Τρίτη, 25 Σεπτεμβρίου 2007

Maybe a Greek after all!

September 25th, 2007

People, today is a great day. Not just for me, but for Greece, indeed, for the entire Hellenistic community throughout the world: I actually got a response from the Ministry of the Interior concerning my Greek nationality. I know, I didn't believe it either, at first.

Now, I don't think I have explained why exactly it is so hard for me to get my Greek nationality. You see, if my father had been Greek instead of my mother, I would have gotten it long ago. That is because there once was a bizarre law in this country, a few years back, that said that you automatically lost your nationality should you be a woman [we weren't macho at all, in those days] and happen to marry abloody foreigner. [OK, I added the 'bloody'.]

Well, my mother did in fact marry a bloody foreigner, Italian as it turns out, and was completely unaware of having lost her nationality. I was therefore born while my mother was technically not a Greek. She got it back a few years later (I'll spare you THAT battle), and never requested it for me while I was underage (thanks, mom), which apparently would have been MUCH easier. [Greeks love emphasizing that fact, for some reason.]

Anyway, the Greeks being a naturally suspicious people, when they see someone trying to get THEIR nationality, all their detective skills are apparently set a-twitching.

Need proof? Not once, but several times, when I mentioned I was officially a Belgian citizen with a Belgian passport, but also wanted my Greek nationality, I was faced with gleefully suspicious glances: "And with what visa are you currently here? How long is it legal for you to remain??" You could almost see their hand hovering towards the phone, ready to make the call that would send me back to whatever miserable little country I was obviously trying to escape from.

I felt almost sorry at having to disappoint them, reminding them gently that Belgium is in fact in the European Union, which means that I am perfectly legal and can remain until the next Flood if I so choose, without requiring anyone's permission… Maybe it is just difficult for them to imagine someone who doesn't need the Greek nationality, yet actually wants it nonetheless.

But let me get back to the letter from the Ministry. The letter (in Katharevousa, of course) states the following:

"In response to your sending [= letter], regarding the subject of your obtaining of the Greek nationality, we let you know that in accordance with article 14, paragraph 1 of Law 3284/2004, "child born before 5/8/1984 from a Greek mother during the time of her genesis [= birth][don't really get this part, no matter which language I translate it into] or the wedding ceremony from which the child was born, it [the child] becomes Greek if it makes a declaration of its will to the Secretary General of the Surround..." [HaHA! Remember that woman who wanted to steal my paperwork? Now I'll show her!!]

As it appears from the facts you have brought to the attention of our Service, your mother, being a Greek citizen, had abandoned the Greek nationality following the realization of her valid wedding with an Italian citizen and for you, as a child of the above-mentioned, IT IS A POSSIBILITY [capital letters are my adjunction] to obtain the Greek nationality by application of afore-mentioned law, by submitting a relevant declaration to the Athens Surround, and by bringing to the attention of the Service of the highest Surround the necessary justifiables [= docs justifying my claim]: proof of your mother's registration with the local [equivalent of City of CulverCity/Glendale, etc.], the certified proof of her marriage and THE CERTIFIED PROOF OF YOUR BIRTH."

People, this is the paper that the Surround employee wanted to confiscate from me. I am doubly proud of having fought her for it, and am gearing up for another inevitable and no doubt formidable rematch.

Do not worry. I'll make you proud.
L.

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SOME FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER:

Kim R:
If (and when) you get Greek citizenship, I am personally flying to Greece and buying you a drink! You have my word.

Christophe N:
Maintenant je comprends toute la profondeur de cette belle expression que nous avons dans l'hexagone: "va te faire voir chez les Grecs."

Jim P G:
you kill me.
At every turn...
you kill me.

Kostantinos C:
well done la garida ;)

Bénédicte G:
Jeeeezzzzzzzzzz, Laura! Je suis de tout cœur avec toi !... Tu me fais mourir de rire avec tes anecdotes (qui, paradoxe extrême, font quand même froid dans le dos).

Πέμπτη, 20 Σεπτεμβρίου 2007

Elections


The infamous Karatzaferis...


September 20th 2007

Hello people,

I realize I forgot to let you know the crucial news: the elections for the country’s new government did take place, and despite the fires (and inaptitude in handling them), the ruling party [“New Democracy” – which is the equivalent of the center/right] still has a slim majority.

However, people were disgruntled enough with both major parties [sort of the Greek version of Republicans vs. Democrats] that for once a lot of them decided to vote for other parties, meaning smaller parties who usually don’t stand a chance got more votes and there are now 5 different parties sitting in Parliament.

Knowing the Greeks, this just about ensures that nothing will ever get done, since said parties are incapable of agreeing on anything.

The other parties in Parliament include of course the other main party “PASOK” [Socialist something or other = supposedly the left-wing party – although there is not much difference between the 2 main parties], one of the local Communist parties (yes, we have over half a dozen, since Greek Communists apparently cannot even agree on how to be a good Comrade), “Syriza” [= sort of Coalition of the Left], a sort of centrist/left party that sometimes actually makes sense, and my personal favorite: “LAOS”, which are the main initials for what can roughly be translated as “Popular Orthodox Rally”.

The guy at the head of LAOS had a rather unusual campaign, with such interesting slogans as “Mr. Tenement – because he is different”, “Mr. Tenement – together for a forward movement” and “A PUNCH IN THE FACE! The right choice”, the latter showing him wearing a boxing glove.

Of course, his name is not really Tenement, but it’s a little difficult to make Karatzaferis rhyme with anything in English.

Mr Karatzaferis has described his party as “pre-dictatorship Right” as well as “profoundly democratic”, so it is somewhat difficult to understand where exactly he stands. He also expressed the opinion that November 17th [the terrorist group responsible for the deaths of several people, including a CIA attache, a British military attache and about two dozen more, usually targeting US/Nato/Turkish people] “had some merit” and apparently claims to have pictures of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in his office as “symbols against the Americans”. A colorful figure like only Greece can produce.

Just for your education and entertainment, I thought I should also inform you on some of the numerous Greek parties that did not make it into Parliament.

They include such interesting groups as the Greek Hunters [not sure what their program is, probably something about being able to kill anything that moves all year long], the Marxist-Leninists [who apparently do not agree with either the Communist Party or the Communist Organization], and the Maoists [who clearly disagree with the Marxist-Leninists and the Stalinists, not to mention the Revolutionary Communists].

Let’s not forget the Golden Dawn [anti-Semitic, anti-capitalist, anti-immigrant – in short, the Greek neo-nazis, who interestingly enough claim their philosophy is based on laws of ancient Spartan society], several Ecologist groups with no program that I could fathom, including a “Renewing Communist Ecological Left” [sure, combine the two, why not? Probably something about planting trees in comradeship], the Fighting Socialist Party of Greece [as opposed to the other Socialist parties, I guess, who merely struggle?], the Political Spring [no idea what they stand for, but they do sound romantic], and the Renewing and Modernizing Movement of the Left. [They do have a knack for names, those Greeks.]

I’ll spare you the Centrists [not to be confused with the Democratic Center or the Center Union], the National Democrats [not to be confused with the United Democrats and even less with the United Nationalists] and the Royalists [we did have a king once, but since he was a foreigner imposed on us, the Greeks quickly kicked him out and the so-called Greek royals were banned from ever returning to Greece, so I’m not sure exactly what this party is hoping to achieve].

Anyway, I’m thinking of creating my own party, just to add to the fun. I welcome any suggestions for an interesting name – it needs to rival all the above-mentioned after all, by no means an easy feat.
So far I am thinking of “The Union of Bloody Foreigners of Greece” or “People for the Ecologic Obtainment of the Greek Nationality” or maybe “Coalition of the radically Fed Up”, but somehow it doesn’t sound quite right.

Please, send me your ideas. I am all ears.
[There! A slogan already!!]

