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.