by Armando Huerta © 2002
I arrived into Athens, Greece on a Sunday early in the morning after being on a plane for two days enroute from Montevideo. Needless to say I was more exhausted than a truck-stop hooker servicing a Nascar convoy. This was to be my first of many trips to Athens and although tired, I was still as excited as a Catholic school girl having her panties pulled down by the fumbling fingers of a pimply neighborhood boy. The new airport, which rocks, was still being built so we landed in the old one that was built around the time Aristotle Onassis owned Olympic airlines. During that time he was also porking a woman previously married to the Presidential son of an Irish bootlegging scion but that's another story...
The first thing I noticed was that we didn't pull up to a gate but parked right on the tarmac as buses lined up to take us to the terminal. So far nothing was out of the ordinary since lots of airports still do that but my tranquility changed when I saw the dogs. Dogs under the plane, dogs humping behind baggage carts, dogs napping smack dab in the middle of a runway. It seems our little furry four legged beasties find the airport tarmac to be the lounge venue of choice. It was one mangy dog after another, of all various breeds and colors like a Benetton ad, making themselves as comfortable as can be on the hot cement. Course, I'm still not sure if they were indeed dogs or Olympic Airways sterdesses on break. After having a cigarette in baggage claim (I LOVE Greece), grabbing a cab and checking into the hotel I was ready to crash on my bed and recoup my energy. Alas, that was not meant to be.
The Greeks are a very hospitable and social people and insist on taking foreign visitors out on the town as I was soon to find out. I wasn't in my hotel room but five minutes when my client calls to tell me she'll meet me in the main square in twenty minutes. I took a whore's bath in the bathroom sink and charged down the hills in Kolonaki to Syntagma (Constitution) Square. (For those who are wondering how in the hell I knew the way, we drove through the Square on the way up to the hotel, thank you very much.) The second I arrive a Range Rover full of Greeks pulls up and a door swings open. I only recognize one person who's squeezed in the back so either she's brought friends or I'm about to be kidnapped. Since I've always been a fan of Range Rovers, and this was a model previously only sold in Europe and unbeknowdest to me, I figured even if it was the latter was the case the ride would still be worth it and jumped in.
The restaurant they chose was having an opening celebration that day but there was a table in the back reserved for our party of eight. After making our way through throngs of Greeks trying to sing and gyrate to Paradise by the Dashboard Light (which most Americans can't do either incidently) we sat down. Immediately everyone, EVERYONE, pulls out a pack of cigarettes and puts them on the table. All eyes turn to me and then I sheepishly pulled out my pack and laid it down too. Everyone roars and starts slapping me on the back while motioning to the waiter for the menu. I was IN! What followed was a 5 hour meal with more wine bottles than people on the table and at one point I had to prop myself up on the table with my knife and fork to keep from passing out. When the meal was finally over we made our way through the crowded cobblestoned streets back to the car. One restaurant after the other was packed to the brim and in one block we passed by three establishments where things were so rowdy people were dancing on the tables and screaming. This was a Sunday afternoon! Sunday! AFTERNOON! The only thing that gets that exciting on a Sunday in the US besides a football game is a Southern Baptist Revival and let's just say neither are my entertainment of choice.
I turned to one of my new friends and asked her, "This is crazy! Look at all these people partying and carrying on in the middle of the afternoon. Is it a holiday or a celebration of something?"
She replied in that wonderful Greek accent while gesticulating with a flattened hand in motions away from her body, "Ehhhhh..... No. In Greece, on Sundays... we just start a little earlier."
I love Greece.
Armando Huerta is a writer from Boston, MA.