Sea Urchin Soup
After eating stuffed tomatoes and feta for lunch at Katina's, I wander over to the town beach and play in the surf for about an hour. The sea is still rough and there is a strong wind blowing. I guess it's the Meltemi. It's due about now. Andrea returns from her art lesson and we walk back to the house to read away the afternoon. The girls all sleep but I'm engrossed in my book. This is the kind of book I make fun of other people for reading. Gory, sensationalism and true. Why is it so fascinating? Why are my spiritual books so difficult to read?
I tear myself away at around 6:30 and take my diving stuff to catch sea-urchins (archinoos), since I had promised some to Niko, the contractor from Egalion. I have my knife and my two fish bags which I fill up in about twenty minutes. Sea Urchins are all over the place. If I were Japanese this would be paradise. I go home to shower before going to Katina's for ouzo and dinner. I bring my Greek rembetika music tapes with me which Niko the cop and the old men enjoy. When Niko the contractor shows up I run down to the sea to get the bag of sea-urchins. I had tied them to the dock so they would dangle in the sea and stay fresh. Niko the contractor is very enthused when he sees my catch and orders his son Vassili to get a knife and a bowl. He then takes the sea-urchins to a far corner of the yard to open them. Andrea tells me to go over to see how he is doing it but I argue that I already know. You cut open the shells and separate the bright orange eggs from the guts and grit. They are delicious. But when I finally accept the possibility that there might be something I have yet to learn about the subject and walk over I see that Niko is taking everything out and putting it in a bowl; eggs, guts and grit. I assume he has some secret method of separating the eggs from the crud that he will do later, so I go back to my ouzo, proud that I have at least made the effort to learn something new. Niko finishes his laboring and goes into the kitchen. He returns with the bowl of eggs, guts and grit, but now it's swimming in a sea of lemon, olive-oil and vinegar.
"Eat it" he commands us. I don't want to. It goes against everything I know about eating sea-urchins. Andrea takes the first mouthful and smiles at him. "Aureo" she says convincingly. Beautiful. She's lying I can tell. I refuse the offering but Andrea tells me it would be an insult not to try it, in fact it would be an insult not to eat the whole thing, punishable by death, exile or castration.
"It goes great with ouzo" says Niko in Greek. I take a little taste. It wouldn't go great with anything, especially ouzo. I have eaten many archinoos in my life. In Krisopigi on Sifnos I had picked dozens off the sea floor and Andrea, Amarandi and I happily ate the bright orange eggs. Amarandi in particular loved them and kept sending me down for more. The eggs taste both fishy and sweet. But this tastes like raw fish guts, lemon, olive oil, vinegar and sand and the texture is even worse. I try to just eat the eggs but they are impossible to separate from the grit and guts now that everything has been bonded by the oil. The grit is probably reconstituted sand. I'm eating shit soup from a creature that only eats sand. Luckily Niko goes up the steps to his room to get ready for dinner and I have time to decide what to do with the awful stuff. I offer it to Niko the cop but he looks at me like I'm crazy. I offer it to all the old men but they all put up their hands in self-defense, waving me away. I have to get rid of it before Niko returns and makes me finish every mouthful while he slaps me on the back in encouragement. If I pour it out in the garden, one of the old men might squeal on me, plus it would smell and attract flies.
I decide to dump it down the toilet. I can't put it in the Turkish toilets upstairs because I might run into Niko or his son, though I could lie and say I was bringing it up to them. But then they might notice that I had hardly eaten any and force me to drink it right there. The best plan is to try to sneak past Katina in the kitchen and flush it down the downstairs toilet. As I pass her she catches sight of the bowl so I offer it to her. "Sure, leave it on the counter" she says, and I rush out, relieved and hoping I'd seen the last of it.
Rather than leave the rest of the bag of unfortunate sea-urchins to rot until lunch tomorrow, I take them back and tie them to the dock again. On the way up I stop in the bar and Esther asks me about them. "You have some archinoos?"
"Do you want some?" I ask her.
"Are you kidding. I love them. They are the best mezedes with ouzo!" She declares with enthusiasm. I give her half the bag. I tell her I will supply her with all she wants.
"Just don't give me any with my ouzo, especially if you are using Niko's recipe.”
