Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Day 325: Guilty by Association

On Day 325, I went to Northside Hospital to visit new mom Trish, new dad Mark and Baby Will (aka Willie J). I planned on juggling for him, but since that didn’t really work out on Day 324, I brought flowers and magazines for his mommy instead and showed him my new blue toenails.

Despite having a lot of friends with kids, this was the first time I'd ever been to the hospital to visit a newborn. I was at the hospital when my friend Danielle’s first child, Karson, was born, but I had to leave immediately following her birth to drive back to school. I never got to hold Karson at the hospital, or bring flowers and be a part of the baby celebration and fanfare.

So Day 325’s thing I’ve never done before was to meet Baby Will, and visit his new family in the hospital. Unfortunately for Will, though, the day presented another first that neither of us was too thrilled about.

Seeing Trish as a new mom wasn't at all as shocking as I thought it might be. Trish is happily married and she's a natural caretaker; of course having a baby is an expected next step. Motherhood had instantly come very easy to her. What did surprise me was how laid back she was about it all; she handed Will over, offering to let me hold him right away.

I declined at first. Not because I didn't want to, but because I always feel so terribly awkward holding newborns. They seem so fragile to me in my inexperience, and it makes me feel stupid that I'm not better at it. Aren't women naturally supposed to know how to hold babies?

Trish, Mark, and I instead chatted about the birth, and about how the woman across the hall from her had refused an epidural and screamed bloody murder the entire time, scaring everyone in the vicinity. Trish showed me a video of Will peeing on his daddy for the first time and pictures of all who had been to visit so far. She sang the praises of the hospital for their warm hospitality and helpful nurses.

When I finally relaxed enough to take Trish up on her offer to hold Will, I fell in love. He was so small and perfect and rolled up into a little ball. And for the first time I can remember, I didn't feel awkward at all holding a newborn.

That is, of course, until a female nurse rolled a crib on wheels until a female nurse wheeled in with a crib and sweetly said, to Trish and Mark, "If you're ready, we can go ahead and take Will for his circumcision."

I looked up when I heard the word, "circumcision."

Trish looked at the nurse, and then she looked at Mark and then she looked at me.

"Like now?," she asked the nurse.

"Yes. Now. If you're ready?"

Is anyone ever ready to bring such trauma to their child? I don't know, I don't have kids; I can't imagine leading them to suffer, even if it's for their own good, is a pleasant experience.

But seeing Will's circumcision as a necessary evil that he'd never remember, Trish's concern was for me, since I would miss out on spending quality hospital time with the baby.

Mark was understandably concerned for his son for very different, very "dad-like" reasons. "Sorry buddy," he said kindly, "I'm so, so sorry."

I was concerned, of course, for myself. I looked at the nurse, who had motioned for me to put him in the crib she'd brought.

"So you mean you're going to do this now? And I'm the one who has to hand him over? So now he's going to associate this experience me?"

She ignored my antics and asked Trish to sign some form saying she approved the surgery.

I suddenly felt awkward again holding Will, reluctantly trying to lower him into the crib on wheels.

"I'm so sorry, Will. This was not my idea," I told him quietly.

I sought consolation in what Trish told me. She said that just like shots and other unpleasant injuries he may suffer as a baby and toddler, he will, forget any pain suffered during the circumcision. He's only a day old, after all.

I believe her, but what about subconscious association? What if when Will is a teenager he hates me for reasons he can't even explain that all stem from this day?

In that case, I hoped that the big blonde nurse was the last person he saw before the snip.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Day 324: Juggling Blue Toenails

On Day 324, my friend Trish's first child, William James Irby made his debut, weighing 8 pounds, 8 ounces and 20 inches long.

I, along with Elizabeth, really wanted to start Will (aka Willie, aka Will.I.Am, aka Big Willy style) his very own blog entitled, "The Adventures of Willie J," as the thing I've never done before, but his Mommy said, "Um, I don't think so." Instead, I painted my toenails blue as Day 324's thing I've never done before. I did so in honor of Will's entrance to the world, and in celebration that he waited, against his mother's wishes, until I returned from Greece before arriving.