To see Mr Karatzaferis in action, click this link (you can stop watching after about 30 seconds): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qa3i8QcNNYk

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SOME FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER:

Devon C:
I think you should call it the United Greek People's Pre-Bureaucracy Movement for Change and Centrism in the New Century. I don't know what the exact Greek translation of that would be, but I'd be willing to bet that it'd be pretty awesome.

Open-minded? What's that?

A typical "periptero"


September 15th 2007

I definitely need to make mentalities evolve here, and quick.

People here are still so unused to seeing Black people [unless they’re Senegalese Africans selling contraband CDs & DVDs on the beach – boy, would Jack Valenti hate Greece…] that a girlfriend of mine who's dating a Black Portuguese told me they kept attracting amazed looks and comments everywhere they went.

She did warn him to brace himself before he came from England to see her, but he assured her he was used to “that kind of thing”. The poor guy actually thought that Greece, being in the European Union after all, could actually be compared to England. People are such innocents.

When he arrived in Greece he was dismayed to realize people were following his every move, avidly watching even when he leaned forward to pick up his glass or when he coughed. [What? A Black man who actually looks like he might have a legit job? Not to mention a Greek girlfriend?! What is the world coming to?!?!]

And the best part? Everyone is a critic, but never so much as in Greece. Need proof? Wait till you hear what happened when above-mentioned girlfriend went to buy a bottle of water at a “periptero”.

[Note: “periptero” is just about untranslatable. They are little huts that you can find on pretty much every street corner throughout Greece, where they sell just about anything, but mainly drinks, ice cream, newspapers, phone cards, chewing gum, cigarettes, etc. Most of these are displayed on the outside. Inside, there is just enough room for 1 chair where the owner can sit in the cramped space all day long, with a tiny window open on the outside world in order to receive payment.]

Anyway, this [conspicuously White] friend of mine went with her [conspicuously Black] boyfriend to buy a bottle of water from one of those “periptera”. [Plural of periptero – you guys might as well learn something while we’re at it.]

The “peripteras” [= guy owning the periptero – Greek is easy, really] looked at her, then at her waiting boyfriend, and instead of handing over the water, said: “Does your father know about this?” [One cannot help but wonder if he intended to inform the father in case he didn’t.]

My friend was so shocked that instead of telling him to get his fat racist gut to hell, she spluttered that of course her father knew. The peripteras then said: “And he doesn’t mind?” Furious by now, my friend replied that of course he didn’t, why should he? At which point the peripteras delivered this final judgement: “He’s a good sort, your father.”

Had it been me, I would probably have thrown the bottle back in his face, but my friend being more civilized than me, she simply paid and left, probably doing more to advance the cause of mixed couples in this country than any of my rantings might.

The poor guy left Greece after 10 days of a “holiday” spent under almost constant scrutiny, feeling slightly traumatized. It is rather uncertain whether he will set foot in Greece again.

And I'll spare you the scandal that erupted the first time they showed 2 men kissing on TV – that was about 2 months ago.

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SOME FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER:

Ari S:
I cant believe that 2 men kissing is a big deal in Greece given that it is the Gay destination of the world for gay partiers and that Greek ancient culture is riddled with homosexual tradition.

Alexandra K:
Thank you for writing all this, I thought Finnish people were isolated from the real world, but after reading your stories I find us rather international :). But I must tell you that there are really people in Finland too who find Black people almost alien and homosexuals should be in the zoo etc. I did an interview a while ago and when I told that our presenter in the show is gay, the interviee said that there should be a glass wall in between them.

Home?



This is the view from my mother's apartment. Yes, that's the sea in the background.


September 10th 2007

In case any of you were wondering where I’ve been staying here, I thought it might be interesting to enlighten you.

During my first month, I was able to stay at my aunt’s apartment, which is conveniently situated a couple of blocks from my grandma’s place, where all meals take place. The unwritten rule is that no matter what we are doing or who we are with, sometime between 1.30 and 2 pm we are to report at my grandma’s house in order to be FED. This is serious business, here. Italian mammas have nothing on my grandma. She usually cooks between 3 to 5 dishes for every meal and expects us to eat them all. Even when there’s only the 2 of us. I don’t know how that’s possible either, but just a look at her dismayed little face saying “But you haven’t eaten ANYTHING” (usually uttered after you’ve consumed more food than a single human being ever should)… Well, let’s just say that we try our best, especially since she’s some cook.

Unfortunately, my aunt arrived in Greece earlier this week. Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely delighted to see her, but I do confess I am a little put out at my new accommodations. Since my mother is currently occupying our small roof studio (the VIEW!), and we do not want to risk killing each other over differing hours and varying degrees of orderliness, I am staying in my grandma’s basement for the next 2 weeks.

Picture a room where sunlight only shines for about 5 mn in the morning and another 5 in the afternoon, when the sun is low enough to shine through the tiny, barred windows set high in the walls. Add to that the fact that the woman who looks after my grandmother only goes down there once or twice a year in order to half-heartedly push dust around the 40-year-old furniture and rolled carpets and that the paper thin walls allow me to eavesdrop on every single conversation going on in the hallway (boring, by the way), and you’ll get a better idea. Now, add to all this the fact that not a single thing has been done to improve this place over the last 30 years, which includes leaving the shower and toilet exactly the way they were 30 years ago, and you’ll start seeing how a trip back in time is not always an exciting thing.

And the best part? There is a staircase communicating directly with my grandma’s living room, which means I am forever condemned to hear the latest serials… I just want to share this piece of information with you: Konstantinos and Sofia were lovers, therefore he could NOT have had ANYTHING to do with her death… TADAAAA!!! (I don’t know why the one would preclude the other, but anyway.)

Oh, and Stefanos, who looks like he’s about 35, just announced that he is moving out of his parents’ house. His mother sounded very distraught when she heard the news.

Just thought you should know.

SOME FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER:

Norman H:
Aha. Sounds like one of my New York City apartments!

Howard V:
Hey Laura, I must say, your (mis)adventures in Greece have been quite entertaining. You should put this on a blog with pictures. Hopefully you are staying well, and just know that it's way cooler to live out there and have 'interesting' times than it is to do the same-old LA scene. So count yourself lucky!

Marc O:
Formidable comme d'habitude, il y a de la matière à long métrage là-dessous.

Ramjasha R:
Hey girl,
just think of your room as a standard Hollywood studio apartment without the $900 rent.

Noemi B:
Eh ben, ca a l'air passionant, chaque minute de ta vie quotidienne!

The jackass

My grandma and me


September 8th 2007

Today my little 88-year-old grandma was almost run over by a jackass,

We had gone out to have a family lunch – a rarity by now, since her best friend of 30+ years, who lives in the same building and has been a part of our lives ever since I can remember, has been lying sick in bed for the past 5 months, and my grandma rarely leaves her side.

I had parked the car a block down the street, so we were tranquilly walking back to it after lunch when above-mentioned jackass, in his puke green convertible, accompanied by his probable wife (safe guess in Greece) and 2 little kids (not wearing seatbelts of course) appeared around the corner, driving like a maniac.

My grandmother and my aunt had stepped off the sidewalk to reach the passenger door, and the jackass, instead of slowing down, decided to accelerate instead. As a result, he hit my grandma’s arm and almost made her fall over. My vision went red and I was out of the car before I knew it, ready to kill.

The jackass at least had the decency to stop to see whether he had killed anyone, then proceeded to come back to our level in reverse – at the same speed he apparently always uses, narrowly missing our feet. I growled: “Sure, why don’t you kill us all? That way there will be no witnesses and it’ll all be peachy.”

Never getting out of his car, he asked: “Did I hit you?” My aunt and I said yes, he had hit my grandma, at the same time as my grandma said: “It’s quite all right, my dear boy. Thank you for enquiring.” My aunt (also raised abroad) and I looked in disbelief at this madwoman who was thanking the jackass who had almost run her over.

