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Sailing to Lesvos

Ferry European ExpressI am on the NEL ferry boat European Express and everything is tilted. The ship lists, I don't know my port from my starboard but out one set of lounge windows I see the sea and out of the other I see the sky. But I am not going to let it bother me. After all the ship was built in 1974 which I suppose could be considered the modern age. True the Beatles had been split up for almost four years and the world had yet to hear Bruce Springsteen. But electricity, air-conditioning, and diesel engines were all in use the year this ship was built, especially in Japan where it was launched and spent the first thirty years of its life before being sold to Tunisia then Algeria and finally to NEL, the ferry company that used to be owned by the island of Lesvos, but is now owned by some rich Greek businessmen or at this point more likely the banks. But despite its list the ship has been renovated completely (except maybe the garage) and is tastefully decorated in a light, Carolina blue in the first class lounge and a New England Autumn red in the economy lounge. The food is simple and good, but don't order the chicken on ferry boats because it is always dry. Go for the simple dishes like macaroni with meat sauce or giovetsi. The cabin is the best thing about the ship. It's for three so we have a single bed and a bunk bed and though in the past, when I would travel with my brothers and sisters we would have fought because everyone wanted the top bunk, we now fight because nobody does. Amarandi was the loser since she is the only one of the three of us who can easily make it up and down the ladder. The ship has internet but it does not really work. It shows up as four bars but you can't get e-mail or visit a website or use skype or do anything you normally would do when you have an intenet connection. But it is free. Maybe it is because there are a dozen or so American college kids in the corner using up all the band-width. One girl has an I (heart) GT, and one of the boys is wearing a Braves T-shirt with the name McCann on the back so I am gonna guess they are from Atlanta. Anyway I don't care because I don't really need to go on-line and in fact it would just distract me from writing this. But Amarandi is upset that she can't and has left the lounge to go back to the cabin to read which really can't be a bad thing.

Last night Tony came to Athens from Sifnos for the week and we met him at Alotino Jazz Bar in Kypseli. We were joined by Elizabeth and Mihos and then Yiannis Lambrou and a girlfriend of his from Gavatha, the closest beach town to us in Lesvos, showed up with three more bottles of Methymnaos wine which we drank when we moved next door to Mary's restaurant (Nostimies tis Maries) for dinner. We ordered two vleetas me kolokithia (boiled wild greens and zuchini), badzaria me skordalia (beets with garlic sauce), fried kolokithia (zuchini), sadziki, spanakopita (spinach pie), beefteki (grilled minced meat patties), hirini brizola (pork-chop), brizola mouskari (beef steak), fried potatoes, and bakalaro me skordalia (fried cod with garlic sauce) and it cost 43 euros, split 7 ways! So yes it is still possible to eat very cheaply in Greece if you know where to go. Mary's son George plays small forward for Sporting, a 3rd division basketball team that is trying to break into the second division. But they have no money for good players, in fact they don't have the money to pay the players they have, which makes it difficult. He told me that a lot of people had come to the restaurant from my site and they were very surprised that people would come to Kypseli all the way from America. In the course of the evening I mentioned that Stevie Wonder was playing at the kalimarmaro stadium and of course nobody knew this, and then upon finding out none of us were really willing to get in a taxi and drive 5 minutes to see one of the world's greatest performers at a free concert. Something happens to one in Athens where you weigh a major event against whatever it is you happen to be doing at the moment, and the major event loses nine times out of ten. (I did drag myself up Lykavettos to see James Brown though and he was so great that I vowed to always force myself to make the difficult choice, though I haven't since). The night ended early and we all split up and went home. I was lucky enough to find the Mets were playing the Texas Rangers and tuned in just as the Mets scored eight runs in the inning before making the first out, which put me in a pretty good mood while I lay in bed waiting to fall asleep.

Today was a beautiful sunny day with a few clouds in the sky and the temperature had dropped about 10 degrees. Andrea and I woke up pretty late, as we have been doing lately, late enough to take a walk up and down Fokionos Negri, and then walk up Agia Zoni to Platia Platanos where we had lunch at Zagona, a tsipuro-mezedes restaurant right next to Taverna Platanos where we ate the night we arrived in Athens from Kea. They had a beautiful mixed salad, some nice marinated gavros and a couple other things, and as usual we ordered more than we could eat. But as we were sititng there wondering how we would finish all this food, Toohin, the Bangladeshi guy who sells flowers to all the customers in the restaurants and cafes, (who I always buy from), came to our table and Andrea convinced him to join us. He is one of the sweetest and most gentle people and has been on the streets of Athens for five years, though he has a wife and children at home in Bangladesh that he supports. He was so shy that we had to put the food on his plate before he would eat it. He told us that he is leaving in January for good, that Athens has become too crazy for him and people don't have money for flowers. Two months ago a couple guys in their twenties, a Greek and an Albanian, beat him and stole all his money, three euros. He explained to us that the people from Bangladesh were honest and worked very hard, that the Romanians, Bulgarians and the Russians were the professional pickpockets and purse snatchers. The Afganis are the craziest. It was three Afganis who killed a man for his video camera when he was getting his car to take his wife to the hospital to have a baby several months ago. The Pakistanis are not so crazy as the Afganis but they still get into trouble. This is the world he lives in west of Patission Avenue and he has had enough and is going home. But until then if you see him you should buy flowers from him.

