Archive for March, 2007

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The Internet Ate My Homework

March 28, 2007

I spent an hour hammering on this ?/§!&! French keyboard and hit save. It didn’t save. Suffice it to say we’re in France. More when I’m back on my own keyboard

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Passports lost = 1

March 21, 2007

I lose things all the time. I have probably 20 lighters ‘in circulation’ at any given time, but often I have to go in search of one. Every time I wrap a package, I buy a new roll of tape because I have no idea if I have any or where it might be. I’ve solved my lost socks problem by buying 2 dozen pair, all the same kind at the same time and throwing the old ones away. Not only do I never miss a missing sock, but I spend no time matching or sorting, so I pat myself on the back for practicality.

One might think I’m a scatterbrain, but that’s not true; at least it’s not true when I’m firing on all cylinders. I don’t care about the lighters or the tape, so I don’t exert myself tracking them. But when we’re headed out the door for the bank and R says, “where’s my bankbook?” I can give explicit directions, and I’m not even the bankbook’s keeper.

Once when I was in college, I opened my cupboard to discover an entire loaf of bread was missing. I was disproportionately distressed about that bread, because it wasn’t where I knew it was. By the time my roommate came home and told me that she’d thrown the bread away because her cat had been gnawing on it, I’d already searched the house (including the basement and under the couch.) Not because I thought I might have put the bread under the couch, but because if it wasn’t where I’d put it any alternative location seemed possible.

Slightly more important than a loaf of bread, my passport has never been something that I need to look for. Much like my foot, I just know where it is – always. So today, around the fourth time I re-affirmed that R had his passport (I mean, he does forget where he puts his bankbook, after all) he demanded that I produce mine. When I opened my wallet, it’s absence was so shocking that I closed and reopened my wallet three times, then checked the zippered compartments so small that a passport would have to be cut in thirds to fit. Nope, nada, zilch.

Things have changed since college; I didn’t look in the basement. I did call a friend with a very messy car to see if it had fallen on her floor, and when she said no, I didn’t believe her.  R kept saying the most ridiculous things, like, “It is here, you just have to find it.” IT’S NOT A ROLL OF TAPE! If it wasn’t in my wallet, it was gone. Not that he was all positive – it was well mingled with angry comments about how someone could lose something so important.

But because he kept yammering about it, I thought to pacify him I’d browse through various important paper piles. When I still didn’t find it, panic finally set in and I cried a little. Disgusted with my lack of positive thinking, he went upstairs. He said something I couldn’t hear, so I went to the base of the stairs. While standing there, I fiddled with a National Geographic laying on the bookcase. Do you know where this is going yet?

Right. My passport was lying under the magazine. Two things are important to note. First, that particular magazine has been in the same place for 6 months. Second, I NEVER hide things. I might put them away, but I don’t think under a National Geographic can be considered ‘away.’ All I can think is that I must have put it there on my way to the street market (I never take anything of real value with me because it’s very crowded and I look like a tourist) when I was lacking sleep and running late.

That my passport was lying there under a never-touched magazine is as likely as that I’d find my loaf of bread under the couch. But this time, I don’t think anyone’s going to be able to blame it on a cat.

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Language, in Retrospect

March 19, 2007

An excerpt from March 19, 2005

I sat in French class is Mme. Theiss for 45 minutes a day, 81 days a year for three years (182.25 hours, total), mostly messing around with Todd, and Becky, who’s last names also started with ‘P.’ I gave no thought to the language I was supposed to learn, never did the homework, and mostly cheated off Becky’s tests.

With all that obscene laziness, I can still, nearly two decades later, conjugate French verbs; the pronouns roll off my tongue with not a speck of thinking. I’ve now spent more than 1000 hours in Greece, and can’t say more than ‘hello’ and ‘I don’t understand.’ I can also say most of the vegetable and fruits, but not a single sentence. I suppose learning a language is never easy, but I suspect it would be easier if I were 16. The Greeks have two letters for ‘th,’ and dozens for ‘ee.’

One sees many signs and advertisements written in the Roman alphabet, and I wonder how long this one relatively small country will be able to hang onto an alphabet used solely by them. Pronunciation is fairly straightforward, once you know the rules.

The second letter of the Greek alphabet is Beta, but over time the sound has become ‘v’ and the letter sounds like ‘Veeta’ when pronounced correctly. The fourth letter is Delta, but the ‘d’ has become a ‘th,’ completely unnecessary by my way of thinking, because they already have theta. Actually, there is a distinction – delta (δ) is the th in ‘that,’ while theta (θ)is the th in ‘father.’ However, their desperate need for two ‘th’s” leaves them without a d. R and I joke that someday, all words in Greek will be made of four basic sounds – k, th, oo, and ee. We have great fun and crack ourselves up talking gobbledygook using only those sounds. With the incursion of English, it has become necessary to find ways to spell the sounds they lack.
A list of sounds which don’t exist in the Greek alphabet, and the workarounds they’ve arranged:

