Thursday, March 26, 2009

It's All In Your Mind

I came across an interesting quiz on the Times website yesterday. It was designed by a scientist to uncover how male or female your brain is, as there is not always a correlation between brain sex and body sex. It doesn't mean you're gay, just that some people are wired in a more male or female way of thinking and approaching things.

The scale ran from 1 for very male to 20 for very female. I completed the test and came out at 8, so much more male than female as far as my brain goes. But that's hardly a surprise. I never had any problems reading maps to the extent that I can navigate me and Mr Zeus using maps in Greek, and for me GPS takes all the fun out of travelling.

I used to love taking apart my toys to see what was inside. I have a guerilla shopping technique - in and out in as little time as is possible. I've never been for a manicure or a facial and never felt the need to. I'm terrible at making small talk and prefer to get to the point.

My future sister in law was showing me how she has started to re-dye her hair in stages so it will be the exact colour she wants in time for our wedding in July. It dawned on me that many of the women around me are already pondering their look for the wedding, whereas my plan was to wash and go and hope for a good hair day. Some women I know get into a total frenzy when I say I don't know yet what I'm doing for hair and makeup. Don't get me wrong, everyone wants to look nice, but I don't want to be obsessed with how perfect everything must be. I already have zero control over when my resident spots break into rebellion.

My ultra skanky plan was to walk into the MAC store on Ermou with a pic of a desired makeup look on the morning of the wedding (I still can't think of it as that, more like a party) and say "I'd like to achieve this look, can you do me a demonstration?" and walk out with my makeup ready-done and maybe buy a product or two to cover up my evil motives. Would that really be so terrible?

For hair I really don't know. My hair is so thick and curly I don't think anyone will know what to do with it. Would it really be so heinous to bundle it up loosely with some flowers? I did my own hair for my godson's baptism and everyone asked me where I got it done.

I'm going to sit back and watch the fur fly around me. I'll probably lie here and there and say I've organised weekly oxygen facials by blind Tibetan monks in order to not appear to be a bad sport. I almost feel like I'm spoiling other people's fun when my answer to everything is "I don't know yet". The paperwork and legalities of the marriage and just getting a frickin' date are of more concern to me than the other details. Hopefully the ethnic wedding attire will be enough to distract guests from spots and bumps and lumps, oh my!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Secret Life of Crabs

Probably my favourite Greek song is Ta Kavourakia, a touchingly sad yet somehow humorous tale about the anguish of a family of crabs when Mummy Crab abandons them to start an affair with a Sparos, a type of fish. I think it's an adorable song, and the first Greek song I ever knew the chorus to. I wonder what imagination it must take to sit and write a song about the emotions of a broken crab family.

The Little Crabs (Ta Kavourakia)

Two little crabs sit amongst the pebbles on the shore
Abandoned, anguished and they sob away the poor little things
Their mother Mrs. Crab has a hot date with Mr. Sparos in Rafina x2
And the little crabs keep sobbing, on the shore amongst the pebbles x2

Mr. Crab returns home in the evening and finds the house deserted,
He searches for his family and tears his hair out
He heads to Rafina to try to catch up with Mrs. Crab x 2
And the little crabs keep sobbing, on the shore amongst the pebbles x2

A rosey dawn breaks and Mr. Crab returns
Back to the coast but without his wife
She’s swimming in the shallows of Rafina with Mr. Sparos the all-nighter x2

And the little crabs keep sobbing, on the shore amongst the pebbles x2

In Greek:
Στου γυαλού τα βοτσαλάκια
κάθονται δυό καβουράκια
έρμα παραπονεμένα
κι όλο κλαίνε τα καϋμένα

Κι η μαμά τους η κυρία καβουρίνα
πάει τσάρκα με τον σπάρο στη Ραφήνα
κι όλο κλαίνε τα καβουράκιαστου γυαλού στου γυαλού τα βοτσαλάκια

Πάει ο κάβουρας το βράδυβρίσκει το τσαρδί ρημάδι
ψάχνει για τη φαμελιά του
και τραβάει τα μαλιά του

Βάζει πλώρη κούτσα κούτσα στη Ραφήνα
να πετύχει τη κυρία καβουρίνα
κι όλο κλαίνε τα καβουράκια
στου γυαλού στου γυαλού τα βοτσαλάκια

Το ξημέρωμα ροδίζεικαι ο κάβουρας γυρίζει
δίχως τη συμβία πάλι
κούτσα κούτσα στ' ακρογυάλι

Με τον σπάρο το ξενύχτη στη Ραφήνα
παίζει τώρα στα ρηχά η καβουρίνα
κι όλο κλαίνε τα καβουράκια
στου γυαλού στου γυαλού τα βοτσαλάκια

Don't you feel sorry for the little crabs? At the same time, doesn't this song make you smile?

