Friday, June 27, 2008

Pick Me Up Before You Go Go

Yesterday evening someone used a pickup line on me for the very first time in my life. You know, one of the classic straight-from-the-book lines. I was rushing to meet a friend downtown and a man stopped me. And what do you know, it was a Creepy Older Man. Oh no, Bollybutton never ever attracts hot young things, just the Creepy Older Men!!!! Why?!?

"Excuse me," said Creepy Older Man in english.

Thinking he was a lost tourist and wanting to flaunt my local knowledge, I stopped.

"If beauty was a sin, you would surely go to hell. I see you're in a rush but I would have loved to have taken you for a drink sometime."

"Thanks, but I'm married." Not exactly a lie, I am practically married.

I told this story to my Greek friend S who I was rushing to meet and she said, "That's weird. A guy used the exact same copy-paste line on me once."


"At the end of the street where we go for dance class."

I don't believe it! This Creepy Older Man is a pigeon. He sits there all day using this exact same line, even the bit about taking you for a drink if you weren't in a hurry, the same way that male pigeons strut around after the females. Have you ever seen this? He'll strut up to one female and if she rejects him he just puffs out his chest and keeps on strutting. Eventually someone will say yes and he might get his groove on.

I don't get it. When Mr Zeus goes out all the sweet young things flock around him. They flock around him even when we're together goddammit! Why do I only get Creepy Older Men? Is it the glasses? I don't even attract the handsome and incredibly charming type of older man, just the creepy kind.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Pak Indian - Nil Points for Betraying Me

Most people in Athens have heard of Pak Indian Restaurant, located at 13 Menandrou Street in downtown Athens. It boasts being Athens' first Indian food restaurant. I had never been there until Saturday and have decided to put my thoughts up as a review for you, my readers.

About a year ago I went to another Indian restaurant, Iskandar and the food was good except none of it was spicy and it was way too expensive. To make Indian food that has everything right except the spice and price is like making a Greek salad, leaving out the feta and charging EUR 15 for it. Still, the place is beautiful and the service very good. The staff were great to me, and I don't think it's because I can speak their language.

So I thought I'd try Pak Indian too and see where my quest for authentic Indian food in Athens led me. A few doors away I was buying mangoes and asked the guy if Pak Indian was any good. "Yes it is," he said "because I own it!"

As I approached the establishment, I noticed a sign on the door that said chicken curry EUR 3, chicken biryani EUR 2. Bonus! I was schooled in the Home Country and this sign was written in Home Country, kind of like when you go to a Chinese restaurant with a Chinese friend, they always bring out a special menu that the likes of you would never otherwise have the chance of seeing.

Z2 was with me and we took a table. We ordered vegetable pakora (bhaji), chicken korma, chicken biryani, channa dal (yellow pea curry) and two Lahori paratha which is a type of flat bread. I spoke to the waiter and ordered in Home Country, asking for the food to be properly spiced the way we eat it. Hooray! I thought. All those years of Home Country schooling are finally coming in use for something - reading the discount menu!

The pakoras were pretty good even though they were quite a stingy amount, only four in a portion. Still, they tasted almost as good as what I make at home, ahem, so the meal looked to be starting well.

And then it all went downhill. Next up was the chicken biryani. Biryani is a rice dish that is supposed to be made by layering raw rice with a spicy mixture of either meat or vegetables, sometimes with raisins or apricots, and drizzled with saffron infused milk before cooking to give biryani its distinct half yellow half white rice. The combination is then steamed over a low heat to cook the rice. As it cooks all the ingredients mingle. Eating a good biryani is like unwrapping a present where each layer contains a surprise. I've eaten biryani in the best places for it, including the Indian city of Hyderabad which specialises in this type or rice, and of course my own mother's biryani which is outstanding because that's the city she comes from.

What a biryani should never, ever be is a plate of oily rice dyed - DYED - with yellow food colouring, piled on top of what I knew was just a bit of chicken curry dished out of the cooking pot and microwaved with the rice. Okay, it was still the best biryani I have had in Athens, but for the reputation that Pak Indian has as the best Indian food in Athens, I have to tell you guys, you are being cheated. This was a cut-corner biryani. It shouldn't even have been allowed to call itself biryani.

