Back at the Internet cafe. Typing is a little more comfortable for me, and a little more immediate, than writing out pages and pages of notes in my book; so I'm bouncing back and forth, and this post will substitute in large part for my Day 3 notes (day 1 was the flight over the Atlantic, day 2 was the flight to Greece and last night's misadventure).
It's worth the few euros I'm paying to get at least this little minimal connection with you all. The tourist effect is starting to kick in and right at the moment I'm feeling really lonely for a place where I know the customs and words instead of having to decipher them one by one. At home, I am told, Ocras is meowing pitifully because Bax is gone, and I'm feeling much the same right now. Minus the meowing. I still have the (probably paranoid and not fully justified, given that I have Greek blood and dress in a fairly European style) sense that I stick out as a tourist like a sore thumb, and slightly better that than to be a crazy meowing tourist.
Technical note: Since I only have Internet cafe access and it's really hard to find a Telnet/ssh client, I'm stuck with webmail probably for the duration of the trip. To get a message to me, please e-mail baxildragon at gmail. (.com) Can't guarantee I'll see all LJ comments due to not getting notification e-mails, won't have time to read anyone else's journal.
As a coda to yesterday's story: When I bought the ticket for the Metro ride from the airport ... apparently, I found out after reading some brochures, I failed to get it validated. Which means, I think, that it's still got its full fare value. This means that, essentially, not only did I not have to pay €large_number to get here ... but that I got here basically for free. Oops. And whee!
This morning, couldn't sleep past 8 (hope tomorrow's different). Puttered around some, looked for loose paper to leave a note for my folks at the front desk so I could wander some more ... and they promptly arrived and called up to the room during my hunt. Great to see everyone again -- it's been a while, with my parents in Maine and my sister finishing up in Santa Barbara before leaving for Italy, where she's going to stay until early next year. We caught up for a bit in the hotel room; I got to see some pictures of their trip so far, gave Sarah the presents I'd brought over, and took them on a walk around the area, including the metro station and a farmakeio, then a taberna the hotel clerk had recommended.
Farmakeios -- "pharmacies" -- are seemingly ubiquitous, although it's a little more rare to find one that's open on Sundays. They're sort of like a little corner drugstore, but according to the guidebook, the folks behind the counter are licensed for basic medical tasks, and many drugs that would otherwise require prescriptions can be gotten OTC. Unlike U.S. "drugstores," that's all they are, medical drugs -- no little aisles of sundries. I had hoped to get a watch battery there, but I'll have to find a jeweler's.
Mom was having some trouble with redness and swelling in her eye, so she stepped up to the counter and asked for something for it. Well, OK: I stepped up to the counter and asked if the man spoke English, finally getting a chance to pull out my "melas Anglika?" [though I probably should have used the polite version, "melate," instead]; he responded that, yes, he spoke a little and could I maybe write down what I needed. At which point Mom stepped up and a barrage of spoken Greek passed back and forth.
She says she speaks just about enough to get her through ordering at a restaurant. This is probably more or less true, but you could have fooled me at the time. She held up a conversation, fielding questions and asking a few -- occasionally dropping back to English for a word she didn't know. I've been feeling much more like a Bad Tourist ever since -- like I should at least be able to engage in basic back-and-forth if I'm going to go to the trouble of visiting other people's countries.
Ironically, my written Greek is better than Mom's; the few days of practice I've had at deciphering script, and applying myself toward (mentally or physically) sounding out everything I see, has sharpened me up some, but virtually all her language skills are spoken. Even at that, I'm a slow reader so far, and I doubt I'll be fully used to things even by the end of the trip.
Even if I've been piecemeal figuring out little tidbits -- like "synolo" from receipts, which means "total" from context; and "gola" meaning a soccer goal.
Speaking of receipts, the taverna experience was quite a pleasant one. (The greek character beta is pronounced "v". Written taberna, pronounced taverna.) We found the place we'd been pointed to. The front door opened up into a little enclosed court with a canopy of grape vines and stacks of wine barrels adorning the back wall near the "W.C." (Water Closet. For American travellers, this means "toilet.") There was no menu whatsoever. We walked in and spoke to a waiter, who got the owner, who promptly ushered us into the kitchen.
Not a typo: Into the kitchen. He had a little glass counter inside which was displayed the available food for the day. Ignoring this completely, he waved us around behind the counter and pointed out each dish in turn; the verbal equivalent of a menu, and a much more warm and welcoming gesture. The guidebook sez that in tavernas, this is a common practice -- not just for tourists, either. And it's a surprisingly nice one, even if I was the only person not taken aback by it at first. (Because I read the guidebook. Go me.)
Mom and I got some moussaka -- a kind of two-layered casserole, with eggplant and ground beef baked beneath a layer of soft, solid cheese. Comfort food, since thanks to the Greek heritage on my mother's side of the family, I've occasionally had some at home. Sarah, the vegetarian of our family, got a Greek salad, since most of what they had available was meat-based. Dad got a leg of lamb cooked to such juicy tenderness that the meat probably could have been eaten with a spoon. I asked for a glass of red wine to split with Sarah, but thanks to a minor miscommunication, a pitcher was brought to the table for all of us to share.
Everything was very tasty. The red wine was far different than I expected. It came unfiltered, quite likely locally made. Strong but relatively smooth, with a recognizable aftertaste but not an unpleasant one, it took all of us by surprise, but even I -- whose usual wine habit is picking at a single small glass for the whole meal and leaving most of it behind -- ended up drinking and enjoying two full glasses.
I think what turns me off about most wine is the bitterness; not the case here. I also took a chance on an olive from Sarah's salad -- and found much the same. I'm used to American black olives, and think of them with at best indifference and at worst disgust. The taste of most black olives is weak but somewhat bitter, nothing like good olive oil. But fresh Greek olives have no hint of that bitterness and all of the richness. It was an intense and unexpectedly pleasant experience.
After escorting the family over to Exarchio Square, then back to the hotel, I wandered off to Areos Park while everyone took an afternoon siesta. I'm running out of time here and will have to write it down in my offline journal, but let me add in one little salacious detail that sort of capped off the experience: I got to use a new Greek word! In context!
Should you ever be in that context yourself, just in case, here's what to do. If you pass by a well-dressed Greek man standing on a corner in the park, he quietly says something you can't parse, you awkwardly stammer out something about does he speak English, his eyes light up with recognition, and he says insistently to you in the manner of a salesman, "Sex sex sexy!" ...
... the proper response is to quickly, calmly and politely say "O-hhi" (no), accompanied perhaps by a tilting backward of the head that is the Greek body language equivalent of an American side-to-side shake, and walk away not looking back.
So. Tomorrow's the National Archaeological Museum. After that, we book the heck out of this red-light burb, go around the country for four days, and when we return to Athens will be in a nicer, more upscale district. Perhaps when I write out my "this is the streets of Athens" entry I'll have something to compare Omonia district's to.
Quick research request: Can anyone tell me if there's any interesting history to Areos Park ("Pedion Areos"; remember that if you're looking for it on Greek-language pages, the "p" is a pi symbol, the lower-case "n" is a v-looking letter, and the "r" is a letter that looks like p)? There is, I swear to Zeus, an abandoned amusement park just plopped down in the middle of the thing like an undiscovered ruin in the jungle. I don't have time to look it up online, though.