We have kontosouvli again, delicious as usual, but Elaine and Andrea are burnt out on it so we only order one portion. Of course they aren't as burnt out as they thought and eat half of it. A British couple and their two little children sit next to us and Amarandi plays with them until the four year old boy falls down and screams so loudly that I think all the deaf old men are going to get up and leave. The child cries for twenty minutes solid without letting up or taking a breath.
Andrea and her mother are driving me crazy so I sit with this middle-aged guy named Vassili and make small talk. He has no kids, no wife, only a brother who he shares his giant house with, and his meals at Katinas to live for. When his food comes he makes it clear he wants to be left alone with it so I go inside to talk to the Bulgarian guy who is watching TV, drinking beer and eating a small fish. He is more forthcoming and after several beers I find out that he is disturbed because we had displaced him. He had been living in our rented house up to the day we arrived. Now he's living at the top of Vrissi and he hates it. It's too far to walk home every night. I apologize for having him removed. I didn't know anyone lived in the house. I just rented it by telephone from North Carolina. He tells me his wife is possibly coming next week. How can he make her walk up and down the mountain every day? Life was so easy when he had our house, now it's a living hell. He begins talking about Schlivavitz. He claims it's the strongest alcoholic drink in the world. He will call his wife and she will bring us some. We will become great friends and then I will know what it means to drink. I act enthused and change the subject. "How's the beer in Bulgaria?" He tells me that the alcoholic content is twice as high as Greek beer. Maybe his wife will bring some. I can see her loaded down with suitcases full of bottles clinking through customs. The more he drinks the more agitated he seems. Andrea had told me that Esther complained that day about having to remove him forcibly from the bar every night. I decide to leave before he gets to that stage and abruptly excuse myself after returning from the bathroom where I had plotted my escape. Secretly I pay for his beer, not wanting an argument about it and not expecting him to remember it, should we meet again.
I am awake at about five in the morning. It's still dark and there's a canopy of clouds over the entire valley. The air is hot and heavy and I feel disoriented, but I sit out in the hammock until I feel better. I go inside and read a few chapters in my book and realize I'm feeling the effects of last night's beer. My mouth is dry but I'm too lazy to go to the kitchen and get water out of the refrigerator. It seems too much of an ordeal with Elaine's bed in there. I'll have to put on my underwear so she won't see me naked in the light of the open fridge door. I would need a glass. I'll have to fiddle with the door to her room and that might wake her up. Finally I realize I'm suffering more just thinking about it and I force myself up. Like many things in life once I actually do it, it's easier then I expected and all my worrying was for nothing. I feel better instantly and go back to sleep until eight when Amarandi puts her face up to mine and says "Read me a story Dadda."
Elaine has been reading a children's book about Jonah being eaten by the big fish. It's a part of a biblical series and it's in rhyme. I read it to Amarandi today and she knows the last line of every page though I don't think she knows the meaning of words like "repent", "faith", "sin" or where or what Nineveh is. After Andrea goes to her art class and Elaine takes Amarandi for her breakfast omelet I'm able to finish If You Really Love Me and then write some on the computer. When I hear the engine of the flying dolphin I know I have time to turn it off, lock up the house and walk to the dock and still be there a minute or two before it lands. I talk to one of the Canadian kids who doesn't know who I am even though he has seen me here for the last five years. I explain my connection to the village and I ask if he's waiting for someone. He tells me he has nothing else to do so why not see who gets off the boat. Just like me.
Panayotis the kefalo fisherman returns on the dolphin but he has forgotten my USA Today. I didn't really expect him to remember, though it was the only thing I have had to look foreword to for the last few days besides ouzo hour. I begin talking to an American woman who just arrived with her two children. She seems suspicious of me like I'm trying to pick her up right off the boat like a Kalohori kamaki. She tells me her name is Polichroniou which means she could be related to me. "Do you know John Polichroniou" I ask her. She says she's not sure, but it sounds familiar so I ask her again using his anglicized name of John Kronis.
"He's my brother" she tells me. Then she introduces me to her mother who says she had heard all about me and makes me feel like a big celebrity until I realize she is confusing me with Jack.