The jackass said the Greek equivalent of “Oops, my bad”, and I watched in disbelief while my grandma, who was still holding her arm and clearly in pain, told him it didn’t matter and waved him on his way. I barely had time to write down the license plate number in case it turned out to be more serious before he disappeared. That’s when my grandma said: “Oh, come now. Poor man, he didn’t do it on purpose.”

At which point my murderous rage turned on my grandma and I had a hard time not throttling her myself.

See? This is why the country is in this state. Half of them run around not giving a shit about anyone else, while the other half pretends everything is fine and even thanks them for it.
The politeness of the ostrich. "Let me not be in your way, I'll just hide my head in the sand while you finish devouring me."

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SOME FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER:

Norman H:
Laura, I’m so enjoying these emails, keeping up with your life in Greece, and the wonderful way in which they’re told, that I think you should put them on a blog so more of the world can share.

John T:
All I have to say is... "there would be murders." That is all.

The job

September 6th 2007

Hello people,

I don’t think I mentioned I actually met my maybe-boss earlier this week. In fact, I think I might even start calling him my boss now. Even though I still have no contract, no idea if (and what) he intends to pay me and know nothing more about the project, I have apparently been attributed the local equivalent of a head of physical production and an art director. Most importantly, he told me I would get to pick a script, have all the time to prepare my shoot and be given the freedom to innovate. (IlovehimIlovehim.)

Although said head of production said there are no scripts available at present – just a little Greek setback – I was once again in love with this country. That was until today.

I had an appointment at 1 pm to meet said head of physical production at the office so she could give me more info on the job. Remember the long climb to Athens? This time I thought I’d try an alternate route: the freeway. That meant a longer route, but I wouldn’t need to switch transportation means 4 times, which might gain me some time, however it also meant paying about 8 or 9 dollars’ worth of tolls. Yes, in most European countries you pay for the right to use the freeway. Don’t tell anyone in L.A., they might get some ideas. Anyway, my time is definitely worth 9 bucks, I thought.

The head of physical production was a very friendly woman, by the way – I did meet her on the same day as my boss, during a short visit to a location set where they were shooting the current episode of the show. I also got to observe the local way of working on set – but I’ll come back to that.

When I arrived today at the office, 10 minutes before 1 pm, (and by the way, it took me just as long as the other route, namely 1 hour) I was told that the head of physical production had unexpectedly been called on set, and would probably not be back for several hours. Did I mind waiting? I most certainly did, though I expressed it in more diplomatic terms, and asked when exactly her departure had occurred. Oh, about ½ hour before I got there. Silently raging, I calculated I could have turned around halfway there had I only been given a courtesy phone call. Trying to convince myself that this was a showbiz thing and not a Greek thing, I picked up a couple of scripts they gave me to read – no to select from, as they had already been shot, but to “get an idea of what they were doing”, and took another hour to drive back home.

Now, about that set. Sorry, the former sound person in me is going to take over for a short while.

It was in the centre of Athens, one of the noisiest locations you could imagine. However, inside the little bar where they were shooting it didn’t sound so bad. I have no idea what the sound guy was picking up, though, especially as the boom operator looked about 12 years old and was holding the boom with one hand, the other one on his hip, wearing no headphones and constantly changing his grip on the boom (angled haphazardly at whatever struck his fancy) while the actors were speaking. The sound guys will get it.

Of course, everyone was smoking.

I was asked to be a background actress, in a prominent position – but as soon as they realized I didn’t smoke, I was promptly relegated to the back and replaced by a smoker. When I asked the producer’s assistant (the brother of another friend of mine, as it turns out), whether there was any chance of banning smoking on my set, he chuckled. I would be lynched, he said.

Oh, how I look forward to more smoke-shrouded sets… No wonder most Greek TV shows looks alike: the same universal pall of cigarette cloud hangs over them all.

But the best part was the director.

Director: “How long do we need to switch scenes?”
Makeup: “5 mn.”
Hair: “We need to straighten her hair, so 20 mn.”
Director: “20 MINUTES?! WHAT IS THIS? WE CANNOT WORK LIKE THIS, PEOPLE! THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE! THIS IS RIDICULOUS!!”

Etc., etc. The ranting went on for almost 5 mn, during which a lot of hair and makeup could have been done. They ended up not changing scenes after all, so the actress’ fake blonde hair remained aggressively fake-curlicued throughout my time on set.

Director: [After rehearsing same 5 sentences 4 times, to actor] “Do you have it?”
Actor: “Yes.”
Director: “You’re ready to shoot this?”
Actor: “Yes.”
Director: “Are you sure?”
Actor: “YES!!!”
Director: “OK. Action.”

After the 2nd sentence, the director, who had remained hidden at the 3 actors’ feet throughout the scene, (no doubt he could pick up more of their deep felt acting from there than he could have standing at their level or watching the monitor – we all know what delicate instruments feet are), the director jumped up from his hiding place yelling “Cut!’

Director: [spitefully, at same actor] “You see? You didn’t have it! You didn’t turn your head right on the 2nd sentence! Let’s rehearse this again!”

At which point, I decided I had seen enough and headed out of there.

I make a solemn promise to you people. I will do my best to make my Greek set work the US way: efficiently, politely, and professionally (at least in most cases). Even if they try to lynch me for it.

SOME FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER:

Nicolas P:
Hi little cousin, I have read everything you have sent to me those last weeks and my belly still aches (so much I have laughed). Anyway, it seems that you are starting to make your way ! Remember that Hell is a boring place, Greece is better (lot of fun and shouting...)

Ari S:
I love it, You should also start the way we did on Tremors by singing the US National Anthem.

Wes K:
It's nice to know that we, even with our somewhat limited USC experience, have as much skill or more in directing. Your story reminds me of working on a Starky set where the 'director' gave the following direction to her actress: "Next time, can you not suck so much?"

Ramjasha R:
Are you sure you haven't left Hollywood? You sound like you were on a standard Craigslist Sony pd150 shoot to me.

Lawyers

September 6th 2007

Remember my father-and-son lawyers? Well, my mother and I had to go over the final statement with them this week, before they officially put our lawsuit in motion.

Now, for those of you not familiar with the subtleties of the Greek language (I’m guessing there are a few), we no longer speak the Greek Homer used in the Iliad. Sure, the same basic forms remain, and some words are comprehensible, but overall it’s as if you tried to speak the English of King Arthur. Ancient Greek evolved into a sort of Middle-Ages version around the time of Byzantium and slowly gave way to a more modern version as a lot of foreign words (from the Frank, Venetian, and Turkish invaders among others) were incorporated into the language over the next centuries.

Around the time the Greeks won their independence from the Turks (roughly 1821), someone had the brilliant idea to fabricate a new language for the new country. They proudly derived a new language from the old and called it “Katharevousa”, which could roughly be translated as “the clean language”.

Great, you say. Except this “clean” language is one of the most complex you can imagine. Imagine not only using sentences composed entirely of words such as “Dost” and “thou”, but also a language in which every single detail must be clarified to the point of making sentences completely unintelligible. Katharevousa has by now been completely supplanted by a much simpler language in everyday usage, but unfortunately it still remains in use for official documents, government texts, medical, and of course legal documents.

