Cibo, Monterey

When I moved back from Spain I was nostalgic for everything Galician—I lived in the small town of Ourense in Galicia, the Northwestern corner of Spain, above Portugal. (You can read about my adventures in Spain here.) One of the things I thought I would miss the most was the live music, it felt like the old alleys incessantly reverberated with the piercing hum of violin music or echoed with the bellow of a cello. But as I re-settled into my hometown, I found that Monterey was rich with live music, too.

One such place is Cibo Ristorante Italiano (pronounced chee-bo), offering live music six nights a week. I often walk by on Alvarado and am drawn in by the music—it’s so lively and welcoming.

A friend invited me out there the other night and it was a nice reminder of what a fun place Cibo is. It’s wonderful to meet those friends that you see only once every few months and get to catch up on everything over a long, leisurely meal.

We sat in a booth and, having just driven back from the Bay Area, my friend suggested I order a glass of wine. The waiter recommended a nice Cabernet. We started with the polenta and sun-dried tomato appetizer. And talked and talked. My parents used to say when I was a kid that I talked more than I ate which I think is true during meal times—well not only meal times but especially meal times because I have a captive (read, stuck) audience.

The waiter brought us this incredible, warm, crunchy-crusted ciabatta bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I always ask for butter as well because butter is perfect. More on that another time.

Eventually we ordered more appetizers: arancinette (crispy fried rice balls) and calamari. The calamari tentacles were crispy on the ends and meaty at the core, just the way I like them while the rice balls with tomato sauce were a tangy complement to the hearty squid. I think it’s important to have diversity in your life. Not just with the foods you eat but with your friends, too. Having friends with different backgrounds, ages, jobs, etc. really gives you a perspective on life and can often help you navigate your own life with a broader point of view. This particular friend is a generation older than me and has been wildly successful in her career in public relations. She says things to me about my just-beginning writing career as though they were so obvious and I have to remind myself that I am pursuing writing because I like to write, not because I’m a brilliant marketing specialist or PR person.

She’s also commanding which I love. She would give me a piece of advice and say, “write it down.” I diligently pulled my notebook out, for the fifteenth time and wrote down some brilliant piece of advice she had just casually passed along. “Don’t put it away, you’re going to need it again.” Another flippant, brilliant comment.

For dinner I ordered the gnocchi trio. If you’re not familiar with gnocchi I have to say it’s the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to tasting clouds. Well, my imagination’s idea of what clouds might taste like. They are light, fluffy potato dumplings that melt in your mouth. The trio were: spinach & ricotta filled with a Bolognese sauce, truffle-filled with brown-utter sage (who was the genius who thought to fry sage leaves, please thank her), and traditional potato with pesto cream shrimp. The nice thing about the trio is that it’s enough of each to taste a little bit of each very different flavor.

We wrapped the evening up with dessert, the only civilized way to eat a meal, and we had the pear almond tartlet that was nicely served with whipped cream, mango sauce, and crunchy, caramelized almonds.

Calamari & arancinette

The next time you’re looking for a place to liven up your evening, I really recommend that you check out Cibo in Monterey. Check their website to find out who is playing, one of my local favorites is Andrea’s Fault who play jazz there every Wednesday evening. Or, you could try all night happy hour on Thursday nights in the bar.

Plato said, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” So add a little music to your life, or more music because most of us could probably use more music.

*a shorter version of this story was published in the Cedar Street Times on 19 October 2018

Taos Pueblo – Chimayo – Santa Fe

I woke up well before my alarm, turned it off, lit a candle, rolled out the yoga mat, brushed my teeth, rolled up my yoga mat.  Dawn and fresh air were beckoning, I knew I would not be able to concentrate on yoga.  I got dressed and tip-toed out of the bed and breakfast, careful not to wake anybody as it was not yet 6:20.

As soon as I opened the hotel door, the crisp, cold air slapped me in the face, along with the smell of skunk.  I got in the car and drove out the pot-holy driveway where I found the skunk scurrying across the street!  Such a beautiful creature.

I drove towards the Taos Pueblo and found a cafe (The Coffee Spot) open so I popped in.  I think I have found the best dirty chai, yet!  I have a thing for dirty chais and I go around all over everywhere and order them, I have my favorite in Monterey (Bright Coffee at Lilify) but I have found one better!  Must come back!

