Life in Greece

Sun, 7 Feb 2010

Yesterday and today I've been moving my site into TYPO3. So far I've configured all the content areas (the main content area and the pink sidebar) and finished the configuration for both menus in Typoscript, TYPO3's own "scripting" language. This includes the graphical menu with the rollovers in the header, and I'd just like to say that I can't imagine any CMS other than TYPO3 that allows you to create a page menu like that without any kind of hacks (for those interested I've copied the Typoscript setup I used and placed it on the Computors tab). Now I need to find one or two extensions to use for the Blog and Album contents or write my own, and really decide if I want to extend their functionality. I'm thinking something like categories or albums would actually maybe be nice for the photos... but I'm not sure. Other things could be tag clouds, user comments, rss. Requests?

My camera is amazing. I haven't gotten around to putting any new images up on my Album page, but I will soon.

Per a synthesization of ideas from Ian and Giorgos, I've also created a google Wave where I will practice Greek. We (me or others) upload images and I'll be writing short descriptions for them, and maybe some other things in the future. I think that maybe this is the first legitimate use I've had for google wave. I'll probably embed it here in my site, but ask me if you want access to it because it's not public, and then you can come chat with us in Greek.

I've been spending a lot more time alone recently, the past couple weeks. Not in a bad way... and I think part of the reason is just that I have some more activities to do (like put my site in TYPO3) that keep me occupied. Part of the reason may also be though that the college kids (really just Theo) have been in exam period for the past couple weeks and can't really hang out. But so far, I haven't had a problem. I submitted an abstract to present TYPO3 at FOSSCOMM, an open source conference in Thessaloniki in April, where I hope (in English) just to give a brief overview of the CMS and give a demo of setting up a simple site. I've ALSO submitted an abstract to present at T3CON10, the North American TYPO3 conference in May, with the title "Achieving Advanced Web Presence with TYPO3", where hopefully Hrakles and I will showcase some of the cool sites customedialabs has done.

I stopped Greek lessons officially, which is a shame. But Giorgos also brought up the idea that I could work towards getting some proficiency degree in Greek (the lowest level, probably), and there might even be teachers for that in Larissa. So, we will look into this next.

Sun, 24 Jan 2010

I'm getter better this, see? It's been just two weeks since my last post. After reading tons of reviews, I bought a new camera yesterday, a Canon IXUS 100 IS. What they say about this camera is that the auto modes are really not very good, but if you learn to use it it's an excellent camera. So, I spent an hour two yesterday reading the first 100 pages of the manual online. Then today I went on a two hour walk to go see our new office, and on the way taking pictures of things that had a lot of colors. The camera is tiny and really cute, but I'll have to spend some time trying to find a case that is small enough to do it justice. It's still hard for me to tell about image quality in general, but I can at least say that the Macro mode is amazing. The smallest focal length is 3cm, and it has digital macro zoom on top of that. I'll have an image of a tiny sticker that's on my laptop on the album page. Among it's many features, it's also got a stitch mode, so you can take multiple images and place them side by side to get panoramic images (super cool -- sounds excellent for mountains). Needless to say, I'm sure it's better in every sense than my old camera. Without the SD Card, this camera cost me 189 euros from Plaisio (kind of like a small, Greek best buy), which I think is a great price.

I've decided I would like to present TYPO3 at FOSSCOMM (a Greek open source conference) if I can... I'm really hoping I can get my parents to send me my mac mini, because doing any kind of programming on my laptop is kind of painful, and that's the biggest obstacle in actually doing a presentation (or any other personal task related to programming :\ ). They haven't responded yet to my email three weeks ago, but perhaps I'll call them this week. The presentation would probably just consist of a basic overview of what TYPO3 is and why it's used, and then a demo of setting up a TYPO3 site. I also created the skin for the site I linked above, and a small PHP script that allows people to submit their name/info/accommodation requirements and write it to a file, so that the organizers can gauge interest in the conference. For the latter, though, what they are telling me is that they are concerned about the "security" of the script, and want things like encryption, IP addresses logged, and some other things. Hehe, hardcore for a form that just has name, email, and a number of beds huh? Oh well.

I also got my SD Card reader working today :) and made some notes to myself on the Computers tab about how I did it.

I really wish I didn't have to think about my time in Greece being finite. I don't have a set date, but when I think about things like buying a bike, or getting my computer mailed here, I always think about whether it's worth the hassle if I'll be leaving (for gradschool, or whatever). I wish I could just decide to stay here (or anywhere) forever, and not worry about it. And it's not that I would have to stay there forever, but graduate school is just really not letting me think about any kind of "settling down." I'm not sure what to do about this yet.

I've had three greek lessons thus far, and so far, it's been really dissappointing. The teacher isn't actually a teacher for Greek, she's an English teacher for Greeks... and just happens to be Greek so she can sort of conduct a Greek lesson as well. But so there is no prepared curriculum, and she doesn't seem to have an solid grasp of Greek grammar or how to teach it, and for the entire lesson we literally just do lessons in my greek book. So, I will probably stop lessons after just a few more, unfortunately, because it just doesn't seem to be worth 18 euros an hour when we are doing exactly what I was doing by myself anyway. :( I guess I shouldn't have expected to be able to depend on outside help anyway; I'll just have to be a lot more ademant about my friends here speaking in Greek to me.

I got a 100 euro bill from the ATM the other day. It's large and light green, and it's the most valuable bill I've ever had (sorry 100 dollar bill, you don't even come close).

Sun, 11 Jan 2010

The process of remaking my website is proving to be a tedious one: on the mailing list for the PHP frameword I am using, I am at times receiving answers like "oh, comment that core method out, that functionality isn't fully implemented yet" which is delaying the process. The effect this has on you, beloved readers, is just that I am less willing to make other feature updates on my site (like RSS), before the makeover.

