Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Day 321: Opa! Greek All-Nighter

Clubbing in Greece hurts the next day. It hurts bad.

We all slept late on Day 321, and when we did finally rise from our temporary comas, we did little else but lay by the pool. When Yaya announced it was time to eat, the entire clan erupted in cheers of happiness.

Thankfully again, the Los cousins thought ahead and they had already put in their day-after-clubbing food request with Yaya: pastitsio, a casserole-like dish that features layers of ground beef and pasta, bound together with a creamy sauce and topped with bechamel cheese. I loaded a heaping spoonful onto my plate just like everyone else and when I took a bite, I understood why this was their choice on a day like Day 321. Pastitsio is like the ultimate comfort food and it couldn't have been served at a better time.

There wasn't a whole lot of conversation while eating, just a lot of moaning over how delicious the food was. Katy interrupted the awkward noises to remark on the bechamel cheese. She told Yaya she had traveled to Charleston, South Carolina weeks before and a lot of the dishes she ate used the creamy cheese and it reminded her of pastitsio.

As I racked my brain trying to think of anything I've ever eaten in Charleston that reminded me of pastitsio or used bechamel cheese (I came up with nothing), Yaya nodded, as if this wasn't news to her.

"Well," she said, "Bechamel is a pretty standard background flavor. Like mayonnaise."

I don't know why, but her comparison of mayonnaise to bechamel cheese amused me, as did counting both of the rich, fat-laden foods as just background flavors. Jana and I burst out laughing. Yaya seemed confused, like we were idiots.

After lunch we continued to lay around wherever we could: by the pool. On the couch. In our beds.

Plans were made earlier in the week for us to head an hour north to Kardamyla for a festival to celebrate the Feast of the Dormition of Mary. Nearly all of the towns in Chios have religious-based festivals like this one, and since we'd missed the one in Emporios by a day, it seemed like a good plan to go to Kardamyla for theirs.

Yaya planned dinner around us departing for Kardamyla at around 9pm-9:30pm. Nico would drive us kids, we would spend the night at one of Katy's cousin's houses. The trip to Kardamyla would take about an hour, which was fine, because according to Yaya, "That party won't really start until at least 11pm."

An out of town trip to go to a late night summer Greek street festival?

What I should've been thinking was: "What a wonderful way to celebrate my trip to Greece and see Greek culture but by attending a street party in a beach town."

What I was actually thinking was: "There is no way I can go to a party that doesn't start until 11pm. I won't last. I'll die. I need sleep."

I felt older than my 29 years with such thoughts, and I was immediately embarrassed and ashamed. I'm in Greece and this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, yet I was having a hard time mustering any excitement about going. I just knew I'd be worthless. The only thing I could think about enjoying was crawling into bed and sleeping until the morning.

But there was no way I could back out, and staying behind was simply not an option. Katy, Nico, Mike and Tatiana were all planning to go, and of course I was expected to go with them. So I put on a sundress and a happy face, and dug deep to find the last bit of vacation energy I had left.

My only saving grace, I thought, was that this was a family affair. There will be young children, young adults, lots of people my parents' age and much older. I was sure this was not going to be the kind of night like the one we'd had the night before. No late night dance clubs, no champagne, no loud music. I've never been so wrong about something in my entire life.

When we got to Kardamyla (after a nauseating and scary game of chicken with some dude on a motorcycle), we dropped the car and our belongings at one of Katy's mom's cousin's houses (whose name I do not remember) where we ran into Marika (from our lobster lunch the day before) sitting at the kitchen table smoking a cigarette and playing solitaire. She was every bit as lovely as she had been the day before, and though I'm not completely sure she lived in this house, she welcomed us in like a friendly host.

There were, as there had been everyday since I arrived in Greece, more people for me to meet at the house; we picked up several of them and began our short walk through the city streets to the part of town where the festival was happening.

When we arrived, there was no question that we'd reached our destination. The whole scene looked like a movie set.

There were tables upon tables set up in the street right in front of a Greek band playing music. Yaya was right when she predicted that the party wouldn't get started until later in the evening. The tables were just starting to fill with people, drinks and food were just starting to get served. There were people of all ages running through the streets. Everyone looked young and vibrant and happy. I have no scientific proof, and I have no idea what the life expectancy is in Greece, but based on my own observations, Greek culture and Greek food keeps people young. I like it.

We wandered into one of the bars and fought our way through to get a drink before returning to the outside to take a seat at one of the tables, and begin a most perfect night of people watching I have ever experienced. There were flamboyantly dressed ladies with furry boots (in the middle of August, mind you) and the Greece equivalent of "Everybody's favorite bar meathead," who was ordering people to take shots of liquor and who eventually took his shirt off at several points during the night. We affectionately called him, "Effing G" and both would yell his name every time he showed up at our table or in the background of one of our pictures, which was often. For the most part, we were surrounded by the same group, more or less, that we'd run into the previous night, and in Komi. It was as if we had been following each other from town to town.