When I go to look at the leftover sea urchins they are gone. They had died during the night and all their spines had fallen out and been washed away leaving little round skeletons. I had seen these skeletons underwater but I never realized that they shed their spines so quickly after they died. I break the sad news to Niko the contractor and he seems disappointed at the prospect of no sea-urchins tonight, though come to think of it, I didn't see him eating any last night. Maybe it was a big joke and they had all stayed up in their rooms laughing at the stupid American who ate the sea-urchin-sand-shit-stew he had concocted. But I promise him I will find some bigger and better sea urchins when the sea calms down. He can't work today. Elaine says he had some kind of minor stroke probably from carrying around his fifty pound stomach. The other night he was beaming with pride while his son bragged about how many beers his father could drink. Today I saw him drink water for the first time.
I go for lunch by myself and after I finish, Andrea shows up and then so do Elaine and Amarandi. They had a frightening experience at the beach. Amarandi was trying to feed the geese some bread when one of them grabbed her dress and would not let go. She was terrified and Elaine leaped to her defense and managed to fight the goose off but he went after an old lady who was laying on her beach towel. Elaine was angry because there were two men who did not help the women in their distress. They were too busy laughing.
Mr. Spiro at the next table is complaining to his wife about the bus service. "It's almost impossible to leave here by land if you don't have a car. The bus leaves at 5 am from Vrissi. That means you have to wake up at four and climb the mountain. Then it arrives in Molaos at seven. Nothing is open until nine. What are you supposed to do until then?" He thought it would be nice to spend a day in Molaos but he wasn't willing to suffer for it.
At about five in the afternoon I get Amarandi to fall asleep by counting sheep. I feel guilty, like I had hypnotized her, like something David Brown, the guy in my book who convinced his daughter to murder his wife, would do. But I gladly take advantage of the situation to do some spearfishing since it has been too rough to for the last several days. It's still rough but there are lots of fish including a school of several hundred skaros that I keep running into, picking off members one at a time. I make friends with an octopus and feed him a sea urchin. I also take a couple shots at a moray eel. Each time I miss and retreat, expecting him to come after me. I decide not to take any chances and leave him alone in his hole to wonder what had just happened. They look so deadly. My cousin John, who caught a huge one the other day, said you can only shoot them in their holes, from behind. He's right. Each time, scared as I was I shot right at his head and both times he ducked into his hole and I missed. I also saw an octopus large enough to not feel guilty about shooting but at the time I was all tangled up in my speargun string. By the time I disengaged myself he was nowhere to be found.
As I'm coming back to the little beach next to the dock I am waved away by Panayotis who is afraid I'm going to swim into his bread smeared with cheese or scare away all the kefalo. When I change course I run smack into a school of large kefalo and shoot one. It's a great shot, right through the head and I leave him on the spear to proudly show Panayotis how we underwater guys do it.
When I get to Katina's it's just Elaine by herself and about fifty men in animated discussions. I sit with my mother-in-law and order an ouzo. It comes with a plate of home-made olives, tomato and cucumbers. Elaine begins to tell me about her new job, giving Katina's husband Panayotis his daily medicine and vitamin B shots. I think it would be a great idea for her to move here and provide a sort of home-health service for all the rich old people who come there to live out the rest of their lives. "Yeah, but who's going to take care of me?" she asks. But that's the thing about meaningful work. It keeps you going. It keeps your vital energy flowing. I had a friend who when he was teaching seemed positive and dynamic. He quit so he could concentrate on writing, got a couple rejection slips and gave up to concentrate on his drinking and became negative and cynical, saving his wit for a running commentary of the nightly news or whatever happened to be on television. When he did have to deal with a crisis such as his wife's illness he became alive again with a renewed sense of purpose, helping his wife through the steps to recovery and researching all the therapeutic options. When the crisis had passed he became his difficult self again, pontificating, antagonizing and giving his wife fits.
I see similarities with Elaine. She say's the doesn't want to be an RN, that her nerves can't handle it and yet she tells her stories with such pride including this most recent one about treating Panayotis. When I stayed with my friend in Athens he had this strange lifestyle where he just sat around the apartment reading in his underwear, waiting for a reasonable hour to begin drinking his ouzo, (much like I am doing now). I suggested he take a job helping young students to adapt to Greek life, giving them the benefit of his experience. "Work?" he said in a mocking tone. "I don't need to work. I'm perfectly happy. Teach? Why?" He denied himself the thing he loved most in life and tried to convince himself and me that these are the best of times, that true happiness lies in his daily walk to the newsstand to pick up the International Herald Tribune.