[slightly technical BEGIN] As some kind of gradual farewell to my current site, I'd also like to take this moment to explain how my website currently works: For each page there exists a PHP file, such as blog.php, which contains first an simple array of the titles of the tabs in order ("BloGR," "Computors," etc). This array determines which tabs you see in which order, with the first being the default. This file then includes a PHP include() for the header and tab menu, a DIV containing the contents of the right sidebar, and a PHP include() for the footer, which subsequently includes an empty DIV where the tab content goes (like this blog post). So, the only real content stored in blog.php is the sidebar's, which does not change for the tab. The actual content of the tabs is stored in a separate file called [pagename]Tabs.php, so in this case blogTabs.php. Inside this file is a large if statement which will return content for a specific tab. For those of you who don't know, the actual retrieval of content from the *Tabs.php files is done through AJAX. So when you click on a different tab, the entire page doesn't have to reload, but just a server call is made to retrieve the main content of a tab with a specific name. This also means, however, that it isn't until after the initial page load that the initial main content of the page is retrieved. So, this is inefficient in that it makes two service calls, simple programmatically however in that it uses the same mechanism on initial page-load that it does when switching tabs to display content, and kind of cool in that google cannot crawl anything I write on my blog or other pages (because it's not static content, for better or worse). The album pages are generated by a small bash script I wrote which just goes through a directory of images, stores a compressed copy of the image in a subdirectory, and makes HTML img tags in an HTML file for each image (you can see it here. So on the album page, I just include() whichever generated HTML files I have created. Those are really all of the interesting things about the site architecture. The cons are: google can't track content, the unnecessary server call mentioned above to retrieve content, content is not stored in a standardized enough format (like a database) to make things like RSS easy, and mosty importantly that editing content involves editing the *Tabs.php file directly, instead of some sort of web-based interface (and while vim is nice, it is not ideal for writing essays). While there are of course many solutions to the above, the plan is to use FLOW3 to create a simple CMS where there is an access-restricted admin page offering basic CRUD (create/read/update/delete) any Page or Tab object, taking advantage of strict OO PHP design. Savvy? I think that about covers my site's obituary.[slightly technical END]

Switching gears, I made κοτόσουπα (chicken soup) today.

I've been spending a lot of time the past week looking online at digital cameras. Some of the buttons have not been working for a while (such as the "OK/menu" button, which makes deleting, changing settings, or setting the date impossible), and last week the zoom stopped working as well. So, now that I'm making barrels of money (how much money fits in a barrel, you ask?), I will seek a new one. My requirements are:

  • Ultra compact
  • Li-ion battery
  • Able to charge through USB
  • Image stablization
  • Usable while charging (and fuck charging docks)
  • Does not use an XD card (ideally SD)

That's pretty much it. It will replace a Fujifilm FinePix 5.2MP which I detest. I'm currently considering Sony Cybershot and Canon IXUS lines that are around 150 euros, and any suggestions are welcome.

On Thursday at work we interviewed a young Spanish guy. He's a computer science guy and his girlfriend is Greek, and so he's looking for work in Greece now. He seems really jovial, and he speaks good English and apparently more Greek than I do -- even though he's only been here for two months. I'm actually pretty excited by the prospect: He'd be working closely with me and Hrakles programming PHP, he seems friendly/fun to work with, and more generally I think it will be fun for me to have another foreigner in the office (assuming he works at the Larissa office), especially when his other languages are English and Spanish.

We're moving our office in April. Currently we are situated at the central square of the city, in the middle of all the shopping and coffee shops, and 10 minutes by foot from my house. We're moving much farther out of the city ("much" by Grinnell standards, and for those of you who didn't go to Grinnell, I guess you're Greek and already have some idea of Larissa's size), off of a national highway. If I were to walk, it would probably take about 45 minutes in the opposite direction, leaving the city, to get there. So I'll probably have to get a bike soon, and start paying attention to other bikers so I can learn Greek bike ettiquette (and believe you me, road etiquette is completely different in greece than in the US).

Wed, 06 Jan 2010

Good thing I've been including the year in all of my posts. Else we'd have Y2k all over again. Catastrophic.

I went to Berlin from the 26th-31st of December for the 26th annual Chaos Communication Congress with my friend Giorgos and some of his other friends from Thessaloniki. This is an international annual conference for "hackers," where people come from all over the world and give or attend presentations on various security and computing topics. Let me stress, however, that this is a *hardcore hacker* conference. This year somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 people attended, including some of the "fields" most well-known usernames. We attended lectures including "Fuzzing your Phone in your Phone," "Defending the Poor: Countering flash exploits," and "Exploiting crypto bugs through reverse engineering." The center consisted of three large lecture halls, tables and booths surrounding them, and a large basement floor with lounge for workshops and general get-togethering. And outside the conference center stood three full-size pirate flags. Please see the album page to get an even better glimpse of the scene. For a taste of the lecture content, we witnessed tactics for how to retrieve files from a remote computer using an emoticon request, or how to crash someone's smartphone through a mal-formed text message (where mal- literally means maliciously), or how to reverse engineer the communication with a password-protected USB key to access secure data. (And because I know you will wonder how they get away with presenting things like this, generally the exploits presented have already been reported to the manufacturers as bugs and have been fixed). Another lecture that I particularly enjoyed was about Tor (raise your hand if you know what that is. It's ok if you're alone, just do it), which is a program that allows users to connect to the internet by relaying their internet connection through some other server "bridge". This program is popular among people that don't like others being able to associate their IP address with their internet traffic. This is also for instance what people in China use to access web pages that are restricted by the Chinese government. The talk was heavily focused on politics and I encourage you to take a look at the site; I also have some notes for this lecture for those interested. Also for my less hacker-savvy readers, I will tell you about another phenomenon that you are probably not aware of, which is the two factions of hackers: "white hats" and "black hats". White hats are those that are focused on making protecting systems and ensuring that they are secure, i.e., the good guys. Black hats are those that try to break into systems, i.e., the bad guys. And the black hats (some, at least) actually do where black hats (fedoras, typically). So, please keep an eye out for them when browsing the photos :)

In my last post I know I mentioned the GRE, which I took etc. However! I would like to see a show of hands for who doesn't think it would be more fun to go to graduate school somewhere in Europe. Not only does it have decent schools, and not only is it Europe, but it's also cheaper. But mostly because it's Europe. My arbitrarily selected prospective countries currently include Spain, Denmark, Greece, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands (my criteria include non-English speaking and sounding badass). Questions/comments/concerns are welcome.

