Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Have An Economic Meltdown Christmas!

The very first thing that happened when I set my dainty foot on the main floor of the office where I work in London last week is that all the analysts wanted to know what the dealio was with Greece. Is Greece the next Dubai? How soon do I think Greece would default on her debt? What are the odds of Greece abandoning the Euro and the EU? And now you guys have riots on the streets too because of the economy! Tell us, Bollybutton, what in Zeus's name has happened to make the Greek economy so bad!

And I was standing there thinking "For shizz?" Let's straighten out a few things here. Greece's economy isn't that bad, because it's never been that good, and to understand why, let's take a quick refreshing dip into her past.

For a country to have a strong and stable economy it needs a strong and stable past. Once's Greece's glory day party was over, all she was left with was an unmade bed and the West promising to call.

In the 1800s, Greece emerged from a 400 year Ottoman occupation which is no mean feat. By lots of scheming and dodging, Greece is one of few countries that emerged from a 400 year foreign occupation with her religion, language and culture practically unscathed.

How does this relate to the economy? While much of the West was having the Age of Enlightenment and the Renaissance, the Greeks were standing infront of the equivalent of a bored bank employee telling them "Computer says no" every time they wanted to try something new, say, like develop their country.

So in the 1800s the Greeks waged a bitter and bloody battle for their freedom and won it in a totally David vs Goliath kinda way. They'd barely had a chance to crack open the ouzo when World War I busted in to break up their party.

World War I ends, and Greece ends up pretty much bankrupt having sided with the Allies. The Allies think "Jolly wot wot, let's give Greece Smyrna as a reward". They let Greece invade Smyrna, the Greek army runs wild, and the Turks brutally retaliate while the Allies wonder what's for pudding. As a consequence of the immediate tragedy and the League of Nations' ridiculous solution in 1923 of forcibly moving all Christians from Turkey to Greece and vice versa, 1.5 million refugees pour into an already ruined country.

So that's Greece in the 1920s, absolutely at her wits end and being saddled with more people. Soon follows World War II, a civil war, a military dictatorship and it isn't until the 1970s that any kind of democtratic stability returns to Greece.

Now, how exactly do you build a world-class economy in the space of 35 years? The answer is you don't. You can't. It's like taking a starving orphan and saying "Next week, I want you to look like Mr Universe."

So back to what my colleagues asked me:

1) Is Greece going to default on her debt?

Not a chance. We're in the EU. Why would we want to go the way of Iceland? Though part of me thinks we should do it just to piss off Europe.

2) Is Greece the next Dubai?

You mean a ridiculously oil-rich country with more money than taste? Again, no way. And this is for a number of reasons. First, Greece hasn't enjoyed anywhere close to Dubai's boom to be in danger of a bust. Second, Greece has next to nothing in common with Dubai as a society, and that is very important to factor in.

A friend of mine earlier this year wrote an article on how well Greece was weathering the credit crunch compared to her neighbours. This has a lot to do with the social set-up. Greece didn't suffer the wave of bank crackdowns and reposessions that the UK did.

In Greece, it's unthinkable for someone to let their child or friend lose their house because they fall behind on payments. People will pitch in to save you losing your house, because home ownership is extremely important to the Greeks. Never underestimate the Mama Factor! Mama will sell everything she owns if it means saving her child's house. Are you listening, analysts in London? Next to Greece, write MAMA FACTOR in big red letters and put a circle around it.

If it's known that you are financially comfortable and let your child or friend lose their house, you will never be able to show your face in public again.

3) What are the odds of Greece abandoning the EU or the Euro?

Minus 2000. Neither of the above will happen. Greece totally lucked out by getting into the EU and will not jump ship. It's ridiculous to even suggest this. Same goes for the Euro. Sure, life is a lot harder for people here since the Euro, but if Greece still had the Drachma when the credit crunch hit, with the way interest levels went haywire Greece would have been totally screwed with a cherry on top.

The Greeks are crazy, but not that crazy.

Why then, is the economy in such a hideous state? Because pretty much everyone avoids following the law. You have more chance of getting a Greek woman to tell you her natural hair colour than you do of your average Greek paying their taxes. They just don't like doing it, because all Greeks distrust the government, and if you look back at their history it's not surprising why.

Still, these shouldn't be excuses, and maybe this crisis is exactly what Greece needs to get our ass into gear. I've always believed in Greece and her potential. It's an amazing country with amazing potential, especially the new generation. Greece deserves progress, change and reform, but this has to come from within, and it's a very messy situation to untangle. Undoing so much corruption will take a very long time. The public sector, where everyone gets paid to do nothing, needs to be shruken or made electronic, as does the system for paying taxes.

Also, declaring self-employed earnings needs to be simpler. I know people who tell me they tried to get their earnings legalised and taxes paid, but it became such an impossible maze of stamps and paperwork that they gave up and went back to flying below the radar.

So, dear analysts in the West, relax. All you need to do with Greece is wait and see. I know a lot of your bonds went bust because of the downgrade, but sit tight and you'll see things will look brighter in the summer. And lastly, those economy-related riots all the news channels in the UK were showing actually have nothing to do with the economy. Those riots were pretty much unrelated. Think of it as our equivalent of a street party.

Have a good Christmas and next time check your facts a little before you go off downgrading your little hearts out.

Image: http://www.athina984.gr/files/imagecache/main/files/news-images/finance_0.jpg

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Once I Had a Love and I danced Bharat Natyam

In Monday'sriveting episode of GNTM, the girls had a pop icon photoshoot. How old did I feel when 18 year old Denia didn't know who Debbie Harry aka Blondie was?

For those not in the know, this is Debbie Harry:

and this is Denia not being Debbie Harry:

Needless to say, she got the boot.

Meanwhile, Mr Zeus is always telling me that you can find ANYTHING you need in Athens, and he was right. Can you guess what I found? A Greek lady with a classical Indian dance school: http://www.shantala.gr/index1.html

Monday, December 07, 2009

Another Burning City

I have just finished reading a book that shook me to the core like no other book I have ever read in my life. Never before have I flinched and cried out while reading something in a book or felt like I had to stop because I couldn't read on.

Yet, here I was in the comfort of my own home living in times of peace, reading words printed on a page that can't even begin to come close to the horror of the real events it documents. That perhaps was most upsetting of all - knowing that what I was reading actually happened.

I'm talking about a book about the destruction of Smyrna called Paradise Lost by Giles Milton.

Like many people in Greece, Mr Zeus's maternal side traces itself back to Minor Asia, specifically the city of Smyrna (Σμύρνη) today known as Izmir. I remember Mr Zeus telling me the stories passed down to his grandfather from his parents - of the city burning, of the Allied ships docked in the harbour cutting the fingers of desperate refugees trying to swim onboard their ships to escape certain death, rape, murder, torture, a city gone mad.

In this city where overnight Greeks and Turks were pitted against each other, it was the Turkish neighbours of Mr Zeus's great grandparents that helped get them to the harbour and then the safety of Mytilini. The two families never met again and Mr Zeus's grandfather was born two days later, a stranger in a foreign land, unwanted by both Greece and Turkey and within spitting distance of their once cherished homeland. He went on to marry my beloved Greek granny, a midwife in her youth trained by a doctor who fled Smyrna with only the clothes on his back and a thermometer in his pocket.

One day I pulled out a recipe book and started cooking Tas Kebab, a typical dish from Minor Asia. I threw the spices together in the pestle and mortar, and when I stopped to take a sniff, for the first time in my life I smelt something like nostalgia. It smelt so good, but the unusual combination of cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, chilli and cinnamon made me feel strange; it stirred something in my heart. The food itself moved you, it had a story to tell, and so I decided that it was high time I educated myself about the history of my Greek family.

I can't even begin to say more about the massacres of Smyrna, except for how horrific it was. One source quoted in the book, says that if you were to take what happened in those awful days of September 1922, added your own personal horrors and exaggerated as much as you like, you would still not come close to the reality of how terrible it was.

What struck me most of all is that I knew nothing about Smyrna before I met Mr Zeus. The West never mentions it. Who can say why? Out of guilt that they sat on their ships watching people get slaughtered and ordered their dinner bands to play louder when the screams began to disturb their dinner? Because they are heartless? I don't know.