Speaking of pictures, a few of these here are from my camera, but most are from Katy's plastic disposable, thanks to my camera's battery dying within minutes of us being there. I wanted to cry, knowing that there was no way I'd forget the images in my head, but still desperately wanting to have a picture of them.

The night wore on, the crowds grew larger, the drinks flowed easily to our table (from where, I'm not sure), but I was having a hard time choking anything down.

Enter ouzo.

Ouzo is obviously something that everyone has to try while they're in Greece. So I wasn't terribly surprised when bottles of the clear liquor showed up at the party table where Katy, Tatiana and I were sitting. I probably would've been disappointed if they hadn't. I think ouzo is meant to be taken like a shot of liquor, but I'm not really good at taking shots, so I instead sipped it from a juice glass. I didn't love it, but of all the gross things I've ever drank in my life, (see Arden's Garden juice diet), this is hardly the worst. It tasted like licorice and it tasted like Greece, like something I had to drink while here on vacation. Plus, the only other options at that time were warm liquor drinks and wine. I was happy to drink ouzo.

As the night progressed, and the ouzo continued to flow, more people were rising from their seats to dance to the music provided by the band. I wanted to scream for my camera dying during this most crucial time. The people and the dancing were so much fun to watch. Katy, seeing that I was fading, grabbed my hand at one point and dragged me out to the "dance floor," to join in.

Greek dancing, at least the kind we did, was more or less holding hands in a circle and doing grapevines back and forth. There is specific footwork, but none that I recognized or could really follow. I let those who knew what they were doing lead me, which meant several almost collisions, and a lot of laughs.

In fact, I think I laughed the entire time I was out there, and it makes me sad that there is not photographic evidence of such a purely joyous time in my life. But I assure you, if there was, the pictures would've been the kind that emit happiness. I remember thinking while we were bumping into everyone around us, our hands linked, that if someone ever made a movie out of my 29th year, that this scene would be the one aired in every promo and seen on every billboard. It was that good. I also thought that the dancing was like a metaphor for my life. Though it certainly hasn't turned out the way that I planned it, or that other people think that it should, and it's full of missteps and near collisions; but I've lived it surrounded by so many people who love me so much, and therefore I consider my life joyous. Plus, I laugh my ass off, just as I was doing with the Greek dancing, a lot. Thank God!

OK, it was late, so I probably didn't think that metaphor then, I came up with that later, but still, it completely fits. Right then I was really just thinking how much fun I was having and how I was so glad that I didn't let my poor attitude stand in the way of coming.

After a few hours (I had completely lost track of time at this point, giving into the reality that we'd be sleeping very little for the second night in a row. I opted instead to have a fabulous time with my new friends and soak up one of my last nights in Greece.), we left the outside festival with the "younger" crowd and headed to a nearby disco. The place was dark, the music was loud and a combination of Greek techno and Top 40 dance songs I'd heard in the United States. Katy and I couldn't help but laugh, as everyone started filling the bar, because she knew, or was related to in some way, a lot of the people there.

And then we danced the night away like no one was watching.

Time was of no concern to me after arriving in Kardamyla, so when I went into the bathroom at the disco for the last time and noticed through the only window in the place the sun had come up outside, I wasn't terribly surprised. I was, however, immensely proud of myself for staying up all night, and most of all at my ability to talk myself out of a bad mood. I vowed to try and silence any doubts I had in the future in hopes that doing so would always yield such rewards.

We walked back to the square where we had started the evening, and I enjoyed seeing the area in the light of day. It looked extremely different, but no less lovely. To my surprise, the Greek band and many of the older adults who we'd danced with earlier in the evening, were also winding down their nights. I was impressed, certain that my own parents couldn't have stayed up all night.

After awkwardly standing around for a little while, the group started to disperse. Katy and I found ourselves with Mike, so we all walked back to the house where we were staying and as inconspicuously as possible, tiptoed up to our room to try and get some sleep before we had to drive back to Yaya's.

I immediately laid down on one of the beds and closed my eyes. Katy closed the shutters and went to get ready for bed. When Katy came back from the bathroom, she seemed annoyed.

"Stephanie, you need to change out of your dress and get into some pajamas."

I found her request puzzling. I didn't think that it was a secret that we'd stayed out all night. Plus, I'm almost 30-years old. If I want to sleep in my clothes, I'll sleep in my clothes.

Not to mention, "Katy," I said, trying to be funny despite my crankiness, "Your family member is across the street on his porch smoking a cigarette and wearing only his underwear, I really don't think it matters if I change out of this dress."

Katy glared at me, unamused.

"Stephanie, just trust me. Do it."

We were tired, we had been up all night, so I didn't push it. I did as she told and put on a sleep shirt and climbed into bed, sticky and dirty with sweat. When I talked to Jana later, she confirmed, that double standards for what is socially acceptable for men and what is socially acceptable for women are still alive and well in Greece, just like in the United States. Katy was right to tell me to change my clothes.

Appropriately dressed in pajamas, Katy crawled into one bed, and I crawled into another, and we quickly fell asleep (at 8am on Day 322.)

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