we dyscordians must stick apart


My Big Fat Greek Vacation: Week 2

Originally posted 9/22/07

Day 8: Routine -
By now we have an established routine for most mornings. It goes something like this.

7.00 a.m. Cathy hammers on my door so loud it makes my ears bleed and then yells "Are you awake?" Am I awake? I'm peeling myself off the fucking ceiling and expecting to go into cardiac arrest at any second. Is that awake enough for you?
7.05 a.m. Breakfast aka coffee and a cigarette.
7.10 a.m. Battle for control of the computer resumes* as we both attempt to check our email.
7.30 a.m. Shower. Sometimes. If I can get into the bathroom.
8.00 a.m. School run. Walking Leah and Maria to and from school has been one of the unexpected joys of the trip. Leah practices her English on me and Maria practices her street fighting skills by punching and head-butting me. I carry their unfeasibly heavy school bags for them. I think Maria's bag weighs more than she does, poor girl.
8.20 a.m. Home or coffee in the square.

Today 8.20 a.m. should be 'PTA Meeting' for Cathy but she coughs up a lung in the school yard and wisely decides it's best if she returns home. Tina, with the ever-present Odie in tow, and Irini come over to the house later to brief Cathy on the meeting. While the PTA meeting resumes in the kitchen I decide to demonstrate my masterful dog training skills and set about teaching Odie how not to retrieve various items for the purpose of chewing. It takes less than sixty seconds to settle him down so I set about writing about Week 1 while the PTA people discuss weighty issues and have a bit of a gossip.

The meeting about the previous meeting breaks up. Cathy decides to take a nap and I reclaim what's left of my underwear from Odie who has somehow managed to retrieve it from the laundry basket without anyone noticing. He's had a really good chew on it. Tina generously offers to show me the book store to stop me from getting bored and give me a little exercise while my sister rests. Five minutes later I'm stood outside the store dog-minding an unruly and disobedient puppy while she buys supplies for her lessons.

Back at home Cathy's magic sink has refilled itself so I do a little housework. Highlight of the day is cooking lunch, my signature omlette, for Leah and Maria who declare it delicious and name it Omlette Uncle Michael. This unexpected recognition brings a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye. I love these kids.

Cathy gets up after a while and takes herself off to the doctor who prescribes her every kind of cough and cold cure known to humankind. We sit around chatting and drinking for the rest of the evening. I'm drinking beer, she's drinking cough medicine.

Time for bed so, feeling a little peckish, I make myself a chicken sandwich. It occurs to me that it would be nice with some tomato on it but I quickly put that thought out of my mind. My tomato rustling days are over.

*There are increasing signs that both my sister and I might be computer addicts.

Day 9: Strange Day - If you had told me ten days ago I would be sat at a computer in an Athens apartment watching old Bay City Rollers videos with a naughty puppy, its owner* and a squeaky pink rubber chicken** for company I wouldn't have believed you. Really, I wouldn't.

It's only been twenty four hours since Cathy got her meds but they haven't helped much and she's still coughing well. After we got to Tina's apartment she had such a severe coughing fit that we thought she might have to cancel her next cigarette but a glass of water and a couple of shots from her inhaler later and she was puffing away happily again.

The day had started in it's now familiar way with me peeling myself off the ceiling and going upstairs for coffee. The kids were home and Leah had a burning desire to put my baking skills to the test. I have no idea why, she just did. It must be a kid thing. I hadn't baked for at least a decade, around the time I lost my sweet tooth, so I asked Cathy for a simple recipe and she obliged. She told me what, and how much of it, to put into our cake (I asked her to write that bit down) and also how, and in what order, to mix it (I asked her to write that down too) before telling me at what temperature, and for how long, to bake it (just to be safe I also asked her to write that part down) and then she showed me which buttons to press on her supercomplicated combo-oven to achieve the aforementioned temperatures and times (I got her to draw pictures of the buttons) before leaving us to it.

I acted as Leah's gopher while she did the mixing bits. The only thing I had to explain to her as she delicately mixed and tested and wiped up spills was that the whole point of baking wasn't the cake, it was to have fun making a glorious mess. She picked up on this real fast and in no time at all we, and the kitchen, were covered in flour, cocoa and cake mix. Of course, while the cake baked, and the girls made short work of what was left in the mixing bowl, I got to do a little housework. I was used to it by now though.