Elated by the baby news, I also tried to teach myself to juggle with instructions I found on the Internet. The lesson didn’t go so well, and I’m pretty sure I'm going to need to seek outside help on that one.

Maybe before Will turns one-year old, I will learn and then show up as a clown at his birthday party.

Fingers crossed.

As for the blue toenail polish, it was fine. A little juvenile, but fine. Definitely more suited for preteens who still hang out at the skating rink. Fun for a while, but I probably wouldn't choose it again. I'm a woman, after all. Or at least that's what people keep telling me.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Day 323: Motion Sickness

Leaving Yaya's was sad, but my trip to the airport was relatively drama-free. For everyone except, unfortunately, Yaya.

She woke me up early the morning of Day 323. I quietly got dressed and gathered my things, ate one last fig at the dining room table, and then climbed into the old Mercedes with Yanni for the almost hour-long trip to the airport. It was still dark outside when we pulled out of the driveway. Though I certainly didn't expect her or need her to help me get ready to leave, I was sad that I didn't see Yaya again after she woke me up because I never got an opportunity to give her the huge hug that she so deserved, and never got to look her in the eye and thank her for inviting me to such a magical place.

I found out on the way to the airport that Yaya disappearing after waking me up was completely accidental. Yanni's cell phone rang several times on our way to the airport (but I couldn't understand anything that he was saying). And Katy sent me a message on my Blackberry and said, "Yaya is freaking out. She fell asleep after waking you up and fells terrible that she didn't see you leave. Please let us know when you've arrived safely."

I assured Katy that Yanni had delivered me to the airport as promised and was currently cutting everyone in line with my suitcase to check me in and make sure that I got on my plane. I told her to please send my regards to Yaya and thank her on my behalf. Katy and I went back and forth on our BlackBerrys for a while, remembering hilarious things that happened to us on the trip (Meathead "Effing G"from Kardamyla and this Taco Bell commercial that she, Jana and I all quoted constantly: "Peek-a-booooo, it's me, the liiiiiime." Our instant communication was fascinating to Yaya, who was watching Katy furiously send me messages while lying in the bed I'd just abandoned.

My BlackBerry died as I was boarding the plane to Athens, before I could tell Katy (and Yaya) that I was on my way home. Yaya worried for the rest of the morning until I could get to a place where I could relay a message that I had landed safely and was, sadly, on my way back to the United States.

The plane I rode for the short trip to Athens from Chios had one center aisle, with two seats on each side. I had the window seat on the right side of my row, next to a man seated on the aisle. The man's wife and child were seated on the left side. When I got to the row, the man got out of his seat to let me in. I took my seat, and as I settled in for the flight, I started to get the feeling that something was going on with the family in my row; like there was some serious tension in the air.

I took out my book to focus on something else, but that didn't last long and soon I was spying on them. I had to assume the stress was coming at the hands of the couple's little kid who was bouncing off the walls, crawling all over the place, and whining her face off. The wife, probably fed up with her daughter, looked like she either had been crying or like she wanted to. The man was trying to take himself to another place, distracting himself with the in-flight magazine and fiddling with the air vents.

There wasn't any verbal communication coming from either one of them, just a lot of grunting from her, and some shoulder shrugging, hands in the air from him. Again, I sensed she was at her wit's end with the daughter and was looking for him to step in and take charge.

The next thing I know, the man and woman are both standing up and switching seats, sending the daughter into a fit of hysterics. I was amazed that after no words were exchanged, they'd come to the conclusion to make this move. Married life apparently means understanding that your wife is pissed even when she's not saying anything.

Soon after the switch was made, we got briefed on the safety measures. I began making up ideas as to what this couple could possibly be fighting about, when the plane began moving towards the runway and the woman stiffened and gripped the armrest with every bit of strength she had.

