Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Pirate Talk

[The ugly dirty pirates]

Last night I saw The Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Man's Chest. It was good (I'm a Johnny Depp fan). But what I found particularly hilarious was some of the dialogue taking place between the ugly, dirty, yet somehow linguistically oriented pirates:

[The premiere...]

Pirate: Let's get away from this island and head out to open sea.
Captain: Yes to the first. Yes to the second, but only insofar as we keep to the shallows.
Pirate: That seems a bit contradictory, Captain.
Captain: I have faith in your reconciliatory navigational skills. Now, where is that monkey? I want to shoot something.

Captain: Mr. Gibbs.
Pirate: Captain.
Captain: We have a need to travel upriver.
Pirate: By need, do you mean a trifling need? Fleeting? As in, say, a passing fancy?
Captain: No, a resolute and unyielding need.

Pirate 1: And it is what lay inside the chest you seek, don't it?
Pirate 2: What is inside? Gold? Jewels? Unclaimed properties
of a valuable nature? Nothing bad, I hope?...

Pirate 1: A man of the sea. A great sailor, until he run afoul of that
which vex all men.
Pirate 2: What vexes all men?
Pirate 1: What indeed?
Pirate 2: The sea? Sums? The dichotomy of good and evil?... A woman?
Pirate 1: A woman.... He fell in love.

Pirate 1: What exactly did he put into the chest?
Pirate 2: Him heart.
Pirate 1: Literally or figuratively?

Pirate 1 (in boat): You're pulling too fast.
Pirate 2: You're pulling too slow.
Pirate 1: We don't want the kraken to catch us.
Pirate 2: I'm saving me strength for when it comes.
Pirate 2: And I don't think it's "Kracken" anyways. I always heard it said "Krayken".
Pirate 1: With a long "a"?
Pirate 2: Uh-huh.
Pirate 1: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. "Krocken" is how it's pronounced in Scandinavian, and "Kracken" is closer to that.
Pirate 2: We ain't Scandinavians, are we? "Krayken."
Pirate 1: It's a mythological creature. I can calls it what I wants.

Pirate 1: How'd this go all screwy?
Pirate 2: Well, each wants the chest for hisself. Mr. Norrington, I think, is trying to regain a bit of honor, old Jack's looking to trade it, save his own skin, then Turner, there, I think he's trying
to settle some unresolved business 'twixt him and his twice-cursed pirate father. (belches)
Pirate 1: Sad...

Captain: My intuitive sense of the female creature informs me that you are troubled.
Lady: I just thought I'd be married by now.
Captain: I'm so ready to be married.

Captain: We are very much alike, you and I. I and you. Us.
Lady: Oh. Except for a sense of honor and decency and a moral center. And personal hygiene.
Captain: Trifles...

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


The blue elephant on the buka's diapers play with wind-up cars and airplanes:
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And even more traditional toys like blocks, dolls, trains, and...

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cell phones!

Monday, February 26, 2007


[Some random Japanese kindergarten that P is unlikely to end up in]

P has hoovered all the floors, cleaned all the windows, wiped all the dishes, loaded and unloaded the washing machine more times than he cares to, raced through the living room on his motorbike all he can bother to, swinged in his swing and jumped on his trampoline until the swing and the trampoline said oof... and so I think it's time for him to move to bigger things in his life.

Enter kindergarten! (but not yet...)

Today I visited the last kindergarten on the list. I've heard the same speech six or seven times, about how children must be treated with respect like adults, how they must be encouraged to learn without pressuring them, making sure they enjoy the process, and of course how much this will cost me (a pretty penny, in a nutshell).

But what stroke me with every visit and tour I was given, is the size of everything. Little tables, little chairs, little toilets, little lunches, and of course... little people.

