Manners

One of my old supervisors used to tell me that my life stresses her out, and I see her point.  How is it even possible that I have so many adventures?  I’m not sure if it’s under-organisation and resultant chaos, the fact that I travel so much, or simply blind luck.  For example, in catching the coach from Istanbul to Athens on Monday night, I witnessed not one but two car crashes.  In the first, the car was spinning in the middle of the road like a top, and the bus narrowly avoid it; for the other I was awoken by our coach trying to stop to avoid the disaster in front, to the point that our back wheels started to skid.

The near-death-experiences were fine, but the coach ride itself was not a fun time.  Last time I caught that coach (except in the reverse direction, in March last year), the bus was fully pimped out, and what’s more, I was the only one on board.  This time the coach was a fair bit older and it was packed.  There was a girl next to me who was fat enough that she didn’t fit in her seat and so was sitting partially on me.  There are very few things which I get completely, unreasonably, almost psychotically upset about, but the two big ones are hearing people eat (I nearly lose my mind), and having peoples’ fat touch me.  Eugh.  This girl decided to position herself slightly sideways, so that I had the distinct impression her ass cheeks were trying to digest my leg (really—she farted, and I felt it on my leg before I smelled it).  So, it was a pretty objectionable 16 hours.  I did have a random moment in the middle of it though, at the third rest-stop: the girl poked me awake, so I staggered outside and found puppies!!  So naturally I made friends and played with them, before walking into the grungy bathroom where (I made bad notes for this) either ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ or ‘Dying in your arms tonight’ was playing, so I naturally had a bit of a karaoke session.

It was quite weird to leave Istanbul actually.  I spent 11 days there in the end, with all of the last part being with Marina and Sensei.  Happily, I’ll see Sensei this Sunday as she comes through Athens, and Marina in London in a couple of months’ time.  They’re absolutely awesome people 🙂  Our final room in the hotel was gorgeous, as well—the view was insane.  The staff were pretty hilarious, too (though we named them ‘Sarkhan’ (actually his name) and ‘Hot Guy #2’ because we didn’t know the second man’s name.  Hot Guy #1 was a waiter at a restaurant we ate at a couple of times.  No objectification here!)

I also feel like I started to regain my manners in Istanbul.  I think I mentioned the hassling on the street before.  Well, this time I tried to ignore it, with the occasional bout of directness (eg while sitting outside the Blue Mosque with my Polish friend Ana, a guy came up to us and I said straight up: “we don’t want to buy anything, and we don’t want to talk.”  Ana then followed with “we are in the middle of a very important conversation and we don’t want to talk to you”.  Team direct much?  He looked baffled and ended up walking away).  However, ignoring people didn’t seem to be working very well, so I switched to being outrageously polite and saying “no thank you”, or “not today”, and actually answering people’s questions: and suddenly the process was significantly less painful.

Of course, maybe my manners aren’t fully restored.  I was walking near the flea market in the centre of Athens earlier, looking for a place to have some lunch/dinner.  I saw a guy who was about to walk up to me and he seemed really creepy, so I avoided eye contact and headed away from him.  At which point he started to follow me down the street.  First he muttered something about ‘Greek woman’ then asked me if I was tired.  I said ‘yes’, still not really acknowledging him, and he asked why.  I then said that it wasn’t really any of his business, and he goes “oh, so you are a rude bitch.”  I chortled to myself then pointed out to him that I wasn’t the one following a stranger down the street, before turning on my heel and walking in the opposite direction.  I actually needed to go to the street behind me anyway, but had walked the wrong way in an effort to avoid him!  I’m not sure that trying to discourage some guy who’s following me counts as bad manners, however.

The reason I was tired was partly because of the epic bus trip and lack of sleep associated with it, partly because of the late night then early morning teaching English via Skype (I now have 3 students until I go to Finland next month), and partly because I’ve been writing.  I finished the prologue/first chapter to the novel earlier today (huzzah!).  I’ve also continued working on my language skills of course, though I haven’t done any uni work in a few days.

On that note, I think I’m all written out for the day, so I’ll bid you adieu!

Yes is no, no is okay.

