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400 Day LETS Odyssey
Copyright � James Taris

JAMES TARIS around the World- (2003-4)

Enjoying a hot summer's day with my cousin, Foti.

GREECE - Athens (Wk.2 of 2 weeks)
Week 7 of World Tour

1. Greek Nightlife

Times of the day

One of my first lessons in Greece was to educate me as to the Greek times of day.

First of all, noon � this is the period between 1.30 and 5.00pm when all of Greece stops to eat and have a nap. Phoning someone during this time of day is a big no-no, and would doubtlessly result in the caller being crucified at the first available opportunity.

Next is the afternoon � this is the period between 5.00 and 9.00pm. Nothing much happens during this time.

Finally there�s the �vrathi� or night-time � this is the period between 11.00pm and 6.00am and it�s when the Greeks really come alive!

And there is no such thing as a morning in Greece, because everyone�s so fast asleep during this time that they never experience it!

Community council dance

Anyway, on my first Saturday night in Athens, I went out to a social function with my cousin, Foti, and his wife, Helen. It was an annual fund-raising dance run by the community council of Anoixi (an outer suburb of Athens) and was set-up in an open-air, concrete floored basketball court.

Tables were setup from one end of the court to the other, and multi-coloured lightbulbs hung overhead, starting from one basketball hoop and ending at the other. Another row of coloured light hung above the empty band stand.

We were running late, and had to drop by and pick up some friends on the way, so we were probably the last group to arrive at the function, getting there around 11.00pm (the function had started at 9.30pm). But our tables were still reserved and our party of 13 people (11 adults and 2 children) blended easily with the other 500 or so guests.

Within minutes the food and drinks began to arrive. Several large plastic bottles filled with cheap red and white wines were distributed amongst us, then heaps of finger food (cheeses, salads, pastries and souvlakis) were spread out before us as well. And just when I thought I�d burst, the main course came out! Needless to say, I hardly touched my plate, but I�d spent that afternoon at Foti�s in-laws in Peanea, and I was still trying to digest from that enormous meal. So by this stage I felt like I�d put on another 5 kilos that day!

Music and dancing

At 11.30pm the band came onto the stage. The 7 musicians sat casually as they played an assortment of old Greek songs, starting off with some slow Tango music, and later beefing it up with some up-tempo Greek line-dancing music. Foti and Helen started dancing to the Tango, but gave up when the music changed to a Waltz. They both had returned that morning from a week�s holiday on Spetses Island, and had come back with seriously swollen feet (the reason given for getting off the dance floor). But lots of other couples sat down at that time too, so maybe it had more to do with not being able to dance the waltz!

My opportunity to dance didn�t come until the band switched to playing Greek line-dancing music. This is where the bouzouki (which looks like a bloated banjo) features prominently. If you�re aware of the music of Zorba, then I�m sure you understand what I mean.

I enjoy dancing, but I didn�t know anyone apart from Helen in our group, and she was already feeling a little sore and sorry. But when the 2 ladies in our group asked me to join them, I couldn�t very well refuse. Luckily I was able to follow the dance steps well enough not to look too foolish, but as soon as I was thrust into the front of the line � to lead them with some finesse � I failed miserably. But they knew I was one of those foreign Greeks, so I was quickly forgiven, and allowed to go to the tail of the line and follow comfortably as I�d done before.

Later they played the Zorba�s dance and I was into the lead in a flash. I love that dance and handle it fairly well. There I was jumping and leaping confidently to the applause of the rest of my line when a horrible realization came across me. They were playing a medley! So after what seemed like an eternity (about 6 minutes) of leaping around like a light-footed gazelle, my steps became heavier, as did my breathing, so eventually I felt like a hippopotamus, and was almost dragging my feet. Voluntary relinquishment of the lead dance role was in order, so I moved from the front to the end of the line as smoothly as I could. Then as I looked up, our new lead, Yianni, a guy about 56 years old, began leaping metres into the air and strutting like a 21 year old without any hint of tiring. This only made me feel more exhausted, so as soon as the band finished that medley, I headed straight back to my table for a little R&R.

But I must state in my own defence, that I�m sure I would�ve handled it much better if I wasn�t so stuffed full of food!

Teenagers and kids

As I sat at the table I watched the kids who�d grouped up on 2 sides of the basketball court.

There were about a dozen children, aged 4-10, sitting on some steps beside the bandstand and swinging on a low branch from a small pine tree which was growing out from the highest step. They sat side by side and chatted away. The boys being the more active of the group.

In stark contrast, on the other side of the court, the teenagers grouped together under a bright lamp-post where a couple a 15 year old girls stole all the attention as they moved slowly to the dance music. Lots of teenage boys hung around them, not interested in dancing, or fairly na�ve about what to do in the girls� presence.

