Posted by: tabliope | November 22, 2013

People keep asking me what I’m going to miss the most when I leave here and I’ve finally managed to narrow it down to two things. This isn’t including things like the weather, the access to islands and living in an apartment that is only slightly smaller than the Palace of Versailles.

The two things I’ll really miss are: cafes and the directness of Greek people.

Most cafes here still have waiter/ess service. Eventually. But the point of going to a cafe isn’t to be in a hurry, if you’re in a hurry for your coffee then you order it to take away with you. The point of going to a cafe is to sit, make some phone calls, chat to friends, read the paper, watch the world go by and yes, if you insist,have some coffee. When you arrive you’ll be given water and an ashtray (Greece outlawed smoking indoors about three years ago and you can imagine how successful that was*). You won’t be expected to give up your table when you’ve finished your coffee and water will continue to be brought. Some cafes will leave a carafe of water on the table. Most cafes (apart from the Starbuck type) will also sell some type of alcohol; at the very least you’ll be able to get beer and wine so that solves the problem of where to go for that early evening jaunt when one guest wants coffee, their children want ice cream and you need a drink. 

The other thing I will miss is that I will never have to wonder what it is I might have done to annoy a Greek person. In England you are expected to know by some sort of osmosis why you are being given a grim look and there are muttered tuts going in your direction. If you ask the person if there’s a problem then they’ll assure you absolutely that there isn’t while continuing to make pointed comments. It’s not so much ‘least said, soonest mended,’ but ‘least said, let the war of attrition begin’.

Shortly after moving here I was over enthusiastic in cleaning my balcony and managed to shower my neighbour’s clean laundry with a lot of dirty water. She was up at my apartment door like a rat out of a trap and spent what felt like the next twenty minutes cursing me from here to hell and back again. After finishing with me she stormed off and I was left wondering whether or not we ought to move house. I spent hours worrying about it and how I could make it up to her and how I’d managed to queer our pitch here. In the end I went and threw money at the problem and bought her some flowers and turned up at her door to offer huge apologies. She was baffled as to why I should do this. She hugged me and laughed and all was fine. Passive-aggressive doesn’t exist in the Greek language. You will never hear a Greek say, ‘well I didn’t like to say anything’ whilst they plot your downfall for the next twenty years.

*One of my husband’s colleagues continued to smoke at her desk and the big boss would explain that she should go outside and she would insist that she was outside because the window was open.

 

Advertisements
Posted by: tabliope | November 21, 2013

These days now are about counting; how many days before I leave, how many days before I leave the apartment; how much should I sell various items of furniture for? Counting the people to invite for that last coffee the day before I leave. Counting the number of times I visited the Acropolis – I lost count at 22.

In the winter months, November to March, it’s free to go to all the open air museums on Sundays but I’d still have benefited from a season ticket to that old rock because of the number of guests I accompanied. I still prefer viewing the Parthenon from a distance but I also love standing up there and looking down at the city, spread out like a concrete quilt. The only colour comes from Ikea over by the National Road and, on a clear day, the sea down at Pireaus.

No one could really describe Athens as a beautiful city but despite it not being pretty it has style, flamboyance and confidence. If Athens was a woman she would be the one who doesn’t go for beauty treatments, eats what she wants when she wants and doesn’t wear fashionable clothes. If you look only for the attractiveness of the conventional then you’ll be disappointed by her but under-estimate her at your own risk.

I’ve seen Athens from the top of Ymitos, Pendeli, Parnitha and Tatoi. On clear days from Ymitos you can pick out the trio of the Hill of Lycabettus, the Acropolis and the hill of Philopappou. Now from these points I can pick up the roads, Pireaus Street, Kifissias, Sofias, Parliament. The Hilton Hotel with its curves lends some help to the geography.

It can be hot, dirty and chaotic. When the rains come the roads become rivers. People shout and will push you on the metro. It’s a crazy place but it’s fun.

And maybe it is a beautiful city. You just have to reconsider the conventional.

Posted by: tabliope | November 6, 2013

development

When I was in paid employment one of the things that ran through our year was that of Continuous Professional Development, usually thought of as ‘oh my God I’ve got to do some supervised hours/go to a conference/lie about going to a conference/ignore the whole CPD thing and pretend I didn’t get the memo.’  Then there was the Appraisal which was referred to in hushed tones by senior management as if it were the holy grail of education. It was really an hour out of an already busy day making excuses as to why you might not have achieved a target that had been plucked out of the air/making excuses as to why your job couldn’t be regraded.