Next came the channa dal, a curry made with split yellow peas that look a bit similar to fava. Lucky for us channa dal is a dish that needs to be slowly cooked so there was no quick fix way to flog us a fake version. What we ate had been cooked for hours and it tasted that way. The channa dal was delicious eaten with the Lahori paratha. Not nearly as spicy as I would have liked, but still pretty good.

After this brief hiatus came the chicken korma. Chicken korma is a creamy chicken curry cooked with yoghurt and coconut milk. It normally has a pale, golden colour imparted by searing the chicken and frying the onions until they turn brown.

What I was served - oh God it pains me to even talk about it - looked like someone drank a mango milkshake, swallowed some chicken and vomited it onto a plate. It was the ugliest chicken korma I have ever seen. No flecks of spices in the jaundiced sauces which were coloured again with food colouring, not even a sprinkling or fresh coriander leaves. And it tasted appalling. What was it? I wanted to throw it across the room in disgust. I wanted to shout "Take this aborted foetus of a curry away from me and give it a decent burial!"

The meal was over and we waited for the bill. Oh well, I thought, at least we will get the special price on account of me being from the Home Country. But we DID NOT. For the two of us, the above menu, a bottle of water and 3 beers the bill was EUR 50. I laughed, No way, I thought. So I called the waiter back and said that on the door you have curries for EUR 3 and chicken biryani for EUR 2, why are you charging me EUR 10 for the biryani and EUR 9 for the *shudder* korma?

"That's a different type" he lied. "Much less elaborate curry and biryani."

I might have forgiven Pak Indian for the pseudo-biryani. I might even have forgiven them for the vomit-on-a-plate korma and the one solitary Bollywood track playing in a loop. But what I could not and will not forgive is the thieving way they charged me the outsiders' prices because I looked like I could afford them.

They betrayed me, one of their own, their own compatriot who after all these years kept alive the skill to read a language from right to left in the hopes of some perks, some discount, the instant calling card that says We are the Same.

If you were a Greek in a foreign country and you went to a Greek restaurant with a special Greeks Only menu, you would be charged the Fellow Greek price even if you looked like a millionaire. Heck, even I would get the discount simply for being an Asian girl who can read Greek. That's the way it's supposed to work, Pak Indian, do you hear?

The whole meal I was consolling Z2 that at least we'll get the discount price because of me. I have seldom felt so ashamed to be in the presence of my own Home Countriers and be treated this way. Thank God I didn't take my father there and dash his ideal of Home Countriers sticking together and taking care of each other in foreign lands.

Pak Indian, I wish I worked for a newspaper so this review could be made public. Your food was crap, your prices are shameful but most of all, I am never again going to part with a single one of my pennies for you because you committed the worst sin there is - you betrayed me, your own fellow country person and charged her non-compatriot prices.

Shame on you! Readers, whatever you may have heard from Pak Indian, you are being cheated of your money for painfully sub-standard Indian food. Take it from me who was raised on this cuisine and have eaten in many good Indian restaurants - Pak Indian is rubbish and if that's the best they can do and make people believe it's the best Indian food in Athens, then I should open my own restaurant and wipe the floor with them.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Bollybutton Barefoot

I used to have this nightmare that I was walking around doing my usual stuff and suddenly noticed I had no shoes on. In the dream, I would cringe with humiliation as people started noticing I was wearing no shoes, and I would wonder "What's the matter with me? How could I leave the house without wearing any shoes?"

Last night this scenario sort of became a reality. I got punished for moaning about how boring my life has been lately. Last week I had so much work I didn't have time to change out of my pyjamas for two days. For two weeks the only time I have left the house has been for one supermarket trip, one laiki trip and one coffee with a friend. That's it. The rest of the time I've been holed up inside working and feeling sorry for myself.

Yesterday after work let up a bit I went for dance class. I didn't really feel like dancing, I just wanted to hang out somewhere, so I went to hang out at dance class. Everyone was tired yesterday. We all flopped around like wilted flowers and exchanged our various complaints: too much work, too hot, no man, stupid man, etc.