As of yesterday I have been in Greece officially for one year. Relatedly, I got a raise from 900 euros to 1100 euros per month, and although this may still seem below poverty level (because it is in the US), it's rather decent here and I am very excited. And with this extra money, I am going to start taking Greek lessons, with 50 euros to spare. On a sadder note, Kostas was asked to leave customedialabs. As he was the only one who would push me or introduce me to higher-level software engineering concepts, I find this pretty sad and a little disturbing. We'll see how this pans out though. His last day is Jan 15.

It's 3:30am now so I'll sleep. I haven't quite put up the pictures I refer to in this post, but I'll get around to it soon. Phazweel.

Fri, 20 Nov 2009

I got my Green Card, officially, for five years. I will take the GRE on Dec 9th, so I have a chance of going to Graduate School in the US, sometime. SamR seems to think that because I'll be paying for it (as opposed to a PhD program), that they shouldn't care too much that I don't have a degree in Computer Science. Though, I still have no idea where I want to go, and I am open to suggestions (US and abroad). I have a relatively strong desire not to leave until I become more comfortable with Greek (my progress [a derivative of how good I am, that is] is getting slower and slower, which is really disappointing), which makes me like the idea of graduate school in Greece.

It's "winter" now. It's probably about... 50 or 60 degrees outside. I have all of my doors and windows open, and I'm wearing a sweatshirt, and I'm drinking some thick milk before I have to work in 45 minutes. I had my birthday. A couple weeks before it happened my friend Theo asked me what I wanted to do for it, and I actually started crying. I hadn't realized it, but I think a fair amount of energy goes into making myself outgoing and not minding that I don't have many people where I can be really comfortable with. He was asking me who I wanted to invite, and it just made me so sad to think about who I actually wanted to come to something like my birthday. Because there are so few... and I miss having people who know me so well. Slightly disconcerted that I got so upset, Theo suggested that we have a party with just him and Giorgos from Thessaloniki (to be abbreviated as "skg" from now on), who are probably my two closest friends here. And that seemed better, and that's what we did, and we went out for drinks at a bar that I like in my city, and had cake. Theo gave me some clothes icluding a fur lined vest, which is the closest thing I have to greek girl clothes, and is actually really comfortable. Giorgos gave me a greek cooking book (thoughtful), a famous greek comic book translated into English, and a Greek novel translated as well, the latter of which is good because I was in desperate need of reading material. Ian also came for a week. He stayed in my house for a night, and the rest he was in skg, and he also gave me a translated comic book, which although I haven't read yet, I recommend because everyone else does: Logicomic. My coworkers also got me a surprise cake at work, which was very nice, and tonight I think we will go out to celebrate my residency. In Greece, when you go out to celebrate something, you are the one paying. And I actually like it better that way now, because it expresses the idea that it's not that bad to spend money, and you're doing it because you're celebrating and making the most of it.

I am officially going to remake my website using a new PHP Framework called FLOW3. First I need to get PHP 5.3 working smoothly on my computer (there was another breakthrough today: starting mysql helped quite a bit, lol). Then I will remake it, and it will finally be like my own mini CMS, and can have whatever features you request (yes, Tom, there will be RSS!).

I should get dressed and start heading to work. If any of you have google wave accounts, I'll talk to you there :). Because that is a worthy distraction.

Sun, 9 Aug 2009

I have been to the beach almost every weekend since I last wrote, and although my coworkers don't believe I am tanning, I totally am (in my own, Scandanavian sort of way). Twice I've gone to Chalkidiki with Giorgos, Ian's friend from Thessaloniki. Last weekend I met another one of his friends, who usually lives in San Francisco now with his American fiance, but the own a trailer on a really pretty beach up there. The friend, Themis, and the fiance, Dana, bought the trailer recently, and I guess they plan to come to Greece every summer for a month or so (Dana is a professor, so can leave for the summer. Not sure about Themis). They had probably been there about two weeks or so at that point, and had another month to go, and it seemed that they time there was unfortunately kind of waring on Dana in a somewhat familiar sort of way. She seemed frustrated that everyone around her was speaking Greek, and I'm sure she couldn't get much privacy or time alone with Themis (Themis' parents were about 2 minutes away by foot). I can relate to just wishing it were easy to interact with people, and be around people you know... but then it must be even harder for her because she's not actively trying to learn Greek (=motive to pay attention). Nonetheless, they were both fun to meet.

I'm starting to feel a lot more comfortable with my social life here, much thanks to Giorgos, and more recently Theo. It's now weird for me to write about details, because I know the Greeks occasionally see this page and see all of the things I say about them and all of the overwhelming generalizations I make about their race. But I finally have people that I can call if I need help with something. Or if I'm just bored after work. Or really hungry and want to go out to eat, or need to see the doctor, or buy train tickets, or whatever... I can ask them. Kostas has never provided any kind of assurance, and Georgia I typically only see during work, and she's back in her village on weekends, so this is the first time I've actually had this since getting here. And, hear me you, it is such a relief.

I experienced more UTI symptoms last week, worse than the other two times a couple months ago. First on Sunday, and then again on Tuesday. So at work on Wednesday, after informing Kostas that I didn't feel well, he made an arrangement (somewhat reluctantly, it always seems...) with his best friend's father, who is a general doctor. I went and saw him on Thursday, and Kostas came with (because his best friend works next door, though it turned out very helpful because this doctor too did not speak English) and I finally got a urine examination. It turns out I don't have an infection, according to the test, and the next most likely thing is kidney stones, which needs to be diagnosed by x-ray or ultrasound. I'll go hopefully this or next week for that, and try to get Kostas to come with me again, but until then I have been taking antibiotics that they gave me and drinking tons of water and avoiding alcohol, which apparently can exacerbate stones. Despite still not knowing what is making me occasionally painfully piss blood, though, I feel a lot better now that I have finally established some sort of dialogue with a legitimate doctor.

So Theo is someone I met recently. I got an email from him about a month ago saying basically "Hey, I found your email on your website. I'm a gentoo developer and I live in Larisa." After a google search on his name and asking around to Giorgos and Foivos and determining that he was at the open source conference I went to a while ago, thus confirming his identity, I went out for coffee with him, and have hung out with him almost once every there days for the past two weeks or so. He lives just outside the city, but has a car, and most of his friends are away at school or the army, so he has lots of time to spend with me :) And he might get me into some kind of gentoo development projects, hopefully, which is something I currently know nothing about. It can be added to my list of computer thins I want to do (currently consisting of: making a CMS-like thing for my site, making android applications, learning the google web toolkit).