Needless to say the resulting chocolate cake, topped off by Leah with some gooey Gnutella-like chocolate gooey stuff, was a culinary triumph. I think that has to be the most fun I've had in a long time. I should get out more.

I finish the day off with a long stroll around the neighborhood*** followed by a sandwich (lamb, no tomato) then bed.

*There are increasing signs that Tina might be more addicted to computers than Cathy and myself combined. I can't be certain but I think Odie may also be affected by passive browsing.
**This scene inspired some research on Cathy's part as she became fascinated by the idea of rubber chickens. She Googled it and got 61000 results. Last I heard she'd checked out over 40 pages of results as part of her research. My sister can be strange sometimes although she'll probably blame all of those drugs the doctor gave her.
***I wasn't lost.

Day 10: Grockles - I finally manage to break out of my domestic servitude for a day and head off to Monasteraki with Cathy and the girls. The first thing we notice in the crowds are the street musicians. They appear to be native Americans. Upon closer inspection we notice that they look and sound like Greek native Americans. We suspect shenanigans. I get some photos and we move on.

All of the good restaurants are packed so we go to Goody's for souvlaki where I am amazed by the sight of the elegant lady on the next table spearing almost enough leaves from her salad to make a whole lettuce and pushing them all into her mouth. When she pulls the fork away and starts chewing I notice that about 25% of that mighty forkful is still sticking out of her mouth. I watch as she gradually sucks in the leaves before swallowing them and then wiping her mouth on her sleeve. I know I'm in the land of Homer but this is ridiculous.

After some sightseeing we head back, pausing for coffee in the square where I treat each of the girls to an enormous waffle topped with a ton of ice cream. Once we start moving again, and without any kind of warning at all, I throw up.

Cathy and the girls show their concern for my health by howling with laughter. Maria adds to the 'humor' of the moment by theorizing on the possible causes (she has a lively seven year old imagination) and making some other interesting observations. I don't speak much Greek but birds bottoms with little Uncle Michaels in them were mentioned at one point causing Cathy and the girls to double over with laughter again. Maria's stand-up routine turned a five minute walk into a half hour trek because they had to keep stopping to laugh and point at me every time Maria came up with a new theory.

Home again where a little light housework is followed by beer. Cathy launches a VDO movie on me and forces me to watch. It isn't pretty. We eat supper, sans tomato, and I go downstairs to bed.

Day 11: F'cough - An impromptu PTA meeting erupts in the street by the school. Odie and I look on bemused as the single issue on the agenda is debated. An hour and a lot of arm waving later a decision on when to have the next PTA meeting has been successfully arrived at and we break up the morning routine further by going to Tina's for coffee. This is coffee as only she can make it. Microwaved. I know, it's just wrong isn't it?

It's time to go and Tina asks if I'd like to go shopping with her. The words "It's a trap" inexplicably flash through my mind looking for something to connect to as I cheerfully agree. Ten minutes later I'm stood outside a familiar book store dog-minding an unruly and disobedient puppy while she buys supplies for her lessons. I'm way too easy.

Back at the house I wander into the kitchen, tutting at the mess in the magic sink, just as Cathy comes hurtling down the passage from the front of the house before sliding to a halt on the tiled floor on the opposite side of the kitchen counter. She seems to want to play charades.

Cathy [pointing at the counter behind me] - Cough.
Me [looking at where she is pointing and seeing meds and a knife rack] - What?
C - [pointing and wagging finger] Cough cough BARK.
Me - You want something from over here?
C - [nodding, waving hand] Coooouuuuugggghhhh wheeze.
Me - The cough medicine?
C - [waving away the proffered meds] Bark bark cough cough COUGH. [pointing and making jabbing moving with finger]
Me - You want a knife? [thinking 'oh no, she's still PMS-ing] NO...you want the cold medicine!
Cathy - [shaking head and seeing the humor in the situation, or at least I assume so because there are tears rolling down her face] Wheeeeeeze. Coughcoughcoughcoughcough.
Me - Come on, just tell me!
Cathy - [pulls ear] Cough sniff cough.
Me - Sounds like?
Cathy - [nods frantically as she clings to the counter for support and raspingly inhales a lung full of air] Cough bark cough.
Me - Breathe in?
Cathy - [shakes head] Cough splutter cough.
Me - Inhale?
Cathy - [nodding frantically] Splutter cough.
Me - [having a 'Eureka' moment] INHALER! You want your inhaler?!
Cathy - [nods frantically] COUGH CHOKE COOOOUUUUGGGGHHHHH.