Congratulations, you’ve just learned some Greek!  ‘Yes’ is pronounced ‘neh’ and ‘no’ is pronounced ‘ochi’, with the ‘ch’ being like in the Scottish pronunciation of ‘loch’.  Incidentally, ‘loch’ (again the Scottish way) is roughly the equivalent of ‘douche-bag’ in Russian.  Two languages for the price of one!  So yes, Greek isn’t confusing at all.  It reminds me of when I went to Bulgaria, asked someone a question, and they said ‘yes’ but shook their head.  As it turns out, in Bulgaria, you shake your head for ‘yes’ and nod for ‘no’, and as far as I know, it’s the only country in the world that does it.

Today was a fairly random day, just chock-full of procrastination.  I got up fairly early and headed to my hostel from last year, near the Acropolis.  My intention was to go on the same walking tour as last year, because the guide is amazing and I want a refresher.  However, as it turns out, he doesn’t work on Thursdays, so I decided to go on a mission instead.

I started off by taking photos of graffiti:

I then spent quite a while trying to un-lose myself.  Again, I’m glad I can read the Greek alphabet, or I wouldn’t have had a hope with most of the street signs!  I was trying to find a jewellery store the girl from the hostel told me about.  Basically, I’ve been wearing my current snow-flake necklace for more than 4 years–and before that I had a clock necklace for 3–so I figure it’s about time to change.  I’ve decided that want I want is a silver clam-shell pendant.  It’d be cool if it had a small pearl either side, but I’m negotiable on those.  Haha and this is how I shop–decide what I want, then scour the globe looking for it!

Tragically as far as my finances are concerned, before I made it to the store I was looking for, I somehow ended up in an art store.  I re-emerged quite some time later with a beautiful little painting.  It only cost ten euro, but still: can’t afford food, buys art.  Could I be more pragmatic?

I eventually made it to the store, and it was amazing (hence the link above), but no clam-shells to be found, so the mission continued.  I went into another store, where first the lady said that “no, we don’t have things like that, only traditional Greek things”.  I pointed out to her that actually, clam shells were sacred to Aphrodite, and a recurring theme in Greek art.  She then tried to offer me a silver pendant of this calendar thing (which I saw the real version of on Crete), saying that it’s a motif of “the world’s oldest calendar.”  I asked whether the world’s oldest calendar wasn’t in fact the Mayan calendar.  She then said that in the past 30-ish years of her selling jewellery, she’d never seen a clam-shell pendant, and I pointed and said, “isn’t that one right there?”  Whyyyyyyyyyyyyy do they try the bull-shit.  Anyway, the pendant was too big and shiny, so I left it and continued on.

The next clam-shell I found was in a bead store, and it was a bit dodgy-looking and made of zinc rather than silver, but it only cost 40 cents so I bought it so that I could show jewellers what I wanted.  The lady in that shop, incidentally, thought I was a teenager–hilarious!

I then became side-tracked once more, spending a good long while in a statue and pottery shop near the art store, where I’d actually bought a couple of things last year.  This time I emerged with a beautiful little statue.  Happily, the owners bargained themselves down: perhaps they could sense that haggling is an excruciating process for me?  The statue cost me 12.50 rather than 26.  Yayyy.

I next found a clam-shell in gold, but I simply cannot stand the sight of gold.  The guys in that shop suggested I try a nearby street, where there were apparently a lot of silversmiths.  I wandered on up, and found myself suddenly installed in a chair in a huge jewellery store, with the two Greek workers in front of me.  And then it all got out of hand.  I was just being myself, which is a dangerous thing to be in shops: then they want to talk to you, instead of letting you leave!  Anyway, the jewellery designer, who was of indeterminate but past-middle age, didn’t have any clam-shells, but found this one spectacularly beautiful necklace for me.  It really was gorgeous, but even after a generous discount, too expensive; more to the point, it looked a bit too expensive for me to feel comfortable wearing it while travelling through poor countries.  The designer insisted that it would be a great Greek souvenir, and then somehow he got side-tracked into saying how sweet and lovely I was, and then talking about a cruise he went on in the Red Sea.  I’ve been there, so asked if he’d gone diving, and he said “yes”.  The next thing I know, he’s gone to the next cabinet, opened a drawer, and is coming back with his holiday photos.

The first photo he gets out to show me is literally him naked on a boat.

(I feel like that deserved a paragraph all to itself).