The closest translation I can come up with goes something like this, and it does not give you the full flavor of this mystic “Katharevousa”. I have simplified a lot and added the explanations in brackets in the hope of adding clarity:

“As said sufferer number 1 [i.e. my mother] was seated in the rear left seat next to said sufferer number 2 [i.e: me] who was seated in the rear right seat of the moving vehicle for hire [i.e.: taxi], authorized circulation number #98767866544 [OK, I’m just inventing here] driven by Mr. P. Nikolos on the moving circulation route [highway] Vouliagmenis going in the direction of Athens, whereby there are 3 circulation bands at that conjecture [they used a more complex word, but have mercy] that forcibly become 4 circulation bands, thereby forcing the vehicles going in the direction of Athens to displace themselves into that 4th band should they have the intent to turn left onto Street Pringipos Petrou, said sufferers number 1 and 2 were therefore in above-mentioned moving vehicle for hire when it moved onto the 4th circulation band and stopped at the crimson signalization apparatus [they didn’t use red in those days, nor lights, I guess], behind another vehicle for personal use [= private car]. Thus, when the signalization apparatus turned emerald [apparently they didn’t like green either], thereby indicating to cars stationed on the 4th band of the [highway] in the direction of Athens that they were now at liberty to turn left on [that street], both vehicles turned left, moving into the path of the incoming circulation bands of moving circulation route Vouliagmenis [name of the highway] going in the direction of Vouliagmeni [name of an area]. That is when, with undue, extreme and reckless speed, the vehicle for personal use of Mrs X [can you believe it? I don’t know the name of the woman who hit us] passed in front of the crimson signalization apparatus without coming to a stop or applying the use of speed decelerators [= breaks] and with extreme force came up against afore-mentioned moving vehicle for hire #98767866544, thus displacing it several acres in the direction of Vouliagmeni and causing above-mentioned grievous injuries to both sufferers.”

Did you understand everything? It took me a while. Now imagine someone reading this to you at the speed of light: “Assaidsufferernumberonewasseatedintherearleftseat…” You get the picture. There were 80 pages of this. No wonder we spent over 3 hours there. In fact, no wonder our lawyer needed a vacation.

Our lawyers had us over at their home, in Northern Athens. The sister brought us water and tiny ice-cream cones when we arrived and then disappeared inside with her mother. After observing the constant father-son bickering with an amused smile, my mother and I suddenly looked at each other in dismay: here was the masculine version of us!

The conversations went something like this:

Son: [reading text at the speed of light] “As said sufferer number 1 exited the place of getting well [=hospital] …on September 23rd 2005…”

Father: “Wait wait, what was that about September the 23rd? That was 2006, not 2005!”

Son: “No dad, it was 2005. That’s when they had the accident.”

Father: “Wait, give me that.”

Son [firmly holding on to paper]: “No, dad, come on, that’s what it says, it’s right.”

Father: “Give it here!”

[Son reluctantly hands paper over. Small pause while father peruses the text, then turns to us:]

Father: “This here says that you were released from the hospital…”

My mother: “Yes, that’s right.”

Father: “…on September 23rd 2005.”

My mother: “Yes, that’s right.”

Father: “Is that correct?”

My mother: “YES, THAT’S RIGHT.”

Father [to his son]: “OK, keep going. “

Son [After long-suffering sigh]: “…and said sufferer number 1 was then displaced to the home of the woman who gave her birth [= mother]…”

Father: “Just a second.”

Son: “Dad!”

Father: “Were you moved to your mother’s home or your own?”

My mother: “My mother’s, I couldn’t walk up the stairs to mine.”

Father: “All right, proceed.”

Son: ”…with her daughter…”

Father: “Wait.”

Son: “Dad, come ON!”

Father [to me]: “Did you move to your grandmother’s place or your mother’s?”

Me: “My mother’s. I was able to go up the stairs.”

Father: [turning to his son and gesturing dangerously close to the paper with his lit cigarette] “See? You must change this!”

Son: “Yes, I know, I’ve made a note of it.”

Father: “But don’t forget!”

Son: “I won’t! Can we move on now?!”

Father: “Sure. Hand me an ice-cream cone, will you?”

Son: “Dad, you know it’s not good for you, with your diabetes.”

Father: “So?” [Pointing at cigarette in his hand] “This is not good for me either.”

[Son sighs and hands him ice-cream cone.]


Anyway, this as I said went on for about 3 hours.

About halfway through, namely 9 pm-ish, I suddenly felt ravenously hungry, and hinted at my mother that since we were clearly stuck here for another couple of hours, we should order something to eat. My mother threw me a disapproving glance and tersely said “Absolutely not.”

At which point I leaned forward and said to our lawyers: “I’m sorry, but I’m starving. Is there any chance we might order a pizza or something?’ The son exclaimed “But of course!” (clearly hungry as well), just as my mother exclaimed “Laura! I must apologize for my daughter…”

She didn’t have the chance to finish her sentence, since the father interrupted her, vehemently waving his cigarette: “LET THE CHILD EAT, SINCE SHE’S HUNGRY!!”

Don’t you love these people?

The son called for a pizza to be delivered and we continued reading the indigestible document until the pizza arrived. When it did, I grabbed my wallet to pay, but the son was adamant, raising the eminently Greek and absolutely unassailable argument: “You cannot pay for something in MY house!” I had to surrender.

Meanwhile, his mother had set up the table on the veranda before disappearing once again, and the 4 of us, father-son and mother-daughter, were soon settled around the pizza, ravenously eating while discussing our holidays, the state of Greece in general and the interesting fact that the son was the only tall one in the family. Both father and son insisted that I eat the biggest piece, and the father then brought us some sweet grapes for dessert.

Now don’t tell me this would EVER happen in the US.

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SOME FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER:

Mik J:
Oh, come now, Neri, it would--it does--"happen in the U.S."
Gooooood story, at any rate.
I am still laughing.

Amy T:
No Laura you're right. It would never happen in the US. I know lawyers (my dad, husband, father-in-law) ... pretty much my whole family ... and they NEVER have their clients to their houses. NEVER!!!

Wes K:
It might be eerily similar, except that a lawyer in the US would pay $20 for the pizza and then bill you $300/hr for the hour you spent eating.

The unthinkable


Our apartment in Nafplio.

September 5th 2007

Hello, beautiful people,

First of all, let me issue a reassurance to all of you, as several people have expressed horror at the idea of setting foot in this country, following my less-than-hopeful descriptions. Greece is a wonderful country to visit. Don’t let my misadventures deter you, the Greeks are only obstructive with other Greeks. Tourists they love. Want proof? If we want to be sure we’ll be treated nicely, my mother and I speak French. I guess it’s just an exacerbated case of the grass is always greener…

While driving back on the freeway from Nauplion, the Peloponnesus town where my grandma was born and where we still have an apartment of hers, we were delayed by 2 cars. Their drivers were engaged in an animated conversation and had slowed down to a crawl, while on the 3rd lane cars zoomed by at 100 miles/hour. My mother and I had the misfortune to be stuck behind said cars, and after about 3 seconds of this, my mother started honking nonstop. (Let’s not forget that she is 100% Greek after all, even if she is convinced she is nothing like them.)

The drivers were absolutely oblivious of her rage – or maybe they didn’t even hear her, engrossed as they were in their obviously fascinating conversation. After remaining at the same comfortable 15 miles/hour for over 5 full mn, they cheerfully waved at one another while the one on the right exited the freeway. My mother was left foaming at the mouth.

This shouldn’t have surprised us though, in a country where people are regularly found driving backwards on the freeway when they happened to have missed their exit. No, no, this is not exaggeration or a myth, yesterday was already the second time we’ve almost had a frontal collision with a car going backwards on the freeway. One thing about Greece: it is rarely boring.

But I guess Greek people are born with an innate sense of fatalism, the idea that if it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go, so you might as well live dangerously. After all, in a country where you drive through places called “Evil Staircase” “Bad Spirit” and “Black Day”, you quickly realize that optimism is not the local population’s key virtue.

And then, the unthinkable happened.

I was coming out of the sea the other day, and wanted to take a shower. When I arrived at the open-air showers, there were 2 people rinsing their feet, entirely dressed. So I patiently waited until they were done before showering, so I wouldn’t drench them.

I had barely turned my shower on, when suddenly it turned into a trickle. Turning around to see what was wrong, I noticed a little grandpa had arrived to use the shower next to me to wash his feet. He was also entirely dressed, and grumbled at me: “I turned your shower off because you were drenching me.”

That’s when the unthinkable happened: I opened my mouth without knowing what I was going to say, and barked the following sentence: “Well, I was here before you. What can I do?” And stepping to the next shower over, I turned it on full blast.

I had become one of them.