I've been trying to find clothes or things I can put in my apartment that have Greek writing on them. Even after 7 months, I am still trying to be a tourist (which, though appreciated, is hard in my city). It's surprisingly difficult. Eventually I found this green, glass clock (doors, anyone?), in this small bookstore near my house that says "ξυπνίστε με όταν είναι η ώρα για φαί," which means "wake me up when it's time to eat." I was really excited about it (I told Theo about this clock on two separate occasions before buying it), and figured this would be a good gift to give to my parents (or if they don't want it, I think it's pretty cool too). But, anticlimaticly, when I took it back to my house the hands actually didn't work, and I had to take it back. The owner says she'll get another one in September though, and so I'll return then. For myself (I have also been looking for a clock for myself), I have asked my dad to bring a clock from my bedroom that I bought when I was younger that has frogs on it when he comes to visit, because I've always wanted to have that clock once I had my own house. And then I will feel less inclined to keep the other one instead of giving it to my family.

I think I should go to grad school in Germany, in some kind of CS/software engineering program. What do you think?

I need to register for the GRE sometime.. I'm really putting it off, because I feel like I have such more pertinent, yet still educational, things to do with my time (namely Greek and computer stuff), but I really should do it. Grad school is the one thing that is currently not letting me relax and just "live" my life in Greece, because it gives me a timeline, which I don't like. I think I should go to grad school next fall, which means whenever I think of doing anything in Greece, it has to take that ending point into account, but I have found that especially recently, I wish I could just sit back, and relax, and do things slowly without worrying about "getting the most out of it" or doing everything "before I go." I want to live here, rather, and do my daily things, in the context of forever, and nothing less. I still really, really want to do more grad school, but I wish it made sense for me to consider it without having to equate that with me leaving Greece. I wish I could view staying in Greece for it as a viable option, but people tell me my education would not be as good... But maybe that would be okay? I'm not sure what to do about this yet. Is this what people are talking about when they talk about how people take time off from school and then don't want to go back? It's a completely new feeling for me, especially after Grinnell where deadlines were my life, but even when I was little I always knew what the next step HAD to be in my life.

Can I just say again that I've never liked a city itself as much as Larissa? You Greeks, did you hear that? I still can't get over how much I like the size of this city, and the characteristic socialability of people in Greece (going out at night, for coffee, etc).

On the 22nd I leave for three days to an island, on vacation with Anthea and another one of my coworkers. I'm really excited, but sometimes Anthea frustrates me so I'm hoping that isn't too much of a problem. And the day after I come back, Richard is coming! I still really have to figure out what we will do, and reserve things where needed. That is a slight point of stress at the moment. And then a week later, my dad comes to visit me, which needs equivalent planning. I also emailed my dad today asking why my little sister isn't coming on the trip... it doesn't seem feasible so late in the game and maybe she just can't, but I would really like to see her too.

Sun, 5 Jul 2009

Greeks are always the most surprised to lean that I can read Greek. Not at the vocabulary, the grammar, or the pronunciation -- all of which I consider more impressive -- but that I can read and write Greek letters. In Greek there are three ways to make the "ee" sound, "i," "oi," and "ei;" and two ways to make the long A sound, "e" and "ai." And the Greeks I meet are always so surprised that I can remember all of these rules. I always counter now, at this point just to see if I can find someone who agrees with me, that I think that spelling and pronunciation of English words is more difficult, with more exceptions, no accents, and many more rules. But so far the only person that agrees with me is the American wife of my big boss.

The difference between Greece (more accurately: Greek atttudes) in the summer and the winter is really curious. Seasons are a very big deal. As I have mentioned before, I think, Greeks tend to blame things on the weather: illnesses, moods, luck, etc. I now realize however that it's more than that. First of all, it's the fashion. In the winter everyone wears dark colors, but in the summer it seems taboo to wear black for the average [fashionable] Greek. Big, flowy pants (often with VERY low crotches, sometimes so low that they look like skirts until you see the ankles tied together), regardless of the coolness of the fabric or the current weather conditions outside, are also fashionable throughout the summer. There is also a specific "beach" dress that I was made aware of when my boss took me to the beach, before which he attempted to pick what clothes I should bring and sort of gave up, realizing I have nothing "appropriate." The beach is where you can't wear jean shorts, or regular tshirts, but rather you can wear those tiny shorts that teenage girls wear and loose, shawl like tops (80s style). Finally, there are also specific "winter" and "summer" clubs. During the summer, because you can sit outdoors, lots of summer bars open, and when someone (just me, really) suggests to go to this bar that we went to in January, it is rebuffed with "no, that's too much of a winter club." And it's not because it isn't open, or that the bar would have changed, it's that, like what I described above, you just don't do that in the summer.

I've decided that my "loneliness" is really just what I shouldhave experienced when I first got here. I was lucky then, though, and was immediately accepted by my coworkers and landlord. But now that I am spending less time with them, it's finally hitting me, and I simply less prepraed than I was in the beginning. I let my guard down. But so, I'll attempt to revive my attitude about being in a foreign country, resume my outgoingness from the beginning, and somewhat start anew. I might still get a pet though to soften these feelings, though, depending on how well I can rationalize it to myself over the next couple weeks. If this fails, though, I think I might be due for a visit to the motherland for a week or two (oh, how I miss our drunken parties), and in that case, I think I would fly into MN and then road trip to see all you guys :)

Now that I am seriously considering doing CS in the future, I'm trying to figure out how I can tie in poli sci... Before, my renewable energy path (as well as the specific programs I was looking into for grad school) tied in nicely both engineering and political science. Any suggestions? I miss poli sci...

I've also decided I need to learn to cook like a good Greek wife. I will start... Monday. When the grocery stores open again (stores aren't open on Sundays, at all. And starting this weekend through the summer, just in my city, stores won't be open Saturdays either, presumably so people can trip to the beach every weekend).

Sun, 21 Jun 2009

The best thing about living by myself is that I can buy and eat as much chocolate as I want.