Now that I’m going back to the UK I’ve been giving some thought to what I might actually do when I get there; what I can actually do given that I’m not going to be able to go back to what I did before. It’s taken a long time but I no longer feel defined by my job now and I realise what I’ve achieved in the eleven years that I’ve been away. Recently I applied for a local job with the Embassy and I had to put a CV together. By the time I’d finished embellishing it I was pretty pleased with it and felt that I’d definitely want to interview someone like me. (Sadly the Embassy didn’t share my view but I knew that there was already the hoofprint of an Embassy spouse on the job so I wasn’t surprised.)

*I’ve worked in a number of roles as a volunteer and I did many of those using a second language. Some of those roles were less than glamorous, involving washing dishes, picking my way through rotting vegetables and stacking shelves. Some were slightly more glam and didn’t require me to wear rubber gloves – hospital visiting, for instance. This demonstrates an ability to learn, shows flexibility and that I’m able to work at a variety of levels.

*I’ve written a lot. I even finished a novel and ignoring the fact that it’s not actually that good, I did do it. It must demonstrate something? Like being a self-starter or whatever that buzz word has become. 

*I have lived in three different countries and worked with people from a broad range of cultures and backgrounds. (there has to be something that allows me to use the skills of not snorting with laughter when a rich trailing spouse tells me, in all seriousness, that things have got really bad because Armani has shut.)

*I achieved fluency in German and can manage day-to-day transactions in Greek. (Surely there’s a nice little job where my ability to ask, in Greek, for a glass of wine and some grilled octopus would come in useful)

*taught myself to crochet

*knitted a blanket

*can make a souffle 

*can make fantastic baklava muffins

*made some brilliant friends

*kept some brilliant friends

*became a nicer person

People ask me what I shall do when I go back to the UK and I really have no idea. But the important thing is that I really don’t mind that I have no idea. Well, I do have some ideas but they don’t involve work. For one thing I’m going to buy a new bike and cycle much more. I’m going to do some voluntary work and in the new year I shall look around the employment agencies and see what’s what.  

 

 

Posted by: tabliope | October 31, 2013

tenuous connections

One of my Bridge partners is a gentleman who has lived in Greece since 1958; he studied Classics at university, picked up some Modern Greek along the way and after graduation decided to spend a year  teaching English on Spetses. He arrived the year that John Fowles left and, like Fowles, he too was a guest of Petros Botassi at the Villa Giacemia. However he hasn’t read The Magus, ‘it’s not really terribly good, is it. It’s half enquiry and half statement. ‘After all’ he tells me, ‘he was a good enough man but not that interesting.’ I’m unsure if he means Fowles or Botassi but by now he’s chiding me for not having played my ace and we’re moving on to other stories.

“Now, Paddy‘ he tells me, ‘Paddy could write a story.’ It turns out that he and Patrick Leigh Fermor would drink their way around Athens and Kardhamili in the Mani. They met when both were ‘dragged’ to the Residency for a dinner. Back then, according to my friend, there were only about 20 Brits in the whole of Greece and ‘only about a dozen of them that could be approached by the Embassy’. 

This last weekend we went to Kardhamili, where Fermor spent much of his life. He scattered Bruce Chatwin’s ashes high above the village outside one of the tiny little churches that are scattered over the countryside. One of my favourite novels is On The Black HIll and in a few weeks time that part of the country will be within striking distance for me. As I walk those hills in the rain I can think of Kardhamili in the sunshine.

Posted by: tabliope | October 24, 2013

Fitting in (again)

Inevitably as I prepare to leave Athens I find not only the best yoghurt in the world but I also find myself surrounded by new best friends who are all going to miss me greatly. There seems to be something about leaving that gives a permission to people to open up to you. The day before I left Switzerland Frau Stüder invited me into her house for coffee to tell me what a fabulous neighbour I’d been. Herr S in the ground floor apartment invited Mr T to go on ‘Du’ terms with him and he and his wife said we must call in any time we just happen to be passing. Sometimes I think it would be worth the cost of the flight just to pop up on their doorstep and scare them silly. ‘Hi, it’s us, let’s have fun!’

My new best friends are being very gloomy about my return to the UK and telling me that I’m never going to fit in there. I’ve been told this so often in my life, starting at primary school, that it is starting to wash over me slightly (so that only took fifty years) but I do worry slightly.  I know that there’s going to be that mad honeymoon phase where I’ll go to Waitrose five times a day and not have to check a dictionary for whatever unusual thing I want to buy. All I need to do is remember not to shove too many people out of my way in the process. I also need to learn not to shout. But then after all that am I going to miss that feeling of living somewhere else? Am I going to miss being the person who flies in and everyone fits around me because I’m so self centred special. 

