Monday, 2 December 2013

Solving the world's problems (Του κόσμου τα προβλήματα)

This story was inspired by a brilliant piece I heard on the radio last Saturday as I left the town after doing my chores for the day. A stand-up Greek comic who is also a singer spoke about how tired the modern world makes him, using the punch lines I have also used in this story. I can't remember the name of the singer so I couldn't find this brilliant combination of prose and song on youtube. I hope I do it justice, and you get the picture.

What a shame you can't buy mizithra online. I really dislike going into the town centre these days. All that tinsel and the Christmas lights, the phantasmagorical window displays full of things we don't need, and can't afford anyway. They serve to remind us that the crisis is not an economic one: there must be people who can afford those things in the displays; it is an issue of changing values: we have to learn to prioritise our spending habits instead. While I was looking at the electrified shop windows and the shop owners adding more glittery decorations to their stores, I was accosted by beggars of all sorts, narrating the story of their unemployed life and asking for money to buy some bread and milk for their hungry children. It felt so Dickensian! It all seemed so incongruous! And I felt disgusted!

I thought about writing a letter to the editor of the local paper in my town about this issue. I wanted to write it there and then, to tell him that we need to help these people, and shop owners should help towards solving this issue, because they are wasting money on un-necessities! But I was in the middle of the road, so where could I stop to write the letter? There was a bus stop round the corner - perhaps I could go there and sit down to write it. But it was cold, and I decided to stop and look for a table at a nice cafe... some place where they would make me a nice cappuccino, where I could sip and write at teh same time. So I walked by the bus stop... where there was another pretty window display, some gold-sprayed biscuits placed on what looked like a tub of ice-cream which was actually moulded from plastic and it looked like snow... and I thought how lovely... I could buy my kids some gold spray paint and we could collect all the pine cones from the forest at my workplace, and place them all under the Christmas tree...

As I was in the commercial centre, I set off to find some gold spray paint. I didn't forget about the letter that I wanted to write, but I thought I could do it later in my own time... at home... after I had made myself a hot cuppa... and settled before my computer, to check the daily news... and that always makes me really tired because only no news is good news, and I generally read a lot of news, so of course, it's all bad, and that makes me exhausted. For now, anyway, the letter would have to wait, until I was more relaxed.

Then I went to the laiki. The street market is always an uplifting sight, with the brightly coloured fresh vegetables stacked high in piles, and the gypsies calling out to passersby ''Ολα τσάμπα σήμερα!' (everything is going for free today)...
... and the smell of souvlaki wafting in the air as people walk by, doing their shopping. Just as I approached the laiki, I saw a man walking with a stick, his back scruched like a hunchback, and as people passed him, he'd ask them for money, and when he accosted a woman who was leaving the laiki, she said, 'Oi mate, didn't I give you all my small change when I arrived here?' and he just kept walking, without looking up.

I was reminded of that letter I wanted to write to the editor of the local paper, and I thought what a good thing I hadn't written it before, because now I could add some more substance to it, by making mention of the disabled and helpless, so I looked for some place to sit down and start writing it, right there in the laiki, and I found a corner bench. But I was really really thirsty for some reason, despite the cold weather... probably due to my heavy but snuggly warm (and cheap) Lee Cooper jacket that I bought during my (likewise cheap) London holiday... so I nipped into the supermarket across from the laiki, and bought myself a (glass) bottle of Souroti... and now I was holding my handbag, and the bottle, and I was sipping the bubbly from a straw, and I had no hands free to hold a pen in my hand, never mind the paper, so I thought that's OK... I could write the letter later in my own time... at home... after I had made myself a hot cuppa... and settled before my computer, to check the daily news... which of course always makes me really tired because I read too much news and the news is usually bad, which of course makes me exhausted. For now, anyway, the letter would have to wait... until I was more comfortable.

I wanted to buy some mizithra, so I set off to find my favorite dairy stall, where I asked for 2 kilos of the fresh white soft cheese, but the lady put 2.125 kilos in the bag, and asked if that was OK, and I said that's OK, because we eat a lot of mizithra, and it's cheaper and better at the laiki, and then she asked me if I had tasted her feta, and before I could say no, she had already cut a piece and given it to me, and I said thank you, it's nice (well, it wasn't as good as what I'm used to), and I asked how much the mizithra cost, and she said here, have a piece of my graviera, and I said thank you (that was actually really nice), and then I took out my 20 euros and asked how much the mizithra cost, and she asked me if I preferred kaseri instead of graviera, and before I could say no, she said, here, try some.

After I had eaten the three cheeses, I thanked her, and asked to pay because it was getting cold and raindrops had started falling on my head, so she took my 20 euros and gave me the plastic bag with my mizithra, slipping a pottle of yoghurt into it, and charging me 15 euros, when the mizithra cost only 13 euros and 50 cents. So I said, 'Oi, I didn't ask for that, did I?' and she said I probably didn't know how good it was, which was fair enough, because I hadn't tried the yoghurt, only the 3 cheeses.

When I got back my change, I then made my way to another little bench behind the stall, because I wanted to put my change in my purse, and my purse in my handbag, and hopefully the 2 kilos of mizithra in my bag too, because everything was feeling like a heavy juggling act by then. As I apporached the bench, I saw a man on the other side, looking into the rubbish bin that was conveniently placed next to the bench, and rummaging inside it, as if he was looking for something special. But we all know what old men rummaging in bins want, and I thought the cheese stall holder who was within seeing distance could help him out. But she had her back to him, all the while giving out free samples of feta and graviera and kaseri to the passing trade, and he obviously didn't want to buy anything (he just wanted to eat).

Now this enraged me because now I knew that the letter I wanted to write to the editor was going to be a very long one since I would have to add something about the hungry people looking in the bins for food, so I began walking back to the car, which took me past a gypsy beggar and the same hunchback I had seen at the laiki, who was now upright, and in my hurry, I almost bumped into a man with one leg, but as I crossed the road, I came across a beautiful array of Christmas-themed teapots. They were so pretty, that I stopped and looked at them, and then I rememebred that gold spray I wanted for the pine cones, but I couldn't find a shop close by that sold it. So I just headed for the car and sped back home to the safety of my office, where I could start writing that letter (I hadn't forgotten it).

I made myself a hot cuppa and turned on the computer, and when I got an internet connection, I opened the BBC website, which had a story about rising levels of poverty in the UK, and then I opened up the eKathimerini site, which talked about rising levels of poverty in Greece, and I got so tired just reading those two stories, that I just thought to myself who do I think I am, trying to solve the world's problems. It then occurred to me that the people writing those articles got exhausted writing them too, just like me when I was readign them, and they probably used up all their energy on writing about the problems, so they had no more energy to spend on solving them.

And as I drank my cuppa, I thought I'd better get some dinner on the table before everyone else in the family came back home and found nothing to eat and mother reading the news on the internet. They really don't know how tired I am.

All photos taken on last Saturday.

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