And then the mystery of what was going on between my row mates became obvious to me. As someone who can work herself up over flying, I recognized the look in this woman's eyes. Only any fear that I thought I had paled in comparison to what this woman was going through. She was absolutely terrified and I could read it all over her face.

She closed her eyes, still white knuckle gripping the armrests and took several short, deep breaths, leaning her head back as if she was looking to the heavens to say a little prayer.

The plane took a dip and she grabbed on to my right arm, startling me.

"Sorry," she yelled hastily.

I wasn't upset that she grabbed my arm, she just scared me when she did. I was a little upset that her husband dumped his scared wife next to me, but really, I just felt sorry for her.

I turned to her to give her my best comforting smile.

"It's okay," I started to say, but before I could get the words out, the woman dramatically grabbed the barf bag in front of her and loudly puked into it.

The whole scene happened so quickly and was so completely shocking to me I didn't know what to do. Her husband looked away, either trying to shield his daughter from seeing her mother get sick, or more likely, trying to ignore it himself. He seemed disgusted and annoyed with his wife, which upset me on her behalf. Like did he really think she was doing it on purpose?

I sort of did this awkward seat dance, darting my head from the window to the woman, from the window to the woman, wanting to help, but not really wanting to help, but definitely not knowing how to help.

The woman, who I can only assume had done this before, jumped up from her seat like a pro and ran to the bathroom, taking her barf bag with her. Inside, I was so thankful she was the one that got sick. The sound she made when she got sick was enough to make me also want to throw up, I don't know if I could have handled the smell of vomit.

She returned a few minutes later, apologized again, and then fell asleep. No surprise, really, it was an exhausting few minutes.

Surprisingly, in all my years of traveling, I'd never seen anyone use a barf bag for its intended purpose, and not just for scrap paper. So thanks, sick lady, for making that Day 323's thing I've never done before instead of just eating at McDonald's in the Athens airport with Jana, which I also did.

Here's to making all of Day 323's firsts my lasts as well.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Day 322: Greek House of Cards Party

Katy and I woke up in Kardamyla in pools of our own sweat just hours after we went to sleep. The room we had been offered at her cousin's house was perfect for us and her family was so generous for allowing us to stay there. But unfortunately it wasn’t air-conditioned, and we opted to forgo fresh air in exchange for closing the shutters to keep the light out, so the room was stifling hot. Boiling hot. Disgustingly hot.

When Tatiana, who had been sleeping in her cousin's (also named Stephanie) room, came into ours to tell us it was time to go, we were obviously less than thrilled to see her.

Katy described getting woken up was as painful as, "someone coming to kill my only pet." She has a flair for the dramatics for sure, but it did absolutely suck waking up sweaty, dirty and cranky only hours after we'd laid down. I am still young and fun, but not nearly as capable as I once was at surviving an all-nighter gracefully. That hurt too, I suppose.

We begged Nico to take it easy on our way back to Emporios, certain that a night of partying, along with no sleep and winding Chios roads would be a recipe for disaster in the form of car sickness. He obliged, and away we went, back to Yaya's, mellow music the only real sound coming from the car.

I guess dancing the night away (the whole night) would've been a great idea had we not been expected at a lunch party at the neighbors' house the next day. Yaya was pretty clear that we needed to be back by 1pm. Or 1:30pm? Or 1pm? I remember there was a lot of discussion about what time the party started, but I don't know that anyone ever came to a conclusion about when we needed to be there, or when lunch was supposed to be served. We just knew Yaya was not going to be pleased if we were late, so we hustled back to her house to change our clothes and get ready to go.

We walked up the hill to the neighbors' house, which was grand and reminded me of something that might show up on an episode of MTV Cribs, Chios. Katy and I had passed the home before, on our way in from the airport and again on our walk, but I don’t think I fully grasped how large the house really was until I walked down one side of it, right to the pool and basketball court in the backyard. I wasn't really terribly surprised; in the six short days I’d been in Greece, I’d come to not only enjoy this lifestyle, but expect it.