However I will say if you are a foreigner living in Greece and planning a future here, treat is as your duty to learn more about the history of this place. There are things, thoughts and attitudes that you will never understand unless you do. This one book has helped me understand so much about modern Greece in a way that hours of talk and debate never did. Most importantly, it is written by a neutral source, neither Greek not Turkish, and so I place my trust in its accuracy.

Paradise Lost can be found for sale on Amazon.co.uk, with delivery to Greece if brought through Amazon rather than a vendor. Once you read it, once you read how peaceful, prosperous and beautiful Smyrna was, you really understand how apt the title is; it was Paradise that turned into hell. And I can't tell you how my hair stood on end, how sick to the stomach I felt reading scenes of desperate refugees huddles on the seafront, filthy, starving, sick and with absolutely nowhere to go, praying for a ship, any ship, to come and help, and knowing that somewhere among those souls were the great grandparents of my husband.

Image: http://img1.fantasticfiction.co.uk/images/x3/x17542.jpg

Friday, December 04, 2009

Shopping Therapy

I'm holding an Indian bazaar this Saturday 4th of December in downtown Athens, near Akropoli metro if anyone is interested in seeing my bangles, saris, kajal, perfume oil and henna transfer tattoos in person. Email me at bollybutton@gmail.com for the wheres and whens!

Image: http://www.welt-atlas.de/datenbank/fotos/5-171/big/5-171-29.jpg

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Biryani to Kill and Die for

The city my dear mummy comes from in India, Hyderabad, is famous for two things: bangles and biryani.

Biryani is a type of Indian rice dish that consists of a delicious layer of spiced meat covered by a layer of rice, sprinkled with saffron and steamed. The following recipe is the extra fancy version:

Ingredients for 4-5 people:
1/2 kilo lamb (or chicken)
250 gr basmatic rice
1 large onion, or 2 medium ones
1 cup yoghurt
3 garlic cloves minced
about a tablespoon of grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup of chopped coriander and 1/2 cup chopped mint (important, you can't cut corners here, it has to be fresh coriander not the seeds. Ask your local laiki or central veggie market near Omonia)
2 chopped red or green chillies
Olive oil
a generous pinch of saffron soaked in three tablespoons of warm milk
handful of cashew nuts (optional)
6-7 dried plums or dried apricots (optional)

Spice mix:
1/2 tsp chilli powder - or more if you like it spicy
1/2 tsp tumeric
1 1/2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
2 cloves, pounded
2 cardamom pods shelled and seeds ground to powder
1/2 inch piece of pounded cinnamon or 1/2 tsp ground
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 bay leaf, broken into pieces and pounded as fine as you can
Salt to taste

Cut the lamb into bite-sized piece. If you have lamb on the bone, toss the bone in too. It gives extra flavour. In a bowl, mix the yoghurt and the spice mix along with the garlic, ginger, mint, coriander and chillies. Toss in the lamb pieces and mix everything nicely, salt to taste. Leave overnight if you can or a few hours, but if you don't have time you can move on to the next step.

Finely chop the onions and set a frying pan with some olive oil over a medium high heat. Try to get the onions nice and fine, because you're going to be browning them so it's less of a hassle if they are uniformly cut so that they cook uniformly too. Fry the onions in batches until golden brown, but not burnt. Like with curries, this is the secret.

This is where the depth comes from. Don't let your onions look anaemic, they should look like they spent a day at the beach rubbing baby oil on themselves. You'll recognise this from the yummy smell they release - if they start turning too brown the smell turns acrid.

Drain your fried onions on some kitchen paper. In a heavy-based pot big enough to contain the meat and rice, add some oil and toss in the lamb with the yoghurt. Cook on a medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring now and then, and add the fried onions. Cook everything on a medium heat for 20-30 minutes, stirring to avoid sticking. You'll notice everything start to get nice and juicy and dark as the fried onions break down and the yoghurt thickens.

Cook until the lamb is tender and switch off the heat. If using the plums and cashew nuts, add them about 5 mintues before switching off the heat. Don't use them if you're not a fan of mixing sweet and salty, but I love it, this is how my mum does it. It's not overwhelming, you get a burst of pluminess with random bites.

The meat mixture shouldn't be too watery, but it shouldn't be dry either. Somewhere in the middle. The lamb piece should be about 1/2 poking out of the liquids. Check for salt. It was at this stage that I remembered to take pictures. If you're wondering about the ring of dough, ignore that. I have a hassle free alternative to achieve the same thing further on. I was just showing off.

Take your basmati rice and give it a good wash in 3 changes of water. Add enough water to cover it, salt and boil on a medium heat for around 5 minutes. Drain the rice off and layer it over the meat mixture. Sprinkle your milk with saffron over the top. It will be a pale yellow. Ever eaten traffic light yellow biryani? That's usually food colouring.

Set over a medium heat and allow to come to the boil. Do not stir anything from now on. Take a towel and soak it under the tap. Wring it out, but not completely - juicy wet but not dripping. Wrap the lid of your dish containing the biryani in this wet cloth, as if you're gift wrapping. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting, place the wrapped lid on top of the pan and if you have something heavy, weigh the lid down with that, like a marble mortar or a stone.

Leave undisturbed to cook on a low heat for 15 minutes. After the time is up, get a fork, crack open the lid and dive in to try the rice and see if it's cooked. Two important things here: 1) try not to faint with joy at the delicious aromas released when you break the steam seal 2) get in and out with your fork as quickly as possible and replace the lid. If your rice is not done, if will need to keep steaming and this will take longer if you let too much steam out.

When my mum was a little girl, her father would throw parties where cooks were hired to cook great big couldrons of biryani over coal fires. The traditional method of sealing the pot is with a ring of dough. This ensures absolutely all of the steam gets locked in to cook the rice, and the dough around the pot collects the best nutrients from the cooking rice and meat. A friend of my grandfather would volunteer to cook the biryani for parties so long as he got dibs on all the sealing dough afterwards. Personally I don't see the attraction. It tastes pretty awful.

And there you have it. Dig right in and enjoy this lucious, luxurious biryani. Mr Zeus didn't like it, I think it's too complicated in taste for him. But if anyone's interested I've got enough biryani for 4 people, so come on over!

Tips for success:

1) Make sure your salt levels are right. I'm still getting this wrong as the rice sets off a lot of the saltiness

2) To steam the rice, it's important to have a lid that fits snuggly onto the pot.

3) Once you've started steaming, resist your curiosity to crack open the pot and spoil the steaming. God knows I've been chased out of the kitchen by my spatula-wielding mother enough times as a child for sauntering over to a pot of rice and lifting the lid to take a peek.

4) Expect some stuff to stick to the bottom of the pot when steaming. You can reduce this by having a sturdy pot to start with as the heat distributes better. If you only have crappy pots with very thin bottoms, you can avoid too much burning by placing a frying pan on the heat and then your crappy pot on top of the frying pan. This makes the frying pan act as the bottom of the pot and the heat is distributed better.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Best Indian In Athens?

At tango class on Monday one of the girls slipped me a menu from a restaurant she'd been to. "The best Indian in Athens!" it declared boldly. "Oh really", thought I, "I'll be the judge of that!"

The place in question is Jaipur Palace in Glyfada which I've heard of but never been to. The menu was a takeaway menu from there. Last night I began to flick through it and practically fell off the sofa laughing. By way of the stupid prices, this was one of the most unintentionally funny menus I'd ever seen.

Chicken curries from EUR 9.60 each, chicken tikka EUR 10.30, lamb karai EUR 11.80, one tandoori roti EUR 1.50. And this is just the takeaway menu! These prices are totally ridiculous. Ah Mr Zeus, I wonder if you realise how much money you're saving by being married to me. What are they using in their curries to make them so expensive? Garlic grown by blind Tibetan nuns? Chillies irrigated by the tears of a thousand Indian princesses? It's curry, not rocket science!