Little is important.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

so far so good

with the new woman. She’s got a spunk I admire. She told me she’d spent 30 years arguing with her husband and working for nothing in a factory. Her children were grown, and her grandchildren were growing. She decided to do something for herself for a change. She set off on her own from her home (in a neighboring Balkan country) and landed in Anogeia, where she spent a year working for some kind of syndicate that recruited foreign workers. She picked up enough Greek, with the strong Cretan accent they have in Anogeia, to leave the syndicate and find domestic work, for the mother of a government minister, as it turned out. She goes back to her home in the neighboring Balkan country every once in a while, to see her children and grandchildren and presumbaly the husband she can’t be bothered to divorce, but she’s got a boyfriend here, and an apartment with a girlfriend. She seems happy.

I try to judge her on her own merits and not in comparison with her predecessor, but either way, I think she’s great. She’s nothing but smiles and enthusiasm with the buka, who returns the smiles and enthusiasm in equal measure. And with me, she’s all compliments and comraderie. She tells me I look nice when I’m dressed for work; she says I have a nice, gentle way with the buka. She makes an effort to ask how I am, to get to know me. But she’s here for a job. I’m cautious about getting too friendly too fast.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Closing time

[Painting by Elizabeth Laishley]

Ah, we're drinking and we're dancing
And the band is really happening
And the Johnny Walker wisdom running high

And my very sweet companion

She's the angel of compassion
She's rubbing half the world against her thigh

And every drinker every dancer

Lifts a happy face to thank her
The fiddler fiddles something so sublime

All the women tear their blouses off

And the men they dance on the polka-dots
And it's partner found and it's partner lost
And it's hell to pay when the fiddler stops
It's closing time

Ah, we're lonely, we're romantic
And the cider's laced with acid
And the holy spirit's crying, where's the beef?

And the moon is swimming naked

And the summer night is fragrant
With a mighty expectation of relief

So we struggle and we stagger

Down the snakes and up the ladder
To the tower where the blessed hours chime

And I swear it happened just like this

A sigh, a cry, a hungry kiss
The gates of love they budged an inch
I can't say much has happened since
But closing time

And I loved you for your beauty
But that doesn't make a fool of me
You were in it for your beauty too

And I loved you for your body

There's a voice that sounds like God to me
Declaring, declaring,
declaring that your body's really you

And I loved you when our love was blessed

And I love you now there's nothing left
But sorrow and a sense of overtime

And I missed you since the place got wrecked

And I just don't care what happens next,
Looks like freedom but it feels like death
It's something in between, I guess
Its closing time

Yeah, I missed you since our place got wrecked
By the winds of change and the weeds of sex
And it looks like freedom but it feels like death
It's something in between, I guess
Its closing time

Yeah, we're drinking and we're dancing
But there's nothing really happening
And the place is dead as heaven on a Saturday night

And my very close companion

Gets me fumbling gets me laughing
She's a hundred but she's wearing something tight

And I lift my glass to the awful truth

Which you can't reveal to the ears of youth
Except to say it isn't worth a dime

And the whole damn place goes crazy twice

And it's once for the devil and it's once for Christ
But the boss don't like these dizzy heights
We're busted in the blinding lights
Of closing time

--- Leonard Cohen, The Future, 1997

Friday, February 23, 2007

grandma's letter

That's Thelma in the middle, and Mildred on the right. 1983.

I wrote about my grandma’s dress. Coincidentally, less than a month ago, my grandma’s youngest sister, my great aunt Mildred, died. Her daughters have been going through her house, and turning up the usual collections of correspondence, photos, and keepsakes from the years, some of which they’ve “returned” to my parents. They found a great letter from Thelma to Mildred written from my grandparents’ weekend cabin in the mountains, where my granddad had a great time fishing and gardening, and my grandma went nuts with boredom and berry collecting.

click to read

I’d love to copy the whole thing out here -- it's so gossipy and spirited and fun -- but it’s also tedious. Very typical desperate housewife stuff, stuff I never thought I’d understand so well.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Undercover indeed

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

accidents happen

The driver approached the T. He stopped at the stop sign and allowed a pedestrian to cross. He wanted to turn right, so he looked to his left. Visibility was blocked by two cars, both parked illegally on the corner, the second doubleparked alongside the first. The driver inched out, and the front corner of the car was clipped out of nowhere by an oncoming motorbike, traveling fast and very close to the righthand side of the road. The motorbike flipped, sending its rider to the ground, and at the same time, striking that pedestrian in the back, flattening him in the median.