Greeks still talk about Monica Lewinsky. "Really? Why? Do Greeks not cheat on their wives?" -- agcohn

Sat, 20 Jun 2009

It took me about two weeks to remember what window shudders are called.

It's still hard for me to pinpoint where the dissimilarity lies, but it's very strange to live in a country that is a real nation, and an old one at that. In the US we are bound, politically and economically, by our country, but not by our customs, or culture, really. Indeed, it's rare for me to walk along and think "that person does not look American," because regardless of what they look like, they probably speak english and were probably born in the US. And the pride we have is completely different! We have pride in the power and wealth of our country, our the standard of living (number of material possessions) of our citizens, our economic and social policies, our "freedom" (as we are so well taught), but the Greeks have pride in their ancestors, and their traditional dance, and their social culture, and their food. It seems like the things we are proud of are not cultural at all, but almost exclusively political or economic things that are happening in real time... Strange, I think, that it differs not in, for instance, which traditional dances we have, but rather we don't think about traditional dances at all.

I went to the beach for the first time last weekend. In Greek, they have a color called "sea blue," and it now makes sense to me why they get to have sea blue and we have sea green: I have never seen the ocean so blue. I remember while we were eating, just staring out at the sea, where there was a recycling bin in front, and thinking it amazing that they were so close in color. I asked Kostas if he knew why their sea was bluer, an he said the sky. But what's different about the Greek sky? Because it's less cloudy? I really don't know, but it's really amazing. So anyway, my boss took me to the beach. Anthea's family owns the lone hotel in the area, so she was there, along with two of my other coworkers. We played volley ball and "raqueta," where you basically have big ping pong paddles and play with a tennis ball in the sand. We hung out with a bunch of Kostas's friends, though he seemed kind of stressed out the whole time, but it was pretty fun. I didn't get burned at all, either, and in fact should have used less sunscreen if I ever want to tan. I also lost my ring in the ocean, which is a little sad, but mostly ironic if you understand what the ring was and the context in which I lost it.

I've been getting lonelier recently... It's finally hitting me, I think, that I am very far away from anyone I know well, and that there's no one to hang out with me 24-7. It makes it harder for me to appreciate cooking, and relaxing, and I find myself working too much (I mean I enjoy it, but then I think about nothing but work). These feelings kind of come in waves, though... I feel better than this morning or last night, so maybe this will subside quickly. I cleaned my apartment pretty thoroughly just now, too, which I'm happy about. Tonight I will watch a greek movie called "Politiki Kouzina." Feel free to come over -- it'll have subtitles.

The bracelet I've been wearing (it's a black string with a heart on it) broke last week. I hadn't taken it off in like 6 years. But so today, I made a hemp bracelet with the heart charm from the old bracelet, and hopefully I won't end up losing that in the ocean as well.

Sun, 1 Jun 2009

In Greece abortion is legal and it's not even a political debate between the parties. And they're legally a Christian country. Come on, America.

Some quotes:

  • "I founda gypsy to come and take your broken fridge."
  • "It is 3pm here." "It's later in Greece?" "Yes. We are in the future." "Jesus. HOW?! Are there jet packs? Or electric cars, at least?" -- Tom Baldwin

Sunglasses in Greece also cost like a milion dollars. I really needed some sunglasses, and they cost 90 euros... and that was the cheap pair.

I think I got a UTI about a month ago... It was only painful for about 2 days, but I went to the gynocologist about 2 weeks later anyway just to make sure. Despite the reassurances I was given, it turned out this doctor spoke very little English. However, I came prepared with greek translations for things I thought I would need to know. So, I told her what I thought my problem was, and asked if she would take a urine sample because I know that's the normal way to diagnose a UTI. However, she proceeded to ask me about 10 times if I wanted a pap smear, and finally when I convinced her that's not what I was there for, she did something like ultrasound to show me my ovaries and things. I asked her again to make sure that she was sure I had no infections anywhere, and she kept repeating "no infection" and "be very careful with pregnancy and sex with your boyfriend." And whenever I would say "but there was a great deal of pain" she would respond "no infection. It's a physical problem," which of course did not reassure me, even after I remembered that 'physico' in Greek means 'natural' and that she meant it was a natural problem. Sigh. We won't go to her again. At least doctors here only cost 40 euros.

I've been considering much more strongly recently going to school in a computer related field (software engineering, computer engineering, computer science)... I've started learning more complex design patterns and things in PHP, and more sophisticated techniques, and I'm really enjoying it. It's ridiculous that I couldn't have decided this earlier though.

I met a Canadian a couple days ago, too. Her name is Cathy, and she owns a small boutique in the center of town. I (in Greek) asked her if I could try some shirt on (it's yellow with a computer outlined in rhinestones, lol), and she said naturally ('physica', if you remember the greek I taught you earlier), and when I was purchasing the shirt (because who can resist such a shirt) she asked me if I was from there and I said no, and she asked where I was from and I said from America, and then she goes "Oh! I'm from Canada!" in English with her cute Canadian accent. It also turns out that she knows my big boss (Manos, who lives in the US) because she lives in the village where he and Kostas both live.

It also turns out that Sotiris, a new coworker of mine, knows Giorgos, one of Ian's best friend's from Thessaloniki. Which I think is sweet and small-worldly.

BTW, pictures are actually up now.

Tue, 5 May 2009

It's been about a month... but I've been taking notes so don't worry.

We had Greek Easter a while ago. Greek Easter is exactly one week earlier than our Easter, always, even though it celebrates the same event. You may reference this video that Ian sent me about Greek Easter. It's hilarious, and pretty accurate. It has Greece's most popular comedian/TV show host. On Easter Saturday everyone gets long candles and goes to church at midnight. Everyone stands outside because we can't all fit inside, and some little alter boys have candles in the middle, and priests in VERY fancy dresses come out and sing/recite things from the ancient greek bible. This is the only church experience I have had in a long time, but I guess many, many Greeks are the church-twice-a-year-for-xmas-and-easter kind of people, like many Americans, which still blows my mind, because I expected everyone to be super religious. I am also amazed at some of the clothes some people wore to this service. Granted it was outside, but some of the girls were wearing incredibly short skirts and low tops with high heels. I think I have one-two pictures of the service though in the album.

