It’s a big deal this year, because as some of you may remember, I wrote like a mad woman last NaNoWriMo (and even wrote on my phone while riding trains and sitting in a theater during intermission). But then I got the flu, the real kind, and I ended up spending one of the last nights of NaNo in the emergency room. . .
Still ended 40,004 words, but it’s not the same.
But onto happier things, like malawach. Here’s the story:
A teacher friend dropped me off at a grocery store after school, and well, that grocery store, being on Avenue M and all, is full of Israeli and kosher products. In truth, I was there for mini cupcakes to bring to my fourth graders tomorrow. They’ve been doing a fabulous job with their animation and their morning prayers (I teach technology and Tefillah – I multitask). And I got to 50K. So I figured it was time for a party.
So there I was in the freezer section, and suddenly my basement divas just had to have malawach. And schug. I bought them hummus, too because why not. All in honor of my hero, Ishay.
Now, the divas were a little unsure about the schug idea. The stuff’s H-O-T. But I assured them that even though I’m Ashkenazi, I can handle it.
So that’s what I had for dinner, while listening to this episode of StoryWonk Daily and my novel playlist. Afterwards, I topped off my word count with 305 more words. Nothing like a blast of hot peppers to spark the words, right?
Point is. . . Feeding your muse works! So it doesn’t matter that my mouth is still on fire from the schug.
P.S. Don’t be mocking the paper plate. I just finished NaNoWriMo. I need dishes like a hole in the head.
Well. Sadly, I am back from my summer adventure. I was gone for over two months, and now I’m home, and back at work. Creature’s back too.
It’s like I never left.
But even though they don’t seem real, I still have a few stories and pictures to share. Specifically, of some of the animal friends I made this summer.
There was the frog who showed up in front of my door one morning. The cats and dogs who showed up in the garden above my patio (I was in a basement), and a whole bunch of others (but I’m leaving the mosquitos and flies off that list, thank you very much).
But there are two animal friends I feel especially attached to.
The first is Morty, my cousin’s dog:
First of all, my cousin (well, rather her husband) has about 10 dogs. But they’re not pets. They work with and for him in the greenhouses.
Now, Morty’s whole lifestyle left me with a few questions. First off, his name. I have an Uncle Morty, on my mom’s side, who’s in his 90’s, Jewish, and from Queens. It’s just not a name I’d expect for a Cretan dog.
Second, he’s the only dog who came home and didn’t live at the greenhouses. When I asked why, I was given the following reasons:
1. He’s “a little stupid.”
2. He needs training. (I didn’t know the Greek word for training, so they told me they were “making him school” which I understood.)
But who are they trying to fool? My theory is that he was brought home because he’s the most social dog in the pack and he managed to charm them all. I think my cousin’s husband liked walking him in the mountains in the evenings. My cousin herself, who claimed to be annoyed by his presence, would took him in the eye and ask him, “Where did you go today, Morty?”
Yeah, he basically made himself into a pet this summer.
But Morty works hard, too, hunting mushrooms and rabbits etc.
Oh, and I didn’t know the word for “hunt” either. But I understood when they said “safari.” That’s why I love my cousins. They know how to talk to me.
About those mushrooms, by the way. Apparently, they can kill you. But my cousin’s daughter said not to worry. Her father knew how to find the non-poisonous ones. I guess she’s right, seeing as I’m sitting here talking to you all. All is well that ends well.
And then, as those of you follow me on Facebook well know, there was the famous Cornelius The Baby Goat (I don’t know if he has a name, but on FB, he became Cornelius).
I’m sure I don’t need to remind you how I feel about goats, right?
So Cornelius just showed up one day in somebody’s front yard, and is basically the goat version of Creature. He’s moody, adorable, charming, etc. He quickly became the village’s biggest tourist attraction.
Apparently, some crazy guy won him in a lottery. His wife had just left him, with his human kid, but then he got this kid. Leave it to the Greeks to have a goat as a lottery prize.
He loved when I pet him, and scratched him between the ears. And when I walked off, he’d follow me as far as his rope would allow and stare at me with those big, cute yet pathetic eyes.
One day, he disappeared. The next day, his water dish was gone. I was in an unusually emotional state, as some of you Betties might remember, so I almost lost it. It was just too much.
I was sure Cornelius was somebody’s dinner.
Thank G-d, he showed up again a few days later. I really, really hope he’s still there.
