Monday, December 31, 2007
In case you were blind and hadn't noticed, I love food, so travelling for me is mostly about how good the food is. Every bad meal I eat makes me feel cheated, that I've lost a precious meal in my life which I will never get back. This trip to Barcelona was not my first - I did a grand tour of Spain in 2005. Out of two weeks, the only dish that sticks in my memory was a prawn and chilli tapas either in Valencia or Seville.
And this time round I can't actually remember anything that I ate which was WOW, apart from two rounds of dulce de leche, which is not Spanish it's South American. All that fancy architecture and good city planning makes up for it though. My only other issue with Spain is that I just don't understand why people there sit at home with their blinds shut. We drove up to Andorra and all along the way there were cars aplenty, people entering and exiting houses, but nearly all the blinds were down.
Why would you sit with your rollers open only a crack on a sunny day when your house faces the sea? It made me go all Greek, saying things like "Our salads are better." or "We wouldn't do that." and "We are more people in a city and our drains don't smell!" We, we, we.
I've noticed outside of Greece my Greek is pretty good because I only have one other Greek speaker with me. I could talk about whatever I wanted, make comments and in-jokes without anyone knowing what I was saying. I added a new word to my vocabulary, papari which I can't tell you what it is because anyway I only intended to use it when no one knew what I was saying, as in "What do you want to do today? Shall we go to Cafe Papari again?" Tee hee! Potty mouth! I told Mr Zeus it was his fault because like a child, I was learning the language by repeating what he said around me and if he didn't want me talking like a sailor he should watch his own language. He told me I was not a baby so I couldn't use that excuse.
Back in Athens my Greek instantly fell apart under the gaze of 5 million other Greek speakers. I'm also being a lady and not saying papari any more, because I've found the comic effect wears off pretty fast.
And now I find myself at the end of my first complete year in Greece. How do I feel? Pretty good. For the first time since I was little, I have reached the end of the year and done everything I had set out to do. Nothing is left over, I have no regrets.
Wishing you a great New Year!
Friday, December 21, 2007
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Last night I was engaging in some cosmetic gymnastics, hot wax in one hand and a glass of Dutch courage in the other and I thought “How ridiculous. It’s December and I’m still waxing to within an inch of my life.”
Why do we do it, ladies? What is the deal with body hair? The moment I get one area waxed and under control, another starts begging for attention. I’ll be done waxing my arms and my eyebrows will grow overnight. When I inspect my finished eyebrows, I notice my upper lip could do with some work. It never ends!!
Add to this that I do not have a waxer in Athens. I do it all myself. Yes, all of it. All you need is a mirror and a few yoga positions. Mostly I am too chicken to try my Greek when dealing with sensitive and unmentionable areas. It might all come out wrong and end up with getting told off for indecent exposure, you just never know.
Plus I might find the one racist waxer in all of Athens and well, let’s not go into details other than to say that even a one degree temperature difference when using hot wax makes for a pretty miserable week, and I should know.
A girlfriend of mine once complained that men had it easy. All they have to worry about is the hair on their heads and face. I disagree. We women do this to ourselves. For example, my foray into bikini waxes began out of boredom one Saturday afternoon. I left the salon with a mixture of triumph and horror. Why would anyone do that to themselves on a regular basis, I wondered. But smooth skin for a woman is addictive and before I knew it, I was whispering into my phone during work hours, booking illicit waxes.
Asian girls, have you ever tried to leave the house for a bikini wax when Mum is around? It’s like the Spanish inquisition, you can’t very well admit you’re off for something as new age and depraved as *gasp* a bikini wax, but none of your excuses cut the mustard either.
“I want to take a walk.”
“But it’s raining.”
“I have something to do.”
“What are you up to?”
“Mum I’ve got to go I have a er… hair consultation.” (that’s partially true)
“Why are you getting a hair consultation when you’re flying back to Athens tomorrow?”
Frustration! And the dumb thing is that women wax for the benefit of other women. Common wisdom has it that once the clothes are off, most men just hope that you are not another man. You could be covered in scales for all they care. But women check other women out, looking for more/less arm hair to feel better/worse about themselves. You would not catch a man pouring hot wax onto their nether regions unless a bet or a sexual quirk was involved.
Isn’t it all so stupid. I bet we could have cured AIDS by now with all the man hours we spend waxing. That’s another reason life in Greece suits me. The Hondos Centre has an entire aisle of hundreds of different products dedicated to hair removal. No offence, but the women here are much hairier than Northern Europe so when I’m going through a lazy spell, I feel right at home.
Monday, December 17, 2007
An interesting thing happened to me on this trip to the UK. A potentially life changing thing and to tell you about it I need to go into a bit of background.
I'm an Asia girl at heart. I love Asia. It's where I grew up and no matter what part of Asia I'm in, it all feels smoother, easier, more homely, more familiar. I would love to go live somewhere in Asia, but the Home Country is out of the question because I'm too used to my freedom as a woman.
In 2004, I turned a corner in my life after a period in which I had hit rock bottom and decided to change everything. I treated myself to a birthday in Southern Malaysia, staying with a friend and driving the 30 minutes to Singapore nearly every day. I loved that part of the world; no winters, spicy food, variable scenery, organised and affordable. "This," I thought, "is where I want to live."
