A few weeks ago I was doing a load of laundry. When the cycle ended and I opened the machine to pull out the clothes to hang on the line to dry, I realized that the machine was still full of water. The dirty soapy water spilled all over the kitchen floor and our clothes were still soaked. Andrew is good at fixing things, and he played around with it for a bit. At first it seemed like everything was okay again, but a load of laundry later we realized that it was officially broken.
I only tell you this story to give you a glimpse into what our life is like in Kypseli.
Not quite sure what to do with a broken washing machine, I mentioned it to Stella. Stella lives on the second floor of our building, and is a dear family friend. Whenever she realizes that Andrew and I are in Athens, she makes sure we don’t go hungry. Just last week she called us at 11 pm. “Are you awake?” she asked. I assured her that we were and a minute later she was knocking on our door with spanakopita she had just pulled from her oven. “I was going to give it to you tomorrow morning, but it’s even better when it’s still warm.”
Stella’s going through tough times right now – she keeps getting cuts to her pension and she’s worried. When she tells me that she has no idea what’s going to happen next and that she worked for so many years and paid her taxes, the austerity measures seem unfair, or at least misguided. On top of that, her sister just hurt her shoulder and her brother is in the hospital for some pretty scary surgery. She spends most of her time either at her sister’s or in the hospital, but still when she’s home, she enjoys cooking, and will always give us food and hug us warmly when she sees us. When I sheepishly mentioned that our washing machine was broken, she insisted that we do a load of laundry in her machine. She also said that she could probably help us find someone to fix it.
Another thing that guarantees that we never, ever go hungry in Kypseli: there’s a bakery next door. I only have to take 3 steps from the front door to buy bread or milk or cookies, and unless it’s Sunday, it’s always open. We smell the bread baking in the morning, we wave hello to the family that runs the bakery whenever we see them. Let’s call them Mr. and Mrs. Fournos. (Fournos = bakery in Greek). They factor into this story as well.
A few days later it got very hot in Athens. 40 degrees, the kind of heat that zaps your energy. And then there were talks of more metro strikes, so at the last minute we looked at the ferry schedules and hopped on a boat to Agistri to escape Athens for a few days. We went swimming, we ate good food, I finished the rest of Roberto Bolano’s “2666″ (um, intense and amazing). It was lovely. The temperature dropped to a much more reasonable 30-34 degrees and we returned to Athens.
On Sunday we bumped into Stella outside the apartment and told her that we’d gone to Agistri. She looked concerned for a second. Apparently the people who knew the washing machine repair man were Mr. and Mrs. Fournos, and they were going to call him last week when our machine broke down. Since we were away, we must have missed him. Oops. I figured I would go by in the morning, buy a loaf of bread and apologize for any misunderstanding. It wasn’t that easy. When I visited the bakery the next morning, Mrs. Fournos was seriously ticked off. “Where were you?” she cried.
And this, I think, is so hilarious and representative of life around here: within hours of our washing machine breaking down, not only did most of the entire apartment building know about it, but the bakery next door too. And it was the bakery that was given the task of calling the repairman, without asking us first or making sure that we were actually home before telling him to come over.
I apologized, bought some bread, told her I would be home for the rest of the day. “Do you have my phone number?” I asked so that maybe we could set up an appointment since obviously she was going to be the one to coordinate it. “I don’t need it,” she told me. “I’ll just buzz.” I didn’t have any plans for the afternoon anyway, so I went upstairs and sure enough a few hours later our door buzzed and soon Mr. Fournos and a man who was presumably the washing machine repair man came up to the apartment. I showed him the machine, explained the problem in broken Greek, and for awhile the three of us crowded into the tiny kitchen and watched the repairman take the machine apart. Eventually Mr. Fournos left. “Nothing to worry about!” he told me. Okay. I continued to awkwardly watch the repairman, but when that got boring, retreated. A half hour later, the machine was fixed. I think? We couldn’t communicate very well. Either way, the problem from before was solved. I paid him what he told me (no receipt, of course) and he left.
When Andrew came home, I asked him if he saw Mrs. Fournos and if she had waved hello or if she was still mad at us. He didn’t see her, so we’ll find out if she’s still mad tomorrow morning when we buy our bread.
And this is why we are never, ever bored here in Greece.