greekfamilyminimarket

My summer working in the family business on Corfu

It ain’t Las Vegas

“What happens in Pelekas, never stays in Pelekas”.

Unlike Vegas, Pelekas, (Corfu, Greece, The world), is not a town where indiscretions, or misdemeanours, or a fart in the wind, go unnoticed and not discussed, even internationally, and now with the advent of the internet, within moments. There are of course things that ‘happened’ that did not actually happen, but village whispers designate them fact, whether based on some minor truth or not. This is of course most village life anywhere, but Pelekas has the unique brand of such a worldwide community over the years, that gossip takes a completely new turn.

I was once working in a bar in the village and I could not leave even for a moment. (My reverence for bar work is tantamount). I wanted to call a friend sitting in the next bar to ask him to come visit me. I didn’t have his number. I did however, have the number of a mutual friend in Holland. I texted her. She texted him. He came to see me. He had only been twenty metres away.

I’ve heard stories of people who had apparently worked as prostitutes, run brothels, dealt drugs, killed people, and it turned out only to be half the truth. I mean, get the facts straight. Don’t do people an injustice.

Or it turned out none of it was true at all. (I only ever got paid a handful of times, nothing more, and the baby I threw off the bench bar wall was not my own…).

At the same time, many people who come to visit are shocked by the lack of real communication between many locals.
No one ever seems to know between them what is going on with the bus service,
TWO LOCALS ADVISING A TOURIST ABOUT THE BUS INTO TOWN –
1 – “Four O’clock…”
2 – (disagreeing) “No, four thirty…”
1 – “Yes, but not here, down at the corner”
2- “No, it comes up to the square now”
1 – “No, because of the traffic”
2 – “I think they changed the time”
1 and 2 (to tourist) – “We’re not sure. Tomorrow maybe we know.”

I have never learned to drive, hence my fascination with the bus service. It’s a problem, and a really big one for me here in Corfu. It’s hard to get around, and with a little boy, I must have often seemed like a bag lady, trapsing up and down windy roads with shopping, buggy and so on in forty degree heat. I’m not the only one, of course. Slowly but surely I am reminding myself of Paraskevi, the rubbish lady in Pelekas, who trapses up and down windy roads with shopping, rubbish cart and so on in forty degree heat.

The simple reason I don’t drive is ultimately that I am petrified to learn, and if you saw the state of the roads here, you might at least understand part of that problem. It’s terrifying here.

I once read an article in some British rag (Daily Mail actually, don’t ask why such a shitty paper, I only read it because it has a good simple puzzle section and I quite like to feel angry at something). The article was about a group of villagers complaining about the state of their roads. It was accompanied by photos of their potholed roads. They resembled some of the finer avenues in Corfu. They even had footpaths. Whingers.

On the mini market front, this time I can offer you this –
Magda, the cook, has quit, in a spectacular display of extremely pressed and stretched reasonability, during the middle of lunch time service. As the Daily Mail might say, “IT WAS ABOUT TIME SOMEONE DID SOMETHING”. If you have read my blogs from earlier, you may remember I predicted this. I gave her a month. She lasted a month and a half. I’d seen her type before working with my ‘Big Fat Pelekas Family’ in the restaurant. She was too bright, too good, too sharp. She had simply had enough of my in laws, while working brilliantly with everyone else. A champion of the people, well done Magda. Brave move, as we are all strapped for cash and in desperate times.

We were very busy today in the mini market. We no longer have the Germans. It’s all about the Italians (updates on this later).

My mother in law Maria, with no cook in the kitchen, (don’t feel too sorry for her, I feel in part she brought it on herself), was on HIGH SPEED OCTANE, hysterically smiling and keeping up her 30 year quotes (”So pretty, this is your colour”), while trying to cope, as she came into the mini market to pay someone for an order…

It went like this…
MARIA – (HIGH SPEED, VERY STRESSED BUT SMILING RIDICULOUSLY) – “HOWMUCHDOIGIVEYOU?”
Man – (Much more relaxed, wanting to be exact) –
“ Fifty… five… euros…”
MARIA – (ALMOST MANIACAL) –
“TENTWENTYTHIRTYNICESHIRTPRETTYCOLOURFORTYFIFTYFIFTYFIVE”…..

