Archive | November, 2009

Pass the Turkey, Hold the Cranberries

26 Nov

For lunch today, I ordered a turkey wrap at the school gym.  Pretty standard, really.  Turkey, cheese, mayo, lettuce, and tomato.  Just a few months ago, this would have been nothing to write home about.  People eat turkey wraps all the time, and for someone like me, who doesn’t really like chicken, turkey is pretty much the only way to go for a non-vegetarian wrap.  In Greece, they don’t do turkey.  The only turkey I’ve seen for the past few months is processed lunchmeat.  They have chicken, or kotopolo, everywhere, but turkey?  Not so much.  I actually don’t think I’ve had one bite of turkey since August.  But today, that streak ended.

Sure, there was still school today.  I got up, edited essays, observed and taught classes, made copies, attended assemblies and department meetings.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  It’s strange to think that back home people are just now beginning to wake up, turn on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and start stuffing the turkey and baking the pumpkin pie.  HAEF (my school) is the Hellenic AMERICAN Educational Foundation, and so they do put lots of emphasis on Thanksgiving.  For the past few weeks now, students have been attending special presentations on Thanksgiving and preparing for the Thanksgiving assemblies.  High school students put on a bake sale and talent show, with all proceeds going to charity.  Middle schoolers learned about Thanksgiving traditions throughout the world.  Tomorrow, Friday, they have the day off in honor of Thanksgiving.  Nevermind that tomorrow is NOT Thanksgiving.  The kids don’t care, they just like the idea of a three-day weekend.  The teachers couldn’t really care less either.

Except for the American staff.  At my weekly department meeting today, one teacher made a pumpkin cheesecake (it was delicious).  Another confided that she missed her family and her home.  The fellows are currently trying to plan a Thanksgiving feast to find some way of celebrating.  We even have the Stove Top to prove it.  But for the larger population in Greece, Thanksgiving goes way under the radar.

And so I’m making it my mission to celebrate this day, one of my favorite holidays and times of year, in my own special way.  So I bought a turkey wrap.  It doesn’t look THAT appetizing, but it’s better than the ham and cheese pizza, the cheese pie, or the spanikopita.  It may not be a feast, and may not have any of the traditional partners-in-crime (sweet mashed potatoes – you are surely missed), but it’s something.

And in honor of Turkey Day, I’m doing what any Thanksgiving-loving American in Europe in would do to celebrate.  I’m going to Turkey!  Yes, I know, the holiday has nothing to do with the country, but like I said before, it’s something.  So maybe I had to work today, and maybe I missed out on the feast and the football and the parade, but for the next three days I’ll be skipping around Istanbul, while everyone in America will be letting out their pants and avoiding the scale.  Maybe there is a small plus side of missing an American tradition?

Say Ommm

12 Nov

Sitting in an uncomfortable pose in a dimly-lit room while a middle-aged Greek man moans and groans is not my idea of a good time.  Maybe it’s yours, in which case I apologize for offending you.  But really, it’s not mine…at all.  Unfortunately, I am forced to endure this experience every Monday and Wednesday for the next few months, an hour and a half at a time.

Part of my fellowship program requires that I enroll in two classes at the night school offered on campus.  We’re technically here on student visas, so we have to somehow prove we’re students.  One of the classes is Beginner’s Greek, which I’m fine with.  I don’t know Greek, and they’re offering to teach it to me for free?  Sounds like a sweet deal to me.  The second course is a class of our choosing.  But there are stipulations.  One stipulation to be clear.  All the other classes are taught entirely in Greek.  And this is how I end up taking Yoga.

I thought I’d like yoga.  In fact, I do still think I’d like yoga.  What I’m taking every Monday and Wednesday is not yoga.  Yes, we are in strange poses.  Yes, we are focusing on our breath.  But let me reiterate: this is not yoga.  I’m pretty sure somebody told my middle-aged heavy-breathing yoga instructor that yoga was simply putting your body in weird positions, and then sent him on his way.  Many of our poses are not in anyway related to anything resembling yoga, and none of them ever flow fluidly into the following pose.  Transitioning from one pose to the next usually involves jumping, completely twisting your body, or literally moving body parts with your hands to switch, like when you attempt to move your contorted foot from Red to Green in Twister.  All the while (and an hour and a half is a looonnnggg while) the instructor is telling us to relax and concentrate and let the world around us melt away.  This would be fine, if he did not breathe like he was on a ventilator and didn’t moan and groan every five seconds.  How many times can I hear “mmmmmm”  “oohhhhhh”  “aahhhhhh” “mmmhhhmmm” before I vomit my spanikopita?  One time, I even heard an “oh yeah.”  I thought this was yoga.  When did I sign up for the New Age group sex class?