Back in the UK I fired off job applications to Singapore. And then the Olympics happened and everything changed. I moved halfway between Asia and Europe and I am happy. But I'm not a risk taker. I don't burn all my bridges, hence negotiating to keep my job just in case things blew up in my face here.
Now I am faced with a very tempting situation. I have been offered a job in the Singapore office of my company. If I was single I would have taken it tomorrow, but I'm not single and I also now have the benefit of hindsight to see how hard it was to move away from my family. I don't know if I could handle doubling the distance.
Mr Zeus is also a Greek Greek, in that Greece is the only place he can see himself living forever. I can't see myself living anywhere forever, but that's my problem. I could not take him somewhere and watch him be miserable.
The ideal situation for me would be to go do this for a year or two, have my adventure in Singapore and then come back and pick up where I left in Athens. What if I go and I hate it? Or Mr Zeus hates it? What would I do for work back in Greece? There isn't a nun in a sex shop's chance of me getting the same arrangement I currently have.
This is the problem with people like me. No where feels like home, no where feels permanent, no where - not even Asia - feels like I could live there forever, and it never will. If I had some sort of affiliation to any place, I could have turned the job down instead of day dreaming about humid weather and laksa. Instead, my risk-averse side has wedged itself between myself and a decision and I am frying necessary braincells trying to figure out how to have my cake and eat it too.
I think my best strategy is to take a deep breath and deal with this in the new year - I have time. Also, I'm not one for horoscopes but the very day this offer was made to me, I decided to read mine and it said that something I desperately want is right infront of me but I should not act too hastily.
But hey, you know what? Sitting at home in these four walls with a fish for company day in day out is pretty confidence killing. Whether I take the job or not, being told that they are not going to start looking for someone until they have my answer makes me feel pretty good. I am walking a little taller, my head a little higher.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
I put this down to all the socialising I did on this trip - I felt my personality sparkling at mega-watt strength and it was really nice, you know? Just being able to communicate so easily, making jokes, discussing stuff. I felt alive and entertaining. I don't feel that spectacular in Greece, though I do try, and I suppose time and more Greek will fix that. I was reassured when we came in to land and I gazed fondly over the olive groves. It was a nice sight after the concrete of London.
And I am proud to report I finally cracked the Greek Girl look. This time I didn't pack my runners at all, and gave myself what seemed to me a Greek girl’s choice of shoes: painful or very painful. Even my new flat heeled boots caused me huge amounts of agony which I count as an achievement because I reckon it gave me that aloof look Greek girls wear. I finally know what that is, they're just zoning out to block out the pain they're in.
Early this morning I left the flat in my boots but couldn't take the burning pain where the boots squeezed my little toes. So I opted for the less painful option of aching foot arches, and do you know what I achieved today? I travelled in stilettos. Yes! I did it and I was also well dressed! Now all I have to do is dye my hair a uniform shade of blonde and leave my eyebrows black.
My main purpose for going on this trip was to attend my workplace Christmas party and it was there that I realised what the relaxed, earthy attitude to life in Greece is doing to me. The morning of the party I grabbed a bottle from my sister’s desk and sprayed. Come evening, I was giving it my all on the dance floor and it became obvious that whatever I had sprayed on was deodorant and not antiperspirant.
Two years ago, maybe even a year ago, I would have been taking regular trips to the bathroom and stuffing tissue in my armpits, mortified. But Greek living has affected me to the point where I thought “What the hell, it’s pheromones not sweat. Mi casa su casa.” I couldn't do anything about it so I genuinely didn’t care, which is a good thing considering how plagued by stupid little hang-ups I can be. I have teenage Greek boys in summer time to thank for that one.
Everyone keeps asking me when I’m going to get married and it got me thinking about it. Maybe we should fit that in somewhere. Me and Mr Zeus can be terrible procrastinators. We’ve been saying adamantly that we’ll join a gym every other month for two years now and still not done it. If we don’t start getting around to some form of initial wedding planning, I can see us still sitting around in 10 years time, looking at our calendars and saying this will be the year, then getting distracted by something.
People have already invited themselves, we have to deliver on the building momentum.
Friday, December 07, 2007
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
One thing I do feel very frustrated about is the information blackout I receive on all things Greek with my Greek friends and contacts. They will talk to each other about how bad a certain law is, but if I bring it up, they’ll paint a rosy picture and tell me I’m wrong, or get irritated and start comparing the laws of other countries (where I don’t live so not interested) or ask me how much better things were in the Home Country (ditto), remind me that Greeks Invented Everything and close by saying I am a foreigner so it’s not really my fault that I don’t get it. All this without trying to help me get it by talking to me as openly as they would to a Greek.
Don’t understand how this works? Here’s a fantasy scenario to help:
Bombs are raining down on the streets of Athens and Kostas is thinking to himself:
Kostas: Popo look at this. Look at what our country has become. There are bombs falling on the streets of Athens. Our politicians are IDIOTS! We deserve better than this. This is how we are treating our people in 2007? Very bad.
*Bollybutton comes crashing into the room*
BB: There are bombs falling outside!!! Oh My GOD!
Kostas: Aaaah BB. Welcome! No don’t worry it’s nothing.
BB: Nothing?! How can you say that!! Those are bombs not nothing!
Kostas: *shakes head in a pitying manner* Silly BB, those are not bombs, they just look like bombs to you. It’s just a matter of Greek politics.