I was impressed though that the menu contained one of my favourites, dahi papdi chaat. But then it went on to list something called a chef Dhananjay salad with eggs, ham and cheese. You would grow old and die searching for that in India... because it doesn't have any business being on the menu of an Indian restaurant.

Still, who am I to rip this place apart without trying it first? I feel an undercover restaurant review coming on! I'm most curious to see if their biryani is actually biryani. Will it be actual saffron rice, or just yellow dyed rice?

Speaking of which I have lamb marinating for a biryani right now. I'll post the recipe if it's a success, and save you all paying moronic prices for it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Start the Week with a Bang!

In less than one month's time, we pass the winter solstice which means the days then start to get longer and summer will be approaching day by day. With Athens basking in 20C and sunshine the last week, reaching this milestone doesn't feel all that impossible.

Hooray for living in Greece, where you can get a tan even in the winter! Here's to the summer just a couple of months away!!

ps: Bollywood Beauty Bags now up on ebay via the link in my blogroll, and my online shop which I'm trying so far unsuccessfully to direct to the domain name I purchased: http://www.freewebstore.org/bollywoodbazaar/

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Big Screen and Small Screen

Friday night is date night, baby, so I decided to take myself out for a movie. The movie of my choice was Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Yes, the original one. Palace theatre in Pagrati is showing it: http://www.athinorama.gr/cinema/data/movies/default.aspx?id=4194

I didn't to ask anyone because I didn't think anyone but me would be interested in such an old movie. Who would want to spend two hours drooling over the hunky Paul Newman and gorgeous Elizabeth Taylor on the big screen except me?

I got to the cinema a few minutes after the movie had begun. "Do you still want to see it?" asked the usher. "Yes I do."

"Okay, then go ahead and pay us when it's over."

I stepped into the gloom and took a seat right in time to hear Lizzie utter those immortal lines "I feel all the time like a cat on a hot tin roof!"

And then as my eyes adjusted to the dark, I realised I was all on my own. I had the entire theatre to myself. I really was the only person in Athens who wanted to see this movie. That's the first time I've been for a movie completely on my own, without even other movie goers for company.


Despite my initial concerns, I have found GNTM to be strangely addictive, and already favourites and demons are starting to emerge. So it was with a heavy heart that I learnt yesterday that two contestants, Anthi and Ramona, have dropped out. Who else but Star channel would get the exclusive on this, and Anthi dished the following eye-popping home truths about 'reality' tv:

  • She totally got the feeling they weren't looking for Greece's Next Top Model, just making TV. Gasp!
  • Vicky Kaya is completely different off-camera to how she acts on-camera! No way!
  • There is nothing real about reality TV, everything is constructed and everyone is playing a role. And there I was thinking reality and TV are two words that go together like peas and carrots.
  • The judges deliberately pick your worst picture just to pick it apart. Well, babycakes, if they showed how well everyone was actually doing, the show would be over in about 10 minutes.
  • She got the feeling the winners have already been picked and the wrong people keep getting eliminated and the directors are deliberately keeping in the types that stir trouble (and make good TV)! Oh honey buns, if you had watched as much ANTM as I have, you'd know it's just a show and Tyra week after week makes decisions that make even an avid fan like me think "Hell, no!"

Ramona has promptly left on the heels of Anthi saying that she doesn't think the show is geared to what they were made to believe it is, which is to find Greece's next top model. Girls, you would not have had this existential crisis had you watched 13 seasons of ANTM like I have. Let's analyse ANTM's greatest contribution to the world of fashion, the most wow and eye-opening thing it taught us which not many of us knew before:

What is a weave and what are eye smiles.

There. That's it. That's ANTM's contribution to society.

In terms of who will make the biggest media career out of GNTM, I think it's going to Areti. Areti is a nasty little piece of work who's only purpose in life seems to be to bitch, moan, complain, backstab, gossip and stir up trouble. She's is suffering from Madonna/Whore syndrome and comes out with ridiculously schizophrenic points of view, one minute stating like the Virgin Mary that she would never stoop to Naila's levels to win a task

at about 5.40 minutes - before all of a sudden having no problem doing this:

Areti comes across as being the kind of person with all the necessary 'qualities' to make it to the top, ie. she wouldn't hesitate to kick burning kittens out of her way if it meant five minutes of fame.

Meanwhile, GNTM's contribution to my life took the form of the undies the girls were posing in and I promptly went out and bought a Venus Victoria bra like the ones in the photo shoot. EUR 29.95 from Hondos Centre!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Preening and Prancing

Remember back in the summer when my face was falling off? Well I'm happy to report, at the risk of bad-eyeing myself, that my skin is now nearly back to its peaceful, almost spot-free self.

So what was the secret after months and months of creams, lotions, potions and facial torture? One fine morning as I was about to apply my usual round of creams, I stopped. I put them back. And since that day, I have gone back to doing what I was doing all my life without any problems, which is absolutely nothing. I wake up, I wash my face with water and that's all I do. No cleanser, no toner, no cream.

My creamy quest has its origins in yet another female friend who practically fainted in horror when I said I have no skin care routine, just water and sun cream in the summer. "You'll regret that when you're 30!" she exclaimed.

Oh heck! Could she be right? What if I should really be joining them in stripping off my oils and then applying artificial ones? What if I wake up tomorrow looking like a prune? It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt. You go to bed on the eve of you're 30th birthday, a fresh-faced 29 year old and wake up a hag!

I don't know. I have a sneaky suspicion we're being lied to. It's like when you stop using lip balm. The first week your lips rebel like crazy and then they say "Whatever" and get on with their naturally kissable lives.

I think my skin is doing the same thing. Sure, now and then when it's particularly dry or cold, a little sweep of almond or olive oil won't do any harm. But I'm so glad to be getting my old skin back I'm not messing with it again.


In other news, thoughts of tango are completely taking over my life. It's turning into yet another infectious disease along with everything else I'm riddled with. A few days before my dance disaster on Saturday at my tango lesson I had probably one of my best dances ever. Not from style or technique but it was the first time when I switched my brain off and enjoyed the dancing. It was light, lovely, and sweet, the dance equivalent of chocolate mousse (at least in my not-so-expert-one-month-of-tango opinion).

When I came back home, I told Mr Zeus how I had felt a sensation right in my gut while I was dancing, like being in another world and speaking in a totally new language (now I know that was probably my lungs preparing to spend the next few days chucking themselves in every direction).

But still! I wake up and start playing tango videos on youtube. I polish the wooden floor by walking backwards across it. I gorge myself on tango related information online until I feel disgusted and say "Enough!" then the next day I do it all over again.

And I look at tango shoes, especially Comme il Faut, which are like lingerie for the feet and atomic bombs for the wallet. I might just have to start a separate tango blog at the risk of boring you all to death.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

My First Milonga... A Tale of Woe

After years of daydreaming about it, I finally took up tango about a month ago. Classes have been going well so far and all us tango newbies have been progressing at a good pace. It may not be much of a tango, but I am so happy that I am finally starting to dance something that resembles tango.

Last night I finally went to the dance my dance school throws every two weeks. Here's the background. I've spent the best half of last week with a cold that turned to flu, lost my sense of smell and some hearing thanks to my blocked sinuses. On yesterday's gorgeous Saturday morning I was totally determined not to miss my first tango social dance and had every ambition of not falling any further apart. I knew just the thing to make me feel good - tango shoes! Sadly the shop was located in just the place to make me feel like a sloppy, sniffly, red nosed, frizzy haired peasant - Glyfada.

Glyfada is like the Los Angeles of Athens, where all the rich and beautiful people go to hang out and judge you. Amongst them I dragged myself from shop to shop like Quasimodo. Glyfada is the only part of Athens where I feel like a foreigner and I can't wait to leave fast enough. It's probably all in my head, but meh! They shoot unfashionable people, don't they?

So anyway, on to the shoes. The shop in question is conveniently owned by the father of our koubara (witness to our wedding) so I got a nice juicy discount. I was stuck between red and black. Black being the obvious choice for seeming like a grown-up tango lady. Red was, well... when you are feeling ill and running out of positivity, red is the colour to go for. So that was what I did.

