Thursday, October 06, 2005

Don't Cry For Me Athina...

After three months in Greece, tomorrow I board a flight to go back to the UK. It makes me miserable. Sure, Athens is a lot like London in terms of how hectic it can get, bad traffic, pollution etc but it has two major and very vital differences, a) The sun (not the Sun with ladies showing their boobies on page3, London has that) b) the Greeks.

So it's going to be goodbye from one humble participant in everyday Greek life. I bumbled along trying to learn Greek and making hapless trips to supermarkets, almost drowning after just learning how to swim etc. Athens may be insane, dirty and even downright irritating sometimes, but the fact that it's in Greece makes it all better. Sure their economy is crappy, people get paid kotopoulo feed (chicken feed) and there is enough bureaucracy to make you want to throw yourself off the Rion-Antirion bridge, but you can eat out any time of the day or night, you can buy foot-long cinnamon sticks for €2 a bundle and it's home to the goddess Elena.

Athens, I will really miss you. I hope I get to come back soon, next time for good

Saturday, August 27, 2005

%@!*ing Euro


I'm not someone who parades around cursing and swearing, but even I couldn't help but giggle over the bountiful ways in which the Greeks insult themselves, each other and other nations. Four letter expletives are sprinkled liberaly over all conversations like lemon juice to a main meal. F**k features everywhere, f**k you, f**k your family, f**k your house. W****r is also used in a casual sense, between friends as in "Hey w****r how're you doing?" "Long time no see, w****r!" I don't know how that came about, but no one seems upset about it, unless you say it with a certain emphasis. I need to improve my language skills to be able to understand the melodious string of insults that flows forth at even the simplest of mishaps, it's hilarious. But my personal favourite is a timeless classic. Lest you dare forget that Greece is the best nation in the world ever (only Greeks are allowed to comment on any of its crap aspects) when watching international news reports of, say, the UK or US trying to tell the world what to do, your average Greek might delight you by saying with utmost sincerity:
When we were building the Acropolis you were still living in caves

Image: http://lapsusstili.no.sapo.pt/insults.jpg

Thursday, August 25, 2005

We'll always have Athina...


As the sad day of my departure draws closer, today's blog is dedicated to all the things I will miss once I am deposited back on the unfortunate shores of the UK.

Bug Eye Sunglasses:
To the modern Athenian woman, these are as much a part of being a woman as bras and lipstick. Oh the advantages of looking unbercool while gazing at any part of anyone's anatomy undiscovered. I will miss them.
Image: http://static.sky.com/images/pictures/1291242.jpg


Souvlaki:
Nai nai nai... yes my delicious snack, no more shall you delight my tastebuds in the early hours of a warm summer dawn after a night of socialising. You, the true souvlaki, are so abused, mutated and corrupted in the UK that I spent three years of my student life thinking what a great deal I was getting. No more. I can never touch another souvlaki again unless it's in Greece.
Image: http://blogsimages.skynet.be/images/000/188/373_souvlaki.jpg


The Acropolis:
I pass it every day on the bus when I'm going downtown and only a few days ago it hit me just how luck I was to be seeing the Acropolis every day. In the middle of all the modern craziness of Athens, it's like a monument to serene greatness. I love it. It sure beats crappy views of run down bits of London on buses which threaten to explode at any given moment.
Image: http://faculty.eicc.edu/ckrumbein/images/greece%20acropolis.jpg



Koulouri:
Venture to any metro station or random street corner and you're bound to find a koulouri stand selling rings of sesame coated, bready delight to fend off hunger pangs and stuff into the mouths of screaming children. At 50 cents each they're a great way to get rid of spare change. The secret ingredient is the film of pollution covering each one. Mmmm....
Image: http://eudoxos.math.uoa.gr/~designs/pic/koulouri.jpeg


Olive oil:
I'm spoiled for life now. I can never again buy olive oil from a supermarket after the heavenly oils I've sampled in Greece. Fruity indeed.











