Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My Daily Bread


goes the doors of the train. I'm sitting inside on a green bench, an American, next to who looks like a Venezuelan, across from a Pakistani who is next to an African.
Two dark Greeks sit across from the African...the level of darkness that comes from years of mixing with the moors, the Turks, the Balkans.

I have a loaf of bread in my backpack that I stood in a crowded forno to get, looking at the rows of loaves speckled in powder, oblivious to the differences between them as more knowledgeable ladies made their choices confidantly (and quickly) from behind. If I could have spoken the language, if the bakery had not been as crowded as church on Easter Sunday (when the pagans go) I might have asked for what I was really after:

"I would like a bread to slice for breakfast and have with butter and jam, or honey on some days when I feel like it. Something that will fill me but not too heavy...a darker flour."

But as it was I could just look confused and point, reading out a sign that said "village bread." The woman held up a loaf for my approval and I nodded, waiting until I'd paid the sixty cents and was safely outside before I examined my purchase. It was beautiful. Round, dusty with white flour, uneven... the kind they take pictures of to make you nostalgic for the sort of place you buy your bread at a neighborhood bakery. Oh the lies we all have stuffed in our heads!! Buying food is perhaps the most stressful aspect of life in Greece.

I spent, on average, two hours at the grocery store in the States because I loved browsing the aisles, delighting in the epicurean labels, and my favorite was the international food aisle! Imagine. Now I spend on average one hour, and it's because I can't read the labels at all and also the produce scale. (cue a woman screaming.) This is the stuff that nightmares are made of. You have to remember the number of what you're buying and repeat it to yourself all the way to the scale. If you've managed to remember it you then have to find the number amongst the others that are just under the corresponding picture of the produce you're buying. And here you might say, "well Paige, that sounds very organized and user friendly!"
The pictures just make it altogether more confusing because they're terrible pictures of unrecognizable vegetables. It's an apple or it's a tomato? This is spinach or horta, or romaine lettuce? Oh, there is no romaine lettuce? Why is there no romaine lettuce? And once I made the mistake of trying to ask someone. She yelled at me, grabbed the lettuce out of my hand and put it back.

I guess I didn't want lettuce after all.

Later I discovered that somethings are so commonly purchased there are no numbers for them. They weigh them at the counter in this scenario, but this is a dicey bet because if it just happens that there is no number there and it's NOT a commonly bought item, they'll yell at you at the counter, and this is in front of a line full of people who might also start yelling or at least it's very clear they would like to.

I've started buying my produce at the street market because mostly these are run by Albanian boys who seem to like me more than the Greek girls, go figure. Even better than service with a smile is that they weigh the lettuce for me.