BB: WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT!
Kostas: What they’re doing is they’re taking the tarmac off the roads because it needs redoing.
BB: Kosta. They are not taking the tarmac off the roads. They are bombing the city. Look! That building just got hit.
Kostas: That needed demolishing anyway, you know how slowly the mayor gets around these things and then they have to rush. Seriously it’s all under control.
BB: Why are you saying that. Do you think it’s normal for bombs to fall from the sky?
Kostas: *irritated* So? We can make our own laws. You think America isn’t dropping bombs in Iraq? At least we have democracy here.
BB: But can’t you see that this is WRONG?!
Kostas: BB it’s Greek politics, you can’t understand because you’re a foreigner. Don’t forget the Turkish occupation.
BB: Yes, the Turkish occupation, I know and I understand. But that’s over now, you have EU funding, things shouldn’t be this way! I mean really, bombs are normal?
Kostas: I’ve told you already they’re just taking the old tarmac off the street.
And so on and so forth. So I am advertising a vacancy. I want a Greek friend who will talk to me openly and honestly about Greek politics and life without:
1) Trying to make things sound better than they are
2) Jumping straight to defence mode
3) Refusing to accept that Such a Thing (insert as relevant) happens in Greece
4) Blaming it all on the Turkish occupation
5) Blaming it all on the Americans
6) Making irrelevant comparisons to other countries
7) Deciding that I won’t get it because I’m a foreigner
Applications on a postcard to this blog.
Monday, December 03, 2007
She has been providing top-notch information on her blog and I don't know what we will do when she leaves :(
Nothing else left to say really, except pay her a visit, and good luck with the moving, Kat. Here's wishing your next destination provides the life you hoped for.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
The Evil Eye can be interpreted as bad vibes, bad energy or the evils, created by malice, jealousy or envy. We have the same concept in the Home Country, though there, it is not warded off with blue eyes. Black is the predominant colour to get rid of nasty vibes, though wearing all black seems to have a cancelling out property and is not really recommended.
Bits of black fabric are tied to great lumbering trucks and a baby’s face and eyes are marked with a smudge of black kohl by way of creating an imperfection which will put off evil spirits. When my youngest sister was born, a friend arrived with teeny tiny black glass bangles for her to wear and keep the evil eye away. Girls and women including me wear kohl in their eyes for the same reason.
Superstition, myth and mystique are rampant in both countries and so warding off evil eyes is done in hundreds of different ways; the above are just the most common.
So what to do if the bad energy gets through your defences? Once again, there are hundreds of ways and prayers to get rid of it. The concept of the evil eye most likely existed before any religion, and so they continue today under the cloak of whichever religion is dominant. Both the Home Country and Greece lean heavily on their respective religions to magic the evil away.
By far the most fun technique I ever witnessed was on one of the many occasions one of my sisters was de-evil eyed. She has very unusually coloured eyes for the Home Country and this attracted the evil eye with impressive regularity through the envious/jealous looks of others. In fact, if I hadn’t witnessed her unexplainably fall ill so many times after an innocent outing, I doubt I’d believe in the powers of bad energy.
A green chilli was produced and one of her hairs wrapped around it. The chilli was then wrapped in paper, twirled around her head and set on fire. Depending on how the paper burned, we were informed that she had indeed been eviled but was now cured.
Now really, would you rather have the dramatics of that or a boring old Yiayia making a cross over you?
Some might call the evil eye nonsense and a belief in it the sign of backwardness. But that’s only because they’re jealous they never had chillies set alight over them.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Monday, November 26, 2007
Friday, November 23, 2007
I'm in trouble. This morning as we were sipping our hot bevvies in bed, Mr Zeus told me off for not bothering with my Greek anymore, and I didn't protest the truth of this statement.
Somewhere in October I called up my regular free classes to see what was up, since they were meant to call me with dates and times and had not. Turns out there is no third level class, which is interesting because these are the classes that immigrants are supposed to attend in order to sit an exam that proves their proficiency in Greek, so if nothing beyond level 1 and 2 is on offer, what are these people supposed to do?
I should speak more Greek but the problem is this: sometimes I speak perfect Greek and other times I can barely string a sentence together. It's irritating and makes me feel stupid, so I avoid it if I can. I tell myself that if my Greek is good enough to give relationship advice to a Greek friend, then I don't need classes, but the reality is it takes me thrice as long to say "Your boyfriend is a loser" in Greek than in English.
It's infuriating to me that I am still so crap at Greek that I need more classes. I hate being reminded that instead of frolicking around online, I should be brushing up on my grammar. It feels like being five years old again. I'm 25! I should be able to do what I want godammit!
But Mr Zeus is right. He has no sympathy that the 3 year old next door has overtaken me in vocabulary and my godson is bound to follow soon. Can you imagine the buttock clenching mortification of that? Anyone got any ideas? I don't want to go back to Hellenic American again, they were barely average.
Another more interesting problem is that I want to learn how to swim better. I can just about swim to save my life if I had to, and I have, but I thought I'd use the winter to get better. Unfortunately for a former desert-dweller like me, a grown woman who can't swim is so unheard of in Greece that the only classes on offer at the local pool are for those parentally neglected midgets who were never taught to swim before they could walk like all Greek children are.
