Friday, June 3, 2016

Ouzo, not Orzo

Ouzo, the anise-flavored liquor, and Orzo, the rice-shaped pasta, are quite different regardless of their similar spelling. So, it's understandable that confusion was the main dinner guest one recent evening
at our home. I had been asked, through smartphone text, by a very accommodating cook what I would like for dinner that night. In my Friday fatigue, I elicited Siri's voice command on my smartphone to deliver the message: "I'd love to sit in the backyard and just have a bit of ouzo, maybe with some cheese and olives."

It had been a difficult week and I was reminiscing about the soothing Greek evenings of the past. One in particular at a quaint little ouzeri in the city of Thessaloniki where we'd sat just outside the little cafe, our table positioned at the end of the open wall so a warm breeze blew over us as we watched the comings and goings of the sidewalk as well as the array of characters inside the tavern. We'd quietly sipped our ouzo and discussing the beauty of life as we noshed on an array of mezedes (appetizers). 

Another ouzo-related memory elicited a deep sigh just before my Siri-produced text requesting the ouzo and some hors d'oeuvres. It was that of the sunset at Plataria, a village slightly north of Margariti, our table and bare feet at the water's edge as the server brought us our elixir and some small morsels to snack on.

Both memories are very soothing and among so many others similar in nature. 

Now to be honest, I never use Siri, so she hadn't a number of times to analyze my voice or my New York accent. Thus, it was ORZO with cheese and olives that was for dinner that evening. Apparently that's how Siri had interpreted my request and I, having carefully checked the spelling and grammar before pushing the send button, had further misread it. Still a delicious dinner and even more so with a glass of OUZO on the side.

The novel, Your Own Kind, has one scene between fictional characters in an Astoria Queens restaurant. It is somewhat similar to my first encounter with ouzo. And if you've ever had it, yourself, you may relate to the scene a bit.  Enjoy!

        After they were ushered to a table, Alexandros spoke to the waiter, making small talk before he ordered two drinks and looked at Sarah.
        "We try ouzo. Is strong but is Greek."
        The waiter said something to Alexandros and they laughed. 
        "He says too strong for woman." Alexandros nodded. "Is true. Too strong for woman and for man." He smiled. "But you try, okay?"
        The waiter was a bald man who looked to be about fiftyish with a belly pushing against a starched white shirt, testing the strength of the two buttons midway from his belt. He disappeared for a few minutes and returned with a small round tray balancing so perfectly on the outstretched fingers of his right hand that it might have been an appendage that had grown from his fingertips. Two glasses with a clear liquid sat on top of the tray's surface. The waiter placed each on the table and stepped back a few paces, curoius to see the outcome of their first sip.
        Alexandros and Sarah took their glasses, oblivious to their waiter who was saying something to another waiter as  he passed. That caused the other waiter to slow his pace as he kept his eye on Sarah. Alexandros and Sarah brought the drinks gently against each other in a toast, as Sarah said, "cheers," at the exact moment Alexandros said, "gia mas--to our health." Neither understood the other's words but both felt the same sensation as the first sip entered their months. Sarah closed her eyes tightly as she received the full impact. 
        The air around her had been sweet and warm, the background chatter adding to the warmth but as that first sip passed between her lips, that warmth turned to a raging fire, the ouzo searing her tongue and burned its way down her throat sending flames up into her nostrils and out into the restaurant air. 
        Alexandros was laughing as he poured water into her glass, changing the ouzo to a milky liquid and cutting its potency. He wiped away a tear that was rolling down her cheek. 
        "I'm on fire! What are you trying to do, poison me or something?"
        They both laughed so hard, they didn't notice the onlookers from afar. 

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