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SOME FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER:

Mik H:
Ah, poor grandpa...

Marc G:
You pretty much sum up why the Mediterraneans are so exasperating and endearing all at the same time. I am proud to hear the beach shower story. Once you start abusing old people, you have truly arrived.

Will M:
Wow, both the cars-driving-in-reverse-on-the-highway and the shower bits would be great for a movie. They're really funny.

Marc O:
Merci, merci et encore merci ! And don't worry about becoming one of them: happens to me about a dozen times a day when I have to drive in Brussels or namur during rush hours. Granted, "them" is the Belgians, not the Greeks. But it doesn't make any better !

My grandma's doctor

September 4th 2007

My grandma’s doctor still doesn’t know my name, because the second I stepped into his main office, my 88-year-old grandma on my arm, he started yelling at me. I am not quite sure what his grievances were at that point. I did gather later on, as we were asking his assistant to fill out some prescriptions for my grandma with some additional documents for her Belgian health insurance (while waiting for the doctor to examine her), that we were taking too much of his assistant’s time. The fact that said assistant was in fact sitting at her desk doing nothing until we came in didn’t seem to factor in. He yelled: “I am paying her, you know?” I managed to refrain from saying I certainly hoped so and from asking whether he was paying her by the prescription or by the month.

The doctor kept marching in and out of his examination room, and at some point had me walk in with him. That’s when I discovered that there was in fact an unfortunate 90-year-old patient quietly sitting on a chair inside, waiting for him to be done yelling before he finished examining her. With her there, he yelled at me that he had had old people in his office all day long, bothering him about prescriptions, as if he had nothing better to do. He then showed me Greek insurance papers, saying that that’s what they used here, he didn’t know how we did things “over there in Europe”, at which point I felt obliged to point out to him that Greece was in fact in Europe and had been for quite some time now, even though that fact had apparently not quite sunk in yet. That probably didn’t endear me to him, I freely admit.

He then proceeded to yell that he wasn’t obliged to fill out any of my grandma’s foreign papers, and what was I going to do if he refused? At which point I replied that indeed he was obliged, as is stated in the international treaties between countries of the European Union, which he would have known had he bothered to read the paperwork my grandma had brought to him several months ago. As to what I would do if he refused, I mentioned that there was always the Higher Justice Courts of the European Union, but that surely neither one of us wanted to get involved in long proceedings, and since my 88-year-old grandmother was now in his office, wouldn’t he be kind enough to examine her? Those who know me well would have been impressed by my calm manner.

Well, he did examine both the 90-year-old and my grandma, he signed all her prescriptions, and what’s more, having forgotten to give them to us, he actually drove to my grandma’s house at 11 pm to hand them over to her. Again, Greece at work: first yell at them, then do them a good turn. That’s one of the reasons I love this country. (Not the yelling part, obviously.) When in Greece, I am always reminded of the French adage: they bark, yet do not bite.

SOME FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER:

Alexandre C:
Putain, je te vois sous un autre jour maintenant. En fait pour une greque t'es vachement calme et pausée...

Cory M:
I would not do well in this country.

Amy T:
Bizarre! I can't imagine any American doctor (EVER!!!) driving to someone'shouse to give them a prescription.

Gavin K:
I love your email journals -- Greece filtered through all that trademark Laura wit/humor... Keep them coming!
We miss you over here in the States...

Fire


Fires threaten the historical site of Olympia, birthplace of the Olympic Games.


September 2nd 2007

Hello people,

I am back from my weekend, during which quite a lot happened, actually.

I don’t know whether news have reached the US at all about this, but Greece has been plagued by fires this summer, and it’s just gotten much worse. Granted, fires during the hot season is a common occurrence here, just as it is in California, except that this year, for the first time, there have been several deaths. We’re up to 62 and counting, including at least 4 firemen.

That’s without counting the environmental damage, the tons of CO2 released in the atmosphere, the thousands of acres of woods and wildlife lost, destroyed houses, etc. The government has declared this a national tragedy and various countries have sent helicopters and help, like Russia, France, Serbia, etc.

Unfortunately, Greece’s fires are only half the time due to the weather or accidental. The rest of the time, they are criminal. Oh, sure, we do have a few pyromaniacs, just like anybody else. But the true problem stems from a law that states that protected wooded areas are no longer protected once they have burnt down. Therefore, people are free to build on the land. Get the picture? Some people have apparently no scruples at all, (and clearly not much love for their country or countrymen) and set fires in order to be able to exploit the land. A lot of the houses built on burnt wooded areas, strangely enough, belong to high-ranking government officials from both main political parties. Here’s a country that knows what screwed-up means.

During the weekend, I received increasingly frantic calls from my mother, who was terribly afraid my friends and I might get closed in by the fires, since the Peloponnesus village where we were staying was surrounded by a burning village roughly 10 miles to the West and the city of Corinth to the East, which was also burning and through which we had to go through in order to go back to Athens.

While driving back, we listened to the radio reports. A lot of them were of what I call the classical Greek media variety, namely people interviewing locals in areas where the fires had destroyed/killed the most. The conversations usually went something like this:

Reporter: “Can you tell us what’s happening?”
Local: “It’s burning! Everything is burning! We are surrounded by fire!”
Reporter: “Can you be more specific?”
Local: “Our house is gone! There are no firefighters!”
Reporter: (preferably ghoulishly) “Are there any dead?”

Some radio reports were thankfully more to the point, calling government officials to find out what was being done and whether the famous “build-once-it’s-burnt” law could maybe be changed to avoid further destruction of our country. This is where one sees how lethal Greek bureaucracy really becomes. One conversation went like this:

Reporter: “Would it be possible to change the law that has created so many problems?”
Agriculture Minister: “Certainly.”
Reporter: “Don’t you agree it might be a good solution?”
Agriculture Minister: “I guess so.”
Reporter: “Who is responsible for that?”
Agriculture Minister: “I don’t know. Not me.”
Reporter: “What about the protection of wooded areas…?”
Agriculture Minister: “I no longer have anything to do with that, that responsibility has been transferred to the firefighters.”
Reporter: “What about organizing the firefighting forces and the army…?”
Agriculture Minister: “That’s the responsibility of the Department of National Order.”
Reporter: “What about cleaning up the burnt areas…?”
Agriculture Minister: “That’s the responsibility of the Park Rangers.”
Reporter: “But who do the Rangers report to?”
Agriculture Minister: “Oh, well, I guess they report to the Ministry of Agriculture.”

Need I say it? There is of course close to no efficient cooperation between all these various agencies.

There were also several fires in the Northern suburbs of Athens. The sky turned grey at noon and the ashes reached even my house in the Southern suburbs by the sea. When I got back from my weekend, my grandma told me that there had been a fire a couple of miles from her apartment.

What makes this year’s fires so unusual and frightening is that fires started in close to 150 places throughout Greece almost at once. Obviously, the firefighters were unable to be everywhere, despite the fact that 98% of the firefighting force was dispatched and has been working tirelessly. With the dangerous Mediterranean winds blowing strong and changing directions every couple of hours, the fires quickly expand uncontrollably and some firefighting planes and helicopters are unable to work efficiently. The army has been sent in to help. Despite all this, some villages have not seen a single firefighter – and of course people blame the government.

The historic monuments, temples and museums in beautiful Ancient Olympia and Ancient Corinth were in serious danger of burning to the ground and were saved in the nick of time, trees burnt up to their very doors, while the gorgeous theatre of Epidaurus is still touch and go. I am watching the news right now, and it seems like the flames have started again close to Ancient Olympia.

But 150 fires at once? Now there are talks of a conspiracy. There are many suspects: the Albanian minority (because they hate us/we treat them badly), the Turks (because they hate us/they understood that they will never get into the EU), even the US government (because they hate us/because Greece dared to switch their energy and are now buying from the Russians instead of the US), or (much worse and unfortunately more likely to be true in my opinion) fanatical Greeks belonging to the political party that lost the last election, in the hopes that the upcoming election will turn back in their favor. You see, the Constitution states that once an election is announced, it cannot be cancelled except in case of war, no matter what situation the country is in.

