our balcony. It will stay there for the duration.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Hymn Demetrios was Humming in the Shower the Other Day

You probably know it:

Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven,
To His feet thy tribute bring,
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
Who, like me, His praise should sing?

Um, well, actually, everybody should … especially those who are aware of having been “ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven.”

Demetrios says he doesn’t think it’s meant that way. But the thing is, “that way” keeps cropping up in hymn after hymn. Odd coincidence, that.

Oh, and by the way, have you conquered every vice and mastered every virtue? No? Then you’re (at best) still in the process of being healed. It's good to be quite sober, quite realistic, about our inner condition.

And another song I’ve been humming under my breath is one from the Youth for Christ movement. I used to attend, in my youth.

Gone, gone, gone, gone,
Yes, my sins are gone.
Now my soul is free and in my heart’s a song.
Buried in the deepest sea,
Yes, that’s good enough for me.
I shall live eternally,
Praise God, my sins are gone!

I don’t really want to dis this hymn. Sins from which we have repented are indeed, in a sense, buried in the deepest sea. It’s good to be reassured concerning this, and to rejoice in it.

But there’s sometimes an underlying assumption I want to point out, which is that God, to be favorably disposed toward us, needs to overlook or be blinded to our sins and our sinfulness. What’s needed, in reality, is for God to forgive us. The two are not the same thing. In fact, they are mutually exclusive, because God can’t forgive us if He sees nothing about us that needs His forgiveness. Or if He forgives us, that means He is aware of what it is (and who it is) He is forgiving.

It’s a form of disbelief in God’s infinite, unconditional Love, and in His forgiveness, to suppose He will only be friendly to us if He can contrive to regard us as pure and spotless.

Our sins are buried in the deepest sea, yes, but we need to understand that this sea is the fathomless ocean of His forgiveness. Not of His alleged blindness.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Slices of Life in Greece


We went out for lunch the other day and to my delight, the menu included cheeseburgers. Mine came and it looked just like a standard American burger – but it was heavily dosed with oregano.

I like oregano; it’s just that I’m sick of it. I want something, anything, that is minus oregano.

Once when we were newlyweds and Demetrios was cooking something, he rummaged around the kitchen cabinet and grumbled, “Well, you have every spice imaginable but you have let yourself run out of the most important one.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Oregano, of course!”

Of course. Now I know. (I did have some, but it was in a big jar and he was looking for a little one.)

Nikoletta, at the grocery store, let me sniff her oregano, which she said I must buy before leaving and take back to America. She gathered it from the mountains, where it was growing wild, and she crushed it with her own hands into tiny flakes. I have to admit, it was the most fragrant oregano that ever delighted my nose.

City Services

Maybe it was a sanitation workers’ strike, or maybe there just isn’t enough money these days to collect the garbage as often as it needs doing. I don’t know, but the garbage piled up around here for several days. Thank heaven it isn’t August! At last, the noisiest truck in the whole world came to our corner and it took the workers 15 minutes to load up all our neighborhood’s garbage. They emptied the three huge dumpsters and then refilled them several times with the plastic sacks of garbage that had been put nearby. Other corners are much less tidy; the City as a whole looks terrible, although thanks to plastic bags, doesn't particularly smell bad.

This morning (Saturday, the 8th), we woke up to no running water. Zisis, our building’s Usually Wise and Mostly Fearless Leader, told us the entire city was without water!

Do you realize how many things you can’t do without running water? You can’t brush your teeth or flush the toilet or wash your hands. Unless you have bottled water (which we have), you cannot have a cup of coffee or tea, cannot boil an egg. My whole morning’s plans were shot. I had intended to shower, then do a load of laundry, wash the dishes, wet mop all the floors.

Down on the ground floor, in the water-meter room, there was water available from the tap, although we don’t understand why. So we went down there and got two buckets full, just for some basics.

Fortunately, the water came back on by noon.

For the Birds!

What I was thinking, at first, was, “Who needs caged birds? We can have wild ones, doves and sparrows, any time we like. All we have to do is appear on the balcony and they all come.”

I still think that, but there’s a downside, too. Every single time you step out on the balcony, or even poke your head through a window, they come and land right in front of you and silently (or not so silently) beg for food.

If you haven’t set out their breakfast by about 8:00 or so in the morning, they come and the sparrows utter their loudest call and start pecking at the balcony floor, so many, and in such quick succession, that it sounds like rain. The doves just walk along the balcony rail, which is metal, so their claws click-click along.

The male dove has begun to behave badly. He chases his mate away from the food, won’t let her have any at all. He never chases the sparrows, perhaps thinking they are too small to bother with, although collectively they eat more than the female dove. But he chases her relentlessly.

Well, she and I have outwitted him. We put her food in a separate place at the other end of the balcony and around the corner (for ours is a corner flat) from where we feed him. That way he can’t see her. She, meanwhile, has learned not to approach when he does, but to wait until she sees me put out her food in her special place. Then she sneaks in and eats it all before her abusive but distracted hubby notices.

When he does come anywhere near “her” area, I chase him away, so he is learning not to. (I have learned to tell them apart by a slight variation in their tail feathers.)

In fairness I should say we do not actually know the gender of either dove; we are making assumptions.

It’s a wonderful, but also weird, feeling to realize you are under constant surveillance by half the birds in the neighborhood. (The other half being mostly the ravens, hooded crows, magpies.)

Greek Affairs

* Now it has been revealed that the cabinet ministers have, on average, a hundred paid advisors each. The Vice Prime Minister, who bears the venerable name of Venizelos, a fat man with a reputation for demanding sexual favors from employees, has 130. To do what? He doesn’t even have a specific job description. He doesn’t actually do anything, except be there in case anything happens to the Prime Minister. And fatten the wallets of friends and family who serve as his advisors. Here is one part of the budget that has not been cut.