On leaving class going home seemed like the worst idea to me. I needed to be out and so I bought a drink from a kiosk and took a stroll by the Acropolis.

I walked along in the beautiful summer evening, feeling smug at the tourists who would eventually have to leave the place I lived in, and walked all the way to Thissio where I met up with my Turkish friend A who was watching the Germany-Portugal match in a pub. We caught up briefly and after slobbering over a few gratuitous Christiano Ronaldo shots, I left as I had to catch the metro to get home.

Outside as I walked along and felt sad about having to return home, I tripped up. When I tried to keep walking the right slipper flew off my foot. It had snapped in a completely inconvenient, non fixable way.

So there I was, stranded in a very busy tourist area with three choices:

a) stay here as I am and wait to be rescued by someone willing to let me have their shoes for the night
b) walk around with one slipper on
c) bite the bullet and walk around barefoot

Being barefoot struck me as slightly less ridiculous than having only one slipper on. So I took a deep breath and began to walk. It's situations like this when being a foreigner comes in very handy; you just walk around radiating a tourist vibe like "Look at me, I'm just a tourist and I don't know any better."

Now, all ladies will be familiar with the post-club routine of walking home barefoot with your high heels in one hand. That's fine, we do that. But who walks around with their flip flops in one hand unless they're on the beach?

I went to Thissio and when the metro machines rejected my coins I decided I wouldn't ride the metro barefoot and then wait barefoot for a bus. I'd take a taxi. But there were none to be found. And so I walked up Ermou from Thissio to Monastiraki, along marble footpaths, along dirt footpaths, brick, pebble, tarmac and a building site strewn with sand and broken glass. It was like a video game: dodge the broken glass and get an extra 10 points if you find a taxi.

It was hilarious so I called Mr Zeus to tell him. "Don't worry," he said "in the summer tourists do that when they get too hot." Well if that's true then there are some pretty stupid tourists around because the ground was no cooler than a pair of shoes, having soaked up 41C worth of heat during the day.

"There you go," I thought to myself "you said your life was boring, well here you are. Walking around downtown Athens barefoot, attracting weird looks and looking enviously at those who have shoes to wear."

After a 10 minute shoeless trek I managed to flag down a taxi and the first thing he said when I got in was "Why aren't you wearing any shoes kale?" I held up the broken slipper "They broke! And you never think of carrying a spare pair, do you!"

When I told the story to Z2 this morning, he told me a story about how he'd been riding his bike at the crack of dawn once and saw a barefoot woman waiting for a taxi, high heels in one hand and thought it was one of the sexiest things he'd ever seen. But what does he know, bare anything on a woman is one of the sexiest things he's ever seen.

So there you have it. If you saw a woman walking around barefoot last night in Thissio with flip flops in one hand, I confess it was me. It's lucky for me my embarrassment threshold is so high.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Saawariya. Sorry for You

Last night after a walk with a friend I stopped by the local video club to see if there was anything worth picking up. Flicking through the new release section, I stopped in my tracks. In front of me was a sight I couldn't believe, a sight that both amazed and appalled me. It was a Bollywood DVD. New release. Rental ticket missing.

There was joy because a new Bollywood movie and not some art cinema offering was out in the local neighbourhood super-Greek video rental store, and someone had rented it.

There was also horror. Because this movie is one of a 3-in-1 DVD I bought downtown last Saturday for EUR 3. And it's bad. Appallingly bad. Big budget, unknown main cast, more money than sense, all style and no substance, a song every ball-breaking 7 minutes. The performance of the two new lead actors was so boring and bland I wanted to take them and roll them in chilli and lemon to spice it up a bit.

This movie is called Saawariya. I can just imagine the poor person who rented this DVD and sat at home thinking "Ti malakia einai auti? (what bullshit is this?)" and be put off Bollywood for life.

Let me tell you about Bollywood movies. They are supposed to be all song and dance, colours and unbelievable story lines. But the makers of Saawariya insult the intelligence of even the most die-hard Bollywood fan by thinking "If we make it big budget with a fancy set, no one will notice that actually nothing at all happens for 3 hours."