Which brings me to my next point.  The music.  He plays music during every class.  This music is not the water-dropping bamboo-drumming I-feel-like-I’m-in-an-upper-middle-class-resort-spa-with-white-people-wearing-kimonos Asian music you’d expect.  The class tonight featured the New Age music that brings to mind men with long, flowing, gray hair wearing tunics, linen pants and jewelry, not relaxation.  Last week, we stretched and contorted to what I can only imagine was the soundtrack to Schindler’s List.  As I told my friend, it was like watching The Pianist with my eyes closed.  Or an old lengthy Russian film.  Take your pick.  Whichever you choose, I’m hoping you’ll agree that neither lends itself to soothing yogic instruction.

Last class I tried to have a good attitude.  I gave it my all, only held in laughter twice, and only fell over once.  I was improving.  We were in the middle of the intense airplane pose.  You know, the one where you stand on one leg, with the other behind you and your arms out to both sides as you lean forward?  I was having great luck with the whole balancing thing, and was trying to focus on a stationary object ahead of me for the remainder of the pose.  Sadly, the woman in front of me was having trouble staying up, as her DDD boobs kept pulling her down and causing her to tumble.  Let me tell you, it’s pretty damn challenging to hold a pose when an overly-endowed Greek lady is falling and flopping all over the place right in front of your stationary object.  Tonight, I didn’t sit by her, and we didn’t do the pose.  I think I’m getting better.  I didn’t fall over, and I only laughed once.  I did fall asleep though, and possibly snored.  How does that factor into my success rate?

What’s a 7 Course Meal for an Irish Person?

2 Nov

When conversing with an Irish person, I’m fairly certain one should steer clear of mentioning Lucky Charms, Pots of Gold, Leprechauns, Potato Famines, and the general idea of the Irish as drunken fools in conversation.  Needless to say, I made sure to include every single one of these topics in every single conversation I had with an Irish person.  It usually went something like this:

“What’s your favorite thing to eat for breakfast?”

“Porridge.”

“Wrong.”

“Wrong?”

“What’s really your favorite cereal?”

“Porridge.”

“No it’s not.”

“It’s not?”

“Nope, guess again.”

“I don’t know.  What do you want me to say?”

“Lucky Charms!”

Apparently, Lucky Charms aren’t marketed in Ireland as being particularly Irish, so my joke often led to confusion on their part, and complete enjoyment on my part, as they nonetheless uttered with enthusiasm at my request, “You’re after me lucky charms!”  This, however, usually backfired, as they would then proceed to remark, “You’re after my lucky charms, eh?” at which point I would leave and strike up the exact same conversation with another Irish person, usually ending in the same result.  When this got boring, variations of “where do you keep your pot of gold?”, “how many leprechauns are in your family?”, “how many days could you go on just potatoes and whiskey?”, or “what’s a 7 course meal for an Irish person?” usually kept things entertaining.  And if all else failed, convincing them to jump up and tap their ankles like a leprechaun did the trick.

Right from the time we landed in Ireland at the lovely hour of 7:30am after a heinously long night at the London airport, we were in love.  Ireland is beautiful, the people speak English, and you can flush the toilet paper.  After 2 months in no-flush no-English Greece, we were in Heaven.  We arrived at our hostel dirty, exhausted, and giddy, and discovered that while we could check in and leave our luggage, we could not actually settle in until 2:30pm.

James Joyce

Mr. Joyce himself.

So we walked.  A lot.  We walked through Grafton Street, poking in and out of the shops, took a stroll through St. Stephen’s Green, stopping to rest on a park bench in the perfect Autumn weather (Ireland was oddly dry and sunny…perhaps the country adored us as much as we adored it), and headed up and down O’Connell Street, posing with James Joyce.  We were able to get a general feel for the city and familiarize ourselves with our surroundings, something we wouldn’t have done had we had the chance to rest at our hostel.  As tired as we were, we were happy with the way the time frame worked out.  Not happy to the point that we’d voluntarily stay out past 2:30pm, of course, and so by 3pm we were happily tucked into our bunk beds in our 6-person dorm room.  That night we experienced delectable fish and chips, and were given a hearty welcome to Ireland with our venture into our first true Irish pub.  Having stayed in Temple Bar, a happening part of Dublin, The Temple Bar was an obvious choice for the night.  We ordered ourselves some beer and found two bar stools amidst the crowded rooms, and then immediately felt awkward.  So now what?  We clearly don’t know anyone.  So we chatted.  With each other.  For about 2 minutes.  At which point a group of Irish men invited us over.

Temple Bar

The Temple Bar

And thus began what I like to call Dating Roulette.  Or MTV’s NEXT, Irish style.  Sarah and I stood in the exact same position for the entirety of the night, and one after another, groups of Irish guys would walk up, test their luck at the roulette table (being us), and then move on.  It was all pretty amusing, and gave me ample opportunity to bring up potatoes, beer, whiskey, leprechauns, Lucky Charms, and pots o’ gold.  All in all, I’d file the night as a success.