By the time we showed up at the house, it was 1:45pm, a perfect, fashionably late time for a luncheon that started at 1:30pm. But when we arrived it became pretty clear that lunch wasn't going to be served at 1pm, or at 1:30pm, because despite noticing several tables set up for a party, I couldn't help but also notice that we were the only ones there. Though shocking, downright devastating at first, the whole scene was quite comical, actually, when you think about us rushing back from Kardamyla feeling terrible, to Yaya rushing us out of her house so that we would be among the first to arrive.

Katy introduced me to the hosts of the party and we thanked them for the invitation. They instructed us on where we could get drinks, which we did. I contemplated getting a beer for .5 seconds and then made the responsible decision to chose water instead. I'm no fool.

Soon, all of our friends we had walked out of the club with that morning started to trickle in, most looking every bit as terrible as we felt. We commiserated together about our antics and how inappropriate attending this party was under the circumstances.

Though I felt weird taking a dip in the pool at what began shaping up to be a fancy luncheon, Katy promised that the cold water made her feel amazing, so I changed into my swimsuit and joined her. She was right; the water was invigorating. We weren't doing a whole lot of swimming, but just sitting in the shallow end, completely submerged in water up to our necks. We were refreshed, but still participating in the conversations going on around us.

While in the pool, I started talking to a young teenager named Yanni. From the start he made it very clear that he was not impressed with me or our conversation. When he asked me where I was from, I told him that I grew up in South Carolina but currently lived in Atlanta, Georgia.

He wrinkled his face and said, "Yeah, your accent, it's kind of all over the place."

Part of me wanted to smack him in the face, the other part thought he was hilarious. I've been accused of having a muddled accent before and strangers have guessed I'm from California and New Jersey, so I know that how I talk changes depending on who I am with. Still, I think it's pretty clear that I'm from the south.

This conversation, and pool time distracted us for a while, but two hours into our time at the neighbors, and I was starting to wonder if this meal was going to happen at all. Visitors continued showing up, and thankfully there were passed hors d'ouerves, including fried cheese, that began to circulate poolside. I immediately got out of the water to track the food down (successfully, of course), and found myself in more interesting conversations (one with a BBC documentary film producer and another with a 25-year old girl with really bad relationship experiences she felt open to share.)

All the interesting people in the world couldn't save me from myself, though, and by 4pm, I started to melt down, and after talking to Katy, Nico, and Tatiana, I knew I wasn't the only one who was tired, hungry, and unable to be satisfied by just fried cheese. The couple of days of partying on the Greek Islands had taken their toll and I was done.

Just when I thought I could take no more, lunch was served, buffet style. We loaded our plates high with delicious fish and salad and fruit, took them back to the pool where we ate in silence. There were a few laughs, all of the slap-happy, "I didn't sleep last night," variety, all appreciated. Not long after eating, the men retired to the basement to watch football (soccer). We said goodbye and went back to Yaya's for an afternoon nap by the pool.

That would be my last nap in Greece, and I was forced to start the always-painful process of packing my suitcase. I was scheduled to leave early the next morning, leaving Katy behind to spend another week in paradise with her family. Sometimes, even when a trip is amazing and fun (as this one was), when it comes to an end, I am ready to get back to reality and get back to a schedule of regular life. This was not one of those times. I felt sad to leave Greece, and anxious to return to the United States. My 30th was approaching and now that the Greece trip was done, it was the next big thing I would do.

Not without one last night in Greece, however, including Day 322's things I've never done before: learn how to play Biriba.

Our lunch was so late at the neighbors' house party that dinner with Yaya was a light affair. And by "light affair," I of course mean we ate our weight in finger sandwiches, one of Katy and Jana's favorite snacks. Yanni, the driver/chef usually makes a tray that he keeps in the refrigerator if by some chance there was ever a moment in Greece that anyone ever finds themselves hungry. I'd heard a lot about the finger sandwiches, and they were as delicious as advertised.

