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Cricket, Pahi, Megara and Mezedopouleon Stofi in Perama

Kypseli backyardSo where was I? Yes I know there is a lot of time between writings but that's the fault of Athens and the weather. They call it winter but it is probably closer to summer in San Francisco or Newfoundland. I will wake up with every intention of sitting down and spending the day writing but then I see the sun shining on my balcony and to be indoors seems like such a waste. Some days I can force myself but then I am catching up on e-mails from people desperate to find out if there is a ferry from Mykonos to Santorini (not so far). I get this question so often I have created a form letter for it. Also within the last few days I have finished my Kypseli pages which I have been working on since January. (See now that it is out of the way I should have more time to keep up with this blog. But as the weather gets even better I may be spending even less time in front of a computer. It really was a lot easier to write about Greece when I was in North Carolina, but that's only because it is a lot more fun being in Greece. When I complained that this nice weather made it so difficult for me to stay home and work, my friend Corinne said "What are you going to do when it is spring?"

So let me start with yesterday and move backwards since that should be the easiest to remember. Yesterday was a sunny spring like day but I decided I would clean my mess of an office and then answer my e-mail. I had downloaded about 50 songs from the sixties off itunes so cleaning was a pretty enjoyable experience and when I ran out of things to clean I was a little disappointed until this dove who has become my friend landed on my balcony and hung out waiting for me to get something  to feed it. I spent another half an hour sitting outside throwing little bits of rolled up bread, the music still blasting. Our apartments are about 20 feet from the next block and the only time I see our neighbors is when they come out to hang something on their clotheslines on their balconies so it was a good opportunity for me to spend some quality time with them. There must be about 75 apartments within easy view of one of our two balconies and as the weather is nice, I see new people every day. There are two different apartments that have beautiful African women in them. One waved hi to me as she was hanging out her laundry. Mostly there are old ladies and a mixture of young Greek, Albanian and Polish families. There are Gambians next door, I don't know how many, but they never go out on their balcony. They just use it as an outdoor closet. In the yard next door is a big male cat who makes all sorts of lonesome noises. We call him Mr Yowel and when we go out to eat we bring back fish heads to feed him in the morning. He was pretty much imprisoned by this 8 foot concrete wall that enclosed his entire garden but one day a female cat appeared and Mr Yowel spent the day chasing her around the yard. She spent a couple days with him and then someone stuck a stepladder in the corner so she could escape. Mr Yowel used it to get on the enclosing wall and since then he has been able to wander through the backyards of this entire block of apartment buildings. Its only a matter of time before he turns up on my balcony. So as you can see it gets pretty exciting around here. But by 4pm I had enough excitement and went for a walk around the neighborhood.

Brass band in Fokionos, Negri, KypseliThe first thing I saw was a group of people in red uniforms and instruments walking down the street past the old Demotiki Agora. It was some kind of brass band and they gathered at one of the fountains on Fokionos Negri and began to play. They started with a very jazzy version of Proud Mary and also did some fifties songs like Rock Around the Clock and the kind of songs you might hear a University pep band playing, all the time their music attracting more and more people who were walking up and down Fokionos. What a wonderful thing it was. In the crowd were Africans, Albanians, Greeks young and old, small children, some in strollers looking and listening in amazement. Imagine what it would be like for a one or two year old to hear a big brass band for the first time ever, and in fact to be surrounded by them in their bright red uniforms, military style hats and all that sound. Some people barely noticed the band as they hurried to wherever they were going, their minds lost in their problems. There were identical twins there bopping along to the music, spitting images of Larry of the Three Stooges but with even wilder hair and in their sixties, wearing the same outfits. Little old ladies in black, perpetually in mourning as all their generation reach the end of their allotted time on earth, were smiling and singing along to the kind of music Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack were doing in the fifties. The conductor knew a couple of the women and they came to give him a big hug even while he was directing the band. The Kypseli stray dogs even came over to see what was going on. The played about an hour, closing with some popular Greek songs. By then I was walking down Fokionos Negri, the sound of the band being a sort of soundtrack as it flowed down the hill towards Patission street.

