Thursday, August 21, 2008


It turns out there is a variety of things you can do to make a long face go away. First of all, I cleaned up the place a little, especially the bathroom which, owing to no free time in the last two weeks, I had turned into an artistic installation of a real-life Bombay slum toilet.

Then just as I hit my lowest eb, Z2 popped over for his occassional afternoon chat. Z2 has a strange double effect on me. Whenever I feel down, he almost always succeeds in making me feel even worse due to his negative attitude to everything in life except getting laid.

We got onto the topic of natural childbirth (there has been an avalanche of babies in our social circle, not one of them naturally born) and the over medicalisation of childbirth in Greece. I said how I hoped to find a doctor who was pro-natural childbirth, maybe even pro-homebirth but how would I get a recommendation when everyone I know in Athens was carted off for a Caesarean? "Basically, you're screwed." he told me, and then fell about laughing. I didn't find it very funny at all.

But even though he makes me feel terrible when he should be making me feel better, he is also really nice to me so when he asked what would cheer me up I suggested a trip to the bakery and that's what we did. A few chocolate biscuits later, things were starting to look up.

I filled the gaping silence in my life with interesting documentary podcasts from BBC Radio 4 which allowed me to work and be entertained at the same time. Then I used my lunchbreak to get some laughs off Alien Loves Predator.

Tomorrow I'm going to Crete for a week. I think in the end that's what I really need. All work and no play makes Bollybutton a psychotic bitch.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


As of late I am moving in no particular direction. I spent two weeks at work trying to meet an avalanche of deadlines with steely determination. This week, all the determination is gone. It started on Monday when I discovered that I had actually missed my final deadline on Friday due to a miscommunication at work.

That one tiny grain of complaint has snowballed into epic proportions and sits festering in the corner of whatever room I happen to be in. I'm sick of this tiny flat where one misplaced glass or book instantly makes any room look untidy. I'm sick of the Greek inability to throw anything away which means that if there were ever an earthquake, I would be killed by the fall of tons of useless rubbish that have been crammed into every storage space we have. If I could I would clear out all this crap - tattered old clothes and books, broken stuff, mystery pieces of plastic, reams of loose paper, brochures, lamps, stamps and homeless tramps - and burn the whole lot in the middle of the road. Except the tramps.

I'm sick of the sprinkling of spots that moved from their winter camp on my forehead to their summer camp on my cheeks and won't leave no matter what I do. How much money do I need to spend to kill you off you little b@stards! Do I look like I get paid in Clinique products? I'm sick of my job in which I have absolutely no interest and sick of constantly having my work picked apart by my superiors. Okay! I suck at my job! I know that! You don't have to spell it out in flowcharts and bullet points!

That's a lot of things to be sick of. I'm just having an off week I suppose. There are a whole host of benefits that come with working from home but there are also a whole host of cons. Lately I am feeling acutely lonely sitting here all day with no one to talk to. Mr Zeus left the house with specific orders for me to not have a long face today when he comes back. Is there anything you can take for that? I've been self medicating with red wine for two nights now, and I still don't feel any better.

I feel completely directionless. I've spent two days just staring at the computer. It's like my brain has overloaded and shut down. What should I tidy first? It all comes back within nanseconds. What topic should I tackle at work? It always comes back to me for corrections. What should I wax first? The hair just seems to migrate to another part of my body.

I wish I could go home and roll up under a duvet and be taken care of by my mummy.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Where to Buy Asian Ingredients in Athens

Asia is hands down the best continent in this whole wide world for food. Sure some of us may eat dogs, cats and snakes, but where else will you find such gastronomic variety? We are kings of the culinary castle, and one thing I sorely miss about not living in London is easy access to whatever Asian food takes my fancy, be it Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian, Malaysian or etc. Sometimes I feel like I would give my left leg for some roti chanai and coconut curry.

This Sunday, Kathimerini newspaper published their Gastronomos magazine with a Chinese cuisine theme in tribute to the Olympics and it turned out to be an absolute goldmine. Within its pages was a directory of shops selling otherwise hard to find ingredients like sauces, marinades, spices, all types of noodles and cooking equipment.

So, my little dumplings, here is that directory of shops selling Asian delights for your perusal:

Wok Shop
Elaion 35
Neo Kifisia
ph: 210 62 06 008

Supplies several Chinese restaurants in Athens. Sells ingredients, cookbooks, equipment and frozen dim sum. Complies with local food safety standards.

Taste of Asia
Ag. Konstantinou
ph: 210 89 82 253
Sells ingredients and equipment. In business for 17 years now.

