Thursday, March 27, 2008

How's my Driving?

In case you've been wondering, I've driven three times since passing my test last November, all three times on the motorway. And I'm really bad, my level has deteriorated back to beginner. Possibly worse. I believe Mr Zeus's exact words were "So bad you're a liability."

There are a number of factors getting in my way.

First, I have had no time to practice in the day and Mr Zeus doesn't feel comfortable letting me drive at night.

Second, whenever some free time comes up, the car gets occupied. Twice now something has gone wrong with someone's car and ours has stepped in to help, which is totally fair enough, but it feels like the universe is trying to tell me something.

Third, everything I learnt was in the UK, on the other side of the road and where other drivers make a few allowances for other drivers. In Greece, forget it. I'm not saying I expect the traffic to part before me like the red sea, but here is an example: on the weekend when I was driving on the motorway a car in front began to drift along into my lane. I dropped back, at which the car then moved back into its own lane. As I built my speed back up it again moved across trying to get into my lane, so I panicked and floored it, trying to get away. Result: Mr Zeus thinks I drive like a drunk, my nerves were shred and confidence at an extreme low.

It leads to comedy-like scenes of the two of us bickering as my stress levels build.

Him: "After we pass the BMW, change lanes."

Me: "When? What?"

Him: "After the BMW... change.. lanes."

Me: "But which one is the BMW! WHY CAN"T YOU JUST SAY AFTER THE BLUE CAR!!!"

Him: "You're slowing down... when you change lanes you're supposed to go faster."


My most dangerous mistake is when he says to turn left and I merrily do... only I turn left as if I were in the UK and therefore I turn immediately left into oncoming traffic. Bad.

Fourth, all the other cars I learnt in were fairly new with power steering. The one in Athens is a reliable but relatively old Suzuki Swift. I don't know how much I can blame on that... but what the heck I will anyway.

It's driving (pun!) me insane, because at the point where I passed my test I was a good driver. Both my instructors told me I was a natural at driving and safe on the roads.

When I sit on the bus or metro and think of all the time and money I invested in trying to pass my driving test, it makes me feel really frustrated. The licence was supposed to have liberated me, and it hasn't.


Words of advice would be massively appreciated. As you can tell, it's a complaining sort of day for me today.

Why Isn't it Summer yet???

Oh God! I'm so fed up of it not being summer. Just when I thought the weather was on course to get hotter it's done a U-turn, British weather style. I'm sick of feeling cold all the time!!! Please someone turn the heating to 35C.

I don't feel inspired at the moment so have some fun with these songs, here, here and here. Spot the connecting factor.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Hoing and Hoeing

Ho: Slang A prostitute

Hoe: A tool chiefly for digging up weeds, and arranging the earth about plants in fields and gardens.

You've all probably heard by now that the Greek Church in response to a potential new law that would give rights to cohabiting couples, declared that all relationships except for those joined in a Greek Orthodox Church were prostitution.

Oh man! Did I just get called a prostitute? Well that made me kind of sad. I took time out from my whoring ways to order some seeds online, since I'm surrounded by the new life of spring and wanted to create shiny new things, despite being as whorrific as I am.

So far I have ordered the following seeds:
  • Lemongrass

  • Kaffir lime

  • Fragrant sweet pea

  • Plumeria (we had a giant tree of this Back Home and I never appeciated it)

  • Organic tomato

  • Organic corn, normal and rainbow

  • Organic sweet pepper

  • Organic cucumber

  • Organic green beans
Being doubly condemned by my own religion and the Greek Orthodox Church, I'm going to create my own little Garden of Eden right here on Earth. So na!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Reducing Rubbish

The strikes in Athens show no sign of letting up. In fact, they seem to be getting worse. I am more concerned with the building mountains of rubbish than the power cuts and have been taking measures to reduce the amount I throw out that will sit festering in the sun.

Athens accommodation consists almost exclusively of apartments. There is not much of a garden culture in this city. However, most apartment blocks do have access to a patch of land in their vicinity which is supposed to pass as a garden.

