Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Explanations (Εξηγήσεις)

Here's a lovely make-you-feel-good story about the continuous mysteriousness of Greece, which foreigners often find that they cannot discover until they talk with a real Greek. 

They didn't care which cafe they went to. It was obvious by the way they looked around them, checking which seats were not taken. They cared more for the position of the chair they would be sitting in. It was only 11.30 in the morning, and most of the good seats had already been taken. In fact, most of the cafes were doing well already, some more than others. They picked the first table they found that bordered the footpath, which in turn bordered the coastline.

They settled their shopping bags on the empty chairs next to them. These chairs would remain empty as long as all the tables had been taken. Each παρέα takes up one table, and one παρέα does not sit with another. Communal seating - it's for other places, not the cafes of Greece. Every now and then, they became the spectators of a wave splashing onto the breakwater, sprinkling its spray over their heads. The women both revelled in delight whenever that happened. They showed no inhibitions, expressing their joy loudly, vividly, as if it were the first time, every time.

Freddo with frothy milk (left), and frappe with no milk (right).
For the kafeneio clutch bag, check out The Greek Collection

The waitress came and took their orders. In the meantime, they chatted animatedly. They seemed to have a lot to say to each other. They spoke Greek. Then they spoke English. Then Greek again. Their colonial English accents were that of a native speaker's. But their dark hair and olive skin attested to their Greek heritage. They were gliding effortlessly in and out of their two worlds.

*** *** ***
David and Susan had been in Crete for three months. Their initials thoughts were to pass through the island during their round-the-world trip while David was on sabbatical. They had 'done' Asia, spending a little longer in Thailand than they had planned, due to the relaxed lifestyle that they had experienced there, but the language problems made them decide to move on. When they had first arrived in Hania at Easter, they thought they would be passing through this town, as they had passed through so many picturesque places along their journey. In other words, they would whiff in the atmosphere before moving on for another atmospheric experience. But something in Hania made them decide to stay on. And this time, there was no language barrier - everyone seemed to understand and speak English, even in rudimentary form.

At first, the Venetian harbour seemed so alluring, with its promenade and strollers, and the beautiful sunset with the lighthouse as a backdrop. But an exploration of the area over time led them to the much quieter Koum Kapi, with its fewer tourists and vast number of locals. Koum Kapi exuded the authentic taste of the area. Here, they were not confronted by gaudy tourists sipping cocktails with sparklies and eating damp-looking pizza by the waterfront. Here, they could watch the locals eating and drinking things that looked so very appetising, things that they would like to have tasted themselves, but whose names they did not know, which is what stopped them from ordering them.

David and Susan had each ordered a beer, which came to the table together with two other tall glasses filled with drinks in different shades of chocolate. As the waitress lowered their orders onto their table, their eyes remained transfixed on the other glasses on her tray, the ones with the unknown liquids. The waiter then turned around and placed those glasses on the table next to them, where they two women were sitting.

*** *** ***
"Wonder what they are," Susan whispered, although it wasn't quite necessary to whisper. Despite the close proximity of the tables and the general noise levels of people chattering, street sellers hawking, and seagulls crying, everyone seemed to be able to communicate among their own little group with some level of privacy. The glasses on the two women's table looked icy cold, perfectly pairing with the warmth of the sun. Every now and then, Susan found it necessary to move her chair to avoid the heat.

"They speak English," David said, dropping a hint to Susan. He was hoping that she would do the asking, as he felt that he was intruding in the women's privacy, although this feeling also seemed somewhat incorrect to him - the women's linguistic abilities attested to their knowledge of his own culture.

"Ask them," said Susan, which seemed perfectly logically to her, as David was sitting closer to the women.

David felt obliged to oblige. "Excuse me,..." he said quietly, not wishing to disrupt their peace. The women both turned their faces towards his, and looked at him seriously.

"I was wondering what the name of your drinks are."

The women's faces immediately melted into smiles of surprise, and they began talking together.

"Oh, this is a frappe,... a frappe coffee," said the paler-faced woman with the curly hair.

"And mine is a freddo, it's made with hot espresso that's cooled down with ice cubes," said the woman who was wearing glasses.

"The frappe is the Greek classic summer coffee, most people drink it, everyone knows it well."

David and Susan smiled apologetically. They had indeed seen this coffee appearing almost everywhere in the Greeker part of the town. Since they started coming to Koum Kapi for their monring coffee, they had noticed the difference in what was being served, compared to the Venetian harbour on the western side of the seafront.

"Thank you..., so it's frapay, you said?" David felt confused - both women had used words starting with the same letter. The women then went on to explain the different kinds of iced coffees to them (frappe, freddo, freddoccino), pronouncing each name clearly for them to hear it and to comprehend it well. They told them about how to ask for the correct amount of sugar, and if milk is to be added. The many different iced coffee choices in Greece gave all those iced glasses floating around them a different chocolate-coloured hue. Without these explanations offered by the women, they could not have worked out the difference.

But it was more than just the coffee that mesmerised Susan and David. These women were clearly Greek. Yet, their accents were clearly not Greek. As they wondered about the origins of these women and how they came to be sitting next to them, the woman wearing the glasses offered another explanation, as if she could detect their confusion.

"We're from New Zealand, our parents emigrated there, and we eventually returned to Greece. That's why we have a Kiwi accent. I suppose you're here on holiday." David explained the situation with his sabbatical, and how they had been in Hania for three months.

"And you didn't know what frappe was?" asked the woman with the curly hair looking slightly bemused. "I didn't realise frappe in Greece could still be such a secret!" David felt that tinge of embarrassment when a person shows their ignorance of a basic fact.

"I'm glad you asked us about it," said the other woman. "You'd have never found out if you hadn't asked us! Imagine being here for so long and not indulging in one of these!"

And that's what everyone visiting another country should do if they want the full authentic experience: just ask. Greeks don't charge for explanations, and they are some of the most forgiving people in the world. 

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