Saint Matthew in Athens

Saint Matthew

Mary's place is in total disarray when we arrive. Her pipes had burst and the plumber has torn apart the bathroom wall and floor to replace them. We are hot and sweaty and there is no water. Luckily we are invited to stay at Yannis and Georgia's so knowing that a shower is in my foreseeable future I take Amarandi for a walk to Tom Mazaraki's Flocati store where we drink beer, eat spanakopita, tiropita, ham and cheese, and watch CNN to see what's new with the OJ trial. Tom complains about the lack of tourists which he attributes to irresponsible journalism. This was supposed to be the year that America would make Greece their primary summer destination, but according to Tom, the sensationalist reporting of the Agion earthquake with its images of collapsed apartment buildings and hotels falling on French tourists, had caused a flurry of cancellations. Even George Bush who has been traveling around the islands with his twelve grandchildren couldn't sway the American public with his praise of Greece.

When we get back to Mary's, Andrea is in the midst of a big gem deal. Mary has been making trips to India where she buys precious stones to sell in Greece. Andrea has a pile of rubies and tourmalines in front of her which she examines for flaws. We are supposed to go to Georgia's for dinner and they want me there early to clean fish. I don't really want to have dinner with them. I like Yannis and Georgia but he is one of those spoiled Greek men who treats his woman as a servant. He tends to make conversation until dinner is served, when he focuses every ounce of his attention on getting the food from his plate to his mouth. When he is finished he becomes silent and self-absorbed as if to say to his guests, "OK. You've eaten. Now go and leave me in peace."

Luckily the fish are rotten and there really aren't enough to feed the five of us, even with the embryonic octopus that he must have shot out of frustration, boredom or a sheer hatred for the creatures. It's decided we are to go to Kostis Taverna on the platia, one of the only places in the Plaka that hadn't been turned over to the tourist trade, where the locals can still afford to eat. Before I know what is happening we are on the way out the door. Andrea tells me to linger behind and take a quick shower. Nobody even notices that I'm missing and that shower makes the difference between my being social, or competing with Yannis for the award as most spoiled adolescent at the dinner table.

When I rejoin them at the restaurant they have run into some friends who coincidentally enough, we also know from our family village of Kalohori. They are on their way to the outdoor Cine Paris to see "Four Weddings and a Funeral," perhaps inspired by Hugh Grant being busted yesterday for committing an indecent act with a prostitute. Georgia invites them to join us for a beer and we all sit down at a big table next to the street. We pass greetings among one another and make small talk while Yannis sits in stony silence, steam visible coming from his ears. When our friends finish their beer and leave, Yannis can contain himself no longer.

"Georgia how you could do such a stupid thing, inviting them to our table and thus humiliate me?"

Even Georgia who must be used to this after twenty years, seems shocked. Yannis continues berating her as if we didn't exist. It's embarrassing for us but particularly so for poor Georgia.

Yannis and Georgia are a perfect example of a mixed marriage Greek-style. She came here from America when she was in her twenties. Young, attractive, adventurous and romantic, she met Yannis, who was one of the bohemians who lived in the Plaka at the time. They were a small group who saw themselves as visionaries, spending the hours philosophizing and criticizing a society they saw as hopeless, (in that sense they may have been visionaries), and attracting the tourist girls like Georgia.

Many foreign women get caught in this type of trap. While courting the young foreign woman, the young Greek male plays the Zorba role, (live, drink and be happy for tomorrow we may be dead) which is what most foreign women are looking for in a Greek man. He treats her like a queen but with just enough cruelty or indifference to keep her insecure about the relationship and bind her to him. When she is helplessly ensnared and dependent on him, he is able to put down the pretense of being a fun-loving happy-go-lucky guy and become the aspect of his personality that had been waiting in the wings for the appropriate moment, that of his most significant role model: his father. Now he's melancholy and distant, and the woman works twice as hard to reach him.

From that point on the woman is expected to play the role of his mother, but as with many Greek men, a foreign bride could never live up to his saint of a mom. For one reason because she is not Greek. Now she is constantly criticized and put down. She's blamed for all his failures (though usually she is the one who is keeping him from falling apart).