The barista clarified that it was a shot of amaretto SYRUP, not the spirit…bummer

I got back on the road and drove to Taos Pueblo.  I was trying to get to the church but every road was blocked with a “Closed” sign, so I kept driving around trying to find a back way in.  Eventually, I saw a kid walking and slowed the car down to ask for help.  As soon as I lowered the window, he pulled his hood off his head.  I was very impressed  by his manners.  I told him my issue and he politely gave me directions.  As he walked away, he put his hood back on.  I really liked that gesture of his.

I parked in the church’s driveway and walked in.  It was just as Alice said it would be!  I was probably the only person who didn’t have a blanket wrapped around me. It was dimly lit and the pews were packed, there were even people standing in the back.  The mass was lovely and the homily the priest gave was beautiful, about love.  He spoke about how we ought to show love everyday in our lives, and not just to our romantic partners, but to everyone, we ought to live in love, with love, by love, etc.  I really appreciated the message.

After mass, I lit four candles at the alter and said some prayers.  On my way out, I noticed that the church was giving away books, “Resisting Happiness,” and it put a smile on my face because mama is currently reading that book.

I was disappointed to find, back at the bed and breakfast, that Alice had decided against making green chili, she said they had a big group of “youngsters” and so she had made French Toast.  Boo.

“Did you find that bar last night?” Jeremy, the innkeeper asked me.

“Yes, it’s called Don Carlos, but I decided against going, when I got there it was a bunch of dudes and being female and traveling alone, I try to be cautious.” I responded.

“I totally understand,” he said.

I went in the kitchen to tell Alice that mass this morning was everything I’d hoped for and more.

“Good! I knew you’d love it, sweety, it’s so peaceful, isn’t it?”  She said as she gave me a good morning hug.  “Aww you didn’t go to Don Carlos?  That used to be my hangout but I’m not allowed there any more.”

“What? What happened?” I asked.

“Like you say, all those dudes! And pool sticks, you know.” She laughed.

I guess I had made the right decision to avoid the bar with all the dudes last night.

I thanked her and Jeremy with big hugs and told them I’d be back again one day, I might even bring someone with me next time! They said, “you’d better!”

The back of The Blue Water Retreat at San Geronimo says “’til we meet again,” I love that, not only as a sweet detail but as a life’s philosophy

I got on the backroad and drove to Chimayo, per Alice’s suggestion. It was lovely, but the main attraction was a church, it is after all a sacred holy site.  I walked around, admiring peoples’ prayer wishes but didn’t go into mass, I had had enough priests and preacher-ing for the day.  The open road called.

Let’s go!

View from a lookout on the side of the road, a little south of Taos

Some run down houses in Truches

Candles and rosaries left with prayers and hope at Chimayo

Crosses tied to the fence at Chimayo

Chilis in Chimayo

Back on the road, next stop, Santa Fe!  I returned my rental car and took an uber to my hotel.  The room wasn’t ready yet so I left my luggage at the front desk and walked to the plaza where I found Draft Station, where I sit now writing this, enjoying an Oatmeal Stout from Blue Corn Brewery here in Santa Fe.

I eventually checked into my hotel room, had a bath, refreshed my soul, and then went out for a walk around the plaza and downtown Santa Fe.  There are so many fun and funky shops here that you could spend an entire week just exploring them.  I found a great wine shop that sold one of my favorite sparkling wine’s (Gruet) that’s made right here in New Mexico! The sweet girl, Mary-Francis who sold me my bottle even told me that Gruet has been voted some of the best American sparkling wine! (For a couple fun articles on Gruet, read this and this.)

I was stopped dead in my tracks by a pair of suede fuchsia pumps, ugh how I love high heeled shoes.  I went in the shop.  “Those shoes are beautiful!” I told the shopkeeper.

“You’re beautiful.” he responded.

Good salesperson, I see.  We started chatting and it turns out he’s Syrian!  I took a closer look at his other shoes and it was reconfirmed to me that I have expensive taste.  The cheapest pair of pumps was $700.  Well, not today, I guess.

I went to the hotel’s happy hour.  I parked my laptop at a table facing west, in hopes of watching the sunset, and asked a woman if she’d keep an eye on it while I ordered a drink.  She was very sweet and said yes.  When I came back, I thanked her and struck up conversation with her and her husband, they invited me to join their table and I did.  I ended up chatting with them for 2 hours!  They were charming.

