Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Politics of Expat Wall Decorations

The wall hanger came!

As part of our empire lifestyle, we are provided with a one-time wall hanging service, where someone will come hammer holes in our concrete walls so we can hang up pictures. Our wall hanger came last week.

Family portrait wall. Imagine there's a roaring fire in there.*
*Phil says we probably won't have fires because of the risks.
Boo.

Family portraits, up close. This is what we look like in person.

This is a recent acquisition that we commissioned from a really cool, young, DC-based artist named Summer.
You can't tell from the picture, but she actually used metallic paint for some of the background buildings.
I'm so thrilled this is finally hanging on our portrait wall. It is perfect.
We miss you, Summer. Thank you for letting us hang your artwork in our house.

This stuff is right above the little entryway table in our entryway.
I'm not used to all this furniture. I don't know what to call that stupid little table.
Is it actually an entryway table?
Anyway, here's a cool expat decorating tip: collect and frame postcards from places where you've lived.
If you live enough places, you could have a pretty cool-looking wall.
We've only lived two other places, so our wall looks like this.
Still pretty freaking cool.

The guy who hung all this stuff for us was really pleasant. He came a few days before the election last week (it happened on Sunday, it was no big deal, the old PM won again and was quite thrilled), so we talked politics. I asked him who he was planning to vote for and he told me he honestly didn't care who won, because he didn't feel like anything was going to change. He said his whole generation is in a terrible position of under and unemployment right now, and he doesn't see a clear way out of it. He told me he lies about his own position, and tells people he is a waiter because it would make other people feel angry and jealous if they heard how well he was doing in comparison to them.

Somewhere between a quarter to a half of young adults in Greece are unemployed. That figure is absolutely insane. It's not just a Greek issue, though their's is pretty bad. There are a lot of places where young adults are struggling to obtain financial security. I told this guy about the student loan debt crisis currently going on in the United States. We both agreed that this many young adults wandering around without gainful employment puts a huge strain on global economics and security. Like true philosophers, neither of us had a solution. 

I really enjoyed talking with this guy right up until he started asking me about U.S. politics. It's one thing to make fun of politicians when you're at home, but it's an entirely different experience talking about your nation's leaders with a local in another country. It's sort of like my dog; I can say that she's an awful, obnoxious witch that should be locked away, but if someone else says it, then they obviously don't know her at all. U.S. politics are weird. Take the 2016 presidential race, for example. It's been going on for a thousand years, and we're not even voting until next November. How do you explain that process to someone who was informed about an election in August, was invited to vote in September, and expected to have a national leader installed a few days later? I'm not sure I understand it myself, and I was born into it. 

So, eventually, I left him to his own devices, and folded laundry. After he left, I hung everything up, and documented it. Come see it in real life.

Mail Call

"Hi Jane, thought these would brighten your day."
They did brighten my day! This is a big thank you and shout out to my mother in law, who sent me more catalogues to peruse. I had forgotten about Current, but this is one of those mailers that I always went through as a kid. And the Williams Sonoma was enthralling and insane. I want all of it, but I could never spend that much.

I could maybe spend that much on the food.

Thank you so much for thinking of me.

Zakynthos Photos

There's a nice thunderstorm building up in the city right now. We've had rain and clouds for the first three days this week. It's been lovely.

Here are those other photos from Zakynthos that I promised you from way back when you still had faith in this blog.

At dinner. Phil ordered something Greek and I ordered pizza.

Kayaking the Med.

That's a sea turtle! Zakynthos is known for these turtles.
We were lucky to see one, because it wasn't really the right time of year for turtle tourism.

The gang all together. That couple on the top left had rented a car for the weekend,
and were really nice about driving us to breakfast and dinner. 

Inside a cave. Look how blue!

More blue! It looked blue-er in real life.
We found out that kayaking is the best way to appreciate these caves.
In the bigger boats, there's no way you'd be able to get the full effect of the light on the water.

Emerging from the cave. Look at that form.
Is that good form? I don't know. Maybe not.
Phil and I had to work together. It went like this:
"THHHUNK!" "Phil, are you paddling?!" "Oh, sorry, I got distracted."

"#*%# it, Phil, follow my lead. Never mind. You back us into the cave. No, you do it.
You're doing great."