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The wonderful gift of God and collapsable chairs

There is a God. If sometimes late, he’s very quick when he wants to be, and has a sense of humour. If there weren’t a God, moments like the following might not have happened…

Background – Yannis, my father in law, (and the Don Corleone of the business here), and I have entered our non speaking phase of the summer. Don’t be concerned. We do this every year. Literally, we do not talk. We do not acknowledge each other, and merely exist around the periphery of each other’s orbits. It normally starts with some minor altercation. This time it was something to do with Angelo, my son. It doesn’t matter what it is about however. Imagine how well this is going then now that I’m working with the family with so many possible realms of altercation.

In days past I would have approached him and try to sort it out. I believe everyone should admit fault and try to talk things through. The last time I did that however with Yannis, he tried to attack me physically, while grabbing for a knife. So it’s better this way. We don’t confront. We don’t address issues. We simply, after a minor altercation, do not talk.

So, (now it gets wonderful), this morning, not talking, after I had opened the shop, he came to sit outside. Not to interact, you understand, but simply to make his presence known. (Read “I am the boss. Your boss.”) I sat down next to him, in the corner chair (I know my place, read my Che Guevara blog for context) around the Lipton Iced Tea sponsored table (I really have to get in touch with Liptons for the amount of times I’m plugging them).

We were in silence. No customers, early morning, tension in the air, silence. Inexplicably, and many thanks to God, Yannis chair broke under him. The legs split, and with an almighty crash, he was on the floor. I asked him if he was okay, as he lay on the floor, while, and I’m slightly sorry to say, hysterically laughing.

“These fucking chairs”, he said, “they’re ten years old…”.

I was still laughing. Well, at least it broke the ice.

To cheer ourselves up more from my last blog, I would like to leave you with just a few of my favourite quotes from My Big Fat Pelekas Family…

Maria, my mother in law, about her husband-

“Every day is a new cancer”

“My life with him is a big black dog”

Yannis, my father in law, to me the very first time we met-

“You see beyond the mountain”

ME- (looking at the mountain at the back of the beach) “What? Do you mean this mountain?”

Maria to my step Mum SHARON (You will realise the relevance of my capitals in a moment), my Dad, and me, upon their morning arrival here –

(Maria, while giving out plates) – ” Baklava for you, Mr Kevin, baklava for you Miss Sauron… but not for you Looby (ME)…. You have too many kilos.”

American tourist to Jimmy – “What’s the weather like here in winter?”

Jimmy – “Pretty much the same as America.”

American tourist – “Oh, right.”

Yannis to me – “What you don’t know, is what I know about life…”

Jimmy (during an argument with me and mocking me) – “We will fight them on the beaches, we will fight them with the forks and spoons. We shall never surrender”

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Whose shoes have you walked in?

Forgive me from the outset for the sombre nature of this blog – I will say from the beginning that it is not my normal tome or of my normal tone for that matter. Read on, only if you want, at that note. Be warned.

Something terrible happened down here at our place on the beach of Corfu the other day, and I am almost reticent to tell you about it, but I feel I must, as this is part of the history to be of this summer of mine in the mini market with my Greek family. Sometimes perhaps, things happen almost to slap you with a sense of perspective, just when you are feeling the lack of that.

I write about my life here, the trials and tribulations, the struggles and the absurdity. I try to laugh as much as I can to get through, and to find commonality with others to recognize how exactly I got to this point, find the joy in it, and an expression of the frustrating, to an extent. There is so much more to go, so please don’t think all blogs will be like this one.

First I feel I must re-establish the scene.

At our place there is the mini market, with me and stressed Emilia. The restaurant next to us is run by my somewhat mad OCD mother in law Maria, with oppressed, gruff, but very bright and witty Magda as cook (she’s not allowed to cook what she wants), and extremely compliant Nicky as the smiling, put upon general dogs body (yes, Mrs Maria, I will sweep the road, yes). There is also now Costas, the waiter in the restaurant (somewhat opinionated, but very good at his job). The bar down on the beach is run by my too much hard working partner Jimmy (that’s almost a criticism) and his brother Prokopis (lovely chap, more easy going) and staff Anna on tables (tells it like it is), Crisanthi on sandwiches (highly efficient, occasional tantrums), and now Dimby on drinks (friendly, been there for years, apparently bit lazy, I don’t see it). Ooh I forgot, my father in law, Yannis, sweet man, (read previous blogs for up date).