I complain, but I can guarantee you that if such a class existed, I'd be too lazy or socially anxious to attend. Social anxiety is something that I abandoned in my late teens and has revisited me here in Greece where I am self conscious of the fact that I look like good company until I open my mouth and then I just come across as an idiot who has been in Greece since last June and still can't hold a conversation in Greek.
An impressive amount of complaints on this sunny Greek winter day. Oh well, at least it's the weekend.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
At the moment it is olive harvest season in Greece which means we have our work cut out for us. Most blocks of flats have a couple of olive trees growing outside which belong to the family that owns the flats. This year has been a bumper crop.
When you collect olives for oil, like I did last year, you basically bash at them with a kind of wide-tooth mini rake to untangle them off the branches, which was not all that tiring because it was just like my average hairwash, all that hacking and untangling and cramps in your arms.
Oil olives can get bashed to bits and it doesn't matter because they're going to get squashed into oil anyway. Table olives are a different matter and require collecting by hand to preserve their form. You can either do this by giving your trees a trim and collecting the olives off the fallen branches or make like a monkey and perch in the branches with a plastic bag slung over one wrist.
We've ended up with a lot of really nice, fat olives. And seeing as each day I have a few hours to kill before work, processing these thousands of olives is my happy task. I must wash them then make a slit in the side of each one, with a blade not a knife, then drop them in giant plastic vats of water where they will stew for a week or two before they get a water change and salt and vinegar pickling solution.
I quite enjoy the mindless repetition of the job. It takes my mind off things. For those of your who are curious, take it from me that there is no such thing as a fresh table olive. I didn’t believe Mr Zeus when he told me you had to pickle olives to eat them and boy did I learn my lesson when I took a bite out of an olive fresh off the tree.
At the moment I am sipping on a hot cup of ceylon tea which I bought from a Lebanese shop downtown after my own supply of cardamom flavoured tea ran dry. As I’m starting to get used to finer tastes in life, I’ve become snobbish about my tea after learning that teabags are made of what is basically the dust of tea leaves left at the bottom of the barrel.
“How ghastly!” I thought, and switched to whole leaf tea. I bought myself a kilo of Canary Island Birds Sri Lankan orange pekoe tea. A whole kilo. It was either the whole kilo or a tiny box that looked like it would last a week, they seem to have no in between. So pop around folks, I’ll put the kettle on and you can help me with my olives.
Monday, November 19, 2007
As my appetite continues to come back in fits and starts, on Saturday night I dreamt of my favourite food critic and one of my favourite writers, Adrian A Gill.
I love A A Gill. I love the way he writes. I love how he makes or breaks careers with his reviews. I love how all the top restaurants in London have his picture pinned up in the kitchen by way of warning – be careful if this customer shows up. His passion for words easily surpasses his passion for food. He loathes Greek cooking, and would probably not talk to me at all purely because I now live in Athens. Maybe he’s a complete monster in real life and would kick me into the path of oncoming traffic without a second thought if I dared approach him, but I *love* him.
In the dream we were in some restaurant or other and I had somehow twisted his arm into having lunch with me. Him, a well-heeled journalist who writes for the Times on a salary of £300,000+ about what he ate; me a literary nobody. Having lunch at the same table. It could only happen in a dream.
Seeing as I was dining with the Godfather of gastronomic choice, I probably should have asked him what to do about my ailing food mojo, but I didn’t. Still, waking from that dream was inspiration enough, a sign of sorts. A A Gill had come to me in a dream and we had had lunch together. That’s got to mean something positive.
Friday, November 16, 2007
At university, there was a bar I would go to every Tuesday night without fail because Tuesdays was their international night where they played music from all over the world. I would arrive early to get in for free and not leave till they closed at 2 am. And I danced from the moment I stepped in till I left. This place was Bar Cuba in Cardiff, and I adored it for the music and dancing, despite its sticky floor and questionable clientele.
Random strangers on the street would stop and say "Hey, Cuba girl, are you coming tonight?" and I would say "Yeah of course, I have no idea who you are but sure I'll be there, where else would I be!" Twice I went there the night before a final exam, studying all day and then figuring I might as well let some exam stress out by partying. I earned various nicknames as titled in this post. I was an addict.
Sometimes in Athens I will hear a song that was a regular number at Bar Cuba and it will take me right back to those nights with my best girlfriends dancing like there was no tomorrow. Trying to run up the stairs to the DJ booth without getting groped to request songs, battling to the bar to ask for glass after glass of water; three years and that place made next to no money from me except for the times when I was late and couldn’t get in for free, in which case I would set my watch back 5 minutes and argue fruitlessly with the bouncer that it was still before 10.
Happy, unforgettable days, the glory days. By the time I graduated Bar Cuba had started to lose its shine. The once cute DJ Michael’s hot bod had started to fill out and not that I’m still stalking him or anything, but I found out recently that he left there to move back to London. Ahem.
Sometimes I throw together a mix for my mp3 player and realise it's made up entirely of Bar Cuba classics. It’s been tough picking a mix to reflect these days, but here are some favourites to share in a memory:
Ps: my food mojo is still not back. Damn.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
One was present in abundance, but two just didn't capture my imagination, and I can usually not get enough of London's international cuisine. Usually I plan in advance that this time I would like to try so and so cuisine from that country, look up the restaurants and go armed with this info to innocent coffees with friends before casually asking if anyone's hungry because I've heard of this great place etc. etc.