The plot didn't so much twist and turn as roll over in bed and fart. What a disappointment.

Why? When there are so many good movies why did that crap fest Saawariya make it to DVD release in the local video club? Why not Om Shanti Om with my beloved Shah Rukh Khan? That was at least entertaining in how it made fun of itself.

To the person who rented the movie, my sincere apologies. Next time you're in the mood for some Bollywood just borrow one of my DVDs for free.

Read more scathing reviews of Saawariya here and here. And don't rent it!

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Perfect Peponi

On Saturday I passed another rite of passage for any child of the 80s whose mother threw frequent dinner parties - my first melon baskets, marking my transition from pizza parties to dinner hostess. And not just any melon baskets.
I was doing my usual Saturday laiki shop and picked up a melon. The man on the stall put it back and picked up another one for me, assuring me his choice was better.

And wow, was he ever right. This melon, this peponi of my dreams, was absolutely perfect. One day before or one day later and it would have been less perfect. It was at its absolute, glorious peak of perfection. The first sign that it would be that good was when I opened my backpack to unload my shopping and a sweet smell wafted out. You can tell a good melon by the smell. Once I embarked on a futile mission in a London supermarket smelling melons while a bemused friend looked on and asked me what the hell I was doing.

"Trying to find a sweet one."

"And you'll do that by smelling it!"

"Of course!"

Oh, the tragedy of life in the UK with it's bland supermarket fruit.

I got to work on the melon and a small watermelon we had bought turning them into baskets, my mother's summer desert of choice at a dinner party. I ate the cut offs and I have to tell you, this was the most perfect peponi I have eaten in decades. A melon that good only turns up once every 10 years and I was the one who got it.

That evening I admitted to my guests that I was becoming a total grandma or housewife or something, because all day I had been so happy about this perfect peponi. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops: I found the perfect melon, the best melon in the entire laiki! They agreed with me when they tried it though, and my Irish friend fell about laughing at how enthusiastically I had resurrected this 80s party trick.

Melon baskets, people. Don't knock it till you've tried it. Instructions for a melon basket much fancier than mine can be found here. You will need a melon baller, an instrument like a mini icecream scoop which looks like this and can be found at Alpha Beta supermarket.

That's another reason I love summers in a hot climate. They remind you so strongly of the really simple and most rewarding pleasures in life, like cold glasses of water on hot afternoons, painting your toenails neon pink or the perfect slice of melon.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Gold Hoop Jumping

There are some things in life you don't even notice until it becomes a possibility that you can't have it any more. This is what I thought about my life, having been a good Home Country girl who turned the balance upside down and didn't do things the acceptable route of meeting, dating, engagement, marriage, living together. When my older sister got married and went through the ceremonies, I could see the contentment on her face: "I did it the right way and I earned this". Never mind, I thought, I made my choices and I would be happy with them too. There would be no emotional kiss on the forehead from my father as he handed me over to my new life - I beat him to that two years ago when I boarded an Olympic Airlines flight alone from London to Athens.

So when I found multiple missed calls on my mobile and a frantic message from my mother that she'd been trying to call me, I became worried. She called again as I began to dial "BB where have you been I've been trying to call you!"


"Is everything ok mum? What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong. I just need to know your bangle size."

"My bangle size? What for?"

"Your cousin is coming from the Home Country and Dad and me wanted to give you gold bangles like we gave your sister when she got married. For your Ceremony."

On hearing this, the modern woman in me launched into a dialogue about how I didn't need gold bangles and it was okay. Actually, I didn't feel I had earned them because I didn't do things the right way. The next time I go to the UK Mr Zeus and I will indeed take part in a small ceremony at my parent's house which in Home Country terms makes us officially married. Gold bangles are the traditional mark of a married woman. Modern Bollybutton said not to worry, but Mum insisted. And traditional Bollybutton smiled.

It's not the bangles and the fact that they are gold - I'm not much of a fan of gold. It's the thought that I will receive a rite of passage which I didn't believe I would get or deserve. No matter how 21st Century I may be, a part of me will always be a Home Country girl. I don't know if that's Having It All, or just a confusing way to live!