Next stop, Hondos Center to see if they sell those sweet old fashioned stockings with a seam along the back. I asked the lady and she said "Yes we do. They're EUR7 but we have more expensive ones too." Glyfada is the only place in Athens where they'll tell you you can get the same thing for more money.

"Anything for less than that?"

"No you filthy poor person. Out, out with you! Security!" Okay she didn't really say that, and I decided that while faking it till you make it is always a good policy, I should not be drawing too much attention to myself with seamed stockings and red shoes when I only have one month's worth of tango under my belt.

I spent the rest of the day scraping myself back together again, de-monobrowing and fixing my hobbit feet. Being ill is when I realise how much daily fine-tuning it takes to keep the wilderness at bay. Three days out of action and the follicles think it's Christmas.

By nightfall I wasn't feeling all that much kefi and I was starting to loose my voice. You know when you just feel that it's not going to be a good night, and you go anyway? Mistake. But dammit, I braved Glyfada and I was going to my tango dance no matter what.

I walked into the dance school and my first impression was that I knew no one. My second impression was that the people who were there were a bit mean. I said hello to a couple and got a big fat zero in return. Others were really friendly and nice though and kept my company all evening, so I suppose it's luck of the draw.

Something about not being able to talk, smell or hear that well threw my dance skills into total disfunction. I accepted five dances and all five were disasters. Seriously, I've danced better with my dog standing on his hind legs. The mega boss of the dance school invited my for a tango and since lately I had been getting such good feedback from classes on how I was doing, it would have otherwise been an opportunity to shine.

But instead I was horrified that he should pick my stuffy, diseased self on that night when I knew the magic wasn't happening, and I danced like ASS you guys!! He, like all my other partners, was super gracious and said I had done really well. Yeah, you're telling me that when I'm watching people on the floor that can change lightbulbs with their toes.

And, I was the one and only person in the whole room with red shoes on. It's like they were screaming "Hey everybody! Look at us! Aren't we great? Shame our mummy can't dance for shit!"

I thought a milonga would be fun and easy, but I found my first milonga really stressful. I was trying to remember so much at the same time and the sad truth is that it was the worst time I've ever had dancing. Too much thinking, too much structure, I was dancing all from the head and nothing from the heart.

By midnight I'd well and truly lost my voice, the remaining scraps of my kefi and had had enough so I walked the short distance back to my little flat to be consoled by my dog and my beloved Mr Zeus who I told all about how miserably I'd done. But he being my knight in shining armour blamed my skanked up sinuses for my dancing and not me. Hooray!

Monday, November 09, 2009

All the Single Ladies!

Yours truly was at last night's Beyonce concert. It was divalicious!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Bollywood Beauty and Friday Beatbox

Ever wake up and think "This is just the kind of day to rub soot in my eyes!" Once again, I have a feeling these whacky new-age ideas only occur to me.

In a quest to add some extra special goodies to my ebay venture, I have started putting together Bollywood Beauty Bags, each of which contains a bindi, a vial of arabic oudh perfume, and box of incense and maybe kajal, the super dark traditional kind that I use. But I thought I could give myself an edge my making the kajal myself, the old-fashioned way!

So here's what I did. I made an oil lamp from a clay pot with a cotton wick poking over one side and filled it with olive oil. Next, I balanced a metal plate over the flame with the help of two empty jars, and let the flame and the oil do the rest. I left out a whole bunch of steps, like soaking the cotton in a special blend of herbs and juices and drying it, soaking it, drying it over the course of a day. But so what! Details, details.

An hour or so later and I got bored of waiting. A nice bunch of black stuff had collected on the steel plate. Once it cooled, I added a few drop of olive oil and mixed it up into a paste. It was promisingly black, and I did what any normal person would do. I applied this to the inside of my lower lids.

Well you can imagine the results. My eyeballs didn't rot and fall out, but they were pretty pissed with me, and considering I have a day job to concentrate on, partial blindness because of oil and soot in your eyes was not going to go down as an excuse.

This leads me to believe:

  1. All these people posting home-made kajal recipes online have never actually tried them

  2. Not everything our grannies did was a good idea

  3. Some things are best left to a professional

To celebrate my stupidity and the fact that it's Friday, here's a collection of songs that mention kajal:

Referred to here as kajra (and has a really filthy sounding screen-grab which I apologise for):

And here. I painted my eyes with the kajal of your love, this kajal drove my insane (ie. your love)
I sacrifice myself to you
The world is after me,
But I'm after you
Make me yours
I sacrifice myself to you

In my eyes there is kajal, in that kajal is my heart (hopefully not itching profusely from home-made kajal)

The kajal of my doom is in your eyes, the redness of my ruin is on your lips. Yeah. Guys say that to me all the time.

Paint your eyes with kajal darling. Featuring my favourite actress, also called Kajal. And containing about 2000 reasons to be glad the 90s are over in Bollywood world.

These eyes, this kajal, this hair, this scarf, you are a beautiful sonnet. Sorry, but you'll have to try harder than that when you're a troll seducing a sari-clad babe.

You'll notice most of the songs pining after a woman's smokey eyes are from back in the day. Presumably this means men of today have discovered other more entertaining aspects in a woman than her eyes. Which is a shame. It must have been nice to floor a man with one look of your smoky eyes.

Image: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_l4HTfXGn-Ns/SY0m5QV3lXI/AAAAAAAAV1I/Vgyvj5Sag8c/s400/Rani+Mukerji-2.jpg

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Oh Crap

After looking for my winter clothes without success for a couple of weeks, today I had a very good root around for them with no luck and have come to the conclusion that yes indeed, I accidentally gave away all my winter clothes instead of the bags of clothes to donate.

Rats. I had acquired some really cool stuff in the winter sales last year too. :(

Image: http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1046/1154311210_51183d9c4b_o.jpg

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Midweek Masti

So here we are halfway through the week. Is it just me or does no one seem to be having a good time at work these days? Every time I open my mouth to complain, I get a flood of work-related misery in return. Could be the unsettled weather in Greece, could be the position of the planet in our galaxy right now, could be the energy that Greece gives out sitting as she does across a couple of converging tectonic plates.

Who knows! But let's not mope too much. Time to throw on your hot pink sari and shake off the mid-week blues. Here's to all us small people with big dreams and pie-in-the-sky escape plans from our 9 to 5:

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Get Your Goat

Ever since I moved to Greece, I have been campaigning for Mr Zeus to let me keep a goat and two chickens, but he ain't having none of it.

A weird request, you may think, but what can I say? Goats and chickens make me happy. Just watching them go about their little lives is like a philosophy for living. Search here, search there, eat what you find, make a noise when you do something good like lay an egg.

On Sunday we went to Schisto bazaar, a sprawling market that is laid out near Pireas and it was just divine. For one thing, it was just like being back in the Home Country. Secondly, it had that same Home Country appeal of anything and everything being collected all together to be sold. There were people literally selling junk, but kudos to them for being that ambitious.

Okay, now I know Schisto bazaar is in the news now and then for the shabby conditions they keep the animals they sell in, for example teeny little puppies out in the open, shivering on a cold day when they had no business being away from their mothers in the first place etc. But guys, I have to tell you, my heart lept a hundred metres off the ground when I spied a pen containing kids. No, no, not the manifestation of all the threats mothers in Greece dish out about the Gypsies kidnapping you if you misbehave. Kids, as in baby goats.

My oh my, it has been years since I laid eyes and hands on a baby goat. They are about the cutest little creatures you could ever see. If you feel around in the fur on their heads, you will find adorable little horns. They smell like earth. Sadly I had no camera to capture myself with a baby goat in arms.

But they took me right back to my childhood days and our goat couple, Elvis and Priscilla, with whom we enjoyed many a happy frolick before they disappeared. I don't know for sure if they were sent to the village or if they ended up on my dinner plate. I wasn't a particularly questioning child. But I have pictures of me and them and some of their offspring.

Next up were cages and cages of fabulous chickens. They were all so round and lovely and looked so delightful pecking about here and there. Life is not complete unless you own chickens! Another childhood memory of visiting our aunt in the village and searching for warm, shiny, brown little eggs laid here and there, which our aunt boiled and served to us with bowls of hot tea before cups and saucers came into fashion.

