Saturday, April 12, 2014

Stolen and Sold Cheap!

Visitors to PORTA – the Albania House in Athens, Greece will recall that this cultural center for Albanian immigrants is located in a two-story, neo-classical house on the side of Philopappou Hill in the village of Koukaki, in the shadow of the Acropolis. If you visit on a Friday, you will observe that the Laiki (People’s Market) takes over our area. Vehicular traffic is prohibited on Zaharitsa (Sweet) Street, to enable farmers and merchants to set up stalls and sell everything from ladies underwear to fruits and vegetables. Vendors yell out their spiel, enticing the passersby to see, handle smell and even occasionally to taste a sampling of their precious goods. Well, no one has set up a stand for edible underwear, yet, but you get the point!

While Janice was shopping, I waited in the car. Since the Laiki commotion had my usual route blocked, I prepared to turn the vehicle around and head in the opposite direction. To survive in Athens, despite the narrow-streets, abundance of automobiles and dense population, we always have at least 2 routes in mind for travel. If the Laiki doesn’t block you, street closures accompanying a visit from German Chancellor Angela Merkel or a predictable and sometimes dangerous protest demonstration certainly will.
I engaged my best automated friend, the motion sensor which is activated when I hit reverse gear, and backed up carefully. Headed in the opposite direction, I looked in the rear-view mirror, with the impatient hope that Janice was soon to appear. Do you know that awkward moment when you make eye contact with a total stranger in the car’s rear-view mirror? There should be a Greek word for that!

We looked at each other. I watched, as motive, means and opportunity brightened his countenance. He approached the vehicle and sidled up alongside my driver’s side door before I could activate the power window button. He spoke with the artificially sweetened friendliness of a used car salesman. I responded in kind.
Then, he leaned in my window, his weary, unshaven, street-dirty face even closer to mine, and began to speak in conspiratorial tones. He willingly shared his halitosis. Certain that my personal space was violated, as he passed far beyond my comfort zone, I cracked open a linguistic alibi as an escape hatch from this conversation. Over my protest that I speak Greek poorly, I learned that the polyglot spoke pretty good English!

Sensing progress, he furtively looked around, checking to ensure that no one could see what he was holding in a handkerchief in his palm. Methodically, he unwrapped the soiled bandana. My eyes followed the dramatic unfolding of a gold ring with a diamond located prominently, along with a woman’s bracelet. After a few seconds he informed me that the bracelet alone would sell in good shops for 600 Euro. Then, he said, “I sell to you, meester, for 200 Euro!” When, in two languages, I said, “No, thank you!” he evidenced that he had passed the salesman’s exam on how to handle rejection. “I sell to you, meester, for 100 Euro!” “No thank you!” I repeated, with growing consternation. “I sell to you for 75 Euro - for your wife, your daughter, your friend girl!” (His English was not perfect!)
I sensed the need for a new strategy just as Janice returned to the car. The sidewalk salesperson exuded momentum. “For pretty lady?” he asked. Without bringing Janice up to speed and with no acknowledgement of his accurate assessment of my wife’s attractiveness, I started my car’s motor and said to him: “If these belong to you, you should never sell them for so much less than they are worth!” As I pulled away from the curb, the desperate, persistent man shouted, “40 Euro, meester?”

In this case, it was only jewelry – baubles to “prettify” someone’s hand. Sadly and more importantly, I run across far too many on the crooked, crowded streets of Athens whose lives and hopes have been stolen and sold cheaply.

1 comment:

Silky's Blog said...

Bob - I continue to be amazed that a so-long-ago graduate of our illustrious college can still think and write so well. I know I'm a little older than you, but I'm still trying to escape the boxes in which we were expected to function. You must have had Ms. Lipsey along the way. She tried to tell me I needed to escape. I always enjoy your posts and I frequently bring up your names during our prayer time at University Baptist in Starkville. Grace to you and your wife. I hope she looks beautiful in her new ring and bracelet.