English lyrics from:

Greek lyrics from:

Monday, March 23, 2009

Smoking Hot Sundays

Yesterday with about a hundred better things to do, I embarked on making a batch on nam prik pao from the Chez Pim website. This is a Thai chilli sauce that caused a terror alert when a chef whipping up a batch sent the fumes of burning chillies out into the street where the general public began to suffer from coughing fits. The police closed the streets for three hours trying to locate the source of the chemical attack before the restaurant realised they were to blame.

I had bought the bag of dried chillies from a shop in the UK, but you can get these downtown in the dodgy Asian shops on Menandrou street. Sure enough, when it came to stage one where you dry roast the whole chillies, the smoke from the chillies set my lungs into a coughing frenzy so bad I barely had time to catch a breath.

"There's no need to kill yourself over chilli sauce" observed Mr Zeus as I struggled to get my words out between coughing.

Some fried garlic, fried onions, tamarind, shrimp paste and sugar later, I was left with a jar of chilli sauce that smells like chilli-roasted-jam heaven. Now, Pim says she eats this spread on toast like jam and all I have to say to that is she must have a tongue made entirely of scar tissue because as much as I can handle the burn, I took a teeny tiny drop to taste and that tiny drop left me with watering eyes and beads of sweat on my forehead. It's atomic hot despite removing the seeds as per the instructions.

So nam prik pao is torture to make and torture to eat, but it smells and tastes so delicious and irresistable that I can see myself adding it to stir fries in the near future, albeit in teeny tiny amounts.

Which makes me wonder how I will use a whole jar. In all honesty, if any of you want some I will be happy to dish it out into little jars for you. It took such care to make it would be tragic to have to throw it out because I couldn't consume it all.

Speaking of torture, today I went to the British embassy to start the ball rolling for my permission to marry. I must say, I was surprised by how painless it all was. Apart from spending nearly half an hour trying to find a place that was open before 9.30 am to photocopy Mr Zeus's ID card and having to leave the embassy again to withdraw the cash I'd forgotten to pick up, the overall process was not too terrible.

I was asked my religion amongst other things, though, which surprised me as I don't see what that has to do with anything seeing as it's a civil ceremony. But I was happy to note that the lady did not write my answer down and neither did it appear anywhere on the papers I signed. I'm not sure if we would have had a problem with the different religions down at the mayor's office.

A few more questions were asked, passports and ID inspected, signatures taken and that was pretty much it. Thankfully the process will take 21 days, not working days, so the papers will be ready by mid-April and come mercifully translated into Greek. The staff at the embassy, from security through to Consular services, were also impressively polite and helpful. Sometimes I tend to have this pathetic look about me, which makes people feel sorry for me and act a bit sweeter, who knows.

Even more helpfully, the mayor's office is willing to accept the certificate of No Impediment despite it being valid for just three months. Mr Zeus's sister totally pulled that whole "Only You Can Save Us Now!" attitude and the mayor's office employee, who must love the god-like implications of such phrases, said no problem.

So after round one I have no bruises or psychological scars. But we still have some way to go, and I will keep you informed of each step.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Marriage. Is it worth the Paperwork?

For a country as family obsessed as Greece is, where only 5% of all births are outside of marriage, they really don't make the process of getting married very simple. It could be that I'm a foreigner and so the extra paperwork, or it could be like this everywhere and I don't know any better. It's not like I spend my weekends jetting around Europe marrying strangers to compare the process with Greece.

With time ticking away fast and all my international pals still waiting for a wedding date (long-haul tickets, visas hotels, you know, those kind of minor details that friends need to have time to organise when they don't live in Europe), I finally decided to get my paper work started to register our marriage in July. And so far, the whole thing has put me right off marriage. Our little, non-legal, non-binding verbal ceremony last year which lasted all of 5 minutes was so much simpler and already left me with that "married" feeling.
The actual legal process is making me want to tear my hair out. And I have a lot of hair, but Greek bureaucracy has so many little convoluted sub-clauses, stamps, departments, papers, wrong paper - go back to start and impossible people, that even the thickest of heads can be rendered as bald as a baby's behind by the time you're done.

Mr Zeus's sister went to the local mayor's office yesterday to pick up Round 1 of registration forms, all in Greek. I wonder what do people do when both halves of the couple are foreigners? They get an instruction sheet detailing all the paperwork a foreigner needs to marry in Greece, written helpfully only in Greek, naturally.

First on my list of things to do was talk to the British Embassy, which I did this morning.