Rich people’s money never gets cut; it’s all the rest of the people from whom the money is extorted. It’s most instructive to observe how one can live in a total tyranny, the people helpless to do anything about it, and all under the guise of a (nominal) democracy. I suppose that shouldn’t be all that surprising, considering that even in the Soviet Union, one could vote. Yes, the people could vote for Comrade A or Comrade B and it made not a particle of difference. Thing One or Thing Two. Tweedle-dee or Tweedle-dum. And of course China’s full name is what? The Peoples’ Republic of China.

*The government tax on meals eaten outside the home is now 23%, and will go up in each of the coming three to five years.

And every taxpayer now has to save every single receipt he ever receives for anything, and turn them all in with his tax forms. Who reads all those receipts? And are they paid to read them? And what for? Is the government really all that interested in your every single purchase? But you pay less tax, the more receipts you turn in, so people do it.

We are going to save all receipts for Christos.

*Oh, and by the way, when you are told the Greek debt is a higher proportion of the gross domestic product than other countries’ debts are, that’s a misrepresentation, because the Greek debt is calculated differently, in fact, uniquely. It includes a lot of things that aren’t included in reckoning the debts of, say, Italy, Spain, Ireland, or Portugal. No, Greece is being singled out for some other reason.

*We have a friend who, although he is Greek (and Orthodox) grew up in Egypt, so he speaks fluent Arabic. He has a Palestinian friend. Once in a while, they telephone each other. They speak in Arabic and, as a prank, they make sure to include in their conversation all sorts of “triggers”, words like “bin Laden” and “Kaddafi” and phrases such as, “Do not say anything to Omar about our plan until it is ready for implementation,” and so forth.

Of course such a call must be monitored by the government. They get a kick out of that.

Well, so do I. Except it could prove dangerous one day.


Written with spray paint on a building near us:

There is no meaning in life
Unless you are a PAOK supporter.

Had I written the slogan, I’d have changed it to, “Unless you eat chocolate,” but never mind. PAOK is Thessaloniki’s soccer team.

When you can hear every TV for a block away (That’s hundreds of ‘em.) and they’re all on the same channel, you know a soccer game is on. When you hear cheers erupting from all round, you know our team has scored. When the cheer becomes a roar, coming from everywhere, from the park below, from the taverna across the street, from the Drunken Duck next door (especially), and when boys run shrieking through the streets, you know the game’s over and we won.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Sunday, 02 October

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I sat still and didn’t say a word.

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

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

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

“But they’re obviously in your bag.”

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

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

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

“Do you smell vinegar?” I asked Demetrios.

“Yes, I think perhaps I do.”

“I think I’d better look.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Day in Pefkochori

Thursday, 29 September

We spent a lovely day in Halkidiki, on the Kassandra Peninsula, about 6 miles from its tip, extending out into the Aegean.  We went to Pelagia and George’s house in the vacation village of Pefkochori.  It’s a vacation spot because it’s picturesque.  You look across the water at the next peninsula to the east.  (Behind that one,  the third peninsula is the Holy Mountain, but you can’t see it.)
You have to remember we are all retired folks; we didn’t actually DO anything.  Such as swim.  Some people were in the water, which was surely warm enough, but the air had a distinct hint of chill which discouraged us.  We sat around a table in Pelagia’s garden and had snacks.  Enough snacks to constitute a whole meal, of course…  Then we sat around some more and talked.  Then we made our way, slowly and gradually, to our favorite taverna there, at the far end of the beach. 

The beach is narrow, less than 100 feet of sand, and parallel to it is the promenade, paved in stones and lined with palm trees and sidewalk cafes and shops selling the typical tourist items.   The water was all gem tones, ranging from peridot to aquamarine to turquoise (mostly) to sapphire in the distance. 

So we sat at our taverna and ate the most divine octopus (tasted like charcoal-grilled steak but very tender) and mussels, which I don’t even like, but these were delicious, and grilled sardines, which I’ve learned to love, together with various salads, cheeses, and veggies.  And we talked some more.  (My diet, by the way, is shot.  There’s no way, here, to diet.  I still try a little, but not enough.) 

Quiz Question:  How many Greek men can talk at once, when the subject is politics, and still sustain an actual conversation?  Answer:  as many as are present.  Quiz Question:  How long does it take to exhaust this topic?  Answer:  It’s inexhaustible.  Quiz Question:  Aren’t there other things to talk about, such as theology or philosophy, or history, or art or music, or just trading funny stories?  Answer:  No.  There used to be, but no more. 

I feel like Scarlett O’Hara, who was so bored when the menfolk talked war incessantly.  Our men aren’t talking any such thing; they know as soon as there is any significant unrest in Greece, the Turks will move in, with the support of the U.S. and U.K., ostensibly to impose order; and that is exactly what some powers that be are hoping will happen.  The Greeks are unlikely to fall for this trick.  But the very impossibility of doing anything except pray about the tyranny renders me just as fed up as Scarlett was.  I’ve taken to amending every toast; whenever people raise their glasses and say, “To your health!” I say, “To freedom.  ‘Hail, hail, Freedom!’ – the refrain from the Greek national anthem.

Demetrios, who had been snappish toward me earlier in the day, stopped by one of the tourist shops on the way back and bought me a watch and had it gift wrapped, even.  Isn’t that sweet?  It’s a tourist type watch, mind you, nothing expensive, but it’s pretty and I realize how much I needed it, how often I’ve been asking him for the time.  I’m one of those people who’ve never had a watch that worked for long, but they were all, you know, jewelry.  This one is bound to last a life-time, if it follows the example of sunglasses. 

We stayed until late evening, then went to Kostas' and Menas' house in Nea Syllata for the night.