An ambulance came within minutes. The police took their time. It looked bad. The motorbike guy had a broken ankle, possibly a concussion. The pedestrian said he was okay but was held in the hospital for six hours for tests. Neither the car nor its driver suffered a scratch, but charges were pending. He had the stop sign. Legally speaking, no matter the conditions, he was at fault.

He called his lawyer. If the injuries had been any worse, she told him, you would have been arrested. Things looked very bad.


It was discovered that the guy on the motorbike had been driving without a license. Not only that, but the bike was determined to be a full-size motorcycle, despite its deceptively small wheels that made it look like a scooter, which requires a special class of license. And not only that, but the driver happened to be a citizen of a neighboring Balkan country. Whether he has a residence permit or not, and whether he is in any way to blame or not, being involved in an accident without having a license constitutes automatic grounds for deportation. Considering his country of origin, this was a near certainty. His employer, the actual owner of the motorbike, asked the driver of the car to report to the police that he had been the one using it at the time of the accident, just so his insurance would cover the damage, he said. That’s preposterous, the driver of the car replied. He was already in trouble; he wasn’t about to lie to the police, especially about something that would open himself up to a world of new liability.

In the end, or so it seems, nothing happened or will: no report was made, no charges were filed. The ankle will heal, and the ordeal will be forgotten.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Monday, February 19, 2007

clean monday

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Everybody loves lagana.

The almond trees are the first to bloom, wispy, white, and fragrant. The peach trees are next, I think, their blossoms faintly pink. It’s winter in Heraklion, here on the northern coast. In the village, in the south, spring is already on its way to summer. The sun is high and bright; the sky, cloudless, windless, and blue. Yesterday was the perfect day to visit, to take pictures, and to eat, since the fast is about to begin.

The buka was on her best behavior. She put all her sensitivities aside and let her grandmother, her great-grandmother, and all the little old ladies from the village fuss loudly over her, and do whatever old women do when they get around babies. It wasn’t so easy for me. “The first person who ever held you, the first person who ever fed you, that was me!” That was the mil, of course.

But the buka has her way. She showed them who comes first now.

The best moment was when one of the women hilariously confused the buka with her mother. “Look, she’s thinking about something,” observed the mil.

Her crony didn’t miss a beat: “Το γκόμενο.”

Sunday, February 18, 2007


I just finished watching The Lives of Others , a quite amazing movie about the horrifying system of observation in the former East Germany, controlled by the "Stasi", a sophisticated, cunning, and thorough secret police.

And then I read some stuff about Extraordinary Rendition , something that is happening right now throughout Europe. In a nutshell, United States CIA agents roam through European countries, and when they see someone they would like to question, they kidnap them, fly them to some third world country, question and torture them for a few months, and then either release them around where they had found them, or dump them into Guantanamo.

According to Wikipedia:

Extraordinary rendition (which critics have dubbed torture by proxy) is an American extra-judicial procedure which involves the sending of untried criminal suspects, suspected terrorists or alleged supporters of groups which the US Government considers to be terrorist organizations, to countries other than the United States for imprisonment and interrogation. Critics have also called this practice "torture flights". Reportedly, in a number of cases (such as Khalid El-Masri and Maher Arar) the practice of "extraordinary rendition" has been applied to innocent civilians.

This is no joke. Have a look at:

  • The European Parliament resolution on the "alleged" use of European countries by the CIA for the transportation and illegal detention of prisoners. (February 2007)

  • BBC News "Europe under 'rendition' cloud" story (February 2007)

  • Bush admitting to CIA secret prisons.

  • And many more sources therein.

  • I find it quite extraordinary that these things are still tolerated. I mean OK, the DDR was back then, and there was a big wall all around it. But the US? And now? So much for the land of freedom.

    Saturday, February 17, 2007

    exercise, in futility

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    It’s no fun (or so fun?) beating a dead horse. Painting by Nguyen Trung.