I really wanted to bring Cornelius back with me. I think Creature would be willing to share the apartment. An Austrian woman fell in love with a stray kitten who hung out at her favorite restaurant, and brought it back with her. All she had to do was bring it to a vet and then make her a plane reservation. As far as I know, she named it Gyros. Easy peasy, even if she did have to bribe the vet.
Mark my words. My next trip to Crete, I’m so bringing home a goat. It’s research for my writing, of course.
It wasn’t that long ago. Not even two weeks ago, actually.
But the whole trip feels like a dream.
Luckily, I have photos, lots of them, to prove it actually happened! I finally, after eleven years, went back to Israel.
I’d been there twice before. Once for my junior year abroad (at Hebrew U) and once for a visit. I’d forgotten how much I missed it.
Here’s a recap:
I left Heraklion, Crete, where I was visiting a friend, at 3 something a.m.
I flew to Athens.
I went through El Al airline security, where this Greek chick named Irini tried to trip me up while getting me to tell her about my Jewish upbringing. Really, the whole process was fascinating.
A few hours later I landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, and found it was remodeled. Who knew?
Then, I took three trains to Be’er Sheva. The trains were so crowded I never did get a seat. I had no idea what I was doing, or where I was going, but a soldier took me under her wing and helped me get from train to train.
Are you keeping track? So far, that’s 1 car, 2 planes, 3 trains.
I’m not done.
Then, I found the bus station and took a bus to Arad. Then, I found a taxi and got to my final destination.
Did you notice the stall with pet stuff? I don’t know why, but I got such a kick out of that. Don’t mention it to Creature though. I didn’t get him anything.
Oh, come on. Like a hole in the head he needs another toy. . .
A note on surviving in Israel:
Israelis are wonderful, helpful people who will give you the shirts off their backs. But they’ve got a very “survival of the fittest” attitude.
For example, when standing in an Israeli “line,” which will most likely resemble a pile of squirming puppies rather than an actual line, use your elbows or whatever you need to to keep your spot, and when you get to the front, put your stuff and / or your arms on the counter as soon as you possibly can. Otherwise, I promise you, people will shove themselves in front of you, from all angles. And the store clerks will do nothing about it.
You may feel bad about it at first, but eventually you won’t be able to stand being stepped on and your attitude will shift. I swear!
My last day in Jerusalem, I happened to spot the Alyiah and Klitah (Immigration and Absorption) office and I almost went it.
Maybe someday. . .
Now, I’m back in Greece, just for a few more days. I was happy to return to village life with some very special souvenirs from Jerusalem: Books in English, People Magazine (don’t judge, I’m on vacation), and Totally Twisted Herbal Essences shampoo. Thanks Super-Pharm!
And no, I’m not ashamed.
A few more days, and then, G-d help me, it’s back to reality.
1. You’re on the way to the cemetery and along the way, you almost step on / trip over one dead snake, two dead birds, and a dead hedgehog.
2. You’re walking along, minding your own business, and you get stuck behind the watermelon truck and have to take a detour. (You’ve got to love narrow streets.)
3. The innocent looking, clear liquid in a plastic bottle (sometimes with the original water bottle label left on) could be water. Or raki. Or kerosene. (Raki or kerosene? Same difference. Both are flammable.) Be careful.
4. You’re in a restaurant at 11 o’clock at night. Nobody has even mentioned ordering dinner yet. Or bedtime for the kids.
5. You’re in a cafe, restaurant or taverna, and the waiter sits down and joins you, just to schmooze. Or smoke. Or drink raki. Or eat watermelon. Or, most likely, all of the above.
6. You walk into your cousin’s house and there’s a dead animal on the table, something from the rabbit family, that her husband brought home after hunting in the mountains. You avoid looking at the thing. The next time you see it, it’s on a serving dish at New Year’s lunch.
Seven months later, you’re looking at photos on your cousin’s computer and there it is again, in all its furry glory.
7. You’re eating a Greek salad. Every ingredient, including the olive oil, has been grown / produced by somebody you know.
8. You go into somebody’s house. They don’t ask if you want something to drink. They ask what you’re going to drink. Because like it or not, you’re going to be drinking something.
9. You find yourself having conversations with flies and mosquitos. The topic? Personal space. You suggest a compromise: they can share your room on the condition they stay at least six inches away from you at all times. And stop landing on your e-reader when you’re reading in bed at night and it’s the only light in the room.
10. You’re being devoured by mosquitos. Somebody suggests (seriously, I might add) putting raki on your ankles. So then what? You wonder if the mosquitos will get too drunk to bite you. You also wonder if you’re better off just drinking the raki to distract you from the misery by a) getting you too drunk to notice the itching and / or b) setting your mouth on fire.
