I’m fairly sure I’ve lived a week inside of the last two days. Purely considering the thought of cramming it all into one entry is humorous, so I will slim my narrative down to a few key events, then touch on other memorable moments later down the road.
Renee and Peter flew to Rhodes for a business trip on Friday, so I was left to my own devices. I leisurely went about my morning… eating yogurt, opening the windows to feel the cool morning air, examining the handful of people who were hustling about the street below. Rather inevitably, I heard the siren call of the ruins that lay just across the road. I walked to the entrance of the ancient agora under a cloudy sky, camera in hand. It was a perfect day for taking photographs, and I must have logged hundreds amidst the crumbling temples, altars, stoas, and statues (Unfortunately, I’m having techincal difficulties uploading pictures right now. I promise I’ll get some up soon!).
The more I travel, the more I realize the extent to which the human race is intertwined. My ‘small world’ story for the day: My mom’s good friend Mary, who I have enjoyed getting to know, has a daughter in NYC (who I met on my little adventure to the Big Apple over Christmas break) and a sister, Anna, in Athens– who I made plans to have coffee with in the afternoon. I navigated the Metro (pronounced me-TRO, unlike the Chicago MET-ra) and Anna picked me up at the station in her dark blue convertible. Anna immediately reminded me of Mary, with all the Greek passion and excitement. We went to a fancy little coffee shop and ordered freddo cappucinos (absolutely the best coffee I have ever had). We talked for hours, but eventually she had an appointment that she needed to get to, so I made my way back to Plaka.
I had received word from Renee that she would be back around midnight. That meant I had to make my own dinner plans. After days of eating delicious food and interacting with some incredibly intellectual people, I found my own company (let alone cooking) somewhat lacking. So, I put on black heels, donned a smug “I can totally go out to eat by myself” look, and waltzed right up to the nearest taverna, Carte Postale.
Tavernas in Greece are simple affairs: small wooden tables with matching chairs set several rows deep along the street. I recently learned that at night, the restaurant owners remove the woven seats from the chairs to discourage people from running off with them! Along Renee’s street, the Andrianou, there are probably 30 tavernas crammed along the road. The menus, to a casual observer like myself, all appear similar. To locals, however, the fare is markedly different in both type and quality.
It was about 10 o’clock, which I thought was an appropriate dinner time. Carte Postale, however, was completely empty. None of the tavernas were particularly full, but the total lack of people was unnerving. However, one of the waiters smiled and pointed me to a table near the edge of the street, saying it had the best view of all the people walking by. I agreed and took the proffered menu. I actively engrossed myself in it, hoping to avoid thinking about the long, awkward dinner I was about to have, sitting here by myself.
“Debby!” a voice said in only moderately accented English. I looked up from the menu to see Stravos, the manager of Carte Postale who I had met when I arrived. All the taverna owners know and love Renee, and she had been quick to introduce me. I was impressed that he remembered my name, though.
“Kalinikhta” I said, happy to have someone to talk to.
“Where is Renee?” he asked, genuinely curious.
“Oh, she’s off in Rhodes. I’m on my own for dinner tonight,” I replied, shrugging. “Any recommendations? I don’t want anything too heavy, just some good Greek food.”
“Do you like swordfish? It is very nice here,” he said convincingly.
I shrugged again, smiling, “Sounds great!”
He shouted my order in rapid Greek to one of the waiters and then proceeded to pull a chair up next to me. I was thrilled.
I asked Stavros about his life and found he had graduated from college before setting off to Scandinavia to open his first few restaurants. He had traveled all through Europe, but never to the United States. He spoke very candidly of the problems in his country, saying, “Everybody cheats and thinks they are smart. They are ‘clever’ if they beat the system.” I was starting to hear this quite a lot.
My food came then, a round piece of perfectly cooked fish surrounded by cut tomatoes and cucumbers. The juicy tomatoes were a perfect accent to the salty, tangy fish. Stavros ordered me a glass of white wine, informing me that they only served local vintages. Suddenly, loud cheers rang out from a street nearby, reminding me that everyone was probably off watching the Champions League.
“Did you ever play football, Stavros?” I asked, privately congratulating myself for not calling it “soccer”.
“Oh yes, I played as… how do you say it?… as a semi-professional?” He nodded, satisfied with the term.
“Really? Holy cow… that’s really impressive. Why didn’t you continue?”
Now it was his turn to shrug. “I needed to make money, so I went into the restaurant business. The economy just made things too difficult.”
We continued talking. And talking. The waiters began removing the paper tablecloths and candles from the other tables. More people filled the street, heading to their preferred nighttime entertainment. I kept insisting that Stavros could go take care of other things if he needed to, but he just shook his and said “No, no! They can take care of it.”
Midnight finally rolled around and I felt sleepy after the lovely meal. I waved for the check, but Stavros barked something to the waiter in Greek.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said with a wave of his hand.
“Stavros! I have been your only customer tonight! I need to pay!” I insisted mightily, pulling out my stash of euros and counting out the amount. He quite literally took my money and stuffed it back in my purse.
I glared at him. “Now I know why all Greeks are broke! They won’t let anybody pay for anything!”
He gave me a huge smile, causing me to break a small grin. “You’re just too nice, Stavros.” I sighed, realizing I wasn’t going to get anywhere by arguing further. “Thank you for the great dinner and the wonderful company.”
At that moment, Renee’s cab pulled up and she struggled out of the car, completely exhausted. She laughed when she saw that I was still downstairs. I opened the front door for us and said good-night to Stavros with one last smile and wave.