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Back Home in Athens

Kalamia taverna, KypseliDamn. I guess the sleeping pill didn't work as well tonight as it did last night. Last night I had arrived from the USA at 9am, slept a few hours in the afternoon after checking out the organic Farmer's Market at Fokionos Negri, and then gone out to dinner at a quiet neighborhood taverna kalled Kalamia, decorated in insane patterns of reeds and bamboo. Its one of those traditional old places, run by a guy approaching the age of retirement, who will stay open just as long as there is still business. It was Saturday night and there were only about 5 tables out of twenty, but the food was good and so was the wine and it felt great to be back with my friend Tony and Andrea, and we all had a relieved feeling that now the holidays were over and we could go back to normal eating, drinking and hanging out with friends instead of family obligations. We walked home and as we got into bed Andrea put a pill in my mouth and said "swallow this" and passed me a glass of water. I woke 3 hours later in a state where my body felt like I was walking neck deep in sludge on a seemingly endless journey to the bathroom. Then I went back to bed and woke up groggy at 11am, but nothing that could not be cured by Andrea's high-charged mud coffee. From then on it was a fun-filled day in my new Kypseli home, answering e-mail, updating pages and practicing my Greek with the Rosetta Stone program I bought for myself for Christmas. While I was happily doing all these things, Andrea and her sister Pam had gone to a jewelry exhibit at the Benaki and then phoned me at about 5pm to meet them at Pandelis Melissinos, the Poet's shop. Twenty minutes later we were in the last empty table at Platia Iroon Taverna in Psiri, where Niko and his band were cranking out rembetika and laika to a crowd that knew every word and was singing along with gusto. A women, dressed in mourning black suddenly got up and began dancing as if to say "He's gone. I'm over it. Let's Get down!" We drank rakomilo, a warm mixture of Cretan Raki and honey, for cold days, and ate pastourma saganaki, green tarama (they put dill in it), and a few other things, while the taverna behaved like it was midnight on New Years Eve rather than 6pm on Sunday evening. It does not take long to get back into the swing of things in Greece.

So I just spent 3 weeks in the USA and I am trying to summon up the memories of it and all I can think of was that I woke up every morning with my back hurting, my joints creaking, and feeling that overnight I had become an old man. I stopped feeling that way when I woke up in Athens, or at least that's when I noticed it. It could have happened on the plane. Some people claim Greece has a rejuvenating effect. We sent my step-mother here to die and spend her last few days in her beloved adopted country and she defied us all by rising from the dead and living for two more years, an active and full life I should add.

My biggest impression of the trip to the USA was the flight itself. While we were waiting to board we heard our names called and since I always expect the worst I thought we were going to be bumped or there was something wrong with my passport that they didn't catch until after I passed through control. They took my tickets and fiddled around with the computer and handed me two more. "We are moving you up to row 6" the woman told me. She did not say upgraded so I held off celebrating until I was sure. I didn't even confide in Amarandi. "I'll tell you later", I said. I did not want to get her hopes up and end up disappointing her. When we got on the plane sure enough row 6 was in First Class, but there was an old woman in it. I showed my ticket to the stewardess and she looked at the old woman's ticket and sure enough it was row 39 back in steerage. Like it was a movie theater she just walked in and took the first empty seat. We claimed our inherited seats and entertained ourselves with endless choices of movies, gourmet food ordered from a menu created by a famous chef (including hot fudge sundae and champagne), finding every comfortable position on the magical chairs, and wondering how we would ever be able to travel in economy again. The return trip lightning did not strike twice but Amarandi found these wonderous natural pills sold at the airport which contained valarian, melatonin and some other calming herbs and non-narcotic substances that enabled me to read Rock Scurrey's history of the Grateful Dead (I can't read on planes), sleep for four hours during the movies, and watch a SouthPark DVD with Amarandi for the last two hours. I don't think I have ever had two such easy flights on one trip. It was not easy for everyone though. I was surrounded by mothers with their children, all between the ages of 2 and 4 like they were returning from some pre-school convention in New York. The children were all excited, talking, singing, yelling, tearing up the magazines and acting very happy while the mothers looked overwhelmed and frightened. As we were taxing towards the runway to take off, the scholarly looking Greek gentleman in the seat behind us could take it no more and screamed "Children stop this noise you are making me crazy! Mother's control them!" The children looked like scared little hamsters, too terrifed to make a sound, sneaking glances at the mean goblin who if they were not quiet would eat them.

