Cinematic indulgence

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As we approach our two-year mark here in Athens, certain activities start to become old hat. For instance, we’ve been out to the movies several times, and I’m well aware of the assigned seating, the relatively small size of their beverages (Last time James bought two Cokes just for himself. Sheesh.), and the location of the VIP lot at The Mall that embassy employees can use for free. But last week I met some girl friends for a Sunday night screening of It, and I discovered something new.

Though, before I get to that, let me first note how incredibly CROWDED the movie theater has suddenly gotten. All summer long James and I could breeze into a movie five minutes before showtime, but now that the weather has gotten colder, all the Greeks are going to the cinema. So when we arrived at 8:00 for the 8:20 movie, it was completely sold out. We had to opt for the 9:00 show, which was in the special Dolby Atmos theater, and cost four Euros more. (Still, only 11 Euros, so I didn’t complain.) I figured the sound might be slightly better or something.

Turns out we were in for a treat! The theater was easily twice as large as any of the other theaters, and the cushy leather seats were way more comfortable. The sound came from all sides of the theater, even from the screen. With all the “gotchas” in the thriller we were seeing, I’d say I was about 80% more likely to pee myself. I mean that in a good way.

This 2017 movie was a fantastic adaptation of one of my favorite Stephen King novels. They focused solely on the kids instead of switching timelines, which I think really helped immerse you in the story. And they moved the setting from the 1950s to the 1980s, which I’m sure resonates with my generation especially. I’m a huge Tim Curry fan (he played the clown in the original TV movie), but this new clown took the fear factor to a whole new level. I love, love, love the young actress they got to play Beverly — she’s my favorite character in the book. I also loved the kid from Stranger Things playing potty-mouth Richie, another of my favorite characters. (Seeing him on the big screen prompted a Stranger Things season one binge that I just finished up. Now I have to wait two long weeks for the season two premiere. The agony!) It’s clear from the ending that there will be a part two set in modern-day Derry with the kids as adults, just as in the novel. The movie is slated to release in 2019. Knowing my husband, we’ll be in some other locale by then, and I’ll have to figure out the whole going-to-the-movies thing in another country. Or we may still be in Greece. Either way, I’ll be there.

 

Outdoor cinema, The Mart, and where the heck is my Laiki?

I finally had the opportunity to enjoy an outdoor cinema in Athens last weekend. I’d heard this was a quintessential summer pastime in Greece, and I’ve always wanted to go. A group from the embassy met at Cine Chloe in Kifissia to see Victoria & Abdul. I was pretty exhausted from taking the kids on a very hot afternoon outing to Voltaki, an indoor/outdoor playground at Avenue Mall. But I am all about life experiences, so after getting my overtaxed toddler to bed, off to the movies I went!

By some miracle I found a parking spot in downtown Kifissia, and I arrived just as the movie was starting. I spied some familiar faces in the snack bar, so after nabbing some drinks and popcorn, we made our way down to some seats near the front with the rest of our group. We sat in a neat row of director’s chairs. As the movie played, we could hear the leaves rustle in the wind and a steady din from the nearby bars and restaurants. Dark theaters are cold and sterile, but this felt intimate and welcoming. You really got a sense you were watching something with an audience, much like seeing an outdoor stage production. And the temperature that night was perfect — warm enough for light summer clothing, but not so hot we were sweating. If you find yourself in Athens or one of the Greek islands from May-September, this is definitely worth your while.

This week I also finally had the chance to shop at The Mart, Greece’s very own version of Costco. I walked inside, and it was like I’d suddenly been transported to a warehouse store in the US. Wide aisles! Huge shopping carts! Floor to ceiling stacks of bulk items! Except here at The Mart you can get a 5-gallon tub of olives. Actually, I’m pretty sure you can get that at Costco, too.

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I mean, look at that! Like manna from heaven. I almost cried when they told me I couldn’t get a membership. Apparently these deep discounts are for GREEKS ONLY. But thankfully they gave me a free day pass, and later I found out I can borrow a membership card from Philippia in the GSO at the embassy. One of the many perks of being a diplomat, along with VIP parking.

With this unrelenting summertime heat lasting well into September, I haven’t been to the Laiki in awhile. So when I headed down the street with my hobocart ready to pick up some fresh fruit, imagine my surprise to find the street completely empty. Where is my laiki?! I walked a little further and spied some ladies laden with heavy bags of produce, so I knew it wasn’t far off. Sure enough, a few blocks up and couple over, I found it. Huzzah! I guess it does make sense to move it every other year or so. I’m sure blocking the street every week wreaks havoc on the businesses there. I managed to find some of my favorite vendors, and most of them greeted me with a familiar, “Kalimera, ti kanis?” Good morning, how are you? And I would dutifully reply, “Poly kalla. Ef charisto.” Very well, thank you. That’s about all the conversation I can muster in Greek. Sad, I know, after almost two years.

