I had arranged to meet up with my friend in the middle of Athens. Σύνταγμα - Sintagma (Constitution Square) - was teeming with people that day, even though it was a Sunday and all the commercial shops on Ermou St were closed. The day was sunny, warm and breezy, a perfect day for a Sunday βόλτα (volta - stroll), which most of the town's residents were doing. There were pigeons flying all over place on the pavement, people were taking photos of Parliament's guards in their sentry boxes, the McDonalds on the corner was full of youthful faces enjoying their happy meals and a whole range of foreign languages could be heard all over the place, interrupted occasionally by the Greek language. I had some time to spare before the appointed meeting to search for what I could buy from around the area that could travel safely, not go off or become stale, stay intact without getting mushy in my backpack, and more importantly, resemble a nutritiously rich meal that could constitute a child's school meal.
Monday's school lunch wasn't tricky at all. The cafes in the area served luscious looking sandwiches and πίτες (pites - pies) of all types: cheese, sausage, sweet cream, spinach, hotdog, mince, you name it. My only caveat was that they would be subjected to all sorts of bruising, temperatures and humidity levels in my bag, so I decided not to buy anything from the road, except for my own lunch (before I was treated to a sumptuous dinner by my friend. I could easily buy my children something similar for their lunch from the airport cafeterias, which served this kind of food.
I had almost forgotten to have lunch that day (such a rare occurrence in my life), I was so excited, not just about meeting my friend, but because I had managed to achieve so much in one day. I had seen a few relatives in Aspropirgos (a dingy Western suburb in the Greater Athens area), walked through the neighbourhood I had lived in for two years before settling in Hania permanently (Egaleo, another neighbourhood of Western Athens), and enjoyed the luxury of the organised Athenian mass transportation system, via the suburban blue buses and the Athenian underground.
It is a fact that Athens has not improved its dreary image since I was last living there, but that is simply not true about the means of transport: the underground in Athens is clean, modern, awesome, even beautiful. Walking into the underground world of Athens is like entering a museum full of ancient antiquities: in some parts of it, when the lighting is set in such a way that it highlights a particular monument on display in the foyers, you might even get the feeling that Hades is lurking somewhere in the twilight, ready to turn you into a pillar of salt if you dare to turn around and look, like he did to Eurydice when Orpheus wanted to check that Hades had kept his word about his lover's return. Most of the treasures found in the foundations of the underground during its construction were eventually turned into a museum display piece.
(Some of the Parthenon marbles Elgin stole; these ones are the fakes, on display at the Acropolis metro station)
A long time had passed since I last went to see the Acropolis. Of course, the whole area has changed since I was last there, but my instinct led me in the right direction during my short interlude in the area. I got out of the metro at the Acropolis stop, located right next to the brand new Acropolis Museum, a strategic environmentally-friendly station, enabling people to have more efficient access to an important landmark, without the need to bring their own car to an already over-congested area (top marks to the town planners). The hot autumn sun made up my mind for me: the Acropolis also looks good at lower ground level, and I don't need to work up a sweat by walking up the hill to get to see it close up. (Believe me, I've been much closer to it than anyone can get to it in modern times.) It was at this point that I remembered I was feeling hungry and thirsty. Right across the Acropolis metro station were a few strategically positioned cafes and snack bars. Everest was located on a highly visible corner near a row of crafts and souvenir shops.
(above - the Acropolis of Athens; below - the foundations of the Acropolis museum among excavated ruins; a view of the apartment blocks facing the Acropolis - dingy as they look, they enjoy one of the most amazing views in the world )
The advertising of each company may claim that their food is 'fresh', but this is all relative. A product that is stored under artificially controlled conditions to keep its appearance, shape and smell 'fresh' cannot be compared to the same product that was made and eaten on the same day in someone's kitchen, which will not be subjected to any kind of unnatural treatment in order to prevent it from spoilage. My Everest spanakopita cost me 1.95 euro and it was very satisfying; having said that, I must admit that I am a spanakopita fanatic, and it is usually the only thing I buy from a snack food outlet when I need to have a meal on the run. I ignore the ringing bells in my head sounding out warnings against fast food; we do this irregularly, and only when we need to. I even went into a McDonalds while I was at Sintagma; the coffee was OK, the toilets excellent.
Spanakopita was the kind of thing I had in mind for my children's school lunch. I decided to buy them each a piece of Everest spanakopita at the airport, another place where you can find 24/7 fast food chains en masse, each one claiming to serve you the healthiest food made with the freshest ingredients possible, served warm after a short zap in a microwave oven.
When I arrived at Athens airport, I checked out each food outlet and wondered what kind of money people make in Athens in order to be able to afford to eat here: hot drinks cost well over 2 euro a cup, while sandwiches and pastry-encased cheese, spinach, sausage, chocolate or cream cost at least 3 euro a piece. A family of four with a long delay between flights would need to spend at least 20 euro to eat here. In Hania, we spend about 40 euro for a modest but well-cooked fresh taverna family meal. I was in shock, and it was not just the cost of living that knocked me out: Everest was selling exactly the same spanakopita that I ate in central Athens for 3 euro and 30 cents at the airport; that's 1 euro and 35 cents more than in the other branch.
I was in two minds about what to do. In any case, there is an Everest outlet at Hania airport (which I was hoping would be open), so I decided to buy my children's meals when I arrived in Hania instead. That way they would also be 'fresher'. I hopped off the aeroplane at 6.30am and walked through to the arrivals foyer. Everest was open there too: same spanakopita, same price as at Athens airport. It was too early in the morning to argue, but I've kept the receipts: one price at one outlet, a different one at another. Where I was born, we would call this a bloody rip-off. I bought two pieces of Everest spanakopita (individually wrapped, thank you), and took a cab, which, coincidentally, cost me twice as much as what it cost me in Athens to be driven the same number of kilometres. Where is the country heading to? I ask myself.
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