  • English: B Greek: mp (μπ)
  • D nt (ντ)
  • J tz (τζ)
  • Hard A ei (εΐ) this one is important, because epsilon, unstressed iota is ‘ee,’ very common.
  • Hard G gk (γκ)
  • W iou (ιου)

In Greece, the movie Finding Neverland starred Tzoni Ntep (Τζονι Ντεπ) and Keit Iounzlit (Κεϊτ Ιουνζλιτ). Add the ability to count to 100, and you know as much Greek as I do. There are two letter combinations that confound me. It seems to me that when developing a language, one should take into consideration the ease of use, but the Greeks apparently want to always know who the foreigners are. One is KPT, the other is FTH. The word for percent discount is ekptosi, and another kind of discount (cents off) is Fthinoptera. Maybe they just figure you must want to pay full price unless you’re willing to go to the trouble of pronouncing these ridiculous words. Thankfully, Greek doesn’t contain the confounding vowel sounds that Swedish has – after nearly 5 years, I still can’t tell the difference between most of them. Who needs 9 vowels, anyway!?

In the two years since I wrote that, I’ve come a long way. I can hold a slow conversation now. I’m nowhere near fluent. The simple things still confound me, like how to greet people you know. It goes something like this, and I can’t get the rhythm no matter how I try.

Person 1, “Hi. How are you?”

Person 2, “Hi. Are you well?”

Person 1, “Good, Good. You are good?”

Person 2, “Good, Good. You’re good and how’s it going?”

Person 1, “Ah, good. How are you?”

Person 2, “Good, you?”

This all happens really quickly. While they don’t repeat themselves, they do say the same thing over and over. I know all the words and phrases, but I can’t master the timing of it. I feel most lost in this language not when I’m angry or speaking on the phone, but when greeting people.

I don’t use Greek much anymore, as I’m not working. I spent 10 days working at a taverna while the English proprietor was away. Her husband speaks no English and the cook was Albanian with Greek as her second language. I learned more in that 10 days than in any of the months of study before or after.

Truthfully, I don’t know if most expats have the wherewithal to subject themselves to this intensity of learning. If I hadn’t been being paid, I certainly would have run off to a more comfortable environment after about 45 minutes of struggle. It’s hard to immerse yourself when comfortable, familiar non-immersion is just a few meters away.

One of the interesting side effects of learning Greek has been that my English is better. Words like esoteric which I’d seen but couldn’t define exist on a different plane in Greek, and curiosity leads me to learn the words in both languages. If you’re curious, esoterikos simply means internal.

I do hope I haven’t used up all my language brain cells, as I’ll hopefully soon be trying again to speak French, and hoping I really did absorb something from Mme. Theiss.

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The Painters Came!

March 17, 2007

When we moved into this house just shy of 6 months ago, the landlords filled us with promises that the house, not quite finished, soon would be. The dirt to fill the concrete pit which was to be our yard would come in one month (it took 3,) the tiles on the balcony upstairs would be finished within 2 weeks (they were finished 6 weeks ago, and the leftover tiles and someone’s ladder is still sitting out there,) and the house would be painted before November.

I’ve seen our house painter. He’s also painting our neighbor’s house and the next one over. I think I’ve seen him a dozen times in the last 6 months. He’s quite a convivial fellow who seems to like his work.

Last week, just after she finished yelling at me about our dirty kitchen windows, our neighbor said the painter would be here Friday (9th March) to put up scaffolding. He’d been at her house all day touching things up. That’s the last we saw of him until 7:45 am today. There is still no scaffolding, but he and his helper worked until about noon and managed a first coat on the top story. Good for them!

One thing did surprise me: I’ve always thought painting was rather quiet work. At 7:45 this (Saturday) morning, they were banging things against the walls and generally making a ruckus. I think one of the angles of workers here is to make you wait so long for them to do the work that when they do come, you don’t dare complain about noise, what time it is, or whether they clean up after themselves. (Our painter did, most don’t.)

I’m thinking they’ll have this done just about in time for us to see the finished product from the back of the ferry.

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Best of, Apokoronas Crete Edition

March 16, 2007

Well, I do realize that those of you who rode the wave, surfing all the way to the sandy shores of my Crete blog want a balanced view of living in Crete; I also realize the balance has tipped slightly in my recent missives. Today, I’ll make it up by listing my favorite things in and about Crete.

Best Season: Spring

Best Dish: although it’s diffy to choose, I love spanakorizo (spinach and rice.) I could eat it every single day.

Best place to enjoy the sunset in Apokoronas: Kalamaki roadside cafe, just East of Megala Chorafia (June & July are the best times to go for this purpose.)

Best Pizza: Across from the police station just outside Xania proper. I think it’s called Pizza Primo. Seriously good.

Best/Cheapest Prepaid Phone Cards: I’ve used every single one available – and finally, finally found IDT calling cards online. One cent/minute for calls from Greece to the States! I could have talked a lot longer and saved a lot of money if I’d found this earlier.