After dinner, we moved to Yaya's card table, where Katy and Yaya taught me how to play Biriba, a Greek card game very similar to rummy. The object is to get rid of all the cards in your hand by making "packages," or groups of all the same suit, or number. The game can be played individually, with two players, or as teams, with four players (two on each team).

For the first round, I looked on with Yaya. She and Katy talked me through the game so I'd understand what they were doing.

“These cards are for the birds,” Yaya said, not pleased with the hand that Katy had dealt her. Her frustration was endearing and I added her expression to the already long list I'd heard since arriving.

Yaya went on to lose that round, and a few more.

After a while, Yaya excused herself from the table to head upstairs to bed, and Mike and Jana came into the mix. He and I would be partners against Jana and Katy. We played a couple of practice rounds to get me acclimated to the game. We won a few, and lost a few as well.

When it was time to play for real, Mike looked at me from across the table and said, "Now it’s time we get serious." Then he got up from the table to get ice cream (which we all did eventually and it was every bit as lovely as you would imagine ice cream in Greece to be.)

After Jana dealt the next hand, Mike returned, saying, equally as hilarious, "I've a bowl of ice cream and a handful of cards, what more could I ask for?"

Funny, my last night in Greece, I had to wonder the same thing, "What more could I ask for?"

More time in Greece? Perhaps. But that's about it.

Mike and I lost to Katy and Jana in Biriba. I've never cared less about losing in my whole life. I guess when your friend invites you come stay with her at her grandparents' beach house in Greece and you make it entire week seeing amazing things and eating amazing things and not spending a dime, you feel like a winner regardless.

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.)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Day 320: Boating, Clubbing, Rites of Passage

On Day 320, Katy and I finally did what we said we were going to do all week, and we exercised. Actually we just took a walk around Chios, which probably did very little to undo all of the eating and lounging around we'd been doing, but it definitely felt good to move my body for a change.

Plus, the views of the Emporios harbor were glorious. Pappou and Yaya's property extended past the area that I had seen so far, and included several fig trees and an orchard. Seeing where the food came from that I'd been eating all week was fulfilling and I daydreamed about living off the land with my own garden someday. Normally I would've filed such an idea under the category of "Things that I need to accept will never happen," but somehow Greece was making a lot of things feel possible.

It was hot and unseasonably humid, despite Katy's insistence before we left for the trip that Greece has no humidity ("Seriously, Steph, your hair will look awesome," she said). By the time we made it back to Yaya's, we were sweating and ready to take a dip in the pool before lunch. And my hair did not look awesome.

There was a feeling of excitement in the air most of the day and a spring in Yaya's step because her sister Marika was coming for lunch with her daughter, and Yaya's niece, Koola.

Marika was shorter than Yaya, but she was attractive and a seemingly hip grandma, just like Yaya. She had a husky voice and she smoked cigarettes right at Yaya's kitchen table, something that I haven't seen done in the United States since I was a small child. Smoking indoors, especially at someone's house, just doesn't happen very much anymore. The whole scene felt very vintage. I liked it.

Lunch began with appetizers, including more fried cheese, by the pool. Impressive on their own, these small bites were just the warm up for the real meal: lobster. That's right, I said, "lobster." Certainly a favorite of the Los grandchildren (how could it not be?), I was definitely pleased that this meal among those served while I was in Greece. No surprise, it was as delicious and wonderful as I imagine everything prepared at Yaya's house has ever been. As I devoured each bite, I felt my reality falling by the wayside; I feared I was starting to feel rather self-important and deserving of such rich foods all the time. How would I ever return to my homemade paper sack/Tupperware lunches? This is the kind of lunch I want. This is kind of life I want. I deserve it. Don't I? Don't we all?