My guess? I doubt we’ll ever know. But whoever the people responsible are, they have caused terrible and maybe irreversible damage to this country. For the first time in my life, I find myself wishing there is a hell, with fires burning as bright and hot as the ones that were lit here.

Sorry for the darker tone of this entry, I promise to go back to annoying government employees thereafter.

Take care,
L.

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SOME FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER:

John H:
It is good to hear from you, despite the dark tone of the email. I have been thinking about you during all of these fires. The fires have been making the news here for the last several days. It's good to hear that you and everyone you know is safe.
That's unbelievable that burned areas are unprotected. Of course, since I have had the education from you in Greek politics, maybe it is not so unbelievable. Tragic either way.
I hope you stay safe, the fires are contained, the criminals are caught, and the laws are changed to prevent these kinds of things from happening in the future.

Wes K:
Laura,
That is quite sad. Sometimes it feels overwhelming when faced with such corruption -- I know I feel that way regarding the US government. One can only hope that good people rise to the occasion, and perhaps that someday we ourselves will be in a position to do good deeds.
I enjoy your emails greatly. Stay safe.

Devon C:
I think it's the Albanians who set the fires, personally. what a bunch of freakin savages... and no doubt hired by some Greek real estate tycoon who wanted the land cleared so he could build condos on it.

More victory!

August 26th 2007

Hello people,

First of all, let me apologize if you got my previous email more than once. It’s one of the hazards resulting from blindly typing with only 1 hand while the other is raising the laptop to the ceiling so as not to lose the connection.

But on to the good news: my maybe-boss’s secretary actually called me back yesterday, to set up an appointment 10 days from now. Which also means I am officially on holiday for 10 days, during which I’ll be able to keep tackling my lawyer about our upcoming trial and the Greek authorities about my nationality. I am delirious with joy.

The only thing that’s got me worried is that I’ve heard hints from people who have seen the TV ads for the upcoming serial I am supposed to direct 1 episode of. The hints relate to the promise that there will be a LOT of SEX AND VIOLENCE in the NEW SHOW!! (Quoting the ads, here.) I strongly suspect the show is going to be of the after-midnight variety…

Oh, well.

I also got a phone call from the Greek phone company saying that our home was now officially connected to the Internet. We just had to install the cables, CD, etc. Nothing simpler! Buoyed by my earlier success, I actually believed them.

Yeah, right.

When I opened the connection package and started to read the deceptively simple-looking instructions, I was stumped at step 2. Let me paraphrase for you:

1. Connect the filters to ALL wall phone jacks (we only have 1 filter and 1 phone jack, but anyway), then connect the filter to the phone.

2. Connect the modem to the computer, then connect it to the wall phone jack. NOTE: THE MODEM MUST BE CONNECTED DIRECTLY TO THE WALL PHONE JACK, NOT THROUGH A FILTER!!

I rest my case.

OK, ok, so they probably meant connect the modem to the phone, or something. But you can never assume, with the Greeks.

I will be gone for the week-end, where hopefully not too much craziness will happen. More news in a couple of days.

Take care,
L.

Hope


This is what I looked like in September 2005, 2 weeks after our car crash. For those of you who don't know it, my arm was broken above the elbow and my face was broken in 5 places.

August 25th 2007

Progress at last!!

One: my boss actually came to work yesterday. Even though I didn’t get to speak to him, I think you must admit that this is a huge step forward.

Two: I have managed to steal Internet from one of my grandma’s neighbors! Praised be Mac, amen. Granted, the connection only works with me standing in the Western-most corner of my grandma’s bedroom, preferably with the computer raised as high as possible towards the ceiling, but still, I call this a definite victory over the evil forces of Murphy!

Three: I managed to wrestle the promise of a future appointment from my lawyers.

Let me explain. My lawyers are father and son, although the father is officially retired for health reasons and only acting as “counsel” on our case. He has lung cancer, which doesn’t prevent him from smoking 2 packs a day, of course. Preferably while blowing the smoke into our faces. The son is young and handsome, and clearly overwhelmed by the job.

The case is the near fatal car-crash my mother and I were involved in nearly 2 years ago. We are now finally getting ready to sue the woman who ran a red light and rammed into our cab at 90 miles/hour. But our lawyers are cutting it very close, because once the 2 years are up (on September 14th to be precise), we no longer have the right to file a claim and must start all over again with a totally different procedure. Don’t ask me why. This is Greece, remember?

Anyway, the son doesn’t often pick up his cell phone, and certainly not during the last 2 weeks, when he had taken what he felt to be a well-deserved vacation (from us was implied but not said). When I finally reached him earlier this week, he replied in a world-weary voice that clearly reflected the immeasurable effort it was simply to speak to me on the phone. Yes, he sighed, we would at some point get together to go over the final points before the deadline was past. He would call me. I had clearly overstepped my boundaries by calling him first, even though I hadn’t heard from him in 3 months. So I said goodbye and hung up, feeling guilty for the ordeal I was putting him through.

This time I was slightly better prepared. How was his holiday, I asked? “Let’s say it wasn’t too bad”, he wheezed, and politely asked me about mine. “I haven’t had any, yet,” I replied with a savage glee typical of a true Greek. “I’ve been running after my maybe-boss, my Greek nationality, and you.” I had the satisfaction to hear the veneer of weariness falter, and he was startled enough to promise we would meet soon.

Victory, I tell you.

-----

SOME FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER:

Guillermo R:
Laura...you're a very good writer...i'm totally hooked to your Greek travails...these e-mails of yours are so entertaining...it's like my daily soap opera at work..."the misadventures of Laura in Greece, lets read today's episode"...he he...

Marc G:
Good job laura, you have to admit, we all become a little spoiled here in LA, nothing toughens you uplike a little Mediterranean bureaucracy, after dealing with Telecom Italia, hollywood seems an easy nut to crack...

Did you say bureaucracy?

The staircase leading to the periferia office at 8 am - before the Barbarians get there...


August 24th, 2007

Hello, people.

Yesterday I went up to Athens. That’s what the people from the pleasant Southern areas of the city, (where I am, by the sea), call it: they go up to the center of town. This implies a long, painful climb, and it’s exactly what it feels like.

Imagine Athens as a much more congested L.A., with meaner drivers and no alternate routes to reach the center. The underground was much improved thanks to the Olympics, but it still doesn’t reach the entire city – my area is not included yet. Maybe in 2010. If the government doesn’t change in the meantime, which is a serious risk as they have decided to have elections early, namely in less than a month. Don’t ask me why. Please don’t. I am already striving to understand the basics of surviving here, don’t make me go into Greek politics.

So instead of driving all the way into the center, I drive ½ hour to the closest underground station, then take the underground for about 10-15 minutes, (that tends to reduce the risk of fatal car crashes by about 50%), then walk the rest of the way. All this in about 100 degrees heat. (40 degrees C for the Europeans.) My grandma’s old Nissan has no A/C, neither is there any A/C in the underground.

This, according to the maniac who suddenly started screaming next to me in the station, is apparently to be attributed to one of the 2 main political parties: “Why don’t you vote for that asshole again”, he ranted to no one that I could see, “maybe he’ll put in some A/C in the underground this time!” People just ignored him as he continued to yell about where exactly people could put their hope of seeing such a thing happen. It made me wonder: what if I suddenly started yelling at random people here to express my frustrations? It suddenly seemed like an attractive possibility. Maybe that’s why the Greeks don’t have guns after all.

I had to go to the center of Athens to try for the umpteenth time to get my Greek nationality. One has to be an optimist in this country. So I got out of the underground and walked down the few blocks to the address I had been given when I called Information. I did this while dodging rabid motorcycles and trucks, who find it a nice shortcut to use the pedestrian streets, as well as the dripping air conditioners that people here position above the sidewalks apparently for the sole purpose of drenching the people walking by. Or maybe it is done in order to force them to walk into the path of oncoming vehicles.