Lights in the plaza

Afterwards, I decided I needed dessert and headed to La Boca which had been recommended to me, several times now.  I was really craving sweets so ordered two desserts.  The one I wanted (chocolate pots de creme) and the one the busser, hostess, and waiter unanimously suggested (gateau Basque).  The Gateau Basque is HANDS DOWN one of the best things I have ever eaten in my life.  It is now my life goal to recreate it.

Dessert at La Boca

Buenas noches.

Taos

I woke up this morning in my lovely hotel room.  I did yoga and made my way to the breakfast room where Alice was cooking for the guests.  I wrote in my journal as I ate the yogurt, eggs, toast, etc.  Towards the end of breakfast, Alice walked around, table-by-table, asking the guests if they would be OK with chili for breakfast in the morning.  When she got to my table, she said, “I don’t need to ask you, I know you’ll eat the chili.”

What? How did she know I’ll eat anything you put in front of me?  I guess I’m that obvious.

After I wrapped up my meal, I tip-toed to the kitchen to thank her for breakfast.  She asked me what my plan was for the day and I told her, she said “are you leaving right now?”

“No, I’m going to go up to my room to pack up.”

“What room are you in?” she asked.

I told her and she said “OK! Wait up there, I’m going to run home and get you something, I just live across the street.”

I went upstairs and brushed my teeth and packed my bag for the day, moments later there was a knock on my door and Alice had brought me maps of Taos, and post-it marked travel guides of the town and surrounding areas.  She got down on her knees and laid the map on the bed and highlighted for me (with the highlighter she had brought) the best route for my day.  I couldn’t thank her enough.  She shrugged it off like it was nothing and told me to enjoy Taos.

I drove into town, a whopping 3 miles from where I’m staying.  I stopped at the World Cup Cafe and ordered a picante mocha, the cute girls behind the counter made it just perfectly and we had a lovely chat while I waited.  Next I drove, 3 blocks, to the St. Francis of Assisi Church.

St. Francis of Assisi Church, Taos, NM

I went in and it smelled just as a church should–of sandalwood, frankincense, and prayers.  I got down on a kneeler and prayed and meditated for a bit.  I went across the street to the gift shop and bought a candle to light.  The attendant asked me who I was praying for, “I pray for everybody,” I responded.

She smiled real big and said, “then I think that size candle will do.”

“How are you today?” I asked her?

“Heartbroken.” She said, melancholy, “My brother died.  He died on Valentine’s Day.” She choked up.

“I’m so sorry for your loss.  I will pray for you then, too.”

“Thank you, mija. Have a blessed day.”

I went back over to the church and lit my candle.  I watched the flame as I always do, fascinated by the way it catches fire.  I stood a bit then went outside to admire the architecture and the structure of the church.

Look at that! There’s hay in the adobe. Amazing.

I wanted to take a backroad to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, but I took a wrong turn and ended up on a dirt road…AWESOME!!  I eventually looped back around and caught the right road but had welcomed the detour.

Dirt road, look at the clouds!!

I stopped at a fruit stand.  The fruit stand was closed so I went into the little shop next door (Blue Feather) that sold body lotions and soaps, I bought some lotion on account of my skin being super dry from the altitude and went along my way.

The road approaching the bridge is flanked with artists selling their creations, cool…but the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is gorgeous, sorry can’t stop! Well, the bridge itself is not gorgeous, the gorge and the landscape are what is gorgeous.  My photos do not do it justice but maybe you can get an idea.

Rio Grande Gorge

Alice had recommended a brewery to me “somewhere over here” she had pointed on the map and I had driven by it on my way out to the bridge so on my way back towards town, I stopped at the Taos Mesa Brewery a super funky brewery in a quonset hut!  I chatted with Cam, the sweet lady behind the bar, “What brings you to Taos?”

“Well, I was in Albuquerque for a conference but I couldn’t stand it so I rented a car and drove here.”

“Oh, honey, I don’t blame you, Albuquerque is the armpit of New Mexico!”

Validation!! Not that I need validation but this was a real live New Mexican confirming my gut feelings about the icky, run-down city.