I will finally be able to tell my best friends in the Home Country I am married and I won't have to hide my life in Athens any more.

And in case you're wondering, my bangle size is 2.4.

Monday, June 09, 2008

A Perfect Sunday

Yesterday was one of those perfect summer days. Mr Zeus and I packed ourselves off to spend the afternoon with his eccentric aunty who lives in a lavish, sea-view retirement apartment which she acquired somewhere along her life of liaising with very rich men. Some might say that her childless life and faded looks with only two little dogs and a cat for company is rather tragic, but I say with a view like hers, a little-piece-of-heaven garden and a swimming pool in spitting distance, who gives a flying divorce settlement??

The pool as it turns out was filled with sea water which was a bonus for me. I have blogged many times that I'm scared of getting into the water because I can barely swim. So I had to go through my usual psyching myself up routine before I got into the water.

In the course of my two years in Athens - and as of last Friday it has been officially two years - I have finally reached a healthy weight. Family feuds, doubts, settling down issues all made me drop weight like there was no tomorrow. As the fog began to clear, as I settled into my life and my father started talking to me again like the old times, my weight has normalised and my body has flourished. Sometimes I stand infront of the mirror after a shower slapping my thighs and enjoying the new sensation of how they vibrate.

The point of this is that the extra two or three kilos have made me float so much better and yesterday I had a really great time swimming around. I actually enjoyed it because I didn't feel like I'm going to sink every few minutes.

Swimming over, I sat on Aunty's terrace drinking in the blue skies, blue seas, pink bouganvilla. It felt like my first true summer day of the summer so far. In the Homeland that total sense of peacefulness is called the coolness of your heart. I was so blissful that I wondered if my senses were going into overdrive when the ground beneath me rattled, but as we later learnt that was the Patra earthquake.

On the way home we sat in the traffic making cruel comments about young things in the fancy cars that their daddies and sugar daddies had bought them. Gotta have the hot car! I recently heard of someone we know with no earning capacity who took out a EUR 15,000 loan to buy a Mercedes. Smart move in these credit crunch times, but then that's the Greeks for you: sunbathe today and think about the burn tomorrow.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Dancing Queens - and King

Lately in dance class an interesting event has taken place. We have our first male belly dance student who attends classes with his wife. Having a male in our formerly all-female environment has turned us all into raving banshees who tease this guy mercilessly. Last week during warm up, one of the girls was talking about something and said loukaniko (sausage) when she meant to say something else. We all looked at our resident male ... there was a split second of silence and we all howled with laughter.

Yesterday going through warm up the teacher fetched a stick for our guy to place across his back to demonstrate how he should keep his back straight as he bends forward. As she produced the large stick, I shouted "Xilo!" (wood) and the guy scrambled to get away from the phallic looking instrument while our teacher chased him around the room with it. Today my stomach muscles hurt not from all the stretching but all the laughing. We laugh more than we dance these days as we jokingly tease our resident male. He has done a pretty brave thing to enter an all-female environment like ours.

Dance class is turning into the highlight of my week. Lately I have so much work to do that my fingers are aching as I type this. I'm all bent out of shape from sitting here at the computer. I cherish my 1.5 hours a week when I can stretch, reach, drop and undulate to work out all the cobwebs in my joints, but mostly I cherish it for the company.

After a really long time M came to class again. M is perpetually stressed and sarcastic and I adore that she doesn't hide how she's feeling for the sake of anyone. "Where did you disappear to?" she barked, "I thought you got left back in India."
"No way, I went to India, I shopped and I came back."
"Is that so? I hate you."
"And what should I do since I love you M?"

S jumped in "Bollybutton's not going back, we won't let her. She's ours now!"

Amid all this there is usually a flurry of costume exchanging to see who likes what, three people talking to me at the same time to place orders, beauty tips, relationship advice and the teacher shouting that someone owes her money.