When I got to said address, it was the wrong one. I proceeded to call Information once again, and was promptly directed to another wrong address. Let me explain. I was told I needed to go to the “Surround” in Athens. Can’t really think of a better translation. Calling Information, I had no idea that there are about 200 “Surrounds” in Athens, including the “Surround” for the Greek DWP, the “Surround” for various banks, etc., etc. One might hope that the Information employee might ask the caller which “Surround” exactly they require, but this is Greece after all, let’s not hope for too much. Apparently, the employees just select a random “Surround” and let you tackle the rest.

Calling for the 3rd time, I was finally given the correct address. Thankfully, everything was within 5 or 6 blocks of each other. One has to be thankful for small mercies, in this country.

Once I got to my “Surround”, I was told it was still the summer holiday, and even though everyone was sitting in their offices, I could not be helped. I must come back on September 1st, when they officially reopened. Discovering unknown depths of treachery in me, I said I was only in the country for another week, could they not help me? Apparently they could, albeit reluctantly.

When I showed a woman all my paperwork, painstakingly gathered during 10 years of dealing with Greek bureaucracy, she disdainfully threw it back at me. “This is useless”, she said. Useless? I asked. Really? The consulate in L.A. said… “We don’t care about what they said. Here, only what WE say matters”, she informed me, regally. Could nothing be salvaged from the lot? Were all the previous employees who advised collecting said papers sadists? Well, she relented, maybe not all of them. In fact, we could probably use most of them. But, she said, a glint in her eye, I still needed 2 more, including a proof of residence in Greece from my grandfather, which must include my mother before she was married.

My grandfather being originally from Smyrna in Asia Minor, from where he had to flee from the Turks (no time to explain the history, go to Wikipedia to check it out), it would be difficult to find any paperwork relating to him, much less to him AND my mother, who was not even born until he went to live in Brussels. When I say this to the woman, she sits back, a satisfied smile on her face: “Then there’s nothing we can do”, she says. She has cleverly found a way not to help me EVER. You’ve got to admire such ingeniousness.

Suddenly, her eye falls on one of my documents. “What’s this?” she asks, her eyebrows working furiously. “HOW DID YOU GET THIS? This is WRONG! They should NEVER have given it to you!” She is referring to a doc made by the Greek government that states, based on my Belgian birth certificate, that I was INDEED born. Now, why would anyone require such a proof when I’m standing in front of them, I have no idea. But there it is, I have fought hard and long for that document, and it is MINE. “We’ll have to keep this”, she says, baring her teeth. That’s when some primal instinct in me took over. Springing from my chair, I literally dove onto her desk and snatched the document from her.

She turned to her colleague, obviously distraught. “Maria”, she squealed, “Maria, she took it from me!” Maria didn’t appear very moved: she barely shrugged. Turning back to me, the woman viciously said: “They’ll take it from you, you know”. Having no idea who that mysterious “they” was, I calmly replied that we would see about that, and taking my documents with me, I marched out of the office. It’s one thing to refuse to help me. But actually trying to set me back was taking it a bit too far, I thought.

I won’t give you the details of my subsequent trip to the Ministry of the Interior. Let me just say that it took the entire day, but I finally managed to get someone to forward my case to someone who might know what I should do next.

I first had to go through yet one more surreal conversation, though. This time, the question was: “But how did your mother get the Greek nationality?” “Well, both her parents were Greek.” “But she was born in Belgium!” “But both her parents were Greek.” “But WHO gave her her Greek nationality?” “Her parents.” “But how?” “They went to the Greek consulate and declared her as their daughter.” “But HOW…?”

This went on for quite some time, to the point where I actually called my mother to see whether some mysterious document had maybe been given to prove that she was the Greek daughter of Greek immigrants born in Belgian Belgium. The result was that after a few minutes of this relayed phone conversation, my mother started screaming in my ear that this was OUTRAGEOUS, and WHO THE FUCK was this PERSON who was CLEARLY an IDIOT?!?! “AND LET ME SPEAK TO HER RIGHT NOW!!” I thought rather wisely that it was probably best not to let her speak to anyone in that state, and said I’d call her back.

Thankfully, it turns out one of the secretaries working in the Ministry is a childhood friend of mine. Although there was nothing she could do to help my case, she did cook me a nice meal after the ordeal, reminding me that some Greeks are worth the trouble.

SOME FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER:

Kim R:
Well, Laura, it seems from your last two updates that Greece is EXACTLY like Hollywood. It's who you know. ; )

Amy T:
Hilarious. I think you have your next movie.

Jim P G:
OK, so is it that Greeks hate people? Or is it they hate their own people? WAIT - you're trying to prove that you ARE their own people... Do they hate people TRYING to be THEIR people? Once you're "in the club," will you be treated better? Is there in fact a government, or just a lot of people protecting their jobs in the desperate hope that nobody finds out that there is NOT, after all, a government? Or did Lewis Carroll design the government? OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!!

Pete S:
I must tell you, your emails are absolutely astounding. If even 1/4 of what you say is true, it is mind-blowing. And I must say, utterly entertaining for someone not having to go through the pain and misery you describe.

Ari S:
I fucking love these emails. I have been forwarding them to my mom who loves them too. They are hilarious. Why don't you make a movie about a girl returning home from the US to Greece to do what she thinks is a big deal directing gig as everything gone wrong and she has to deal with a country she has somewhat grown apart from. I would see it. Very funny.

John T:
In my best Al Pacino... "If I was the man I was ten years ago I would take A FLAMERTHROWER TO THIS PLACE!"

Marc G:
I am proud of the jumping across the table part. Reminds me of when Amy snapped and kicked an old lady on the Eurostar, a breakthrough moment.

Jennifer A-S:
OMG too funny! Sorry it's been such a battle!

John H:
Thanks very much for these emails. I am torn between enjoying your writing, and feeling sorry for you for enduring all of these hassles. Your writing is great - very funny... I admire your fortitude in trying so hard to become a citizen of a country that is driving you nuts.

More Greece

August 22nd 2007

Hello, people.

I have by now spent a fortune in this Internet café. My hair and clothes stink of smoke, because of course everyone smokes while checking their emails – even the 13-year-olds. Especially the 13-year-olds.

There are only about 8 or 10 computers for surfing the net, the rest (maybe 40 or 50) is reserved for Gamers. Said gamers yell at each other across the huge room, comparing scores, screaming when their character gets killed, whooping when they get to the next level, betting their friends at the top of their voice that they will reach the next level first. Everyone seems to find this constant cacophony in the middle of a permanent smoke cloud perfectly normal and even comfortable. Now I finally understand why one in two Americans owns a gun. The question is, why do Greeks not own more guns?

My maybe-boss is still a maybe. But there was hope today: when I called, his secretary told me they hoped he would come in today. I believe this man took the old adage “absence makes the heart grow fonder” a little too literally. But I am not giving up. I will call again tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after, even if he decides to prolong his holiday until Christmas, which seems a possibility in this country.

Yesterday, when I went swimming I was stung by a jellyfish. August is apparently the season for them. I had forgotten, since I hadn't been in Greece during August for the last couple of years.

I didn't know at first it was a jellyfish. It felt like some very ill-humored beast had savagely bitten my wrist. When I got out of the water, I saw 4 long trailing marks on my wrist, looking like a miniature skeleton hand. A couple of middle-aged guys were playing racket-ball on the sand. One of them saw me looking at my wrist. Jellyfish? He asked. I nodded. "Just a sec", he said. "I've got some salve". And he ran to get me some.

When I went to give it back to him, he said "Keep it, sweetheart." This was said not at all in a sleazy way, but rather like a father might say it. Need I say it? I felt ridiculously moved. It's people like that who make me feel at home here.