11. People may or may not wear seat belts. They may or may not touch raw meat and then put their hand in a container of salt, put half empty cans back in the refrigerator, and / or give their dogs chicken bones.
Yet somehow, everyone’s fine. . .
12. Everybody knows your name. It’s just like Cheers. Only hotter. And dustier.
Oh. And WAY more gorgeous.
13. You’re speaking Greek with Dutch people.
14. Your biggest fear in life becomes slipping on wet and / or broken marble or tile.
15. You can’t sleep in on Sunday mornings, because you’re staying across the street from the church. And the church has bells. And loudspeakers.
16. You can pay for meals with Euros. of course. Or, you can pay with other things. For example:
17. People, young and old, have lyra music as their ring tones.
18. “White noise” consists of crickets, goat bells, birds (you have yet to identify) that sound like owls, and the click of worry beads.
19. When the moon rises over the water, it looks so close you’re tempted to reach up and grab the thing.
Last week, I took a boat to Gaidouronisi (Donkey Island), an uninhabited (or as I used to call it, “deserted”) island just south of Crete.
The island is also known as “Chrysi” or “Chrissi,” which means “golden.”
It’s pretty obvious why:
There were three reasons I wanted to go. 1. I needed a break from the village. 2. I was there as a teenager and was fascinated by it. 3. One of the most romantic yet heartbreaking scenes I’ve ever written takes place there. Talk about fun research!
Here’s the thing about Cretan travel: The journey, if it involves a boat, is usually as wonderful as the destination. Or sometimes, even better.
And I’m saying this as somebody quite prone to seasickness.
And then, I sat back, took in the view, and listened to the Cretan music. If that playlist were on iTunes, I’d be all over it.
Most of the songs involved words like “sea” and “island.” Very fitting.
And, get this! Two of the songs were right out of my playlist for my last book.
Check it out:
Once you get to the Island, it’s a bit of a walk to the prettiest beach. It’s not that far, or that steep, but with the heat and the sand, it definitely feels like a hike:
But, as you can see, it’s well worth the trouble!
Sadly, the day I went was rather windy, which made swimming very difficult and not so enjoyable. So I spent a lot of time exploring and relaxing in my lounge chair, listening to the soundtrack for the book I’m supposed to be working on and drinking (more) frappe.
On the boat ride back, I could barely move from my chair. All the sun had done me in (my umbrella wasn’t in the greatest condition), and the wind made the boat a little rocky.
But, like I said: the experience was more than worth it. Even if (in case any of you are curious) I didn’t see any donkeys.
So. I’m in Crete, in a village on the southern coast, visiting my family and fighting off flies and mosquitos. That, and going to the beach!
Yeah, I know. It’s been a while since you last heard from me. Apologies and all that.
Here’s the thing though. Before I got here at the end of June, I was ending a very dramatic school year. Not by saying good bye to the kids, calculating grades, and sending home projects. Nope. I was in the hospital due a very high and very sudden fever. Good times.
But enough about that. I’m here now, thanks to two airplane rides and three busses.
When I was a teenager, I thought the length of the trip, and and all the airport switching (I used to fly from San Francisco, which made the trip a lot more difficult) was really exciting. Look at me! I’m sitting on my back back, waiting for my third plane! I’m a great traveler. Want to know where to get kick ass hot chocolate at the Frankfurt airport? Just ask me! How cool am I?
Do I think that now? At age 33?
Yeah, right. . .
I’ve had a few weeks to rest, and the Internet is sort of actually working at the moment, so I figured I’d blog a bit about where I am.
So stay tuned!
And stay tuned for next month, when I’ll be blogging from Israel. Yep. This summer is all about getting in touch with my roots.
Actually, at the moment, my mother’s traveling too, so Creature’s being looked after by the neighbors and the tenant who lives in a little house in my mom’s yard. The report: He’s taken over said tenant’s bed and communicating with said tenant’s mother via Skype.
This is the same dog who, last time we left him with a neighbor, took over their couch and became addicted to Mad Men.
I give up.
Also, I am trying to dive back into my writing. One of my books is set here, and I have the time, so I better get cracking, right? How far have I gotten with the editing? Well. . . Okay, so I’ve opened the document twice and sometimes, while on the beach, I listen to my book playlist.
Creature is spending 4 months at Chez Mom. No, it’s not because I can’t deal with him anymore, although good guess, especially after the flour incident. The reasons are purely practical, and yes, I do miss him. Tons. I keep reaching to fill his water bowl. I get sad when I accidentally step on a squeaky toy and he doesn’t come running. I drop food, and nobody’s there to pick it up.
