Sunday, 13 September 2009

Καλό Ταξίδι*

I'm leaving tomorrow, so L.A. (the blog, not the city) will go on hold for a week or so, unless I find time to write the odd post-card. It's odd, and very maddening, that after such a long wait (I booked the flight in June) I feel nothing right now beyond a mild weariness at the thought of traveling and staying in other people's houses for ten nights. I have so little social life these days that I have almost forgotten the few rules of social interaction I used to know. One I do remember is that people expect you to talk to them, even when you don't want to. I’ve turned into a creature of the most rigid routine, like an elderly cat, and the realization that a major disruption is imminent is tarnishing the sense of anticipation I had expected to enjoy.

Well, anyway. I've been reading Greek magazines and talking to myself in Greek, spieling monologues and holding imaginary conversations, in preparation for the onslaught of words that is to come when I arrive at my friend's in Athens. I have not seen her for sixteen years, and in the meantime her son has died, so I'm not sure what the atmosphere will be like. I suppose that in the four years since his passing, the stark fact will have been accommodated to a certain degree, but it’s like the loss of mobility or eyesight, and the world can never be the same for her again.

After three days in Athens I’m getting the bus to Kalamata, the extraordinarily parochial town in the Peloponese where I spent the last three years of my time in Greece. Here let me generalize horribly. Your Kalamartian, look you, he sees no reason ever to leave Kalamata, because as you will hear over and over, ‘έχουμε ΚΑΙ βουνό ΚΑΙ θάλασσα εδώ’, we have both mountain and sea here, conditions which obtain πουθενά αλλού στον κόσμο, nowhere else in the world. Local patriotism is intense. When I decided it was time to leave, the owner of the school where I worked warned me that I would be unlikely ever to find a comparable job, thus giving voice to a general agnosticism about the viability of life elsewhere. This was surprising from him, as he had lived abroad himself, and dealt extensively with Kalamata’s parochialism when helping Greek kids choose and apply to British universities. One father demanded that he find his daughter ‘an easy university with lots of Greeks, a direct air link with Kalamata, and no Pakistanis’. Mothers who had sons already studying abroad would send them roast chickens by DHL. I imparted this snippet to the teachers in the staffroom, expecting howls of derision, but they thought it perfectly reasonable.

OK, I need to go and sort out that heaped mess of a suitcase, so, τα λέμε, /ta 'leme/ meaning literally ‘we’ll say them’ or more idiomatically ‘we’ll talk’, that is to say, bye for now.


*Καλό ταξίδι /ka'lο tak'siδi/ '[have a] good journey'. Memorably and toe-curlingly, this got into the film 'Shirley Valentine' as 'kalo taxadis' or something like it, along with 'Greek' waiters who used Spanish words for the food they served. Kalamata hasn't got the monopoly of parochialism.


Fionnchú said...

Enjoy the anticipated (however so) return and keep the blog buzzing. I reminded via your URL to my Greek-American (Ikaros-parentage) dentist who enjoys your blog, and as he speaks the lingo (he gleaned "tears" from "gia"?), he can enjoy it even more than my wife and I do. He lent me a book I review today on my blog "The Smell of the Continent" that's very apropos for you. (P.S. I'd love to have more on EFL texts as mangled if examples painfully arise.)

vilges suola said...

'Gia klamata' in Greek literally means 'for tears/crying' and colloquially 'X is gia klamata' means 'X is the absolute end' 'X is really the limit', as in a mess, a cock up, the pits. 'Klamata' is also one letter short of 'Kalamata', and so inevitably my small circle of ex-pat friends referred to the town by that nickname.


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