Devil-may-care attitude to life:
I will miss this most of all. The Greeks like no one else I've ever seen really squeeze every last drop out of what life has to offer and don't apologise for it. Two days ago I was going downtown on a bus when I noticed a man chasing the bus on his scooter blowing kisses to a woman on board, and it struck me as a highly romantic gesture, the sort of thing you do when you're all dolce vitad up. The Greeks have fun, the flirt, they laugh, they get angry, shout and scream, kiss and make up, complain about the Euro, take out bank loans on the pretext of building a house which they then go shopping to Kolonaki with, the men are men and the women exude feminity without feeling threatened by it. Perhaps all this combined is why they live so long.
Image: http://www.jennworks.com/images/dumdeedum.jpg

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Hooray!



I almost forgot to mention my biggest triumph of the year. I went shopping to the Athens sales.

And how! Three pairs of very nice jeans for €5 each! And they fit like a dream. One is white full length, the other is white cropped and the third is super fun with colourful stripes and a studded waistband with holes, meaning you have to go commando to wear them.

A small price to pay for looking so good. So that's why women in Athens look so good, the pay is crap here thanks to the Euro, but clothes are so cheap it costs nothing to make an effort! Hooray! Now I have new threads and my hair doesn't look like the woman in this picture. Life keeps getting more and more perefct.

Image: http://www.bloomees.com/images/small-shopping-bags.jpg

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Sweet, sugary goodness


There's this singer, right. His name is Sarbel. I can't find a good enough picture online to do him justice but my oh my, what a lovely piece of work he is.

Half Greek, half Lebanese, born on the 14th of May 1982 JUST LIKE ME! His parents still live in London and he's pursuing a musical career in Athens. Hmmmm... there's a hobby to keep me busy on crappy winter nights back in London, hunt down where Sarbel's parents are and deposit myself on their doorstep.

He sings a song with a chorus line that translates to "Save a piece of yourself for me, like chocolate"

Sarbel, my dear man, if you are reading this, why ask for a piece when the entire bar is right here waiting for you.

Let the fur fly!

Okay, I know this blog is all about my summer in Athens and stuff, but how many times can I rub all your noses in my trips to desolate beaches where the only light at night is the complete band of the Milky Way across a shooting-star streaked sky? Or about how I learnt to swim in warm waters where I could see the fish right to the bottom? Or my beautiful tan? Or the great food? You get the idea. So once in a while I shall deviate, and today is one of those days.

Today I'd like to draw attention to these six stick insects, the Pussycat Dolls. They've released a song called "Don't Cha" which basically entails the chorus "Don't cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?"

Heck, yes! There isn't a man alive who would say no to that question, and if he does it's only because you his partner are hovering over his head with a shoe, either that or he's gay. Personally, I'd die of shock if you could find me a hot blooded man who would say "No my dear, I do not in fact wish you were hot like her." And where does that leave mere mortals like you and me?

Well, I confess that they're ruining my life is a bit of an exaggeration. I too enjoy a dance along to their pretty danceable tune. But come on ladies, did you really have to ask such a sore question and beam it across hundreds of nations to the ears of thousands of men? Mark my words, this song is responsible for the disintegration of many a relationship.

Thanks for nothing, Pussycat Dolls!

Image: http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/5567/1146/1600/PCD001.jpg

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

For God's sake, where is the frappe!!