At least nobody’s barking, or hogging the bed.
As I’m sure you know, Creature, in spite of his secure, loving upbringing, isn’t the most secure dog in the world (and that’s putting it mildly). Hence the barking. Hence the crying. Which is driving my mother insane.
Especially at night, when he’s alone downstairs and hears things in the back yard.
Not to worry though. My mother has found a solution.
Wait. You may need to brace yourselves for this one.
She’s given him my bedroom, which is right down the hall from hers. She doesn’t want him in her room, so she gave him mine.
She actually made my bed, the fancy one I paid for with money from the very first paycheck I got from my teaching career, with sheets she doesn’t care about.
Note: I wrote this while I was still in Crete, but couldn’t get enough Internet time to post it. And now, I’m having a style sheet problem, so please excuse the formatting issues.
Also, there’s a slideshow at the end of this post.
So here I am in Crete, although, sadly, my trip is just about over. But let’s not talk about that.
I wasn’t sure what being in a Cretan village on the beach would be like in the winter, but to my delight, it’s been a great experience to be here without the tourists, when life is just going on normally. It’s been pretty warm too, which is a bonus. There are oranges on most of the trees. Everywhere I go, I hear the water.
There’s music everywhere. And I mean everywhere. Every shop, every car, every house. Most people’s cell phones have Cretan ring tones. I love that music is such a part of people’s identity. Tonight, I asked my nine year old cousin what her favorite music was, and she named a Cretan musician, Skoulas, who’s more her grandparent’s generation than her own. That’s pretty impressive.
Here’s what my daily life has been like. I’m going to give you a simplified, idyllic version. But keep in mind that village life isn’t as easy as it sounds.
When I get up, I go downstairs to the taverna connected to my hotel, which, as far as I can tell, is the only restaurant open right now. And by the way, I use the term hotel loosely. Basically, I’m renting a room.
At breakfast, the taverna is full of older men drinking coffee, but they greet me warmly, as do Vassilis and Katerina, the owners. Breakfast is included in the price of the room. They make me frappe (bless their hearts) and orange juice (keep blessing their hearts – the oranges right now are so good). They also bring me bread from the bakery with packets of butter and jam (which they call marmalade) and a tiny bowl of yoghurt and honey.
It’s the perfect way to start the day.
I feel bad for Katerina though. She’s got serious leg pain from working so hard.
After breakfast, I head to my aunt’s house or my cousin’s house, depending. Even thought it’s just past breakfast time, everyone’s busy making lunch, which is a huge deal. They exhaust themselves cooking, but I can’t imagine what they’d think of slapping together a peanut butter sandwich and moving on with the day.
While lunch is cooking, we just hang out. One of my cousins has an adorable two year old. I’ve been teaching him computer games that teach mouse skills. His favorite game is “Pet Clifford.” I’ve learned the Cretan word for dog (I knew the Greek word, but I didn’t know there was a special Cretan one). Koluki. Or, with a Cretan accent, Koluchi. Now Creature has a new nickname!
Then, it’s lunch time.
My family used to own one restaurant, one taverna, and one cafe, so they know what they’re doing. Not only that, my cousin and her husband have several greenhouses and their own olive trees. So imagine the vegetables! Sorry to get all poetic on you, but the olive oil is liquid gold. Only thing is, they use it like water. Delicious as it is, it takes some getting used to.
The platters of fries are never empty. Ever. It blows my mind what Greek olive oil can do to a potato. Absolute magic.
Here’s a picture of dolmades, made with cabbage leaves (as opposed to grape leaves):
Then, the village shuts down for the siesta. It’s like rest hour at camp. I usually just read, because I’m not used to naps and don’t wake up so well.
I also take a shower, which is easier said than done. In the summer, the fact that the shower is a just a porcelain slab on the floor doesn’t bother me. The floor dries quickly. But in the winter, the floor is always wet. But what can you do?
Then it’s time to visit the cousins again. At nine, Big Brother comes on. I could tell you that watching it is good for my Greek, or how it’s cultural research. Or I could save time and just confess that I’m hooked.
Dinner’s late. Like nine or ten. I try to get back to my room by eleven. I need my down time, and my time to read.
I fall asleep to the sound of the music from the taverna downstairs and the sound of the waves.
Adjusting to village life is always a shock to the system. But it gets under your skin, which makes leaving a million times harder. I hope Brooklyn shows some mercy on me when I get back.
