Barking in Varkiza

April 12, 2011 § 19 Comments

For all you lovely people who have been emailing asking sweet things like where the hell are you, and are you alive, and will you please help me as I am the caretaker of a vast sub-Saharan fortune the protection of which requires all of the personal information of a strange American picked out of an email spam list who is to receive naturally a substantial cut of these ill gotten gains, yes, Luca and I have landed in Greece after several weeks in Santa Fe, where we decided to cool our heels while our stuff journeyed what is surely the wrong way, historically speaking, across the Atlantic. We are in Varkiza, on the coast south of Athens.

Map of Varkiza

(Mom, this is in Europe, along the Southern coast, between that unadvisedly trendy knee-high stiletto boot on the left, which is Italy, and Turkey on the right, with a blue sea cluttered up with islands between us and Turkey. Look on the map on the wall. At the Europe part. It’s above Africa. No? OK, I’ll tell Diana to stick a post-it on it.)

Moving from New World to Old reminds me of the old joke about what happens when you run a country record backward: your wife comes back, your dog comes to life, your car fixes itself. Only I imagine us marching backward, speaking in weird diphthongs as prosperity flows away from us, we get shorter, our wallets get lighter, our waists nip in, our expectations shrivel up like tidal anemones given a poke with a stick, and our health becomes suddenly insured.

Today is my sixth day in Greece. I write you from the Hotel Stefanakis on Afroditis Street, after another day spent assembling IKEA things in the new still uninhabitable apartment, and going here and there asking questions of the handsome, earnest Greek women who work everywhere, are helpful and kind, and whose faces, in repose, look almost nauseated with fury.

I have no right to employment here (yet) and even if I did, there is something like 15% unemployment in Greece so it would be silly to try to find a job, given that the only thing I know how to say in Greek is that I don’t understand Greek. I am therefore stuck as housewife for the foreseeable future, with a novel to write and paintings to paint, all activities of the lady of leisure really, not something I was ever raised to want, but I won’t pretend to make a fuss as you know and I know that I am the luckiest bitch in creation, if on occasion a little bored, so I have seized upon something I can do that needs doing: telling you about Greece.

Oh, well, isn’t everyone doing it? No. I looked all over to find someone in English discussing on the Interwebs the ins and outs of doing what I am doing where I am doing it, and I was concerned to discover there was no English-language Yelp! to tell me which are the good restaurants here, which the good supermarkets, which the English-speaking pharmacists, and how to feel about that ****ing filthy stupid insolent dog that lies in the middle of the street on the corner of Vasileos Konstantinou and Afroditis all day interrupted only by episodes of chasing cars and barking and biting at their wheels as they drive past.

Status today:

Cats: installed in very nice modern apartment with terraces facing the mountains and coast; animals are suffering gastrointestinal distress due to suspect European pet foods with very little information on the cans, though one claimed proudly in Italian that the food was “not tested on animals.”

Apartment: no electricity, no phone, no Internet, no major appliances, and our furniture is still in transit.

Weather: sunny, cool breezes, exactly the same for a week straight, but chilly in the shade and at night.

Husband: installed at the Alexander Fleming Biomedical Research Institute, setting up his office and lab space and thinking night and day about possible experiments.

Self: learning Greek via Pimsleur Modern Greek, trying to figure out the shopping, and looking for something to read next, having just finished in the last month The Light Years and Marking Time from Elizabeth Jane Howard, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas père, and the surprisingly plodding Fanny Hill: Memoirs Of A Woman of Pleasure (Wordsworth Classics) by John Cleland. All suggestions welcome.

I know this post is disgustingly scatterbrained and probably does not tell you a thing that you were actually wondering about, but I’m sorry. It is all I can do. I have been eating souvlaki and salad twice a day for a week and taking Costco vitamins that, now that I look at the label, seem to be prenatal, how optimistic. (No, I am not pregnant, Mom. I think. Today.)

I am beginning to dream of gyros, the diligent man in an apron manning four spits at once with his gyro scraper, shaving, shaving, shaving into sandwiches, day and night, day and night, there must be a Karate-Kid–type application for this repetitive motion, stroke down, down, down, turn the spit, stroke down.

God bless the gyro man! Do I dare to say he is my — no, I do not.

In the days to come, I hope to tell you about Varkiza and surrounding areas, or at least the little I have seen so far, the Pimsleur method and how successful it has been in making me a Greek speaker, Greek drivers, Greek infrastructure and government services, and how well cats travel.

For anyone else hot to come to Greece, I direct you to a wonderful blog that I have just found, which is far better organized and serious than mine, which (the other blog) is Athens-centric, and to which I have already referred often:

Living in Greece

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§ 19 Responses to Barking in Varkiza

  • Style Spy says:

    Say the word and I’ll send you respectable cat food.

    Pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve ever typed that sentence.

  • Diana says:

    I wonder if the kitties wouldn’t do better on some gyro or souvlaki meat? I mean, the unadulterated kind that’s just grilled – until you can get them the raw stuff again.

  • kyahgirl says:

    hey Tania…I hope the kitties are feeling better soon.