If you too have access to a piece of garden that you are allowed to use, keep a plastic container on your kitchen work top and save up all the organic waste you can. This means potato peels, orange skins, banana skins, onion peels, bland leftovers like boiled potato or rice etc. Dig a hole in the ground and bury this waste. It's fantastic for nourishing the soil and will help towards reducing the amount you throw out. Tea leaves and coffee grounds are supposed to be very good for roses, so save those up and sprinkle them around the base of your rose trees.

Things like oily waste, chicken skins, sugary, or salty food will still need to be thrown out as they will harm your soil rather than help it.

If you bury your organic waste and separate your recycling, the amount of actual garbage that gets thrown out is not all that much.

**This tip comes to you approved by my grandmother and Mr Zeus's authentic Greek yiayia.**

Monday, March 17, 2008

Athens: Dark and Smelly

As my life in Athens continues, I am struck more and more by the similarities between this place and the Home Country. It's sort of comforting. When the powercuts are hitting after work hours I enjoy them. At least they're striking in the spring instead of the summer.

In the Home Country, it wasn't strikes that caused the cuts, it was that there generally never was enough power to go around in the summer. And so the power would go for hours, sometimes days on end. In Athens I am impressed by the vast array of decorative candles we have accumulated which are being put to good use. In the Home Country, we somehow never managed to plan ahead and usually ended up with one solitary stump of a candle.

Those who could afford it had petrol powered electricity generators to deal with the problem, but my parents never thought it necessary to invest in one. I guess sweating it out in that heat with a banana leaf fan for heat relief was character building - the power cuts in Athens are a walk in the park in comparison.

The side effect of the power going Back Home was that the water stopped too. The moment the air conditioner ominously breathed its dying sigh, my mother would rush around the house filling buckets and bath tubs with water for as long as it would flow. When the water returned the taps would either run clear, pour out a rusty sludge or just hiss phlegmatically like a remorseful ex-smoker who had left his voice box on the bus.

Yesterday the news said that the DEH electricity strike was illegal and so the power cuts would stop, but no such luck. I think the picture says the rest.

As for garbage, we used to have a man on a donkey cart who would come and pick up the rubbish we threw into the alleyway behind the houses and if he didn't come around that meant he was dead, not that he didn't think he was getting enough pension.

The one saving grace of the rubbish strike is that since getting spooked about my young colleague's breast cancer diagnosis, I stopped using anti-perspirant. Sadly I'm not blessed with a naturally rosy fragrance, so my experiment will have to be terminated before my love life dies and plants start wilting in my wake.

At least all of Athens smells like a giant armpit right now so I don't stand out.

Summary of strikes going on in Athens:

  • Electricity

  • Rubbish

  • Metro

  • Banks

  • Strikes against the strikes... don't ask questions, it'll only make you cry.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Going Round in Circles

Anyone who's moved to a new country knows that sometimes you really miss the little things from the place you once lived. On Sunday afternoon when I pondered my mountain of work and craved a Home Country treat, there was only one thing for it. So I did what I do best, I procrastinated and embarked on making home made jalebis.

Jalebi, pronounced ja-lay-bee, is a sweet of fried spiral batter soaked in syrup, a bit like loukoumades if they were curly instead of round. It's a sweet that is popular in the part of the world I come from, and its popularity means it features as part of many happy memories. After a long day shopping at the markets, we would go find someone making jalebis and order a kilo of hot, sticky jalebis to eat with a cup of tea. At birthday parties my mother would string up individual jalebis dangling down from the washing line and hold a competition to see who could eat theirs without their hands.

Last year at the Home Country wedding I went to, when we were all deflated from last second wedding planning, nothing perked up the team's spirits like a big plate of hot jalebis. This time at my friend's wedding in India, I sat in her house on the morning of her wedding and there they were again, jalebis for breakfast although these were a 5 star version I'd never seen, soaked in saffron laced syrup and dusted with ground cardamom.

I had worked all of Saturday and I knew both Sunday and Monday would get consumed by work, so I thought why not have a break? Jalebis are a favourite of children, and I thought it would be really sad if my own future children wouldn't be able to enjoy the hot jalebis I ate as a child.