There were several humorous moments during lunch, including Katy screaming out desperately at the start of the meal, "I can't find my fork!," nervous that if she didn't hurry up and dive in to her lobster right away that it might get up and walk off her plate.

Nico and Tatiana also entertained us with stories about the reunion football (soccer) game they attended the day before. Nico told us he was not the team's captain, as he originally thought, but there was a lot of partying and general debauchery. Nico said he was amused at the soccer match watching all of he physical exhaustion suffered by the players who were out of shape. As the match went on, he said, the players were practically begging to get tripped or to fall down just so they could have a break from running. Other players would run by and whisper to the player lying on the field, "Stay down!" so that they could take a rest from running too.

Nico and Tatiana's stories included a lot of names, most of which I didn't recognize, and many of which sounded the same; all seemed to register on the faces of Jana and Katy, so I had to assume they knew the people being discussed. I was right. In many cases, they were second or third cousins or family friends they'd been vacationing with for years.

One of those names was Yanni. But not Yanni the driver/cook who had so far taken us everywhere we needed to go and cooked all of our delicious meals. No, this was a different Yanni.

The fact that the same names seemed to keep popping up led me to another conversation with Katy about Greek culture. The subject? Naming children. Katy said in many families, the first born is always named after the paternal grandparents, hence the scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when Nia Vardalos' character introduces some of her 27 cousins as "Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick, Nicky, and Gus." The same is true in Katy's family. Katy's brother, Nicolas, goes by, "Nick." Her first cousin, "Nico," is also Nicolas. Both were named after Pappou.

This Yanni we were talking about during lunch was Katy, Jana, Tatiana, Nico and Michael's second or third cousin; he had devoted his summer to kayaking around Chios in memory of this friend who had died of leukemia. A challenging and admirable task he'd set out for, and I wondered instantly if he was blogging about it. Exciting for us, too, because he was expected to paddle by Yaya and Pappou's house while we were eating lunch. So our job while eating was to keep an eye on the water to see if we could spot him.

Only we were evidently too engaged with each other and with the lobster (or maybe that was just me), we completely missed him paddling by Yaya and Pappou's house, which he did. Instead, we did the first of Day 320's things I'd never done before, and took a boat ride to a nearby town, Komi to catch Yanni on one of the legs of his trip.

I could sense there was some apprehension about Nico driving the boat, despite having spent the first part of his summer sailing around South America and learning about the shipping industry. I imagine Yaya's concern, if there was any, came not from her distrusting Nico, but more because it probably felt weird to her that little Nico was finally old enough to drive the boat. The same was true for my family and me, as the youngest cousin and therefore the last to do everything. Driving a car on a long trip, having my first beer were all like rites of passage that I experienced with my relatives at the beach.

Nico drove us over there without any problems, and we swam to shore to greet Yanni and his family who were all enjoying lunch at a table on the beach. The visit was, entertainingly so, filled with more introductions to Katy's family members, more warm welcomes with kisses on each cheek, more feeling like the red-headed outsider to all of the beautiful, dark haired, tanned, ultra cool people around me. We heard from Yanni the toll the kayaking was taking on his body, and about a t-shirt he made to describe his journey that said, simply, "I just felt like kayaking."

Yanni said he was planning to stay in Komi for the evening to see some friends and get some rest; Katy, Nico, Tatiana and I made plans to meet him there for dinner and then to do the second other thing I'd never done before on Day 320: Go clubbing in Greece.

Making plans was easy; just like everything else I'd done on this trip so far, I was following everyone else's lead. Finding something to wear to appropriately execute those plans proved to be a bit of a challenge; my style I learned, is a little less European dance club, and a little more shabby, hippie chic.

