Saturday, December 28, 2013

Descendants of Odysseus

The story of Odysseus and his odyssey depicted in Homer's epic tale, is supposedly part of Greek mythology. However, there are those who connect it to Epirus, Greece . . . specifically the area near Margariti in Thesprotias and believe it has a historical basis.  Here is a simple 4 minute video explaining the significance of Epirus in Odysseus' odyssey.

After you view it, maybe you'll want to go and see it for yourself.  Enjoy!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Greek Coffee "to Go"

I think my husband, Nick and I had a significant hand in the relatively recent introduction of  coffee to go on the Greek countryside. Okay, well maybe not the entire countryside but would you believe in Epirus?

You're not buying that story either?  Okay, well you can decide. This is what happened:

Come back with me to Igoumenitsa, back to the year 2000. There was an issue that prevented us from stopping to sip a much needed cup of coffee. No need to go into details here, but suffice it to say that Nick and I were in Igoumenitsa on an important time-sensitive task and the clock was ticking away. We had to be back in Margariti, fast.  But, we were desperate for a little break, so we went to a little cafe on the main strip. We misjudged the time, however, as we sat at a table overlooking the harbor and awaited the two cups of greek coffee we'd ordered. So as the waiter brought them to us, we took a few quick sips and then told him we hadn't time to drink them. Nick seemed unable to make himself understood in Greek so I tried in English.

"Can we take it to go?" I asked the waiter.

"Go? Where are you going? Go ahead. Go to the place you're going.  I'll save it for you."

"No, we can't come back. We just want to take the coffee with us."

"Take the coffee?" He repeated it and the look on his face said, "Are you crazy!? Everyone has time for coffee."  But aloud he said, "It's okay.  Sit.  Drink.  You can go afterwards."

"Never mind." He didn't understand.

We got up to leave and were in a half-standing half-sitting position as we both took one more sip of coffee and turned to go.

"Oh no!" The waiter was distressed, "Okay! Okay! You take it."  And he handed us the cups.

"Do you have a paper cup we can pour it into?" Nick asked him in Greek.

"Of course not!" It was a ludicrous idea--to take coffee in a paper cup. An idea as foreign as we were.  So we took the little ceramic cups with us in the car. We had to. The waiter insisted.

And, when I returned to Greece, 5 years later, coffee to go in cardboard cups, was common.

I'm just sayin' . . .

Friday, December 20, 2013

Breasts, Snorkeling and the Ionian Sea

When you grow up next to the Atlantic Ocean, you accept cold water temperatures.  So, the first time I felt the warmth of the Ionian Sea, it was such an odd but wonderful feeling.

I was also mesmerized by the perfectly crystal-clear view from the water surface into the sea's depths and it's that clearness that makes its water so ideal for snorkeling.
Lichnos Beach on the mainland coast across from Corfu Island was the place, back in 1983 that I first learned to snorkel. My husband, Nick, and I had gone there with his brother, Fotis, via a rented a paddle boat for that purpose (those two-seaters that are propelled by peddling your feet like a bicycle).  The plan, as I recall, was to show me how to snorkel and then to peddle the coastline for a little while to show me the hidden inlets, alcoves and caves that could only be experienced from the sea.

So, first the snorkeling: Nick and Fotis peddled out to the deeper water.  I put on the mask and the breathing tube.  Nick explained to me that I needed to stay at the surface of the water so I could breathe through the tube.

"Okay? Do you understand? Don't go under or the breathing tube will fill with water.  Okay?" Nick has this way of repeating the same thing several times.

So I responded something like, "okay, okay.  I get it."

And then I put my hands over my head and dove off the paddle boat, head first -- deep into the water's depths, holding my breath for as long as I could and then surfacing to see them yelling and gesturing wildly.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

"American Woman. . . Stay Away From me!"

Remember that song? 1970s. The Who. Nick used to sing it to me, jokingly. But maybe his life would have been easier if he had married a nice girl from the village, a nice Greek-speaking Margariti nifi. 

What's it like to be an American nifi in Epirus, Greece?  I was born on Long Island and while I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, my Margariti groom was growing up in Epirus and experiencing a life that was so drastically different from anything I was doing across the Atlantic, it may as well have been another planet.  

And then in the 1980s our worlds came together.

Like every new bride, I just wanted them to like me.  I tried my best to communicate, but I'm not sure I've ever been understood.

I learned and accepted the traditions that seemed odd to me, even if it meant sitting over an open fire pit turning a dead goat on a spit, his liver, kidneys and intestines on the neighboring spit. I tried. What else could I do?

I've felt the eyes watching me, no matter how insignificant the task, and I hope they approved.

I baptized my children in my husband's faith, pacified my parents when they came to witness it, smiled for the camera and hoped it was enough.

But sometimes, a stray lens would capture a true moment.  It was not easy being the nifi who could not share stories or easily converse.
complied with the construction projects and tried to help, watching the little old ladies in their black garb smooth the cement, as I swallowed what I believed to be my inadequacies and moved to the background.  I tried.

And the children grew.  They were Greek and they were American and it was satisfying to see that they were comfortable in their skin, so I continued on: an American nifi in Margariti.

And eventually my Greek-American children became adults. Confident.  Strong. 

And I knew it had been worth it.  

Yes, I'm an American nifi in Margariti and I hope they like me.

But if it turns out that they just tolerate me, that's good enough.