I ordered the Fall Down Brown (delicious!) and went outside where the sun was shining bright enough for me to strip down to my tank top and soak up some rays.  I wrote in my journal and enjoyed my beer until I decided I needed food.  I went inside and ordered the nachos.

Beer, sun, and snow-topped mountains…life is good

Cam said, “honey, I’m putting in a half order for you, the nachos are huge.”

“Thank you!” I said enthusiastically, I really appreciate the honesty and addressing the fact that this one individual (yours truly) does not need to eat a full order of nachos (or waste half or more of it).

The half order of nachos was still enough to feed a family of four…and DELICIOUS!

As I paid my bill, some people in line behind me told me I had to go to Taos Cow because they had home made ice cream…um…OKAY!!!! I have been known to drive distances for home made ice cream.  So it became obvious what my next pit stop would be…

Incredible mint chip ice cream!! The chocolate was very high quality and the ice cream itself had a consistency more akin to cookie dough, not perfectly smooth but melted in your mouth just right, if I had to guess I would say they use honey in making it…

Taos Cow is located in Arroyo Seco, a small town that the highway drives right through.  I parked in what felt like the middle of town and walked around the different galleries, prolonging my indulgence of the ice cream.

Storefront in Arroyo Seco

 

Beautiful

I rested in the afternoon and did some reading and as 5:20ish hit, I was called to go find the sunset! Unfortunately, the western sky was overcast so I just drove into town where I knew there was live music.  I headed to the Adobe Bar and had a margarita and wrote in my journal.  I was quickly over the scene and came back to my hotel room, where I sit now, in front of a beautifully burning and crackling fire, sitting in my bed, reading for the night.

Good night.

Ciao Albuquerque, hello Taos!

It was reconfirmed to me that I am not a city person, and I don’t know what it is but I do not care for Albuquerque.  I was having a miserable time and my eczema was terribly broken out so I decided to cut my losses; I rented a car, booked a hotel room, and drove to Taos in Northern New Mexico.

But before I left town, I really wanted to take the Sandia Peak Tramway, an aerial tramway at the north of Albuquerque with spectacular views of the Sandia Mountains.  I left the house, grabbed a coffee and a coffee cake and had an uber take me up to the tramway landing.

Tram going up

I struck up conversation with a skier.  He was from upstate New York and a really nice guy.  He lives in Albuquerque now and has an annual pass for the tram and comes up all the time to go cross country skiing.  He’s got life figured out.

Flight # 04

 

View from the tram, about halfway up

At the top of the tram, we got off and walked around.  There was a young lady with a Scorpions zip-up sweatshirt on and I smiled to myself, I just heard a Scorpions song for the first time in my life.

View from the tram landing

Before heading back to town, I had a drink at the bar at the tram landing.  I ordered the first bubbly on the menu, La Marca prosecco.
I made my way back to town and rented the car.  I was so happy to be leaving Albuquerque and to have wheels.  I got on the road and quickly found the local country station.  I was so happy to be driving.  There’s something about the freedom of a two lane road, double yellow lines bisecting weather-worn asphalt that allows me to breath a little deeper and those tiny muscles in my shoulders and forehead–that I didn’t even know I was clenching–to release.

Freedom

I took the long route, two-lane roads rather than the big interstate and drove to Madrid, a small town, population 204 on the way from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, where I stopped for lunch at the Mine Shaft Tavern.  April, the charming bartender from Nashville served me, I had a pint of La Cumbre Amber (a local brewery) and ordered a Green Chile Burger, voted best here some years back.  When April brought it to me, she said with her sweet southern drawl, “you gone need both hands for that, gurl.”  Right.  No daintily taking the top bun off and eating my burger with a fork and knife.  I devoured it all and washed it down with my beer.  It was magnificent.

I settled my bill and walked across the way to Harvey’s chocolates (Shugarman’s Chocolates), where the quirky, Mr. Harvey, with grey ringlet curls, curlier than mine, had a full house.  He was breaking off bits of chocolate bark to everybody that walked in while also taking people’s orders and packaging their chocolate.  I bought some coconut chocolate bark to take home and got back on the road, next stop Taos.