    Friday, February 16, 2007

    Toilet training

    I'm thrilled to present to you the Top 7 books that usually reside in my bathroom. Their purpose there is to accompany me in those private moments that I am sure we all appreciate and look forward to every day (usually). They have been selected wisely for the very specific purpose of massaging the brain waves into the shape required for the task at hand (oops!).

    1. The mosaic book

    This was given to me by my brother as a present. He's totally nuts, and so are all his presents. I have no interest in making a mosaic whatsoever, and never had. Still, flipping through these pages, filled with little colored bits and pieces, has proven very effectively hypnotising.

    2. Traveler's guide to south Italy

    No idea how that found its way in the bathroom. I was probably looking at something once, and it got trapped there. I take a look at it from time to time, mainly at the pictures of little harbours and fish markets and traditional Sicilian dresses. Very relaxing.

    3. Oil painting guide

    Now this is really interesting. All these different techniques for mixing colours and setting up your canvas and brush strokes and adding final touches are really stimulating.

    4. The (new) lawn expert

    This book turned out to be a bad choice. It filled me with stress about the lousy state of my small lawn. I would browse it forward and backward, looking at the descriptions of the damage each kind of worm or pest can do to a lawn and see which one most resembles mine. Then I'd read the recommended remedies and give up. After a while I refused to look at it any more.

    5. The undercover economist

    This is a gift from a friend. It's great! I don't know anything about economics, and I read a couple of paragraphs a time. It makes me feel happy that I can sort of understand it...

    6. The Merck manual of medical information

    This is a leftover from the pre-google era. Now I find any information I need online, but back then it was a really precious book to own. Of course I still don't have wireless coverage in the bathroom (or do I? gotta check...), and even if I did I wouldn't want to expose my laptop to all that humidity, so it's very appropriate. I read a couple of conditions and a time, and more often than not I end up thinking "hey, now wait a minute, I think I could have that too!" And I love all those little illustrations!

    7. Small apartments

    This appeals to the wanna-be architect inside me. I like to see all the clever little stylish solutions people have thought of. And I wonder how many people can really afford such hot-shot architects. And whether I could have thought of that first. The problem is that I could never live in any of those houses. It's not the size, it's just that... you feel like you don't wanna touch anything in there.

    So that's my bathroom's contribution to my continuing, daily education.

    Thursday, February 15, 2007

    the sleeping incident

    Obviously there’s been some tension between me and the woman. Everyone told me from the beginning to be patient with her, because nobody would do things exactly as I would do them, and the buka wouldn’t be the same with anyone else as she was with me. I understood all that. I was prepared for it.

    When the buka cried, I told the woman, let her cry. She’ll calm herself down when she’s ready. Don’t overwhelm her with rattly toys or too much attention. She might need to close her eyes or doze off a little. Let her do that, but in general, I don’t want her sleeping in the afternoon. She has to get tired so she can sleep well at night.

    The woman had her own ideas, one of which apparently included putting the buka in her stroller, wheeling her to the bedroom in the furthest corner of the house, and leaving her alone there in the dark, with the door closed, and the cat inside. This happened one day last week. She had parked the stroller directly beside the bed where Paschalis was sleeping. It wouldn’t have required much imagination or effort on his part to jump right in with the buka. She’s nice and warm and great for snuggling. The cat is no dummy. The woman, meanwhile, snuggled herself down into the couch, in the living room, on the opposite side of the house, lights off, blanket on, TV softly flickering with afternoon talk shows.

    When I finished my lesson, this is how I found things: the woman was fast asleep on the couch (I tried talking to her, no reaction) and the buka was wide awake in the stroller, alone (thank you very much, cat). I took the buka with me and just let the woman wake up on her own, to see how she would handle things.

    So you’ve got the baby? she asked, half an hour later. Well, somebody has to, I said. I told her it was really dangerous to leave the buka alone where nobody could hear her, especially with the cat there. Oh, now I have to watch the cat? she said. No, I said, your job is to watch the BABY and not sleep on the couch. It was the first time, she assured me. Maybe it was, and everybody makes mistakes. But what she did with the baby was a serious mistake in judgment, and what she did with herself -- snuggle down in the couch and then get surprised when she falls asleep -- was just plain stupid. And after talking about all this for ten minutes or so, I told her, what made the biggest impression on me was that she didn’t even apologize.