Dong Fang
Leovidou 25
ph: 210 52 26 677
General market selling everything including rice noodles in bulk or by the packet. The staff speak neither Greek nor English so if you don't know what something is, take a wild guess.

International Market
Saxtouri 15
ph: 210 45 17 835
Big choice of cooking sauces, rice wine, ready made spring rolls and spring roll sheets.

Asia Market
Terpsitheas 5
Nea Smirni
ph: 210 98 48 795
Supplier to Chinese restaurants. Among its wares are ready made sauces, preserved vegetables, spring rolls and spring roll sheets.

Korinthos 24
ph: 210 77 96 766

The photograph accompanying the article about this market shows the owner, Fotis Blaxos, holding a durian. So if they sell durian, they must sell practically everything. Various types of noodles, sauces, ready dim sum and cooking utensils are also mentioned.

Thanopoulos, AB supermarket and Carrefour all carry selections of ingredients for Asian cooking. I get my coconut milk from AB.

Also worth checking out:
Soya Japan
Apollonos 15
ph: 210 33 10 385

Japanese goodies, instant noodles and cooking ingredients.

Indian Ingredients:
For Indian food, go to any of the shops downtown near Omonio on Menandrou street. You can find everything there, including all the spices you need, seasonal Indian vegetables and 5 kg bags of basmati at really good prices. Sometimes they even have delicious freshly made samosas. Most Greeks don't like going there because on weekends throngs of South Asian men tend to gather outside the shops to hang out. Also drug pushers and prostitutes come and go, but I wouldn't call it unsafe. I've been there at various times of the day on my own and never had any trouble.

And there you have it! I'm hoping for some free time when I can go and check out these shops, maybe even find some of my favourite brands of Malaysian instant noodle. Yum yum!


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Things are getting fishy...

Further evidence of weirdness at Beijing 2008. This for example would never have happened at Athens 2004. I feel so incredibly sorry for this little girl. Her moment of glory was completely stolen from her. Shame on the organisers of the opening ceremony.

If the link doesn't work, it leads to a story of a little girl named Yang Peiyi (bottom picture). It was her voice that was heard singing Ode to the Motherland at the opening ceremony, but in her place appeared Lin Miaoke (top picture) who has gone on to become a national star because poor little Yang Peiyi was not considered cute enough to appear on camera. Apparently the decision was taken for the sake of the nation. How awful! Nice way to teach little girls in China that looks matter more than anything else. Take a look at the picture. Do you think Yang Peiyi wasn't cute enough to represent the nation?

Faked opening ceremony sequences, lessons in smiling, using cheer squad volunteers to pack out stadiums (this was really, really obvious to anyone watching any event), banning athletes from taking to the winner's podium with their national flags... what a pity.

Holiday Homes for Plants

If I make it through this week and the next without both my arms overtyped into disllocation, Mr Zeus and I are heading off to Crete for this year's holiday. My only categories for choosing a holiday destination this summer were that it should have ample facilities for doing nothing, have nice waters to swim in and not have any drunk British tourists near us.

Summer holidays are great but they have the unfortunate side effect of being the kiss of death for our plants. Every year without fail things go well until we go on holiday and then everything dies because no one waters them. This year I have managed to grow a flourishing Thai chilli plant, three plumerias and two lemongrass plants entirely from seed.

The lemongrass was a real headache to grow and only yielded two viable plants out of a packet of 50 seeds - the rest were far too delicate and gave up the ghost each time I transplanted them. Maybe they missed Asia. I know the feeling.

Anyway, if anything should happen to these particular plants that I have nourished from birth, I would be extremely upset. So I have to recruit someone to take charge of my most precious babies and ensure their survival for 8 days. Failing that, I wonder if I can take them with me to Crete?

Monday, August 11, 2008

It's Been An Eventful Few Days

Let's kick off first and foremost with the Beijing 2008 opening ceremony. I am biased so I'm not the best person to ask seeing as Athens 2004 forever has a place in my heart but nevertheless Beijing's opening ceremony was pretty impressive. I loved the fireworks and the futuristic elements; the Olympic rings rising off the ground was a breathtaking moment as were the synchronised drummers at the start. I can't imagine the amount of work and preparation that went into the whole thing.

The one element that I think let the ceremony down was the scores and scores of people. If you were in the Athens 2004 ceremony, there is a good chance you could spot yourself on screen at some point and say "Look! There I am!" No such chance in the Beijing ceremony, most of the people didn't even make it onto the screen and it's a pity because all of them worked so hard.