The dancing itself is starting to take a backseat in what's become my favourite 1.5 hours of the week.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

It'll Be All Write

When I meet new people, I automatically tell them I'm a journalist because that's what I always wanted to do. It's not exactly a lie, I do freelance on the side of my regular job. At the photo exhibition I wrote about, my Turkish friend A introduced me to the fascinating circle she moves in. I shook hands with a man, let's call him Bob, and exchanged the usual so-what-do-you-do. "I'm a journalist," he replied, to which I gasped with delight and gushed "I'm a journalist too!! Who do you work for?"

And there in the soft lights of the market, in front of a photo of a gypsy wedding, Bob said "Al Jazeera. How about you?"

Damn. I was in the presence of journalism royalty. Crap cakes! "Oh you know, no one really. Mostly health and beauty stuff..." Me telling someone from Al Jazeera that I'm a journalist is like being an extra on a sitcom and telling Angelina Jolie you're an actress too. I didn't suppose he'd heard of Black Beauty and Hair magazine or would be at all impressed that I just submitted an article on the dangers of antiperspirant, so I cut my losses and fled to the next photographic display.

Every time this happens I feel myself shrink a little, and a little more, and a little more. A is so well-connected and I met so many important journalist types on that night that by the time I left I was so tiny I had to watch out for falling cigarette butts as I walked home.
Working for any of the big names - Al Jazeera, the BBC etc. - would be my dream and it's a dream I hope I'll achieve. I spent a lot of my early 20s getting my knickers into a twist at how many doors kept slamming in my face and annoyed with myself that I wasn't the journalist type who sells their grandma for a scoop to make it big.

However, the truth is that I'm quite happy with the pace things are moving at for me. After years in the wilderness knocking on doors, I am perfectly satisfied that once in a while I'll write something about how good olive oil is for you or 101 ways to wear a sari and manage to flog it. All I really ever wanted to do with my life is write, and I'm writing, so that'll do just fine for me.

A rather more unfortunate side effect of telling people I write for women's magazines is that they clasp their hands together and say "Oh wow! Like Carrie Bradshaw!"

Oh God! Being a freelance, female, curly haired writer automatically makes you Carrie Bradshaw? Someone help! And tragically, even in that instance I end up correcting them by saying things like "Oh no, not at all like Carrie Bradshaw. No where near as successful!"

Monday, June 02, 2008

Post to Summer

The bad news is that my birthday month is over. The good news is that it's June and things can only get hotter! Ellas Devil has made his blog look beautiful and summery - how does he do that? - and posted a meme for summer which I have taken upon myself to complete:

Summer Meme

Favorite summer flowers?
Favourite all round flowers - sunflowers and jasmine

Favorite flavors of ice cream?
Vanilla and strawberry

Favorite mode of transportation?
The bus - you see more that way

Favorite summer track?
Will Smith's Summer Time, it ain't summer till the radios start playing that!

Favorite summer food?
Mango and fried calamari

Favorite summer game?
Wow, this made me realise how lazy I am. People watching, like Spot the Fake Boobs, Spot the Feuding Couple and Spot the Guy who overcompensates For Other Shortcomings With An Overbuffed Body and Babe Magnet Car.

Earliest childhood summer memory?
Playing with matches while my parents took a siesta, looking at the sky during powercuts.

Favorite summer drink?
Lychee cocktail!

Favorite summer snack?
A nice cool slice of melon.

Favorite place to read?
Curled up on my newly summerfied sofa

Most annoying thing about summer?
It doesn't last long enough.

How I handle the heat?
By removing clothes. If I'm outside the house, by drinking ice cold drinks

Pet summer peave?
It's hunting season. The mere possession of XX chromosomes gets you cat called and whistled at all day.

All time favorite bathing suit?
My own skin.

Best time of the day?
Dusk in the summer when you've had a full day and you feel like Aaaaahh... that was truly a great summer day.

Most romantic summer activity?
Peeling grapes for your beloved

Favorite summer movie?
Anything with a summer theme

Summer is your most favorite season because?
Because it's the season of growth, heat, inspiration and the only time of year when I don't feel cold all.The.Bloody.Time. I can go out in the evening without a coat and a scarf just in case or a shawl just in case or whatever. I can pack away the hot water bottle I sit on the rest of the year because my buttocks don't need continuous defrosting. Yay summer! Stay for 12 months!