Mr Zeus thinks chickens stink and the fact is that to me chickens smell like chickens, and that's not a particularly bad smell. That's just how chickens smell. It's not their fault! And they should not be barred from my household just because Mr Zeus was born and bred in a city.

But he said pooh to that, and no chickens were to be had. Oh well. Back to urban living without goats or chickens. I think he worries that I'm a stone-hearted bitch who will eat my goats and chickens once I'm bored of them, and it doesn't help that I go on about how tasty goat curry is. It's not like my childhood doesn't back up his claim. Mwahahahaha!!!

Okay I didn't eat my pet goats and chickens. Just the ones that people brought as payment when they didn't have money (see, I didn't personally know these goats or chickens so it was alright). Oh and there was one time a baby chicken we bought from the market grew up to be a really mean rooster who we gave away to a rooster fighter. Who probably ate him. And if you knew this rooster you'd agree that he deserved it.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Bolly Does Business!

After giving it some thought for a really long time, probably too long, I have finally decided to go the ebay route and sell stuff online. I mean, I've given ebay enough business over the years, it's time to get some of it for myself!

There's not much up at the moment, but I'm waiting for a whole bunch of goodies that I'm going to post online in the next few days, like spice sets and of course prompted by interest from friends and this blog, my own home-made curry mix and home-made face and body scrub.

Postage will of course be a lot cheaper for anyone buying inside of Greece, and if there is interest within Greece I plan to sell my own 100% safe and natural henna mix that is safe enough to use on children, totally chemical free and gives a wonderful deep red stain that turns maroon over two days. The only thing is that since the henna is preservative free, I can only post the fresh mix as and when requested and within Greece only. Otherwise it'll lose it's bang by the time it arrives. But I want to know if I offered it, would you buy it?

Check here. I don't have an ebay shop at the moment, since I'm just starting out.This link will now be permanently displayed in my Blog roll and updated as new goodies come in.

What do you think? What kind of stuff would you like to find offered by me which you struggle to find already? Saris? Bindis? Spice mixes? I'm all ears!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bollybutton's Bolly Bulletin

Don't forget this Sunday's Kyriakatiki Eleutherotypia which is giving away one of my all time favourite movies, Kal Ho Naa Ho. This movie is ultra συγκινητική and perfect when in need of a good sob fest. I projectile cry, Spongebob style, every time I watch it.

Part of this movie's soundtrack is the below song, Mahi ve, which will always be extra special because it's the song I choreographed myself for me, my sisters and cousins to present at my older sister's henna party three years ago.

Image: http://www.smartproductionz.com/audio/songs/Bollywood/KAL%20HO%20NAA%20HO/pic.jpg

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tastes just like Asia

Are you someone who buys Thai cookbooks and then mopes about how you can't cook most of the recipes in them because where the hell are you supposed to get Thai holy basil in Athens? Do you chase African handbag sellers down city centre streets, sidling up to them with breathless questions like "Hey friend, do you know where I can find a Big African Banana in Athens, you know what I'm talkin' about?"

No? Just me then.

On Saturday, my blog buddy Al and I met up with no particular aim in mind. What are two Asian babes with a free afternoon supposed to do in Athens when they're broke and it's not window shopping weather? We pondered for a few quick minutes and then it hit us: but of course! Two food obsessed Asians with a free afternoon should go on a pilgrimage to a food temple, and for this holy excursion we picked Salamat, an Asian grocery store I've blogged about in the past after it was featured in Gastronomos magazine but which neither of us had been to.

Now, what exactly to say about Salamat market? It's roughly the size of two peripteros pushed together, yet somehow Al and I managed to blow about three hours in there thanks to the dazzling selection of ingredients that both of us had never imagined we'd find inside the borders of Greece.

I'm talking about fresh galangal, yard beans, fresh lemongrass (I tried to grow this from internet ordered seeds last year so desperate was I), thai holy basil, pandanus leaves, banana leaves, banana blossoms, passion fruit, lychee juice, shrimp paste, curry pastes, fresh tumeric, fresh green peppercorns, sauces, noodles, dim sum, roti canai and so many other weird, wonderful, stinkily delicious South East Asian ingredients. There were bags of dried shrimps and dried ikan bilis, little anchovies that make a curry to die for but smell so bad I'd get divorced on the spot if I brought them home.

There were rice cookers, sake sets, woks and even a mongolian hot pot. Now, just how many people in Athens stand in their kitchens on a Saturday afternoon and think "God damn, I really want some mongolian hot pot, but I don't have the pot."? And yet here was the pot sitting expectantly on the shelf, waiting for someone to have that very thought.

There was junk food, prawn crackers, violently coloured custards and jellies that us carefree Asians love, canned lychees, mangoes, jack fruit and rambutan and frozen durian. It was food heaven. I wanted to pitch a tent outside and never leave. We were so delighted that we bought what we could carry, took a coffee break and then headed back to pick up frozen items before heading our separate ways.

Salamat is located on Korinthias street, closest metro Ambelokipi. The super thing is that whatever we didn't find at Salamat, we found at other wonderful little Asian grocers along the same street, including pak choi (stir fry with oyster sauce - heaven) and at long last after accosting African immigrants for months on the streets of Athens, I located my much sought after plantain bananas (wait till well ripened and serve fried in chunky slices alongside goat curry and rice).

So there you have it. Anything to do with South Asia can be found on Menandrou Street and anything to do with South East Asian food can be found on Korinthias street.

Go forth and shop! Your meals need never be boring again!


Korinthos 24



ph: 210 77 96 766


Ambelokipi metro. Exit and head down Leoforos Alexandras towards the mountain. When you get to the junction with Kifisias, turn left (look for a tall hotel called President hotel and head towards it).

Korinthias is the third street on the right.

View Larger Map

Bolly Bulletin

It's Sunday, bollywood lovers! Go out and buy your Kyriakatiki Eleuftherorypia which today begins a new Bollywood DVD series!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Smiling with Your Eyes

So many important things have happened since I last blogged. We have a new government in Greece and changes are already sweeping through the cobwebby system of Greek politics. I could talk all about Georgie dearest and PASOK, but that's what newspapers are for.

No, something far more pressing is happening in Greece for those who worship at the Temple of Tyra. The America's Next Top Model (ANTM) format has arrived in Greece. Now, as an avid fan of ANTM, I was very interested in seeing how the Greek version would turn out. I had high hopes. This is after all a format that is supposed to search for the next top fashion model in whatever country. Let's just ignore for a mo that ANTM has yet to produce a top model in 13 seasons, but who cares. We all just want to see what Tyra is doing with her hair.

So along comes the Greek version, episode 1 series 1 of which aired last night. Search for Greece's next top fashion model? Bitch, please! The Greek version is obviously just another format for Playboy model wannabes. All summer long the same types of girls made in the same type of factory compete in the same type of competition to spread their legs in the same types of magazines.

One would have hoped Greece's Next Top Model (GNTM) would be safe from such debauchery. But no. Roll camera and out rolled the same brand of factory fresh girls who swore their dream was to be a fashion model.

Say what you like about the nutty Miss Banks, she does actually care about fashion and teaching the girls a few things about what fashion magazines are looking for. GNTM is hosted by Vikky Kayia who does not come out with any Tyraisms like:

"I can see how much you want this but it's not here in front of me"

"You're doing ugly, you need to do ugly-pretty like this (`o`) not this ('@')"

And my favourite "Have you ever practised smiling with your eyes? Watch me... not smiling with my eyes (o_o)... smiling with my eyes (O_O) do you see the difference?"

Oh, Tyra! I confess to far too much time practising eye smiles. I did them in most of my wedding pictures.

The skank factor leapt off the scale when the girls arrived and model Boot Camp and were asked to pose by the judge panel, including Nigel Barker wannabe Harry Christopoulo, who handed one girl a cigar and told her to put it in her mouth.