So kudos to Beijing who have raised the bar almost impossibly high for London 2012. I'm so curious to see what London will do. 1000 synchronised yobs fighting? 2000 drunk teenagers vomiting in time to music? The Olympic rings formed out of fish and chips? Alright, alright! Calm down I was only (half) joking.

Whatever it will be, I have lived in the UK for 10 years and watched them make disasters of events that should have been glorious. The words organise, piss up, brewery come to mind. Moments to note are the Millennium Dome and anything that involves "modernising" the tube system. Bring on 2012, I'll be standing in the sidelines and cringing. I hope I'll be proven wrong but the track record proves otherwise.

So as of late I am reliving all my fond memories of my volunteering days and plastered various Facebook group walls with messages of a Athens 2004 volunteer reunion down by Syntagma fountain on Friday night. I was there as was another volunteer friend, both of us dressed in our uniforms. We waited. Someone approached us but it was only a lost tourist. A lady approached the fountain wearing an Athens 2004 volunteer shirt, but she kept on walking. Either she had decided on some spontaneous reminiscing too or saw the two crazy eyed people waiting at the fountain and decided she didn't want any part of it. The clock ticked on, no one else came. So we went off and had a two-person cocktail party. Champagne cocktails, might I add.

Sadly, my splurge on Friday night moved onto scrounge on Saturday morning. I went downtown to kill some time and look at the sales, and just look I did. We are in the process of trying to build a place for us to live seeing as me and Mr Zeus no longer fit in this bachelor flat we call home. As the expense involved in such an endeavour even at the paperwork stage keeps adding up, it was look but don't buy for me. I whetted my appetite for meaningless consumerism by trying on clothes I liked and putting them all back again. Honestly, a nun in a room full of male Calvin Klein underwear models would display less self control than me.

I thought about the super-rich stratospheres of Athens where you can buy whatever you like and the stories Mr Zeus' niece tells me of the clients in the salon where she works, ladies who delight in the constant spending of their husbands' money to get EUR 1000+ hair extensions that only have to be taken out again after a month. Who has that kind of money? What do these people look like? I would soon find out.

I got to know a lady who is living and working in Athens for a few months with a big name company and we became friends. Said big name company has put her up in the Hilton for months on end and I finally got around to exercising my sycophantic muscles and dropped in for a visit on Saturday afternoon.

We hung out in the Executive lounge, in her Acropolis view executive room, the pool, the jacuzzi and the sauna. I had never been in a jacuzzi or a sauna before, the latter being akin to sitting in your car in the middle of the afternoon in the middle of a Greek summer. It was great fun. The pool at the Hilton otherwise costs EUR 55 for mortals to use which is nuts when you have the sea for free so close by.

After cleaning up we next headed to the Galaxy Bar where my friend once spotted Billy Zane who she confirmed is hotter in real life. It was all so glamorous and there was me in the summer dress I had been wearing all day. Oh well, that soft lighting and a few drinks make anyone look good. I took a napkin to prove that I'd been there.

Now it's a sad and work-packed Monday morning and I have to console myself with my fun weekend, yesterday's summer shower and the glorious, the-gods-must-be-happy sunset that followed.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Fist Full of Memories

Last year when I was in my village in the Home Country, I stooped down and picked up a handful of earth and put it in a plastic bag. I thought it would be nice to have a little piece of my village living with me in Athens. In the plastic bag stayed this earth until I could find it a suitable home.

Last Friday night we were out with friends and I swiped an empty Ouzo Plomari bottle from the table. It was the perfect size for my piece of village so I washed it out several times and let it dry thoroughly to get rid of the ouzo smell.

Today I got round to digging out the bag and opened it to start transferring the earth into the bottle and give it pride of place on my mantle piece. As I undid the knots in the plastic bag I thought how special it was that the earth from my village was so fragrant. A little too fragrant. And to my utmost horror I realised that it was a bag of henna.

So what happened to my piece of village? I searched high and low, in the miscellaneous crap in the basement and in cupboards containing broken pieces of whatever just in case Elvis ever comes back from the dead. I searched in my waxing box and my unmentionable times box, I even searched in the bottom of my underwear drawer where I keep Especially Important Things. Nothing. No sign of it. The last time I remember seeing it was months ago when I did a big clean up. I know I wouldn't have consciously thrown it away so one of three things has happened:

1. I put it somewhere so safe that I can't find it now - happens a lot
2. It made its way into rubbish and got thrown out
3. Mr Zeus's mother threw it out on one of her clandestine cleaning trips when I'm out of the country.

I hope it’s scenario one but even if it got thrown away I can't be upset. If you came across a bag of dirt you'd toss it out too unless you knew what it was.