BB: "I was wondering what paperwork I need to get married in Athens?"

Embassy: "You need to get married in Athens?"

BB: "No, what PAPERWORK do I need to get married in Athens."

E: "How long have you been in Greece?"

BB: "More than three weeks." (not a lie, come on)

E: "Ok so if you have been here more than 21 days you need to bring your passport with you. Is your partner Greek? So you need to also bring a photocopy of his Greek ID. And EUR 133"

God dammit! Bye bye wedding shoes, jewellery and pre-wedding pampering.

E: "But I should tell you the Certificate of Non Impediment (free to marry in other words) is valid for only three months. When is your wedding?"

BB: "In July"

E: " Could you apply for it after three months if it's just a civil ceremony?"

BB: "No, because we're having a wedding party to go with the registration, and I can't get a date unless I submit my paperwork to the mayor's office, and I can't do that unless I get the certificate from you guys."

E: "Talk to the mayor's office, sometimes they accept the Certificate of Non Impediment for up to a year even if it runs out in three months. If you apply for the certificate now you'll get it in 21 days."

Which means April is when I'll get the certificate to be able to START the process of my paperwork down at the mayor's office, God knows how long that will take... not to mention things like proof of residence and everything officially translated into Greek, plus a 500 word essay on 101 Ways You Enjoy Being Screwed by Greek Bureacracy... Mmmm gustaro.

Tick tock guys!!! July is not that far! Why do I have a horrible sinking feeling that by the time we get the date it will be cutting it way too close for any of my friends to make it?

Screw you, legal marriage!!!!!!! I wish I could blame someone, but the truth is I totally believed Mr Zeus when he said "It's no big deal, don't stress." Perchance I should have paid attention to my friend who took weeks upon weeks to get her permission to marry and planned ahead of time because being a foreigner she has been on the receiving end of the type of bureaucracy not even Greeks dream of? *Bangs head on table*

Will you guys come to my wedding :'( ? It's going to suck ass if none of my friends make it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Shake off those Mid Week Cobwebs

.. with A R Rahman from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack. Everyone in the subcontinent already knows what a musical god AR Rahman is, it just took the rest of the world some time to realise this.

Now, I put my hands up and admit that when I first came across M.I.A. on the Z-list music channels where alternative musicians start out, I laughed at her. I thought she was another rich Asian brat who was using Mummy and Daddy's money for her little music hobby and trying to be edgy. But I was totally wrong and respect to her, she's a fresh breath of air in a stale music industry. That'll teach me to open my big mouth!!

M.I.A. is a British born artist of Sri Lankan descent whose family moved back to Sri Lanka when she was a baby and got involved in politics. She had a difficult childhood as a result, was often displaced and at times contact with her father was severely restricted to protect him from the Sri Lankan army. The violence and political unrest she witnessed around her went on to infuse her music and her outspoken style, leading her to let rip at MTV when they censored her song "Paper Planes" which contained an anti-arms trade message.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire / Greedy Me

I finally watched Slumdog Millionaire and it's probably one of the best movies I've ever seen. It was also extra fun for me to be able to follow all the Hindi dialogue without needing the subtitles, and it was nice to watch it with a Greek audience that reacted along with the action on the film, gasping, groaning and clapping.

For the first time in my experience of Athenian cinema, nobody was blah blahing during a movie or making snide comments. Apart from reacting at intense moments, the audience was drop dead quiet - it's a miracle!!

Watching the movie had two unfortunate side effects, though. That night I dreamt that I was reading the website and two new Bollywood movies were being released to be played in Athens cinemas. And I was of course crazily happy about this, but alas, 'twas but a dream.

The second side effect is that the movie made me extremely hungry for street food, and I don't mean souvlaki. That scene where Jamal is recalling the price of pani puri on Chowpatti beach ignited a lot of memories of hasty pani puri munching outside my school. We were forbidden from street food because of the risk of getting sick from it, or even ending up dead from it. The guy who sold the pani puri even got leprosy at one point, and we still kept going back to him while his fingers were practically falling off into the pani puri.

But it was always worth it, and street food tastes so much better when its forbidden. I could practically taste those chubby pani puris on the screen with chilli tamarind sauce being poured over them. On the last night of my visit to the Home Country two years ago, my best friend got us pani puri (also known as gol gappa) at my request, and after the first bite I knew that it was going to make me pretty sick. What can you do, x number of years away from the Home Country and your own immune system starts taking vacations and making you look like a delicate foreigner.

But since it was my last night and all I had to do in the next 24 hours was sit on a plane, I ate them all anyway. Who knew when I'd get proper street pani puri again, right? So naturally I got quite sick from them, and I wasn't sorry for a minute, not even when Mr Zeus tried to tell me what a fool I was on my 100th trip to the toilet. He's never taste pani puri, he'd be willing to get sick for them too if he had!!