I am so, so happy to be here. You have no idea. My heart is warm and I’m relieved. I’ve spent too long being homesick. Too long not being able to listen to my favorite Greek songs because they make me too sad.
Now, I’m here. I’m in shock. Numb. Which is probably what’s keeping me going even though I’m totally jet lagged and emotional.
I was sure I wasn’t going to make it, for various reasons, like that freakish flu that still hasn’t totally quit. (I’m almost there. So close.) Then, I found myself at JFK behind a Greek couple (they were arguing, of course). The guy had worry beads.
That was my first clue that this trip was happening.
Even the Greeks misbehaving on the plane (sorry, fellow Greeks, I love you, but you know how you behave) didn’t assure me that this trip was a reality.
It wasn’t until the plane touched down, I saw an ad for frappe, and got through customs that I sort of accepted that I was here. I bought a cheap cell phone, figured out the Metro, which is easy and beautiful, thanks to the Olympics, and got to my hotel in Athens. It was a trek, but I can’t tell you how much easier it is to fly to Greece now than it was when I was a kid.
I got off the Metro at Monastiraki station, grateful for the escalators that easily accommodate suitcases, and impressed by the archeological exhibit:
My hotel is near the Plaka, in a pretty although touristy area. Oh, and by the way, The Acropolis sends its regards:
In one day, I’ve taken care of certain cravings. For example:
And Amita Peach Juice, which takes me straight back to my childhood without passing go:
And I finally had an authentic frappe, but that experience didn’t end so well:
Here’s what happened. Unfortunately, Athens isn’t at its prime. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with it, and usually fly straight to Crete. As I mentioned before, Athens has improved a lot in the past ten years or so, but it’s not having its shiniest, happiest time right now.
I sat down at a cafe, ordered frappe, orange juice (the fresh squeezed Greek kind – wow) and yoghurt with honey. Heaven!
Then came the beggars. I lost track around nine or ten. It did NOT stop. Every time I took a sip of frappe, somebody else of a different nationality came to beg or sell something. Then I got my bill, and I discreetly took money out and stupidly put it on the table. A deaf / mute abusive beggar saw it and came over and completely harassed me.
When I refused to help him, he was pissed. He kept touching my hands and rattling my dishes. At one point he tried to knock a water glass over. If I hadn’t caught it, it would’ve spilled on everything. I felt so dirty. I grabbed the money and he was so mad. He was screaming, in his mute way, and everybody was staring.
I even dealt with two children begging me to buy dead flowers from them. They followed me to a newsstand where I was buying water and they begged me to buy them chocolate. They held onto my wrists and followed me up the street.
And that stuff on the news about strikes is true:
And, I just found out that there may be a metro strike tomorrow, meaning I have to go broke on a taxi to the airport.
Incidentally, Dumpsters are overflowing.
As if that’s not bad enough, the traffic is completely out of control.
Now, I grew up in the Bay Area. I live in NY. I’ve lived in East Jerusalem. I know from traffic.
I went to see a friend and the taxi ride blew my mind. We inched down the street next to the hotel, and when we finally made it to Syntagma Square, I don’t think any cars were actually in a lane. They were facing all directions, honking, and going absolutely nowhere. Except for the motorcycles, which were going everywhere.
I got to my destination half an hour late.
Apparently, one reason today is so insane is that it’s the last Sunday before Christmas, and the stores are open, which they usually aren’t on Sundays. I think this is like the Greek version of Black Friday. On the way home, the driver let me out so I could walk.
Later, I had to take this picture of the traffic:
Then there’s the noise. How can I describe it? For starters, everyone seems to have a motorcycle. Not one motorcycle has a muffler. Everyone honks. Everyone drives with the radio blaring. Nobody drives with closed windows. Everyone has a ringing cell phone. Conversations are not held at low volume, and that’s putting it nicely.
And everything is under construction. And I’m sorry to bring it up, but everybody smokes. All. The. Time.
Just my luck, there’s some sort of event right in front of my window that involves speakers and a horribly dizzying combination of rap, American Christmas carols, and Greek music. It’s so loud it’s like I’m listening to it on my iPod with really expensive ear buds turned all the way up. It’s kind of rattling my nerves.
Anyway, that’s why I’m inside tonight, drinking more Amita peach juice, blogging, hanging out with my mom on iChat, and getting ready for tomorrow’s trip.
Good night everyone! Not sure what my Internet access will be like after tonight, but I’ll try to blog again soon.