Where Tyra would be shouting "Less Sports Illustrated and more Vogue" the girls on GNTM were actively encouraged to spread legs, stick out asses and tongues and put fingers, cigars, grapes and etc in their mouths. Bonus points if the object in the mouth was part of Harry Christopoulos's anatomy. Oh Nigel, how I miss you. At least all your perving was done strictly with eyes.

Alongside Vicky and Harry we had Ms J wannabe Christophoros Kotentos. I actually liked him. He was being a complete bitch to many of the wannabes and having been a fashion model himself for the likes of Versace and Vivienne Westwood he is pretty much the only one who knows what he's talking about on this show when he ripped into the girls for their appearances.

There was no Jay Manuel equivalent, and I shed many a tear over this sad oversight. There was a third judge called Jenny Balatsinoy but she was so nondescript I had forgotten about her until I looked up the GNTM site just now (http://www.antenna.gr/node/1148)

The 200 girls dry humped various objects in Grand Resort Lagonissi for a while and then it was judging time! Proof that 13 seasons of ANTM is perhaps one season too many, I found myself thinking various things like:

"You've lost your chin there"

"You need to find the light"

"I don't see you using your whole body here"

"You're not taking it to the next level"

"This is commercial, give me high fashion"

17 girls were picked and reminded that they would now begin to learn the demanding and difficult life of a fashion model. I love it when people say that. I wish they'd be more honest about the demanding and difficult parts of modelling - photographers you have to sleep with to get jobs, weight 40kgs and being told to lose more weight, going out of season in just one year as the competition becomes younger and younger. Be honest, otherwise modelling is the most superfun and easy career I can think of - new clothes, beautiful people, tons of travelling, champagne and ass kissers on tap.

And so rolled to a bleach blonde stilleto-ed halt the first episode of GNTM. And whatever, guys. This is Greece. Whoever wins will do a few shoots for Playboy and then, sleeping with the right sequence of people, she actually will end up being Greece's top fashion model. In a way at least the Greek version is more in your face about what they want. It's a very simple equation of pretty girls+ spread legs+ the right bedmates+ fairy dust = media career.

I do hope things get more high fashion from here onwards. It would be really nice to see the creations of Greek designers showcased on this show.


Things you are likely to hear

Open your mouth and stick your tongue out

You've got a great ass. I know because I'm squeezing it.

Put this in your mouth. Oh no, this is just a practise run. I'll get my camera later

You won't Hear:

Ms J Alexander, Runway Diva Coach Extraordinaire!

Give me less commercial, more high fashion

More fashion, less sex

My Momma told me ...

Image: http://www.businesspundit.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/tyra-banks-gl10.jpg

Sunday, September 27, 2009

To those we Love

I'm back in Athens as of very early Tuesday morning, and the inability to have grieved has affected me badly. It's only today that I don't feel like I'm moving through glue, and somehow it feels like now it's too late for my tears - the moment has passed, and what a bitter pill to swallow are the tears of grief.

On the ride from the airport to my flat, I began to cry for our lost friend, for my relief at being home, but once again I had to stop because going beserk in the back of a taxi is not the best idea at 3 am. It was my most expensive taxi ride because so desperate was I to get through the front door and back to my normal life, so happy was I at this stranger delivering me to my doorstep that I shoved a EUR 50 note into his hands and took no change.

Watching pre-election debates, sometimes I wish I really could talk to party leaders of the right wing, anti-immigration parties like LA.OS. I know they wouldn't listen, but I would say this:

I followed the Greek I loved to his land and fell in love with Greece. When my plane landed here on Tuesday morning, I felt a rush of relief. Riding in the taxi in the small hours of the morning, past the sleeping olive groves and the mountains that have seen so much and had so much blood spilled on them, I felt like Athens herself was saying to me "You are now home, it's okay to let go now."

The stress of the previous week released and tears rolled down my face because I realised that what Mr Zeus had always told me was true: Greece is not a place, Greece is a feeling, and if you open your heart she will talk to you. It's those that can't open their hearts that will never be happy here.

Greece spoke to me on Tuesday morning as clear as an actual voice in my ears and I cried that an alien land had accepted me so unquestioningly into her embrace. Greece - halfway between the Home Country and the UK, my new home, the home I love, where I am at long last free.

So please, don't judge all us foreigners with the same standards. It may be hard for you to understand, but some of us love Greece as much as you do, maybe even more, because we were not taught this love from birth, we felt it of our own free will. I may not be able to roll off the history of Greece on my fingertips or name all her past leaders, but I can certainly tell you what is right here in my heart, in my gut.

Here's to the ones we love, who we should all hold a little bit closer because for all the fights and for all the frustration, they are here, we are here, and life is beautiful no matter what the colour.

Monday, September 14, 2009

In Good Times and Bad

When you move to a new country, much of what you base your decision to stay on is centred around happy times and successes. Greeks can be overbearing in their emotions but the pleasant side effect of this is that they celebrate your joys with all their hearts.
They are obsessed with their families which means someone is always nearby when you need them. They adore their friends to the point of inviting them on your holidays, without asking you, but this adoration means that when life becomes unbearable, the friends appear at your side to adore you right back, to lift you from the ground where you have fallen in your sorrow.
I have had the good fortune of experiencing many of the great milestones of Greek life - births, marriages, baptisms. Last week, I had the misfortune of going to my first Greek funeral and in its own strange way, nothing has made me more determined to live in Greece.
I can count on one hand the funerals I've been to in my life, and I have never been to a funeral on my own, without being an extension of my family. I am a coward, and I tend to run from funerals. Last week, I had to draw on a strength I knew deep inside me I didn't have and escort one of my dearest friends to the funeral of her husband, one of Mr Zeus's childhood friends.
In some ways the reality of that day has still not sunk in - the rain falling on us, the grief, the coffin, the feeling that this had to be a joke and any minute now he'd pop out from somewhere, my friend screaming and shaking in my arms, my arms that I had offered to remain by her side as a replacement for her family that had not arrived, who I cannot forgive for not being there.
Like me, she is a foreigner, and that same affinity I felt for her when we first met - two women who left it all behind to be with our men - is what kept me at her side, despite the feeling that I was not strong enough, that I couldn't do this, that Mr Zeus better turn up sometime now because I can't do this.
But I did it. We all did, and we all did it together. We all walked our friend to his final journey, smothering him in flowers, though I didn't have the heart to look. We wept together, and we even joked together. Later, the mourners were offered coffee and cognac and I shook hands with mourners on behalf of my dear friend's absent family as they wished us in Greek "Life to us, life to you."
That night we threw an impromptu heavy metal party where we drank some more, laughed some more and cried some more. "The next time I see him," I said "I'm going to force him to watch Bollywood movies because I never drink coffee and I never listen to heavy metal and I did both for him today!"
In Greece, when you tell them your bad news, they don't look away and mumble an apology. They don't shrink away from your sadness like it's a bad smell, like your misfortune might rub off onto them. They embrace you, look you in the eye and tell you that life is such and we must go on living it. When you start to cry, they don't pat you on the shoulder and tell you to pull yourself together. They stroke your hair, tell you to cry and let it all out. 
48 hours later I found myself back in London for a week. I haven't had the luxury to cry as much as I need to clean my soul, to try and get to grips in my head the image of our friend's coffin, the feeling of my friend writhing on the ground in her misery. I had to be strong, but now I want to rest my head on someone's shoulder and let them let me cry to my heart's content.
But I'm in the wrong country, and when the tears began to fall last night, they made those around my uncomfortable. Their discomfort was so tangible I began to cry even more. I was told to pull it together, don't be sad.
This week, I don't want to be in London. I don't want to even be in my family home. I feel alone, miserable and tired. I just want to cry once, one good cry without anyone trying to stop me, and then things will feel better.
This is why they have therapists in Western Europe. We don't need them in Greece.
Life to us.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Fruit of the Gods

September has rolled around and reared her ugly head at last, and it seems summer will be over all too soon. From the 1st of September, Greeks start wishing each other a happy autumn, words that depress the living daylights out of me. Seems I waited forever for summer and now it's leaving again.

That doesn't mean that the taste of summer still can't be enjoyed. If you are the sort who doesn't start freaking out when outnumbered by dark-skinned foreigners, I recommend a trip to Menandrou Street in downtown Athens, just off Athinas (metro stop Omonia).

