Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Motorcycle Tiropita

Tiropita on a motorcycle

At the time of writing this I am across the street from Ariston bakery at a noodlehouse called "Yum Yum." I spent 6.80 on a bowl of Shang Hai Noodles and a bottle of water. I wish I had spent 1.80 on a mushroom pie.

Voulis Street is narrow, crowded by two inadequate sidwalks stuffed with skinny trees, scooters, sock shops, lamp shade shops, and "wiry thing" shops as my mother loathingly calls the places where you buy modern necessities like PDA's, IBM's, RCA's, LG's, Mp3's, R2D2's, MI6, NBA... and in spite of how much I prefer to go into a simple mom and pop shop where electric kettles are stacked on top of televisions and towers of cardboard boxes make their way to the ceiling, sometimes it's easier to go to the major corporate store. One such shop in Athens is called "Plessio." It's American equivalent is something between Circuit City and Office Depot, but bigger. Six floors of gadgets you didn't know you needed with corresponding accessories hanging adascent to each. One day I needed a navigational system because George told me so. He delivers these instructions like a holy mission:

"You will go and find a GPS."

I went first to a big box store near my mystic pocket under Syngrou Avenue. A soul-less enterprise (as in, I stared at the GPS devices for forty five minutes and never saw a soul that might sell me one) I moved next to one located in the city center. I met a boy in black glasses who carefully described to me each and every GPS device within my price range. Happy and confidant, brimming with knowlege about navigation in general, I made my selection. He ran to retrieve it from that secret place known as 'the back' and came back empty handed, shoulders slumped.

"Then ekhoume." (we don't have.)

The adventure continues. I leave Sintagma Square, heading down the narrow little street of Voulis with Plessio in mind.

There is a bakery on Voulis that puts out tiropita, or "cheese pies" in such volumes that it perfumes three whole blocks with the aroma of baked butter. I wish I had a motorcycle just so that I could have a place to sit and eat my hot pie from this bakery. I first read about it in a travel book which declared it to be the BEST place for tiropita. It is consumed by Greeks, typically, between the hours of eleven and three p.m. as some subsitution for one of the meals they chose to ignore, be it breakfast or lunch. You can find them on every block, so it occured to me that travel guide could not possibly have tried them all. How accurate is the statement that Ariston's pies were the best? Shouldn't someone put this into a scientific evaluation?

So I tried seveal pies in seveal places, mostly tiropitas and spanakopitas or "spinach pies" Once I tried leek but I didn't like it. And I'm not saying the cheese pies alone are to blame but eventually realized the truth to the adage, "you are what you eat," and was starting to feel a little like a cheese pie, and all the walking in the great hunt of the city's best tiropita was not enough to counter this effect. The mission was abandoned.

So this time that I was walking down Voulis Street I went past Ariston Bakery and made a conscious effort to strongly pass by and go directly into Plessio. I met there, on the second floor, a boy with a low brow, bad complexion, and not a lot of "spark" if you get me. But okay, he was there.

"Kalispera?" Which means "Good Afternoon," but the way he said it it might have been more like a reactionary twitch, Tourette's style, raising his tone on the last syllable like a non-committal parrot.

I pointed to the same model the boy with the black glasses had so carefully detailed for me to which he nodded, and kept nodding, and kept nodding, and then he looked at me and said in broken English, "Yes but we don't have it. Kalispera?"
(This time it was not addressed to me but to the girls that were in the nearby vicinity.)

And I faltered. But without changing the expression on his face he asked

"I could sell you this one?"

Oh! Floor model! Which means a bargain, and he took ten euros off the price, gave three more reactionary "kalisperas" to four more people who came into his sphere of conciousness, and I was happy and went home with my new friend the talking dashboard GPS.

George and I tested it out on the way to Killini, a port a few hours away from Athens where we were to pick up some clients that had been looking at wildflowers on an Ionian island. There were a few issues: One is that I hadn't counted on George preferring English type. "So you can read it also!" And several other tedious details that usually accompany one of these gizmos, giving directions being the primary one.

The next week I tried to get some answers from the GPS provider, Mr. Kalispera.

"Kalispera?" he reacted as I waved at him, allowing him space to continue with the person in front of him. The minutes passed and I positioned myself a little closer, doing a very American thing by just trying to get his attention through proximity and meaningful gazes, which did not work.

"Excuse me, maybe you remember me I was here the other day and bought this GPS? I have some questions..."



"Mmm? So you bought this here?"

"Yes, from you. I just have some-"


"Some questions..."

"Sorry, one moment?"

And he took off in another direction for reasons known only by God and himself. I stood there, baffled, Greek speaking GPS in hand. Waited fifteen minutes for him to return but he did not, and I left with a frown.

Another trip passed where a functioning GPS would have been handy and I resolved to make one last attempt, but I would need to go in with good spirits and a full belly and that meant succumbing to Ariston's. At four pm, most of he shelves had been cleared save for four varieties: Leek, beef, cheese, and mushroom. It comes in mushroom? I paid the one euro eighty and turned left outside the door, tempted to just "borrow" the motorcyle of someone else for immediate gratification. I looked for a step, a bench, anything, and finally I caved and just poitioned my bulging backpack against the wall and crossed my boots at the ankles.

This was my five minutes in heaven. Stuffed with limp, buttery mushrooms, rice and onions that leaked out like magma from it's flaky enclave, it spilled into the white paper bag so that by the time I'd finished the pie I began sucking up the reserves. I think now I can say that I don't care who has the best pies, because knowing this one exists I can deal with all of the Plessio automatons of the world. Any activity is manageable when you've buffered yourself with the right drug.

What is funny is that while writing this, on the paper covering my table at "Yum Yum," I have observed the rotating flow of pie-holes coming directly out of Ariston's and positioning oneself against the wall is customary, save for a few that choose to eat on their motorcycles or are borrowing someone else's with less scruples than I.