from Sandy Needham

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Nea Makri Dispatch

November 14, 2007

We arrived in Athens in the middle of the night. We were staying in a hotel outside of Athens this year, is all we knew. It was all dark at 4:00am when we closed the curtains and conked out. Next morning when I awoke, Newton had already gone to the meeting with CAST's Greek partner company. I opened the curtains and gasped. Out our third floor balcony was the pool AND the Aegean Sea! There was a hiking trail along the low rise above the shore. It was 85 degrees and sunny (unlike the cloudy photos above I took later). I needed a bathing suit.

Too bad I assumed a fall trip to Europe meant no swimming, but then trying to buy a suit in October gave a certain definition to the next two days. I hoped to find a well-engineered one like the one I found on the Riviera last April - as in civil engineering with gravity-defying lift. The nearest village of Nea Makri was five kilometers away. I started out with lunch at a nearby taverna with a view of the water...a TRUE Greek salad! I thought I'd just walk to the village (in flip-flops!), but then when I asked directions, this blond, sophisticated woman who had come into the restaurant and sat down with the owner told me she was going that direction and would give me a lift. We jumped into her car and had a great ten-minutes of getting acquainted. 'Poli' is recently married to the handsome restaurant owner and was on her way to teach Chinese! Her mother is Egyptian and her father Greek; she speaks perfect English, as well as Greek, Arabic, Turkish and three dialects of Chinese. Her first trip to China will be to interpret at the Olympics. I told her my weird story, and by then we had arrived at the gorgeous town on the seashore.

A paved boardwalk allowed me to hike a couple of miles along the water, passing loads of restaurants, bars and cafes. I had a decaf espresso and chocolate ice cream before heading towards the center of town to shop. Unfortunately, 85 degrees or not, bathing suits were almost non-existent. The closest possibility did not fit and cost $150, thanks to the weak dollar.

I got picked up in the town square by Newton and company, including the great Meredith and the adorable guys of the Greek firm. We went to dinner at one of the restaurants I had passed by the water. This was to be a fish dinner with the local accompaniment: ouzo and water with ice. Most of our troupe don't like the anise taste of ouzo, so declined, but I found it does go beautifully with seafood. We had a feast of whitebait, grilled fish, yogurt cheese with garlic, feta, olives like you can't believe, etc.

The next morning I left with the whole group in order to get a ride to the 'suburban' train into Athens. It was a little freaky, as I had to descend into the iron skeletal innards under a highway cloverleaf, alone. Amidst the roar of the traffic, I tried to buy a ticket on the machine. Now, I'm still pretty stupid when it comes to screens. This one was in Greek! I had no idea what station to touch, but started trying out the Greek alphabet I had learned by way of math and my sorority (...I know, but we were all anti-war). I was feeling disoriented there trying out 'th's' and 'ph's' when I suddenly eyed a tiny British flag on the corner of the screen. English! At that moment a young woman arrived and told me that Larissa station (same name as my son's girlfriend) would be the one to connect to the city. Whew.

My day in Athens was immersed in the chic Kolonaki neighborhood of shops and cafes and the National Archeological Museum. No go on a bathing suit, other than another possibility that did not fit and cost $150. The Archeological Museum is a treasure, better suited to the archaic and early severe classical style of Greek sculpture than the pure classical, as most of the classical sculptures are later Roman copies. The pre-Greek and Hellenistic collections are also good. I was thrilled to see the famous early classical bronze of "Zeus or Poseidon posed to throw a lightning bolt or a trident," from 460 B.C., though nothing in the museum could compare with the original classical torso from a Parthenon frieze I saw last year at the Parthenon museum, whose perfection touched my soul as well as my art history head.

The next day was my favorite. I was determined to hike along the Aegean shore and figure out a way to swim in my black underwear. I just didn't know how to anticipate what it would do when wet, so needed cover. This was provided by my tank dress, a huge towel from the front desk, and a little stone cove that was invisible to the balconies of the hotel above it. Off I hiked to the end of the trail, about two miles, hot and ready for a swim in my carefully selected spot. The trail passes by a hotel where apparently a film was being shot by the pool behind a clear lucite wall. Cameras and microphones were hovering upon a crowd of smartly dressed, cavorting bathers while the main characters rather overacted comedic roles in a way reminiscent of comedies on Brazilian TV. Several other people were watching beside me. Once I had slipped into the water around the little corner and saw that my underwear did not suddenly sag to my knees, I took off swimming. It felt great. I could safely round the bend and watch more filming while basking in the salty, buoyant water. I felt that I was in a European film at that moment! Later that afternoon I was flipping TV channels and suddenly recognized the character in a maid's outfit from the set. They were filming a TV comedy series.

The young president of the partner company had us all to dinner at his home, which is in Nea Makri. His mother, mother-in-law, and wife (an air traffic controller with two shifts that day!) all contributed scrumptious dishes of mousaka, lamb, stuffed grape leaves, etc. to the feast. Fudgey flourless chocolate cake finished us off!

Montpellier with a connection through Paris was next - 10 flights to go.


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