Here is my recipe:

1/2 cup of plain flour

1/4 cup of yoghurt

Water as needed

pinch of salt

1.5 cups of sugar

1.5 cups of water

Plastic bag

Optional: pinch of saffron, ground cardamom


Mix the flour, yoghurt and salt together. Add water until you get a mix that pours easily, like cream. Leave to stand for half an hour. In the meantime, boil the sugar, water and saffron (if using) for 15 minutes. Test a little bit with a spoon, let it cool and see how it feels between your fingers. You're aiming for a sticky syrup a bit like melted honey. It should not be hot sweet water, that would be a disaster. Turn off the heat.

Take a frying pan and fill until there is about an inch of oil on the bottom and heat over a medium heat. Pour some of the batter into the plastic bag (a thick bag works better than the supermarket type) and tie a rubber band on the open end. Cut a hole in one corner of the bag and keep it sitting in a mug with the cut off corner facing up. This makes it easier to control, otherwise you'll have batter pouring all over your kitchen.

Now for the fun part! Test the oil is hot enough with a drop of batter. It should bubble up but not burn in a few seconds. Hold your bag over the oil and gently squeeze, pouring messy spirals into the oil. This video will demonstrate how, though you don't have to make joined up spirals, you can make them one at a time.

Fry until golden brown, remove from the oil and dump in the syrup. Allow them to soak for about 15 seconds and remove onto a plate. If you leave them to soak and soak they'll get bloated and soft. Jalebis should be juicy and a little crunchy. Sprinkle with ground cardamom if using.

Mmmmm! How delightful. By the way you can buy these in the Asian shops downtown, but there is nothing like the real thing fresh from the pan and ready made jalebis are bright orange because they add colour to the syrup. Hooray! My future children won't grow up not knowing the joy that is a hot jalebi!

Tip: If you end up with more jalebis than you can eat, my mum drops the leftovers into custard before it sets. Delicious.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Women's Day 2008

It's Women's Day again and I was thinking about what to post to reflect this day, and I decided to be selfish and write something about me, me, me. I spent all my teenage years shying away from compliments and all my early 20s playing down my successes. Pah! No more!

So here is what Bollybutton loves about Bollybutton and being Bollybutton.

  • I have lots of dark curly hair which I love, because it's different. I love that at a wedding of 600 guests I was the only curly haired woman.

  • When I look at my body, I love the way it is beautiful and not just functional.

  • I love that I was brave enough to love someone who I should never, ever have loved and that I fought and continue to fight for him. Four years ago when I fell in love I was terrified and unhappy because I was embarking on an impossible quest. Home Country girls do not love Greek men, no good can come of it. But it did, and I am proud of myself for having the guts to be so relentless in my pursuit of what I wanted against everyone's advice and against all the odds.

  • I love my birthmark. It sits just above my hip bone and above an operation scar, which I also love.

  • I like that my smile is not orange-slice shaped. It's sort of... bean shaped.

  • My favourite part of my body is my hands. My fingers are long and slender and if I had taken better care of them when I was living near the desert, I could have been a hand model.

  • I have enough faith in myself to know that if disaster struck and I was left alone in this world I could still take care of myself.

  • I love my mothering side and how I enjoy taking care of people.

  • I love that I have a technical mind. As a little girl I delighted in unscrewing and fixing broken toys. It also makes me really good at puzzles.

  • I love wearing saris and I think I look great in them.

  • I love the colour of my skin and everything that goes with it.

  • I'm very creative and I love that I have several random projects in progress at any one time.

  • I love my capacity to learn and how my mind seems to swallow up information.

  • I love how I am progressing myself and my career and didn't have to be a bitch to do it.
  • I am proud of myself, and happy that I reached a point where I can say that. Before I would shy away from a compliment or play down my achievements. But not any more! I worked hard to get where I am and be who I am and I'm proud! Go me!

  • Happy Women's Day! To see why this day is still relevant, click here.

    Think you know your TV, music and film? Try Search Charades!

    Friday, March 07, 2008

    Not Patrick!!

    Sad news. Patrick Swayze has cancer of the pancreas and his prognosis is terrible. Please, God, not the Swayzster!

    I was 20 when I watched Dirty Dancing for the first time, 20 and emotionally stunted. My girlfriends insisted it was a must-see and so I sat through it and hated it. "This is garbage," I said, switching off the video recorder. They reminded me that I loved Bollywood and Dirty Dancing was nothing if not feel good escapism. Hmm, I see your point.