After the service, which ends around 12:45 at night, everyone goes with their families and eats a soup called mageiritsa, which is soup with lamb liver/lung/intestines/etc with lemon. I went with Giannis to his friend Xaris' house with his family, and conveniently Giannis doesn't like the soup either. I felt kind of sick with each bite... but ate about half of it in the end. And then we eat more lamb and bread and desserts until about 3am. Then most people go out and drink tsiporo and ouzo at ouzeris (taverns where you drink ouzo) until the morning comes. They also do the previous night on Friday night, and I had gone with my boss and his cousin and her friends, which was actually really really fun and everyone got really drunk. But so, I didn't partake on Saturday night in al the drinking, because I was still exhausted from Friday. And I knew on Sunday I would have to get up early again for more Easter.

So on Sunday everyone cooks an entire lamb. People get up early, even after having been drinking all night, to roast lamb on a spit. We went to Gianni's friend Giorgos's house for it, who has three kids (I have a picture of them too, they're a pretty punk family). You can see the smoke in the air from all of the roasting all over the city in the air, because EVERYONE is doing it. I don't know how they can even produce so many lambs every year. I remember my boss talking about how our Halloween was ridiculous because you would need thousands of pumpkins, but I think raising lambs is more work (and more energy) than raising pumpkins. Giogos is in the airforce in Greece, and so he meets a lot of Americans (and other ethnicities) that are in NATO. So, I actually met an American family at his Easter fest on Sunday also, the father of which there I guess was his best man. The father of the family was from MO and the mother from TX, and they had three little kids. Despite their conservatism (at some point I recall them saying they wished that CA would break off the US and sink, for instance, and the little boys call their father 'sir', which Giannis I remember asked me if that was some kind of a joke afterwards), it was actually really refreshing to talk to them. They were the first Americans I have met that speak as if they were speaking to Americans all the time. Will, who lives in Athens, speaks mostly Greek all the time and uses different English when he speaks to his girlfriend in English, less slang, simpler, etc. And the other American I had met was one visiting from our US office, and she was overwhelmed and timid and spoke very simple English. But these guys didn't hold back, using American expressions etc ('crimony', for example) and spoke very quickly. I don't do it, though I suppose they talk amongst their family a lot and are used to people understanding everything they say. But, it was really nice for me to be able to talk so freely in English, which I hadn't really realized I wasn't doing. But anyway, we cooked an entire lamb (I have pictures) and then ate it, then played some Greek trad music on the Greek istruments.

My fridge broke about 3 weeks ago. It turns out that it was bought in 1964. Conveniently, Giannis is friends with everyone, and has a fridge-fixer friend, who has dread locks (for Giannis has especially punk/metal friends), and came two nights in a row at 1am to try to fix it. But, it was not succesful, and shortly after that Giannis bought me a new fridge, a mini one, as "landlord expenses", and so now I have a cuter fridge, that I'm sure is WAY more efficient than the one from the early 60s, so that's cool. We are going to build a little table/shelf to put it on so it will be about the same height as the old one and I will have storage room under it. (It's also very convenient that Giannis knows how to build things and has lots of equipment and tools next door, heh).

When we unpacked the fridge, Giannis was reading the instructions (which were in Greek), and at some point they said you should be careful about eating ice cubes that just came out of the freezer, presumably because they might stick to your tongue. And when he read that, he laughed aloud, and said "the instructions say you shouldn't eat ice cubes that are fresh out of the freezer! That is ridiculous! Who would ever just eat ice cubes?!" ... And I guess it turns out that Greeks don't eat ice cubes, ever, which I especially don't understand when it will get so hot here. But nonetheless he thinks it's completely absurd that I have eaten ice cubes.

More recently I went out to a taverna with Giannis for his birthday with his friends and we played Greek trad music, and there was another American there. Also from NATO, and who was when I showed up already belligerently drunk. He let me know many times that he was from Texas. And at some point, he stood up, and said to Giorgos (his friend): "George! George! I have two statements for you George. First: your wife is beautiful. And second, your wife is WAY to young for you." And George and his wife just stared at him, didn't smile, and eventually Giorgos said to the Italian (also air force) that was sitting next to the American, "tell [the American] what we do in Greece to people who talk about other men's wives." And the Italian leaned over to the American and said "you know, you're lucky you aren't in Italy, because you would go straight to the guillotine if you said that and you would be dead right now." And the drunk American looked back at Giorgos and said "but it's true! I'm just speaking the truth." And Giorgos just swiped his finger across his own neck (the decapitation motion, you know) back at him. Anyway, hooray for Americans. Sigh.

This last weekend was May the 1st, which is a public holiday in Greece. I had never heard of this before, but I guess it's celebrated because sometime during the Great Depression in the US their was a violent strike and so all people in Greece skip work for the day. They tried to convince me many times that I have never worked on May the 1st in the US, but I told them that I have never even heard of this day being special, and I still worked, but I'm not sure they believe me. Anyway, they celebrate this day for us I guess (maybe we do celebrate it, I don't know, but I never have at least). But so, it was a long weekend for me, and with Giannis and Xaris and Xaris' gf Efi, we went to Gianni's beachhouse in a village called Messangala (which they call Los Messangalos for fun). It was too cold for swimming, but we drank and played a lot of board games and cooked a lot. At some point we also played Monopoly, but in their version of Monopoly everyone gets two free pieces of property in the beginning to make it "quicker and more fair," and taxes etc never go in the middle of the board for you to win when you land on free parking; rather it just goes into the bank, and it never won back by any player. Doesn't it seem like a leftist way to change monopoly, though? Anyway, I call this version "socialist monopoly."

Well, that's all I have for now, and I must go to work. I'll actually upload the pictures I reference in this post later.

Mon, 6 Apr 2009

It turns out that I have been washing my clothes with just liquid softener until now... And maybe that's why my white socks are so incredibly hard to clean. And I even know the word soft in Greek. But Giannis came with me last time I bought soap, so I know it's real now.

