Friday, 3 August 2012

Desperately seeking Maria

Since 1983, women in Greece do not change their surname automatically when they get married, as they did in the past, unlike in most Western countries. This explains why you often find more than one name on a doorbell. It also helps you keep in touch with female friends in Greece who may have gotten married - their name is most likely to still be the same one they used at school.

Some friends of Maria's from her Kiwi days were visiting Crete recently and they wanted to surprise Maria by popping up on her doorstep without Maria knowing. Jo is the old-fashioned type who likes to send real letters in stamped envelopes. So every year, she would send Maria a Christmas card-letter with the same surname she knew Maria to have in New Zealand. Maria sometimes got the letters, but sometimes she didn't (although she did the last one). They were always sent to valid addresses but Maria had moved five times until today: her last known address was her own property which she had moved out of when she got married. It was being rented and the tenant knew their landlord well. So in theory, Maria was 'findable' and could be pounced on unawares.

As soon as Mike and Jo, originally from Wales, arrived in Hania, they went to a souvlaki shop in the Venetian harbour that they remember going to in 1977, when they had just fallen in love, where had holidayed together without Mums and Dads knowing that they were together at the time (Mike had to wait until his suntan faded before Jo invited him over to meet her parents). The souvlaki shop was still there, but it was trading under a different name: instead of Angelo's, it is now called Mike's. Mike himself thought this was a sign.

"Mike's bound to know how to find Maria's house," he said to Jo. So they gave him the paper where they had written the last address they posted Maria a letter, and sure enough, Mike said he knew where it was.

"Its not far from where we are now, you can walk there," he told them. Mike and Jo preferred to take a taxi because it was very hot. Indeed the house was very close to where they had taken the taxi from, but when they knocked on the door, no one was home. There was no answer except for the incessant yapping bark of a dog. They decided to leave on foot and come back later, where they found a woman sitting on the balcony.

With her long red hair flowing in the gusty wind that had cooled down the hot air, Jo asked the lady if she knew Maria. Dhanggit didn't speak English, and didn't really understand anything these strangers were saying. The intonation patterns of these people's language was completely unknown to her. But she liked their smiles and they seemed very friendly people, even though she had no idea about how to convey this to them. She couldn't understand what these people were doing here out of the blue: the only thought that came to her was that perhaps the owner of the house she was renting was putting it up for sale, and these tourists were interested buyers. Seeing their map in tatters, she patched it up for them with cellotape, offering them a glass of water to refresh themselves. They showed her Maria's name and address on the paper, but Dhanggit couldn't make any sense of it - she could read Albanian and a little bit of Greek, but anything written in curly lettering style in English spelling was beyond her (and this despite English and Albanian both being written with Latin letters).

Mike and Jo thanked the lady for her help, and returned to Mike's feeling a little despondent, where they told him of their experiences. They told Mike that they knew Maria's husband was a taxi driver. Mike thought that maybe Maria was now using her married name, but there may be someone at the taxi company who would know her with her maiden name as the wife of a taxi driver. So he phoned the company offices where he was told that there was indeed a taxi driver who went by the name of Verivaki. The secretary gave Mike the number of the taxi and told him that Mike and Jo should search for it in the taxi stands around the town.

After a relaxing evening at their hotel, off they went the next day in search of Verivaki's taxi. To their amazement, the first taxi they came across in the stand was the number they had been given. A tall dark handsome young chap was sitting in the driver's seat. They gave him the piece of paper with Maria's name and address and asked him if he knew this person. Verivaki's English was just as bad as Dhanggit's. As long as he could vaguely hear a local place name, he could work his way round the idiosyncrasies of various tourist speakers' elocutions, but being asked to discuss his own name in the English language was way beyond his capabilities.

He looked at the strangers and wondered how they knew about his family... He instantly decided that something was amiss here. After conferring with the other cabbies in the rank, they all decided that it was best not to deal with these people. Who knows what they wanted? The man looked especially shifty - he looked young with long white straggly hair; Verivaki assumed that it must be dyed. (Actually, Mike simply looked younger than his age - he was overly athletic for a 65-year-old and although he was now classified as a pensioner in New Zealand which means free public transport, children standing up for you in the bus, and a free weekly meal at a restaurant, he certainly didn't feel like an old fogey, and didn't really know how to act like one.)

"I don't know," Verivaki replied abruptly to Mike and Jo, who realised that they were now in a pickle about how to find Maria. Everyone who seemed to be able to help them was doing their best to hinder them. They went back to Mike's souvlaki, where he tried to cheer them up by telling them that there are millions of Maria's in the area, and her common name was probably what was thwarting their efforts.

Jo then decided to do what she least wanted to do: she logged into Facebook on a computer terminal and sent Maria a message. There would be no surprises after all. Maria responded immediately, telling her to meet up at a pre-defined spot in Hania. After a few hugs and kisses later, Mike and Jo narrated the events to Maria, who explained to them that the Albanian lady was her tenant and she didn't speak any English, which was probably where the misunderstanding occurred. Maria then invited them to her house for dinner; they were staying at a hotel close to Maria's house, so it would be easy to drop them off afterwards. So they got into Maria's car and drove out of the noisy town into the relative peace and quiet of rural Crete. Maria parked the car and they all got out.

"Honey!" Maria cried. "I'm home! We've got visitors!" At that moment her husband came out to greet them.

"Oh, hello!" he said, shaking Mike and Jo's hands. "I remember you! I take you to the house in Hania. You remember me?"

Mike and Jo were stunned to realise that before them stood the first taxi driver that had driven them from Hania to the house where the Albanian lady had patched up their map with sellotape.

"Why didn't you tell us that this was your wife's house when we were there?" Jo asked.

"Oh, I know it is my house wife," Maria's husband explained, "but you no say to me to take you to my wife. You say to take you to the house!"

*** *** ***

Greeks don't offer much personal information to everybody. They are (were?) generally very cagey about giving details of their personal affairs, even to people they know. But they love hearing about your own details and continue to ask foreigners lots of questions.

All's well that ends well. Thank you Jo and Mike (and Mike's souvlaki at the old harbour, which I will visit one day when I get the chance) for all the surprises you offered during your brief visit!

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