Andrea and Amarandi arrive with several other children who all call good-bye to Amarandi as they go home for dinner. After another ouzo and some more olives we get our food, a whole roast chicken, a plate of my fish, grilled and drenched in lemon and olive oil, salad and potatoes. A few minutes after we begin eating I feel a drop on my head. "Could the olive tree be dripping sap on me?", I wonder, but suddenly we are in a torrential downpour and all the old men are running for the cover of the cafe. Even Niko the cop, dressed in his uniform for the first time, grabs the beer he was drinking discreetly, runs for the restaurant and gives in to a night of partying with the boys. His planned patrol of the village will have to wait until the rain stops, or maybe some other time.
At first we try to continue eating outside by sitting under the overhanging roof, but the wind is blowing and we are getting wet, so we grab our food and join the party. I ask Niko the cop if he wants to hear the rembetika music since that was the only missing ingredient from the scene. "What are you waiting for?" he yells and when I try to put it at a sound level complimentary to the conversation he tells me me "Turn it up, turn it up!". The level of fun goes up a notch or two with the music as the group of old men sitting closest to the cassette player begin to relive their youth with the songs they haven't heard but sporadically since then. It's festive and everyone, with the exception of Andrea, is enjoying themselves. I pick up Amarandi and we dance around the room to Marika Ninou while everyone watches and smiles.
Andrea is annoyed because I said I was going to give my Durham Bulls hat to little Panayotis. She's taking it pretty hard. I didn't realized she was so attached to it. Finally she gets up and storms out after saying she is thinking about leaving me. "Keep the hat" her mother tells me. "It's not worth Amarandi losing her mother". The mood I'm in I would have gladly given away all my worldly possessions, including Andrea.
"I'm giving the Greek tapes to Katina," I tell Niko the cop who asks if he can tape them first. When Elaine tells me that Katina's daughters want their mother to give up the restaurant because she was working too hard I volunteer to come back and cook next year.
"Why don't you rent the place?" Katina asks. That's an idea. In the meantime Elaine tells her I will come in the next day and make spaghetti sauce. "Be here at eleven sharp." laughs Katina.
Amarandi and I go out to call my mother on the phone-card telephone. A month ago she would have needed to be coached to keep the conversation going on her end. Now she just keeps on talking, telling her grandmother about her friends, eating fish, the dead sea-urchins and anything that comes to mind. When I get on the line to say good-bye my mother sounds teary-eyed. "She's growing up", she tells me sadly. When we return the party has not survived our absence so we say goodnight and after a quick stop at the bar, walk home, Amarandi and I holding hands and Elaine trailing behind wishing she had her camera.
Today is hot! Exploding cicadas hot.. Andrea is still angry about the hat or else she is using the hat as a symbol of everything that is wrong with our relationship. She's also mad because I called my mother yesterday without announcing it to her first in case she had something to tell her. She focuses her anger on odd things. She gets mad at me because she doesn't like my pants, begins a tirade until I ask her to look at what I'm wearing and she realizes those are not the pants she was talking about. She gets mad at me breaking a piece off her bread that's sitting on the dinner table. All I wanted was a small piece. I didn't want a whole slice, but she said that was a special piece that she wanted. I can't use her toothpaste because she has calculated it so that it will run out the minute we get back to America and she can replace it on the way back from the airport, barring any emergency brushing. I think it's the strain of being at such close quarters with the people she loves and hates the most. She spends most of her day in escape-mode, the first to go to sleep, the last to awaken. She goes off to her art class, eats, reads, naps has a swim with me and then it's ouzo and dinner which usually consists of some form of altercation with her mother or me. She never hangs out after dinner and has missed, what I think are the finest moments of the trip. Well, she finds enjoyment in her own way. She cried when she finished "A Prayer For Owen Meaney". I don't know if it was because the ending was sad or because by finishing the book she was leaving behind a way of life. I can see on the windowsill next to her bed that she's found another book to replace it once she recovers. There are few gaps in Andrea's life. When she finishes one thing there is always another to take it's place, be it books, men, or crisis.