But people, we also have three small rooms for people to stay in. They are simple and clean, overlooking the beach. They have balconies. I am extremely fond of them. The first winter Jimmy and I were together five years ago, we made them a small house and stayed there. Our son Angelo was conceived in the middle one (too much information, I know, but sentimentality must….).

The other day Jimmy and I arrived at work to see police cars in the car park. That morning I had said to Jimmy,

“Please not today, there’s something about today, every day is hard, but today, not today, there’s something bad and I can’t go.” I have no idea why I said this, or what reflection it has on what I will tell you now.

A man had committed suicide from one of the rooms, the middle one in fact, and had hanged himself from the balcony. As we arrived, the police everywhere, his body was still there hanging, and had been all night. I didn’t see it, didn’t want to, but many did and had, and were around, and there was much commotion and shock. No-one had noticed til the early hours.

The facts are still minimal. He had arrived the night before, asked for a room later in the evening, just for the night, and that’s it. We found out he was English, about 45, possible family. Of course some minor details emerged, but I won’t tell them here out of respect, suffice to say it’s all still very much a mystery.

We don’t know why, or how, or why here, what was the history, or the effect it might have. I can only speak for us. It was a dramatic death, and visually too. And that perhaps, is all I can say about it factually.

We are in shock. We are not a big place, we are a small establishment with a family history going back decades of memory, but small. For me, there are so many questions. But no judgment without knowledge.

I would like to add at this point, that when I told someone very close to me on the phone (who has stayed here) that this had happened, and was clearly in shock, he replied after a great pause….

“But Maria’s cooking is not that bad.”

And, as per any tragic but questionable situation, after a couple of days, I’ve started to join in….

“He was a perfectly happy chap, then came down to the beach, had a meal in the restaurant, a chat with Yannis about life, saw the furniture and …. “.

However…

I am thinking about putting some flowers in the room tomorrow, and on that balcony. At the risk of sounding like an old hippy, I think it can only be cleaned by love.

At this point I will leave with only this….

“Never judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes”.

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We shall fight them on the beaches

Business has taken a very interesting turn – we are actually busy. It’s gone completely manic down here. We have these groups of robotic German kids, and I mean hundreds of them, marching into the place every other day, silently invading and thankfully spending some money. Thank God for the Germans. Yes, I am very tempted to make a Monty Pythonesque joke at this point, but we mustn’t mention the war. Or the invasion of Poland.

This situation has rendered me, for want of better words, completely screwed. I’m not only in the mini market. After about lunchtime, I go down to the bar and practically run the place while Jimmy soldiers on (sorry, can’t help myself), along with Chrisanthi, a fellow soldier, making burgers for the troops (I really can’t help myself making puns about this).

Prokopis, Jimmy’s brother, is also there, but he himself admits “my mind is not here”, and so there is great confusion about who has paid or not, which burger is for number 256, and whether that SEX ON THE BEACH has to go to a Greek or a German.  (“WHO’S HAVING THE SEX?” I’ve been known to call out).

Anna, (my great friend who works there in the bar) is not only an excellent worker, but has a great sense of humour. The other day, when we were in the middle of serving about 200 of them, both of us shouting out numbers to unresponsive German kids, I called out for the umpteenth time

“207, 207, COME ON, I’M PART GERMAN MYSELF, AND YOU’VE LOST YOUR BURGER!”

Anna proceeded to start hysterically laughing, as did I, and for a moment the whole system was about to collapse as we went to the floor, crying and screaming tears of hysteria.

This would all sound like a form of fun, if it weren’t for the fact that any money made doesn’t come to us. It’s all for XXXXXX and XXXXX.

Oh, I forgot to tell you. I had some good advice about this blog being too personal and that perhaps it would be better to censor myself somewhat. On that note, XXXXX was dying her hair again the other day. This time, the plastic bag was blue. Good to see she changes colour.

And as for XXXXXX, well, he does nothing while all this business is going on. Occasionally, someone will ask – “Where the fuck is XXXXXX?”. I tell them, “He’s playing Bazouki, his instrument, in his room, but be honest, would you want him here anyway?”.

XXXXX has been lying to everyone about her age. She told Magda, the cook in the kitchen, that she is 52. She told Emilia, my fellow mini market worker, that she is 54. To top it off, she told me (supposedly family) the other day that she is fifty five.

Guys, she is 61. She should be proud of it.

