September 14, 2008


Sitting on the terrace at my families’ house in Agia Marina, watching the red sun make it’s way down the edge of the mountain as the expanse of Mediterranean fills my entire view, I have never felt as authentically Greek as I do now. My mission in returning before starting my lone gypsy travels once again was to make the necessary paperwork to obtain my Greek Nationality, but on the near eve of my departure for Hungary, I am still exclusively an American citizen, although I am now sure that the stop-off here was meant to serve an entirely different purpose.

You don’t have to be born with a name like Andriana Cassimatis or have relatives scattered in and around Athens or even answer your phone saying “Ella” to feel almost entirely, authentically Greek. Here is my simple and easy to follow guide to bring out the Greek in just about anyone:

Get Yourself Robbed
With the dissolve of Yugoslavia to the North and a collection of close-by countries in Eastern Europe with struggling post-communist economies, Greece has seen a tremendous rise in immigration in the past fifteen years and this rise in immigration just so happens to coincide with a rise in crime; everything from petty and grand theft to petty and grand murders. So it goes without saying that the Greeks are a little wary of their new demographic and exercise caution in places they never had to before; cars and homes remain locked at all times, windows are closed and locked before sleeping and handbags and electronics are kept secured tightly to the body on trips through the streets and the metro. With that being said, I found myself in an interesting predicament on the first weekend I arrived back in Athens. I had planned to stay with my family at the beach house, but they had other obligations at the last minute and so, in a hey-I-am-independent moment, I decided to rent a car and head to Nafplio in the Peloponnesus for a little R & R after a whirlwind month long visit back to the States. It was to be my own little adventure, especially since, because of a minor banking “issue” I was experiencing, I only had $125 Euro, of which $40 immediately went to gas, and the use of my nobody-takes-this American Express card for the next three days. “I can do this”, I thought, “Sure I can. I’ll eat simply, perhaps even catch some fish with my bare hands and camp out in the car. Yeah, I’ll camp in the car by some fabulous beach– why pay for a room when I just rented a hotel on wheels! How Economical! That’a Girl”.
I now had a precious $85 Euro left, a burning desire to see the sea and a car full of all my belongings and so, after getting twisted on the streets of Athens for a minute, I eventually started to break out of the hot city and into the famous and ancient mountains of the Peloponnesus. A few hours later I arrived in Nafplio and found the beach and campground I had envisioned, beckoning me with it’s hazy mountains and poetic sunset. So, I parked, I locked, I walked, and I laid on the soft sand and welcomed the stars into the night sky above me. Things were good; I had found a beautiful beach with bathroom facilities, complete with sinks and an outdoor shower, just as I had planned. As I was trying to sleep in my mini car parked by the beach, I noticed that I was not the only one “sleeping” in my car– in fact, I had quite a few neighbors expressing their affection in the backseats of their vehicles, and the symphony got me all hot and bothered, so it was good thing I was sharing my backseat as well – very intimately with two mosquitos who left their marks of love all over my body.
The next day saw the same activity; I parked, I walked, and I laid on the soft sand and welcomed the stars into the night sky above me. When I got back to the car, I was lulled to sleep with some beautiful, traditional Greek music on the radio and my own satisfaction at still having $70 Euro in my wallet. I awoke in the morning to the peaceful sounds of the waves and was looking forward to making my way further West until I got involved in the search for the I-swear-I-put-it-in-my-bag phone and soon discovered, when I looked in my wallet, that I HAD BEEN ROBBED! Bravo Andriana! Yes, I forgot to lock.
But they were the nicest thieves I have ever not-met; while they took a phone, my small camera and the precious remainder of my can’t get-any-more Euro as I was gazing at the stars, they left all the important and good stuff like my passport and credit cards and my computer and ipod. I was now cashless and almost gas-less, and the only thought I had was “I want my Mother”, “Where is my Mother”.
Feeling extremely alone and rather frazzled as to what to do next, I had to summon my sweet Mother’s words from the other side and I immediately found myself saying to myself, “Don’t worry, Little One, you’ll be just fine. Don’t panic.” Those simple words, with her invisible but present voice singing in my ear, was all I needed to hatch my plan of making a police report, bumming $5 Euro from the officer for the toll road on the way home, driving slowly on fumes, overcharging a lunch at my local spot in Athens and taking the difference in cash and hightailing it to my Aunt Helens house in Agia Marina. Making my way up the familiar hill and into the house where I had spent two sublime weeks the month before and then down to the beach where I was greeted by familiar faces, warm hugs, and the lovingly stern “you must be careful” warnings immediately dissolved the black cloud over my head; here I was in Greece again, only a few months after my travels began, and I was shocked and speechless to realize that I-have-a-support-system, I-am-not-alone!.
I then heard everyone else’s I-have-been-robbed-too stories and found out that being robbed in Greece is sort of like an initiation, a hazing into Greekdom and, at that moment, I couldn’t have been happier to have passed through those gates.