That reminds me that I wanted to mention the Gambians, my next door neighbors in Kypseli. There are eight of them living in a one bedroom apartment and they had their water shut off months ago because they did not pay the bill. One of them knocked on the door with a bucket and asked for water which of course I gave to him. How can you not give water to an African who knocks on your door? But our neighbor Maria, who has a spicket on her balcony so she can water the potted jungle she has surrounding her apartment, was screaming at them yesterday, that they were stealing her water, that they were dirty and trowing their garbage out the balcony door and it was blowing into her garden, and numerous other complaints til finally people in the apartments upstairs began shouting at her to shut up because it was 9am and they were trying to sleep. The owner of the Gambian's apartment is some old woman in Crete who probably has not gotten her rent in a year but does not have the energy to have them evicted. They are nice guys, at least the ones I have met. They think Andrea is pretty hot and God knows what they think of Amarandi, and I am sure to them I am just the big dumb American guy. But we were talking about helping them pay their water bill so they could at least take showers and clean the apartment because it smells terrible and when I come home late at night and have trouble with the keys, the smell overcomes me and I have to close the door quickly to keep it out. I think it is a mixture of  Gambian food, sweat, ganja and feet and while a couple years ago it was a sort of exotic aroma that made a walk down the hallway seem like I was wandering through an Asian spice market, now it just smells bad. I feel sorry for them. It is not their fault they are stuck in this stupid country and everyone in the building hates them because they think they broke the front door so it no longer locks (which is the reason all the mirrors in the lobby have disappeared.) None of these immigrants wanted to come to Greece. They just had to come to Greece to get to somewhere that they might have a future, like Germany, France, or Scandanavia. But those countries don't want them and so they are stuck here in limbo. They can't go forward and they can't go back. They can just exist in Athens where more and more of them arrive and there is less and less money from the government and from the people on the street who support them by buying their DVDs, CDs and knock-off handbags. Kind of makes you wonder, if Greece defaults and life becomes difficult for the Greeks, what will it be like for the Gambians, the Bangladeshis, the Pakistanis, not to mention the crazy Afghanis?

Hopefully like Toohin they will all have gone back home by then. But I suppose that is wishful thinking.

Arrival In LesvosI went back to the cabin at about 10:30pm and read for awhile before turning out the light. The sea became more and more rough but it was nice, like being rocked to sleep. I woke up when we arrived in Chios at around 4am but I did not bother to get up to watch. The next thing I knew the porters were knocking on the doors telling us that we had arrived in Lesvos, even though we were still about an hour from the harbor. We went to the lounge and had a couple espressos until it was time for me to go down into the dungeons to drive the car off the boat. We then drove to Pam's new apartment on the back side of Mytilini town and while the girls drank coffee and chatted, ot whatever women do when guys leave the house, I wandered around taking photos of the area and the lower part of Mytilini Castle. By 9:30 we were on the road and came to Vatera where I have free internet that actually works at the Hotel Aphrodite Beach. The sea is calm and beautiful and I have just taken a half hour swim before downloading my e-mail, finishing this piece, and getting back on the road to Vatousa, where we will spend the next couple days. Vatera is very quiet but it usually is at this time of year. There are a couple dozen people in the hotel, all foreigners since Greeks have no money to travel except during essential holidays like Agios Pnevmatos, Easter and a couple weeks of August.

Vatera Beach from Hotel AphroditeThere was a refugee center here in Mytilini but they closed it and took all the illegal immigrants to Athens and left them go free. Many of the Albanians, even those who had been here for years and raised families have gone back to Albania because there are no more jobs here. I asked Yiannis Hahathakis who owns the hotel how he will pick his olives this December. He said he has a Romanian family that helps him, and that many of the other people who have olives will leave half of them on the trees because the price of extra-virgin olive oil has fallen to about 1.8 euros a liter. Why are we paying so much for it in the USA? I wonder aloud though I already know the answer. So if anyone out there wants to import olive oil come to Lesvos. In the meantime it is a perfect day, the sun is shining and the sea is clear and I am very happy to be here.

You can click on photos to see them full size. For more about Lesvos see

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