    Oh, a thousand sorries, she said. It was… what’s it called… a pity.

    I couldn’t agree more. And a new woman starts this week.

    Wednesday, February 14, 2007

    Valentine this!

    I thought I'd post something mildly relevant to the occasion. You know, hearts and flowers and all that...

    This is the scene from the Indiana Jones movie where the really scary guy (a decent Bollywood actor that passed away a couple of years ago, actually) rips out the poor irrelevant guy's (a less known but probably still alive Bollywood actor) heart, by simply pushing his hand into his ribcage. He pulls the heart out, holds it up, and the heart is still beating, and the scary guy is looking at it thinking "yummy!", and the poor guy is looking at it thinking "what the...?!", and I am looking at the cinema screen thinking "this is SO cool!".

    I would have spent more time wondering how it's possible to simply push your hand inside another person's chest and pull their heart out while it's still beating, but then we got to that other scene where they are all sitting around the table eating monkey's brains straight from the skulls, and I forgot all about the heart.


    While we are on the subject, here's a bit of wisdom that unfortunately came to me too late. Or possibly almost too late, but that's not for me to say.

    A broken heart is a broken heart. You can't attack it with arguments and equations and (sometimes valid, sometimes stupid) points. You just don't do that. You have to be silent, respectful, humble. You have to pause and try to feel what it feels. Because there's nothing worse than being the owner of a broken heart, and if you don't see that, then you are on your way to becoming one as well. Provided of course that you are not one already.

    I've been a big fool. But it's Valentine's day, so perhaps I can be forgiven...

    Tuesday, February 13, 2007

    grandma's dress

    (Tuesday the 13th)

    My aunt’s a little nuts. Her nuttiness is usually restricted to well-meaning but ridiculously impractical gifts: a cheapo disposable camera for a person who’s really into photography, a stack of heavy porcelain cat plates for a person who lives abroad and has to travel light. She bought a light, in fact, for the buka, without considering that, unless it’s plugged into a firetrap adapter, it can’t be used here in Greece.

    She outdid herself this time. First of all, she sent me a box back in October, an “early birthday” box that was supposed to arrive in plenty of time for my birthday in November. The box arrived last week. She had sent it “economy post,” whatever that means, and had been holding a grudge against me for all these months, because, as she told my dad, our hapless go-between, I had never sent her a thank-you note. I didn’t even know about the package, til my dad asked if I had written the darn note. Of course not.

    Well, like I said, I got the box. In it was a tacky “birthstone” picture frame, a tacky “birthstone” pin, a fluffy mama chicken + baby chicken for the buka, and a bag of old and mildewed clothes that belonged to my grandma Thelma. “I’ve kept them twelve years -- since she died -- and I thought it was time to pass them on,” wrote my aunt. “P.S. Mother sewed her dress herself on that machine in the back bedroom.”
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    That’s nice, but what am I supposed to do with it? A dress like that has never been in fashion. It’s as big as a house and coming apart at the seams, besides the fact that, well, you don’t have to be very superstitious at all to feel superstitious about wearing a dead person’s clothes. “Don’t let the mil find out you’ve got that,” I was warned. I think I’m with the mil on this one.

    Monday, February 12, 2007


    Olympic Corn Flakes
    We were on the train with P, and the announcement went "Next stop, Olympic Complex". But P thought they said Corn Flakes, instead of Complex. So he looked at me and said "Corn Flakes?!". He loves Corn Flakes... I said, no, they didn't say Corn Flakes, they said Complex! Of course he didn't believe me, and started demanding Corn Flakes louder and louder, until the whole train was laughing at us.

    The backwards beggar*
    Earlier we had walked past some person begging for money at the side of the street. I gave that person some change, and then I took time to explain to P how some people are in more need than others, and we should always try to help when we can, and one never knows when one might be in need of help, while he seemed to completely ignore me.