I just got back after spending 17 days in Spain with three Greeks. The thing which I learnt is never to separate a Greek from their frappe. Bless their little hearts, necessity really is the mother of all inventions. Here's what to do if you find yourself caught out without an ample supply of cafes where skinny waitresses can serve you endless frappes:

  1. 1) Locate your nearest coffee shop
  2. 2) Have ready with you an empty water bottle. If you don't, buy a water bottle and tip its contents down a drain
  3. 3) Through elaborate sign language, acquire one glass, a few sachets of sugar, a few sachets of coffee, a straw, a glass of ice water and a little milk (optional)
  4. 4) Pour sugar, coffee and a little water into the empty water bottle you have prepared.
  5. 5) Shake bottle vigorously until you have a creamy light brown concoction
  6. 6) Pour mixture into empty glass
  7. 7) Top up with ice water, a little milk and a straw
  8. 8) Enjoy
  9. 9) Compliment your invention loudly so that the Spanish get an idea of what they're missing

10) Complain to each other about how bad the coffee is outside Greece

Ten out of ten for getting around the problem. Oh, and as good as Spain was, I agree that Greek olives are head and shoulders above theirs.

Image: http://www.frappe.cz/images/firma.jpg

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Burn, baby, burn!



Ah, the heady days of youth... opening Greek bank accounts because Barclays screwed you over, hitching up a tropical print dress to ride a motorbike to an ATM, (walk? ha! only losers do that!) burning your thigh on the red hot exhaust of said motorbike... isn't being young fun??

So now I've ruined my legs for the beach, well, at least the left one. Oh, the irony! A month ago I was too conservative to wear shorts out in public and cringed the first time I had to step out onto a beach heaving with people in nothing but a bathing suit. Now all I can wear are itsy bitsy shorts. How the tables turn!

Thanks to my burn, I can't even go shopping because I can't try anything on trouser wise. So each day the sales pass me by, and I have to sit at home prodding the blisters on my burn. Fun! There go my plans of transforming into a hot Athenian babe. I also can't shave the area above or near the burn, turning it into a hairy, gloopy mess. Last night I forgot the burn was there and rubbed my leg in my sleep. Ah, the follies of youthful misadventure! Pass me the burn cream!

Image: http://www.classicactresses.com/bettyg2.jpg

Monday, July 18, 2005

Death by Summer Sale - at a highstreet near you!


The summer sales started today. I alighted from my ride and tried to make my way to the bank to check if the money transfer from my useless Barclays account had arrived.

Total panic.

Bug-eye sunglassed Athenian ladies everywhere, and I mean EVERYWHERE. It was like all the building were heamoraging well-dressed Athenian women.

They were strolling along, but even with their cool style it was easy to see the panic in their eyes. Actually, that is a little hard because of the bug-eye sunglasses, but anyway. They were walking in a way that only a woman will understand, in a way that only a woman can during that most urgent of seasons.

The summer sales.

Yes, today the summer sales start in Athens. Tomorrow I am delving into the throngs. I hope my shabby wardrobe will attract some pity and allow the crowds before the bargain bin to part before me like the Red Sea, but I doubt it. I'm not ashamed to admit that I am scared. So much so, that I had to switch radio channels when Athens International Radio started talking about the sales.

When I go bargain hunting, I wear something easy to take off so I can try things on. The women of Athens dress to kill, especially, it seems, when bargain hunting. It's as if the message they are sending is "You silly little fool, do you really think that item of clothing which I have my eye on will look good on you? Look at me! Can you not see how much style I have whereas you, poor wretch, have none. Do you know why I dress like this? Because I don't need to undress and try things on like uncertain fools such as you. Every item I like was made for ME!"

Maybe I should just get over myself.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

You sell WHAT?


Isn't it dumb how when you find stuff overseas which you had been craving you pay really stupid prices for it. Even worse, you invent memories in your mind of how this was your absolute favourite thing back home.

On a walk around the maze of markets around Omonia, I discovered a street full of Chinese and Indian shops, and attracted more attention to myself than necessary by clasping my hands together in delight every time I came across some random Indian object like kebab mix and all the other things from the Homeland. "Hooray" I thought "now I won't starve!"