So while the rest of the audience left the cinema probably contemplating all the things they had just seen, amongst other things I was thinking "Just how long must pani puri take to make?"

Now I'm sitting here with mountains of work, wondering at what point my craving is going to get bad enough for me to launch into the long-winded process of pani puri from scratch. Since you can't buy them in Greece, the most time consuming part would be making the puris, discs of dough rolled very thin and fried so they puff up and remain hollow inside, then you fill the insides with chopped onions and tomatoes, potato, yoghhurt, spices, tamarind sauce, chilli powder, coriander and bhoondi.

Hmmm.... what's a hungry girl to do?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Down At The Cheese Hospital

Last year when we were in Crete, we drove past a tyrokomeio. I, in all honesty and thinking it was perfectly logical, said to Mr Zeus "That's where people go when they want to make cheese? I mean when it's not turning out right, to get advice on what went wrong?" He laughed till he cried. I mean who can blame me? Tyrokomeio, nosokomeio, same thing, right?

Well, in order to set up your own basic tyrokomeio all you need is milk and lemon juice. Paneer is persian for cheese, and it's a very young, basic type of cheese (milk solids, rather) that is used a lot in Indian vegetarian cooking. It has a bland taste, so it's sort of like a milky version of tofu. And it's dead easy to make.

The last time I was in the UK, just before we hit the Asian shops to investigate wedding attire, we stopped off at a place called Khazana where I ate till I was ready to burst and then moaned about it up and down Handsworth High Street. That's what I do, I eat till I'm going to pop and then complain about it. Most recently I did that last Friday night and thought guiltily of starving African orphans as I nursed my Bump O' Gluttony (3-months-pregnant-look) and listened to the garbage collectors roll about in the wee hours thanks to greed-induced insomnia.

But I digress! Oh Khazana... the sweet and tangy burst of tamarind sauce and yoghurt on the papdi chaat, the spicy pop of a goll gappa crunching in your mouth, and chilli paneer with so much chilli that you smelt the peppers before you ate them, with one hand free to wipe your sweat and running nose. No bother, that's why God invented mango lassi, so us South Asians could fry our taste buds and then deliciously douse the fire.

My sister has the recipe for the chilli paneer and she also has the convenience of being able to buy paneer at a supermarket. Not a hope of hell for that in Athens, but paneer is so easy to make you needn't bother anyway.

Paneer for 3 people:

1.5 litres whole milk
3 tablespoons strained lemon juice


Boil the milk and reduce the heat, stirring so it won't stick. Add the lemon juice and swirl the pot to get the process of the curds and whey separating. Eventually in a few minutes you should end up with white lumps of curd and almost clear yellow whey. Add a bit more lemon juice if it seems to be taking too long, or add the pot back onto a low heat.

Line a colander with the muslin and pour all the curds and whey into the cloth. Gather up the corners and twist to squeeze out the liquids. Give the muslin bag a rinse under the tap to wash off the whey and squeeze again. Tie the bag from the kitchen tap and leave to drain for an hour or two. Squeeze under a plate with a weight on top (cans of tomatoes or a stone mortar). Leave for an hour.

Chop and use!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Very Happy In My Heart

It turns out that the third DVD out of the Bollywood movies given away free recently is a movie I hadn't seen at all until I got it free with a Greek newspaper. It's called Tashan, and I killed myself laughing while watching it. Since a lot of it is deliberately stupid and plays with Hindi and English mixes, I'm not sure how much of that gets carried across in subtitles.

Anyway, here is a song that makes me laugh every time I hear it. It's one of those Bollywood-poking-fun-at-its-own-ridiculousness songs, and in this part of the movie, the three fugitives have bullied an American director to let them film a song in his sad movie about widows in order to slip past the police as part of his crew. Don't ask.

The song contains wonderfully stupid lyrics like:
Seeing your white white face, my fast-beating heart decides to take a chance

Very happy in my heart, my heart burts into dance

Pink pink cheeks like a rose I have
Blue like the sky eyes you have
A sweet face like a moon
Black hair like a cloud
I can't hide it any more, my heartbeat becomes very loud (ok, those are your standard Bollywood lyrics, but the next one is my favourite)

In your heart's theatre, my heart makes an advanced booking
In my heart's theatre, your heart makes an advanced booking

Very happy in my heart, my heart burts into dance

Incidentally, if you listen to this song, the word re is used in exactly the same context in Hindi as it is in Greek.

And it might please you to know that this song from the movie was filmed on the Greek island of Milos: