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Archive for March, 2005

Στο τετράγωνο που μένω στο Παγκράτι είναι και το αστυνομικό τμήμα. Ένας απ’ τους μπάτσους φέρνει, σχεδόν κάθε μέρα, το τετράχρονο παιδί του. Όλη μέρα μπαίνει στα παρκαρισμένα περιπολικά και παίζει με τη σειρήνα. Κάνει κουμάντο, κανένας δε του μιλάει.

Έρχεται το φορτηγό της Δέλτα στο Νίκο το ψιλικατζή, απέναντι. Ο μικρός είναι εκεί και τους καθοδηγεί: “‘Ελα! Έλα! ‘Ελα!”

Μια μέρα έπαιζε μπροστά στη πολυκατοικία μου την ώρα που γύρναγα σπίτι. Ένα αγόρι και ένα κορίτσι, αδέρφια προφανώς, περνούσαν χέρι-χέρι. Με σοβαρότατο ύφος τους λέει, “Μην πάτε πιο κάτω. Είναι η αστυνομία εκεί.”

Σήμερα πέρναγε ο Μάκης ο ηλεκτρολόγος, που έχει μαγαζί λίγο πιο κάτω απ’ το ψιλικατζίδικο.

“Πού πας;” τον ρωτάει ο μικρός.

“Στο Νίκο,” του λέει ο Μάκης.

Τον κοιτάει λοξά τον Μάκη, με μισόκλειστα μάτια, και του λέει:

“Είναι βέβαιο;”

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Spring arrives

Before we left to go down to the house, we called our neighbour to ask about the condition of the water. Back in September, some construction workers who had opened up the water pipes in the street to connect them to a house had gone home without closing them or covering them. That night, there was a heavy rainfall, which carried mud and pebbles into the hole they had dug, and into the pipes. Eventually the problem was addressed (I don’t say fixed), although the water pressure was low. The neighbours assured us that only a couple of days before, they had turned on our hose to water our garden.

When we got there, however, and turned on the taps, there wasn’t a drop. Since they had watered the garden, the pipes had clogged again.

Fortunately, the neighbours had used a hose to connect to the house behind them, so we had enough water for emergencies there. I’d go next door with buckets whenever we needed some. It was annoying at first, and we were considering returning the next morning, but soon enough we got used to it.

And the next day, the regular tenants made us feel welcome.

Ήλθ’, ήλθε χελιδών,
καλάς ώρας άγουσα,
καλούς ενιαυτούς,
επί γαστέρα λευκά,
επί νώτα μέλαινα.

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The Great Exodus (March version)

Like most Athenians, we’re going away for the long weekend. Not only will there be no internet connection, but the telephone at the house has been disconnected for most of the year to save money on phone bills.

This is the view from our balcony. In the distance is the road going south to Leonidio.

Also from the balcony. In the distance you might be able to make out the island of Spetses.

Same view, sunrise.

I don’t know whose house this is, but I liked the white curtain flying out the balcony window.

The balcony again. Even in Arcadia, it seems, there are traces of melancholy.

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Insomnia

It’s 3.30 am. I went to bed a couple of hours ago. I listened to classical music on the radio for an hour, till it shut off by itself, then listened to my heart beat. Then I got up and made some chamomile.

I have an interview tomorrow, and I’m dreading it because I always thought of this company as my last resort. If it turns out to be like the last one, then I don’t know how long it will take before another opportunity comes along.

I can feel the threads of the safety net unravelling. More than ever before, I feel exposed to danger, like the blind cat hiding in the courtyard next door.

I’ve set my alarm for 7.30. I’ll probably show up for the interview with swollen bloodshot eyes.

I swear, if I get this job, I’m going to buy you all a drink.

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Nor dread nor hope

For the past couple of weeks I’ve noticed a cat, probably no more than six or seven months old, moving slowly about in the garden outside my balcony.

This is the best picture I have of the garden at the moment, taken a few years ago after a sudden snowfall. On the other side of the ledge is a parking lot, about 15 meters down. To the right is a high wall, covered in ivy.

This young cat was moving around more gingerly than other cats usually do. At one point it seemed to misstep and nearly fall off the ledge and into the garden. My cat, Lazy, was sitting on a chair on the balcony, crouching behind a pot of aloe, watching. Somehow, she seemed to know not to run out and attack it. (Cats are always fighting in the garden.)

Later I saw the cat up on the high wall, meowing loudly. I noticed it had no eyes. A woman was down at the end of the high wall, to the right of the ledge, where the people who live in the building around the corner park their cars. She was dangling her keys and calling out to the cat, which couldn’t find its way back to the tree it had climbed up to get to where it was.

I saw it again today, standing on the high wall, “looking” down.

How does a cat survive in a city like Athens with no eyes? I hate seeing animals suffer, and live in fear of seeing a cat or dog get hit by a car. Dogs here in Greece do something I’ve never seen them do in Toronto: they chase cars at intersections and try to bite them. My heart is in my throat every time I see this. They usually do it in packs. They seem to choose cars arbitrarily, but always just after the lights have turned green and the cars have started moving. They invariably try to bite the car somewhere between the front door and the front bumper. It’s a game, apparently, but it drives me crazy. How do they manage to keep their teeth?

Actually, Athens has surprisingly little roadkill. There would probably be more if so many cats and dogs weren’t poisoned. On 31 December 2002, the night before Athens became the capital of EEC, over 40 cats and 18 dogs died after eating food laced with insecticides. These animals lived in and around the park at Zappeio, where the summit was held. Despite a surprisingly large demonstration, and a petition signed by almost 50,000 people demanding an end to the poisoning, which was delivered to the Greek embassy in Brussels, in February of 2003, another 20 cats around Zappeio were killed.

It’s the helplessness of these animals that fills me with dread, the idea that they are victims of a world they can’t understand. When they’re dying slowly and painfully, what do they think? (For, as anyone who’s ever had a dog or cat can tell you, they sometimes growl and whimper in their sleep, a sign that they dream, and if they dream they must have thoughts which are somewhat like ours.) Do they wonder why? Do they know the end has come, or are they waiting for the pain to go away? Something in the way they seem to wait stoically for death makes me want to believe that they don’t feel pain as acutely as we do.

How much worse is it for an animal that can’t even see the threats that surround it?

I’ve always wanted to believe, as Yeats said, that neither dread nor hope attend a dying animal, though not because man has created death. Thinking so simply makes it easier for me.

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Lateral Research

Here’s an interesting new blog. If you drop by to take a look, make sure you start at the beginning.

It lends a whole new sense to the term “link”.

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A walk through Kaisariani

Two or three years ago I went for a walk through Kaisariani with my camera. I wanted to preserve some images before they’re gone.

In 1922, when the refugees came from Asia Minor, one of the places where they settled in Athens was in Kaisariani. Housing projects like these were set up for them here and in other areas.


People still live in some of these apartments. Kaisariani saw a lot of action during the civil war, and most of the holes in the walls were made by bullets. Many people want to preserve the buildings for historical reasons.


A few days ago I was standing at the 224 bus stop, which is just to the left of the trees in the distance. Across the street from the bus stop used to be a building like these, with the same kind of bullet holes. It’s been torn down and will be replaced by a new building a few storeys taller than the ones in the distance.


An abandoned house in one of the narrow streets.


I took this one through the broken window of one of the abandoned homes. There was nothing in the room but some old rags thrown in a corner.


People were still living in the upper floor, where the shutters are more freshly painted to the far right and left. (Only the room at the corner seems uninhabited.) They would enter through a courtyard to the right and go up some stairs.


You get the sense while walking down the streets that you’re in a different time, in Athens as it was thirty to forty years ago.


An old cafe.


I took this picture because I liked the drug store and the old sign. At the time I wasn’t aware of the fact that there was a journalist, novelist, and documentary maker of the same name, Stelios Kouloglou. Maybe it’s a coincidence, or maybe his grandfather came over from Asia Minor and set up this shop.


Some of the houses of course are still lived in, with little gardens, and basil growing in small tin cans. The residents are usually old Greeks, or poor immigrants.


You can see the apartment buildings going up in the background.


I imagine it won’t be long before what few of these homes are left will be torn down for more apartment buildings.

When I get a job (which had better be soon) I’m going to get a digital camera and go back.

* * * * *

“There were Cypriots here, Lebanese, Armenians, Alexandrians, the island Greeks, the northern Greeks, the old men and women of the epic separation, their children, grandchildren, the Greeks of Smyrna and Constantinople. Their true home was to the spacious east, the dream, the great idea. Everywhere the pressure of remembrance. The black memory of civil war, children starving. Through the mountains we see it in the lean faces of men in flyspeck villages, stubble on their jaws. They sit beneath the meter on the cafe wall. There’s a bleakness in their gazing, an unrest. How many dead in your village? Sisters, brothers. The women walk past with donkeys carrying bricks. There were times when I thought Athens was a denial of Greece, literally a paving over of this blood memory, the faces gazing out of stony landscapes. As the city grew it would consume the bitter history around it until nothing was left but gray streets, the six-storey buildings with laundry flying from the rooftops. Then I realised the city itself was an invention of people from lost places, people forcibly resettled, fleeing war and massacre and each other, hungry, needing jobs. They were exiled home, to Athens, which spread toward the sea and over the lesser hills out into the Attic plain, direction-seeking. A compass rose of memory.”

Don DeLillo, The Names.

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Μιά μέρα μου τηλεφώνησε ο Μαλαμόπουλος. Ένας επιχειρηματίας, που είχε μιά από τις καλύτερες ταβέρνες της Αθήνας. Την “Εμπατή”. Με δυό τζάκια, με φλοκάτες και χαλιά. Με ρώτησε αν ήθελα να δουλέψω στην ταβέρνα του. Δέχτηκα και κλείσαμε μια συνάντηση για την άλλη μέρα στη Φωκίωνος Νέγρη, σ’ένα ουζερί, για να μιλήσουμε σχετικά με τη δουλειά.

Το σπίτι μας ήταν δέκα λεπτά με τα πόδια πιο πάνω από τη Φωκίωνος Νέγρη. Την άλλη μέρα, καθώς κατέβαινα για τη συνάντησή μας, σκεφτόμουν τι να του ζητήσω για μεροκάματο. Συνήθως έπαιρνα σαν πιανίστας διακόσιες δραχμές τότε, παρόλο που είχα κι ένα μικρό όνομα σαν συνθέτης. Έλεγα λοιπόν να του ζητήσω 250 δραχμές, γιατί και οι απαιτήσεις της δουλειάς ήταν περισσότερες σε μια τέτοια ταβέρνα, αλλά και κάτι ακόμα. Με τις συμφωνίες για το μεροκάματο δεν τα κατάφερνα, ντρεπόμουν και όλο ριγμένος ήμουν.

Έτσι έφτασα στο ουζερί, με την απόφαση να διεκδικήσω ένα καλό μεροκάματο. Καθήσαμε και ο Ηλίας παράγγειλε ούζο και μεζεδάκια. Ήταν μεσημεράκι κι αρχίσαμε να συζητάμε. Λέγαμε πόσους μουσικούς θά ‘παιρνα ακόμα, πόσους τραγουδιστές κτλ.

Μέσα σε μιά ώρα, και καθώς ήμουν αμάθητος με το ποτό, το ούζο με χτύπησε κατευθείαν στο κεφάλι. Έπι πλέον μού ‘φερε και μιά ευεξία και, καθώς πλησίαζε η ώρα για την αμοιβή μου, εγώ από μέσα μου ανέβαζε το ποσόν. Έλεγα, θα του ζητήσω 300 δραχμές. Σε λίγο η ευεξία μου ανέβηκε πιο πολύ, κι εγώ ανέβασα πάλι το ποσό. Θα του πω 350 δραχμές κι ό,τι βρέξει ας κατεβάσει. Στο κάτω-κάτω, μιά ζωή όλο ριγμένος θά ‘μαι;

Έτσι, όταν ήρθε η ώρα που με ρώτησε για την αμοιβή μου, πήρα μιά βαθιά ανάσα και του είπα. “Η αμοιβή μου, Ηλία, είναι τετρακόσιες δραχμές”. “Εντάξει, Σταύρο”, μου είπε και δώσαμε τα χέρια.

Εκείνη τη μέρα είχαμε γιορτή με την Αιμιλία. Τέτοιο μεροκάματο ούτε στον ύπνο μου το είδα.

Σε δέκα μέρες κάναμε έναρξη με επιτυχία και μετά από ένα μήνα έπρεπε να κλείσεις μιά βδομάδα πιο μπροστά, για να βρεις τραπέζι.

Ήταν και η εποχή που κυκλοφορούσε το “Εικοσιένα”.

Πέρασαν δυό-τρεις μήνες και μιά μέρα συνάντησα έναν τραγουδιστή που δούλευε σ’ένα από τα καλά μαγαζιά, σαν δεύτερο όνομα. Καθώς μιλούσαμε, κάποια στιγμή μου λέει: “Τη μέρα που έκλεισες στην ‘Εμπατή’, το βράδυ πέρασε ο Ηλίας από το μαγαζί μας και, πάνω στην κουβέντα, μας είπε, ‘Έκλεισα τον Κουγιουμτζή, αλλά, αν ξέρετε, με ποσό;’ Εμείς απαντήσαμε περίπου. Κανένα χιλιάρικο; ‘Ρε σεις, με τετρακόσιες δραχμές τον έκλεισα’, μας είπε, τρίβοντας τα χέρια του χαρούμενος”. Τότε κατάλαβα πως με τα οικονομικά ήμουν μανούλα. Γι’ αυτό θα σας πω ακόμα ένα παρόμοιο περιστατικό, που είναι πολύ αστείο.

Ένα βράδυ, μου λέει ο Ηλίας. Ήταν Μάιος και σε καμιά εβδομάδα τελείωνε η χειμερινή σαιζόν. “Σταύρο, ένας φίλος μου, πολύ καλό παιδί, πατριωτάκι σου, έχει ένα καλοκαιρινό μαγαζί στη Θεσσαλονίκη και θά ‘θελε να κάνεις εκεί κάθε Κυριακή μια συναυλία, τι λες;” Δε θέλω, ρε Ηλία, του είπα. Θέλω να κάτσω να γράψω. Και περισσότερο για να ξεμπερδέψω παρά για να πάω, του είπα ένα υπερβολικό ποσό. Εκτός, του λέω, αν δίνει πέντε χιλιάδες για κάθε συναυλία, έ τότε πάω. “Τι λες, ρε μαλάκα,” μου λέει ο Ηλίας, “αυτός με παρακάλεσε να σε πείσω να δεχτείς με δέκα χιλιάδες και συ μου μιλάς για πέντε;” Ρε γαμώτο, είπα από μέσα μου, δεν μπορώ να τα βγάλω πέρα μ’αυτούς τους ανθρώπους.

* * * * *

Άφησα τα παλιά και του είπα: “Μάρκο, γεράσαμε.” Ήταν κάπως συνεσταλμένος, γιατί με περνούσε για ανώτερό του, όπως σας είπα. Τώρα μάλιστα που έγραφα και τραγούδια, σαν να με ντρεπόταν λιγάκι. Όταν όμως είδε τη δική μου φιλική διάθεση, σιγά-σιγά άλλαξε κι αυτός διάθεση. Άρχισε να μου μιλάει για διάφορα. Δούλευε σ’ένα καμπαρέ στο Βαρδάμι, μου είπε. Η γυναίκα του τον είχε χωρίσει. Ύστερα άρχισε να μου λέει για τα τραγούδια μου, ποια του αρέσουν και ποια δεν του αρέσουν. Ιδιαίτερα αγαπούσε το “Κάπου Νυχτώνει”. Αφού είπαμε κι άλλα πολλά, πριν χωρίσουμε μου έκανε πάλι, όπως παλιά, μιά ερώτηση. “Άραγες πονάει η ψυχή, όταν βγαίνει;” “Πού να ξέρω, ρε Μάρκο,” του είπα, και σέ λίγο χωρίσαμε. Τις προάλλες, τον είδα στον ύπνο μου. Με κοίταξε αμίλητος. Τώρα, Μάρκο, εσύ πρέπει να ξέρεις αν πονάει η ψυχή, όταν βγαίνει.

από Ανοιχτά Παράθυρα με Κλειστά Παντζούρια του Σταύρου Κουγιουμτζή, εκδόσεις ΕΝΤΕΥΚΤΗΡΙΟΥ

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Fountain Pens

I’ve liked fountain pens ever since I was a young kid. I like what they do to my handwriting. I prefer to write with them whenever I can. What prevents me is often the fact that most paper nowadays is not good enough, and the ink feathers or bleeds through. I was excited when I learnt Moleskine notebooks were being produced again, but their paper is horrible for fountain pen ink. Clairfontaine is the best, but sometimes hard to find, and usually expensive. Here in Greece, the most reliable paper is produced by Skag, although they seem to have stopped producing simple spiral notebooks in favour of a lot of goofy stuff they seem to think will appeal to kids.

My first fountains were all Sheaffers, which, it was announced last year, will no longer be made. They were cheap, sometimes leaked, but they wrote well. Back then, when I was under ten years old, I used to use ink cartridges. For some reason I liked their turquoise ink, peacock blue.

When I was in university I bought a Waterman Expert of a particular line which has been discontinued. Waterman were very good about replacing nibs and stuff for free, as long as you paid for the postage. A few years ago I wrote to tell them that my pen, which was over ten years old, needed a new cap. Since they didn’t have the pen any more, they asked me to send the whole thing to them and they’d replace it. I didn’t like the new one as much — the nib was not flexible enough — and I stopped using it.

Then I did something very stupid. About three years ago I bought a Montblanc, which I’d wanted for a long time. If I had done a bit of research on the internet before I shelled out all that money, I would have found out that very, very few fountain pen users actually like the pen. They rightly consider it to be nothing more than an overpriced bit of pocket jewellery.

I bought the Meisterstuck 146, a burgundy one. It’s very nice to hold, and holds a lot of ink, but the feed (responsible for ink flow) was crap. It would skip all the time. Another problem is that body of the pen is made of some expensive but fragile plastic, and breaks very easily.

Eventually, I gave up on the Montblanc, and found a website that sells vintage pens at good prices. My first pen was this Waterman’s Ideal from the 1930’s.


The nib is very flexible, which gives it a lot of line-width variety. Waterman’s used to be made in London, but moved to France in the 1950s, where they lost the apostrophe and the s. They’re owned by Gilette now. Nothing comes close to what they produced back then though. It has a lever filler, which can be made out in the first photo. Lifting the lever presses on the sac inside. When you release it, ink is drawn in.

I’d found my pen, but I couldn’t resist buying one more.


This is the Parker Slimfold, from around 1970. It’s quite small, but the nib is beautiful. Not as flexible as the Waterman’s, it produces a thicker line. It also has an Aerometric filler. I don’t know how it works, but the Aerometric sac allows the nib to be submerged in the ink while you repeatedly press on the filler to squeeze air out and ink in. (If you don’t understand why this might be hard to understand, sorry but I’m too lazy to explain it at the moment.)

Today I decided I’d get out the old Montblanc and see how it was writing. I noticed fine cracks all over the “precious resin”, which is what they call the cheap plastic used to make the body of the pen. The cracks look like what you see on old porcelain enamel. In one spot, the ink is starting to show through.

I decided to bore anyone who made it this far today because I notice people come to this site just because they’ve googled something I’ve mentioned. If someone is doing research on Montblanc pens, and is thinking about getting one, let this be a warning. They’re a huge waste of money.

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Another Job Interview

(This one came before the one I mentioned in the previous post, actually.)

I decided that, since I’m thinking of opening a bookshop one day, I should look for a job in one, so I can see what it’s like. The ads I saw were all asking for younger people so they could pay them less money. Ideally for the bookseller, the employee should be someone who still lives with his parents and doesn’t need to worry about things like bills and rent.

I started looking through the paper. I saw that Compendium, the English bookshop at Syntagma, was looking for someone. I would have loved to work there, even for the small salary he was offering, but during the interview the owner said I was over-qualified and likely to quit after a while.

There was another ad. A publisher/bookseller was looking for “responsible people” from 30 to 45 and was offering 1,200 euros a month. That figure, of course, is ridiculously high for the kind of work he was offering, but who knows — it was worth checking out.

I called the landline number but there was no answer. There was a mobile number given too, and a guy answered it. I told him I was calling about the ad, and he asked me what sort of experience I had in sales.

“None, really,” I said. “But I’ve worked for publishers before.”

“Well, look. That’s not what the ad’s for, but we could use people in the publishing part. How old are you?”

He addressed me in the singular, but in a friendly way that made me feel comfortable and hopeful.

“Thirty-five,” I told him.

He told me he’d call me back in a couple of days about an interview, but when the time came I didn’t hear from him. I decided the best thing to do would be to show him how interested and motivated I am by calling him up and bugging him till he gave me the interview.

When I called back he said:

“I’m just on the computer here, trying to send out a message. Have got it yet?”

Wait a minute, I thought. I haven’t given you my email address.

“I’m trying to send it to your mobile,” he said, as if reading my thoughts.

Eventually the message came through, sent by email. The woman in charge of recruiting personnel, it said, was ill and would not be back till after the weekend. By the way it was worded, I could tell it had been sent out to several people.

The following week I still didn’t hear from them. I wrote to the email address. He told me to email him my CV and he’d get back to me about some writing as well.

But the days went by, and still no interview. I sent him another email. He told me they had just moved office and were waiting for someone to come and fix the lights and hook up the telephones. I told him I’d try to be more patient.

Eventually I got another email, sent to my mobile again, setting a date for a meeting. I had gathered by this time that it would involve a presentation to a group of us. (Not a good sign, of course.)

Their new offices were in one of the seediest parts of Athens (Πλατεία Βάθης). I arrived right on time, as always, and was the first one. The offices were two tiny rooms. In the front room he had a desk with a computer. Beyond that was another room with another desk and a longer table where the meeting would take place. He had set out some ashtrays.