    Now he decided to put to practice what I had taught him. He sat on the side of the street, extended his arm, put on a sad expression and started chanting "Take money, take money...".

    * Thanks for the title, Sissy.

    Sunday, February 11, 2007


    The buka gets lots of attention wherever we go. Everybody has to hold her little hand or touch her little cheek. That really bothers some mothers. It doesn’t bother me. What does bother me is that all the attention she gets has to come with an equal measure of commentary for me.

    It usually has to do with the buka being cold. For the record, I sincerely believe the buka has never been cold a day in her life. Look how red she is, said one lady, maybe she’s cold. She’s red because she’s hot, I answered, snuggling her up against my wool sweater in the frontpack baby carrier thing. There was no chance she’d be cold in there, and most of the time, we both come home in it sweating.

    Her eyes are so bright! said the supermarket lady, whose daughter is roughly the same age as the buka. They’ll turn darker when you stop nursing. What does that have to do with it? I asked. They all have bright blue eyes while they’re nursing, she said. Okay.

    She can’t see anything, but I love babies, said a man last week.

    Her hands are small and HARD! And STICKY! says my friend’s three-year-old.

    Even the pediatrician has given me an earful. I may not be Greek, she’s told me twice now, but the buka is, and she’s going to have trouble adjusting to life in Greece if I keep the house too quiet.

    The real winners come from the woman. She doesn’t like the buka’s clothes; they’re either too much or not enough or too tight or too loose. She can’t understand, she tells me repeatedly, why I feed the buka before her bath, and not after. That’s not what I remember, she says, every single time. Her latest theory is that the buka cries because she can’t pee. What does that mean? I shouted, finally losing my patience. Are you saying she has a UTI?! The woman backed down a little, but she had to get the last word. It’s not the first time I’ve noticed it, she said.

    Saturday, February 10, 2007

    A game of small balls

    [Bjorn Borg, 1978]

    Around the time Borg was asleep on that plane next to all his rackets, my journey into the game of tennis was just starting. He was my first idol. It was either all that long hair, or his FILA T-shirts and shorts, I can't be sure. But definitely not his game, cause at that time I knew nothing of it.

    The first lessons we did side by side with my brother, an old and extremely boring (and bored) teacher across us on the other side of the court. He'd throw balls at us, and we'd take turns catapulting them into oblivion, while he was busy chatting away with the equally old, boring (and bored) teacher from the adjacent court.

    Things were going nowhere fast, until one day something happened that brought all the excitement and determination that was missing from our game. The teacher showed up with a big ham and cheese sandwich, which he placed on one of the two poles the net was attached to. He'd stop every now and then to take a bite and put it back there.

    All of a sudden, with just a silent look, my brother and I knew what the game was all about: Hitting that sandwich off the pole! We'd take turns aiming at it, sometimes we'd even push each other out of the way to try again. Now that was a real exciting game!

    Of course the sandwich was never hit. It would slowly disappear into our teacher's belly, bite after bite, lesson after lesson. The reason was obvious to both of us: He was a bad teacher...

    That all ended when my dad, who sponsored our lessons and also served on the tennis club board (maybe he still does, I don't know), at some point decided it was in the best interest of everyone if we followed alternative athletic endeavours (which led my brother into judo or karate or something of the sort, and myself to basketball and a series of embarrassing nicknames, but that's another post).

    Around my Hopkins years I decided to take it up again. This time I was paying for my own lessons, and I also had a couple of people to really play with, and it was different. Within few years I reached a level I was relatively satisfied with. And then I gave it all up again.

    Recently I decided to give it another go. This time the teacher is younger than me, and I'm slower than him. He said I have "strong bases", and we can make progress fast. He insists I should play lower and faster, while I run and pant out of breath up and down the court thinking "yeah, right...", and then bend over my racket, one hand between it and my chest, the other raised in a faint "sorry, man..." gesture while the balls zoom left and right of me and smash onto the chickenwire surrounding the court behind me.

    But I managed to surprise him with a couple of slick, topspin shots, and even had a chance to see his look of surprise. He even applauded some between his left hand and his racket. One almost hit him on the... well, balls actually, causing me to shout "Ooops!!!", but he was cool about it.

