Monday, April 26, 2010


According to my yogi tea bag, the best way to learn something is to teach it.
So here is a little Greek lesson, from the pupil to the public.

A little μαθηματἀκι (moth-εε-ma-takee) meaning a “little lesson”
and that is what I want to introduce. This “ah-kee” which makes anything that it’s added to, little.

Let’s take the word for “BEAR.” Grrr.
“I saw an ΑΡΚΟΥΔΑ” (ark-oo-tha) and you imagine a big hairy grizzley bear smashing through the underbrush, bending over trees as he scratches his back. And then I say, “I mean, I saw an αρκουδἀκι.” (ar-koo-tha-kee) And the big bear flies into the air and shrinks to a fuzzy, wuzzy cub, batting at a honeycomb and running away from the bees.

You can use it for almost anything and make a word “γλὐκο”  (glee-ko) or sweet. Cute.
γαβανἀκι (ya-ba-na-kee) is a little swim.
πουλἀκι (poo-la-kee) is a little bird.
νερἀκι (neh-ra-kee) is a little water. (could I have a neraki would mean, Could I have just a little water?)

λεπτἀκι (lehp-ta-kee) is a little minute. So you can say “I’ll be back in a leptaki! means I’ll be back in less than a minute!

Imagine if Ogden Nash had this weapon of adding “aki” to everything to make it all rhyme, the volumes he could have added to his work.

A little demonstration of the “aki” in action. “Come my little birds, eat...”

Over dinner of lentils and tuna, I read my weekly edition of “Athens Plus,” an English newspaper just my size, with just the basics. Some important headlines for the country of Greece, some archaeological news, environmental news, arts, music, sports, cinema, television, cooking, and then, the reason I buy it, a fantastic double page spread featuring one area of Greece in detail and highlighting a few others in each direction of the country. For instance, this week the main feature was the island of Poros. It tells you the various old churches, quaint tavernas, nice hotels, interesting shops, archaeological sites... the next page will list a little village then in the north of Greece, south of Greece, west of Greece, and maybe one other island.

All this to tell you that I didn’t concentrate on this week’s section about Poros, or at least not yet. Even if every other week I don’t hesitate to skim with squinted eyes and quarter interest over the main headlines about what’s going on in the politics of Greece, this week there was a very big decision made by Papandreou, the Prime Minister of Greece. For the first time ever, a European country is asking for help from the International Monetary Fund. 

I say this as if two days ago I had any idea what this meant. Please don’t be too hard on me, but I just have so many other things that interest me, things that I have immediate control over, like putting pen to paper and writing stories. Reading about the Manges of the 1900’s who ruled the underworld of Psyrri. Reading “Skinny Legs and All,” who has a character I identify with named Ellen Cherry Charles.
Here’s one relevant passage as to why:

“Until quite recently, if Ellen Cherry had been asked what was the first thing she thought about when she heard the words “Middle East,” she would have answered, “Rugs.”
She had never paid much attention to the Middle Eastern situation, per se, and now she knew why. It was an overload of craziness. It was a seventy-piece orchestra rehearsing a funeral dirge and a wedding march simultaneously in a broom closet. It was a firebug convention in a straw hotel.”

But I’m finished laying down my stance against current affairs and moving along to telling you why I suddenly am trying to understand what’s happening. It has touched my environment. Not me, per se, but my area. My neighbors.

My friend Panos of the Acropolis House, who I've mentioned many times, was walking up the steps of his hotel with a sandstorm swirling around his black aura. I shouted a "hello" at him then laughed in nervousness at his countenance. 
"What's wrong?"
He stepped over to me and pointed to his breast pocket.
"Give it a pat."
So I patted his chest and felt a thick stack of papers inside.
"A fat letter?"
"6000 euros," he spat. "All to the government. I'm sick."

A nice man named George, of all things, had a fantastic Kafeneo, the place where old timers go for their Greek coffees or ouzos and play tavli (backgammon) for the late hours of the afternoon. It was such a traditional place with white walls and blue metal tables, and he was so attentive to the details like preparing a sandwich or slicing tomatoes and cheese for a little mezzes (appetizer) using things from his garden. We were even trying to figure out how to incorporate him in our tours as he was ideally located at the steps of Lycavitous Hill in Kolonaki, but he couldn't hold until the season started. We've just heard that he's closed for good.

The streets I pass by on foot or by bicycle are constantly being repapered with signs like these:

And as a final intrusion into my usual world free of politics, the cooking section of this week's "Athens Plus" had as it's feature "Crisis Cuisine: How to economize on cost, not flavor."

I sighed and turned back to the front page, leaned in, and started getting into this crisis with the rest of the country.

What I understand is this:

The Greek state has a deficit of 14 percent. This goes against the Euro zone agreement of not being over 3 percent. The Greek state tried to get a loan from the EU but it was only offered at a very high interest rate due to some doubt at the Greek state actually being able to pay them back. They are "high risk," something I can relate with having applied for a loan myself!

The EU said, "Maybe you should go to the IMF."
From the word on the street, they never thought Greece would, but Greece did. This panics the EU because they have never not been able to take care of their own and there is some worry of "contagion" meaning first Greece, then Spain, then Italy, until IMF is everywhere in Europe and no one has their identity anymore. No one is taking into consideration, for instance, the lifestyle or nature of the Hellenic people, when they are looking at the numbers. Numbers coming in, and numbers going out.

So the IMF and Mr. Papandreou are now trying to calm everyone down.

Or at least this is what I have gathered by my Athens Plus, and peppering my surroundings with simple, childlike questions.

"What is a deficit?"

Ειναι προβλεματἀκι.
(It is a little problem.)