Friday, June 29, 2007

El Arte de la Música

Yesterday after finishing work, I got dressed and headed off with Mr Zeus to fulfil my dream of seeing Buena Vista Social Club in concert at the open-air Braxon Theatre.
And what a concert it was! True to the rules of a superb performance, they got the crowd involved singing along and left the absolute best till last.
Last night, when they closed their encore with Dos Gardenias, it was a very special moment, an epiphany of sorts. "Wow," I thought, "How completely different my life is between hearing this track for the first time 4 years ago, alone and miserable in a rented house in Cardiff, and hearing it live, happy and content in Athens of all places."
Muchos besos Buena Vista Social Club, you were GREAT!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hairy Godmother

Sunday morning I was in panic mode, trying to get my masses of curly hair washed and presentable and trying to keep my all-white ensemble clean. I managed the first but not the second. White is really not my colour, I had stained the trousers before even reaching the venue.
We picked up my godson, who was in a good mood, and headed off to get toasted in his outdoor baptism. All was well. And then we met the priest.
Let me tell you, religious heads of any kind scare me because I was schooled in the Home Country where religious education is compulsory. Being a bigoted fanatic was part of the curriculum, and so I just don't like being around those types. They draw too many dividing lines between people.
The priest was a jolly Santa-Clausy sort of fellow who asked first of all, in a grave voice, if me and Mr Zeus were married. Uh no, but we're working on it! Ah, he said. Good. And the girl is Christian, correct?
I confess that there, in the Church, Mr Zeus lied on my behalf and said "Yes". Now I know people like Anonymous will probably take great offence to a heathen like me sneaking my way to godmother status but I don't buy into the "My God's bigger than your God" mentality. I believe there's only one God.
Besides, I ended up knowing more about the baptism customs than Mr Zeus thanks to my research, so I was a better fake Christian than he is a real one.
Best of all, because it was a private ceremony I didn't have to read out the Greek prayer. There were various things which I had to repeat after the priest that were explained to me later. It was all very short and intense, ending with the godparents presenting back the baby to his parents, baptised, oiled and dressed in new clothes. That bit was best, not because by then my godson was crying hysterically and wriggling out of my arms, but because I felt established as a part of his life.
So that is how I became an official illegal godmother. Godparenting is a huge deal in Greece, and might I add a very profitable business! Part of the reason things went so smoothly is because we crossed the priest's palm generously as it is customary for godparents to make a donation to the church. Just a tip to keep in mind...

Friday, June 22, 2007

Dear Anonymous

If you don't like my blog, don't read it! What part of that don't you understand? Stop leaving bitchy comments on my blog, I'm not publishing them because I don't have to. In the same way you don't have to read my blog if you don't like it.

Guilty Secrets

"You're an old soul." people have told me. It could just be that I'm an old person trapped in a young person's body, if my listening habits are anything to go by.

At about 6pm every day my ears strain for the sounds of Mr Zeus coming home. When I hear him, like a teenager frantically stubbing out an illicit cigarette, I turn down the volume on the computer speakers and close my guilty windows.

You see, I am a closet BBC Radio 4 listener. Being able to access it online has been part of the reason why I am now settling down so well in Athens.

It all began when I developed a crush on someone that bordered on the obsessive. I had just moved to London, and had just come out of a period of depression, so I think my obsession became a hobby to occupy me before I developed a social life. Or, indeed, a life of any description.

Anyway, I discovered this person had a habit of leaving the radio on at night tuned to Radio 4, so I started doing the same, in some sort of creepy attempt to reach him over the airwaves. Not surprisingly, my stalkerish affections were rejected, but the habit stayed with me.

For almost the entire time I lived in London, I would end my day by lying in bed and listening to the creamy rolls of posh English on BBC Radio 4, learning all kinds of things on their documentary slots and using the shipping forecast as my cue that it was late enough to go to sleep.

These days I leave the radio on while I work. The theme to the Archer's, which once upon a time was reason for me to laugh out loud at ridiculous Middle England, now has me listening carefully: Really? So and so is sleeping with so and so? But she never seemed the type! Who'd have thought!
Mr Zeus disapproves because he thinks it prevents me from learning Greek. I think secretly he's more worried that I'll morph into a pearl and pastel twin-set wearing middle aged woman.

So that's my guilty secret. I love listening to BBC Radio 4 and no one can stop me!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

People of a Nervous Disposition...

... shouldn't attempt to be freelance journalists.

Every rejection sends me to the pit of despair, making me want to set my portfolio on fire and enrol in medical college.


Hotter! Hotter!

Getting that melting feeling? You and everyone else in Athens!
The temperature yesterday at 9:45 am when I was on my way to Dafni to try find something to wear to a baptism this Sunday (more on that later) was 33C. It wasn't even 10 in the morning!