When I first moved to Greece it wasn’t the UK I was homesick for but Germany. I remember standing in the supermarket feeling lost and then I heard someone speak German and I understood them and I missed understanding what was going on around me. At least I won’t have the language barrier when I return to England. Innit. But will I be homesick? And what will I miss?

One of the things I’ve noticed is that because I’ve got older in a different place I haven’t got used to being middle-aged in the place I shall end up living. Now I’m coping with the different mannerisms and behaviours and how you’re treated as a middle-aged woman in the UK (a whole other blog post). Not only do I have a lot more sympathy for my mother I actually recognise the moment I turned into her. Fortunately Mr T has turned into his father so we’re still bumping along nicely.

 

 

 

 

Posted by: tabliope | October 22, 2013

Just one thing

or Greece according to me.

I’m heartened by Richard Osman telling me that I don’t really have to worry about all these lists of things you have to do/read/make/ before you die. I find them annoying and depressing in equal measure because I can’t believe that someone really believes I have to read both Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings (they appeared on one of those best books evah!) and yet they don’t mention Donna Tartt or John Fowles. Then you get the list of places, half of which you know are going to be stuffed full of people waving the list arguing with their significant other as to why it should have been on the list in the first place. The other half , I’m sure, have been added purely to make the writer look well-traveled and more interesting. 

There’s the preamble to me giving you the ‘just one thing’ and you can ignore it at your leisure, scoff at my ideas and find the bits I’ve added in to make myself look well-traveled and interesting.

*If you are going to visit only one ancient monument then go to Olympia and if you can go in April when the Judas trees are flowering then it will be even more wonderful. Combine this with a stay in the Mani and if you do this in April then you’ll find the Mavromichalai luxurious and good value (for the level of luxury). It’s got beds that are so big that you could lose your partner, in fact, you’re quite possibly in different time zones. The breakfast is amazing and you can swim straight from their terrace. 

*The best laid-back, cheap beach/pool holiday has to be Katigiorgis. Stay at Fotini’s – it’s 45 Euros a night for a studio even in August and this includes air conditioning and use of the pool. There are amazing views across to Skiathos, a beautiful garden and lovely people. The beds aren’t great and it’s not going to win any style awards but the luxury lies in being able to walk through pine forests to deserted beaches. 

*Go to Meteora and take walking shoes. Stay for at least three days and visit all those amazing monasteries and then eat amazing kontosouvliYou’re going to walk it all off visiting those monks.

*If you’re in Athens and you’re pushed for time make sure you climb Philopappou . It will give you the best view of the Acropolis, there will be far fewer people (you might be alone) and I would rate it higher than visiting the actual Acropolis. 

*One museum in Athens then it’s got to be the New Acropolis Museum and then ask yourself afterwards why the Elgin Marbles shouldn’t be returned. 

* One snack and it has to be souvlaki down in Monastiraki if you’re in Athens. If you’re by the coast then  go to an Ouzeri and have a small meze. Get a view of the sea.

 

 

Posted by: tabliope | October 15, 2013

Things my cleaner has told me

* Baking soda, a scrubbing brush and hard work will clean most things. I take her word for this but am pampered so haven’t actually tried it.

* Being a refugee with ‘exceptional leave to remain’ can go on for many years. If she left here to visit anywhere else she may not get back in the country and would have to go through the whole process again.

* Even when you’ve left a war-torn country where you saw your mother shot dead in front of you, you will miss your home.

* Doing the best for her children meant sending them to yet a different country where someone else looked after them.

*She used to work for the police and had a house and a car. She had to leave with two suitcases and her children. Her husband was beaten so badly he hasn’t walked properly since. They were separated for two years while she applied to get him with her.

* ‘You have to be grateful for the life’, she tells me.

 

My current preoccupation is that my bureau may not fit in the room that I would like it to in my new house and that I have to sell one of my sofas. 

Posted by: tabliope | October 1, 2013

Weather forecasts

One of the things I’ll miss is the lovely weather we have although I won’t miss July and August heat because that’s just too much. But I’ll miss the warm spring and autumn, miss being able to swim late into October and I’ll miss the warmth of the sun on my skin. I’ll also miss the rain. When they have rain here they have RAIN. It is torrential and can last for several hours – this is what we had in January although that’s at the extreme end of torrential rain. It’s the 1st of October and the weather clock ticked right in shortly after midnight with a huge thunderstorm which lit up Pendeli mountain with the rain continuing up until an hour ago. I needed wellies to be able to cross the road but now the sun is out and everything feels fresh.