Many guys in these mixed marriages are kamakis gone to seed. They prey on foreign girls since they know that Greek women know the game and would see through them in a second. Because it's easy for them to attract these beautiful women who are in such abundance, they don't respect them. Anyway they don't respect anybody, especially foreign women. They are using them. They fuck them and move on, telling themselves that they have provided a service by giving the girl an authentic Greek experience. But, occasionally they get caught. The woman will get pregnant, or confront him in such a way that for a brief moment he seeks redemption in the arms of the only person who has ever forced him to see what a jerk he is. Either way, in the end it leads to the same place. They begin to hate each other.

As I listen to Yannis continue his tirade against Georgia, I lose my appetite, for the first time this summer. He is attacking his wife because she has embarrassed him in front of the waiter, he says. I think he is suffering from low blood sugar and does not realize he is acting irrationally. He keeps at her and she listens to him, repeating the word "yes" in agreement, over and over again in the formula she has developed to keep the uneasy peace. What's the point in arguing? Just let him continue until he runs out of gas.

Then to further add to Yannis humiliation with the waiters I say that I am not hungry. Now we have four people and only three main courses. This is not acceptable. Yannis orders an extra chicken. He doesn't want word to get around the Plaka that he had sat down with three people and they were one entree short. By the time the food comes I am hungry again, but I refuse to eat the cursed chicken. It sits next to me throughout the meal, adding to the tension, until Yannis has it wrapped up and takes it home where perhaps he will eat it for breakfast.

But this is not the end of my evening with Yannis and Georgia. Because Yannis was nice enough to offer the hospitality of his home, I feel obliged to happily agree to drive with him to Pireaus to pick up the zodiac life-raft from his boat, which had sprung a leak. With me in the front and Georgia in the back we race through the back streets all the way to the port, speeding through intersections and giving no quarter to pedestrians whether they are young or old, firm or feeble. At one intersection a man is crossing with a baby carriage. I am sure that Yannis will stop to let him pass, but instead he has calculated that there is just enough space to squeeze between the carriage and the curb and he steps on the gas, leaving the man astonished in his wake. While I am desperately trying to untangle and buckle my seat belt, Yannis continues on Georgia like a broken record, trying to make her understand why what she had done at the restaurant was so terrible.

I begin to wonder about Georgia. Does she have a lover? How could you make love to a man who treats you so badly? I remember a few years ago when Andrea's boyfriend Stewart jokingly tried to convince me to have an affair with her, perhaps to get me away from Andrea. I was tempted. I often thought about my personal destiny and I have wondered what could be better than to combine loving service with my own selfish needs? I even had a little prayer:

Holy father in heaven
please show me the way to serve you
and to help my brothers and sisters
I know you have a plan for me
but just in case you don't
don't worry because I have one...

My plan was to rescue women in abusive relationships. I know it seems callous and self-serving but in my small way I could transform Greek society. I would provide love to someone suffering from the lack of it. When the husband discovered the truth about my therapy he might even come to his senses and start behaving himself for the sake of saving the marriage (after he killed me). I even had a friend tell me she had a dream that I was living in a Greek temple on a mountain. I was making love to women and healing them. What a great job! I can hear it now; "Saint Matthew gives so much of himself to the abused women of the world. He is truly a good man." I can see my statue right next to Mother Teresa's on the road to heaven.

Unfortunately I don't think Andrea would go for it.

We arrive in Pireaus, carry the life raft off their boat, and stick it on top of the car. It only takes a moment. It's beautiful tonight in the port of Zea Marina. People are strolling along the dock, talking and enjoying the evening until forced to leap aside to avoid being run down by Yannis' VW. I don't get much time to enjoy my surroundings because before I know it we are back in the car heading towards Athens at breakneck speed. When we get back to the Plaka and park in front of the small Byzantine church by their house I know I have survived. I rejoin my family in the sweltering little basement room, secure in the knowledge that I had earned our keep, and just as sure that I was not going to spend another night in Yanni's house.

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