Amarandi has got the Jonah book nearly memorized. She'll be quoting scripture by the time she's four if we are not careful. Elaine is always talking about "protecting" her. Is this what she meant? Are we going to have another God-fearing Jerome, praying to obscure saints to help her with the dishes, lighting candles and kissing icons. Not if I can help it. Not that I am against believing in God and prayer. I'm all for it. But at this point in her life it has nothing to do with belief. It's a subtle form of brainwashing. When she's ready to ask the questions, then we can point her in directions where she might find the answers, not that we have any idea. Anyway the Jonah book is fine. The underlying message is that she should love people and that she is loved by God, no matter what she does.
Elaine is trying to wash Amarandi's hair. She refuses to let her rinse the soap out because she is terrified of getting it in her eyes. She screams hysterically and you can't reason with her. While Elaine holds her I sort of talk her through it and pour the water on her head while she screams bloody murder. When we finish she says "That was fun."
"You see, that didn't hurt." I tell her. She says next time she won't cry, but I wouldn't count on it. The next phase is combing her hair which she is also adverse to, but Andrea says it makes the curls come out. The things we put kids through to increase their level of cute-ness. She agrees to a compromise. She won't let Yaya comb her hair. She does it herself with her grandmother's coaching. Elaine is exhausted from the hair washing ordeal and needs some more coffee and a smoke. Amarandi sits on the bed in front of a small hand mirror combing her hair and talking to her reflection.
Andrea walked all the way up to Vrissi for her art lesson and James wasn't there. It wasn't a wasted trip because on the way she saw a fox.
"There are foxes around here aren't there?" she asks. I don't know. If it wasn't a fox it could have been a mink. Either way there is a thrill you get when you see an extraordinary or rare creature.
Making spaghetti at the restaurant like we had planned is difficult because I feel like I'm in the way while Katina is preparing for lunch. I don't think she has much faith in me because she gives me a tiny pot to make it in that would have trouble holding two boiled eggs, much less spaghetti sauce for four. I get her to upgrade it one size and while Amarandi whines that she wants to go home I make a delicious garlicky tomato sauce. For wine seasoning I use retsina. It's the perfect touch and we all have it for lunch. Elaine pours ground meat all over hers. It reminds me of when I worked in a soup kitchen one night and the woman in charge wanted to pour ground beef into my lentil soup because she said otherwise the homeless people wouldn't eat it. I stood my ground and proved her wrong. I let Elaine off with a few comments about insulting the chef, and let her enjoy her meal.
After lunch I come back to the house by myself to put in some quiet and study time. Just as Andrea returns it starts pouring rain and a few minutes later we are joined by a very wet Amarandi and Elaine. We spend most of the afternoon indoors.
At about five-thirty I get my stuff and go snorkeling. Today I am not interested in shooting at any little fish unless I come across that school of skaros. I see an octopus couple, obviously in love and sharing a rock. I don't know if they are mating or having a baby or what but while I watch them I see out of the corner of my eye a big moray trying to sneak up. He crawls gracefully under a big rock and a medium-sized grouper angrily shoots out, glares back and then swims off to find a new home. I wander around a little bit so the eel will think I have gone and then I circle around behind him. His head is sticking out from under the rock, looking around for me or the octopus. I'm directly behind and above him when I shoot but the fear has already taken hold of me and I miss badly. By then I am freezing so rather than deal with an angry moray I get out of the water. On my way home Yannis, our landlord asks if I had caught anything. When I tell him about the eel he looks disgusted. Fishermen hate the moray eels , or what they call smerna, because they tear up the nets and eat the fish.
"Be careful of them. They're dangerous. They can grab you and hang on until you drown," he warns me. I think about that every time I see one. They do scare me and last night I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about them and getting second thoughts about going in the sea anymore. They seem to be everywhere and the ocean floor is a labyrinth of their caves and tunnels. Mean as they look they are not hostile creatures. They don't attack swimmers. But if you mess with them they will defend themselves. My sister read somewhere they have the intelligence of house-cats. And they have sharp teeth. In Andros, Mike Simopoulos' son Anton had shown me where the small smerna he had caught had bitten right through his fingernail and out the other side of his finger while he was trying to get it off his spear. This happened on dry land.
A wild goat walks past our window. We follow him and try to convince him to eat an olive branch but he's not interested. I think he belongs to Kostas Monemos and he got bored being up in the mountains. Monemos keeps one of his horses tied right outside our window. I forget he is there until he snorts loudly and startles me.