Tomorrow is the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympics and I'm trying to stir up some interest in my fellow Athens 2004 volunteers to have a reunion but so far nothing but stony silence on Facebook.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Who You Calling Ugly?

Not so long ago the American version of Ugly Betty started playing on Greek TV. Mr Zeus hates it as much as the Greek version, saying something along the lines of ugly people on TV hurt his eyes. But I adore Ugly Betty for the same reason that anyone who adores Ugly Betty does: we once were or still are Ugly Betties ourselves!

Ugly Betty was me at high school and through most of university. The bad hair, the awful clothes, even the glasses and the braces that were removed just short of my 20th birthday. Do you know what having braces at university makes you? A freak, that's what!

At high school I was so invisible there was many a time when I was sat in the room and someone would say "Where is Bollybutton?". I used to get hit in the head all the time with footballs and other sport paraphernali, usually followed by someone running up and saying "I'm soooo sorry! I didn't see you there!" Yeah I know, most people don't. Classmates would talk about how ugly I was while I was right there but that wasn't because they didn't see me, it was because they knew I was there. But never mind, that's the sort of thing that makes you try to wing it on personality because you know you can't make it using your looks.

So when I watch Ugly Betty I feel like wow, someone made a programme about people like me! The thing with ugly ducklings is that even if they stop being ugly ducklings; in their minds they still are. As a result of this they keep trying too hard, like Ugly Betty does.

I may have ditched the braces and frizzy hair and bad clothes, of which I was mercifully oblivious to just how bad they were, but if someone on the street makes a comment at me I'll still look around to see who it was directed at. Women know how to twist male attention to their advantage but I don't, it just makes me feel uncomfortable.

I still put my foot in it all the time, say the wrong things and bend over backwards trying to please people, although I did learn how to say no. I don't watch Ugly Betty thinking "My God, what a pushover." I think "Yeah, I know. I would have done exactly that too." Most of all, it makes you realise what an incredibly superficial thing looks are.

Ugly Betty in all its guises put the unspoken subculture of good hearted nerdy girls on TV and for that I love it! Now if they made an Old Betty, TV would start to look a lot more like real life than premayoung and permatanned.


Monday, August 04, 2008

Happy Anniversary to me and Greece

Today exactly four years ago I stepped off an easyjet flight at Athens airport, fuzzy headed and sleepy eyed but bursting with excitement as I left the airport and met my friend K who would put me up for my stay during the Olympics and be my personal tour guide for a city and a country I had never been to before.

So happy anniversary to me and Greece. It's been a fabulous four years and here's to many more.

I celebrated my general sense of wellbeing and joy of summer by making gazpacho last night. Now is the perfect time for gazpacho when the tomatoes are ripe and sweet because good tomatoes are the centre piece of gazpacho and without good tomatoes you might as well dye some bread and water pulp red, chill and serve. I don't even want to think about what gazpacho would taste like in the UK *shudder*. Those poor, deprived souls.

This recipe is adapted from one of my favourite cookbooks, Moro.

Gazpacho for 2 greedy people:

3 large, ripe tomatoes
one small cucumber
one small green pepper
one tablespoon finely minced onion
a handful of stale bread, crusts removed and roughly crumbled
one clove of garlic
salt, pepper, red vinegar and olive oil


Roughly chop the tomatoes and cucumber. Seed and chop the green pepper. Grind the garlic to a paste with some salt.

Blend all the vegetables and bread together in a food processor. Pour into a sieve and mix around with a spoon to force the liquid through the sieve until the seeds and skins are left behind and almost dry. Stir in the garlic paste to the gazpacho gradually and taste as you go to make sure it doesn't get too garlicky. That can happen with fresh garlic, and it's the tomatoes that are the stars of the show. Everything else is the frame. Does anyone go to see the Mona Lisa and say "Nice painting, but the frame was truly spectacular."? So balance the flavours with the tomatoes at the front.

Add salt and pepper to taste and one and a half tablespoons of red vinegar or more if you want. Finish by adding 2 tablespoons of good olive oil. The olive oil we have is what most Greek families have, their own supply from trees that grow in their village. It's the fruitiest, freshest and most delicious olive oil you could ever hope to taste in your life and this is the olive oil that is the perfect finishing touch to gazpacho, like the lipstick on Marilyn Monroe.

Chill the gazpacho and it's ready to serve! Made with the right ingredients, it's so delicious and full of flavour it's almost overwhelming. Just a spoonful of it and your tongue is dancing with an explosion of summer. Mr Zeus said it was like drinking a summer salad. Just wonderful and perfect for lunch when it's so hot that you have no appetite.