Sunday, June 23, 2013

In praise of buses...

News of potential 30% bus service cuts in Stockton sent chills up my spine. Some neighborhood routes could be eliminated, and there would be no weekend service starting in August if federal funds don't come through. Bus services during the week could end at 6:30 pm instead of 9 pm, with reduced frequency of express routes. What about people who depend on buses for work, shopping or church!

Kifissou Bus Station
My recent trip to Greece gave me new respect for buses, still the primary source of transportation for trips long and short.  I traveled by bus wherever I went, including to Kiparissi (southwest of Sparti) and Koroni (about 1.5 hours south of Kalamata) -- and I spent a total of 128.20 EU ($165 at the time) on in-country travel over 10 days, including 15 Euros for an Athens' cab from the bus station to Thea Soula's in a moment of weakness. (Did I mention that gas was about $7 a gallon?)

Molaos Ticket Window
Some things, however, do not seem to have changed that much since I was last in Greece nearly 30 years ago.  Arriving in Athens, I took the bus that went directly to the Kifissou long-distance bus station (for southern routes), to be absolutely sure I got a ticket for the bus leaving for Molaos at 6:30 am the next morning.  I would be on a tight schedule, transferring to the one bus that goes to Kiparissi twice-a-week. Inside the station, there were separate ticket windows for each bus route.  The airport and Metro stations might be pretty spiffy/high-tech these days, but this heavily-used bus station not so much. What's up with that? 

Athens Central Metro Station
The Athens bus system is pretty neat.  Tickets, which are purchased at special kiosks, cost  1 EU or .70 for seniors -- with a 90-minute window to transfer to any another bus(es), trolleys, or the Metro. You're supposed to stamp your ticket entering the bus, but it's a trick squeezing into a bus at rush-hour  (especially with a duffel bag) -- let alone there being enough room for a conductor to go around checking tickets. Still, a crowded bus ride to central Athens was no worse than taking the NYC #1 West Side local at 5 o'clock.  So far no drastic transportation cutbacks, but general strikes do take their toll -- even though not as many people are actually going to work due to 27% unemployment.

Long-distance buses have assigned seats, and everyone, young and old, seemed surprisingly good with that.  The regional bus stations were comfortable, and the Sparti station people stored my bag while I twirled downtown during a 4.5-hour layover. No problems, no complaints -- even though some bus drivers liked to smoke or talk on cellphones while expertly navigating mountainous, hairpin turns. You get used to it like everybody else. But best to snag a window seat on the right side so you can easily see the road signs to know where you are...I was even able to catch a bus to the airport at 5 am at the senior 1/2 ticket price of 2.50 EU, saving about a 50 Euro cab fare.  Mission accomplished! 

All that makes me wonder why I really need a car in Miami with it's many buses, trolleys, Metro Mover, and Metro (also to airport). After all, I do now have my Golden Passport!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Friday Night Dinners

We spent many a memorable Friday night at Yiayia and Papou Sarris' house enjoying dinner they had prepared for us and often also for the Demas Family, cousins on my Papou's side.  Uncle Nick's mother Sophia Demakopoulos was my Papou's sister. She and her husband Bill had owned the Palace Candy Store & Restaurant on Main Street with Papou as the chef.

The cornerstone Friday night attraction was Papou's Clam Chowder, Manhattan-style.* Fish -- baked or broiled, catfish or halibut, occasionally cuttlefish (ink fish) -- was also central to the menu as we were not supposed to eat meat on Fridays. My aunt Liberty remembers a white Alfredo-like sauce Papou sometimes whipped up for the fish, which he must have perfected at the Palace. Specialties included horta, fried artichokes, and vegetables & potatoes baked in the oven with tomato sauce (and, if Yiayia was able to snagged some, those long, thin string beans from Gus Terezakis' garden).   Everything was super delicious, of course, and, per the photo, there was also some assigned seating. Yiayia and Papou had their places, and my Dad Steve had his. The rest of us filled in the blanks...

But the main idea was to get together as a family and share a meal/evening at the end of the  school/work week -- even though it might not have been the end of the work week for the owners of the S&G Supermarket or a prominent gynecologist.

Jewish Shabbat (something like the Sabbath celebrated on Sunday by Christians) begins at sundown on Friday and lasts 24 hours -- signaling the end of the week and time for spiritual preparation for the next week though prayer, personal reflection and rest.  "The Sabbath" (1951), by Abraham Joshua Heschel, gives beautiful understanding to the search for "inner liberty."

A compelling part of that book is the Introduction added in 2005 by Heschel's daughter, Susannah. She talks about her father's teachings and describes the family's Shabbat preparations and activities -- including the Friday night dinners ("usually quiet, slow and relaxed"). The menu was always the same: challah (bread), chicken soup, roast cornish hen, salad, vegetables, and apple. It was a memorable time for the family and occasional guests to be together for a special meal.

The focus on those Friday nights on New York City's Upper West Side may have been more religious than what transpired on Alpine Street in Stockton, since it was not a holy day per se for us.  But in my mind, there is a striking similarity...except, perhaps, for the quiet part. 

*The recipe for Papou's Clam Chowder can be found on p. 50 of the St. Basil's Greek Orthodox Church "International Cookbook."