    The truth is once I stopped being emotionally stunted I loved Dirty Dancing, and even more horrifically when I watched it again yesterday I realised how much I related to it. Naive young sheltered girl, irritatingly optimisitc, falls for an older man who is all wrong and who wins her heart by busting his sexy moves, thus discovering who she is and instantly getting demoted from her Daddy's Girl status.

    I was a weird teenager and even weirder young woman. I even got told so by a guy who I took out with me one night and who expected that what I saw as an innocent make-new-friends outing would lead to a night of rampant passion.

    At the close of the evening as we walked home, and I kept walking, he said "My place is this way."

    "Well, goodnight then." I said, not getting the message. A conversation ensued on the footpath about morality and religion and when I was done, he said with a smile. "Bollybutton, you are beautiful but you are the strangest girl I've ever met." I understandably never saw him again.

    I didn't make much sense. I was passionate about so many things and danced with no inhibitions, but when it came to my own desire, I wouldn't allow myself to question it, let alone other people. My mind was like a big house full of locked rooms which I refused to go near because they were full of things that I desperately wanted but refused to acknowledge.

    It's really difficult explaining that to people who haven't grown up in a culture where intimacy is such a taboo, when they have grown up in a placewhere enjoying your lover's embrace is as normal and comforting as basking in the sunshine or a glass of cold water on a really hot day.

    But my how I digress. Enjoy your own coming-of-age memories here. Get well soon Patrick!

    Thursday, March 06, 2008


    Me thinks my blog is dying. I don't post nearly as much as I used to. Since it's been a while since my last post, this one is going to be a mixed bag.


    The song selection contest for Greece's Eurovision entry took place last week and the winner was Kalomoira Sarantis, a young Greek girl who grew up in America and came back to Greece three years ago to find her fortune, sort of like Sarbel. What made me happy about her song was that it opens with a typical punjabi sound, sort of like this song by Punjabi MC. Hmmm sweet, so now you like multiculturalism, do you? I bet if I had entered Eurovision with something similar my ass would have been kicked off because I'm not Greek but it's okay because Kalomoira is. Also she can sing, and I can't, so I would have lost anyway.

    The show was a big deal as it is every year and presented by two dancing chickens aka the Magirra sisters. Of course the Greeks loooove to complain and the day after they totally ripped the night's offering to shreds, calling it overtly kitsch and boring in a trying-too-hard fashion. I thought it was okay, I fail to see what the difference was between this show and all the other kitschtastic offerings on Greek TV.


    Everyone is still upset about this one and I don't dare wade into it, because I'm young and I have my whole life ahead of me. I'll just offer this advice: if you are a foreigner in Greece, do NOT say "I don't get what all the fuss is about." in the company of other Greeks. I'm pretty sure just asking that question is reason enough to get deported.

    American Cosmopolitan:

    My sister brought one of these back after a trip to LA. Maybe I'm just getting old, but it struck me as a lot trashier than the UK version, and that's saying something. I had to ride the tube to Heathrow clutching a bright yellow magazine that was covered in the biggest font possible and leading with the story: YOUR VA-JAY-JAY. Classy. Everyone on the tube wants to see me reading about my vagina. Even if I was curious, there was no way I could read such an article with it's screaming sub headlines and graphic illustrations.

    The C-word:

    It's thrown around so casually these days it should have lost its shock factor by now, but when I bounced into work on Monday and heard my young, into good karma, vegan non-smoking head of department tell me that she has breast cancer I stood rooted to the spot, speechless. I've admittedly not had to deal with much hardship in my life and within the moment that my colleague told me she had cancer, the disease suddenly became real, as if up until then it was just a rumour or something other dimensional.

    I'm scared because I don't know how to help her, what to say, what to do.

    Something you could only ever hear in Greece:

    Saturday afternoon me and Mr Zeus were strolling along on our way to lunch and we saw a small crowd gathered around a policeman and a young boy who had crashed his car. As we walked by:

    Police: "So you have no licence and no insurance."

    Boy: "That's what I'm trying to explain to you. Without the licence, I can't get insurance, they won't give it to me."

    Police: "And why the hell are you driving without a licence?"

    Only in Greece...