    I'm not the next Bjorn Borg, for sure. But you should see my FILA shirts!

    Friday, February 09, 2007

    a doll’s house

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    I bought a toy for the buka. In the bag from the toyshop, I found an advertisement for other toys -- classic, well-made wooden barns, trainyards, and dollhouses. In all the sets, the “families” consist of a father and a mother, and a boy and a girl. White-haired, well-dressed grandparents sold separately.

    My heart goes to my throat when I see little kids, just toddling along, holding their mom’s hand on one side, and their dad’s on the other.

    There are whole imagined scenarios in my head about what it must be like to watch a child in wonder and delight, and to feel all those feelings wordlessly multiplied by sharing the experience with somebody else whose feelings are exactly the same.

    I chose a lonely life when I moved to Greece, or sometime before. But it’s not what I wanted for the buka.

    Thursday, February 08, 2007


    She said she couldn't see his eyes, because he was asleep, in a big room in the basement. And she really just wanted to see his eyes.

    Since then, the basement has become a little warmer. I almost don't need to wear my funny socks any more...

    Wednesday, February 07, 2007


    I haven’t been sleeping well lately. Actually, I fall asleep with my face in a book and sleep great -- for about an hour. And then I wake up in a panic and spend the rest of the night tossing and turning and trying to figure out why. Rather, I try not to think about the stuff that sends me into a panic, but it’s hard, because I’m already there. Sometimes I cry all night. The effort of not crying makes it worse, and thinking of him, in some room far away, sleeping, or not sleeping. I chase my thoughts around in circles: if he didn’t love me enough then, when we were in the thick of it, he can’t possibly love me enough now, when things are thin, very thin. Skeletal.

    The buka starts kicking around and talking to herself around 6:30 or 7. She sucks her thumb, and goes back to sleep for a while, then she starts kicking around again and talking to herself (and maybe to me)... until finally, I manage to put on my happy face to go and greet her around 8:15 or 8:30. She’s all smiles in the morning. She loves waking up, and sitting up, and looking into the morning sun. I change her on the big bed, where she can really kick her chubby little legs and roll her chubby little body right over. She never, ever cries in the morning.

    Tuesday, February 06, 2007

    Three letter words



    Monday, February 05, 2007


    Some guests came for the weekend, some people I hadn’t seen or talked to once since the birth -- since the pregnancy, I should say. Maybe it’s my Scorpio nature, but these slights stay in my book for a long time. I’m not interested in revenge. I just find it hard to forgive or forget.

    That’s true for any bad experience, as I realized in retelling the events of the birth. The guests pooh-poohed me, of course, saying the usual platitudes, I’m fine and the buka’s fine, so I just have to get over it and do better on the next one. I wonder if it’s really that easy to dismiss somebody’s feelings, or if the real problem is that the feelings are too hard and too complex and too personal to face?

    The doctor said it would take 90 days for my stitches to dissolve, and the pain would disappear when they did. I’m still in pain and my uterus isn’t right. Physically, I never expected, or wanted, to be the same after giving birth as I was before. I can talk about that. And I don’t think it’s necessary to spend time in my body to imagine what it’s like to have a 5-inch incision across your belly. But there are other things I can barely say out loud, or even to myself. Things impossible for men to understand, and probably most women. My mom gave me some good Dr. Phil advice: to put those things away in a box where I can visit them sometimes. It’s silly advice, it doesn’t really help, but I think that’s the only thing you can do with experiences too profound to share in a way that other people can really understand. It’s the loneliest thing in the world, but no lonelier than trying, and failing, to explain them.

    Also this weekend, there was an earthquake. I was curled up on the couch half-sleeping through “One Tree Hill,” and Paschalis was curled up behind my knees. I felt the tremors, but I thought it was him, scratching sth, or licking sth, or moving. I looked up, and he was sound asleep. Later I found out it was a 5.8 on the Richter scale; the epicenter was somewhere in the sea.