Thankfully, Katy's possesses a style far more exciting than mine, and after she looked through the things that I brought with a seemingly bewildered look on her face, she offered to lend me some of her clothes. One item in particular was a short, tight, leopard print dress that I would've immediately passed over had Katy not demanded that I try on. Shockingly, the dress fit, a small miracle that made me feel proud for the rest of the night. But when I looked at myself in the mirror, I was terribly uncomfortable; not to mention, I looked ridiculous. I also felt at peace about it, knowing that I'm just not a leopard print dress kind of girl, in Greece or anywhere; and at 29-years old, I think I'm finally starting to feel okay about that. Still, I needed something to wear, and thankfully Katy found, from her collection, the most perfect, fun, blue dress. I left Yaya's house feeling confident and excited, expecting, if only a little bit, that after disappointment in Lake Tahoe and Panama, that the water man Psychic Rose had predicted I'd meet this year was just on the horizon in Komi.

I'll save the suspense and tell you: I didn't meet water man. This fair-haired girl didn't fare as well in Greece as I do in Latin American countries. I did meet lots of cool guys, though, most of whom lived elsewhere (London and Athens, mostly) and were just vacationing in Chios for the summer. And then we sipped on lukewarm beers, a European treat I've enjoyed before.

To everyone's surprise, Mike showed up at the restaurant, almost two full days after he left for the soccer match. Though Katy and I were excited to see him (I'd already told her that I wanted to clone Mike into a 35-year old so that I could date him. I found him to be adorable, hilarious, and lacking any cynicism whatsoever), he was flustered and not exactly warmly received by his older brother and sister. They weren't against him coming along with us on the night we had planned and were frustrated that he hadn't gone straight to Yaya's, knowing that she'd be worried about his whereabouts.

After a typical brother/sister confrontation at the restaurant, Mike came to the end of our table and sat with Katy and me. We laughed as he told us how he ended up where we were after falling asleep in the cab. I could tell he felt badly about possibly upsetting Nico and Tatiana and possibly Yaya. And he wanted to come with us; missing out on what might happen this evening would have been, for him, the absolute worst thing that could've happened. Clearly he was facing his own rite of passage: old enough to know what he was missing, still young enough to be able to come along.

"You know I only have one life," he said earnestly, desperately trying to to appeal his case to us. Katy and I couldn't help but laugh. But as someone who was staring the dreaded age 30 in the face, I also couldn't argue with him. That's what my whole year had been about. Living it up, seizing the day.

Mike left the restaurant, and headed back to Yaya's. The rest of us hopped in a cab that took us to downtown Chios, an adorable, and rather happening spot right on the water. I was surprised at how many people were out at the bars and restaurants, and walking down the street, especially based on all of the quaint towns and villages I'd seen so far. We had a couple of drinks, played some Greek Taboo (a great way to help me learn Greek), and met up with Jana, who had gone to eat with a friend.

While sitting outside with the group, I couldn't help but think that days in Greece last forever, which is good because Greece is the greatest place ever; but it's also bad because I'm no spring chicken anymore. I need sleep.

There was no time for rest, though, and I pushed through any tiredness or apprehension to hang with the cool kids in Europe, going next to a club called El Divino. El Divino means, "The Divine" in Spanish. No one is really sure why a Chios dance club has a Spanish name, and no one really cares either.

Once we got inside, the club was pretty standard to all of the other dance clubs I've ever been to (which is not that many, but I knew what to expect.) Katy's family and friends had literally taken over the entire right side of the club and we hopped from table to table like we owned the place. Mike made a special guest appearance, too, amusing us all. He proved he can hold his own with the big kids and his siblings met him with loving arms and any harsh words that may have been exchanged earlier were all forgotten.

We danced, we laughed, we drank champagne, and took blurry pictures of ourselves having the time of our lives. I continued to meet a lot of very attractive people whose names I will never remember and they greeted me with gusto and a kiss on each cheek. Then Katy and I took a walk on the beach outside the club before putting ourselves in a cab and heading back to Yaya's, leaving the others to close the place down, which they did in fabulous style I'm sure.

Greece is exhausting. In a good way. Like in the best way.