20 Jul Greek Hospitatlity: A Taste of Athens
Two things really stood out to me when I traveled in Athens: the tools of torture and the men. Being a museum buff, I spent a good part of my time in Athens studying the history of the Greek Empire. The gruesome nature of the medical apparatuses really impressed me and I was forced to imagine the types of surgeries they had done. Most interestingly, these contraptions were used to perform living autopsies.
To the Greeks, the body was sacred after death, though apparently not before. When a doctor knew that a patient was going to die, he set to work cutting him open to see exactly what made the human body tick. At the moment of death, the anatomical investigation ended, and the public hoped the doctor had garnered some greater knowledge of the inner workings of the human form. I don’t know about you, but to me, it made the Hippocratic Oath a little less convincing.
Meanwhile, Athens was buzzing with the most smooth-talking men I’ve ever encountered. I wasn’t sure if they were trying to swindle or screw me. After a long day of pub hopping and museum visiting, five o’clock hit hard. My mom and I, who were backpacking together through the mainland, were starving. We went looking for a watering hole, preferably one with some local wine, where we could eat our weight in Kalamata Olives and Tzatziki, a creamy yogurt cucumber spread. But, to our frustrated surprise, all the eatery doors were closed.
As we walked down a narrow alley, despairing because Greeks eat so late, we saw a shirtless man in a black calf length apron, frantically pointing at a rooftop. At first we thought he was a lunatic, with his disheveled black hair and wily eyebrows. We almost turned around. But as we got closer, we realized he was trying to solicit us for his restaurant. It wasn’t quite open, but being in competition with the surrounding establishments, he wanted the first guests. “Oh, mom,” he asked, grabbing my startled mother’s arm, “can we go?”
Before I could protest, he snatched my hand and dragged me up two flights of stairs to a rooftop garden with a magnificent view of the Acropolis. The afternoon sunlight pierced holes in a thick blanket of clouds, hitting each individual wine glass on the white tables. He trotted off, jerky and awkward, to get complimentary shots of Ouzo.
When he returned with our unordered glasses of ouzo, he had slapped on a pressed dress shirt, but had failed to button it, tufts of chest hair springing out. “Try it,” he said, rubbing his elbow against mine, “You are in Greece, you know.” Mother made a sour face. “Mom,” he groaned, “what’s the problem?”
The next thing we knew, he was getting down right cozy, sitting at our table. “You want to know my name?” He asked. We didn’t answer. “Well I’m …Catastrophic, baby!” He pointed at me, “Yes, that’s my name.” I just met the Greek Austin Powers.
We ordered food and wine. It was the perfect excuse to get him away from our table. As soon as he left, Mother poured her ouzo in a plant. The neighboring rooftops were still empty. Waiters held their hands over their heads and whistled for our attention. Catastrophic fluttered his hand as if waving off a fly.
He brought us an appetizer, which was not exactly what we had expected. Everything looked a day too old. The only things we ate enthusiastically were the olives, which we bobbed for, face down on the platter. Pretty soon he was back at our table. “Mom, I want to ask you …” he started.
“Stop calling me that. I’m not your mother.” she abruptly replied. He continued, “…You can make me a photo with her?” (meaning me.)
“Sure,” she said, raising her eyebrows and smirking at me.
I felt him lean in from behind my chair, his cheek almost touching mine. I cringed. “Oh, yes,” he said, “mom, this is good.” At the moment she snapped the picture, I broke into explosive laughter. My mouth was wide open, projecting a laugh that could be heard by the waiters on the surrounding rooftops in all of Athens.