Then after I got back from my Zorba dance, I noticed a lot of adults had gone to talk to the teenagers who had since left the lamppost and moved further away from the seated guests. Apparently there�d been a fight, and the story I got from a reliable source (one of the kids in our group) was that one of the girls had started it! As I watched, I saw a stocky young teenager with a bloody nose talking to a couple of friends and gesturing that he�d been head-butted in the face. He didn�t look too upset, so there probably wasn�t too much in the whole incident, but nevertheless it did add a little more excitement to an otherwise ordinary Greek dance event.

End Nightclub

Foti�s children, Alex (20) and Mariza (24), had gone to a nightclub before we left. And they asked us to join them when we finished from our social dance. Helen had no desire other than to go to bed and rest her tired feet, so after dropping her off at home, Foti and I drove to a beachside suburb of Athens where the End Nightclub was located.

We�d left the dance at 130 am and arrived at the nightclub by 2.30 am. As we entered the carpark I noticed bright fireworks coming from the top of the nightclub. This was an open air nightclub, very common during the Greek summer season, but something I�ve never witnessed in Melbourne (which has very unpredictable summer weather).

There were probably 500 cars in the carpark with more cars coming in and no-one leaving, so Foti had no idea where to park. But he did have a plan. He drove right up to the main entrance of the nightclub where he was immediately challenged by a young parking attendant who told him to move on.

�Where�s Spat?� he asked. The parking attendant looked a little surprised, and as he turned around, Spat, another parking attendant, came wandering over to meet Foti.

�Ghia sou, Foti,� he said. Foti had mentioned that Spat was keen on Mariza, so in a matter of seconds, Foti and I were out of the car, and Spat was going to park the car for us. As the saying goes, �It�s not what you know, but WHO you know!�

The 2 of us entered the nightclub like 2 geriatrics entering a kindergarten. The place was packed with youngsters probably no older than in their mid 20s. In the centre of the venue was a small pool of shimmering water and tables were scattered around it as well as around the perimeter of the building. And everything in between was just youngsters standing shoulder to shoulder drinking and chatting away without stopping to take a breath.

So how would we find Foti�s kids in this chaos?

Don�t ask me how he did it, but Foti zeroed in on them in seconds, like a moth to a bright light. They had managed to claim a table at one end of the building, and all 6 of them were dancing merrily to the modern (non-Greek) music being belted out at an unhealthy volume of decibels.

Luckily they seemed pleased to see us and we joined in with the drinking and dancing and tried to look as inconspicuous as possible.

A quick visit to the toilets gave me a surprise. With over 1,000 people on the premises, these toilets only had 2 urinals and 2 cubicles for the male toilets, so there was a queue of about 8 guys waiting. Queues are something that I�ve only seen outside the ladies toilets. But I suppose if you�re drinking for most of the night, then you�re more likely to want to go to the loo. But shouldn�t the licensing requirements for these venues demand a larger number of toilets? I think so.

Anyway, after a couple of hours the music level dropped greatly.

�What�s going on?� I asked.

�It�s the cops,� Alex said. �The neighbours complain and send the cops over, so they have to lower the volume of the music. But as soon as they leave, the volume goes up again. This is the second time the cops have come tonight!�

Sure enough, a few minutes later the music was just as loud as before and the merriment continued unaffected.

But I think it�s something that these kids couldn�t afford to do too often. Firstly, the entrance fee was 10 euros (AUD$17). Foti bought a bottle of whisky for 80 euros (AUD$140) and the kids had already ordered a couple of other bottles between them, so the total cost of drinks for the night was 275 euros (AUD$475) between 8 of us. At 44.37 euros (AUD$75) each for entry and drinks, I thought it was all a bit too much. Or is this normal?

Driving on the right hand side of the road

By 5.30 am, the day began to dawn, and by 5.45 am, and just before sunrise, our group (some of the last patrons to leave) headed for our cars. Spat had done a marvellous job and parked Mariza's convertible Purgeot only 2 spaces from the front door and Foti�s car was only 4 spaces further up.

�Can you drive?� Foti asked me. He�d drunk a fair amount of the whisky tonight and felt he shouldn�t be driving.

�Sure,� I said confidently, though this would be my first experience at driving on the right side of the road. But there couldn�t be a better time to do it. Firstly, there were hardly any cars on the road at 6.00 am on a Sunday morning, and secondly, all I had to do was follow Mariza�s car, so I wouldn�t get confused about which side of the road I should be on.

By 7.00 am we were home and Foti was making breakfast � fried eggs with bread, cheese, spam and fruit juice. We all ate and went straight to bed until past 12 noon. Oops! Almost forgot. The Greek noon isn�t until 1.30 pm!

This article is taken from the ebook,
400-Day LETS Odyssey

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