What’s more, as he then starts putting the rest of the photos in front of me (mainly selfies and an awkward number of crotch-shots), he puts them in one pile, with the naked photo by itself to one side.  I was pretty proud of not giggling haha.  But oh god, I then couldn’t escape until he’d shown me alllll his photos, so I was in the store for probably 45 minutes.  I felt like I’d been freed when I finally left!

While on the topic of Greek guys being …’up-front’… they really are starers in this country.  It’s weird: people in Turkey stare as well, sometimes with shock because we’re obviously not dressed as conservatively as the locals, or sometimes simply because we’re foreign and look different.  But with Greek men, either they’re appreciating you as an object of art, or as an object of lust.  It’s a lot worse.  Just now, I went out to a nearby cafe to grab some dinner, and the waiter sat me at a table in the exact middle of the dining area.  To all f&b staff everywhere:  never, and I mean never ever seat a woman eating by herself in the middle of the dining room.  Alway, always put them by a door or window.  I eat by myself a lot while travelling, and that’s totally fine: but the moment you’re put in the middle of the room, it’s like you’re on a stage.

Tonight was no exception.  To be clear, I’m not paranoid, and I don’t think I’m overwhelmingly attractive, but every single man in the restaurant was staring at me.  Continually.  Because that’s what Greeks do.  As an example, directly in front of me there was a table of two guys.  One was facing me and looking, and his friend turned sideways in his chair so that he could sit there and watch me while talking to his friend.  He didn’t even try to hide that he was looking: on the contrary, he ducked down so that he could look under the table and check out my legs.  And on that note, I fled.  Not that cool, I know, but it was really awful.  I went to the waiter and he changed my order to takeaway, and thankfully I got out of there quickly.  I still feel yucky, even thinking about it!  I wander what чё смотришь is in Greek?

Anyway, these latest blog entries are getting out of control, and I’ve got to get up at stupid o’clock to teach tomorrow morning, so I’ll be off.  Incidentally, now that I’m starting to get to know my students better, this whole Skype-teaching thing is a lot better.  For example, my student tonight was a 14-yo boy, which initially I felt a bit weird about.  Who sets it up so that their kid is being tutored via the internet, with someone they’ve never met?  But now it’s fine, and it was actually pretty hilarious this evening.  We were working on sentence stress, and in the middle of repeating “I didn’t say I saw him at the disco” with the emphasis on different words, I started laughing and asking “what on earth am I even saying?!?!”  Then again, that’s true of a terrifying amount of what actually passes my lips (and just wait til you read my book!).

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My hostel, Omonia Athens: Athens International Youth Hostel

Travelling safely

I just ended up nearly literally under arrest.  Or, if I’m exaggerating slightly less, under an arrest.  Because there’s no other way to start a Saturday morning.

This morning I got up and was told I had to change rooms at the hostel, so packed up in a flurry before heading out to try for the walking tour again.  I made my way into the city and found the tour group, but there were at least thirty million people (using Laura math, whereby ‘million’=1), so I decided to give it a pass.  I then walked to my hostel from last year again, and on an impulse, asked how much it would be to stay there for the next couple of weeks.  Even ignoring the room move/s at the hostel I was already at, I wasn’t very happy with it: it is so dirty.  Also, on my bed someone had written ‘Great night out!  12/07/82’, and I’d believe the mattresses (read: springs) were at least that old.  I have to take better care of my back than that, and after only four days on those mattresses, it’s starting to flare up.

Anyway, the lady said that it would be 26 euro a night, which is actually more than my entire daily budget combined.  She then said 25, and I said that i’d have to leave it, and not to worry about it.  She asked what I would be willing to pay, and I said that though my current hostel was really dirty, it only cost 10 euro a night, so i’d just have to stay there.  She then offered 18, and I said thank-you, but I really couldn’t, and I left the hostel.  I got as far as five metres away before I found a kitten to play with, and then on further impulse went back and asked to see a room.  Long and the short of it, I’ve ended up in a 6-bed apartment room with its own really nice bathroom and kitchenette for 15 euro a night including breakfast—so basically, that lady’s my hero.  Also, they have their own restaurant with cheap food, so it becomes viable once more 🙂