I hand over the inhaler feeling pleased to have gotten it right within a little over a minute (my personal record for charades) but wonder why my sister is leaning on the counter staring at me with a look of murderous intent in her dewy eyes. PMS maybe? Who knows? My sister can be really strange at times. I offer her a cigarette. She puts her head in her hands then bangs it on the counter several times. I take that as a 'No' and set about the housework.

More quality time is spent with the kids before our evening routine of a few drinks and a chat. Cathy is still drinking her cough cure cocktail which I point out doesn't seem to be working. For the second time today I see that look of murderous intent. I decide to have a quick bite for supper and head for my room.

Day 12: Shopping With Leah - I wake up early and decide to surprise sis by getting the coffee ready for when she gets up. I narrowly miss being killed when I open the cupboard to get cups. A metal plate with a razor sharp rim flies out of the cupboard at me at incredible speed so I use my cat-like reflexes to duck and avoid decapitation which is good because a glass dish also slides out narrowly missing my head before shattering on the floor. Before I know it everyone is up and staring at me with accusing and disapproving looks. I suspect foul play.

After picking the girls up from school I go grocery shopping for Cathy. She gives me a fifty euro note and tells me to go easy because it is all the money she has. Leah volunteers to come help me. We're shopping for eggs, cheese, ham, flour, bread and milk.As we wander around the store Leah remembers that we need cookies and grabs a couple of packs. She also mentions that we're all out of chocolate bars so we add a couple of those to the list. Oh yes, there's no chocolate milk shake powder either and maybe we should pick up a couple of boxes of chocolate Wheetos cereal. Leah continued to demonstrate her remarkable domestic skills by pointing out other items that Cathy and I had neglected to include on the list.

Sixty four euros later I start to suspect I may have been conned by a cunning ten year old. This is later confirmed by the look on Cathy's face as she shakes her head and suggests I'm a little too easily led by adorable nieces. On the bright side I only forgot to buy a few items (I always forget something) such as eggs, cheese, ham, flour, bread and milk.

Later I get to see Jerry Springer-like television Greek style. The main features are people who believe that the recent fires in Greece were started by UFOs and conjoined twins (joined at the head) who don't get along. When they started fighting with each other the security guards on the show had no idea how to separate them.

The day ends with a few beers and a supper which does not include tomatoes.

Day 13: More Big Stories? - Back when I was six or seven we had a tortoise. He was a wonderful, friendly little fellow called Fred. The first winter we had him we very carefully boxed him up for hibernation with straw to keep him warm and newspaper just in case he woke up from time to time and wanted to read something if he was a bit bored. The following spring we decided it was time to see if the little guy was awake again and went out to check. He wasn't here. Maybe somebody had moved him. We checked ever box in the garage to no avail. He was gone.

We later found out that gran had done a little pre-spring cleaning and decided that we didn't need a box of old straw and newspaper so she tossed him out. We were devastated. I have been haunted by Fred's fate ever since. The feelings of guilt have never left me.The thought of poor little Fred.in a landfill has been a source of great shame that has persisted down the years. I knew we should have marked that box with a big 'T'.

"WTF does this have to do with Greece?" I hear you ask.Well, it's this.

I noticed that Cathy and the kids have a tortoise and I asked Cathy about him. Apparently they had neighbours who were moving and they were going to toss him into the trash (!) so Cathy, remembering Fred's foul fate, insisted on taking him.in. Today he is one very happy tortoise who frolics in C's back yard playing with the children. Her neighbours also had a rabbit they didn't want but they ate him.

At least that's what Cathy told me. I haven't ruled out the possibility that this was all just another Big Story.

The day ends predictably with a beer or three and I pass out go to sleep on the sofa.

Day 14: The End Is Nigh - Cathy wakes me up and informs me that she found lamb bones and the remains of a tomato on the table this morning. She claims that it looks like someone had tried to use the tomato instead of bread to make a sandwich. I guess one of the kids must have gotten up during the night feeling a bit hungry.