And yes, goddamn it, XXXXX and XXXXXX are still very young.

CHURCHILL –  (sorry, really can’t help myself, and I actually love Germans, this is edited obviously)

“I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone.

At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government-every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation.

The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength.
We shall fight on the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

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Once Upon a Time in Pelekas

Once Upon a Time in Pelekas…
Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, back when working in a mini market on Corfu in a dysfunctional Greek family was just a twinkle in the eye of my ambition, I was just a girl. A girl, standing in front of Hugh Grant. Asking him to love her. No, wait, that’s Julia Roberts in that god awful “Notting Hill”. Let’s rephrase. I was just a girl, standing in front of a Greek village boy, who was at the time eating five souvlaki pittas, asking him to tell her how he could eat so much. This was Jimmy, the son of the family I now work with, my future love, the father of my son to be. That night, I giggled in the face of his handsomeness, marvelled at his appetite, and flirted outrageously. He was having none of it. I arrogantly assumed he had to be gay, or have mental problems. I later suspected he was stoned.
Despite this, he was indeed interested in me, as I think time has proven. However, before there was a Jimmy and our son Angelo, before plastic bag wearing in laws and mini market mayhem, there was another great love of my life. The local village of Pelekas. I hold Pelekas responsible for everything.
In the summer of 2000, I was studying acting at a London drama school and appearing in one of the most dire productions of Shakespeare’s King Lear that anyone has had to be subjected to. We weren’t allowed to move our arms, and any expression was to be kept to a minimum. It only proved slightly entertaining in video playback on fast forward, as we looked like stormtroopers, with me in white as Princess Leia minus hair buns. Backstage with a friend, as she was about to go on to have her eyes “symbolically” gouged out as a female Gloucester, I said
“Jesus we need a holiday. After this shite’s over let’s go for a week of sea, sun, sex and sand somewhere.”
We came to Corfu. I had been here as a kid with my Mum, and I remembered the water. Aah, the water. Deep turquoise, vivid, purifying. I hadn’t been to Pelekas then though.
Arriving in the village with three girlfriends in the middle of the night, I remember getting out of the taxi in the square, looking around at the yellows and pinks, the lamplights, the church, and bars, and feeling something click inside of me. It was that feeling you get when you know your life is never quite going to be the same. The next day, very hungover, we walked down to Pelekas beach for the first time (the beach next to Glyfada, where I am working now). As we came round the corner and saw the sea for the first time, it took my breath away. This place I still call “The Spot”. The week that followed we met diverse, colourful, mad people, locals and tourists alike, drank, danced and laughed, swam, ate, drank and danced more, flirted with locals and tourists, slept little, and laughed more. I had never felt so alive in my life.
At the end of that week, much like Martin Luther King, though slightly less ambitious, I had a dream. That my friend and I were staying for the summer. Why to go back to London on our holidays from acting school? But how? An acquaintance, Chris, came to us the next day and asked us if we would like to work. We did, and we stayed for that summer. The village and its colourful madness had intoxicated me, and not just with alcohol. It had a spirit I had never before felt. I felt alive. The village, she is just like that Alanis Morrisette song. A bitch, a lover, you wouldn’t have her any other way.
Years past, and I kept coming back every summer. When I wasn’t here I dreamt about being here. When I was here, I was increasingly, year after year, distraught at the thought of leaving. This was no ordinary Greek village. It has a special magnetism, that I perhaps will never quite be able to put my finger on. (There is a whole new blog in the stories of those years.)
Pelekas slowly consumed my life, and I wanted her to. I fought with boyfriends from other places about coming here (“You love that village more than me”). More and more, my friends (and boyfriends) had an association with Pelekas. I brought my mother here in her last few years. I have some of her ashes buried at “The Spot” overlooking that vivid blue sea.
And sadly perhaps, as economics have dictated, tourism is nothing as it was. More and more, the village outwardly is losing the appeal it once had as a party place, rife with laughter and drama. It seems empty compared to days past. But if you listen, very carefully as the tumbleweed rolls past in the square, you can hear her still…
“Don’t listen to the bickering of locals, the moans of tourists, the politics, or the dissent. I am here, stunning as ever. Find me, and you will laugh like never before.”
On that note, I now have the Pelekas man, the Pelekas baby, the Pelekas family. I have had numerous Pelekas summer jobs. I have been baptised Greek Orthodox in Pelekas. I am entitled to be buried in the Pelekas cemetery.
And I work in the mini market with my Big Fat Pelekas Family.
Perhaps I should just have bought a t-shirt.

