27 May 2006

Dress Code

My Greek language lessons advance apace and I'm startled how the old killer tenacity has leapt raging and fully muscled from these 40 years' hibernation: the hunger to acquire vocabulary and grammatical precision; the absolute intolerance of faulty memory that sends me back for a word or phrase I'd thought mastered.

Mnemonics galore and every type of trick to get it right first time.

With the lingo comes, of course, the desire to distance myself from the grockle tourist population, now beginning to crowd the bars and hinder smooth passageway along the pedestrian thoroughfares.

Professor Vanity: If the simple desire for knowledge isn't enough, my burning need to play Flash Harry keeps everyone amused and armed with goads and mockery which only enrages me further.

But back to the text books and a glorious phrase that stopped me in my tracks:

One of the exercises is reading the Greek and writing out the translation rather just thinking it and then looking up the answers in the key. In fact, the book specifically asks me not to:

Don't look at the Key and say to yourself, "Yes, well, that's roughly the idea I had in mind.

Lay not that flattering unction to your soul." [My colouring]

Say what? (And I do intend to nail that in the Greek). I check the copyright page: 1989. Flattering unction to my soul? Now *that's* what I call a Mission Statement for Life.

Big leg woman: So I'm in the fruiterers collecting fresh stuff for the healthy diet I'm on and I take it up to Tassia for weighing and she asks me something in Greek that catches my deaf ear so she says it again in English - "Where you find it?" - and I still don't understand. She seems to be asking about the tomato and which box I got it, the costly box or the cheapo. I didn't notice there *were* two, hence the confusion.

Behind me is this large lady who I take to be a village hag who's hrrmphing at this dumb foreigner holding up the queue.

"Where'dja get it?" she booms in a stentorian rasp straight from the Yorkshire Dales.

Oh, the cheap one, I say (in English) to Tassia. Sorry. I don't look at the tank of a fellow countrywoman but I am burning at being corrected.

"Beg pardon (this time in Greek). Not seen was two boxes." Tassia, totting, "Then birazzi" No worries. But I need more: "Such shame. (Still in haltering Greek). Corrected by countryman English lady." Tassia smiles and gives that totally Greek twirly gesture whose meaning would require demolition of the world's forests to even start to convey.

"Another Angliki resident in this district?" I press on. Shake of head. Touristi. Never seen her before.

"Alethea? Really? (I *must nail that "Say what" in vernacular demotic) I am corrected by a *tourist*?? Many shame!"

Another twirl of the hand and that gleaming smile. The water in Corfu is such that the local have amazing American-standard teeth.

She's totalled it and I go for broke - for gawd's sake, Holmes, remember yer numerals:

En Grecque: "So ... like ... how much? Er, four euros?"

"Three euros, 20."

"OK ... so there is three and I have change, let me find." I make it exact and bid her goodbye, no glanced at the tank.

But I exit kicking myself.

Stages of dress:

  • Arrive Corfu with only touristy gear, such as proclaiming one devotee of New York models.
  • Acquire smattering of lingo and enter phase of wanting to look "local". Beg borrow steal swap cool t-shirts off Albanian laborers announcing oneself as employee of Prifti Plasterers or Vassinopoulos Supermarket or Ote's Patras Call Centre.

    Puzzled Albanian artisan: "Let me get this straight, you want this ragged old garment in exchange for pressed and ironed Lux-washed t-shirts of Amazon.com and Seahawks? What's the catch, b'wana?"

  • Get more fluent, a decent tan, and it's suddenly back to ultra naff touristy gear in which to roll up on the Kawasaki, lean it where the tourists are told to leave clear ("Oi, mate! We tried that and they'll move you on"). Withering son-of-Homer look as one strides by, greeting the staff with oozy fluency - "Yo Costa, howzit it goin', pal? Pericles - you a dad yet? Must be any day now. Love to Miranda when you see her. Varvara, babe, lookin' good! Taki, OK if I nick a bottle of ouzo and pay you later? Totally skint. Cheers."

    You like to think as you walk out and gun up the cyclette that the grockles turn to each other with a "Who was  that masked vaquero?" but it's more likely a grumbled, "Asshole."

