Monday, December 31, 2007

Last Post of 2007

Lift your tear streaked cheeks off that keyboard dear fan(s) of this blog because I'm back after a week in Barcelona.

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

Christmas Break

I'm off now for a Christmas break out of Athens so all of you enjoy. This is my first ever Greek Christmas tree which I put up this past weekend.
Greeks don't exchange gifts on Christmas, they do that on new year's eve. And trees, Santa Claus etc are relatively new trends. Traditionally a boat is decorated for Christmas in Greece.
And apart from my beloved honey cakes, melomacarona, I don't know what else is traditional Christmas food here, but I don't care because they're so yummy they're all I need. See you on the other side!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Why the Hell does she look so HAPPY??!!

This is a post for the ladies so any boys reading, leave now or else have your illusions of where our smooth skin comes from shattered.

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 exactly.”
“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

Aegean or Asia??

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'm Becoming Obnoxious

I'm back after my short trip to the UK but this time it feels like I've been away for months even though I only left last Saturday. I have been fretting on the flight because for the first time in a long time I didn't really feel like coming back to Athens.

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

Things To Make And Do

We all need a break from the routine sometimes. I bet you now and then even Dora Bakoyiannis sits in her office late at night, going through papers, looking out of the window and thinking "Man, I'd just love to go get a kebab right now. And then go to bouzouki, drink too much whisky and kiss a guy who by harsh coincidence happens to work with me...sigh!"

When Athens life is getting you down, I suggest you head out of the city and refresh your eyeballs with just how beautiful Greece is. Last weekend we went north to Larissa and Meteora to visit some of Mr Zeus's family. When I met him I imagined a giant clan like in Big Fat Greek Wedding. Instead I could fit his family in a matchbox. As for me every time I go back to the Home Country I am met by some kid at my uncle's door who I don't know, to later discover he is one of the four new little cousins born in between a visit. I have over 20 first cousins alone.

Anyway, Larissa and Meteora are both such beautiful places they just take your breath away, especially Meteora which ranks amongst the most amazing places I've ever seen in my life. It's like a bunch of giant boulders were dropped in the middle of nowhere. It's really beyond what words can describe so I suggest you go there. There is a lot of internal tourism to that area so bus tours from Athens shouldn't be hard to find.

That area of Greece looks identical, and I mean IDENTICAL to Northern Home Country, and there were other things in common too. Each aunt and uncle that met me embraced me like a long lost child (I think they'd all given up on Mr Zeus ever marrying) and tut tutted that I was too skinny. It was like my own aunties and uncles but talking in Greek: eat this, eat that, no I don't want to hear that you've eaten enough you're too thin, whatever diet you're on drop it now, here I've packed you some fruit preserve, eat it for breakfast every morning and you'll be fine in no time.

I never knew what to expect when I embarked on meeting Mr Zeus's family but hand on my heart, they have welcomed me without a single question or issue from day one. We may have started with next to nothing in common, but we both had appreciation of family as an uncompromisable value.

The afternoon we were leaving for Athens I was chatting to one of my new Greek cousins, alternating between Greek and English when I couldn't find the appropriate vocabulary. Her seven year old son said: "I know why she's talking in English. She's saying something she doesn't want me to hear."

"No," I explained, "I don't know Greek, I'm still learning that's why."

"You don't know Greek?! But I knew Greek from when I was a baby."

"That's because you were born here. I wasn't."

"She doesn't know Greek!"

I bet you next time his mum makes him sit down for homework he'll say "Yes mum but remember that girl who was 25 and can't speak Greek. God only knows what she did in school, at least I'm not that bad." In an effort to teach him a little bit about different cultures I grabbed the receipt on the table and wrote his name in Home Country script for him. He was suitably impressed.

Ain't playing families fun?

I've got to say though I am a good old fashioned Greek/Home Country Mother In Law pleaser type of girl. Growing up in the Home Country in a small town there was next to nothing for a young girl to amuse herself with that wouldn't get her disowned and so we were trained in a variety of crafts that kept us out of trouble. Thus I'm a 21st century girl stuck with defunct skills like embroidery, lace-making, dress making and crochet. But hey what better way to please Ma in Law? How could a girl who can make a doily be an evil son snatcher?

Oh well it means that I can search the bargain bin in the yarn shops downtown, find the good stuff and get to the till faster than the grannies. I may get laughed at for crocheting scarves at my age, but I'm saving the drugs for old age. I think I'll be more grateful for them then.

Image: Meteora

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Friend Wanted - Must Not Be in Denial

One year and six months after moving to Greece and my life is pretty much the way I wanted it. I now have social options I never had before, as in I can choose to entertain myself, or call a variety of friends to arrange coffees with and stay out late and then be able to direct a taxi home. Don’t ask about my Greek, it could be better, and I am being nagged nagged nagged about it. More on that in another post.

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.


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.

I live here, I want to understand how this country works. Tell me the truth, I won’t run out and erect billboards saying “Greece Sucks”, every country has its own issues and I want to fully understand Greece’s. Give me a chance.

Monday, December 03, 2007

One Down

I have several posts in my mind today so this will be the first. If you haven't already done so, I suggest you pay a visit to California Kat's American in Athens blog. Kat is leaving Greece for good, but I don't know when. I get the feeling that it's soon though.

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.