    Sunday, February 04, 2007

    Prestigious illusions

    Having recently entered a period of frantic torrenting (so sue me...), I found myself doing a double DVD night, in my cold humid basement. I watched, back to back, two superficially very similar movies:

    The Illusionist


    The Prestige

    They share very similar eras, atmospheres and stories.

    One thing that made the first one clearly superior to me was the cast. The Edward Norton / Paul Giamatti pair (both at the very top of my most admired actors list), was just too strong for competition.

    But in the end, what really made me comfortable with the first, and uneasy with the second, is that the Prestige is all about people misguided, obsessed, lost. Whereas the Illusionist is about a noble pursuit of something real and worthwhile.

    Which, I guess, makes it a good fable. I like fables...

    Saturday, February 03, 2007

    the cookie incident

    The woman likes sweets. When she started, there were still lots of little chocolates and candies around the house, left over from the holidays. I put them in cut glass bowls on the kitchen counter -- dangerous, pretty, and irresistible that way. When I noticed them disappearing, and not, as usual, into my mouth, I was pleased. The more she ate, the less the temptation for me. Then, after she’d leave for the night, I started finding chocolate wrappers all over the place -- in the buka’s stroller, on the bed, on the floor, in the bathroom trashcan. How many was she eating?

    I’ve written before about how great Greeks are about giving gifts. They never come over empty-handed. So when a friend came to visit one afternoon, she brought me a big box of cookies from a bakery, all wrapped up with a gold ribbon. There were chocolate cookies, butter cookies, and cinnamon cookies, about ten of each. We each tried one, with our tea. A little later, as I was leaving the house, I offered the woman “a cookie.” When I returned, there were chocolate cookies. Only chocolate cookies.

    The next day, I had an appointment and came back late, after the woman had left. I looked all around the kitchen, and finally found the box, but not the cookies. She’d eaten them all.

    I don’t really care about the cookies. But the whole story, which has left me slightly obsessed with cookies, makes me wonder. Could the woman be hungry? She was given permission to help herself to whatever she wants while she’s here, so I can’t really fault her. Still, eating all the cookies in somebody else’s home -- that’s just not cool.

    Friday, February 02, 2007

    The late lake

    I've been quite concerned about the vanishing lake Chad, lately.

    [Lake Chad in 1972]

    I was watching that documentary on global warming, and I couldn't believe it. I took a look at it in Google Earth, and I thought... rats, it's really gone! Almost gone...

    [Lake Chad in 2001]

    A quick search and I found the above pair of images. The entire lake, about the size of Sicily around the time my brother was born, is now reduced to almost nothing.

    I was telling my environmentalist friend Alex, about how it really looks like the earth is doomed. He laughed and said don't worry about the earth. It's just raising a fever to get rid of the annoying virus, and will keep going. I guess he's right...

    So now I'm a virus looking for bugs...

    Thursday, February 01, 2007

    bread and butter

    Learn how to make your own rabbit rabbit(!), with or without underwear, here.

    So now that I’ve got the woman, I’ve started doing lessons again in the afternoons. I’ve found new students here and there. It was hard, but not impossible, to build my student base back up from none. I’ll probably start back at the school again in the summer, but for now I’m a free agent.

    During the very stressful period between not having and having a woman, I happened to receive the quarterly newsletter of an English-teacher association to which I belong. It included an article on private lessons, which very explicitly stated that teachers who really know what they’re doing not only can charge “rather a lot” for private lessons, but should. The article included some very specific figures about what we should be getting for quality work at advanced levels; those figures made my head spin, til I finally decided to email the author, to ask if he was for real.

    He wrote me back. He was very nice, a bit mercenary by his own admission, but nice, and quite liberal with his advice. I already had the occasion, and the additional considerations that every hour I work, I not only have to pay the woman, but also lose that time with the buka; he gave me the encouragement I needed to raise my rates. I’m not charging anywhere near the prices he suggested, but what I found out is that it’s really just a matter of asking for it.


    Meanwhile, I’ve been helping a friend edit an article she wrote in English about folk arts and traditions in Crete. In one village, she wrote, they celebrate Easter with fireworks and crackers.