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Just Another Day in Kea

Matt in Kea, GreeceJust another day on the island of Kea. I woke up this morning, had my coffee and read the news, then answered my e-mails. The phone rang. It was Yannis Hahathakis from the Hotel Aphrodite Beach in Lesvos telling me my brother is in the hospital in Mytilini because he needs an emergency operation. He tells me that what my brother has is called vouvoukilli and so I look it up on google but can't find it and I can't even find my Greek-English dictionary so I send a text message to some friends and a few minutes later George from Fantasy Travel explains what it is but does not know the word in English, but from the description I know what it is: a hernia. I know that he had problems in the past with this and I know he is probably not going to die on the operating table, no matter how bad the Greek medical system is and I know he is probably not going to have to pay for it which will make him very happy. I also know that he has been in Greece since Monday and the first I heard from him was Yiannis call that he was in the hospital today which is Thursday. Kind of makes me wonder about the strength of the modern Greek-American family. Anyway he had his operation and is fine.

But surprisingly this was not the big story of the day. We have a next door neighbor, a young man named Mimi, who is a waiter in one of the cafes. Very nice guy and the day before yesterday I asked him if he wanted our old modem and router which were barely used and he happily accepted them. Today he won the lottery. He won 800,000 euros which is well over a million dollars. He bought the ticket from our friend Stellios who is the laikio(lottery) agent on the island. He was pretty happy and the whole village was buzzing about it. Now he can buy the cafe he has been working at for the last 10 years. And now I know that if you buy enough lottery tickets from those guys walking around Athens and the islands, that you may get lucky one day. Actually a few years ago I heard that the guy who owns the Greek lottery company used to bribe people by giving them winning lottery tickets so I just sort of assumed that the whole thing was fixed.

It has been hot here and the taxis are on strike and blocking the port and the airport which makes life unpleasant for the tourists and other people as well. I asked George at Fantasy Travel what he was doing to get his clients from the airport to the hotels and the port if he could not use his regular taxi guys. He told me he had to hire a mini-bus company (who are not on strike) to get all his clients and it was costing a thousand euros a day. Today is the 4th day. It is expensive but the clients are pretty happy with it since they are hardly affected except that instead of a luxury Mercedes taxi they get to ride in a luxury Mercedes mini-bus for 8-12 people which means plenty of room to stretch out after being confined to the two-square feet you have on the plane. Those people who came to Athens and planned to just grab a cab had to take the metro or the airport bus and probably walk a few blocks to their hotels. I guess it is just another reason for people to hate Greek taxi drivers. But the taxi drivers in an effort to prove that they are not hurting tourism, invaded the ticket booth at the ancient site of Olympia and let all the tourists in for free! Of course if you can't get to your ferry to Mykonos or from the airport to your hotel, their act of generosity may not impress you, and if the cruise companies decide once and for all that modern Greek civilization is not mature enough to handle their passengers and tourism collapses, being a taxi driver may not be a very pleasant experience when all of society blames you for it. But actually it is the governments fault. The taxi union had agreed to the government's plan to change the laws and reduce the number of licenses it would allow, bringing it more into line with the rest of Europe's cities. Then they changed the minister of transportation and the new guy threw out the agreement and said that anyone could buy a taxi license for 3000 euros or something. So instead of limiting the number of drivers to a manageable number where you could have some level of quality control, they did the opposite so any jerk with 3000 euros could be a taxi driver. This is called liberalizing the profession. But what if you were a taxi driver who paid 100,000 plus euros for your license, and were still making payments to the bank, and suddenly this license you bought is being sold to anyone who had three thousand euros? Do you think that you might be one of those guys on strike too? It kind of makes you wonder if the government has the faintest idea of what it is doing. Is each minister like a king of his domain who can do whatever he wants, or is there some central authority that can say  "Re Yiannis (Ragoussis)... are you out of your f&*%ing mind?"

Well these are just the birth pangs of a new and better Greece according to Fantasy George and if we can just help our foreign friends avoid the minefields for the next few days things will be much better in August and hopefully forever. I had one family who came to Greece because the mother had six months left to live and they wanted to have the best holiday possible, of course. They wanted to do a day-trip to Hydra but they could not get to Pireaus because of the taxi strike and they did not want to subject the mother to the metro, and they could not use George for a trip on the mainland, not because George was on strike but because any taxi with passengers would probably be stoned to death by the other taxi drivers. So instead they went to Paradosiako Cafeneon in the Plaka and had a lovely time. So the taxi strike is like anything else in Greece. If you can't do what you want because of circumstances beyond your control, you just do something else, and chances are pretty good that you will have a nice time. Look at me for example. Through ferry strikes and taxi strikes and general strikes I am still having a great summer. I am swimming every day, eating good food, meeting all sorts of interesting people, reading and writing and even though it has been hot, the only air-conditioning I have used has been in the car. Back home in Carrboro, NC it is 100 degrees with about 800% humidity so things can certainly be worse. Anyway taxi drivers are human and have to eat so they won't stay on strike forever and probably by now they have worked out the differences and the government has some kind of face-saving speech written for the Minister of Transportation that he is now practicing in front of his gold and diamond framed mirror that will allow him to walk the streets with a minimum of bodyguards, say maybe twenty or thirty.