As I left the hustle and bustle of the produce market, I found myself in the more peaceful clothing, hardware, and odds & ends market. Cleaning products, textiles, yoga pants, bras and panties — and apparently a random assortment of wheels. Down on the ground amid the bric-a-brac, I saw a small cardboard box full of wheels from lawn mowers, strollers, and Radio Flyer wagons. You truly can find just about anything at the Laiki.

A Fruitful Friday

So…I hit a motorcycle. Calm down, everyone is fine. He didn’t even lose his balance. It was more like a grazing. I stopped to see if he was ok — not actually getting out of the car, because what could I possibly do to help with two kids in the back? But he checked himself over briefly, gave me a wave, and went on his way. I was making a left into the Embassy on a one-way street, blinker on at least 50 feet before I turned, so I don’t feel like I was in the wrong here. These motorcyclists zip around cars without abandon. Traffic anarchy.

So, let’s see…I’ve hit a parked car, been rear-ended, hit a pedestrian, and now hit a motorcycle.

Wait…is that…do I have a Bingo?

So, after my near brush with, um, Bingo, I made it to the Embassy for a little play date at the pool. Except as I was walking to the pool gate, I heard a clap of thunder. Fantastic. Undeterred, we took shelter under an awning, hoping this would be a quick summer gale. It was not. We had to quickly usher the kids back inside the building as the rain came down in buckets. Not your typical Athenian June weather, for sure. We killed a little time in daddy’s office, then tried again later in the afternoon. The clouds cleared, the sun came out, and the kids had a lovely time. Violet didn’t get to nap, but we planned to have a sitter that evening, so I figured I’d let her deal with the aftermath.

A friend recommended we buy our movie tickets at Germanos…the Radio-Shack-if Radio-Shack-was-still-a-thing of Athens. Apparently you can pay cash, so no need to have a Greek credit card billing address. Huzzah! James almost didn’t make it home in time — seems the luck I had that day was rubbing off on him. His bus randomly rerouted miles out of the way, with little or no explanation that he could decipher. Even the native Greek speakers were perplexed. I had just enough time to run to Germanos to buy our tickets after he got home, and I discovered the problem…a broken down trolley bus was blocking the road. Several Greek guys were standing around in the rain as steam and noises came out of the engine block. Who knows how long it sat there until they managed to tow it.

At any rate, I managed to get our tickets, and we rushed to the theater. We had to scan our receipt at the kiosk to get our tickets, then walk to the other side of the mall to the Gold Class theater. It wasn’t cheap — 22 Euros per ticket — but we got free champagne at the front door and plush recliners so we could put our feet up while we enjoyed Wonder Woman. Of course, we were the first ones there…because, Greece. Seriously, why do I bother rushing to get places on time here?

The food we ordered wasn’t that great, but also not terribly overpriced, at least by our standards. We got two appetizers, two entrees, and two beers for under 45 Euros. Next time I think we’ll just stick to appetizers and drinks.

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I am Wonder Woman, hear me ROAR!

As I’ve previously mentioned, the movie is shown in English with Greek subtitles. We had a little issue when we saw The Magnificent Seven — all of the native American dialogue was subtitled in Greek, so we never figured out what they were saying. I thought surely we wouldn’t have that problem with a super hero flick. Except, turns out Wonder Woman speaks, like, 100 different languages, and she proceeds to do that in a few scenes. Guess we’ll just have to catch that on the Blu-ray, lol.

I enjoyed seeing ladies kicking butt on screen — the scenes in the Amazon were simply amazing, making me kind of tear up a little. I couldn’t really explain why. I wouldn’t have mentioned it, except later I read this was a common reaction. I doubt James was crying into his mozzarella sticks… in fact, I’m sure his reaction was more, “Look, boobies!” than, “Look at how far feminism has come!” But aside from what I call CGI video game fighting fatigue, and a bit of a ridiculous ending fight scene, we both totally dug the movie.

Beauty and the Greek

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Over the weekend I got together with a group from the embassy for dinner and margaritas at El Taco Bueno (not to be confused with Taco Bueno in The States), then we took in the new Disney offering, a live-action remake of Beauty and The Beast. Typically children’s movies are only dubbed in Greek, but in some cases they’ll offer it in both Greek and English. I thought it wise to order the tickets ahead of time — it was opening weekend for our movie– but we were foiled at every turn. Even if you can decipher the website, apparently if your credit card doesn’t have a Greek billing address, they won’t accept the payment. Because we’re all Americans working for the embassy, we are required to use the American DPO address for our bills. We even tried calling the theater to reserve the tickets, but they had the same issue about the credit card. And they wouldn’t just hold the seats for us to pay for when we arrived. Out of bright ideas, we ended up going to the ticket counter 45 minutes before the show. Thankfully the theater was huge, and our assigned seats were far enough back to be comfortable. Perhaps because we were seeing the English version at 9PM. Now I’m wondering, do they dub the songs in Greek, too?

I love these little group outings, not only for the food and entertainment, but for the swapping of useful and/or amusing information. For instance, did you know that there’s a law in Greece that your license plate number dictates when you can drive into the Athens city center? Apparently, even numbers are allowed on even days, and odd numbers on odd days. Someone in our group actually witnessed the police pulling people over and ticketing them for it. I had no idea! I mentioned it to James when I got home, and he assured me we’d be exempt — though we don’t have diplomatic plates, we have an official letter from the embassy we carry in the glove box that we are supposed to hand to the police if we ever get pulled over. Let’s hope that does the trick!