Down this street, the jewels of summer can still be enjoyed - boxes of yellow, fragrant, dizzyingly sweet mangoes from the Home Country. No one should ever decide what they think about mangoes without eating Home Country mangoes, which are universally believed to be the best on the market. They have a silky, juicy texture that Caribbean mangoes can only dream of.

Mangoes can be bought by piece or by 5 kilo boxes. I usually get the whole box for around EUR 15 and share the contents with other mango lovers.

And if you still need convincing, mangoes are considered to be aphrodisiacs, with the saying going that there is no clean and tidy way to enjoy a mango or a woman.

Oh, I do declare Miss Bollybutton! How can one be talking about eating and aphrodisiacs in the middle of the holy month!

Image: http://www.simply-thai.com/fruit-images-small/chauk-anan4.jpg

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Before and After. Can you Spot the Difference? Me neither

The big news in Greece at the moment is that elections have been called early thanks to the annual disgrace which is the handling (or lack there of) of Greece's wild-though most are set accidentally on purpose - fires. Hooray! New government time! Same old assholes, but a brand new covering on the box outside! Whoopee!

As a foreigner living in Greece, the thing that pisses me off the most is the wasted potential of this country. Here we are, surrounded by brilliant young minds, with families bankrupting themselves to educate their children, who then return to Greece and have zero job prospects because all the good jobs go to those who know someone, not those who know something.

Let's start with the most important thing, the thing that Greeks toast each other with instead of Cheers - good health. Take for example the NHS. That's a system the British love to complain about, but boy do you miss it when you can't have it any more. When I tell my Greek friends that you can walk into any clinic or hospital and get what you need without paying a penny and without having to slip bribes under the table, they're amazed.

With the crushing taxes that Greeks pay, don't they deserve something similar? I think yes. In my opinion, privatised medicine are two words that should never appear side by side. Doesn't a young, nervous, first time Greek mother deserve the right to have her baby safely and naturally under the guidance of doctors and nurses who have her interests at heart, rather than the doctor who will bully her into needless surgical intervention because surgery means a little extra in his pocket from the insurance company? Greece is now top in Europe for Caesarean sections at 44% instead of the WHOs recommended maximum of 15% - why is no one even talking about that? Because the medical insurance companies the government let in are so powerful.

This is country that could be absolutely anything, but because of so many years of such corrupt governments, nothing ever changes. Shabby schools and bored teachers who come to life all of a sudden at the Frondistereo after school schools where they get paid more. In giving the children of Greece such a shitty state school system, the government is basically sticking two fingers up at them and saying "Let them eat cake". I mean, there are so many really good private schools, right? Which everyone can afford, especially when their parents earn EUR 700 a month. Cake! Cake for all!

But I'm just ranting. Harsh as it sounds, not a thing will change in Greece until these old grandpas running the country die off, and some fresh young blood forces its way in. If I'm still hearing Karamanlis and Papandreou in 20 years time, I'll set the Parliament on fire!

Here's hoping.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Στην υγειά μας λοιπον !

Say what you want about Greek women, but ain't no one touching their ass without their consent. If you have never been to the UK and been hit on by drunk British boys, it goes something like this:

Him: Hello darling, you're fucking gorgeous
You: Thanks
H: Can I buy you a drink?
Y: No thanks, I've got one
H: Come on don't be such a party pooper, I.. Brett! Hey Brett! That's my mate Brett, he's fucking MENTAL!

(Some pointless and unfunny story follows about Boy and Brett's drunken escapades)

H: A nice girl like you shouldn't be here on her own.
Y: I'm here with friends
H: Come on let's dance (starts putting arms around you and grinding his groin into you)
Y: Please, I'm really not interested. (backing away)
H: Well you're a bit of an ice queen ain't ya. Fucking think you're better than everyone don't ya! Well fuck you you stupid bitch!

Not made up. I've had dozens of these conversations when I lived in the UK. Not to say I'm a beauty queen, but in the UK the done thing when going out is to get completely, mind-bendingly drunk, and then anything female looks good. Drunk British boys have no manners and no sense of decency. They think that just because you're in a club and in their vicinity, you are fair game to be chatted up, fondled and then abused when you say no.

I'm not one to advocate violence, but I can understand that certain parts of Crete in the summer must become quite unbearable for the locals with hordes of British tourists decending on their towns for cheap holidays, cheap booze and thinking that they can get away with the sort of disrespectful behaviour they display in their own country.

All I'm sayin' is I didn't know Sambuca was quite so flammable, and I'll be keeping that in mind the next time someone invades my space.

Image: http://ramblingspoon.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2006/11/FlamingSambuca.jpg

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Rain Dance

At the precise moment I'm typing this, a brief, light rain shower is passing by. I tolds yas! So many years in a monsoon ridden country is good for predicting when the heat and humidity are going to break into rain.

Looking Ahead

There is no country like Greece for trash TV. In fact , my number one reason for recommending learning Greek is so you can watch trash TV.

The number one trash channel here is Star TV, which only just stopped presenting their sexual inuendo studded weather bulletin with a weather girl in lingerie. Men loved it, I loathed it. Telos panton, anyway, Star TV in the summer blankets every news bulletin with bikini shots of women at the beach.

Their number one news gathering strategy is to head to the beach with a camera and interview people about how hot it is. In between these vox pops they slice in up-the-butt shots of women's bikini clad asses, the skimpier the better! Let's not forget that the newsreader has to always appear with her breasts half in half out of whatever top she's wearing, preferably some cheap and shiny form of satin.

My younger sisters and two cousins spent much of their wedding trip down at the beach and not once, twice got approached by the Star TV camera, which then departed upon discovering they spoke no Greek. I was appalled. The wedding planning stole my chance to be on my favourite trashy channel. If only I'd been there!! I would have totally been like all "Man it's hot! And I got this colour because I use baby oil. Screw sun protection!"

With August though, even trash TV presenters have gone on holiday, including my all time favourite Rania Thraskia, who has either gone to the beach or gone off to have her baby. Rania is none other than the presenter of my favourite trash TV show, Koitao Brosta (Looking Ahead).

The format is a daily topic with an expert panel and a phone-in for the general public. I tell you, Jerry Springer, Maury, Trisha, Jeremy Kyle ... these people are nobodies in front of this show. The four of them put together would make up Rania's little finger.

Where else but Koita Brosta can I enjoy such delightful phone-in topics such as:

* I got plastic surgery to look like my daughter in law because I'm jealous that she stole my man son

* My bitch of a daughter in law gave herself the bad eye and lost her baby at 5 months. A baby boy at that! How dare she! So me and my son threw her out. But not right away, we let her stay one day before we threw her out. And no, Rania, actually you're wrong because I am more devastated than her.

* I'm 19. My parents don't understand why I want to marry my 46 year old lover instead of get an education

* All my friends are rich and do rich people stuff. I don't work, because I gave my husband the favour of doing him a baby, so he should work to maintain my lifestyle. We're EUR 100,000 in debt but so frickin' want? I want to go on an expensive holiday! We can just take out another loan!

* I regularly left my child at home alone all night while I went out to search for my good for nothing husband, and now I don't know why she's all like "You're a terrible mother!"

* I adopted a boy and now that I have my own child I don't want him any more. I told him he's not my child and I hate him, and he's such a little demon child he misbehaves all the time! Not because he's lashing out for attention Rania, no, he's just a bad child. He is not my child. My child doesn't behave like that

* My daughter in law is crazy because she called the police after my son beat her. She does not care at all what the village will say about my family the selfish cow! It's not like it was the first time he beat her, so I don't know what her problem is. But anyway, all women get beaten by their husbands, isn't it?

And so many more. Every day is like a new delight on her show. Sometimes the callers are so ridiculous, I wonder if they're just making stuff up. But who cares! I'm entertained!

I hope Rania comes back off her holiday soon, because I'm getting bored of watching repeats of shows I've already seen. My life would be a barren desert of seriousness without Rania.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Long, Hot Summer

Monsoon Weather - Various

Greece, for those of you who don't live here, goes into total shutdown in August. It's too hot for the industries to keep operating, and I swear, if they did it would be a crime against humanity in this weather, so this sets off a chain reaction where everything else winds down too.