Check out my nerd shoes.
That's a real starfish.

Our kayak guide is also a diver (free and SCUBA), so he went down along the rocks, and pulled off some starfish.
He put them back after we got our "Facebook profile" shots.

Keep the faith, followers. Blogging might only come once or twice a week for the next few weeks, but I'm hopeful it will become more regular again soon. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Zakynthos

Sorry, so sorry.

Here are four Zakynthos photos. They're from Phil's phone, so you get to look at my mug this time.

This was on the main road from our hotel.
It looks a lot more developed than it actually is.
This part of the road had a sidewalk, a couple restaurants, and a store.
The remaining mile to our hotel had dirt, and sidewalk-less blind curves.

This is our hotel. We stayed at the Matilda. It had great views, and a great pool.
It was, however, a European hotel, meaning that the rooms were not great.
Our beds were tiny, and had one mattress apiece.
The breakfast in the morning was terrifying. I've never seen that many unidentifiable dishes.
There was an eggy couscous casserole thing, and some wilting vegetables.
They did have old, off-brand cornflakes, but no cereal bowls. And no milk.

The views, though. Wow. 

The hotel was far away from most things on the island, but it was close to a beach.
We got these Cheesecake-Factory sized portions by walking down a dirt bath to a beach bar.
Mine's a club sandwich, and it was delicious.

One of Phil's Greek coworkers was telling him that he thinks it's funny to see Americans go on vacation. He said (paraphrased), "You Americans always want to go on a vacation and exercise. You want to kayak or surf or hike. When Greeks go on vacation, we like to order a coffee from a taverna and sit on the beach with a cigarette."

Alas. You cannot get away from cigarette smoke on the beach, which is horrible, and you have to do a bit of research if you want to find more active things. Fortunately for you, we can tell you where to kayak when you're in Zakynthos. Contact the people at Sea Kayaking Zakynthos. We got to explore the blue caves much more thoroughly than the boat trips do, including with snorkels, and our guide gave us everything we needed, along with a homemade lunch. He also took a load of pictures, but I haven't seen those yet. Phil took some, too, but he's with his camera in a foreign land.

So now we'll wait, hopefully patiently, for the snorkel pictures.

Bella's Needs

I haven't been able to type for a while.


This poor dog needs the attention of twelve owners.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Carton Caution

In Greece, grocery store eggs are packed in plastic containers. So if you walk home with a carton of eggs banging against your leg through a plastic bag, this is what you can expect:

My left calf is just the latest casualty here in Greece.
All of our heavy wood furniture has really sharp edges, too,
which is something I didn't know, having never had an interest in heavy wood furniture.
I'm going to start documenting the damage done to me, and request compensation at the end of our assignment.


If I had known there was going to be blood, I would have brought our grocery cart.


But these containers are useless. They're so hard to snap back together once opened.
Has some invented better egg packaging? No, I guess that's just called "having backyard chickens."
How do you think the landlord would respond if I got some balcony chickens?

This is a photo of Phil sitting on our hotel room balcony in Zakynthos. The poor man spent a lot of time sitting there while I napped, and napped, and napped, and...

...woke up, rolled over, took a photo, and napped again.

Our neighbor just asked if he could use our parking space until we get our car. I agreed, and then instantly developed anxiety about it. "Maybe I shouldn't have agreed. Maybe our car will come tomorrow. Maybe we'll never get our parking spot back again." It's a parking spot, assigned to our apartment, for a car we don't even have yet that our neighbor will definitely return when asked. These are the things that keep me up at night.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Californian Cousins, and Where NOT to Eat in Athens

We are still alive, and one of us is still in Greece. Phil left yesterday for another work trip. This is his third since we've moved here. His job requires about 50% travel. He really enjoys it. He likes seeing new places, and working with new people. I have the option to travel with him, but I've not been feeling up to it. It's a massive bummer, but I'm dealing with it by marathon watching one of those fake, scary ghost hunter reality shows online. It's 2pm in my bedroom, full sun outside, and I keep looking over my shoulder. It's great.