I usually love food, revel in its complex flavours and soak up the love I can taste in my mother's cooking. But this time, nothing. Zip. Somewhere along the road I lost my food mojo. I got hungry, starving even, but had no appetite. There was nothing that came to mind as in "If I could eat that I would be satisfied." Whatever I thought of I sought out, and when I got it I didn't want it.
My mother was beside herself as if you know me, you know what a freakishly healthy appetite I usually have and also that I can't exactly afford to lose any weight. But what could I do? Nothing brought my appetite back, and so I ate literally enough to keep me going but whatever I put into my mouth might as well have been cardboard. Was I missing Mr Zeus too much to eat? I don't know, this has never happened before.
My relationship with food seriously soured, and I have yet to get it back. Yesterday after a third day of feeling like death I decided I couldn't be complacent any longer. I love food too much and if I lost my passion for food, what would follow next? I lead so heavily with my stomach that pretty much everything else branches off from that.
Being in a patient mood, I opted to take things slowly. We were low on ground pepper so I raided the spice cupboard and sniffed various jars along the way. There is cardamom that reminds me of festivals, tangy smelling paprika from Tunisia, heady fenugreek seeds, chilli powder that gives off a scent like it was sleeping and is mad that you woke it up. I poured black peppercorns into the pestle and mortar and pounded away, enjoying the peppery, lemony aroma.
The flat sort of turns into a bachelor pad when I am away so I tried to find something I could eat, something that would capture my imagination. I spied two forsaken oranges on the counter top and inspiration struck. What better way to kick start my depressed taste buds than a sweet orange eaten Home Country style with chilli powder and salt?
It never occurred to me how weird it was to put chilli powder and salt over your fruit until I left the Home Country. But there it's the most normal thing in the world. Our mother would set us off to the fruit market with an empty jug where we would get a man to fill it up with freshly squeezed oranges, finishing it off with a dash of salt and pepper.
My little experiment did help somewhat, and when Mr Zeus came home we jumped in the car and headed to the local fruit and vegetable shop. There I bought a colourful combination and decided to try something new. I bought three large quinces (kudoni). I’ve never eaten quince before but after reading Pim’s blog I thought since it was the season, and I needed my gastronomic fires relit, trying something totally new might be helpful.
Anyway today I have some colour back in my cheeks so I don’t think all is lost. My food mojo should be returning soon and in the meantime I will keep tasting, sniffing, combining and inventing. Of course it does help that Mr Zeus is a ridiculously good cook.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Friday, November 09, 2007
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Monday, November 05, 2007
UPDATE: The above poster, Daniel, who has such big issues with immigration and multiculturism and the likes of ME coming to HIS country, is a Greek immigrant living in Australia. Well, well, well! I wonder why he's so uptight about immigration in Greece when he doesn't even live here. Check out Devious Diva's blog to see more of his pearls of wisdom. Really, without such people, where would we get our laughs from on a Monday morning?
Sunday, November 04, 2007
Back in Britain for a week I have got some more feedback from my parents' visit and it wasn't all good. Actually most of it relating to my relationship was lukewarm or negative. So I give up, because when you realise your friends know you a lot, lot better than your parents, sometimes it's best to just call it quits and get on with things instead of trying to impress people.
Thursday, November 01, 2007
The ghosts of the past are something everyone has to confront in their relationships at some point, especially when you’re me and Mr Zeus who are like chalk and cheese. I don’t know exactly how many there were before me and I don’t want to know.
The past generally doesn’t bother me, because it was the women who came before me that contributed to forming the man I am with today. It’s being reminded that there was a past that I don’t like; the ghosts of these other women lingering in the corners.
They turn up in a crack in an old mug, sprawled on the sofa, in photographs, in the kitchen. They come tumbling out of cupboards and most recently I found one in a towel. Rooting around in the towel box, I came across one lovingly embroidered with Mr Zeus’s name.
“Who made this for you?” I asked, hoping the answer would be his aunty JiJi with the mole on her chin.
“A friend, long ago.” He replied. A friend who was not male. A female friend who was not old enough to be a grandmother has to be more than a friend to put so much time and effort into an item. I folded the ghost of the Other Woman up and zipped her away with the other towels and some insect repellant. All the better to repel my imagined memories.
But our bed was the one place where these ghosts of the Other Women haunted me. In the early days, I struggled to fall asleep, thinking of who and how many had been there before me and feeling insecure. Their shadows lay between me and Mr Zeus like so many unspoken words.
Which is why yesterday’s delivery of a new mattress is on par with getting engaged for me. This one is all mine, a new base to start on. No one has been here before me. Crazy, you might think, but psychologically for me this new mattress is a relationship milestone. Currently all the other women are propped against a wall, covered in a plastic sheet and waiting to be taken to the basement. Personally, I’d like to set the thing on fire, but mustn’t grumble.
Coming to my second point, I wonder what new dreams I will spin on this new mattress. I suffer from vivid nightly dreams that have a life of their own. The other night, I was on a wide, flat beach and turned to see Rocco standing there. I hadn’t seen Rocco in years and I clung to his skinny frame, crying like a baby. We sat together on the sand catching up on our lost years. He had finally come out and was now a dance teacher and happy. I vowed not to be out of touch for so long again.