I also learned that at most overseas posts, embassy employees use diplomatic plates, but since 9-11, in some countries, including Greece, they decided it best not to draw undue attention to our Americanness. While I’m behind the wheel, anyway — my secret is out the moment I open my mouth. Or at least for people with a good ear for English. I still get asked if I’m British sometimes.

And that anything-goes parking attitude I’ve observed in Athens? It seems that if you pick the wrong spot at the wrong time of day, the cops will not only give you a ticket…they will physically remove your plates! The fine isn’t much…20 Euros, I believe. But it’s a real hassle to get those plates back. I don’t even want to think about what would happen if my car got towed. From now on, no more parking downtown!

I heard about an amusing story that was reported on the local TV news here in Athens. Apparently there’s a resort that just opened on the island of Rhodes, and they’re looking to hire a staff. Their one stipulation? Prospective employees must PROMISE not to sleep with the guests! This was on the news, people! Ah, Greece!

And finally, though I have yet to witness it myself, topless sunbathing is quite common here, especially on the islands. When I mentioned that I wanted to get myself in shape to have a decent “swimsuit body”, the girls laughed and said every body type is considered “bikini appropriate” or “bikini-top optional” in Greece. I haven’t worn a bikini in at least a decade. I’m not sure I’ve crossed over the Greek threshold enough to start. But we are here for three more summers…

 

 

Dinner and a movie in Greece

Happy 12th wedding anniversary to us! We decided to try dinner and a movie, our first real date night since we arrived back in January. We wanted to keep it simple — a restaurant near our house followed by a movie at The Mall. Casa Del Toro was only a 15 minute walk, so we wouldn’t have to attempt driving or parking in Halandri on a Saturday night. We opted for a late dinner — late by our standards, at least — so we could put Violet to bed before we left. Turns out 8:30 is “Early Bird Special” time in Greece. We had made a reservation, but that probably wasn’t necessary. The restaurant didn’t start filling up until 9 or 9:30. Still, we had a nice, quiet table by the window, and the food was fantastic. We started with two appetizers, the crab cakes and the beef rolls, which were both outstanding. I haven’t had a steak since we got here, so when this arrived at the table, I just about fainted.

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Eight glorious ounces of fillet petit, cooked to medium rare perfection. The first bite: pure ecstasy. Get in mah belly, steak!

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The server also brought this interesting array of salts. From left to right they are Himalayan salt, smoked salt, and sea salt. I tried a smattering of them all, but I think my favorite was the first.

We shared a carafe of scrumptious Sangria, and at the end of our meal we were offered a honey cinnamon aperitif free of charge. James didn’t care for that last one, but I thought it was pretty good. Strong, but good.

I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as service. In our experience, the Greeks tend to operate on their own, shall we say, more relaxed schedule. The food arrived promptly, but it took us a little bit to track our server down for the check. We had just enough time to walk home, grab the car, and head over to The Mall for the 10:30 showing of The Magnificent Seven remake. It was the only movie we could agree on because James loves the original and I loves Chris Pratt. Swoon.

Some interesting observations about our Greek movie theater-going experience:

  • You couldn’t buy tickets at a machine like in most US theaters, so we got stuck in a long line. I presume one could order tickets online ahead of time, but I’ll have to figure that one out next time.
  • Seating is assigned. Which turned out to work in our favor. We thought the show was sold out when we finally made it to the ticket counter. Turns out there were just a few seats left in the front row. Sold! And while the front row was less than ideal, it beat having to fruitlessly find two seats together in a sold-out theater in the US. Many times ushers have to not-so-kindly ask that people move over to fill empty seats back home…we Americans and our insistence on personal space! In this instance, I like the Greek way better.
  • The prices were less than I expected, only 7.50 Euros a ticket, and the seats were modern, stadium-style.
  • The concession stand was very much the same, though with fewer candy options and the pricing wasn’t as outrageous. They had your standard M&Ms and Malted Milk balls, but they also had one of my favorites, Twix. James complained that the soda sizes were too small. I think he prefers the cups you can barely get your hand around. Sheesh.
  • I had been told that movies are typically subtitled in Greek. So as long as you could ignore the words scrolling at the bottom, the movie was essentially the same as it is in the US. What I didn’t anticipate was that any English subtitles would instead be subtitled in Greek. There was one subplot with a Native American dude speaking…some Native Americanese…to Denzel Washington, and I have no idea what was going on there.

By the time our 2+ hour movie was over, I was completely beat. We had a nice night, but it’s hard for us to stay up that late with children who know no mercy in the early morning. Or a toddler who still wakes in the night — when we made it home at 1 AM, our baby sitter was consoling a crying Violet, who had just woken up about 20 minutes before we got home. So I got to end our “romantic” evening by hastily changing into a nursing top and getting the baby back to sleep. Happy anniversary, ha!