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Psyhico and Goudi: A Day in the Life of a Typical Greek-American Family

Apartment in Psyhico, AthensYesterday I felt kind of listless. A little trapped too. I answered my e-mail and then just stared at my laptop. It seemed kind of hostile towards me. Angry. We were not friends anymore, it seemed to say to me. I looked out my window at the busy road and the sea of apartment buildings beneath a grey sky. This is the Greece that the tourists don't see except on the way to and from the airport. It's ugly when taken as a whole but there is beauty in its pieces. But yesterday it did not interest me. No plans for the evening except Andrea making a pasta dish she found in a new cookbook. Andrea is a good cook but she has to follow the recipe precisely and cut every piece perfectly and do one thing at a time and a pasta dish that I would throw together in fifteen minutes will take her three hours to cook. Of course it will probably taste better than what I make but the difference is subtle and my taste buds are not subtle but extreme. The delicate flavor of fresh oregano has no chance against the pile of grated parmegianno that I am compelled to put on any pasta dish.

Ambelokipi, AthensBut its 6 oclock and Andrea has to take Amarandi to get X-rays for the orthodontist which means I have between 3 and 4 hours to kill. So I pick up the Athenorama which for those who don't know is the weekly music, art, film and restaurant magazine that I use to find places to go to eat and drink in my neighborhood that I may not have stumbled upon. I see that the Cafe Bar Porta is listed. We walk through it every day or so on the way to the fruit and vegetable market on Leoforos Kifissias. So I put on my shoes and grab my coat and go check it out, maybe have a beer or two and make conversation with someone at a nearby table or at least people-watch. There is one table available but everyone else is drinking freddos and frappes and they don't seem like my kind of people. What is my kind of people? I don't know. Ex-rock star, travel writer, lovers of food, wine and conversation. The men all looked like they were doing business deals and the women all looked like they were complaining about the men. I move on and check out four more places on Leoforos Bassiliou but they are all the same. Sort of upscale bistro-restaurant-cafe-bars. One guy in a suit is drinking a frozen margaritta and everyone else either has a glass of water or some kind of coffee drink. Its happy-hour but nobody looks happy.

I walk to the Agia Sophia square and turn right past the old guy cafeneon that I was so happy to find a week ago. Now I don't feel like an old guy, at least not as old as the guys in the cafeneon and if I sit down and order an ouzo and a small meze I will be sitting by myself in the corner looking at the backs of their grey heads. If I was in Carrboro this place is exactly the kind of place I would want to be. But I am not in Carrboro. I am in Psyhico and being the one guy drinking ouzo in a room full of old men drinking cokes and coffee is not romantic, unless looking like an alcoholic seems romantic to you. So I keep walking through Nea Psyhico and cross the invisible line into the city of Athens. I pass hundreds of small shops, cafes, psistarias and people hurrying to get home or to the store in canyons of five and six story apartment buildings. Most of the shops and restaurants are empty. The cafes are too. They all have big screen TVs with a basketball game on, pointed to the street like a lure to get people to come in. But even the stands of the arena on the TV are empty. I keep walking past Mesogion Ave and then cross Michalakopolou Street to my old neighborhood in Goudi.

Ag Thomas Square 1963Agio Thomas is one of the best platias in Athens. Few if any tourists go there because for one thing they don't know it exists and if they did they still would not be able to find it. But in 1963 I lived at 55 Mikras Asias, on the 5th floor of an apartment building overlooking the square (photo). At the time there was actually a small farm in the corner below our house. The farmer had a horse and wagon and would ride around selling big blocks of ice for our wooden icebox back in the days before everybody had refridgerators. The ice would last around three days and then we would get another. We liked the little spicket that you could get a glass of freezing cold ice water from. Now I think of sweaty hands covered with horse hair or worse lifting the ice block into the ice-box and us children and our naive parents happily drinking water which could have come from a toxic sludge pond for all we knew.

The square has changed. It used to be dirt with a small marble fountain that they never figure out how to get water to. There were some grass areas but if you went into them this old man with a stick would chase you out while hitting you. He was known as 'the man with the stick' and we were terrified of him. Once he surprised me when I was feeding my pet bunny in the grass and I ran away, leaving the bunny behind. I was sure he was going to take him home and make rabbit stew and I ran crying to my father who asked the neighbors where the man with the stick lived. When we found him he smiled and gave us back the bunny and said to me "If you love your pet so much, why did you leave him behind?" I still ask myself that question.