As for life in Kea, the beaches on the west side of the island have been wonderful. Very few people and a nice breeze, and we have been spending hours in the sea. We went to the best party ever at Red Tractor Farms where we met the most interesting people, mostly from the island, and ate the best food and drank the best wine of the summer. Every night at Rolando's we have met someone new and ended up staying late and maybe drinking a little too much but not feeling too bad the next morning. Maybe it is because we brought back from Lesvos about 40 liters of Methymnaos wine and it is organic. But at the party we drank this rose that is sold for 3 euros a liter at the new butcher shop in Livadi that is amazing and I felt no ill-effects from that either.

Sucklimg pig on KeaWe had one sort of mishap for the lack of a better word. We have some friends on the island and they love to entertain at their house. The thing is that when I am in Greece I don't want to be entertained at anyone's house unless there are fifty other people coming. I would rather be at a taverna and on Saturday night the taverna I would rather be at is Yiannis in the platia because that is the night he roasts a whole suckling pig. So our friends pull a fast one on us and show up at our house at 9pm with a tray full of spicy stuffed peppers which means we have to break out the wine and we end up listening to Roy Wood and dancing around the dining room to Rattlesnake Roll until 10. When we get to the taverna there are no tables because it is Saturday and the island is full of Athenian weekenders. The waiters try to accommodate us but as soon as they put out one of the indoor tables some Athenians grab it. So we leave and go to another taverna but when you are pining for roast suckling pig there is nothing that can take its place. So I was in a pretty crappy mood and not being very nice at all, offering the bare minimum of my usual profound insights and opinions. When the meal ended we went down and ran into some friends who were eating at Rolando's on the other side of the platia from Yiannis taverna which was still full of people eating the pig I had dreamed of all week long. I sat down with our friends and had an ouzo and politely declined a slice of someone's birthday cake. Then in an act of divine providence I feel a tap on my shoulder and it is one of the waiters from Yiannis with a whole plate of roast suckling pig. "This is from Yiannis" he said. And of course it was delicious and nobody wanted any of it but Peter, who had made the spicy stuffed peppers and we both ate the delicious crispy skin and  it made the whole evening OK. Could this happen anywhere but Greece?

Amarandi and I were talking about the things we do in restaurants in Greece that would be unheard of in America. Can you imagine going to a restaurant in the states and ordering chicken or fish and throwing the bones on the floor? The waiter would come running out and yell "What the hell are you doing? Why are you throwing bones on the floor". For the cats and dogs of course!

I have a theory about why Mimis won the lottery. We use the back door to our house where there is an abandoned lot which used to be a house but it has been in ruins for about 100 years. Since everything is stone when a house falls down it does not disolve the way a wooden house would, or rust the way a tin house would or blow away like a house of straw. The rubble is there forever until someone decides that it can be a house again. Until that day, people who are too lazy to walk to the dumpsters may throw their garbage on the ruins of the house, which attracts vermin and cats, of which there are both of, living amongst the ruins. A couple days ago there was an awful smell of a dead animal, and sure enough there was a dead rat in the street that one of the cats had gotten in nature's eternal struggle. Since I have never had to deal with a dead rat that I did not know personally (like a pet), my first reaction was to try to pick it up with a stick and throw it into the ruins where it would still smell but at least I would not have to look at it. But the state of the rat, which was too disgusting to go into detail about, made this very difficult. So my next attempt to remove it was to leave town and on the way to mention to Delapizza, who does all the village maintenance, that something smelled terrible, knowing he would find the rat and remove it or get one of the Albanians who work for the town to do it, and since it was probably Albanians who threw the garbage in the ruined house, which brought the rat in the first place, there was some justice in this. But when I came back from the beach the rat was still there. So I tried to wash the rat out to sea, or at least down the steps, using the garden hose, but it only moved about a foot and now it was wet and even more disgusting than before. But I knew that as soon as I saw Del that night, he would remember that he had forgotten and would remove the rat. But when Del joined us at the cafe by Piazza Delapizza and apologized, Andrea told him that someone had removed the rat. And who was that someone? Mimis, our next door neighbor, of course. And his reward for his good deed? He won a million dollars the next morning.

So keep this story in mind next time you have to do something disgusting that someone else will have to do if you don't. If I knew I could win a million dollars just by getting rid of the dead rat I would have done it happily. Did Mimis know he would win a million dollars by removing a dead rat? Of course not. But that is the difference between me and Mimis. I would only remove the rat for a million dollars. He did it for nothing and the next day won a million dollars.

And my brother? He came to Greece and never called or sent a message and he was rewarded with a hernia. The lord works in mysterious ways, don't cha think? But there is a certain justice to it all. And actually I feel kind of honored that I was sort of His vehicle for both of these life-changing events. If I had removed the rat then Mimis may not have won a million dollars. And if my brother had phoned me to tell me he had arrived in Greece he would not have gotten a hernia. And the lesson of the roast pig? Well, I am still trying to work that one out. But at least you have two examples of the intercontectedness of life on planet earth, and just another day in Kea.

For more about Delapizza see his website

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