Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Organic puttanesca (Βιολογική πουτανέσκα)

It's Holy Tuesday (Μεγάλη Τρίτη) today, the only day when the Hymn of Kassiani is heard in the Greek Orthodox church.

"Are you free?" A very pretty young woman got into the car at Nea Hora. She was slim, with long legs, and a round unblemished face. She had long blonde hair curled up in a bun. But I couldn't see her eyes. She was wearing sunglasses, even though the day was not sunny.

"For you, honey, I'm always free." I'd been waiting in the rank for one hour before I managed to crawl my way to the beginning of the queue. For my good luck at landing such a beautiful fare, I hoped she would be worth my pocket. As I started the car, I noticed the other taxi drivers waving me off with big cheesy grins on their faces.

"I'm going to Gaea," she said. Oh, great, I thought. I had just landed myself a quickie. I would be losing my place in the queue only to rejoin it half an hour later.

"So you're into organic food, are you?" I said, just to make small talk. "Is that how you keep yourself looking so gorgeous?" I didn't expect she'd answer back. Not that I was really interested. I was just pondering over how busy the Dikastiria taxi rank might be.

"I just want to stop off and do some shopping there, and then go somewhere else," she continued, ignoring my flattering remarks. Oh, wonderful, I'm now going to be tied in one place, losing money on waiting time. I had now entered the thick stream of traffic on Kissamou St. The dowdy look of the street with its old apartment blocks, its cheap-looking shops, the rubbish on the road and and the stinky atmosphere of car exhaust fumes suited my mood. I was going to be in for a long wait.

I used to shop at GAEA; these days, I prefer local over organic.
Parking outside Gaia was non-existent. I parked right outside the shop, narrowly missing a crate that had been placed in front of the store to allow the goods lorries to drop off produce. From my position, I was able to see straight inside the shop. It wasn't very busy.

I've never bought anything from an organic store myself. I don't even know what it means for something to be organic. Does it mean that there are no chemicals in the food? I don't believe it. Nothing grows without chemicals these days. If it does, it doesn't look big and shiny and clean, like the stuff I could see in the crates outside the store. Tomatoes in winter? My foot. Bloody ha-ha, if you ask me. If I eat anything organic, it's because I grew it in my garden, or picked it from my fields. It's organic de facto

The woman was taking quite a while. Twenty minutes had passed already, while new customers were going in and out of the shop, but there was no sight of her. She must be one picky lady!

Finally, she came out of the store, holding four bags of goods. Even her handbag was fatter than when she went into the store. I got out of the cab to open the hood for her. I could have told her to open it herself, but I really wanted to see what she had bought. Apart from a couple of small bags of fresh produce, I noticed a lot of pre-packaged good. Not all of the products were identifiable to me.

"Πολύ πράμα," I joked with her. "You must have paid a lot of money for all of this." I was hoping that she would reveal exactly how much she paid; she didn't. I helped her load the bags into the car. She held onto her handbag.

"Oh, it's all worth it," she said, as we got back into the taxi. "Gaia sells good clean food. I would never swap it for cheap supermarket produce. If you have children, you should buy all their food from here."

"Yes, indeed," I pretended to agree with her. "I've got two, and my wife's very careful about what she cooks with." I turned on the engine and looked at her, with a big smile on my face. "What goes into our bodies is really important. So where are we going to now, my lovely?"

"Minoos." Minoos? Opa!

Minoos St, Hania
"Exactly which part, love?" I asked a little cagily, not wanting to sound too obtrusive.

"Minoos," she repeated. "You can leave me at the cafe," she said, "it's a little too narrow for a car your size," she explained.

"OK, ma'am, whatever you say," I grinned. It's been a while since anyone said that to me.

By the time we arrived at the cafe, the sun was shining. Spring weather is changeable. One minute you need an umbrella, the next minute you need sunglasses. My pretty fare was well prepared. She never took her shades off the whole time I was with her. I got out of the car to open the boot, while she fumbled in her bag to find her purse among all the new items she had placed in it when she did her shopping.

Red light at night, sailor's delight

"Kalimera, kiries," I said, half-looking in the direction of the cafe, where the other prostitutes were airing their fannies, taking advantage of the good weather. They all said 'Yia', lifting their hands to greet their colleague, half-smiling as they looked in my direction.

The packet of biscuits my husband was given
The fare cost €7.50. The woman gave me €10. "Keep the change," she said. I thanked her. As she put her purse back into her bag, she gave me one of the items that could not fit into her bag, after she had tampered with it when she was searching for her purse. "Here, take it," she said, "a little present from me."

"Oh, thank you, you really shouldn't..." I started. "You bought it with your hard-earned money."

"No," she answered firmly. "You keep it. Give them to your children. They'll love it."

I thanked her and waved to everyone at the cafe. They shook their heads backward in reciprocation. When I got home, I gave my wife the packet (it turned out to be imported biscuits), and told her who gave it to me.

"Did you notice the price?" she said, showing me the sticker she found on the packet. "€3.49 for a packet of biscuits?! They must be raking in the money! Even during a crisis!"

Theme music to Safe Sex (1999)

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I make the most incredible puttanesca sauce - nothing to do with my technique at all - made with organic pantry staples: green olives, capers, peppers, onion and garlic, in tomato sauce - all foraged/grown/preserved by ourselves in summer/early autumn. The capers also include the leaves - the white spots are a natural result of the pickling process. And of course, it's lenten.

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