Monday, September 17, 2012

old folks home

the place we are staying in samothraki is nothing like we expected, and far more than we could imagine. naturally, it looked nothing like the photos on the website, but we wandered in, curious, asking if this was the right place. the scene is a retirement home, old folks playing cards, 2 ladies processing a giant mound of green beans, knitting. there is a receiving line like at a wedding, smiles and back patting. an old lady in bifocals and brown old lady stockings waved us over and started rattling off in greek. she takes my hand, still talking and talking, pats my boyfriend quickly on the back like he's a good dog, and brings us to our room in the back of her house. she points obvisouly to the 2 separate beds with a foreboding finger. it is much...different than the bungalow we had seen on the website. our balcony is in a grove of beautiful trees, overlooking a little creek, the sound of a small waterfall and goats with bells around their necks, clinging to the hillside. on the balcony next to us is an old man in his old man underwear, scratching. we sit, a little bewildered, wondering if we should stay or not, but then again, 20€ a night is hard to beat. a few seconds later, grandma barges back in with a little tray and 2 plates of candied fruit that look like orange turds. she is talking, showing me pictures of her daughter. the turds, they are impossible to eat, hard, sticky, and kindof gross. when no one is looking, i fling mine into the woods. though this is a task because it sticks to the spoon, to my fingers, i make a mess of myself. we read in the guidebook: "usually, a welcome gift of candied fruit is brought to new guests." sounds about right. 
for the rest of our stay, we will be haunted by these candied fruits. there is a communal kitchen, in which all the grandmas cook in all day: tasty fresh goat, fragrant octopus, stewed vegetables. we will get none of this, only the candied fruit. whenever we have an idle moment, if we linger just a little too long on the patio cue the "psycho" music, here comes grandma with the candied fruit! the stray cats won't eat it, we don't know where to stash it, we must feign smiles, rub our bellies and say thank you, mmmm candied fruit!

Saturday, September 15, 2012


samothraki is a small, volcanic forested island off the coast of greece, but very close to turkey. the inhabitants can be characterized as follows:
1/3 healthy octogenarians, owing likely to their yogurt diet and regular visits to the hot springs
1/3 grungy, stinky, brown dreadlocked hippies who wear tattered rags
the rest are goats and sheep.
kind of like my native Lozère. 
the only way to get to samothraki is by a daily ferry, from the small town of alexandropoulos. this is the only link to the outside world, and the boat brings food, mail, people, doctors, business. the island has 3 busses that makes the rounds of villages from the port town, but...just like the paris-alès-florac timetable that baffled my family for decades, the schedules of the bus and the boat don't sync. ever. so when you arrive in samothraki on the boat, there is a bus that has left 20 minutes earlier. the next one is idling in the parking lot, driver chain smoking cigarettes and it will do so for another 90 minutes before it goes anywhere. every little town has a bus stop, and a paper tacked to a board that is the schedule. but i have found that this paper is the same exact one posted everywhere, with the same times all over the island, which means it must only say when the bus actually leaves the departure you have to guesstimate where you are on the route and how many cigarette breaks through the day to figure out when the bus comes. in addition, there are temporary schedules, the ones with penciled in times and dates and long story short you can wait for 3 hours for an hourly bus and it will never come. i went in to a coffee shop, to ask about the bus, pointing to the schedule near the cash register and the guy waves his hand like pashaw, bus? what bus, "you have to hitch-a-hike!" duly noted.
so we go down to the street and you don't even have to put out your hand, the first car stops, a friendly dude from category 2 driving a beat up VW van asking if he can take us somewhere. he offers me to sit on the bed, a rumpled sheet prospect as repugnant as my brother's stinky lair in high school. he asks the next question "can you roll me a joint though? because i am driving, i can't roll and drive, you know". squeezed in the front seat we set up a little factory operation with papers and tobacco. our driver rummages around the contents of the dashboard, which are as varied as the shelves of a 7-11 (except for the elusive ball of hash). everytime he reaches for something we swerve to within milimeters of the cliff, or dangerous obstacles like telephone poles or the little catholic shrines, the little houses on stone poles with lights and candles and virgin mary's in them that line all the roads. he finally compiles the necessary ingredients, including a nice seashell to mix the ingredients and starts conversation. we stop once to fill up bottles at a little natural water source, which everyone does apparently, even the fire truck which is sitting nearby.  my boyfriend asks what to do with "the rest" of hash and dude says, "use it all, man!" oh jeez, this is more than a mortal human would smoke in a month. we are dropped off in the town square, in front of busy café patios, exiting the truck along with a giant pungent plume of smoke, like a Cheech and Chong movie. doesn't seem to phase anyone. i dazily offer our driver some gas money, 2€ or so? he says proudly "no thanks man, biodiesel! patatis!!" and that is how you get around samothraki. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