The streets are pretty much deserted as whole neighbourhoods cash in their annual leave and depart to their respective villages for at least three weeks, often more.

The knock-on effect for someone like me who works from home is that I have nowhere to go now. Practically all my friends are either out of the city or melting in the sun and there is no bellydance class until September. You actually start to forget that other people exist in August. I'm just starting to come out from my wedding stress hangover and have not called anyone to thank them for their help/attendance/present.

With me sitting at home isolated I have nothing better to do than to try recipes out of Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess, a wedding present from my sisters that was obviously hinting at something. My match-box flat is bursting at the seams with so much stuff I periodically go on strike because I'm sick of tidying it. And my oven is broken and won't go beyond a certain temperature without tripping the main fuse of the flat so all my biscuits and pastry are coming out looking sickly pale.

So with nought all to do (apart from work, but who works in August! Someone should tell London that!) my favourite hobby is picking fights with Mr Zeus. It's the heat, the boredom, the not having a holiday destination with only two weeks left before we leave, the dog, my eyebrows, whatever! Anything and everything is fight fodder this time of year.

I have always said I love the summer, but yesterday I spent the day with rain sounds playing off the internet while I worked. I suppose I'm still reeling from the super sun exposure I got running errands before the wedding. I don't drive, so I have to walk everywhere, or wait for buses or taxis in the blistering heat. It was the first time in three years that I wished for rain.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

No Money No Problems

Since we're all in the same boat, scrabbling behind the sofa for spare euros and wondering where the money goes every month, we might as well sing and dance about it.

We may be broke but we're happy, and at least there are still some free beaches in Athens!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Onwards and Upwards

So it's over. Words I never want to hear again:

  1. boubounieres
  2. decorations
  3. bride
  4. invitations
  5. anything to do with one thing matching the other

Things I organised via the internet:

  1. the wedding dress designed by me and created in the Home Country, which was made so lightly for the heat that I carried it around in a handbag.

  2. the invitations in half Greek half English, printed in India and since I typeset them, the Greek part was full of mistakes. But so what. As far as I know no one turned up to the mayor's office at 11pm instead of 11am and that was my biggest error.

  3. starfish charms for the wedding favours

  4. marigold coloured tissue paper for decorating

  5. mini incense and boxed bindis for the henna party favours

  6. floating lotus lanterns for the beach

  7. Maro from MAC on Ermou street, who I discovered via a comment on this blog and who helped me pick a foundation so perfect I looked airbrushed

  8. MAC pigments in sample sizes from http://www.thebodyneeds2.com/
*Things that were not right on the day: Nothing

*My favourite thing about the wedding was: having all my family together for once.

*Now that it's all over I feel: Like I never, ever want to do that again as long as I live. Never. Ever. Ever. I'm so happy to be lounging around in my crappy clothes again, growing out my moustache and letting my fingernails break with abandon.

On the day itself I had a surprisingly good time. Not that I expected to have a bad time, it just was a lot better than I had hoped for.

When you're a bride, people break your balls about absolutely everything. It's worse being a bride who doesn't care much for weddings, because no one believes you when you say you're not into shabang type weddings and think you're just being a boring old fart.

The morning of the wedding was stress free and I was ready nicely ahead of schedule because I booked myself into a hotel and got dressed with my sisters. The rest was like a domino effect. Since the day started well it ended brilliantly with everyone in their swimming gear partying at a beach bar till the early morning.

Halfway through the party my sister and I walked past the bride from the other wedding party going on at the hotel of the beach par and couldn't help but laugh at the contrast. She was looking perfect in her white wedding dress, makeup and hair, and I was in a cotton beach dress, barefaced and barefoot. I had to show a little girl at the beach photos from the morning because she wouldn't believe her mother that I was the bride.

The next day though I was feeling major evil eyes so I burnt some sage and walked all the way through the flat with the windows and doors open, passing the smoke in every corner and all the cupboards. No jokes people, the evils were super bad. I got up at one point the night after the wedding and felt such a big weight press on me that I fell to the floor like a dead weight and couldn't get back up again. Mr Zeus heard the thud and had to come pick me off the floor because my legs had turned to jelly. You might say lack of sleep/low blood pressure, but it was evils I tells ya!

I will not give any advice for the bride, since it will all be useless anyway, except don't bother with diets. You will go through your own crash diet in the days before the wedding as the stress blow-torches the bumps and lumps away.

I will however advise you if you are a friend of a bride/groom to be:
  1. Do not offer advice. Just listen

  2. The bride will turn into a total bitch before the wedding. This has nothing to do with you. It's because she's sick of being asked unimportant questions and people freaking out around her about stupid details. Don't pay too much attention to the things she says when she's having a psychotic episode. She only means about half of them.

  3. If you say you are going to do something, do it. The biggest disappointment for me when I was buckling under the stress was all the people who said they would help who then disappeared and turned up later to have a good time.

  4. Do whatever the couple asks you to do, and don't complain about it. If you think you're tired you have no idea how exhausted they are.

  5. In the days immediately before the wedding, take some food over. Otherwise the couple won't eat.

  6. Take the initiative and fix any problems that you can fix yourself.

That's about it! I had a wedding day full of colours and happiness with the people I love all in one room. I would not do it again and I'm glad it's over, but I am equally happy that I had such a nice time. The mayor's speech before we signed the papers was very short but wonderfully to the point about respecting and lifting each other up and building a happy and secure environment for ourselves and our children. Many of the guests agreed that it was the nicest political marriage they had seen. So all's well that ends well.

ps. Al in Athens has left a comment here saying she wish she could have done more. I met Al through this blog, and we have since become good friends. Her gift to me were the flower decorations at the mayor's office, and there could not have been a better gift than the breathtaking job she did. Al, I could not possibly have asked for more than what you did as it was perfection.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Weekend Reminder

Don't forget to buy this Sunday's Kyriakatiki Eleutherotypia for DVD 2 in it's current 4 DVD Bollywood series. The first movie was Veer Zara, the second is an epic and a favourite of mine, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham.

All four movies in this series are in fact extremely good choices. You could buy the DVD's for less on Menandrou street, but I believe by supporting ET in this endeavour, I am taking one step closer to the day that Bollywood movies will show in Greek cinemas.

Image: http://www.allzonedvd.com/bollywood/dvd/k/kabhie3.jpe

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Greek 101

Now that I have reached a level where I can communicate in Greek, even with my terrible grammar, it amazes me just how pointless and restrictive most of the Greek we were taught was. We were never taught any slang or anything particularly useful and applicable to survival in Greece, such as:

* Go f*ck yourself you f*cking f*ck!
* Who lets all these bloody grandpas onto the roads on the weekend?
* It wasn't my fault
* Sometimes you make me so angry I want to break something
* I'm really not interested in going out with you
* But the meter says EUR 4.50, so I won't pay you a penny over that
* Two tzatzikis, four kebabs, three chips and ten beers. No, just us two.
* If you don't behave I'll break all your bones
* I'd like to speak to your supervisor.
* Anything to do with talking on the phone.

Instead, I can recall spectacularly useless modules where the characters sit politely around a table wondering what they will order, instead of the bloodbath that usually ensues when hungry Greeks order at a restaurant, and another where a customer goes to the DEH electricity office and meets an unrealistically helpful staff member.

What would have been much more useful and realistic was to start basic Greek classes with a handful of swearwords, which constitute roughly 50% of a conversation. Furthermore, Greek classes should have been held in the same room as another language class, or with three teachers who all talk at you at the same time to give a more realistic sensation of the way communication takes place here. You develop an amazing ability to track three separate conversations at the same time, and this is not something taught.

Also, I hate using my Greek on the phone, so a few classes dedicated to that would have been good, such as getting us to call the tourist office infront of the whole class or something.

Perhaps the most pointless phrase I was ever taught was to ask if there is a bakery nearby. You will always find a bakery in Greece, just walk 5 minutes in any direction. They're as plentiful as churches.