The next morning we woke early and headed to Galway, a city in Western Ireland.  Galway was slightly more gray, but just as enchanting.  We walked around the main drag, where our hostel was conveniently located, enjoyed an amazing lunch, bought Claddagh rings, and took in the general feel of the city.  That night, after trying with all our might to find a good place for dinner, we settled on a great little Italian trattoria (go figure), and dined over our fair share of wine (when in Ireland…).  After dinner, we met up with an Irish friend of Sarah’s, and were shown the true Galway nightlife.  We went to bars and pubs and nightclubs that not a single outsider would have ever found.  We felt like locals, and it was awesome.  One universal truth that we discovered?  Heading straight to a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint after last call to order an extra-large pie.

The next day we were headed back to Dublin, as we had reservations at the hostel that night.  We took this opportunity to explore Ireland, and Sarah’s friend, Colm, was nice enough to serve as our tour guide and drive us around from point A to point B (point C being Dublin, our actual destination, but that’s besides the point.)  Colm had been visiting friends in Galway, and was driving back home to Cork (point B), and so we left Galway and made our way down to Cork, where we would then take a bus back to Dublin.  Along the way we got to experience the Cliffs of Moher (and I almost got to experience the bottom of the Cliffs of Moher, as the wind nearly blew me over the edge), a traditional Irish restaurant off the beaten path that served the best Irish Stew EVER (I understand this is a bold claim, considering I haven’t eaten that much Irish stew and only went to a handful of restaurants in Ireland, but I really don’t care), and a beautiful drive through the Irish countryside, filled with cows, sheep, gorgeous green landscapes and stone walls (most of which, I am sorry to admit, I actually slept through…there’s just something about moving vehicles that puts me right to sleep).  Our main priority of the day was the Blarney Castle.  I had been looking forward to kissing that Blarney stone for weeks, and I had the Binaca to prove it.  Unfortunately, just as my luck would have it, we arrived at Blarney Castle at precisely 5:10pm, 10 minutes after it closed.  Yes, I went all the way to Ireland and didn’t even kiss the Blarney stone.  It’s a sore subject, and I’d rather not talk about it anymore.

Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher

Moving on.  The next three days we spent in Dublin were fantastic.  We spent another gorgeous, sunny, mild day at Phoenix Park, the largest park in all of Europe, strolling through the little paths and playing in the colorful leaves.  After this delightful afternoon, we embarked on the most anticipated part of our trip: The Jameson Distillery.  We had been looking forward to this since the moment we booked the trip, and had been plotting and scheming and researching how we could ensure that we’d be selected as official whiskey tasters.  Everyone told us it could not be done.  They would not take us both.  Only one would get to go.  We knew the drill.  We knew the video would show, and then they would ask for volunteers.  We sat in front for the video.  We were antsy throughout the entire film.  When the tour guide came out holding the 8 green sticks of glory in her hands, we were ready.

Jameson Barrel

Jameson Factory

The second the word “volunteer” escaped her mouth, our hands were in the air.  And…did we both get selected for this feat, you wonder as you sit on the edge of your seat, eyes wide with the light of your computer screen?  Not only is the answer a roaring YES, but we were the first two selected.  We take our whiskey tasting seriously, and it must have shown.  Our responsibilities involved drinking a half-shot of Jameson, Jack, and Johnny Walker, and after we completed this task, we were rewarded with another whiskey drink (I chose Jameson and cranberry juice, apparently how they drink it in Dublin), and our very own certificates certifying us as official whiskey tasters.  So yes, if anybody is in need of a whiskey taster, I’m for hire.

Other highlights of the trip?  We toured a church with crypts, and I touched the hand of an 800-year-old mummy (believed to be a crusader).  Supposedly shaking this mummy’s hand is good luck, though what they call good luck, I call creepy.  We saw Trinity College, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, drank more than our fair share of Guinness (like the Blarney Castle, we also got to the Guinness factory mere minutes after it closed, though considering I was really only in it for the pint at the end of the tour, I took my 11 euro entrance fee and put it towards 2 pints of Guinness at a bar.  Now that’s what I call being fiscally responsible).  We hung out with some fun South Africans and got invited to the World Cup.  We went out for an early Halloween in Temple Bar (Halloween is HUGE in Ireland), and bought 2 euro children’s Devil costumes, consisting of red wings, horns, and a wand, which we planned to wear over our all-black ensembles.  Unfortunately, by the time we left the hostel with our fellow hostel-mates, we were no longer in costume.  This was fine for Sarah, who was wearing a black dress, black tights, and boots, but not so much for me, who was wearing black spandex, black boots, and a black tank top.  I was wearing the equivalent to the Halle Berry Catwoman bodysuit, except I am NO Halle Berry.  Wonderful.

Pheonix Park

The entrance to Phoenix Park

I could go on and on about our adventures in Ireland, but I’ll stop here, only to say that Ireland is great, and everyone should go one time in his or her lifetime.  I’m already planning on returning (I can’t NOT kiss the Blarney Stone).

Oh, and in case you were wondering the answer to the title joke, it’s a 6-pack and a potato.  Joke courtesy of my mother.  And it must be stated that every single Irish person I asked got the answer, or a variation of it (7 pints of Guinness, 6 pints of Guinness and some stew), which makes me wonder if it’s actually a joke at all?

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