2. Make Extremely Tedious Paperwork
Greeks are known for many things; their gracious hospitality, their relaxed attitudes, their sense of humor and their affection for extremely tedious paperwork that takes a lifetime to organize and another lifetime to process. Aiming to get my Greek Nationality and armed with a thick folder of every relevant document under the sun, I made my way to the “Citizens Office” and was, in a mere two hours, officially inducted into the Greek Paperwork Society of Athens. The very nice woman behind the desk looked at everything I had brought and thankfully told me that based on the documents getting my Nationality was “my right” but that she would still need a few things, and when I was finished getting those things, she would need some more things, and when I was finished getting those more things then she would need to divide the pile in threes and I would have to get the first pile stamped and authenticated at this office, the second at the other office and the third at the Church Headquarters and then she would have to combine the piles and I would have to take everything to the translation office and perhaps maybe get another overall stamp from yet another office just for good measure. As I have come to understand, Greeks need to make this kind of paperwork to take a sick day from work, renew their driver’s license, or order cable. So Bravo! I am one step closer to not only becoming officially Greek, but feeling officially Greek.

3. Sit in a an Ancient Grecian Traffic Jam
With a swelling population of two car families and only a few major roads connecting Athens together, traffic has become a major problem in recent years. So much so that the city put restrictions on the number of cars allowed in the center at one time; when the day of the week is an even number and your license plate ends in an even number then you are allowed to drive legally and freely, the same holds true for the odd days and numbers. But those clever Greeks found a loophole with their multi car situation and switch the use of their vehicles to correspond with the appropriate day, thus only slightly reducing the congestion.
My cousin Fanis and his wife Christina, disguising their plans of marrying me off to a carefully selected Greek candidate as a come-over-for-a-relaxed-dinner-oh-my-look-who-just-stopped-by, had given me clear directions to their house, of which my consistently mal-functioning internal GPS system muffed up, thrusting me into my third initiation to the Greekdom with a tremendous jam of vehicles that had me arriving over an hour late; which in Greece is just about right on time. It had me recalling my Los Angeles days, but instead of sitting on the highway parking lot with a bunch of SUV’s, I was sitting with a bunch of compacted cars, making me feel as though our footprint might be just a little less taxing.

4. Perfect the Art of Floating
With 150 functioning islands and a large coast of sea on the mainland, the Greeks take “summer holiday” to a whole new level; one much to my liking, where days are spent chatting with friends on the beach, swimming and then off to extended wine-infused dinners in the evening. Over the centuries, they have mastered the “Seaside Float”, whereby people can stay in the water for hours, literally just floating. It took me a while to be comfortable with this, applying the must-always-be-doing-something philosophy of the States to dips in the Mediterranean, but once I finally broke my own floating record of half an hour, I could feel the Olive Oil and Ouzo attaching to the code of my DNA and as I lay floating next to my buoyant neighbors, I was thrilled to have checked off yet another item on the list to feeling officially Greek.

Side note: I had some really nice sunset shots to include with this posting, but since my camera has now been sold on the Peloponnesus black market, I have no visuals to offer. Sorry. Working on a replacement.

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