Greece so Far

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Europeans have really got to figure out that a fast connection does not entail a 14.4 modem line. (Actually, I have no idea what it is, but it isn’t fast. In spite of the fact that its advertised as being such.) Luckily, a Greek keyboard seems to consist of an American keyboard with Greek superimposed on top and a method of toggling between characters. So, I can type. I’m in Athens at the moment…. My feet were REALLY hurting when I came across this net cafe… So, instead of stopping for a beer as I was thinking about doing, I stopped to e-mail.

Last Tuesday was “Greek day” on campus. Greek olympics with bedsheet-togas ended up being more enjoyable than it might sound. I think I won style points for a full backwards somersault during the backwards race and simply picking up my partner in the 3-legged race. The night before we left we built a fire out in the vineyard and those with talent played guitar for the rest of us. A fun night.

The trip over here was a bit rough: an all-day bus ride followed by a 15 hour boat ride. The “Superfast Ferry” was, however, rather comfortable. I was one of those lucky enough to get a couchette instead of an airline seat and got some sleep. The couchettes are basically catacombs, but they are (usually) horizontal. The Greeks on the ship spoke English for the most part, but it sounded as if they learned from some television show full of idiomatic speech which they haven’t quite grasped, making things quite humorous. For instance, a waiter said to me in reference to my empty plate, “Hey, my man, you finished?” “Yes.” “Very good, I take it now, so far so good, I catch you later, my man.”

We arrived in Patros (I’d try to type the Greek stuff in Greek, but it probably wouldn’t wind up right on your screen) a small port in the middle of the afternoon on Thursday. We boarded two double-decker Greek buses for our ride to Delphi, the navel of the world. The Greek bus drivers supposedly smoke twice as much as the Italians and drive twice as fast. Ours simply smoked twice as much and drove half as slow. So slow, in fact, I thought we were going to have to get out and push. Delphi was good, I had my first 5 Gyros at at a Taverna… It was a good night, we sat in this Taverna from 5pm to 1am (there just isn’t that much to do in Delphi when you’ve got the sanctuary of Apollo and the sanctuary of Athena down… Plus the really boring archaeological museum…) Anyway, we drank about as many Amstels as we ate Gyros — and they’re about the same price. In just about all of Greece, beer comes in three flavors, Amstel, Heineken and Mythos. Mythos is actually a Greek beer. It’s also really nasty and smells something like a cross between a skunk, a latrine, and sulfur dioxide. The Greeks generally drink Ouzo, which is this hell-liquor that is similar to Sambuca, but quite a bit stronger. No American I’ve talked to, even those who like Sambuca, are too thrilled with Ouzo. Its usually consumed at a Kafeneneo or something like that, only written in Greek, and I can’t remember what the last half is. This institution is funny in that it hasn’t faded in the least with the advent of feminism. No women are alowed inside. Men go in, sip Ouzo, and smoke these water pipe things. I’ve not yet gone in one myself as they look rather scary. Anyway, Saturday morning we left for Athens, land of the best Gyros in Greece. (Gyro is a fun word. I just can’t get it quite right. The pronunciation is the middle ground between Hero and Euro.) Jon Bird is captain of the Gyro brigade, of which I seem to be a member. Its our mission to eat more of them in Athens than the record last semester, which is 24. So far I’ve eaten 19, and I’ve got tonight left. It’s gonna be tough. For those of oyu that don’t know, Gyros are pita bread (freshly made and then dropped onto a skillet to make them hot) with some sort of meat (Lamb, Beef, Chicken, Pork. Pork and Lamb are the most popular.) The meat is roasted on a rotisserie devicer, and they shave off the outside bit and put it in your Gyro. Then comes onions and tomatoes (I’m not much of a tomato fan). On top are chips (french fries) and a yogurt-cucumber sauce. Then they sprinkle this really good seasoning on top, wrap it up and stick it in a little paper wrapper. All of this takes about 14 seconds. They cost 400 Drachma pretty much everywhere. Its funny that while Gyros have a set price, beer ranges from 200-1400 drachma for .5 liter. It’s nuts.