Yesterday, I met my Californian cousins at their hotel, across the street from the Arch of Hadrian. It was wonderful to see them. When we were kids, we all used to play together at my grandma's house. It was one of these cousins that first developed my interest in fake, scary ghost hunter reality shows with the impromptu haunted houses he'd set up in grandma's basement, and his vivid retelling of the story of the "Phantom Horse," in grandma's orchard. What a liar.

My liar cousin took us to lunch, which was really nice of him, but doesn't quite forgive the horror horse story. We ate lunch in an extremely touristy district. I'm glad we did, because I learned not to do that ever again. The food was okay, but much more expensive than every other place we've been, and the server threw a rude fit over his tip. I'm actually still really mad about that. Service workers in Greece aren't working for tips; they make a living wage. A few times, I've given larger tips, and been able to witness the really confused, sort of weirded-out reaction of the recipient. So the fact that this dude was angrily and openly trying to guilt my cousin into leaving a large tip really made me mad. It was pretty clear that he's used to exploiting tourists.

In an effort to pay that guy back, I don't want any of you to ever eat at one of those touristy places again. Hop on a bus (or get in a cab, they're not expensive), and ride 15 minutes into the suburbs just north of Athens. Psychiko and Chalandri both have fantastic restaurants, most with English menus, better prices, and without predatory service. Heck, once I get a car, I'll drive you away from those awful restaurants myself. We can indulge in a nicer restaurant setting, or sit on my couch and order Greek food from Click Delivery while we watch fake, scary ghost hunter reality shows. That's the true Greek experience.

But, going back to my cousins, it was really, really wonderful to see them. Being away from my family and friends has been difficult. It was nice to get a dose of both.

Coming up later this week: Zakynthos. We'll brag about our trip, and hopefully have pictures for you. I know it's hard to look at this much writing without pictures. You've done well.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Hiatus Apology, and Refugees

I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.

A month before we moved to Greece, I was hit with a kidney stone and ended up in the ER for a morning. Since then, I've been dealing with recurring attacks of renal colic, probably from new stones. We've been trying to figure out the cause, but it's put a damper on a lot of our adventures, not to mention our blogging. I was hit with another episode this week, and was so bad yesterday, I almost went to the hospital to get the good drugs. Phil was able to talk to the Med Clinic at his work, and figure out a combination of Naproxen and Acetaminophen that dulled the pain enough to be tolerable. I'm doing better today.

We might be tempting fate, but we're leaving in a few hours for a weekend trip to an island. The trip was organized a few months ago, and we've already paid. Best case scenario, we'll be able to show you pictures from kayaking and snorkeling and beaching. Worst case scenario is, I guess, both of us dying. But, if that happened, neither of us would have to worry about kidney stones again.

Bella will be staying behind with a dog sitter.
She's really torn up about it.

The island we're going to is on the west side of Greece. Hopefully you've heard about what's been happening on the islands to the east. Lots and lots of refugees have been arriving in Europe this summer. A big chunk of people are from Syria, though there are people coming from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Africa, too. They travel from Turkey across the Mediterranean to Greece and Italy, and then upwards toward Hungary, with a goal of landing in Germany, and other economically strong countries.

I have opinions about the crisis, and about the international response, but I don't know enough to go on a rant without sounding stupid. There are two things I do know, that I want to make sure you know. The first comes from this article describing how the crisis has been reported by the media. This New York Times article is a short, interesting piece about the difference between a "migrant" and a "refugee." While you should definitely read it for yourself, the main takeaway is that refugees must be afforded assistance under legal conventions, while migrants don't get the same protections. Many leaders and media outlets are referring to this as an influx of "migrants," rather than "refugees," even though it's clear that most of the people who are coming are refugees. Public opinion has changed a bit in the past week, with the picture of the dead baby on the beach (that I will not include here), but in a lot of ways it's still being looked at as a nuisance rather than a humanitarian crisis.

The second thing I want to tell you is that there are concrete things you can do to help refugees, even if you're not on the ground in Europe. If you're horrified by what you've seen on the news, take a minute to look up organizations that provide direct services to refugees in your community. There are plenty of ways you can get involved, especially in the United States. The US is the world's top resettlement country. There are resettlement agencies in most large metropolitan areas in the States. Here's a list of the bigger organizations. 

We'll keep you posted on everything that's happening, both renal-y and regionally, hopefully without too many more gaps in coverage.