Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Day 9:

So I was threading a metal cable through lots of eye-hooks which were hammered at about five yard intervals into the side of a long wall which stretched off into the distance …ah, it was dream! I thought I had gone insane.

Anyway, dream means sleep, so I must have had some. It definitely didn’t come until dawn was breaking though because I lay awake tossing and turning until I saw a vague light from outside. I have no idea why I can’t sleep now after putting in some fine slumberous stints at the start of last week.

It was 9.30 and time to test my flu. I gingerly coughed – not bad, still a bit chesty but nothing like the bubbly, tubercolic rumbling of last night. Nose? Hmm, clear. Dizziness? Nothing more than the normal level caused by the change in altitude from lying in bed to getting up.

And the final test; do I fancy peppermint tea or coffee as a breakfast beverage? Most decidedly coffee…

Diagnosis: virus vinctus est – quod erat demonstrandum, etcetera post mortem!

This meant I could put plan A into operation – which was finally to have myself a bougatsa. This is a sort of flaky pastry and buttery thing with a sort of vanilla filling but that doesn’t begin to describe how scrumptious they can be. There was a tumbledown old bougatsa shop in Ioannina near the main square where we would sometimes go for a taste of heaven. This place was actually still there last time I was in Ioannina, although I fear for its existence; it was just too non-flash for this slick day and age.

Rickety door, hospital green walls, grey marble floor, Formica tables on tubular metal frames, non-matching half-broken chairs, fluorescent strip lighting, dusty old fan in the ceiling; no expense had been spared to make the place look hideously uninviting. But the bougatsas were fantastic!

On the way down to Dimitriou there are some places which look a bit like that but if you are not a bent and wizened old Greek with thick glasses, a two-day beard and only about seven and a half teeth, the effect of going into a place like that is a kind of John-Wayne-enters-saloon-where-outlaws-are-gathered scene. Everyone stops doing what they were doing and follows your every move and every mouthful until you leave and I hate that when I am on my own!

So, I was looking for a place not too rickety but not too slick and as I turned into Dimitriou I found the very place. Went in and ordered mia krema, watched him slice it from the plate they keep warm on, then watched him slice it into little squares, then shake on icing sugar and then cinnamon…mmm. I ordered a frappe to go with it, “not too sweet”, I said.

And I went outside to consume it. At the next table was an archetypal Greek pair, the doting grandmother with the cheeky grandson. He was between 2 and 3; she was between 50 and 129. She had bought him a bougatsa too and was trying to get him to eat it by holding out a piece on the little cake fork and trying to get it into his mouth, he was kneeling on his chair, lips pressed together, head tipped up and wagging from left to right.

Not really needing this kind of entertainment, I shifted my chair to an angle where I didn’t have to watch them. But I could hear their little battle of puny wits going on behind me... and the smoke from her never ending chain of fags (these were fags not cigarettes – there is a difference) was blowing straight over to me.

I remembered often coming back from university at lunchtime, when I lived in Ioannina, and finding the little lads playing football in the streets and their mothers running around behind them with spoons of food in one hand and bowls of the food in the other trying to coax them to eat their lunches.

I just wanted one of the mums, one time to break and say, “if you don’t come in and eat your dinner now, little Janni/Tasso/Georgo/etc mou, then I will BEAT THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS OUT OF YOU!”

My bougatsa was … good, not brilliant but still very good. The not-too-sweet frappe was SWEET!

The Greeks have this thing about sugar which is a bit like their language. There is no satisfactory way in Greek to say “too much something”. You can only say “VERY, very much something”, which is nothing like the same thing and really used to irritate me.

In the same way Greeks also lack the concept, “too much sugar”.

You know those little Greek coffees you can drink? Well there are supposed to be three levels of sweetness:

Gluko = sweet

Metrio = medium

Scheto = no sugar

So far so good.

The problem is that what these words mean to a Greek waiter in a café is a bit different.

To him:

Gluko = so much sugar dissolved into that tiny cup that it should be too heavy to lift

Metrio = same as gluko

Scheto (this is the one, don’t forget, which should mean no sugar) = same as gluko

So by the time the little love next to me had screamed, “PAME!” 20 times to his granny and she had given in and gone, I was ready to cruise on sugar highway!

This was just as well seeing that I was feeling a bit unsteady from the 4 days on flu and I had been walking like a 90-year old.

I went on cruise mode and wandered fairly aimlessly down to the Rotonda and on towards the harbour and came out by the White Tower, which I thought was down the other end of the town! Just before that I was amazed to find a statue to the women who took up arms against the Italian invaders in the Pindos mountains in 1940. That’s the first time I have ever seen a statue to women fighters. (Before anyone misunderstands this, I think it is a tragedy that anyone of any sex or creed ends up having to fight in a war – I would be more than happy if we could get along without wars. But the fact that women have found themselves embroiled in this madness too deserves recognition.)

One war which seems to have been ended is the one which used to go on around the White Tower. I am pretty sure that there used to be a roundabout encircling this tower where loony drivers would fight it out all day trying to find their way into or out of Thessaloniki. The problem was that all the main roads converged on it and no one knew which exit to take due to the fact that all the road signs had been put up behind the branches of the leafy trees which line the roads.

Now it has been made into a kind of park/esplanade which will one day be very pleasant.

I sat there for quite a while just looking seawards and listening to the sloop of the water hitting the harbour mole. Lovely!


Anji said...

bougatsa sounds fantastic. If ever I go to Greece I must remember not to take my blood glucose reader with me;)

Neutron said...

Bougatsa is heavenly!!