"Europe 2004-05" story # 49

Larissa, Greece           April 30, 2005

I just keep eating. ... Every day, in fact.
     When I eat in my room, I eat cheap things which I don't have to cook. I eat juice and fruit. And I eat nutrient-less chocolate spread on bread, by the truckload. I think my insides are turning into a big chocolate muckball.
     Sometimes, I get Greek fast-food. I go to a name-less, family-run grill that is a tiny room decorated only with grease-dirtied white tiles. They make their "souvlaki" by grilling rubbery morsels of what seems to be goat meat. They stick these in a grilled pita along with tomatoes, onions, french fries, ketchup and mustard, and white tzatziki sauce with a slicing taste. Mmm. "Gyros" also come in pitas; but, their greasy meat comes in long, flimsy strips.
     Many days, the Greek "filoksenia" (hospitality) invites me over for lunch. One dish was really strange. Soggy ground beef and some rice filled the insides of rolls made out of artichoke (or something like artichoke). The plate of rolls had been drowned in a gravy-like sauce that owed its flavor to lemons. This dish was named, "laxonadolmades."
     "Massaka" is baked in a deep pan, and it's a pie made of potatoes and meat (alternatively, it can be of eggplant and meat).
     One cool meal came in tomatoes and yellow peppers that had been hollowed out like Halloween pumpkins. They'd been stuffed with healthy rice then cooked in the oven.
     My most-recent Greek lunch was the country's national dish: bean soup. The ballooned beans were white in a red-brown sauce, and they were called "red beans" by my "filos" (friend), Costas.
     Library-employee Costas and his wife, Magda, are my usual lunch hosts. A pastor, Yeoryeos, and his wife also had me over one day.
     Next comes the dancing. Authentic Greek music can be heard in dance halls called "buzoukias."
     The highlight of the band is the "buzouka," which is an assault weapon fired at bad dancers. No; it's a small Mediterranean guitar whose sounds are short, high - almost jolly - twangs.
     Sometimes, each note is struck slowly in a way so that its feeling echoes in the lonely silence that precedes the next note. Greek men and women get up from their tables crowded with glasses of sambuca. Every member of a group but one kneels on the dance-floor and claps. One member does a sad, beautiful dance. He sticks his arms out limply, almost as if he was on a cross, and he bows his head. He sways and staggers. He slowly raises then stomps his feet. He may kneel to the ground and swipe the back of his hand across the floor. The buzouka's crisp twangs carry him.
     Some other times, the buzouka is played faster and more happily. People hold hands in circles. Their feet follow patterns as the circle turns. They step forward with their right feet, they step forward with their left feet crossing behind their right feet, they all take steps backwards with their right feet, and the pattern progresses. It's an easy dance to learn, but everyone has fun doing it.
     One final cool thing about Greece is how the people say "no." Instead of saying "oxi" (no), they may give their heads a short nod backwards while raising their eyebrows. They may also simply raise their eyebrows while shrugging their lips. It's confusing. Sometimes, I wish they'd just say, "oxi."
     I've been in Greece for three-and-a-half weeks now. On a scale of 0 to 10, my Greek speaking abilities are a 4.3. My understanding abilities are a 2, but will hopefully go up. With its round vowels, the language sounds most like Spanish. However, its words bear no resemblance to those of any language I know.
     There's one hotel employee who often talks to me in our hotel café. He's especially difficult to understand, because he's always drunk on "krasi" (wine). He's Tak, a forty-six-year-old maintenance worker with barbershop-clean, graying hair. Once, I saw him hanging over the balcony to repair the hotel sign, and I thought for sure he was drunk and was going to fall. He's all the time talking about how tough he is, and he's always showing off and instructing me to stomp on his fingers.
     He doesn't speak English. My Greek vocals are torture to his ears, he often complains. Yet, he's drunk, so he always wants to talk to me. We sometimes talk about how he killed his wife.
     Serious-faced Tak told me he got married on a Sunday. The following Friday, he got into a fight with his mother-in-law. He pushed her straight off the balcony. Then, he took a "maxairi" (knife) and killed his wife. It's no wonder why he drinks so much.
     The next day, a boy came to the hotel who could translate for us. Tak said his mother-in-law had fallen over the balcony and survived. But, if he ever saw her again, he'd kill her too. I asked him if he'd gone to jail. He said no. His father-in-law had said he was innocent, because the two ladies were crazy. Wow; even though people died, this was a really funny story.
     Gullible me believed all of it, too. But, it had all been "psemata" (lies). Tak had been trying to get me back for my bad Greek. He smiled at me a wide, maintenance-worker's smile that only had one tooth on top. That wasn't the smile of a killer.
     So, I went looking for -
     Killers have teeth. Sharp ones.
     So, I went looking for work, my Greek-language application -
     The smile of a drunk, maybe. Drunks don't need teeth.
     So, I went looking for work. I visited central Larissa's busy fast-food restaurants. Usually, I was pretty scared while trying to communicate with an "idioktitis" (owner). I said my speel, I waited until I could identify a word of rejection in reply, and then I ran out of the restaurant.
     But, then, I realized I had to smile and have fun. Even though I was embarking on a near-impossible challenge, it could still be a fun near-impossible challenge.
     I was smiling when the owner of "Quick" told me I wouldn't be around long enough to learn the job he had. He held up a book which contained thirty-five complicated pages of maps and road-name indexes for the city of Larissa. "Einai diskolo," he said. (It's difficult.)
     What was this!? The man pointed to the "Quick" delivery moped. His fast-food chain needed a delivery-man?
     My first thought was: Boy, it does look difficult. There's no way in hell I could handle this job.
     But, then, I thought: My first thought was absolutely correct. However, I couldn't handle any job in Larissa, so this is the best chance I'm gonna get.
     For the next four minutes, I smiled and yelled at the owner, while he took people's orders. I said I learn quickly and am good with maps. I asked if he'd let me try the job for one day, however I didn't know how to say he wouldn't have to "pay" me for this trial. "Prepi na diavasis," he said. (You must know how to read.) I read to him perfectly the names of several menu items and city streets.
     I could feel this job entering within my grip. All it was going to take was a bold move.
     I grabbed a girl who was buying fast-food. I said the equivalent of, "You stay on what road?" I wasn't sure if I'd gotten the grammar right. She didn't understand, so I yelled the same thing louder.
     The owner helped with, "On which road that you live?" She responded.
     Amazingly, I understood the approximate idea of her road name. I was more surprised when I was able to find the complicated name in the map-book's index in mere seconds. I turned to page 9, and ... there! ... was her road. I showed the owner which roads I'd take to get there, made a "Zoom!" sound and pointed to the moped, and quacked, "Quick!" Ha, ha, the job was mine!
     Or not. The owner told me he had a full staff currently.
     The only thing I didn't do was ask who the current deliveryman was, point to him, and challenge him to a race. "Fovasai!?" (Are you afraid of me!?)
     I could've also said, "Difficult? Difficult! When George Washington led his men across the Delaware, did he care that it was difficult!?"
     So, I still don't have a job. The weekend wedding-photography gig won't start until after the Greek Orthodox Easter, which is April 30th.
     I'll keep looking.
     Difficult! When Jackie Robinson became the first black major-league baseball player, did he care that it was going to be difficult!? An American can work in Greece.

until next time, Modern Oddyseus

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