So where in Athens is this wide flat beach? Nowhere. Rocco and the beach are part of the cast of people and places that exist only in my dreams. The problem with this is that I get attached to these people, and when they disappear I am distraught. When they come back I am overjoyed. I don’t get a break from being a drama queen even in my sleep.
What I want to know is:
1) Does anyone else feel the ghosts of the past breathing down their necks in a new relationship?
2) Does anyone else meet, love, enjoy and miss people and places completely invented in their dreams.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Today is the 30th of October and is No Pay Day in the UK to reflect the 17% pay gap between the hourly wage of a full-time male and female employee in the UK. What this means is that as of today, any woman working in the UK is effectively working for free until the new year as compared to a man.
It's just not right, is it. Since I'm salaried in the UK and pay tax in the UK, this applies to me too. It's 2007, and I don't think this is acceptable any more. This kind of gender discrimination anywhere in the world really grates my nerves. We're people too!
What's the nicest thing about having family and friends visit you in a foreign country? It helps you look at the familiar with new eyes and appreciate the details that you take for granted, like how the laiki is not infested with flies, or how despite there being no physical barrier to getting on the metro without a ticket, most people will still do the honest thing and line up to buy a ticket. It helps reinforce my belief that after all the tears and the upsets, I have done the right thing for my life.
Friday, October 26, 2007
I have decided to follow an old Greek tradition of wearing the wedding band on one finger for engagement and then the other for marriage, seeing as a) I don't want the evil De Beers company to have any of our money, I knew about diamond cartels before Blood Diamond hit the screens, and b) I'm too forgetful and scatterbrained to be in charge of precious gems.
Today I am linking to a song which has one of those Bollywood So Bad It's Good videos. There are two reasons I picked this song. The first is that it has a line which says: the world is after me, but I'm after you which epitomises my current situation. Secondly and more appropriately, it has a line relating to getting engaged. The girl sings: fulfil my destiny, make my world come to life, get engaged to me my love.
When I was a little girl, the worst thing anyone could say to me was that I would get married. I remember flying into tears of rage when I was admiring an ornament of my mother’s and she said, in front of the other ladies present, that she would give it to me in my dowry. They all laughed, and I howled with fury. Another time I was playing with a red scarf and my grandma put it over my head, took a picture and said that I looked like a bride. I refused to talk to anyone for the rest of the afternoon.
God knows why I found the prospect of engagements and marriage so insulting. Maybe it was because I eventually started attending the weddings of sparky, boisterous girl cousins knowing that in a few weeks from their wedding they would be acting like they had had a lobotomy. No more explosive laughter, no more light in their eyes, no more silliness. It was a familiar pattern.
At university I was known as Bollybutton the Man Hater. I didn’t get my first boyfriend till the last day of University because I didn’t want a single thing to get in the way of my journalism degree. The moment a male of the species approached me, the iron curtain came down.
Which is what made my behaviour around Mr Zeus all the more impossible for me to explain. If I felt like talking to him, I did it, if I felt like accidentally-on-purpose seeking him out in the Olympic venue where we were based, I did it. Coy Bollybutton chased after Brazen Bollybutton telling her that this was not the way, that she was acting totally out of character and that no good could come out of such forwardness.
Brazen Bollybutton told her to shut up and that Something Felt Right. To this day I can’t explain what it was, but something over rid all my defence mechanisms for how to deal with The Mens.
So here I am today. I guess in life the biggest most unexpected surprises come from within ourselves.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Mediterranean people are by and large all crazy. They all share the same hot-blooded passion/rage/irrationality, chauvenism and the belief that indicators on cars are just a decorative embellishment.
A Greek friend once told me no one in Greece/the Med wants to take responsibility for anything, just watch a Greek football game and you'll see how quickly a player tries to get rid of the ball as soon as he gets it.
Anywhere in the Med and the Home Country are the two places I don't trust the little green man to tell me when it's safe to cross the road, because, being Mediterranean, even he runs from his responsibilities and places them on my shoulders. There's no point me looking angrily at the drivers that carry on driving when the green man appears, I'm the one at fault.
I mean read this! Italy is planning a law that would force all bloggers to register with the state. This could only happen in a Mediterranean country. Do you know why? Imagine if your grandfathers and middle aged uncles were running a country. Most still rely on their mother/wife to buy their undies and consider the internet some left-wing conspiracy to topple them.
I wish the Italian bloggers good luck, but I can't help but laugh at how ridiculous this is.
Image: altered from http://content.answers.com/main/content/wp/en/thumb/5/5c/650px-Mediterranean_Relief.jpg
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
At the post office they know me now - not by name of course, I am to them what I am to everyone else, the Little Dark Skinned Foreign Girl. The ladies behind the counter keep chitchat to the minimum and help me when I don't understand what they are saying by describing alternatively.
The bank is a different story. I have stood in line so many times praying that I'll get one of the guys behind the counter because I find them generally more patient with my bad Greek. But no! Each time I get stuck with a gum-chewing female, bored and irritated and suffering from a chronic avoidance of actually doing any work. I'll be sweating with nerves by this point as I try to explain what I need, she'll try to tell me something back, I won't understand and then she'll get up and say loudly "MARIAAAA!! Can you come here and help this foreign girl, I don't know what she's talking about."
Cue the other people in the bank doing that unnerving thing Greeks do of just staring at whatever excites their curiosity. Roll up, roll up, see the Little Dark Skinned Foreign Girl attempt to carry out an everyday task! Watch in wonder as the sweat rolls down her face! Win a prize for guessing her stress level correctly!
And what do I do? I just stand there mutely like a mouse in a lion's cage, because I am scared of Greek women and I sure as hell don't want to get into a fight with one by telling her that I can understand her if she just tried explaining a little differently.
The last time I went to the bank I was in there for about 15 minutes. It took me a good two hours to come off the adrenaline. I can take comfort in the fact that most Greeks I know tell me their own bank experiences are not all that different to mine.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Finally getting the chance to see it makes me giddy with happiness, not to mention all the old friends from university I'll be reunited with, who I have missed so much over the years, who will remind me of a time in my life where my biggest worry was what outfit to wear to a bhangra gig.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Later that evening I was taking the shopping down to the basement where the chest freezer is kept and I went tumbling down the stairs, landing squarely on my back. The only good news of the day was that a friend from university sent me an invite for her wedding in February. Her email gushed with joy and excitement and it got me thinking about weddings.
Chances point strongly to Mr Zeus and I getting married one day, seeing as our engagement is officially around the corner. But when I think about my wedding, I don’t feel happy and I don’t feel excited. I feel sad and I feel stressed out.
It’s not because I’m having doubts. The reason getting married to Mr Zeus fills me with dread is the same reason this blog is so sparse on details which are pretty obvious.
Why don’t I just name the Homeland? Some of you have already guessed it. Why is it that I sometimes wait a few days before I bl0g an event just to throw off exact times and places? Why not name people in my blog?
First off, I don’t do any of the above in an attempt to make myself appear more mysterious or interesting. How glamorous if that was the case, and how simple. The truth is I do this because I am scared.
Since I met Mr Zeus my life has been crammed full of lies and question dodging, but that’s not his fault. Meeting him was the catalyst for me deciding to throw of the shackles of social convention and live my life the way I wanted it, but freedom always comes at a price.
Not only have I screwed up my relationship with my Dad, who still tells me now and then to find a nice Home Country boy to settle down with, but I am constantly terrified that someone from my extended family Back Home will discover what I’m doing here in Athens. That’s why I do what I can to avoid this blog turning up in certain Google searches.
Let’s look at the absolute worst scenario, which is me paying with my life for my freedom. I just don’t know who out of my extended family might decide that I have so tarnished a good family name that they need to avenge the family’s honour. My sisters think I’m being crazy and say “Bollybutton, our family isn’t like that.” Are they really not? How many times have I read about someone saying they didn’t think their family was like that? Why take a chance?
A more likely scenario is that my actions will end up dragging my father’s good name into the mud. As for my mother, her reputation is not likely to suffer more than it already has. We lived in a small town in the Home Country, and my mother as a foreigner was never accepted. Every step we put wrong was attributed to her being a foreigner, and the crazy thing is not only is she Asian too, she also converted when she married my father, go figure!
One solution to this would be to get married, right? Wrong. Unless Mr Zeus converts, we will never be accepted as actually married. Neither of us has considered it important for the other to convert to be together, but that’s completely going to fly right up the noses of the busybody Aunties Back Home.
This ties up nicely to why am I not at all happy about getting married one day. Because with a wedding taking place, certain people will have to be invited from Back Home. Bear in mind this will be a wedding in Greece, with drinking, dancing, kissing and general merriment, all of which is going to completely embarrass my father in front of these people.
This is why I don’t feel happy, because my choices are not to invite any of these people and upset them and my father, or to invite them and have to be thinking of social protocol even on my wedding day. And even if I did that, even if there was no alcohol served and I didn’t kiss the man I loved, they’d still be disapproving because we’d not be actually married according to them.
Sometimes I think I'll get married just so I could stop lying. I’m tired of inventing excuses about why I'm Athens. A married woman in the Home Country has a little more license to speak her mind to other women. But then there will always be lies, there will always be conflicts. When you belong to the culture I do, you’re everyone’s public property, and everything you do is their business. Having my children baptised is just going to be the cherry on top of the Cake of Dishonour.
When I read my friend’s wedding invitation, bursting with happiness and anticipation for her big day, I really envied her. In the end, you might think, is a man really worth it? Is Mr Zeus really worth it? That’s something I won’t know until I reach the finish line. But is it worth it to live my life the way I always dreamt I could? Absolutely. Plus, I’m sure livening up the gossip at the hideously boring ladies’ tea parties back home. What would the Aunties have to talk about if I didn’t exist?
Monday, October 15, 2007
I combined this sparkly top with a pair of jeans, silver earrings from my hometown and the blue glitter and pink mirrored bangles. As I slipped them on, I remembered how I was one bangle short because I had leaned against a wall during the marriage ceremony and heard an ominous crack followed by a glassy tinkle.
I was all set, ready, excited and feeling good. My henna had darkened nicely and me, Mr Zeus and his best mate, let’s call him Z2, set off for Psiri for our rendez vous at 1002 Nights.
Let me tell you about Z2. He is a typical Gemini and can be the best or the worst of company. Friday night he decided to be the worst of company and spent almost the whole night with an expression like I had asked him to choose between losing his manhood or losing his entire vocabulary of swearwords, which if you know him is 95% of a conversation.