I got back to my old hostel before 11am check-out and said that I was leaving, grabbed my stuff and headed for the metro.  The subway cart was completely packed and I couldn’t figure out why—and more to the point, we weren’t going anywhere.  There was a woman with a radio walking up and down the platform, looking into all of the carriages, so I figured she was looking for something dodgy.  Then, of course, she stops outside my carriage door and gives a nod to a burly Greek policeman, who comes bustling into the carriage and heads straight for a guy in the corner, a couple of metres from me.  Naturally I had no idea what was happening, because it was all in Greek, but I could see the police-man question the guy, who looked Nigerian or some such.  The guy was becoming argumentative and the policeman was becoming rougher, then they were both standing up and started jostling.  The suspect staggered back onto me, and so I tried to be small and stay out of the way.  By this time, most of the people in the carriage were yelling (I wasn’t sure if they were angry or just being Greek), and it was getting rowdier and rowdier.

Finally, after a bit more pushing and yelling, the policeman had the guy in handcuffs, and they passed by me out of the carriage.  I decided it was now safe, so started asking people if they spoke English so I could find out what on earth had happened.  Apparently, the suspect was… suspect… in something, and the policeman had asked if he could search him.  The suspect said no, and also refused to go with or co-operate with the officer.  Then, after the first bout of yelling, he agreed to go, but tried to leave his big garbage bag full of stuff on the train, which set off the second round of yelling and pushing.  Who even knows?!

People always tell me to ‘travel safe’, but i’m seemingly incapable of staying away from trouble.  Haha at least I can now consider it ‘blog material’!

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My hostel, Omonia Athens: Athens International Youth Hostel.  Akropoli Athens: Athens Backpackers.

http://englishdictionaryfree.com/languid

The Naked Room

At the moment, I’m living a thoroughly languid life.  For the already indeterminate time I’ve been at the new hostel, I’ve spent most of the time in the room, writing and living on coffee and sunshine.  I’ve unintentionally taken all of the facets of the ‘starving artist’ stereotype on board, from the following up on free meals to the writing and dreaming in an incongruously exotic location.  The fact I’ve been reading far too much Gabriel Garcia Marquez hasn’t helped at all—on the contrary, One Hundred Years of Solitude has me imagining I’m in some magical village in the Caribbean.  To be fair though, my life does have a strangely surreal quality to it.  My first morning here in the hostel, I was awoken by somebody else’s alarm clock going off next to my head: the next thing I know, a naked Norwegian girl jumps off the top bunk opposite and comes hurtling toward my head.  I was half-asleep, thoroughly confused, and remember thinking “wtf do you think you are, an Amazon?!”.

Following this, naked girl and her equally naked friend wandered around the room for a good hour, with apparently no inclination to put clothes on.  It’s not even an all-girls’ room: on the contrary, the Italian guy opposite me was perving on them, then every time they looked around, he’d pretend to be asleep.  Fair enough that he was looking, but it got creepy when one time he opened his eyes, made eye contact with me, and winked conspiratorially, as if I were complicit in his schemes.  Eeeeew.

This particular Italian guy later showed his own aversion to clothes: he didn’t even put on pants until 15.51 in the afternoon.  On the contrary, he was walking around posing at me all day.  He also has other unusual habits, including showering for several hours every day.  He usually gets in at around 23:00 and re-emerges to cook dinner at around one in the morning. His English (or engliano, as I’ve taken to calling it) adds to the peculiarities of his character: it’s like someone from opposite-land taught him.  He says ‘hello’ rather than ‘goodbye’ and ‘good’ rather than  ‘bad’ and vice-versa.

Of course, there are also some normal people here.  There are two Polish guys in my room who are very friendly.  Last night I went with them and three other Poles (lollllll) to eat watermelon and drink wine in a park (high school??).  When I saw that the wine was in a plastic bottle, I couldn’t help but laugh: to which one guy was a little affronted, defending it by saying that’s how all of the local wine comes.

I’ve also met some very interesting people at the hostel’s breakfasts.  On the first morning I ended up talking to a Taiwanese girl who’d come to Greece specifically to see one theatre, which took us to a long conversation about different ancient Greek plays and tragedies.  On the second day I spoke with an Australian guy (which normally I avoid like the plague when travelling) who lives in Brazil and makes a living playing poker—because apparently that’s a thing.  The next day I ended up speaking with a Norwegian composer, which in turn led to a lengthy conversation about the devices employed by our favourite classical composers!  So yes, basically, I’ve been geeking out like crazy.