real llive napoli

neopolitain: red, white, dirty...
napoli has the chaos and disdain for human life that i thought only existed in central africa or india, or places where you don't drink the water. but no, this mess is in europe, italy no less!
first, all people do is eat, or yell. the tiny streets barely let in any light through the endless layers of driying laundry, mostly bed sheets and large sized underpants with tri-syllable brand names emblazoned along the waistbands.
the eating part: as soon as we exited the train station, trying to get our bearings we were approached by a well-dressed man eating a lasagna. with his hands. no plate, no napkin, it's like someone handed him a lasagna and that was his lunch. you can imagine where the bolognaise and bechamel ended up, all over his chin, shirt, spraying my face with cheese and his friendly directions. he pointed us in the right direction with an oil and tomato soaked hand. grazie!
the traffic part:
crossing the street, we patiently waiting for the light to change, as any self respecting germans would. and we waited. i estimated about 60% of the godawful traffic actually looked at, much less obeyed any street light. the only way to cross is to stand with a bold local napolitain, and strategically position yourself so they will take the brunt of the impact from the hood of a fiat. but even my bold napolitain didn't prevent a scooter rider - who was texting on his phone AND arguing with his girlfriend riding behind him- from nearly running over my toes, then honking at me and berating me before speeding off and resuming his multi-tasking. even when we did cross at a light in front of traffic obeyers, they still honk and yell at eachother. and they are probably eating pizza. this is napoli.
sidewalks, or whatever part of the street you are able to walk on do not make you immune from the constant barrage of elbow banging, knee swiping traffic. as a pedestrian, you slide along the buildings, back to the wall like you are inching along a ledge 5 stories up. as shirtless men with big hairy bellies watch you from their balconies.
the dangerous part:
at one point i had the brilliant suggestion of taking a side-street, as a possible temporary respite from the deadly, unrelenting traffic and endless parade of slow walking fatties (everyone wears heels, no matter how fat). looked calm enough. low and behold, here come 2 scooters, arguing with eachother, a machismo fueled event that inevitably devolves into a fist fight. one guy is punched in the face, scooter falls over. instead of picking up the scooter though, he is rummagin for a gun, well, more like trying to wrangle it from his waist band, but it gets stuck between his pink lacoste polo shirt and the fatty folds of his hairy belly, but eventually, it comes out, a shiny black pistol aimed squarely at the other guy. there is screaming, crying..some tension...suddenly me and 50 other people are all watching, in a nanosecond i can't tell if i'm on my couch, watching HDTV, is this showtime or AMC? and i reach over for my drink, or the remote to save this channel (good, real live action!), i realize, wait, this isn't an episode of the Sopranos, i am directly in the line of fire - this is real live napoli! run!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

italy: i can't believe i ate all that

i need new pants.
so it's my third time in frascati and i know the lay of the land a bit, there's the boulevard overlook where all the young couples make out, the little puppet theater, the market square with the slices of pig in a glass case for sale. tonight i scoped out a new osteria, a little semi-underground place with wooden beamed ceilings, couples holding hands with their miniature dobermans underfoot. 

i was a little jittery - our meeting that day had no less than 3 espresso breaks before lunch. i had a hankerin' for some italian food. the only sensible way to approach a roma-area menu as a mortal human without an intergalactic appetite is to choose 2 of the 4 least menacing courses. you have your starters, your first, second courses and dessert. i find only the starter/first or first/dessert combination do-able. anthing less and i just feel bad, like a person who goes to a bar and just orders water. i avoid the second course entirely, as it is usually a giant plate of meat. which you then need to accompany with a side of potatoes and then game over.

so here i was, ordering by pointing and hand signals. i didn't even read the first platti menu past the "vongole" and selected what i thought was an appropriate entrée. when i ordered, the waiter made a "wow" face with his eyes, as if i told him i just ran an ironman triathlon - a look which was surely a premonition. i made the international symbol for "tiny," pinching my fingers when ordering a wine. apparently, the waiter man interpreted this as "cheapest" not, "smallest quantity" of wine and i found myself with a full liter of almost underinkable frascati frizzante. which i drank.

and so came the meal. a giant plate of proscuitto, tomato bruschetta with a entire ball of buffalo mozzarella. which i ate. 

at one point the waiter came to make smalltalk and all i can do when people speak italian is to answer in some sort of spanish. then they ask me where in spain i come from and then i say in an american accent that i am french, living in germany and their face melts with confusion and they give up.

i avoid at all costs saying that i am american, as there is a couple who recently snuck through the door, and are trying to order, and the woman, who is a perfect imitation of george costanza's mother says "Vongoleeys. Gary! i can't have clams! i'm allergic to clams you know that! if i eat clams i'll swell up and die! you want me to die gary?" and just so we are on the same page, she is not talking about clams, she is screaming about "clayams!" and of course, with no regard for the fact that the waiter understandahs the englishah she screams "gary! tell 'em i can't eat clams!" and gary dutifully repeats in english that his wife can't have clams.  i do not come from america.   

after the meal my plates are cleared (formerly thick spaghetti with the hole through it, in a sea of olive oil, tomato, garlic and clayams) and with a look of proud approval, waiter asks if i want a liquore, limoncello, to which i cannot say no. so then he is distributing a tray with little glasses of yellow to the other patrons, too, except for me, he hands me an entire wine glass of the stuff, in correlation with my frascati reputation i guess.

which i drank.
i requested the bill, and he asks, no no senora, are you sure-ah you don't wantah some more limoncello? della casa! how about a litro? and he makes my little pinching hand motion. um, no grazie. i can barely walk!