I finally made it to Taos just as the sun was setting and dusk was creeping in.  I checked into my hotel, Blue Sky Retreat at San Geronimo Lodge which is quite literally the opposite of my lodgings and the environment in Albuquerque.  It is so tranquil here and the charming couple running the B&B made me feel incredibly welcome.  After I unloaded the car, I made some chamomile tea and went outside to watch the stars, my favorite flickering star was already out, proud as ever.  I sat on a fence post and took in the sky, it felt as though I could see it moving.

Eventually I went inside and lit a fire in the fireplace in my room, I had a bath and called my mom.  “How’s Christina?” she asked.

“I don’t meet Christina until Sunday, mama” I responded.

“So you’re alone? Are you happy?”

I pondered her questions.  Virtually, my whole adult life I have traveled alone and been extremely content and satisfied doing so; however, this trip has been different, trying, and no, not really enjoyable.  I think I am done traveling alone.

Christmas Eve at Trader Joe’s

Yesterday (Christmas Eve), I found myself at Trader Joe’s with a dear girlfriend.  We needed champagne and had to stock up for the holidays.

While in the spirits section, we put one, two, three, OK, fine, four bottles of prosecco in the cart.  The gentleman working at the store overheard our back and forth, “yes, you might as well grab 4, you know you’ll need it.”  He laughed to himself.  My friend commented that she would need to be dealing with her ex-husband all day, four bottles of prosecco would hardly scratch the surface.  He laughed and wished us a Merry Christmas.

We went about our shopping.  Some cheese, prosciutto, pâté, chocolate, you know…the good stuff.  🙂

As we were checking out, the same gentleman called out “do you like chocolate?”

“YES!” I answered.

He disappeared into one of the aisles and we continued with our payment.

He walked over with my favorite, Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, he handed it to us and said “this is on the house, Merry Christmas.”  My eyes lit up and I was overcome with gratitude and happiness because not only is that kind gesture so charming and appreciated, but of all the items at Trader Joe’s, he picked my favorite!  It is not about the $4 chocolates that the man gave us.  It would be no different if it were a bottle of Dom Perignon or a flower picked on the side of the road (OK, sorry, it would be different if it were Dom Perignon only because it has such a profound reputation and is incredibly expensive and I’m curious to see what the hype is all about!) Anyways, the gesture is what counts.  It is an expression of selfless kindness.  This man wanted nothing in return other than to impart some cheer in our lives.  How cool.

There is so much beauty in the world.   I cannot say it enough, there is so much good and kindness in the world and the only way to be a part of it is to contribute to it and be open to it.  I don’t know how else to say it.  I guess it’s a lifestyle.  If you want to see more happiness, more love, more joy, put it there and expect nothing in return.  Now go forth and do good!!!!

Calories Don’t Count

I was in line at a cafe today and the barista said to the woman in front of me, “Would you like a pastry?” The woman hummed and hawed a bit and the barista cut in, “It’s Thanksgiving week, calories don’t count.”

I was perturbed by this comment.  First of all, if you know me, you know I cannot abide the mention of calories as food is meant to nourish us and to be enjoyed.  The mention of calories or the healthy state of the food prior to consumption ruins the experience, or at least taints it.  Eating, like all other acts involving the senses ought to be savored and enjoyed, shared with loved ones or even celebrated alone. We are so blessed to live in abundance that we now have to think about excess.  It is no secret that our society greatly suffers from obesity and the related health risks and conditions.

With that said, the notion that “calories don’t count during Thanksgiving” (or ever for that matter) is deeply deeply flawed and explains in part why we have an obesity problem.  Yes, eat a pastry, savor and enjoy it but maybe not if you have already had breakfast.  We mustn’t eat just for the act of eating.  We have to eat to nourish our bodies (and souls) but not to excess because clearly, doing so in excess has adverse effects on our physical bodies.  We are given a body but not an instruction manual for it, it is up to each individual to know how to care for his or her body.  Although it should be an innate feeling of when to stop eating or to get out and move or yearn for the endorphin release of strenuous activity but maybe we have grown away from that.  With the amount of information available to us via the internet, television, radio, doctor’s visits, etc. maybe that behavior can be learned but clearly it is not.

They say you shouldn’t complain if you don’t have a solution and I don’t have a solution, I just wanted to get my thoughts out and vent.

Simple dinner

“It does not cost much…It leaves you filled with peace, and the house filled with one of the world’s sweetest smells…probably there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation…that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts … Continue reading

Merry Christmas with smoked salmon and amaretto margaritas

Merry Christmas!  We decided to have margaritas with breakfast, why not? 