The highlight of my escapade was a barren Halal meat shop with a fridge stocked with mango juice, a TV perched atop it blaring out Bollywood. I nearly wet my pants with joy. I purchased said mango juice at the hefty price of one euro per can. Later when I was scraping together change for a bus ticket, I questioned the wisdom of my youthful enthusiasm. Hey, when a girl wants her mango juice in a forgein country, she's gotta have it! All I needed after that was a cotton sari to wear to work. Strangely enough, on trips to Birmingham's Sparkhill, I tend not to go into fits of happiness with mango juice and just have water.

Image: https://www.simplyspice.co.uk/images/shan_10.jpg

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Musical tastes and sundry items


An entertaining aspect of foreign countries is popular culture.

Who??

This crime against fashion goes by the name of Arash. He's an Iranian singer who somehow, mysteriously and miraculously has hit the big time in Europe. How come we never heard of him in the UK? I feel deprived! He has released a song called Boro Boro (translated as go away). I doubt he'd have been as successful if he hadn't stolen the Bollywood format. Everyone loves Bollywood!

Waaaaaill...

After Arash, most Greek pop music is comprised of the power ballad, and all the singers sound like they're trembling on the edge of bursting into tears. Never in my young life have I heard such warbling. Talk about miserable! Most days it's fine, but every once in a while you think "If I hear one more warbling note with bouzoki playing, I'll kill myself."

Athens International Radio 104.4fm:

Hooray! They speak English!

Cafe Waitresses:

Aloof, skinny and always fashionable, the Athenian cafe waitress can make you feel bad about yourself without even trying. In fact, all the women in Athens manage that with a mere flash of their bug-eye sunglasses, which they all wear. Rule number one for survival and any hope of being a part of decent society: you don't go to the corner shop in your jim jams. Nothing less than this season's cutting edge fashion and immaculate hair and makeup will do.

Let's go for a coffee:

Never say yes to this offer unless you have at least three hours to spare. Ordering is superfast, service follows at the speed of light, but more often than not, that precious frappe, ambrosia of Athenian life, will lie there untouched for a minimum of two hours while its owner talks about anything and everything. And God the Greeks can talk. They may have missed out when God was handing out pieces of land, which is why they say they ended up with some rocks in the sea, but they must have camped out overnight to be first in line for the Gift of the Gab.

Damn the Euro!

Everyone I spoke to hates it. They blame it, along with America for everything. Like an old person looking back on their youth through rose tinted glasses, everything was better with the drachma, and the sad thing is this is probably true. The Greek government's finance department has some funky ideas. They've proposed a 25% tax for all earnings across the band. So if you earn 100 euros, you pay 25% tax, if you earn 10,000, you pay 25%. Hmmm! Good idea - not!

Image: http://omid.lavasani.com/images/pics/arash.jpg

Friday, July 08, 2005

"If I help you, my genitals will fall off"



Okay, I've never actually heard a Greek man say that, but it seems to be how some of them feel about housework.

This country is pretty cool, but the worst thing about it is the gender inequality. A survey 58 countries analysing gender equality put Sweden at number 1, Egypt at number 58 and Greece at number 50. I guess the women aren't really helping themselves because gender inequality doesn't appear in a vacuum. Should they stop appearing on breakfast tv and politics shows with their cleavages hanging out, perhaps? I don't know.

Don't expect too much. Greek men may be experts at old-fashioned romance, but the second the honeymoon is over, he will curl up into a cowering mass if you so much as suggest that he picks up after himself or does the dishes for once. Don't you know that even the mere suggestion of treating you like an equal human being risks making him impotent?? Greek men are inherently spoilt rotten as children by their mothers so can't help the fact that they grow up expected to be waited on hand and foot. It's actually spookily reminiscent of the Homeland.

There are, of course exceptions, but it's like finding a very equal needle in a very sexist haystack. Lucky for me said needle came up and poked me in the eye so I didn't have to do much looking. So you can't always believe everything statistics tell you, I still feel safer here as a woman than in Britain.

Image: http://lauraholder.com/images/06_dirty_dishes_300.jpg

Monday, July 04, 2005

HELLAS!!! HELLAS!!!