Most people in Kalohori do their shopping out of trucks. Merchants, farmers and fishermen drive through all the villages announcing what they have through a loudspeaker. One truck has watermelon, one cantaloupe, one has one kind of fish, one truck has another. One truck sells all different kinds of vegetables. There are people who come around selling chairs and tables, plates, cups, saucers, detergent everything. Some of them are gypsies but most are farmers selling what they grow or fishermen selling their daily catch.
Elaine putting out the garbage says "We have to hide the milk. Snakes love milk". I've never heard that. Yet another danger. Rule #867: When traveling in Greece don't leave empty milk cartons in the garbage because it attracts snakes.
As I walk by Katina's I am called over by John Illiopoulos, a wealthy Greek from San Francisco who made his fortune with two strip joints on Market Street. He asks how I'm doing and so on and what about the house. He's sitting with Vassili the greengrocer and a large unfriendly man who keeps asking Vassili who I am while I talk to John. Finally I tell him I'm the son of Nikos Economopoulos and he nods as if that made sense. When we finish our dinner and the other two men have left Vassili comes over to our table. "Forgetabout the house" he says. "You're never gonna get it because that guy is not going to let you." He points to where the big unpleasant man had been sitting. "He's going to take it for himself". He's the uncle John Colombotos has given the power of attorney and apparently he's the man who reports my every move concerning the house to John and then to my father. "If you do anything to the house he's going to have you arrested", Vassili the greengrocer adds.
So I begin to wonder if this uncle is really doing John's bidding or is he just playing John, taking advantage of the time and distance to get what he wants.
"It's not the money. He's got plenty of money. A hundred thousand dollars to fix the house is nothing to him," Vassili continues.
Then what is it? Is he one of those self-made men who fight and claw to get where they are and find themselves unable to break the habit of getting, desiring more and more because it's all they know how to do? Or is he a devoted relative defending the property of cousin John from someone he perceives to be the person I just described: me.
Vassili continues on. "Forget about this house. You're never going to get it. Look around at the old houses where you are staying now. There could be a bargain there. Also look up in Vrissi. There are four houses for sale right now. But don't do anything now. Don't buy in the summer. In the summer everybody wants to buy and the prices go way up. Then everyone leaves and it's just been big talk and the sellers get scared and the prices come way down.”
Vassili always seems to give good impartial advice. He seems to be the most sensible of the older people here. Or maybe it's because he's the only one who speaks English well enough so I can understand him. He told us last night that he didn't immigrate to America until he was forty years old. He took his wife and children with him and began buying property. He's not rich but he's well off. He worked hard and invested with intelligence. He worked for a supermarket chain in the produce department for twenty years and retired with a pension. He told me that his grown children still live in his houses and he's never charged them rent. Not by his choice, but his wife's. She refused to let him charge the sons even though he felt it would be better for them to pay so they would have a sense of responsibility and learn that in life you have to work for what you get.
"The mothers always spoil the boys" says Elaine. "That's the problem with this country”.
Just as the restaurant is closing, four little Italian teenage travelers wander in drunk, asking for souvlakia. Panayotis wants to go home but his wife, Katina, trying to get every last drachma is willing to re-open the kitchen and cook for them. It starts a big argument, not just with Panayotis who tells Katina to go to hell, but everyone there is giving their opinion.
"Don't feed them".
"Send them away".
It's obvious that Katina is going to do what she wants which is serve the kids and make a few hundred extra drachma.
Elaine is disgusted by the whole thing. "The woman is so greedy it's shameful. That does it. We're not eating here tomorrow night!"
Unless she's serving chicken.
While all this is going on I look up at the television to see the end of Bull Durham. Woolly Bully walks into the dugout and takes off his giant head and flops down on the bench. Tim Robbins pontificates on the meaning of baseball before his first big-league start. Kevin Costner confides in Susan Sarandon that his playing days are over and he wants to become a manager. "This is where I live", I point at the screen to Vassili who feigns interest. On the way home I stop at the bar where Yannis is channel surfing. "Were you watching Bull Durham", I ask him. He had been and I tell him that Durham is where I'm from. He's very interested.
"Such nice old houses. What a great place!"
