November 13, 2017. Athens, Greece.
What are we at now? Five days in Athens? Unheard of. We’ve found the upper limit boys and ghouls, and that is one work-week in a single spot before the wanderlust starts itching like a motivated scabie. I’m in the spooky coffee shop again, all the witches recognize me, smile at me. Standard procedure with witches in my life, true enough, but this feels different. I gotta skedaddle.
Party City cobwebs are translucent, spookycakes. Get back to work before you get maleficarum’d.
Fortunately, I’ve already got my next jaunt picked out. This episode of Bastard Travel is real interactive, because I’m not going to tell you where, but fabulous emotional prizes will be awarded to anyone who can guess.
So let me take a second to tell you about Greek food. So far, it’s my favorite in Europe. I’ve never deliberately ordered a salad before, but I went out of my way to do so here.
Now, you might be a little confused. You might be saying, “You Bastard, you miserable fucking animal, there’s no lettuce in there. How can you call this a salad and sleep at night?” to which I would say, first of all, a little bit more aggro than necessary, and secondly, the Greeks avoid lettuce if they can get around it. When they say “Greek salad”, what they mean is pizza toppings. Tomatoes, green peppers, olives, onions, olive oil, and way too much cheese. They slip cucumbers in there to keep you from making the connection.
The other night I consumed entirely too much of that sketchy moonshine ouzo I bought in that alley and the usual hostel crew faded back to their rooms pretty early. I had the remains of a weak beer with me, so I couldn’t leave the terrace yet, but nobody was speaking English, so I tried my luck with a trio of Greek girls sitting in the corner.
“Hey!” I said, blithe as is my idiom. “Where y’all from?”
They had a brief exchange in Greek, then decided I made the cut, and deigned to tell me they were native Athenians.
“I need to know something,” I said. “I’ve been hearing mixed opinions on this. Everywhere I go, people give me feta. No matter what I order, they find a way to give me feta. And olives, usually, but listen. Do you actually eat that much feta here, or is it for the tourists?”
“Absolutely, we do eat that much feta,” the tall one said. The other two nodded in immediate agreement.
“We buy it every time we go to the store,” said the little one. “No matter what we need to buy, we will also get half a kilo of feta.”
I did bad, drunk math. It’s like a pound. Okay.
“And then it just sits in the fridge, and whenever you at anything, you put some feta on it.”
“Olives, too,” I said. “I ordered bread, they gave me like three olives in a bowl with it.”
“Well, olives are delicious.”
“Yes,” I said. “That’s… we’re not arguing, here. I’m just saying, olives in a bowl are not, technically speaking, bread.”
We drank and they became increasingly candidon the state of the Greek economy. They had actual, profitable majors, which would be a rare occurrence if they were, say, three random college-aged girls at a bar in America. Computer science, mechanical engineering, and… math. They were all very glum about their chances of getting a job in Greece, and talked about wanting to escape.
“Computer science, though?” I asked the small one. “That’s money, back in the states. You’re like, guaranteed a decent job.”
“Not in Greece,” she said dourly. “If you get past the wait list, it is like 800 Euro a month.”
(That’s around $6 an hour.)
“Jesus,” I said. “Sorry I brought it up.”
“Do not be,” said the tall one, shaking her head. “It’s what we would have been talking about anyway. Just, in Greek.”
Wow, beautiful reader. I just digressed real bad there, huh. Let’s see if I can pull it back out of this depressive tailspin.
I went up the Plaka, which is the oldest village in Europe, overlooked by the Acropolis, trying to find some traditional Grecian grub. I was recommended spinach pies and meatballs. I’ve had three Spinach pies in the past two days, but all from bakeries, and all radically different. Some are like apple turnovers only instead of histamines (for me) it’s full of spinach and feta. Yesterday I had one that just looked like a normal slice of pie, but instead of filling, it contained a dense block of spinach with what tasted like pickling spices on it.
I ordered meatballs and a spinach pie, which I didn’t have the foresight to photograph. They brought me a plate full of discs of heavily spiced meat in a tomato-and-wine sauce, with peppers. I assumed they were meatballs. Then, they brought me another plate, this one full of things that were very obviously meatballs, in that they were made of meat, and shaped like balls. The medallion shape of the first course really should have given me a clue.
I ate the meatballs, staring in wonder at the empty plate that I had thought were non-balled meatballs. I’m not a gourmand, and I don’t pretend understanding of traditional Greek culture beyond a -encyclopedic knowledge of ancient mythology, but I was nearly 80% sure that contained neither spinach nor pie. But food is food, and I needed meat, and it was obviously too late to pull a “hey, this wasn’t what I ordered”. My native contact demanded I find the name. I did, but that was unhelpful, as I didn’t want to embarrass either of us with my attempt to spell it, but we concluded it was definitely sausage.
Later, I recounted this to Austria.
“It’s because you’re American,” he said. “They must have thought you were confused. ‘He ordered spinach, but I don’t think he knows what it is. Better to give him more meat.'”
“Well, I have been craving meat.”
“See? They were right.”
He left for Berlin. Getting gone seems like the thing to do. I’m going to try the Delphi day trip again tomorrow. With Athena’s consent, ideally.
Let’s wrap up with another graffiti picture dump.
See you tomorrow.