    Supermarket trolleys: They're chained together and you release them by putting a euro piece in the gizmo on the handle. When you return it, you shove the chain in from the trolley in front and that pops the euro back out to live again another day.

    Sometimes there aren't any avail and you have to wait til someone comes out and returns theirs. Or do you?

    First time it happened to me, I was waiting and waiting but none came my way. There is an obvious logical trick that the locals play and which I have added to my repertoire.

    I would have liked to have worked it on the Tank but had to make to do with some Londoners.

    Instead of waiting by the trolley stack for one to be returned and the previous shopper's coin retrieved, you meet them as they walk back from loading their car and simply hand them a euro coin in exchange for their trolley. Bingo, they're saved the trek back you got yer trolley.

    Mr and Mrs London were there waiting when I pulled in. Parked and strolling towards the shop I saw the look of expectation in their eyes as they saw the lady next to me returning her empty trolley.

    In Greek: "Kyria, may I give you this euro?"

    "Ne! Efaristo!"

    "My pleasure"

    Mrs London: 'ere Bob, we was here first ... that bloke just got our trolley."

    "Yeh. Excuse me mate but I think we was here first. I think that one belongs to us."

    In Greek with beaming smile: "Yassas! This weather! So early so hot. I have had a haircut. Not too short on the sides. Do you have spare bones for my dog? I made an error, these batteries do not fit my torch, may I exchange for that pack in the blue?"

    Mr London to missus: "Typical! Bloody Greeks. Same everywhere."

    Reader, the temptation - the temptation - to pause and exchange murmured conspiratorial advice in my best Oxonian tones, "Steady on, old chap - some of them *do* have a smattering of the lingo and can cut up rough if they sense a certain, ah, hostility."

    On your marks ...: Greek drivers are dab hands at hooting at you a split second after the lights have gone green. The funny thing is that they themselves are THE slowest off the mark. In fact, they are inveterate jumpers of red lights, so if one took the cue from the impatient car behind, you'd be bound for certain death. Perhaps that's the aim.

    The other afternoon I really *was* slow off the mark, fiddling with the CD player to swap 'Sketches of Spain' for Jason Whitton.

    I waved an apology and chugged off and then we reached the next light. Chummy behind me, spotting me for a laggard, chose to pull up behind the car in the next lane which only had me hair-triggering the pedal for the green.

    Off i zoomed at the first blink of verdant and as I read the mirror the other car took forEVAH to pull away.

    Homework: Took the car in for various fixings and was ready to stay til it was fixed, armed with my Greek grammar book.

    Nissan Corfu give good auto, the boss is the best engineer, his model wife is the most efficient book-keeper, and the ladies behind the counter are stunners.

    I told them I was ready to sit it out and showed my book: "Could be maybe three, maybe four hours. You don't mind?"

    I show my book, Brian Church's inestimable "Learning Greek in 25 years". I have some time, I tell her. Three hours should be just fine to master her language." Laughter. A few minutes later, "Mr Holmes. We make your study more hard. Is ready in 2 hours."

    "Oh," I pout, "only time to translate all Aristophanes." More laughter and approving looks.

    Grease monkey Theo is there and he's the one who gave the 2 hour forecast. He gets a translation and leaves with a mysterious look, returning minutes later with a furled mag and a rumbled chuckling message to the girls, something about Kyrios Prifti being able to wait. The women shriek with laughter and abuse him and Leni calls me over for Theo's formal loan of the Greek equivalent of Hustlin' Playboy.

    "Is now one hour he make your car ready and you have new school book for study and make good translation."

    Everyone is laughing and the ladies are scolding and I tell Theo that in that case, take 25 years. They show him the book's title and he looks appalled: 25 years? By that time - gesture to the nether regions followed by drooping finger and jab at Miss Missonghi on the cover - no use to man or beast (très Greek, that).

    Eruption of laughter loud enough to bring the boss out from his office.

    "No need translate *that*!" I say, at which Theo clasps me to him before turning and clapping his hands to his team, "Oopah! This dude's car. One hour."

  • No comments :