Apart from being in the room writing and reading and variously procrastinating, I haven’t done that much.  I’ve been to the beach twice which has been lovely (albeit busy), though I had a very strange moment yesterday when a guy started swimming after me trying to talk.  Really: he saw me enter the water and swim out to sea, and decided that it would be a great idea to follow me and try to make my acquaintance.  Wtf Greek guys, wtf.

And on that note, I need to go and eat before I dieeeee.

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My Athens hostel: Athens Studios

http://www.louisaavery.com/2011/08/hot-cold-climate-cultures-part-1/

Countries hot and cold

In Russia, people would always tell me how because I’m from a hot country, my personality doesn’t suit being in a cold country like theirs.  The theory goes that people from warm places are ‘warm’ people, open and friendly, while people from cold places have (you’ll never guess) ‘cold’, reserved personalities.  I personally think this is all rot.  Especially given that in the last twenty-four hours, I’ve had ‘warm’ experiences with people from locations as diverse as Finland, Canada, Italy and Argentina.

Yesterday I went to meet a lady who I swapped details with at the climate conference in Istanbul the other week.  She had what sounded like a promising idea, so she sent me some of her project management plan and materials to have a look over.  I thought it was great, and when we realised that we were both in Athens, we decided to meet up.

As it turns out, the lady is the wife of the Finnish Ambassador, and so the meeting took place at their massive house in the suburbs.  It was crazy (and also really nice)!  I played with the two girls for a while as the lady made lunch, then we discussed the project for a few hours, and it does sound like an interesting venture.  She wants someone like me to handle the Australian part, which is something I’m very open to: but of course, que sera sera.

After we’d finished our extended brain-storm/meeting, we and the two girls went and jumped in the pool.  The youngest daughter had to leave for tennis lessons shortly afterward though, and she was distraught.  She was crying that she ‘didn’t realise how fun Laura would be’, and didn’t want to leave.  Haha in the end, I agreed to go to an adventure park with them all on Tuesday (thankfully, their shout—not sure my budget of 10 euro a day after accommodation will stretch that far haha!)

It wasn’t much longer before it was time for me to rush off, too.  I needed to get back to near my hostel by 6pm, to pick up some business cards I’d had made.  You meet so many people travelling, and I was finding I was writing my details down a couple of times a day.  15 euro well-spent!  I didn’t realise quite how well-spent until later, however.

A few hours later, I was back in the hostel room with the pants-less Italian (who has since developed both a name and a personality, so we’re kind of almost friends-ish now), when four new guys checked in to take our empty beds.  These guys were all from Argentina, and so incredibly good-looking that the next day I went down to tell the front desk girl that I loved all of the hostel’s staff for putting them in my room (when the girl saw them later, she was rendered almost speechless as well).  Again, no objectification here.

http://rapgenius.com/The-palmer-squares-spooky-language-lyrics#note-911816

Anyway, one of the guys was just spectacular—one of the most beautiful men I’ve ever seen in my life.  Sadly though, I was in the linguistic minority last night, so didn’t talk to any of them, just listened to the Spanish and Italian flying around.  I can pick up the gist sometimes thanks to having had studied French for so long, but mainly I just read my book.  I was super-tired, anyhow.

This morning I woke up (no, shit.), and two of the other Argentinians told me that they were from Buenos Aires and checking out today.  I still hadn’t had the chance to speak with  Zoolander, but had to give up the opportunity as I was teaching an English lesson on Skype.  Then, in what was a clear flash of genius, I wrote down when I’d be in Buenos Aires on the back of a business card and gave it to him.  Classiest girl in the world.  (A few minutes later was a proud one for me, when the guy waved bye, said he’d see me in BA, and winked—and I didn’t giggle.  Because that would have been a somewhat awkward thing to explain to my student haha!)

Back to my fairly vague point for today: it seems to me that I’m Australian but more than a little Russified (so am lacking in temperature identity?!), then both Finnish and Latino people are equally warm.  I can’t understand where this ‘warm’ and ‘hot’ countries/people thing came from.  Just another of the many cultural traditions in Russia which serve to put people in the the ‘Other’ box I suppose.