Kalosta is welcome in Greek. My father-in-law says it every time we enter his apartment. It’s a well worn stereoptype that the Greeks are a hospitable people: warm, full of conversation, and ready to feed heaping plates of food at a moment’s notice. And, for the most part, this is absolutely true. However, when we arrived in Athens for a yearlong European adventure, we got quite the Kalosta in the keister!
I knew that living in Athens would be different from visiting and I foolishly thought that we were prepared.
It began with an epic 30 hour journey. In what turned out to be amazing foresight, my travel agent Yannis (my husband, naturally) booked tickets from Denver to LAX, where we had to collect our luggage to transfer to the international terminal for our LAX to Istanbul flight, which would be followed by the final leg of Istanbul to Athens. After much eye-rolling, it was I who had to nibble on crow as we flew over the hundreds of cancelled flights on the East Coast, while we settled in to our Turkish Airlines socks and selected any of the dozens of movies we had at our fingertips in our personal tvs.
Our journey consisted of 30 hours of driving, checking in, transferring, flying, finding bags, eating airport food (LAX international terminal — amazing but wickedly expensive food), eating airplane food (Turkish airlines: remarkable not terrible), trying to sleep, and generally amusing ourselves (the ice cream in Turkish Airlines is not to be missed!).
Finally, we arrived in Athens with our 13 or so pieces of luggage (side note: the smartest revenue producer the airlines ever instituted was the weight limit on luggage. I could have easily fit our 13 pieces of luggage into 6 VERY heavy pieces of luggage, but weight restrictions make that impossible). We landed at around midnight, and by the time we went through customs and immigration and got the rental car, we were into the wee hours of a very cold Athens morning.
My brother in law met us at the airport (see above re: mountains of luggage), and so my daughters and I piled into the rental car to follow him and my husband to the apartment that would be our home for the next year, and our home away from home for many years to come. We were all in desperate need of sleep and scrubbing as we drove through the empty backroads in Athens, quietly contemplating the year ahead, our eyes still crusty from the many tears shed leaving the community and people that we love so dearly.
At about 2am, we entered the apartment with our right feet first, keeping with tradition (or superstition). Kalosta! Kalosta! we are all saying and nervously smiling at each other. My husband and his brother schlepped the luggage up using the ancient elevator (with handwritten warnings, in Greek of course, to not exceed the capacity of 3 people, which makes me wonder — which 3 people? how many pieces of luggage = 3 people?).
After the 4th or 5th elevator-load of luggage, as I heated up the pastitsio and other Greek delights that Yiayia left for us, Yannis came into the kitchen and says “You’re not going to like what I’m about to say.” Now, I’m no marriage counselor, but if I could give any one piece of advice to all newlyweds, it would be this: NEVER USE THAT PHRASE BEFORE TELLING YOUR SPOUSE BAD NEWS! In the span of 5 seconds, my head was spinning with the possibilities of what I wasn’t going to like. His face contorted in the shapes of the bearer of bad news wanting to savor the seconds of lifetime that the receiver of the bad news still doesn’t know. Finally, he slowly said: “The apartment was burglarized on Christmas. The broken doors and windows have been repaired and so it should be safe now.”
And, here. Here is where my brain went into overdrive, and the following thoughts occurred in the most non-linear, instantaneous fashion:
- burglarized? On the 4th floor (or, by Greek standards the 3rd floor since the first floor is 0)??
- what the fuck?
- wait, why weren’t we told about this when it happened?
- who did this, Spiderman?!
- you’re kidding!
- why are we just finding out about this now? didn’t our relatives who so kindly made the repairs know that this, THIS, was my greatest fear of living in Athens, especially given that most of my time would be alone with my kids?
- what did Spiderman take? what could he possibly want from our vacant apartment?
Then, as calmly as he could, my husband showed me the broken (and repaired) front shutters where Spiderman tried to hack through and failed. Then he showed me where Spiderman was successful in breaking through another shutter to smash a door open. We looked around at the remnants of our summer that we had left in the apartment — some goggles, towels, a few outfits, etc — and realized that Spiderman hadn’t found anything worth stealing. He apparently let himself out the door and went down the elevator when he realized there was nothing for him in our mostly vacant apartment.
I literally could not breathe. I could not wrap my head around the fact that my greatest fear had become a reality even before we arrived. And, that my husband’s family, in trying to protect us, had decided not to tell us. Why hadn’t I been given the opportunity to find a hotel to stay with my family for a few days? Or to stay with family until we figured something out? Clearly, they were doing what they thought was best and most helpful, but I prefer to have more information rather than less, and to make fully informed decisions.
So, after the shock of the recent burglary wore off, I turned my attention to the one thing I could control: my kids. They were fed, so now getting them into the shower and a warm bed would at least make me feel a little better.
And then, this is when the other shoe (really, there’s another shoe!) fell: search as we might for a heat source, there was none. As we were to find out in the ensuing days, the heat in the building is a different kind of central heat. It is central to the building. So, when your fellow building residents don’t pay their heat bills, guess what happens to *your* heat? Yes, not only was the apartment unsafe, it was also frigid cold. I looked around at the luggage and thought, “Ok, universe, these are all the signs I need that this is a terrible idea. Let’s just head back to the airport, report on a failed experiment, and return to our beautiful bubble.”
But, through tears, I put the girls to bed (both in one bed, snuggling in to stay warm), told them it would get better (it had to, right?), and settled onto the couch with a book because sleep would be extremely elusive. This was, of course, after putting a chair or table with a breakable something in front of every door (there are four) to the balcony. I sent poor Yannis out for wine, thinking that might soothe my unquiet soul. However, the Greek version of mad dog that he found at the kiosk was not actually drinkable, nor was I in any mood to “relax” with a glass of wine. I had a house and two kids to protect from Spiderman, who might appear on the balcony at any moment to see what we had brought in our luggage.
Finally, after two valium (thank goodness I remembered to fill that prescription on my last day in Colorado!), I drifted off to sleep around 8am, after watching the sun peek through the cracks in the shutters. Spiderman wasn’t going to scale our building in the light of day, my addled exhausted brain reasoned. We all slept until sometime in the evening, and spent the next night in a hotel.
Within 48 hours of our arrival, the security system was scheduled, and within days it was installed. We now have the most annoying doorbell sound when anyone walks onto the balcony or opens a door, and a pigeon who wants to alight on our railing might die of a heart attack setting off the ear-splitting alarm.
We still have no heat, but we are chalking it up to experience, and knowing that the pre-teen and teen years loom before us, I won’t complain that my kids want to snuggle with their mama. Summer is coming, and when the AC fails (as I’m guessing it will), we will likely want to complain about that as well.
For Spiderman there is no Kalosta, but to any other guest who comes through the front door, I heartily say: Kalosta!! Don’t mind the doorbell sounds, and let me see if I have some of Yiayia’s pastitsio to warm up for you.