Amaretto Margaritas

Serves 3

  • 3 parts (6 oz.) of a mixture of freshly squeezed lemon juice* (3 oz.) and frozen Minute Maid limeade concentrate (3 oz.)
  • 2 parts (4 oz.) tequila 
  • 1 part (2 oz.) amaretto** 
Mix all the ingredients above and serve over ice in a margarita glass (you could also blend all the ingredients in a blender).  Garnish with the curly rind of one of your lemons.  

This is a simple recipe, a 3:2:1 ratio, easy to remember even with the hectic nature of holidays!

*I like to use Meyers lemons if you have them handy; they are more floral and pair very well with the amaretto.  
**This recipe normally calls for triple sec here but I didn’t have that so decided to try amaretto, it was a perfect accident.  Amaretto is a delicious drink that is often forgotten about except for in amaretto sours, so I guess this margarita is a spin on an amaretto sour.  Excellently sweet, sour, with a touch of bitter almond. 

Merry Christmas margaritas! 

Smoked salmon with whole grain mustard on sourdough baguette 

In his homily, the priest at church last night concluded about Christmas (which I think can be extended to life in general) is that we all just want to love and be loved.  Isn’t that the truth? I hope you spent your day with the people you love and that love you. 

Land of milk and honey

We had breakfast on the rooftop of our hotel, with a view of the acropolis and ruins of the Temple of Zeus. The planter boxes that lined the outdoor terrace were filled with rosemary, oregano, geranium, among other fragrant herbs. A small olive tree grew to my right, with black olives hanging ripe on it. It’s incredible how lush the land is and consequently extremely fertile, explains a lot of the richness of the cuisine and the ancient tradition of food production,  preparation, preservation.  

We took a bus to the Cape of Sounion today, about 75 km SE of Greece. We wound along the Aegean Sea passing gorgeous homes, fuchsia bougenvilia, white and purple oleander, olive trees, caper trees, and more oregano than meets the eye. There’s something about the Mediterranean – the sun glistens off the water differently here, it seems shinier than elsewhere, maybe from all the blood spilled in ancient battles or all the passionate love stories that were made here or maybe there’s just something magical about the Mediterranean. There definitely is. We stopped on the side of the road for a view of the temple of Poseidon (Greek God of the Sea), and continued on our way to the topf of the hill where the Temple is located.  The Temple was built by the Greeks in the 5th Century BC. Apparently the temple was destroyed by the Persians in the 4th Century and rebuilt by the Greeks in the 5th.  It is a 4-sided building, with the traditional Greek columns, 42 originally of which 15 stand today. 
 
Temple of Poseidon, Cape Sounion, Greece

View from the top of Cape Sounion

Remains of the Temple of Poseidon, Cape Sounion, Greece

Beautiful – I don’t know what tree this is but it wasn’t an olive tree

Partridge!

These flowers were growing up between rocks in seemingly unlivable conditions

Mama and me at the Temple of Poseidon

Enjoying an afternoon freddo cappuccino – a very commmon Greek drink, espresso over ice with really thick foamed milk on top.

The colors at sunset here are incredible. A golden sun set in a clear sky that’s changing colors by he minute, pinks and oranges, soft purples and blues. The closer the sun gets to the horizon, the more yellow it appears and the more pink the sky becomes. Now more purple skies – no wonder people stop what they’re doing at sunset and allow themselves to be mesmorized by the beauty of it.


excuse the quality of the photo, it was taken from the bus but this is the sunset over the Aegean Sea

In the evening, we wound through the old allies of the Plaka to a Tavern recommended to us by the concierge.  It was a bit off the beaten path, nestled in a hill right next to an Orthodox Church. We sat at the top of the hill and let the waiter (who I named Georgous because that seems to be every other man’s name here) choose our meal for us.  We started with a Greek salad, cucumbers, tomatoes, thinly sliced red onions, capers, olives and feta cheese, that Georgous dressed for us with olive oil, apple cider vinegar and salt.  Georgous was a very animated man, “you must eat Greek salad with a lot of olive oil otherwise it’s not Greek salad,” he proclaimed as he threw his hands up in the air. For the next course, mama and papa b had grouper with spinach and monkfish with mushrooms, respectively.  I had lamb cooked in foil with potatoes and cheese – another waiter removed the contents of the foil onto my plate at the side of the table. The food was delicious, tender and flavourful.  One of the times Georgous came to check on us he insisted I try a caper with a chunk of potato and a piece of meat, which I did.  I ate it and smiled and he said “you see, The Greeks, we know how enjoy the food!”  We had this with a jug of house red wine that was spectacular and believe it or not, we did not have dessert!  