This morning I checked the weather forecast for where I’m moving to and it was giving a light drizzle. Drizzle: the wasp of the weather world bringing nothing comforting, simply being a pest. Drizzle: should I put my umbrella up or not? Should I switch the windscreen wipers on or not? It’s glum, dismal and can go on for days. 

Posted by: tabliope | September 29, 2013

The High Life

On the corner of Syntagma Square and Amalias sits the Grande Bretagne Hotel. There is nothing of particular architectural interest to the building but it’s old, solid and reliable, the grande dame of Athens. When there were three nights of rioting outside its doors it carried on as ever and didn’t evacuate anyone who didn’t ask to be evacuated. Unlike the other hotels on the square who scrambled everyone out. I like to think that the guests carried on drinking and eating on the roof garden and were far too polite to mention the tear gas although I imagine it would have thinned somewhat by the third floor.

 Our budget doesn’t generally run to the GB. From time to time we’ve attended various functions in the ballroom which have been heavily subsidised but we promised ourselves that we would go and have cocktails on the roof terrace before we left Athens. Much is made of the view of the Acropolis from this terrace and it’s truly a great view, but most hotels in downtown Athens will have a view of the Acropolis because it’s pretty hard to miss. There are cheaper options and, I’m sad to say, probably better ones. There was not enough fuss and the snacks weren’t great; a bowl of unsalted nuts for heaven’s sake.

 I was ridiculously excited about going to the GB and once I’d got a seat at the bar I photographed everything. When I wasn’t photographing things I was pointing or gawping and generally acting like the hick tourist. I don’t care, I like to get excited about things and drinking cocktails up there is definitely something I don’t get to do every day. For the price of our two drinks we could have bought a bottle of gin, a bottle of vermouth, put some ice in a flask and sat on Philapapou Hill and had an even better view of the Acropolis, that is until our eyes glazed over. But then I wouldn’t have got to see all the rich and glamorous people who seemed a little bored, or maybe just not too interested in the idea that they were sitting in one of the most glamorous shows in town looking at a fantastic view. And then I started wondering about what really rich people do to treat themselves. Although I spend a lot of time thinking that I’d like to have several things that I don’t have I know that I’m actually pretty lucky. After watching the poor rich people on Friday I think I’m really lucky because I’m able to be excited about what can be seen to be a pretty small thing whereas the only thing left for them would be to invade a small country.

Posted by: tabliope | September 27, 2013

Coffee Time

I couldn’t blog yesterday because I suffered a terrible shock. I was browsing the website of a rental agent in the UK and saw a property that I’d like to view which is so far so good. Written underneath the picture of the house were the words: ‘in a sort after area’. I worried that I would be exposing myself to emails full of ‘would of’ and ‘should of’ and where would it end. Of course this means that this blog post will be littered with grammatical errors so please don’t spare yourselves.

When I first arrived here and it dawned on me that it wasn’t going to be a balmy 28 degrees all year round, that getting an internet connection would take an act of parliament and that no, not everyone spoke English, I used to spend mornings looking at the view from this coffee shop. More truthfully, I looked at the view when I lifted my head from my laptop because I only came for the free internet which allowed me to send whiny emails to my friends.

20130927-111914.jpg

That there view gives the lookout onto my local butcher, greengrocer and what was my local bakery before they closed down. I had some epic rows in the bakery and whilst it’s sad to see another business go to the wall they should have learned something about customers and service. One morning I went in to buy a substantial amount of baked goods and the bill came to €8.50 and I offered the sales lady a €50 note. This was greeted with derision and she told me to go and get change at the periptero. We had a full and frank exchange of views which I lost so I dumped my spanakopitaon her counter and then walked another mile to buy some more. That showed her. Oh yes.

I’ve learnt most of my kitchen Greek from the butcher and greengrocer. As far as I can tell none of them speak English but they’re infinitely patient with my attempts. When I say ‘patient’ I mean this in a Greek way so there is some shouting and chivvying going on but no actual blood. When I asked the lady in the dry cleaners if she spoke English she laughed at me. The woman in the periptero hates people and communicates purely in grunts. She hates foreigners particularly which is why she chose the career move of selling international newspapers instead of sticking with the Greek press. I have beaten her down with kindess and every single time I buy something there I beam at her and give her a cheery kalimera and it only took about two years but she finally nodded once, slightly.

The cafe itself makes good coffee and even better gelato. It’s a favourite of the previous prime minister’s and I used to see him here from time to time. He was always charming.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

Categories