They don't have marshmallows in Greece, either. So far my list of things Greece lacks is:

  • peanut butter
  • sour cream
  • root beer
  • marshmallows
  • laundromats
  • high-speed internet
  • Perkins
  • recycling

That's all I can think of at the moment... wich really isn't too bad I think. But so, Giannis and I made home-made marshmallows (btw, trying to describe marshmallows to someone is very hard). There are/will be pictures of them on the album page. He suggested we make some, and I told him I had never heard of someone making homemade marshmallows before, but I looked up a recipe on the internet and we made them, and they actually weren't bad. We broke two electronic frappe (Greek ice coffee) mixers in the process... but it was worth it. Giannis and I have also now cooked two real meals. The recipes come from some star trek recipe book he found on the internet, but they are really just normal recipes, and although vague at times, they make pretty good food. Saturday before last we made chicken curry (apparently a favorite of some star trek pilot) and a vegetable/tomato dish, with lots of eggplant, and both were really good. We invited four of his friends over, and ate tons of food. And I made yams with brown sugar and whipped cream for dessert. I also plan on celebrating thanksgiving here in Greece, and I will cook for this.

Also, last week, a picture of me, Giannis, and his friend Giorgos playing traditional music in a taverna was in one of the two city newspapers. You can download the issue here in pdf form :) It's on page 21, a lowquality picture, but I'm super excited about it... and about a Greek newspaper having a website. One of my coworkers actually designed the site for this paper.

On Amazon last week I also ordered a book about treehouses, and I think I should build one in Greece, and it will be my little vacation house in the mountains and it will have solar panels. Perfect, I think. I've always wanted a treehouse. I also decided that the next language I learn should be German, and then I can go to Germany and experience what it feels like for people to pride themselves in efficiency, which Greeks certainly do not.

Wed, 25 Mar 2009

There was a parade today celebrating the end of a 400 year long Turkish rule over Greece, and I took some really nice pictures... and then accidently deleted them. Sigh. You will find, however, that thanks to Tom Baldwin'sImageMagick expertise, that the album page loads super-fast now.

[Scene: Gianni is buying firewood]
Giannis: Ugh. They're Albanians. They can't even speak Greek.
Me: They are Albanians?? No one's ever actually pointed Albanians out to me before! Everyone just complains about them all the time.
Giannis: You mean you can't recognize them as Albanian?
Me: Well no one told me Albanians are cute!
[end scene]

This is a ridiculous thing for someone in Greece to say, if that's not apparent. He told me he wouldn't hang out with me if I kept saying things like that, and that you can tell someone is Albanian because the have hard faces, like savages.

My green card stuff is so close to completion. On Friday (and next Friday at the LATEST) all of my papers will be turned in, and I will have at least some kind of legal presence in Greece. Not that it makes a difference, of course.

I take walks with Giannis semiregularly. We walk around the city, or to parks, usually at night. I really like it, and I'm also excited about having a somewhat positive influence on him. We just talk, it's free, leisurely. He takes the stairs sometimes now when he goes three floors up to his floor from mine. Even if that's the only thing to come from my attempts to make him more environmentally conscious, that's still worth my efforts. I also go out with my boss sometimes, and the last time I did we (I) talked a lot about women and equal rights. He's the kind of person that thinks women instinctively want to wear pink. But he does listen to me, and we still have pretty meaningful arguments about it. I'll keep working on it though -- it is kind of nice to have someone actually try to argue with me about it, unlike Grinnell, where everyone knows these things already. I also wonder if any of the people I know here read this...

Sat, 14 Mar 2009

I played with the traditional music band last night in a tavern. And I didn't have a camera, and I remember wishing I did. I've always been torn about whether I think I should take pictures of things. On the one hand, it's a great wayto remember old times, but on the other it encourages you to reminisce instead of living in the moment. And I pretty much decided that it was okay that I didn't have a camera, because I'll just do this all the time in real life, and I'll have time later to take pictures, next time, if I want to. I like the idea that instead of trying to remember what it was like, I can actually keep doing it.

But basically, playing with the band was awesome :)

Friday, 13 Mar 2009

I haven't written here in almost a month... Greece is still going very well. I feel like I should still know more Greek by now, but oh well I guess. Giannis starting today is going to give me newspapers to read. I played cards with one of my coworkers after work today for a couple hours. Work is going very well, I feel very productive, and not stressed out and guilty (for not doing homework) like I was at Grinnell all the time. I've gone skiing four times since I have been in Greece, which I think i insane. And makes me poor. And I saw a tourist (I suppose probably more than one) while I was skiing, which was very strange. But I say was because now I have been to Athens.

For all of last week I was in Athens because I had to submit papers for my work permit and go to the US embassy. Conveniently, my work just opened an office in Athens, and so I worked there for the week and didn't have to take time off. And I got to stay in a hotel with my boss, who I really like. My boss is going to working quite a bit down there now, and so while I was down there he signed a lease for an apartment, and will now rent in both places. The person who initially told him about the apartment, who he refers to as "the drag queen," told us that the landlord would not rent to single men because he thought they were dirty. So, when my boss viewed the apartment, he took me with him and I pretended to be his silly American, non-Greek-speaking partner. Which was kinda fun, actually.

I spent the weekend before I came back with William Stroebl, a Grinnell '04 alumnus, which was awesome. He has lived in Greece pretty much since Grinnell (starting with Grinnell Corps in Thessaloniki), and is fluent in Greek and works as a translator, and is also learning Turkish and Bulgarian. It was so incredibly refreshing to be around people who feel like they can change things! He lives with his girlfriend now in Athens (who is the cutest thing ever), who works for Cosmopolitan magazine. They are the first people in Greece that I have met who recycle. She, Giota, is learning to make her own soap and cosmetics. They try to reduce their consumption of meat to help reduce the energy used in raising livestock. He can tell you the root of any word ever in pretty much any language, and then explain to you the history of the entire century during which the word was created. And he asked me what I thought of the outdoor heaters they have outside cafes for people to drink coffee near. I told him I hadn't thought about them at all, in fact. And he said he thought they were incredibly inefficient.