Where was the woman in charge of recruiting personnel? Was this their only office? It seemed to be a one-man business. If there were other branches, why had I not been able to reach them?

I sat down and he gave me some papers to look at while I waited for the others to arrive. In an email I had asked him what kind of company they were, and he had told me they specialised in books that provided counselling for parents, how to raise their kids properly, that sort of stuff. That put me off a bit, but I was still hopeful. Now, I was looking at what seemed to be a script for a presentation, directed at parents. It was filled with statistics about how difficult it is to raise kids today, blah blah blah. However, it was fairly well presented, and I was somewhat interested to hear the rest of it.

He would come in from the smaller front office from time to time and ask me what I thought. I told him it was interesting.

“Of course,” he said. “We’ve been doing this for almost thirty years. Other companies have started doing it, but they don’t have the network we’ve built up.”

He told me that after the meeting I would stay behind and he would tell me about the writing and translation work.

We waited about twenty minutes and it dawned on me — and on him, I could tell — that no one else was coming. Without much enthusiasm, he sat down at the desk and started to explain to me what they did and how they operated.

From the sounds of it, they were a huge company with branches in Germany that provided parents with counsellors, along with magazines and books, summer camps and even classes in night schools for parents, where they could learn about child rearing. I was losing interest quickly, but kept nodding my head. For politeness’ sake, I was just hearing him out.

From what I can remember now, my job would partly involve going to the house of people who had already been approached and had agreed to join, had already seen a counsellor, and getting them to become full members. There was more to the job, but I can’t remember.

At one point during his spiel, he asked me if he could have one of my cigarettes, as he had run out. I said sure.

Then it got weirder. Apparently, members were entitled to discounts at various shops and to some Amway type of place called Clever Club. He showed me catalogues with kitchen appliances and air conditioners.

Air conditioners? Appliances? How the hell did this happen? The ad had been for a bookseller/publisher! As far as I could see, they didn’t even have books. Just a few magazines. I asked about them, and he said they were not available to the general public, only to members.

“And the schools?” I asked. I was wondering why I’d never heard of them. He told me they too were exclusively for members.

I nodded. The situation was ridiculous now, but I wanted some idea of how big this organisation was.

“And how many members are there?”

“Oh, lots,” he said.

“Any other questions?” he asked after I had sat looking at the papers and nodding my head some more.

“What about the writing and the translation?”

“Well, we’ll discuss that some other time. In the course of things.”

I could tell the meeting was over. He told me I knew his email address, if I was interested I could notify him and he’d set up some sort of training. As I was getting ready to leave, he asked for another cigarette and I gave him four or five.

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Job Interview

I sent them my CV on Sunday, by email, and they called me on Monday morning. We made an appointment for Wednesday at 11.00.

I had vowed never to take an office job again, especially at a publisher’s. I did it for two years, gradually began hating it, and ended up getting sacked. But being barely employed for the past few months has made me a great deal less fussy.

Their office is out in Alimos, a suburb of Athens. I arrive at precisely 11 and they take me up to see the boss. She’s probably in her late 50s, has straight hair parted in the middle. Sort of reminds me of Aggeliki Sotiropoulou, of 17November fame.

She doesn’t ask me to sit down, but I do anyway because that’s simply what’s usually done. She has my CV in front of her.

“So, you heard about us through A. He’s a friend of yours?” she says.

“Not a friend,” I say. “We worked in the same school.”

“Which is…?”

I tell her.

“And how long have you been there?”

“I was there for a year, four years ago.”

“And have you taught anywhere else?”

The situation’s clear now. She hasn’t yet bothered to look at my CV. She doesn’t yet know that in addition to teaching, I worked for a couple of publishers, edited and even co-wrote textbooks.

“I’ve been teaching for over seven years.”

“I see.”

She eventually sees where I’ve listed my work with publishers. She asks me why I left. I’m prepared for this, of course.

“Well, there was no in-house writing done there, and I missed it. I wanted to go back to teaching and devote myself to my writing, which included a novel.”

“A novel?”

“Yes. I finished it up and tried to get it published.”

“An original novel?”

Brief puzzled pause.

“Well, actually, no. I’ve copied it, but I’m hoping no one will notice. I’m thinking of calling it Crime and Punishment.”

No, I’m just kidding. What I really said was:

“Yes.”

She tells me the position also involves being an ELT Consultant, travelling around to promote their books to places in South America and Asia, and other parts of Greece. I tell her that sounds good, and I assure her I live alone and that I’m not married. She doesn’t need to know about my cat, though.

Then she asks me again why I left the last publisher I was with.