Kalispera, Atena (good evening, Athens)

The sky was a pink, orange haze – that old world haze that’s characteristic of these ancient countries.  As we descended over Athens, you could see the beachfront houses in neat little rows – they looked as of they were glued together and I imagined Greek neighbors yelling from one house to the other: the latest gossip, the price of tomatoes, politicking. It made me think of the conversation I had had with the young Argentinian lawyer next to me, he was asking about the social life in the US, is it really as fast-paced as they say? Are people very solitary and don’t go out? I explained that it depends but it’s easier to be less social when our houses are so spread apart (as opposed to the “flat-style” buildings so characteristic of the majority of the world.  The way of life makes it easier to drive home after work and stay home in front of the TV, maybe that’s also a cultural difference – it is a less social culture and people don’t feel the need to socialize and are fulfilled by being in front of the TV. (Or, maybe that’s part of what’s wrong with our culture, a lot of our depression problems may be because of a lack of social life…?)

The cab driver put our bags in the trunk without even making eye contact with us, I could tell this irked my dad – he really likes to make friends.  We got in and drove off, the warm Mediterranean air blowing through the open windows, the breeze was welcome after being in/on an airport/airplane (read: hot, sweaty, stuffy, recycled air) for 20+ hours.  The radio hummed zorba-esque music in the background and I was taken back to one hot summer in Damascus – we were eating dinner in the open-aired courtyard of an old house converted to a restaurant in the old city. There was a big Greek group dining and the guitar player welcomed them with the zorba, we were invited to join and we spent the evening dancing around the fountain in the center of the restaurant – starting slow and speeding up the tempo, as the zorba goes. I smiled at the memory and knew that before we leave this country, we would dance the zorba again. 
The cab wove through the streets – in that  “ordered chaos” characteristic of old-world-country-driving. Lanes are ambiguous and personal space, non-existent; pedestrians may or may not walk into traffic causing a fit of rage for drivers; motorbikes and vespas take advantage of their size and weave around cars.  The driver wasn’t shy to lay on the horn if traffic was taking longer to clear for him than he would like. He sat on a mat of wooden beads – for the heat and a wooden cross hung from the rear view mirror. 
The street signs made me think of my college physics and calculus classes, alphas and betas and thetas. What a beautiful alphabet, not to mention old…
Mama exclaimed that she had spotted the Acropolis! Although it was dark, we could see the Acropolis through the trees as we made our way to our hotel. As we pulled up to the lobby, mama handed the driver his fare and said “efharisto (thank you) so much.”

Time to explore! We left our hotel, and were almost run over by motorcyclists who seem to flirt with the cross walk line, anticipating the green light. We wandering around the ruins of the Temple of Olympian Zues and Hadrian’s Arch – the columns mightily standing the test of time. This time when we crossed the street, we took extra caution – drivers here are reckless!  In the Plaka, we heard a man softly playing guitar and singing a ballad into a microphone; restaurant owners invited us to have a seat and eat at their restaurant, each claiming theirs to be the best one around. A man sat behind a cart selling roasted chestnuts and corn on the cob; another older gentleman had a compartamentalized cart of nuts “prova!” he proclaimed as we approached. We tasted various nuts, macademia, almonds, cashews and decided on roasted, salted almonds for an evening stroll snack. Men were selling these contraptions that light up as they soar through the air; another couple of young guys were playing with fire – the more daring of the two taking sips of gas and roaring out fire to please the crowds dining in the Plaka. We walked slowly through the olive tree lined allies stopping in each shop to admire the souvenirs, or sample candied fruit.

Ruins of Temple of Zeus in Athens, Greece

More Ruins of the Temple of Zeus

kids messing around near the guys playing with fire in the Plaka, Athens, Greece

Greek yogurt + Greek honey = yummy

various yogurts

Multi-use  hollowed out log, planter

the Acropolis at night