Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Communicating by Phone

"If I want you to divorce me, all I have to do is throw your phone away," my husband says, and I respond,  "Divorce? More like murder."

Yes I love my smartphone and maybe I do stare into it a bit more lovingly than into Nick's eyes, but I believe that comes from the early trauma of my years in Margariti, Greece, when I would have cut off my left arm for any working phone line from that isolated village to my family back in New York.

Patience is a virtue. . . good things come to those who wait. . . Those adages may be true in some context, but personally, I want my information now and I want the ability to talk to my love ones immediately within my grasp, whether orally or via text.

I am eternally grateful that the internet has finally come to Margariti.

And those old memories grow more distant: the longing to connect with home, but having to wait and wait and wait for someone to bring me to the telephone company (aka OTE) which was housed in Igoumentitsa, a twenty minute ride north on a winding narrow road. Until I found a branch of OTE in Parga, the seaside village on the coast, and could take the bus there myself hoping to arrive before it closed at 2:00.

This smartphone obsession of mine is something I'm guessing others share and maybe those older people, like myself, remember a time or a place when that freedom to communicate at will, did not exist, a time such as the one chronicled in the memoir The Nifi.

Here is an excerpt:

        But the next morning, after some gesturing and pantomime and a few words of English like, "Go, work, you," Christos and Vaso left the tiny four room apartment, and their children disappeared with them. I was left with my two toddlers--no television, no toys--hours and hours of my keeping them occupied and then silent during siesta time, something their internal clocks knew nothing about. I couldn't understand why I wasn't taken to my destination, the village of Margariti, where the children would be able to run around an endless yard, to play in the dirt, to make as much noise as they needed, and the bus could come and take us to the sea. Why? There were no telephones to connect me to Nick. I felt trapped.
        I was having difficulty holding onto my charade of contentment and soon after Vaso and Christos returned from work, I began to unravel. It's not clear to me so many years later what had propagated it, but I remember just sinking down onto a sofa, the overflow of tears and Christos' panicked call to his wife in the next room, "Vasoooo?"
        That is probably how I learned about the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization, or as it was referred to, OTE. 
        I was brought to a large dark-red official-looking building. There were numerous telephone booths along a wall. Vaso said something to the attendant and then I was ushered into one of the small booths. Did I dial the number or was it done for me? I don't remember but I do remember the flood of home rushing through the receiver and Nick's reassuring voice washing over me. The attendant's gesturing and anxious chatter as he pointed to the rapidly changing numbers being tallied above the telephone were dismissed with the wave of Vaso's hand as she stood guard against intrusion. She could not speak my language, but she seemed to understand this desperate connection. 

   *                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *      

The telephone was also an important player in Your Own Kind, my first novel.

Here is an excerpt:
Dina's brother, Minos, and her estranged husband, George, had previously called the village post office from America and had asked the post master to alert Dina to the fact that they'd be calling back to talk to her about her son, Andreas. Dina is sitting in the village plaza, awaiting the phone call.

     When the post office telephone rang, they and all the people in the plaza heard it. They moved with a small curious group into the post office.
     Dina heard the familiar voice of her brother, Minos, coming through the telephone. 
     "Dina, I'm here with George. I need to tell you something."
     "Minos, what's going on? Just tell me. Is Andreas okay? Is he there? Let me talk to him."
     "Listen Dina. He's okay, but he's in a facility."
     "What? Minos--what are you talking about? A facility? You mean a school? A hospital? Facility? What are you saying?"
     "Well, it's a facility to, uh, help people."
     "Oh, a school, he's going to plumbing school. He mentioned that when we talked last time. Let me talk to him. Why are you--"
     "No, Dina, not a school. It's more like a hospital but not really."
     "What the hell are you saying? Give George the phone."
     "Dina, shut up and listen to me for a second."
     "Give-George-the-phone!" The swallows in the eaves outside the post office window scattered into the air above, some of them hitting the window in their frenzied rush to escape. 
     "Uh, hello? Dina?"
     "George, where is our son?"
     "Dina, he has a little substance abuse problem and he's resting comfortably in a rehabilitation center. It's very--"
     "Give Minos back the phone."
     Minos' voice was small. "Sister?"
     "I cannot understand that man's Greek. I don't know what he's saying. Tell me straight, Minos. Stop lying to me for once."
     "Dina, he is taking drugs. He attacked a girl. We put him in a place so they could help him to stop. It's better this way so he doesn't end up in jail."
     "Oh my God! Virgin Mother Mary! He's in a crazy hospital!"
     The tears began to flow--the weakness in the dam having been breached--the post office room flooding. Her words continued between sobs. "Oh America!" sob, "so much better," sob, sob, "a boy--his father," sob, "you two stole him," sob, "from his home," sob, sob, sob, "my baby," sob, "I'll kill you," sob, sob, "both of you."
     Her grip on the receiver was like a cobra on its prey as Yianni tried to pry it from her. "I'll cut your manhood," sob, sob, and there were simultaneous cringes by the men lining the post office, as the small room had slowly filled with curious onlookers and Dina continued spitting madly into the receiver. "I'll feed it to the goats--"
     But Yianni had the phone. The tailor's wife, one of the villagers in the crowd that had gathered at the entrance to the building when the yelling began, came up the steps and pulled Dina to her bosom. Dina continued her rant though it was muffled by the front of the other woman's bodice.

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