Cricket in KypseliI stopped in at Foibos Bar to pick up a Byrds compilation I had lent them and to make sure they were going to order more Methymnaos Wine from Yannis in Xidera so Andrea and I could spend more time there. I realized that it is the only wine I can drink a lot of and not feel lousy the next day. I suppose that means I am getting old and soon some old lady will be wearing black for me. But if I can get all the bars I hang out at to carry my favorite organic wine I may be able add a few years and subtract a few hangovers. For those of you staying at the Hotel Attalos I am working on getting them to carry it in the hotel bar so people who read my site and know enough to order it can drink as much as they want and not have to go up to the Acropolis the next morning and see man's greatest architectural endeavor with a splitting headache. From Foibos I continued down Fokionos and walked up Patission to see what was happening at the park, the one the people of Kypseli have been occupying since the day the municipality of Athens sent in workers to chop down all the trees so they could build a parking garage. There is now an art exhibition there and a small cafe in a makeshift tent, heated by an old oil-burning somba (heater). Towards the back of the park beneath a wall of apartment buildings there were three young Pakistani guys playing cricket. I was watching them and I realized I had the answer to Tom Mazaraki's need for more baseball players for his Greek league.(See Baseball in Greece). How hard would it be to teach baseball to Pakistanis? They can throw the ball at least 80mph and bounce it a foot before the batter. How tough would it be to teach them to not bounce it and throw strikes? They certainly have the arm strength. As for hitting they can put wood and foul off anything near the plate until they got something nice to hit. You just have to teach them to hit strikes and again the instincts are there. I told them about the two Indian players who got contracts with the Pittsburgh Pirates after they won a contest of who could throw a baseball the fastest, having never played baseball in their lives. Suddenly I realized what to do with all the Pakistanis in Athens. I talked to the older of the three and he was very interested. I need to talk to Tom now.

Mary's restaurant in KypseliLast night Andrea and I went to Mary's restaurant on Platia Georgiou in Kypseli officially known as Oi Nostimies tis Maries. Its owned by a beautiful woman named Mary with three teenage sons. Dorian is in love with Mary, but actually everyone is. She is sort of the angelic den mother and patron saint of men too lazy to cook for themselves. Its our main eating place in Kypseli and conveniently is next to Allotino, our favorite drinking place. Tuesday nights the restaurant fills with actors, actresses, directors and other theater people from the neighborhood, which is the Off-Broadway of Athens who eat here mainly because it is cheap and really, really good. I saw some of the most beautiful, elegant, older women I have ever seen, all in passionate conversation. I could not eat my meal or drink my wine slow enough so that I could just hang out and watch and listen. Dorian joined me and every time the door opened our mouths would fall open. It was sort of like being in a Hollywood restaurant and all these people you recognized from shows like Gilligan's Island or Green Acres or Petticoat Junction were there, actors who didn't become big stars and so were actual working theatre people. They did not have the money to go out and save the world or party til they destroyed themselves. They were working-class actors, doing Greek translations of Harold Pinter, Arthur Miller and other American and foreign playwrights as well as modern and ancient Greek comedies, tragedies, dramas and Sunday children's matinees dressed as giant rabbits or talking fruit. We have been encouraging Pandelis Melissinos to move down here or at least socialize in Kypseli and maybe resurrect his play Bacchus for a season. Topo Alou theater has been running an English language theater on Sundays in the summer based on ancient Greek tragedies. Maybe they would be interested in doing a comedy.

Nea Peramos, GreeceMonday was spectacularly beautiful (actually so was Tuesday and it looks like today is too damn it) and so Andrea and I decided to take the car out of the city. Its good to use your car at least once a month to keep it in running shape and to justify the fact that you are paying 170 euros a month for a parking space. We were not sure where to go but decided that the real purpose of our drive was to find a way out of the city from Kypseli that was not too stressful and time consuming. Andrea had done a little recon with her father and gave me some pretty good directions that brought us down to the Larissa Railway Station and out Athinon Avenue and within half an hour we were passing Elefsina and the bay of Salamis. We got off the highway at a beach town called Nea Peramos which had a waterfront and some beaches, cafes and bars, mostly closed still. Considering its proximity to the refineries and shipyards of Elefsina it was an attractive little place, sort of like some of the coastal towns of southwestern Evia, at least the beach areas were. The town itself was made up of small apartment buildings and shops as well as a couple enormous buildings, one 11-stories high which must have put it in the top twenty in Attika. We parked the car and walked around a little but decided a town called Pahi looked more promising. We had to go inland towards the Chicken-farming capital of Greece, the town of Megara and then follow the signs.