Suddenly he wants to know all about it and I tell him about Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, the thousands of college students, the live music clubs, the bars, and the restaurants. I start to miss it myself. I think about early this summer when I took Amarandi to see the Durham Bulls play. We had been given seats behind the visiting dugout by none other than Woolly Bully himself whose name is really Jef and works out at the same gym as I do. It was the famous game when the two teams got into a huge rumble that lasted twenty minutes and sent a couple players to the hospital. I was concerned about Amarandi watching this display of violence until I realized that because she had never really seen a baseball game before, she thought the fight was part of it. The pitcher throws the ball until he hits someone and then the two teams beat the hell out of each other.
Just like yesterday it's clouded up again and I just felt a few drops of rain. Amarandi finally fell asleep after acting like a maniac, teasing and torturing me to get attention. I explained that this is the quiet time and that if she didn't want to sleep she could read or play on her bed, but she had to stop jumping on me. She refused to leave me alone and I threatened to leave. She still didn't stop so I walked out the door, closing it tightly behind me so she couldn't follow. She tugged at it a few times and then cried to her grandmother. I came back in and re-explained the situation. This time she agreed to lay down next to me and read her Sesame Street magazine. In a few minutes she was asleep.
Andrea has been in pain all day. Amarandi slept with her in the big bed and kicked her in the kidneys all night long. It's the physical side of their stormy relationship. It makes me think about the idea that you create your own reality. With Amarandi, Andrea is continuing her working relationship with the world by associating love with pain. Andrea suffers for her child both mentally and physically. After complaining that Amarandi was sucking the life out of her, she began nursing her again because she missed the tenderness. Now she claims she feels used. Amarandi seems to only like her for her breasts, or so Andrea believes. When Amarandi gets difficult, Andrea loses what little composure she has and ends up yelling. I can just imagine what they are going to be like in ten years. I can usually calm Amarandi down. It's just a matter of taking her aside and distracting her with something funny or interesting. The main ingredient is focus. If I'm trying to do something else and she is cranky, I will unconsciously be treating her as if she is an irritation or just ignore her. As soon as I pay direct attention to her, no matter how miserable she has been a change comes over her. Sometimes it's instantaneous, from hysteria to laughter. Maybe it's a breaking out of patterns. Andrea meets hysteria with hysteria:"...STOP CRYING!!!!!!" Maybe it's a continuation of the relationship she had with her mother. It seems to be. But in all fairness, Andrea spends more time with Amarandi then I do. I'll go off swimming for a couple hours and when I return, both Elaine and Andrea are telling me what a monster Amarandi has been and yet for the next hour she's a happy little angel.
Today we mutiny. We have lunch at Rovatsos, or what we call ‘The Hotel’. We had been at the beach so we didn't have to sneak past Katina. The food is really good and just as inexpensive. Elaine likes it because “the service is so professional”. Water, bread and silverware served as soon as we are seated. The bill is left on our table and updated as we order more food.
Actually I didn't even arrive until they were almost done. I had gone off fishing and found myself half a mile down the south coast before I turned around. I had one kefalo which I fed to the other fish. I decided that since one small fish wasn't worth cleaning or saving I might as well recycle. When I got back to the beach Yorgo from the store was sitting where the girls had been and told me they had gone to Rovatsos. "Ah. The rebellion has begun", I thought, despite the fact that it was my idea. But the only way home from the restaurant I have to walk by Katina's. To briskly walk past without peaking in to say hello would be too obvious. I always stop in and to not do so now would seem like I am trying to hide the fact that I had eaten elsewhere. I take the plunge and walk in. Dionysious is having lunch with his family. He starts to tell me that I am fishing in the wrong places. All the fish are towards the little church of Saint George. Lots of rofos. I tell him that I was hunting for skaros. He says that skaros and kefalo are impossible to hit. He'd only caught three in his whole life. I don't tell him that I had been catching four or five every time I went after them. Maybe I am a good shot. Rofos are too easy. If they are not sitting on the bottom looking at you, they are laying under a big rock. It's like going to a dairy farm and hunting cows.