On to more educational things in Athens. There is, of course, the Acropolis, or as my art and arch professor refers to it, Athena-land. Wow. I wasn’t really impressed with it from pictures, but it becomes obvious why Athena belongs there once you see it looming over the city. The Parthenon itself isn’t that exciting, but it looks really neat from Lekapito (something like that) a pointy mountain-hill right next to it, from which you can actually look down on the Parthenon and see across the water to the Mountains on the Peloponese. Most of yesterday was spent on the Acropolis and then down in the Agora where we soaked up all sorts of fun stuff. Our professors aren’t licensed tour guides, so they get harassed by people occasionally–usually in Greek. Such an occurrence is usually great fodder for amusement on our part, especially since Dr. Hatlie, our Western Civ professor, is fluent in Modern Greek and yells back at them.

Last night and the night before held an unprecedented sort of amusement no one was prepared for. We were (un?)lucky, and managed to catch Carnevale twice. In Italy, it’s celebrated on Mardi Gras and the week or so before. People dress up like Halloween and go into the streets and throw confetti and drink. The Greek Orthodox calender is different, and they celebrated Carnevale yesterday and the week or so before. Today is the first day of their lenten season. So, we left Italy on Wednesday, and get to greece in time for more celebration. The Athenians celebrate Carnevale much in the same way, only on a much larger scale with one addition. They not only throw confetti and streamers and things around, they also purchase plastic clubs and club people. They mull about the Plaka and just pummel each other with these plastic clubs. It doesn’t really hurt for the most part, although some blows smart a bit. Well, you can imagine that this cause much confusion amongst an unsuspecting group of Americans. So what did we do? Bought a bunch of clubs and whacked ’em right back. It’s really pretty fun when you think about it, you walk by and just whack random strangers. In the states I’m sure it would turn into deadly gang wars instantly. They’re pretty good about it here, though some of the groups get together and fight each other pretty viciously. They line up on each side of the street then charge at each other, and whoever gives up first loses. I wonder if anyone ends up seriously hurt or not, I didn’t see anything worse than the occasional bloody nose. For the casual clubbist, its not much of a problem, you just don’t take on vicious groups. Anyway, after two nights of that mania, the city is pretty much dead today, save the tourists. In fact, I was quite surprised to find this place open.

After climbing the hill this afternoon, I stopped to rest on the steps of some important looking building when a guy with an uzzi in his hand comes out and starts talking to me in Greek. I naturally get up and start walking the other direction but he says “No, no, please, please,” and points to the steps. So I set back down, he smiles, jabbers some more in greek and walks off. I’ve never been accosted by anyone with an automatic weapon before–I suppose there’s a first time for everything. The police all carry them, and you get used to people carrying large firearms, but I’ve never had anyone say anything to me. I’ve wanted to take a picture of one of them, but they really don’t look too thrilled about that idea, so I haven’t tried.

Tomorrow morning, its on to Corinth and Mycinae and the Nafplion where we spend a day or so. The beaches are supposedly nice.

So far, I really like Greece. Athens is big, noisy, dirty, and not as easy-going as Rome. Otherwise, I really like the country I’ve seen so far. The land is just amazing. It seems to be almost entirely mountains with the sea surrounding it. Where else can you get so much sea and so many mountains? My two favorite places…

The weather is spring. I’ve never really been in a place with much of a spring before. Greece is much hotter than Rome was when we left it, it’s about 75-80 here in the afternoon, whereas greece was about 70. I have a feeling that once May rolls around I’m really going to want to be headed North.

One last interesting event:

After acquiring some gyros, a small group of us were looking for a curb to sit on and eat them when some old fat greeks, 3 guys and one woman, motion us into this alleyway where they’ve got a table set up that has some extra chairs. It looked like it was sort of their yard they were eating in. We decided to be daring and join them, but none of us knew any Greek and they knew no English. Actually, Mark knows classical Greek, but it doesn’t help him with spoken, modern Greek at all. He can read most of the signs though which is more than the rest of us can manage. So they sit us down and offer us some wine-looking stuff out of a Fanta bottle. After a couple others try it and don’t die, I have a little cup. WHOA. I don’t know what it was, it tasted like homemade wine with some really hard alcohol mixed in. We sat around and drank with them for a good hour. They fed us octopus and stinky cheese and olives and other unidentifiable stuff. They seemed to just really enjoy having us to laugh at. We were able to make minimal conversation, and overall, there was something fun about mingling with the locals. After we thanked them and were walking down the street, a couple of the guys who’d had a bit more of the wine concoction than others noted that they were feeling quite tipsy and muttered something about hoping it wasn’t laced with anything too bad. I was just fine, having had no more than my little plastic cupful.

Those of you who wrote me, thanks a bunch for the e-mail, but I’m having difficulty with this Greek connection, so I don’t think I’ll be able to respond until I get to Rome…

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