And I explain it all to her again.

Maybe she didn’t believe me, or maybe she was fishing for some dirt on the competition. Who knows.

She asks me how much I was making there, and in my confusion, I tell her 180 euros less than I actually made. Oops.

Then she says she wants me to show her what kind of work I can do and gives me two little exercises, which I consider an impertinence, but what can you do? I have to write a 70-word paragraph or dialogue presenting the pronouns this and that to nine-year-olds who have learnt be, have, can and the imperative. Then I have to write a 120-word piece presenting fifteen-year-olds with the past tense, simple and continuous.

She takes me into another room, where three people are working. One of them I recognise. She’s looking at me too.

“You look familiar,” I say, sitting down at the desk where I am to write my passages.

“So do you,” she says.

I used to work in a school with her, about five years ago. I never knew her well, but at parties we’d chat. We got along well.

“Is your name Christina?” I say.

“No.”

“Oh.”

She goes back to work.

“Then I’ve mistaken you for someone else.”

Someone comes in and addresses her, and calls her M.

That’s right! M.!

“I do know you,” I say. She gets up to leave the office for something. When she comes back I tell her where I remember her from.

“That’s right,” she says. “I remember now. So how have you been? It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

No, I’m just kidding. What she really says is, “Yes. That was a long time ago.”

And then she goes back to her desk and ignores me completely for the remainder of my time there.

For over half an hour I try to write these stupid, poorly framed exercises. The one for fifteen-year-olds is easy, so I do that one first. But the one for nine-year-olds is a headache. Am I not supposed to use other verbs than the ones they’ve been taught? How do I write a dialogue with only be, have and can? And in the imperative, which is impossible with can, anyway.

I write something stupid, even though I have no context to put it in, and I’m finding the atmosphere in this office a little stifling. Perhaps some of it had to do with past experiences, but most of it had to do with the fact that I’d become totally invisible. The boss is now speaking to two people in her office so I have to wait. And wait. And imagine what it will be like working with M. if I get the job. The three editors are talking about their post-graduate work. Two girls and a guy. The guy is telling them about a strict professor he had in England, whom he really liked. He says she was bossy. “You like bossy women though,” M. says. “That’s why we get along.”

Great. Not only has she become thoroughly unfriendly, but she’s bossy too.

I have a lesson at 4.00, and I need to be back home by 3.00 in order to get my stuff and make it in time. The boss is showing no signs of finishing with her meeting. I’m getting pissed off that she hasn’t asked if there’s some place I need to be some time today. Eventually she comes out and tells me she won’t have time to see me again. She’ll call me back another time.

It’s 1.30 — two and a half hours since I arrived.


In the meantime, I’ll look through the classifieds in the Athens News.

EXPERIENCED sales people required for new energetic Fish Company. Must speak Greek & English.

(How energetic are the fish? Will I be required to catch them?)

LADIES 18-60 y.o. amateurs only, with overdeveloped bodies, for shooting. Good payment.

(I know it says LADIES, but maybe you need some help disposing of those heavy bodies after you’ve shot them.)

TRAINED Filipino under 50 wanted by a young family in Politia.

(I’m not Filipino, but I can bring your slippers between my teeth and I’ve learnt to poo on the newspaper.)


PS – 16 May 2005
By the way…they never called me back, even though I sent them an email reminding them. Goes to show you how desperate I was.

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Buried Alive

My mother is claustrophobic. Whenever she enters a small space, like an elevator, she becomes short of breath and can’t wait to get out. When I was younger, I thought, with the typical cruelty of children, that it was funny, and that she was exaggerating. Once we went as a family for a hike on the Bruce Trail in Ontario, and we came to this cave with an entrance and exit, called Fat Man’s Misery. My father and I had come once before, but it was my mother’s and sister’s first time.

First you climb down a ladder into a cavernous vault, and then go up some stairs, past a dummy of a miner, into an extremely narrow passage near the exit. I don’t remember if my father and I knew that this would be hell for my mother, but we didn’t tell her what was in store. If I remember correctly, turning around would have meant that we would not be able to meet up afterwards, and she forced herself to go through it.

Knowing me, I probably thought the whole thing was funny. I was probably twelve or thirteen at the time.

Over the past couple of years I’ve realised that, although I’m not claustrophobic, I am able to imagine vividly what it must be like to die in an enclosed space.

