Saturday, April 24, 2010

Making Friends

My estimation of the big celebration was on the nose. ON THE NOSE. From the hours of 4 (we started a bit late) to 8, I was sitting at a table high above Plaka with the roof line of Athens for my eye candy, delighted to nibble, then gobble all manner of vegetables drizzled, then drowning in olive oil, stuffed mushrooms, little marinated sardines and octopus in parsley and lemon and bountiful pitchers of red wine. Then the second round came. The huge platter of meat. Sausage, lamb, beef patties, grilled chicken, bacon. The sun had the effect of towels just out of the dryer, and we lingered, rolled around in it a bit, laughed. Discussed. Digested. A meal in Greece is hard to replicate in any other corner of the earth. There is some sacred formula to the weather, the olive oil and the wine, all reacting with each other to cause a certain euphoric state that might be the cheap, slutty sister of "enlightenment," but dangit, isn't she fun?

So yesterday was party day and today was school. Sort of. I've made another interesting acquaintance/fellow curioustician (a word I've decided means "one who spends their time finding answers to things which they are curious about) in a distinguished gentleman/ amateur photographer who has lived all over the world solving its problems and now has resigned to photograph its beauty. Today we agreed to go out in the streets and discover history and beauty together. Unfortunately, the beauty was not very photographable today as it was overcast and dreary, but history was pleased to take the spotlight and I think maybe even showing off a little.

We turned right off of Ermou street into the labrynthine neighborhood of Psyrri, an area I've been intensely curious about with its grimy, "Hell's Kitchen" attitude but purely Greek atmosphere. The buildings are crumbling, the grafitti is well executed, antiques are stacked on the sidewalks, indie clubs flaunt their cleverly titled bands to perform over the weekend. This is the area has flavor, but what are her stories? This is what the curiousticians wanted to know.

He knew a great deal, actually. Plenty to get us going in a direction, and that direction lead us to a closed up shop with some wooden puppets in the window. "Ah, Karaghiozi! Now this is something you should know about, it's very interesting."
And he began telling me about the social role of Greek shadow puppetry during the time of Ottoman occupation. To save myself a little typing I found that Mr. Matt Barrett has already defined it in layman's terms. The part of the story I want to write about here is how in the four minutes that we were standing on this deserted sidewalk in painted up, trashy, empty Psyrri, four men had collected around us and one of them produced a ring of keys like a cartoon jailer's. He threw open the door and re-emerged unfolding a giant poster with the set of the traditional Karaghiozi stage painted on it in simple, flat colors.

My friend, let's call him IGS, was carefully pointing out each detail and describing it to me with the patience of a professor. The shopowner, in a voice like cat litter in a garbage disposal, was amused by this Greek man speaking in such refined English and began peppering him with questions.

"Apo pou Eistai?" (Where are you from? )
"Eimai apo ti Athina." (I'm from Athens.)
"Nai, Endaxi, alla o Patera sou!" (Yes, okay, but your father?)
And this went on for a while to my pleasure, as I was following along perfectly.

The kitty litter-voiced man turned back inside of his hovel, I mean shop, and brought with him a magazine article which featured his very window with the very puppets that had stopped us in the first place. The picture showed his own, marshmallow face from the outside looking in. He was proud of the placement but we were interested in the fact that the magazine article was entirely about Psyrri. My gentleman friend asked to look at it.

The article showed individuals in their places of work, living, etc, in Psyrri and waxed romantically about the nature of the neighborhood. IGS read to me aloud, "It is the place of real people, of people with "Besa" and "Filotimo,"

These two words describe a person who, for better or for worse, can be counted on to be true to their words. I say for better or for worse because just as you can depend on them if they've promised to be your avenging Angel, you can be just as sure that if they've sworn to rake your face over a hot stove they're going to find a good time and place to do it.

As we were reading, Kitty litter marshmallow man (in a striking blue blazer, I should mention in his favor) said enthusiastically (to myself, IGS, and the other three men that continued to stare silently on at the "foreigners") that Psyrri is a place where you sense a difference once you step inside. It is mysterious and a place that rebels have always congregated, including the "Manges" and the "Koutsavakides" with their menacing black moustaches, who would stroll with their guns stuffed behind a broad red sash tied around their waists. The "Mortisses" or free-thinking women who had adventurous liasions with men and lived wild, unconventional, nomadic lives in a time when women were still never seen out of a dress, in a country where they often didn't sit in the same room with men.

I even love the way the name looks in Greek letters: Ψυρἰ
That Ψ in the beginning shows that it's something to be reckoned with. It's short and to the point. The people that lived here in the 1800's and early 1900's lived life in the present, too broke and too heart broken from the tragedies they had overcome to be bothered with worrying about the future, so they sang their "rembetika," drank raki and smoked hashish, made their lives and then lived them. I don't know if it's everything that I picked up the moment we turned right into its lair, but the facts are absolutely harmonious with the energy in the air.

I learned a great deal more with IGS but as it is getting latte, I mean late, Midnight to be exact, and I wanted to say a few other things before I sign out.

I am so jealous of freedom. This recording of mine was started with the idea of "mass" communicating things I was experiencing, but oh, the pleasure of just writing without fear of the effect of a word. And really, I believe in taking responsibility for one's words as they hold an awful lot of power. But every once in a while, with the back-clicking of something that might be misconstrued, should perhaps be rethought, maybe is a bit delicate, I would like to again be an anonymous commentator on the state of things, pure and simple. You lucky bastard, wherever you are, with your free streams of thought.

I've been counter-challenged by my fellow 100 Dayer to one up the value of two people, in the world, at the same time trying to consistantly record their days, thoughts, useless opinions, etc. Maybe someone would one day like to read the two alongside each other? Maybe in a time of strangeness, such as the times we're living in now, it might even be historically significant? Maybe it would make a crazy one man show off off-broadway? (Like, Topeka Kansas?)

So when we've reached the finish line we'll unveil our monsters right alongside eachother. It's a deal.

And my last note, excuse me while I give another specific aside, is to the language of Greece.

Dear Greek,

Tonight I sat on a barstool at the Low Profile and talked to my friend Katerina, and I did not have nice things to say about you. I confess, I called you terrible names. I complained, bitched, whined, and said all of the reasons I don't know you better, but really, I think it's time I confessed, I haven't really wanted to know you any better. Me and English, we go way back. I've discovered words and expressions that tickle me even if I say them to myself. I sing in English, write in English, and dream in English, but listen, Greek. I think I'm ready to make peace.

I accept that you're an f'ing tough language. Maybe I can even start to like that about you. You're a little intimidating, being that you come from a language used by Aristotle, that was used for the first bible, and has complex meanings that can't even be interpreted, but your words have little stories in them, and that's very attractive to me.

Maybe we can start over, have a coffee, learn to have fun with each other. I talked with English and she thinks there's room for both of you.

What do you say?