Pahi, GreecePahi was much more attractive than I expected and even had a bicycle lane on the coastal road. We drove past some kind of military sea rescue base with noisy helicopters hovering above the landing area, ready to go out and rescue some fisherman or a boatload of Afgani refugees who had somehow made it this far. We entered the village and parked on a concrete dock near the Paxaki Fish Taverna which was full of people and explored the town. Pahi is very much like being on an island. They have landscaped the harbor to create a park where a row of restaurants have their tables with a view of the sea. The harbor is full of small fishing boats and one or two larger ones with Egyptians fixing the nets. In Greece many of the fishermen on the bigger boats come from Egypt since there is very little work for them at home. If you want to know which restaurant to eat in you ask one of the Egyptians because not only do they know who bought the freshest fish, but they are not related to anyone who owns a restaurant so their advice is less tainted by nepotism. The young fisherman in the North Carolina Tarheels hat sent us back to Paxaki, which was the only restaurant that had any customers though several were open. It was noisy, full of people from Megara who had come their for lunch, most drinking ouzo. Besides the old couple next to us we were the only ones not drinking. We ordered some fried shrimp, a feta, a lachano-carotto salad (lettuce-carrot) and a grilled fish called kokala which is supposedly related to safrida but looks more like a gopa and despite its name, kokala means bones, did not have too many. The meal cost us 19 euros. The restaurant is decorated with giant photos of Pahi starting from 1925 up to a few years ago. All the tables were decorated with old maps of Greece, the kind that they used to have in school hanging over the blackboard that the teacher would roll down. They covered these with clear plastic tablecloths so you could have fun looking at the map while you waited for your fish. Pahi is famous for its kakavia, a hearty fish and vegetable soup, that people come all the way from Athens for.

Pahi, GreeceI met an old man on the pier. I forgot his name of course even though I repeated it about fifty times so I wouldn't forget it. He saw me taking pictures and asked me if I were German. When you go to these off-the-beaten-path places they always assume you are German. When I told him I was American he spoke to me in battered English which was hard to understand at first and even harder when he started mixing it with Greek but he told me he had lived in Ohio for many years, working on ships in the Great Lakes. He had been on ships in the USA for over thirty years and came from Inousses, the small island off the coast of Chios, next to Turkey, where many of the Greek ship-owners are from and have their summer houses. He was now 82 and living in Megara. I wanted to take his photo but he would not let me. "Look at this..." he showed me a photo of a handsome young man he kept in his wallet. "This is me when I lived in America. Now I am a wrinkled, toothless old man. Why would anyone want to see a picture of that?"

ancient olive trees in Megara, GreeceAfter lunch we drove into Megara and somehow out the back way without really finding the center of town where we thought we would have a coffee. Instead we followed the road into the valley between Mount Pateras and Mount Gerania through hills and ravines and miles and miles of olive groves, some ancient with gnarled trees as wide as my car was long. There were fields of arugula, some domesticated and some wild from the fields that had gone to seed. When we walked and stepped on the wild arugula the leaves would release their scent and it was like walking in a giant arugula salad. There were also fields of wild horta, beets, and yellow fields of flowering clover. We stopped in a tiny church of Agia Paraskevis, very old and probably on the site of some ancient temple, with faded frescoes behind the alter. It was in a shaded courtyard, the perfect place for a panagiri or a picnic. Actually the whole area was the perfect place to lay out a blanket and eat some olives, feta and bread and drink some wine and spend a lazy sunny afternoon far from people.

Pakistani farmworkers in Megara, GreeceThe only people we saw were three Pakastanis, so Afgani looking they must have been Pashtoons, gathering arugula in bunches for the farmer they worked for. We stopped to talk to them and they asked if we wanted some rokka (arugula) and were ready to give us enough for a month, but we asked them for just enough for a salad. They let me take their photo. If I go back there I will make some copies for them. I really feel for the Pakistanis. I meet so many of them and when I say I am American its like they have never seen one up close before. But the only time you see Pakistani's when you live in America its on TV and they are yelling and burning an American flag. Then you meet these gentle soft-spoken refugees who have gone through hell to get to Greece where it is slightly less fucked up for them than it was at home in Pakistan. Some do well. Those that go to the farming villages find work, because as Andrea puts it "The Greeks don't want to do hard work anymore." Those in the cities have a more difficult time but even washing windshields of captive motorists at traffic lights earns them enough money to survive, and many move up the ladder, opening shops and small businesses and eventually owning apartments. Still many Greeks are racists. Yesterday Andrea had to get a police stamp and the official behind the desk called her up even though she was standing behind a Pakistani who was next in line. He then allowed another Greek to come up before finally dealing with the Pakistani.

Antique locomotive in Megara, GreeceWe went back and passed through Megara several times without finding the town center though I did find an old railway yard with an old rusted out locomotive that must have been a hundred years old. We found ourselves crossing over the tracks of the Peloponessos railway and we never saw a train. In fact the tracks looked like they had not seen any trains in awhile either. Now that the relatively high-speed Proasteos (Suburban) Railway goes all the way to Corinth there is no point in using the narrow gauge Peloponessos Railway in Attika. Its sort of a shame. They really could have developed it into a tourist attraction, maybe offering an all day trip around the Peloponessos and back, stopping in a few places for lunch and coffee along the way. Maybe some visionary in EOT will realize the possibilities in the not too distant future, maybe even before they tear up the tracks like they did with the trains to Lavrion before realizing that they needed a train to Lavrion again.