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SOME FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER:

John T:
AHA! See! There's no chance of being stung by a Jelly at Santa Monica Beach!... Because it's too poluted. They can't survive in it.... But still. Score 1 for the murky waters of Santa Monica!

Ari S:
Like that wouldn't happen in the US? Of course it would except it would havebeen given to you by a lifeguard who was actually on duty and taking his jobseriously

Cory M:
At least he didn't offer to pee on you.

More news from Greece

August 21st

What happened with my maybe-boss, you ask?
Well, he is still my maybe-boss.

Knowing that the bosses usually don't go to work too early, I waited until 10.30am to call his office on Monday. He wasn't in yet, could I call back around noon? I did. He still wasn't in, could I call back after 2 pm? I did. He still wasn't in, in fact they weren't sure he would be coming in at all, maybe I should call back the next day...

Today I called at 10 am, but that was clearly a barbaric hour for the Greeks: there wasn't even a secretary to answer the phone. By 10.30, she was in, but her boss wasn't. Could I... Try later, I asked? But of course. By 11.30, he still wasn't there. But there was progress this time: I was asked for my phone number so they could call me back. It is now close to 1 pm. I have of course not been called back yet.

I forgot to mention my other main activity of the past 2 weeks: I have also been fighting a lot, or rather I have been yelled at a lot. I have been yelled at by a government official because I said that I had been trying to get my Greek nationality for the last 10 years, and had the audacity to suggest that this implied a less than efficient system. To be fair, he then proceeded to make some documents for me for which he waived the usual fee, all the while grumbling at me.

I have been yelled at by my neighbor, who was invited to dinner at my mother’s, (where she managed to arrive 2 hours late) because I dared to change places when she started smoking next to me. She first tried to convince me that second hand smoking was absolutely harmless, and that anyone who said otherwise was delusional. She then proceeded to demonstrate how selfish it was of non-smokers to deprive smokers of their little ciggie during long flights or in cinemas.

By that time I must confess I had lost some of my cool, citing to her the studies in a rather less than calm tone, and possibly expressing sarcasm by suggesting to her that second hand smoking might even be beneficial, since it was clearly a government conspiracy to deprive us of it. Unsurprisingly, the other 2 smokers at our table deemed me impolite. I refrained from mentioning that said neighbor has 2 dogs in the building, both hysterical barkers, one of which she leaves tied all night long beneath my grandmother’s window so that my 88-year-old grandma cannot sleep. Like my mother says: in Greece, people never complain about their neighbor’s disturbances, which in turn gives them a disturbance capital which they are then free to spend at their leisure.

I have been yelled at by other drivers, sales people, my lawyer, my grandma’s doctor, pedestrians, young, old, and in-between. My favorite story is that of a friend of the family, raised abroad as I was, who had the audacity to stop to let a pedestrian cross the street. He was rewarded by said pedestrian yelling at him at the top of his voice: “Who the fuck are you to decide you’re letting me cross the street?!”

These people are crazy. I’m going swimming.

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SOME FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER:

Alexandre N:
No way!!!!!!!! "Who the fuck are you to decide you're letting me cross the street?!"
Putain, y faut que tu mettes tout cela dans un film!!!! C'est hallucinant!! A bas les fumeurs, tiens!

Cory M:
Oh my god. You have moved to an insane asylum!

Mik H:
Wow! That's some great material. Sounds like you've become the Larry David of your patch of Greece.
I think that dog should be "disappeared" in the nighttime.
Well, maybe not whacked, but just let go.

Corey Z:
Wow! I have to agree with Mik... Can we call you Laura David? ;) It's so wonderful getting these emails from you... not just because I love reading about the updates, but because you remind me that maybe things aren't as SUPER awful in America as I think they are... I mean, they are awful, but comparatively, the rest of the world isn't quite the fantasy land that I dream it to be :)

Marc G:
Ah Laura, you are making me homesick for Florence. I haven't been yelled at once since I got back and I already have a few job offers. Its terrible. At this rate, I'll be working soon. I'm sure it will take you a while to get back into the spirit, but yelling is their form of chit chat.

Trent J:
Dear Laura,
Love your stories. Please keep them coming. It's great to know that even the cradle of western civilisation has its problems.

Ari S:
These are hilarious! I love these letters. You are a foreigner in your own country.

John T:
Keep at it! And keep a positive attitude. Until of course you need to vent your rage... then you should go on a murderous rampage.

Andrea C:
Poor Laura! Come back home!!!

Welcome to Greece


Hello beautiful people,

I cannot believe I'm saying this, but I'm missing L.A. already!!
Let me give you a taste of Greece.

I have now been here for 2 weeks. Of course, I have been here many times before, for much longer periods, during the summer holidays, for example. But never before with the intent to actually settle here for a longer while. The process is rather different. Let me give you some examples.

I still do not have Internet at home, because it takes at least 2 weeks to get connected. Which in fact, from what my friends tell me, usually means closer to a month. When I express surprise at this obvious lack of efficiency (well-used that I am by now to the US’s usually super-fast service), they immediately become defensive. Greece being the greatest country in the world, one can bear a little discomfort here and there, I am told.

When I go to the bank to order a card for my current account (opened a couple of years back and which has retained a balance of 0 euros until very recently), I am told after waiting for ½ hour that I should first call “this number” – which she scribbles down for me. When I call this number, they answer that they have nothing to do with it, and of course I should go back to the bank to order my card.

I have just summarized Greece in 1 sentence for you: an endless back and forth between various offices and officials who NEVER have ANYTHING to do with your problem, even though you were referred to them. Either they will advise you to go back to the person who sent you, or they will send you on another merry chase to the next office – which of course has NOTHING to do with…. You get it. That’s why I still do not have a Greek passport, despite 10 years of trying. Yes, 10 years. I think even Stalin’s Russia would be put to shame by the Greeks.

But what have I been doing over the last 2 weeks, you ask? I am still waiting to hear from my maybe-new boss, as the quasi-entirety of Athens is on holiday until today. (August the 15th being one of the most important holidays, the Virgin’s own.) I have no contract, of course, as everything here happens on a handshake. I have no idea when we are supposed to start shooting, or when the show is supposed to start airing.

So I have of course been enjoying the beach every day. The sand, the sun, the translucent, turquoise waters, full of little fish. No more repulsive, squishy algae that tangle around your ankles. No more terror of the opaque, brownish water under which I used to constantly fear the sudden appearance of Jaws, or worse: unnamable rejects from the sewers... (I’m sure most of you have recognized Santa Monica beach in this description.)

No more little huts ruining the view. Here, we have only ONE lifeguard for the entire beach. Granted, the beach is not as big as the one in Santa Monica and the sea is generally calmer, but I’m pretty sure he cannot see its entirety at once. Plus, he generally prefers lounging in his chair with a coffee. However, we do have the appearance of being protected, which is certainly better than nothing.

Time to call my maybe-boss and see what my immediate future looks like.


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SOME FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER:








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Christine L:

Oh Laura, you are HYSTERICAL!!! I feel your pain. I too have been missing LA the last 4 months since moving here to Chicago (the land of the FAT sausage eating, beer drinking Cubs fans).







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Joe L:

I see you haven't embraced the laid back nature of your homeland. I am so surprised that American efficiency has taken such a hold on you. Don't you find it refreshing to live somewhere with a slower pace, a more carefree attitude? Or perhaps you are a true Los Angeles citizen now and you didn't even realize it. Oh, the irony. I have to admit I am jealous of your time spent on the beaches of Greece. From your true home in LA...







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Linus L:

Sounds like you stepped foot into a Fellini movie.
If you see Volpina, let me know.






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Ari S:

Now you know why I have been telling you that America is the greatest country in the world for all the years I have known you and that Greece is only like number 29 or something (not sure...hehe). Welcome to being an American. You have been indoctrinated and now you will never go back mentally...






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Aldo S:

Well, it could be seen as an "anthropological" study, enjoy!, but please don't become "assimilated"......:)