Best Seasonal Fruit: Strawberries, Apricots, and Watermelon. I couldn’t choose just one, sorry. Saturday I was at the street market/laiki and bought the most wonderful strawberries I’ve ever had that I didn’t pick myself. (2 euros/500gr.)

Best Vet: Giorgos in Souda. Across from the post office. He’s nicer to my dog than I am, and I’m pretty nice to her.

Best completely touristy restaurant: Kantari, Platanias. Go when the oranges are in bloom, sit in an orange grove and listen to the Swedish (and British) tourists. They serve a very respectable schnitzel. Skip the filet mignon for two – it’s not very good.

Best coffeehouse open year-round: Milos in the marina in Kolimbari. The daughter who picks the music has THE best taste. It’s not too loud, there’s a good mix. She introduced us to Nikos Portokaloglou, who makes…

The best Greek rock-n-roll: Nikos Portokaloglou. That guy really, really rocks. It’s good even if you can’t understand Greek; better if you can.

The best Greek yogurt: hands down, NOY NOY (pronounced noo-noo) Classic. It’s 10% fat and 100% yummy. If you can’t get your mitts on that, try Olympos. It’s second best, but still very good.

Best chocolate milk: Olympos (choco-cool is the unfortunate name.) Everything else tastes powdery and too sweet. They also bottle the best tasting regular milk.

Best place to find international cheeses: Halkiadakis SPAR on the road from Souda to Xania. They’ve got an excellent selection.

Best place to buy cheap clothes: The laiki. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re crap – but they’re always cheap.

Best ground coffee for home use: There’s a little spice shop in Chania on the road between 1866 square and the covered Market. Two doors down from the Virgin music store on the same side of the street. They sell two kinds of coffee beans (dark and darker) ground or whole, for about 7 euros/kilo. It’s good, too.

Lastly, and very practically – the best dentist. Dimitri Railakis is a sound and kind dentist with good dental skills. He speaks great English. His office is a few blocks from Eleftherios Square.

So, how’s that for positive posting about life in Crete?

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How can I integrate into a country lacking a discernable dessert culture?

March 14, 2007

As spring approaches, this (not so) young girl’s mind turns to France and dessert.

I think that most people, upon immigrating to a new country intend to integrate as best they can. I did. I really thought I’d integrate with the Greeks. But I’ve failed nearly entirely. Putting aside very serious issues where my core values diverge from the average Greek’s, today I’m going to take up the cause of dessert.

Creme Brulee

I hear the anonymous blog reading hordes shouting, “baklava!”; I’m not ignoring this delightful but entirely one-dimensional pastry. To those who offer this syrup-soaked sweet I say, “What else you got?”

Before the Greek dessert defenders gather up their tiny forks and come hunting, I would like to point out that while Baklava is likely the best known Greek/Turkish sweet, there are others. There’s kadaifi. What’s this? That’s easy. Kadaifi is like baklava, except the sheets of phyllo are replaced by…shredded phyllo.

There’s also a cake called revani which is made with wheat meal (like semolina for pasta) and soaked with syrup. Occasionally I’ve been offered a fried ball of dough coated in – surprise, surprise – syrup. When I’ve tired of all things syrup-soaked, I turn my attention to cookies. The thing I really love about cookies is that there’s such an endless variety. One particular branch of the cookie tree is dedicated to dry cookies which taste like lightly sweetened sand. That’s the branch that grows in Greece.

This is not to say there’s nothing good and sweet to eat after a meal here. There’s Greek yogurt with honey or fruit preserved in syrup (are you sensing the syrup theme?) I love Greek yogurt; it’s better than ice cream, but it’s not on the same plane as chocolate apricot torte, creme brulee, nectarine tart or a strawberry-brioche donut. I’m talking about serious desserts, which are utterly absent here.

With a zaharoplasteo on every corner displaying 15 kinds of cakes and sweets it’s difficult to believe that a good dessert is simply unavailable, but it’s true. I’ve eaten some of these and they are foul. Brown wax instead of chocolate, sweetened vegetable oil instead of cream…well, you get the picture.

I should have know there would be a problem when my fudge frosted chocolate cake with apricot filling leftovers sat untouched for days in our local taverna. The cake had rightfully recieved rave reviews when served the international guests. Finally, I asked the proprietor why no one was eating the remains. She said she couldn’t be sure, but she suspected it was the apricot filling. They, apparently, don’t like too much flavor in their sweets.

And so my heart swells with hope that I shall soon relocate to a place where desserts are given the respect and honor they are due. My mouth is watering.

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Unlucky, in Greek

March 13, 2007

Today in Greece is unlucky. Tuesday the 13th is the Greek version of our Friday the 13th. Wikipedia says, “In the case of Greece, Tuesday, April 13, 1204 was the date that Constantinople was sacked by the crusaders of the fourth crusade. The first ever fall of the richest then Christian city, and the looting that followed, allegedly gave Tuesday 13 its bad meaning.”