The weekend is set to usher in temperatures topping 41C. The morning news has a dedicated slot for the heatwave, advising not to go out between certain hours, carry water with you, stay covered up etc etc. Everyone is popo-ing and ach aching at the scorching heat.

But since I have no tolerance to cold weather whatsoever, I am in heaven. So as long as I am observing from a safe distance, i.e. not actually standing out in the sun, I am happy happy happy. These high 30s and low 40s are what I grew up with and I feel goooood!

Summers should be like curries, not so hot that they obliterate everything but hot enough to make you sweat. Let's take it to the limit! Keep going! Hotter! Hotter! Yipeeeeeee!

As for the baptism, I admit that I am stressed out. I meet none of the guidelines of who can be a Greek Orthodox godparent, I have to convince the priest that I am Greek Orthodox or at least Christian, and so I can't wear this or this to avoid provoking them, and to top it all off I have to read out a pretty hefty prayer in Greek infront of everyone.
I keep pronouncing the Greek word for God (theos) like the Greek word for Uncle (theios). 'Son of Uncle'... hmmm, doesn't quite have the right ring to it. Let's not even get into how to pronounce words like συμπροσκυνούμενον or συνδοξαζόμενον.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

My Nomadic Life

There's a rule that goes plant, pet, person. If you can take care of a plant, you can move on to a pet. If you can take care of a pet, you can move on to a person. In which case I'm not doing very well. The dog is sick with a human cold bug which I, quite disturbingly have also caught off him.

The worst fate that could befall any living organism is to be a plant in my vicinity. Very often I'll take them to the brink of death before remembering they exist and frantically watering everything. To the plant gods, I’m sorry.

It’s now been one year and a few days since I officially moved to Athens and things are finally better. I’m not anywhere near expert in Greek, but I can follow and participate in conversations, make and appreciate jokes and other such delights. My life is totally transformed.
If you’re planning to move to Greece, don’t underestimate the power of learning the language. Most of the population of Athens does speak English, but this way you’ll just skip across the surface of Greek life. To really integrate, you HAVE to learn Greek.

I’ve also reconciled my cultural identity. My parents are from two different South Asian countries. I was born in the UK but grew up in the Homeland. Then we moved back to the UK. “So where are you from?” was never a one word answer for me, and never will be. Here in Athens, things got even more confusing for me. Just as I had reconciled who I was in the UK, I moved to Greece and felt like I had to start all over again.

There were times when people asked me where I was from and I replied “I don’t know any more!” which made them think I couldn’t understand the question so they asked in English and got the same answer. Mr Zeus had to endure Bollywood tunes uncut, blazing hot curries and depression over not finding fresh coriander.

I went through weeks of rejecting everything Greek, then everything English, then everything Homelandy, trying somewhere to find something that fitted.

But now I’ve realised my identity doesn’t depend on what I eat, wear or listen to. I am happy that I can appreciate a table being set for dinner with no cutlery, or 6 metres of fabric being turned into an elegant dress without a single cut or stitch, just as easily as I can appreciate wearing denim shorts on a hot day or knowing how to pick good olive oil from bad.
Image: Copyright of Edward Monkton

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Food = Spots

Here's an update. My low-processed sugar diet has resulted in me bounding around full of energy, but the rebel forehead spots still refuse to shift camp.

I've gradually reduced one food item or the other to try and identify what is it that is causing these spots and I've finally figured out what it is. It's food. Food gives me spots. If I cut out Food from my diet, I should be spot-free. Yes!!

(Mum, I'm joking)

Monday, June 04, 2007

Under My Umbrella Ela Ela

Sorry for my silence on the blogosphere lately. I'm currently out of Greece in the UK, leaving just as the rainy weather in Athens was due to end and landing myself in the middle of gray skies and sad faces.
I held up okay until yesterday when the cemented-over skies plunged me into acute melancholy. At least the weather is better today and I am spending time with my family which I never get to do often enough.

In the last month I finally feel like I passed the biggest hurdles in living in Greece. So that took me pretty much one year to get past the tears, tantrums, doubts and hysterics. Athens now feels like home, and I feel I have come back to something closer to what I grew up with.
A lot of times when something about Athens was getting on my nerves I'd say "I don't understand, Greece is in the EU, why is XYZ like this?" until a friend said: "Bollybutton, you have to remember that Greece may be in the EU but it isn't really European. It's more towards the East in location and mentality"

I hope for my own sake that I really am past the hardest bits now. Settling in a new country takes a lot of energy which I'd rather spend writing my future best-selling novel.
This trip to the UK completely snuck up on me, and so on the night before I left Mr Zeus and me could be found in a local taverna moaning about my ogre-sized carbon footprint and how we didn't manage to buy a galaktoboureko for my family to try.

Well I won't let a small thing like that stop me. If you want to make a Greek custard pie (galaktoboureko) here is the recipe I used to impress my family.