    I’m afraid I can’t think of Greece without remembering the movie Shirley Valentine. it was hilarious (if you like British humour).

    any interesting perfume prospects in Greece?

    • Hello, Laura! Never saw Shirley Valentine and now must look it up. Of course I adore British humor. I haven’t paid much attention to perfume—in fact, if you can imagine I haven’t even smelled Traversée du Bosphore yet, a regionally relevant idea. I’ve just been off perfume ever since I smelled the latest iteration of L’Heure Bleue, just broke my heart, and now I wear an old bottle of Jolie Madame and stand in the darkness and make a fist and weep quietly, etc.

      • Persolaise says:

        Oh no, what’ve they done to L’Heure Bleue? And whatever it is, is it because of IFRA/regulation… or because of costs?

      • I think there has been an expensive and valiant effort on Guerlain’s part to maintain as much of the quality of their flagship fragrances as possible, in the face of restrictions on so many of the materials used most liberally in classic perfumery, none of which have entirely acceptable substitutes.

        In the foreword to the new book, I explain my point of view on this as both a perfume lover and a lifetime allergy-asthma-dermatitis sufferer.

      • Persolaise says:

        Thanks for that.

        Please feel free to ‘disapprove’ this comment if you wish to avoid mentions of other sites, but there’s an interview coming up on Basenotes very soon which you may well find quite interesting as regards perfume houses being ‘obliged’ to reformulate.

  • Tania,

    I sincerely wish you a pleasant stay and not too much trouble with your cats (Not everyone is poisoning other people’s cats, rest easy) Clearly you guys need a bit of guidance and help, otherwise, what are you going to say to your friends of your stay here? No Michelin-starred eating? no shopping? no dip in the sea ogling bronzed bodies scantily clad? (oops, that’s a male fantasy). No perfume collections to speak of? Bah…

    I have sent you word on your MUA mail, check it out. 🙂

    • Hi, Elena. As our cats live at the top floor of an apartment building, with only occasional supervised excursions to the terrace, it would take dedication and planning for even the most vile Attican psychopath to poison them. (Message to vile Attican psychopaths: this is not a challenge.)

      I also did receive your thoughtful MUA message. Though it may disappoint you in your eagerness to guide, actually we have visited this area many times and have friends who live and work here to show us around—so there is no need, but thanks.

  • Funny, from your quote: “I was concerned to discover there was no English-language Yelp! to tell me which are the good restaurants here, which the good supermarkets, which the English-speaking pharmacists”, I was under the impression that you hadn’t exactly been presented with the proper choices. Not to mention food; if you’re eating souvlaki two weeks straight…
    In fact judging by the poisoning concerns, I deduce most of the info comes from foreign press. My reading comprehension skills might be a little rusty, nevertheless, this won’t be the first time they’re questioned. 🙂
    No doubt Luca has made friends since the Mykonos convention and his colleagues will guide you as should, I’m quite sure!

    There is absolutely no disappointment, as, when offering help with no strings attached or any agenda, how could there be any? My offer was to *you*, woman to woman, because I sympathise with following someone one loves from place to place. I think you’d might even get a job (surely, as an English major I could think of many possibilities). At any rate, you know how and where to ask. 🙂

    BTW, offal is routinely served in Easter’s Eve meal (midnight) and is delicious; highly recommended you check it out, as well as the Good Friday procession which is very fragrant.
    And don’t get alarmed by all the crackers you’ll hear going off this coming week; they’re preparing for Easter (your friends will surely explain the historical correlation which is quite touching)

    Cheers and all the best!

  • Elisa says:

    For reading, I recommend Howards End and A High Wind in Jamaica, if, like me, you get around to the classics slowly.

    • Hello, Elisa, and welcome, and thanks!

      I have just finished Mark Twain’s novel on Joan of Arc and am now diving into Mansfield Park, which I pretended to read in college, and now am actually going to read. It was good to wait: I don’t think I would have truly understood the politics and economics of Austen until now.

  • kat says:

    Hi Tania, thanks for the mention! My website is more serious because I’m a journalist, and it’s not Athens-centric though it may seem that way because 40 percent of the population lives and works there. The website is for everyone, as whatever laws apply to Americans apply to all non-EU citizens, and half my readers are Greek.

    Enjoy your stay!

  • Elisa says:

    Hi Tania, I’d love to hear you elaborate sometime on this point: “as both a perfume lover and a lifetime allergy-asthma-dermatitis sufferer.” I too have mondo allergies and extremely sensitive skin — for the most part, perfume doesn’t trigger anything for me. So I’ve always felt that perfume allergies are vastly overstated. I’d be really curious about your take on this.

    • Elisa, my thoughts will be in the book, so I’ll just sum up, much more crudely: Am I going to prevent another woman from wearing the perfect red lipstick because it would give me the itches? No? So give me back my L’Heure Bleue, IFRA bitches.

      However, I don’t mean to open up a whole conversation about IFRA and reformulations here, since the subject gives me the rash that the perfume does not!

      • Elisa says:

        I realized after commenting that I could just find and read the book. 🙂 But thank you for summing it up in that couplet!

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