After the school run we go for one last coffee in the square with Tina and Odie. Just sitting there chilling and chatting was the best. Nobody wanted to leave but leave we had to. Tomorrow we'll all be together for one last time. We won't be drinking coffee though.

Day 15: Final Day - Cathy has to attend a PTA meeting but promises to be back by 9.00 a.m. Yeah right. I wander round the local street market taking pictures to kill time. Cathy returns at 10.00 a.m. having left the ongoing meeting. I sit and watch her do some housework. It makes a nice change.

The morning is all about laundry and packing. We're both a bit miserable, probably because I'm not looking forward to the long flight and Cathy isn't looking forward to doing her own housework again. Or something. We cheer ourselves up by taking the girls out to lunch before Cathy starts work. The girls cheer themselves up by using their uncle as a punching bag all the way home.

I'm about to bake a cake with Leah again and, inevitably, I suspect that there will be some housework to do soon after that.

Tina is planning a party for me tonight,. I'm not sure if it is just to piss off her annoying neighbour or maybe she's celebrating me leaving. She's also talking about playing Bay City Rollers songs again so I suspect the latter. I might have to invest in earplugs.

Cathy - "If you get the urge to do some housework don't fight it. It might damage your health if you do and you know how concerned I am about your health"

Cathy - "If you're not here when I get back I'll know you've gone."

Cathy - "How many sugars do you want in your coffee?"
Irini - "One....and another one."

Thank You
Cathy -
you're the best. You know that I'll always be there for you and the girls. I'm just sorry I couldn't stay longer. I will BBS. I love you sis.
Maria and Leah - the worst part of leaving is knowing I won't see you two every day. You were the highlight of my visit. We'll see each other again soon.
Tina - you are a wonderful person, your children are a credit to you and meeting you was an honour. Thank you for your hospitality. We will hopefully meet again soon.


val said...

Which VDO film did Cathy show you? (I am NOT shallow or obsessed).

Pauline said...

That tortoise was called George.

Nessa said...

Is coughing a PMS symptom?

I'm sorry your wonderful brother/sister adventure is over.

cathy said...

val it was "Feeling Minnesota".
I didn't think he would appreciate "Naked Tango"

Michael. I will be responding in kind some time soon :)

val said...

I don't know, Cathy, it's a very artsy film, and the only nakedness is female. But Vincent is steamingly hot in it, so I guess it might have given Michael an inferiority complex.

Michael said...

Val - what Cathy said. Inferiority is not something I suffer from. Shy and retiring yes, inferior no.

Pauline - he was Fred to me and you'll never convince me otherwise. Or was that the Blue Peter tortoise?

Nessa - it can, it all depends where she stabs you I guess. I'm sorry too. That was the best 'vacation' I ever had.

Cathy - that movie should have been called Feeling Nauseous, at least that's how it made me feel. I look forward, with a little trepidation, to your response :)

Pauline said...

re the Blue Peter tortoise, that tortoise was a dog!

Michael said...

That dog was called Shep. Unless you mean Petra. Fred/Freda (they never did work out which) was a tortoise and was on the show until 1979.

Yes, I know. My head is full of useless information.

val said...

I remember John Noakes adding the A on to the Fred on her shell when they found out he was a she.

Michael said...

Thanks for the input Val. I had a nagging feeling I was forgetting something all day and that was it. They did work it out and, now that you mention it, I remember watching that too.

Pauline said...

You are obviously much older than I

Michael said...

You are obviously completely nuts :)

cathy said...


Our tortoise was definitely George.I know nothing of freds and fredas.

How do you sex a tortoise anyway?

Michael said...

I would have doubted them but I'm not surprised. Stranger things have happened.

Yes, you're both right it was George. Please forgive my failing memory. I'm 97 FFS. Maybe you'll forgive my failing eyesight too. The rubber chicken was orange.

If you're talking about sexing a tortoise as big as yours I'd have to reply "Carefully."

val said...

I think at the tail end, what you can see is bigger on the male. There must be a website that can help you. But surely it's moot unless you are looking to find a mate for the creature?

cathy said...

I don't need to find a mate for ours. I think it "does" anything it wants. It thinks the rockery is its harem

Blancodeviosa said...

Awe...you have a sweet side. Who knew?


val said...

What a picture you paint, Cathy :)

Michael said...

Yep that thing is a beast for sure.

Blanco - sssshhhhhh. Don't tell anyone.