“I hate the world today
You’re so good to me, I know
But I can’t change
Tried to tell you
But you look at me like maybe I’m an angel underneath
Inncoent and sweet

Yesterday I cried
Most have been relieved to see the softer side
I can understand how you’d be so confused
I don’t envy you
I’m a little bit of everything
All rolled into one

I’m a bitch I’m a lover
I’m a child I’m a mother
I’m a sinner I’m a saint
I do not feel ashamed
I’m your hell I’m your dream
I’m nothing in between
You know, you wouldn’t want it any other way

So take me as I am
This may mean, you’ll have to be a stronger man
Rest assured that, when I start to make you nervous
And I’m going to extremes
Tomorrow I will change and today won’t mean a thing

I’m a bitch I’m a lover
I’m a child I’m a mother
I’m a sinner I’m a saint
I do not feel ashamed
I’m your hell I’m your dream
I’m nothing in between
You know, you wouldn’t want it any other way

I’m a bitch, I’m tease
I’m a goddess on my knees
When you’re hurt
When you suffer
I’m your angel undercover
I’ve been numb
I’m revived
Can’t say I’m not alive
You know I wouldn’t want it ANY other way”

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Sex and the Mini Market

Things have taken a bad turn for the worse in the mini market. After a month of working here now, my mother in law, Maria, who runs the place with my father in law, Yannis, has started even hiding ice cubes from me and Emilia, the other girl who shares the job with me in the mini market here on the island of Corfu. Why, you may ask.

Well, water is relatively free, plastic trays are already bought and there are few customers in the restaurant. Still, Maria has decided that Emilia and I have had enough of our share of free frozen water. We use them for the occasional cold coffee you see. So, some days ago, she started hiding them. The ice cubes. Where they were, no one knew.  I’d seen them in the morning. Emilia, by the afternoon, was starting to mistrust my judgment. I wouldn’t say we exactly turned on each other, but she was unsure. I found them two days later, hidden by Maria under the two year old frozen fish. This is definitely not a good advertisement for the place, I realise that. Maria has made her point. Customers be damned. No one questions the will of the unwell. Of course she hasn’t said a word about it to us.

Things have got so bad, Yannis my father in law, the Don Corleone overseer ne’er do well of my Greek family establishment, sat down with me the other day and started talking to me about the economy over a morning coffee, right by the ice creams, outside on the balcony. No tourists come at this time. It was all going rather well until I wanted to join in. Goddamn me and my will to participate in conversation. According to him however, the needs of our small family business all come down to him “thinking… thinking…”.

It was at this point that he told me he sometimes occasionally walks out to the road and looks back at our establishment, while no-one thinks  he is doing anything, and THINKS.

“What is missing?”, he says to me, he is thinking. “What does it need?”.  I don’t dare reply. In fact, I needn’t.

Things have got so bad in the mini market I am fighting my comatose boredom by reading porn behind the till. “Fifty Shades of Grey”, to be exact. To anyone who hasn’t come across this global women’s porn phenomenon, well, basically it’s a novel described as ‘mummy porn’ that looks from the outside that you’re reading a half decent novel, but inside is absolutely filthy. It makes for some interesting moments in the mini market, from my point of view…

“He moves his finger in a wide circle, stretching me, pulling at me…”

“One euro, please”

“…his tongue mirroring his actions, around and around. I groan. It’s too much…”

“50 cents for the small water”

“My body begs for relief, and I can no longer deny it, I let go….”

(Maria, mother in law enters mini market) “Looby, such a pretty colour on you, why you don’t mop the floor?”

“Holy fuck, I cry out, and the world disappears and dips from view as the force of my climax renders everything null and void…”

“Five euros fifty for the flip flops”.

I’ve got to write my own erotic novel. I could take a whole new turn on it.

“We took out the flip flops stand together, they were only five euros fifty, the day had just started, but the tension in the air was something close to sublime. The sun beating down, all I wanted to do was turn the whole world off, but the NESTLE ice creams boxes had iced my nipples too hard for that eventuation… A Calippo icy pole only cost one euro ten.”

I really need to get out. And find some more ice cubes…

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