I always book a taxi but this time I was surprised to see it was non other than George the Famous Taxi Driver instead of one of his sons or Yannis from New Jersey, who is something of my personal driver. "I must be an important guy if they sent you to get me." I told him. "Yes that and we are very slow and I had nothing to do so I came myself." There was no traffic and we made it to Kypseli in 45 minutes, probably an international record.

Anyway I want to thank Delta for 2 wonderful flights. The first was thanks to them putting me in first class and the second to the combination of drugs in those anti-anxiety pills they sold at the airport which I highly recommend if you have a fear of flying or just want to get it over with. Its called Sky Calm and it seems safe. It didn't kill me anyway. My daughter liked it too. I do have a complain though and it concerns the luggage sircharge. They charge if a bag is too heavy. In other words say if I have 2 bags I am checking and one weighs 20 pounds and one weighs 72 pounds. Instead of counting them together so I have 92 pounds and am below the weight limit, they count them individually. If I can squeeze 8 pounds into the smaller bag then I don't have to pay a fine. I tried and there was no way. I could not get it any lower than 64 pounds. So I had to pay $150 fine. It seems kind of like a scam. If they have a weight allowance per person what difference does it make how you break it up? Seems like another way to gyp you out of more money, like the fuel sircharge they added when oil was at $120 a barrel and that we still pay even now when they are practically giving oil away.

So, what about my trip to America? It was cold and wet almost every day. I stayed at my mom's which was fun because all my brothers and sisters and nephews and nieces were dropping in, and I had my old bedroom from 20 years ago. But anyone who has gone back to live with their mother realizes that there are a lot of issues that were never dealt with because once you moved out they never came up again. I think that's why many people find family holidays so stressful. But I found myself an old man trapped in the mind of the spoiled teenager I used to be and it took some getting used to. But by the last week I was OK and probably if they told me that Greek society had collapsed and I could not return until sometime in the indefinite future I would have been OK with that. But now that I am back in Athens I am glad society did not collapse and I have a few weeks, months or years to enjoy life here. There is something more alive about being here, as you can see by the number of times I wrote in my blog during my stay in the USA. One thing I did like was driving. Coming back from the mall after Christmas shopping we stopped at a traffic light and my brother said "Traffic is terrible here". What??!!! He does not know the meaning of bad traffic such as what we have in Athens where you can sit for half an hour at one intersection, finally escape on a side road and discover everyone else had the same idea and you end up in a worse traffic jam. When I drive in Kypseli I have about 3 inches of space on either side because cars are parked on both sides of the narrow streets. If you don't have several dents in your car then you probably just keep it locked in a garage until Easter and August when everyone leaves town. In comparrison driving in America was so relaxing. I would go to the mall to Christmas shop just for the pleasure of driving there. Some nice music on the stereo in my comfortable Honda Accord. In Athens I have to play the Byrd's Sweetheart of the Rodeo continuously because it keeps me calm. I told my friend Paul Jones, who is Roger McGuinn's webmaster about this and he told me its his least favorite album because it cost all the money he had made from all the previous Byrd's albums and was not successful, though now it is like the Sergeant Pepper of Country music. But Roger if you are reading this, this album saved many lives because without it even a normal calm person might go on a rampage after ODing on Athens traffic.

On a final note, I was hoping that since I was up at 5am I could catch the end of the UNC-Wake Forest Basketball game. Unfortunately there is no broadcast that I could find, just sort of play-by-play that is updated every 30 seconds which lacked the excitement one expects in college basketball. Like watching a game in morse code. But that's OK because there is more to life than College Basketball. There is European Basketball, full of American players who are trying to fight their way back into the NBA. I still need to pick a team though. My friend Tony is for Panionios but most people are for Olympiakos or Panatheniakos. I kind of like AEK because they came over with the refugees from Constantinople. I will probably watch a few games and decide where my allegiance lies. If you have any reason I should pick one team over another please let me know.

Anyway its good to be back in Greece. Think I will go back to bed.

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