Just then Katina calls me into the kitchen. "Where were you today? I made green peas and meat for you." I consider passing the blame on to someone else like Elaine or Andrea but instead play dumb and pretend I don't speak or understand Greek today. She wants to know if we will be dining with her tonight. She looks so pained. All I can think about are our plans to eat at Lulu's, (or as Jack calls the restaurant "Boney Maroney’s"). If only Jack were here now. He's older. He's stronger willed then I. He can handle Katina. He had shown her that he was master of his own choice in eating establishments. She could try to influence him but the final decision was his. Katina is still looking up at me with her pleading eyes, her hand firmly fastened on my arm, not letting me escape without a commitment. I pray for strength. What would Jack say in this situation? Suddenly it comes to me. My prayer is answered. I look solemnly at Katina.
"Then-xero", I tell her. (I don't know).
Before she can press me anymore Dionysious comes to the rescue. He walks in to the kitchen for a drink of water and in the confusion I am able to break away from Katina.
"What about smerna?" I ask him, a little too abruptly for my question clearly catches him by surprise.
"Uh..yes. I caught a small one the other day." He answers.
"Are they dangerous?" I ask him, expecting the traditional answer about sharp teeth holding on to your hand until you cut off its head or your own arm..
He thinks for a moment.
" I have caught many smerna. The only danger is if you shoot her in the body and try to take her off and she bites you. One time I shot one in the body and she twisted off and swam away. I shot her again and she escaped again. Finally I shot her in the head. Through all of that she never attacked me once."
His use of the feminine was starting to make me angry.
"So why did you keep shooting her, you bloody misogynist!" I want to say but hold my tongue in the hopes of getting more information. So in other words these big frightening creatures are actually very peaceful. But what are the males like?
I tell him about the three giant smerna I had seen at the fishermen's dock.
He continues his speech.
"With two people it is very easy to catch a smerna. The first person goes down and shoots her. If he hits her in the body the second one is right behind to shoot her in the head."
Yeah, right. And if the first guy misses completely the second guy is face to face with an angry female smerna. I make a mental note not to go fishing with Dionysious.
I'm really getting tired of watching the flying dolphin come in in the hopes that some friend will magically appear to rescue me from boredom. Today four people got off. Two old ladies and an old man and a kid. Who do I expect to show up anyway? The most I can hope for is one of the Canadians who I haven't seen in years, who's grown up and returns with his family. That's worth a passing hello on the dock and maybe a "how's it goin?" at Trocedero. Not really anything to get enthused about. We have been wondering what could have happened to Elizabeth Herring. She was so excited about us all being in Greece at the same time. She wanted us to meet her fiancee and travel to the most obscure of the Cyclades islands. We haven't heard a word since. I even called and left messages where she was staying. In this situation I like to think the worst. If something terrible happened to her then I wouldn't have to think that she's being flakey or doesn't like us anymore. "So that's why you didn't call. I was afraid it was something like that. I'm so sorry." The translation is " I'm glad this calamity befell you because if it hadn't I would be thinking that you are totally irresponsible and selfish for not doing what I wanted you to do." Like last year when Dorian was supposed to show up with his family after having me reserve a room for him at Katina's. It's one thing when you skip dinner, it's another when you blow her off for a room.
"Where is he?" she asked me every waking minute. Then an instant before she was going to give up his room after holding it for five days, Dorian called her directly. "He's coming tonight!", she said happily as if she were talking about the messiah, no doubt thinking about the back rent she could collect from him. Of course he still didn't show but at least I was off the hook.
"What kind of person is this Dorian?" She asks in dismay. That was a good question. What kind of friend would leave me out to dry and compound it by calling Katina and reserving a room that he never meant to sleep in? Rather then believe the obvious, that the guy is a self-centered jerk, I choose to pretend that something terrible had happened. Well not too terrible. His car went off a cliff and they are all in the hospital. His wife and daughter were kidnapped by gypsies and sold into slavery. They got food poisoning from tainted cat-meat at a roadside souvlakia stand. That way I don't have to waste precious life-energy being mad at him. By the time I finally heard from Dorian, almost a year later, and he explained what had happened, I was willing to accept any excuse he gave me, as stupid or as obvious a lie as it might be, because by then I didn't care. Plus I would be relieved that nothing serious had happened to him. So with Elizabeth, I hope she is OK but for my own mental well-being I'm going to pretend something awful(but not too awful) has kept her from getting in touch with us. She may not have her health but at least she'll still have my respect.