Today makes one year since Greece won Euro 2004. I followed most of their surprising rise in Euro 2004, only to forget what day the final was on and walk into the living room seconds after the trophy had been handed over. Talk about bad timing. At the time I didn't think much of it, seeing as I hadn't anticipated my soon-to-unfold love affair with Greece. In exactly one month's time, I would be flying to Athens for the first time to volunteer at the Olympics. Except I didn't know it then.

So Greece had Euro 2004, they had Athens 2004, then they got Eurovision 2005 and now they have ME! The summer of 2004 was pure magic for me. As volunteers at the Olympics, we got all kinds of funky perks such as free tickets to the final dress rehearsal of the opening ceremony, the next best thing to being at the real deal. I don't know what it is about this place, but sitting in the crowd with everyone around me chanting "Hellas, Hellas" I felt.... well... Greek!

Here in Greece they say it's not nationality that makes you Greek, it's your attitude. That said my lack of interest in drinking or smoking makes me a bit of an oddity. That and the fact that I came to spend three months in the Med without knowing how to swim. Never mind, I had plenty of people willing to teach me.

Another thing that takes some getting used to is the Greek custom of kamakia, roughly translated as harpooning, or in more familiar terms cat calling. Yes ladies, men of all shapes and sizes go into overdrive according to what you wear. The more skin on show, the more cat calls you get and the higher the volume. The first day I went out wearing a skirt, a boring little brown office number, this big guy on a motorcycle crooned "Yia sou koritzi mou" (hello my girl) Bleauh! Koritzi yourself!

Image: http://vnexpress.net/Vietnam/Euro/2004/07/3B9D4399/GreeceT.jpg

Friday, June 10, 2005

Greek Names


Picture the scene. You're on a date, everything is going great, you really like this guy/girl, and suddenly to your horror you realise you can't remember their name. Nightmare eh? Not in Greece. If your date is male, his name will either be Kostas, Yiannis, Yiorgos, Dimitrios or Yiasonnas. If your date is female her name will either be Konstantina, Elleni, Ellena, Mary or Katerina.

Greece is by far the best country in the world to be a child in. Every child dreams of more than one birthday per year. Well, in Greece you get just that, your birthday plus your 'name day' the day of the saint after which you were named, involving a party, presents, cake and all the trimmings. Hooray! Poor me, then, who has a distinctly foreign name not connected to a saint. No name day parties and presents for me!

Image: My edited creation from http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/5567/1146/1600/20050403-names%20copy.gif

Monday, June 06, 2005

In the beginning


The thing that always amuses me about Olympic Airways is how they give you all the disaster related safety information first, and leave the seatbelt till last. I've never come across that before in my 23 years of travelling. Dear Passenger, everything that could go wrong probably will, but just in case your ride is a little bumpy, here is how not to fall out of your seat. Useful.

This blog is dedicated to my summer in Athens. Hey, I'm living the life of a millionaire on a shoestring budget, gotta share the love, right?

It all began not so long ago when I was a hapless volunteer at the Athens 2004 Olympics. Long story cut short I fell in love, and it's been back and forth between London to Athens since then. It seemed only natural to take up the challenge of three months in another country, so here I am.

I arrived with a 25kg suitcase containing all the crap in the world "just in case" because three months is a long time and a girl just never knows if she will actually get a chance to wear those shoes she bought years ago "just in case". No harm done, the fun begins when I am left alone for the day to sleep off my journey and the phone rings. I give a groggy hello, and as the haze of sleep lifts it dawns on me that the caller is talking to me in Greek. Just about all I can say in Greek is "I don't speak Greek" which is certainly going to get me far.

It really is very odd. How is it that I can talk to perfect strangers, go dancing all alone and enjoy karaoke, but not have the guts to practice a language? People like me should be deported immediately for being lazy imperialists. Oh well, it's only day one. I have until September.

Image: http://faculty.eicc.edu/ckrumbein/images/greece%20acropolis.jpg