Once when we went on a trip through the United States, back in 1984, we spent a horrible night trying to find a hotel, but wherever we went, there were no more rooms. Eventually we found one in the small hours of the morning. I remember trying to sleep in the back seat of the car, and a restless numbness coming over my legs. I wanted to thrash them about, kick things, even break my legs if it meant stopping the feeling. I had to get out, walk around, relieve the muscles in my legs.

A couple of years ago I had a dream that someone had locked me up in a very small safe. I woke with my heart in my throat. Since then, the thought of being stuck in a building that has collapsed in an earthquake (more likely here in Athens than it ever was in Toronto), what was once the ceiling now pressing down on my chest, or the thought of being buried alive, lying there with nothing to do but wait till death eventually comes, will insinuate itself into my head and refuse to go away. It becomes an obsession. I jolt upright in bed, shake my head to free it of such thoughts, but when I lie down again, I’m thinking about it again. The more the thought terrifies me and sends me into a cold sweat, the more I think about it.

The worst part of it, as I imagine it, is being enclosed in a space not so small that you can’t still move. I imagine my limbs becoming numb and fidgety, as they did that night in the car, but I’m in a narrow space, under six feet of earth. I can only slightly bend my knees before they hit the unyielding wood above me. I lie in bed and imagine all this. I’m lying on my back. I can’t turn over, because a quarter of the way, my shoulder hits the wood as well. All I can do is thrash about and go mad till I run out of oxygen.

Who, or what, put these thoughts into my head? Will they go away again, as suddenly as they came?

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The AFI 100: How Many Have You Seen?

I couldn’t help this one. This is the AFI‘s list of the best 100 American films of all time, although I don’t know what The Third Man is doing in it, since it’s a British film (and has been voted the best British film of all time).

This “bold ’em if you’ve seen ’em” has been started by Edward Champion (DrMabuse). He’s seen 96 of them. I’ve only managed a measly 89.

1. CITIZEN KANE (1941)
2. CASABLANCA (1942)
3. THE GODFATHER (1972)
4.
GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)
5. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)
6. THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)
7. THE GRADUATE (1967)
8. ON THE WATERFRONT (1954)
9. SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993)
10. SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952)
11. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)
12. SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)
13. THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957)
14. SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959)
15. STAR WARS (1977)
16. ALL ABOUT EVE (1950)
17. THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951)
18. PSYCHO (1960)
19. CHINATOWN (1974)
20. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975)
21. THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940)
22. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
23. THE MALTESE FALCON (1941)
24. RAGING BULL (1980)
25. E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982)
26. DR. STRANGELOVE (1964)
27. BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967)
28. APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)
29. MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939)
30. THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (1948)
31. ANNIE HALL (1977)
32. THE GODFATHER PART II (1974)
33. HIGH NOON (1952)
34. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962)
35. IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934)
36. MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969)
37. THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946)
38. DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)
39. DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965)
40. NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)
41. WEST SIDE STORY (1961)
42. REAR WINDOW (1954)
43. KING KONG (1933)
44. THE BIRTH OF A NATION (1915)
45. A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951)
46. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)
47. TAXI DRIVER (1976)
48. JAWS (1975)
49. SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937)
50. BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969)
51. THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940)
52. FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953)
53. AMADEUS (1984)
54. ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930)
55. THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965)
56. M*A*S*H (1970)
57. THE THIRD MAN (1949)
58. FANTASIA (1940)
59. REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955)
60. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
61. VERTIGO (1958)
62. TOOTSIE (1982)
63. STAGECOACH (1939)
64. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977)
65. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)
66. NETWORK (1976)
67. THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962)
68. AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951)
69. SHANE (1953)
70. THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971)
71. FORREST GUMP (1994)
72. BEN-HUR (1959)
73. WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1939)
74. THE GOLD RUSH (1925)
75. DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990)
76. CITY LIGHTS (1931)
77. AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973)
78. ROCKY (1976)
79. THE DEER HUNTER (1978)
80. THE WILD BUNCH (1969)
81. MODERN TIMES (1936)
82. GIANT (1956)
83. PLATOON (1986)
84. FARGO (1996)
85. DUCK SOUP (1933)
86. MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1935)
87. FRANKENSTEIN (1931)
88. EASY RIDER (1969)
89. PATTON (1970)
90. THE JAZZ SINGER (1927)
91. MY FAIR LADY (1964)
92. A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951)
93. THE APARTMENT (1960)
94. GOODFELLAS (1990)
95. PULP FICTION (1994)
96. THE SEARCHERS (1956)
97. BRINGING UP BABY (1938)
98. UNFORGIVEN (1992)
99. GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER (1967)
100. YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (1942)

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