Sunken ship near Elefsina, GreeceOn the way back from Megara there is a curve in the road and down below is a passenger ship laying on its side. There is a road to a small church but there is a fence and a gate and a sign that says No Entrance-No Trespassing, but at times like these being a foreigner who does not read Greek (supposedly) has its benefits. So I walked down the hill to as close as I could get to the ship and took some photos. A few kilometers later, or maybe it was before, I forget, there is an area that has two or three fish tavernas near the town of Loutropirgos in an area called Nerida or something like that. Along the side of the road are these stands which sell shellfish. They have mussels, a couple varieties of clams, a kind of a scallop and some variation of an oyster which on the outside looks like a cross between a scallop and oyster shell and inside looks like a cross between an oyster and a clam. We bought a couple kilos, sort of reluctant to buy anything that comes from the sea so close to Elefsina but in such denial that we were willing to risk our lives to eat linguini with clams tonight. We did. They were delicious and of the batch only one was bad, though for all I know they could all have been toxic. But what does not kill us only makes us stronger (or raises our own toxicity level).

Elias at Taverna Strofi, Perama, PireausFinally, on Sunday morning Elias from Swift Car Rentals, my favorite epicurean ouzo aficionado called to invite Andrea and I to a fish taverna in Perama, the fringe of Pireaus, a working class area that overlooks the shipyards and the ferries to Salamina, the closest island to Athens that few tourists have been to though all have seen. I wrote about Salamina in my blog of Sept 9th and it is actually an interesting place. We took the electric train to Pireaus and Elias, his girlfriend Joanna and another friend named Dina picked us up and we navigated the narrow streets of Pireaus to the Strofi Mezedopouleion Fish Taverna on Leoforos Irinis which is the main road through Perama to the Salamina ferries. Stofi is on Platia Tsorpatsoglou and has been written up in Athinorama so it is a popular place on a Sunday afternoon during lent. Its owned by a guy named Leonidas, from the island of Ikaria and since Joanna was from Ikaria we got first class treatment and great seats close to the three musicians who played every great rembetika song they could think of or people could suggest. Unlike so many ouzeries these days who seem to have only Mini and Plomari, Stofi had at least a dozen or more ouzos. We settled on Dimino, my current favorite Lesbian ouzo which is relatively smooth and light. Andrea claims we drank ten bottles but I only counted six, two of which were compliments of Leonidas.

Strofi mezedopoulion, Perama, PireausBesides great music, ouzo and company let me tell you about the food. There must have been twenty or thirty dishes we did not order that I wish I had, but to have ordered more food I would have needed an extra stomach and the dishes we did order were amazing. We had a couple standards like grilled octopus and two big plates of fried koutsomoures (like barbounia-red mullet) and a plate of fried fresh baby bakaliaro. We had my favorite Greek fish dish, gouna, which is sun dried mackeral that is grilled, crispy on the edges. We had fried baby squids. We had fresh steamed scallops still in the shell, complete with the parts they turn into catfood that you never see in the USA but they serve in Paris. We had the Greek equivalent of a dungeness crab, boiled with some kind of horta or other wild green. That was just OK. I think they are better in Volos where they supposedly come from. Finally we had these little crabs, the kind you see on the rocks by the sea when you drop a piece of bread or the remains of a sea urchin into the water, deep fried so you ate the whole thing. Interestingly I did not get drunk but I was really watering down my ouzo, more than Elias and company and probably drank half what they did. So when Andrea tired of the eating, drinking, laughing and singing I left with her and took the bus back to Athens, rather than stay on and join Elias, Joanna and Dina in their further adventures at the Rembetiko Mezedopouleio Oi Penies tou Bambakari near the Pireaus Metro station where they finished out the evening with more ouzo, good music and food.

For those who want to go to Strofi it is actually really easy. You can either take the metro to Pireaus and the 843 bus goes from in front of the station all the way to the Salamina ferries. You will know you are at the square because the bus has to negotiate the square. There is also an Atlantic Supermarket right across the street. The B18 and the G18 go from near Omonia square in Athens. They leave from Platia Odiou which is where Pireos (Tsaldari) Street intersects with Sofekelous and Meandros streets, maybe two blocks from Omonia. If you take a taxi it will probably cost you all of 7 euros each way, a reasonable amount on the way there and a pittance on the way back with a belly full of fish and a head full of music and ouzo. If you want to make reservations call 210 4416456.

Don't forget to see my Guide to Kypseli at

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