That's when I realized that even in Greece I can be productively critical of my environment, and I thank him dearly for this. I had forgotten. We also saw a play (in Greek, but it was explained to me), which pretty much covered every national issue that Greeks are confronted with: poor healthcare, corruption and lack of training in the police force, the power of the orthodox church. An incredible thing for me to see, really. Greeks have a bad habit, I think, of complaining a lot. They know there is a lot of bureaucracy (as they will surely tell you), and so people rarely (read: never) feel like they can actually take action on an issue. But/and it creeps deeper into their mentalities, I think, and in makes people inactive in general. And so people litter, don't recycle, and _always_ use elevators. Quintessentially, Giannis litters and tells me that he does so because he wants a police officer to give him a ticket, to prove the system can actually work. But really, littering is one of those things that shouldn't even _require_ a law; you don't litter because you live there, and want it to be clean for yourself and others. And yet, because my friend wants to show the system not working by him littering without getting a ticket, he himself is making it worse. This is not to say there are not things wrong in greece (For example: I need to get a work permit to work legally. To apply for the permit, I need health insurance. To get public health insurance, I need to have worked for 80 days. Now, not only can I not work legally, but in 80 workdays from the day I got here, my visa would have already expired. In response to this, my boss offered his grandmother, who is a farmer, to "hire" me in his village as a farmer so I am guaranteed farmer insurance, which is cheap, and then I would register myself in his village, where his uncle is the mayor, and they would waive the 80 day requirement. When I told Will this in Athens, he responded, "That is an incredibly Greek solution." Which is so true... And it's a problem. You can always get around things if you have a relative or whatever, and so these processes are never audited and never changed). But so, even given the apparent disfunctionality, I think people indulge in their powerlessness. But, now I will start recycling, and buying good lightbulbs, and using less water, and picking of a single piece of trash on the sidewalk when it is easy for me to do so when I walk somewhere, hoping that as many people as possible will see how not inconvenient it was for me.

I am VERY close to getting a work permit now, though, and it's just the strangest thing to think about. When I got my papers from Ian's mother, it was really the first time I catually asked myself if I would want to live in Greece for a long time. A really long time. Because I could! This could be my life, and the life of my children. All in Greece. I haven't an answer to this question, except that I still very much want to go to graduate school in engineering, but shouldn't go in Greece (as Will put it: "my education at Aristotelus University was excellent, except for the quality"). But the earliest I expect this to be is the fall after next, and I am actually confident now that I want to stay here until then. If I can, of course. When I actually apply and get my visa extension, I have been trying to decide what I will do to signify that I actually do live here. I'm thiking about buing a fish, or a plant. Giannis and I are also going to build some bookshelves in my bedroom, and I might get a washing machine soon. Speaking of which, I bought my first pairs of black socks this week. As it turns out, white socks are considered unfashionable and "redneck," though I just bought them because I can no longer stand attempting to clean my white socks by hand. But, I think black socks actually _do_ look better...

Another thing that happened while I was hanging out in Athens with Will and his girlfriend is when we were coming back from the play, a really drunk guy came up to us and asked us something. We ignored him, but he followed us, saying "Hey, I asked you a question" (in Greek) over and over again, and when he got close enough to us, he grabbed Will and spun him around, and said it again. Will said he didn't speak Greek (a lie, of course), but then he repeated himself in English, saying "I said I asked you a question." Will said he couldn't help him and we turned back around, and then the guy kicked Will in the back. I was dumbfounded. A women then shortly came up and took the guy away. So despite how much the people I am around complain about Larisa being an ugly city (which I totally disagree with), they all agree actually that it's very nice to live in our little city when I tell them this story. I also saw the Acropolis and some temples for Zeus, but that's just ancient stuff, really.

On another note, I've noticed some strange tendencies of Greeks when they speak English. First, they like to use "to be closing" as a verb to mean you are getting closer to something. Also, they frequently say "organism" instead of "organization."

Thursday, 19 Feb 2009

This girl I work with: "What kind of cats do you have?"

Me: "Well, they are both tomcats"

This girl I work with: "'Tomcat'...? Like Apache?"

Saturday, 7 Feb 2009

I am sitting in my kitchen on Saturday afternoon. I made scrambled eggs with onion, tomato, mushrooms, and spinach, with toast and juice, and it's beautiful outsid (maybe like 60*F?) and so I have the kitchen door and window wide open, which lead into my backyard. I wear a sweatshirt because it does make it a little colder, but it is so pretty and so much natural light comes in that I don't have to turn on any lights. After I eat I will go help John paint his record store, with one other friend of his. He asked me yesterday if I had any "second hand clothes" that I could wear for painting, and I told him "well, all of my clothes are pretty much second hand, but I'll dress American." Which means boys pants and a GORP shirt, which is what I am wearing now. Later tonight I think I will try to go see one of my coworkers, Maria, do traditional dancing. I also found out that the baglamas, a tiny trad instrument, is only 30 euros, and I think I will buy one.

I went to the immigration office on Thursday, and talked to a super nice young immigration officer about my visa/permit stuff. It actually seems possible, though she said the certificate we sent to Athens should have been sent to me, so I will have to get another one from CA, which could take some time, but it seems doable. I have two months to get the application in. Though she also said there really wouldn't be any consequences if I do stay a little past my tourist 3 month limit, because I am American. She said if I were from Georgia, Albania, Columbia, Turkey, or other countries everything would take a very long time. "But you Americans, you have a very convincing foreign policy." Quote unquote. Sigh. But anyway, it's very good news.

It turns out that Greeks don't eat eggs for breakfast -- ever. I don't know when else we DO eat eggs, so I made John eggs, like an omelette, in the morning before he went to work one day. And I eat eggs almost every morning now. I can't stress how nice getting up at 9 or 10 and making breakfast before having to go to work is. I like it very much.

I also am _really_ starting to like traditional greek music (rempetika, specifically, like this. This is what my friend and his trad band play every Friday, and I like to go with. The instrument there is the bouzouki). John gave me some speakers so I can play some from my laptop, and he's going to burn me a CD.

Tuesday, 4 Feb 2009

I cut my hair yesterday, into layers, which turns out to be really easy. You twist all of your wet hair into a spiral on top of your head, like a troll, and just cut off the top. I told my coworkers at work about cutting my hair in "layers," and when one of them asked what that meant, two of them at the same time said "layers, you know, like photoshop." Totally sweet. I love my coworkers.

Also, my friend says that Greece didn't have the Internet until 1996. While I still can't fully accept this, because it is too crazy, I asked my boss about it and he kind of just shrugged his shoulders, so maybe it's actually close to true... I