Ag Thoma 2008Now I walk around the square and there are hundreds of tables and chairs and numerous cafe-bars some playing music, some quiet. The noisy ones with the worst music are the busiest. Sort of like beach bars on the islands. There are a couple restaurants and an ouzerie too. They look promising. Saturday is my birthday. Maybe I can drag a couple of my old friends back to the old neighborhood for dinner. The other day my brother wanted to take his three year old to a park and I suggested Agio Thomas since it was his old neighborhood too. He called me an hour later and said he was going to Fokionos Negri instead. Maybe I am the only one in the family with this nostalgia for the old neighborhood. Its a great area. Still very Greek. Lots of old guy cafeneons too. I walk onwards past fields where we used to play soccer, now fields of apartment buildings. I turn down towards Andrea Papandreau Ave which in 1963 was a river where we found the human skeletons of communists or patriots or collaborators or people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We put them in a basket and brought them to my father who told us to take them back to the river which we did and then played with them, dressing them up in clothes we found and laying them on the riverbank. I remember to this day the shocked look of a woman who passed by and saw a skeleton in a flowered summer dress. The woman must be dead by now too but her expression lives on in my mind. Ahhh. The innocent games of children.

Cafeneon in GoudiI can hear the sounds of sports and I see lights in the distance. Its a giant park with ponds and man-made rivers and soccer fields and basketball courts and beautiful young women jogging in the dark. Its the Goudi Olympic Complex, a giant area, probably taken from the military. On the soccer firld there are 3 or 4 teams of kids in their early teens and younger practicing for a league. The kids dribble the soccer balls doing the kind of things with their feet that teenage pointguards from the projects of American cities do with their hands and a basketball. I walk around the park which goes for miles until I realize the only way out is the way I came. I go back to Andreas Papandreou, past more tavernas and turn right on Kleovoulis Street where my father lived in the eighties in a basement apartment with a small garden, just 2 blocks away from Surubaya Johnnys, a club where I played for four nights a week, probably around this time in 1986. I think I was in my prime then and lots of people came to see me there because I was the only person in town singing in English without a Greek accent. Now its an old guy cafeneon. Maybe this should be my hangout for the next year. Or maybe wait another twenty years and I am more grey and don't have to be one of the young guys. Andrea or whoever is taking care of me can wheel me in and leave me there for the day while I tell my pals about the old days when this little piece of crap cafeneon was Surubaya Johnnys and I was the star. They will shake their heads and humor me while thinking, poor old Mathios. He is really losing it. Andrea (or other) will come back to wheel me home, feed me some soup and put me to bed.

Athens TowerWhich reminds me. Its after 9pm so dinner must be close to being ready. I send Andrea a text message on my phone asking if she is done with dinner. She replies "Almost. Its delirious" (she is not very good with text messages or spelling). I am sitting on a concrete wall in front of the Athens Tower which when I lived down the block in 1970 was a giant hole that we had no idea what it was going to be filled with. I catch the E7 which is the Kifissia Express and get back home in twenty minutes. Andrea is still cooking. Amarandi is IMing her boyfriend in America and I feel like a three hour walk is enough to justify drinking a beer. I have a fridge full of different types of beer. Greece is so generic when it comes to beer. Its usually just Amstel, Henieken or Fix so when I spot something more interesting on the supermarket shelf or even passing some shop I will buy it. Two days ago I found a big bottle of Chimay Belgian Abby Beer on my walk from Kypseli. I open a bottle of Makedonian Blue, and sit on the balcony watching the traffic and listening to Sweetheart At The Rodeo. Andrea's pasta is delicious if not delirious, made even better by the cheese, but towards the end of dinner she realizes she has lost her wallet and tears the house apart looking for it unsuccessfully. Amarandi and I keep silent. Its best not to speak when she is like this. It only makes her more angry even if you try to offer consolation.
"Don't worry. You probably left it at the Doctor's office and they will find it it."
"Don't worry?!! Don't worry?!! It has my bank cards in it!!! The office was full of people!!!! Maybe I was pick-pocketed!!!!! AAAAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!"

So I clean the kitchen, Amarandi does her homework and after a few hours I figure it is safe to go to bed. Andrea has calmed down. Almost affectionate. We go to sleep and the next day she goes to the doctor and gets her wallet back.

Just another day in the life of a typical Greek-American family in Athens.

If you want to see photos of Athens and my neighborhood in the sixties see my father's photos at

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