Between leaving the house and taking our table at 1002 Nights I felt myself slide from ecstatic to a bit agitated to furious. His complaints ranged from why did he have to come out, to refusing to go the way I said because he was sure I was wrong, to refusing to ask for directions, to making us go the wrong way only for it to be proven that I was actually right all along, to this place sucks, look at the décor, to what a crappy menu and so on and so on, like a queen bitch.
It was more than any reasonable host could take. This was my night! I held my tongue for as long as I could, but finally after he said how much the venue sucked one more time, I pulled out what my friends from university called my Death Look, which goes like this: I looked at him and said as sweetly as I could that if he was really having such a bad time we could go somewhere else…(pause) *DEATH LOOK DEATH LOOK DEATH LOOK*
That shut him up and right on cue our company arrived and from there the night skyrocketed. My toned down trad rags (traditional clothes) didn’t get me any weird looks, and my henna got a lot of admiration and questions, which I was happy to indulge. After dinner at 1002 Nights, we went on to Nara Nara for shisha and drinks.
At about 2.30 am we decided to call it a very successful night and parted company. We had the pleasure of being driven home by Z2 and learnt that there is such a thing as having your ears raped. That man can swear! But so what, I had had a really good time. Mr Zeus apologised for Z2 when I told him he'd got to me and said that he's so used to Z2's personality that he doesn't even notice when he's being socially retarded, which is fair enough.
Here’s to next year, and next year, dear friends, I am planning a proper shebang and any of my blog mates who want to join in are welcome to. The only casualty of the night was another blue glass glitter bangle, which gave up the ghost as I slide on my jacket when leaving 1002 Nights.
Friday, October 12, 2007
Back home, when the moon was sighted, fireworks were let off and phonecalls were made wishing everyone a happy celebration the next day. All our friends would gather at our house where my mother would set up a henna conveyor belt and we'd stay up late talking and enjoying ourselves.
The next day all the kids would go from house to house in new clothes collecting money and getting overfed.
Yesterday I went to see my turkish friend to wish each other, eat too much and do henna together. Even though I wasn't able to locate a single event through any embassy for today, yesterday really set the mood for me and this morning I woke up full of energy and covered in henna crumbs.
Tonight we plan on cobbling together a gang to go out somewhere, anywhere, and dance the night away. I might feel like the only person in Greece celebrating, but I'll do it in style!
Thursday, October 11, 2007
As I looked out the window, fireworks went off at the local zaxaroplasteo. I think they were celebrating however many years of business. What with it being the time of year it is, the young people cheering and the fireworks, for a moment I forgot where I was.
My mind took me back to the Home Country, where right about now everyone would be getting ready for the party of the year. Us kids would buy boxes of sparklers, bend their wires into hooks, light them up and throw them into trees. They would hang there like super fancy Christmas baubles shimmering away. Fire hazard, I hear you scream, but we had no concept of such things when it was coming up to party time.
Like in Greece, the religious heads hold a lot of power in the Home Country, more even than the powers of science, so they decide when it’s officially a new moon, not the official moon charts, which would make life a lot easier because it usually ends up with half the country celebrating on one day and the other half the day after.
I remember one particular time we were in a major city in the Home Country when the Bearded Ones announced that there was no moon and hence no party the next day. We all relaxed, since we hadn’t bought any presents for anyone anyway. At about 11 o’clock at night they changed their minds and everyone was loaded into cars to go shopping.
All the shops threw up their shutters and it was like the entire country was out laughing and celebrating. The girls flirted with the boys selling bangles, and the young men had monopolized the henna stands to have a legitimate excuse to hold a pretty girl’s hand. It was wonderful. That time in the Home Country, with the sounds, the music, the food, the happiness makes you feel like you’ll burst with either too much food or too much joy.
Watching the fireworks last night, I thought the young people were getting ready to celebrate and then I remembered where I was and to be honest I felt sad. Like Christmas, we wait all year for this party, and I felt like I’m the only person in Greece waiting.
Downtown in my bellydance class, I asked my teacher if she knew anyone in the Arab community who was celebrating. We thought of calling the tourist police but realized it was a pointless exercise.
So she called up a local Egyptian restaurant and after the usual niceties with the Greek waitress, the conversation went like so:
Teacher: “I was wondering if Ali was there because I have a question for him.”
Girl: “No he’s not but you can ask me.”
Teacher: “I have a girl here and she wanted to ask him if anything is going on for ***”
Girl: “For what thing?”
Teacher: “For ***”
Girl: “What’s that?”
Teacher: “It’s a festival, like we have Easter. She wants to know if there is a place to pray where she could find out.”
Girl: “A place to pray? For her father or something?”
Teacher: “No for her.”
Girl: “What’s this about again?”
At this point I told her never mind it was alright and I’d make some calls to various embassies. The girls in my bellydance class had listened in to the conversation on speakerphone and shook their heads. “She just didn’t want to help.” one of them said.
The big day is either going to be tomorrow or Saturday, depending on what the Bearded Men say. My family is going to be together and my sisters will be doing henna for each other. And I’ll be here, in a country where most people don’t even know what I’m talking about, with henna on one hand because I’m not ambidextrous.
I’ll make some calls today and hopefully I won’t end up all dressed up with nowhere to go. Do you see now why the 10 kids is a good idea? I’ll have my own multicultural group ready to celebrate at the drop of a hat.