Wide Awake in Wonderland

We’re only dancing on this earth for a short while

Special special needs December 4, 2008

handicappedI was musing to myself that it would be nice to have a little income stream during this intermediary period. Rest assured, I have some (I think) good ideas in me noggin, and I’m getting some irons in the fire, so things should start to shape up and some cash rolling in by spring. However, seeing as I left my job rather than wait to be laid off (which I now very much wonder if I might have been. I don’t know how much demand there would’ve been for our boutique banking consulting services), I’m not eligible for unemployment.


Then it occurred me to me: I’ve been paying into the system for a good, long time. Maybe a little disability wouldn’t be too much to ask for? Admittedly (and happily), I’m healthy and (I think) mentally stable, but I do have a few unique flaws that I believe should be taken into consideration by the fine folks at the disability claims area:

Stove Dyslexia – This is the kind of thing that destroys families. I cannot turn on the burner I intended to turn on, and it is not my fault. This disorder has caused me considerable pain and trauma: Meals have been late, caffeine fixes unnecessarily delayed, several dish towels have burn marks on them, and I have even suffered the unspeakable – yes, I have lost arm hair. The smell torments my dreams to this day.


Irritable Howl Syndrome (IHS) – my dog has innovated this horrific banshee scream cum wolf howl noise that he’s very proud of. He will go out onto the back porch and let out this blood curdling sound until I go and drag him inside by the the collar. Nine times out of ten, he runs downstairs, goes out his dog door, and resumes again within two minutes. It drives me crazy, and if crazy isn’t grounds for disability payments, I don’t know what is.


Verification Word Blindness – For some reason Yahoo thinks I’m a spammer, and it constantly makes me type in the secret word it generates to confirm I’m a real human being. And I can never get the word right. Never. I have been known to try and fail five, six, seven times…until I finally have to call someone else in to help me. This is as embarrassing as it is emotionally crippling, and leads me to fear I may be a robot or android and no one has let me in on this yet.


Obsessive Compulsive Spellcheck Disorder (OCSD) – Yes, I am the obnoxious friend who notices you wrote ‘too’ when you meant ‘to’ or that you used the wrong their/they’re/there or that you’re a bit, shall we say, apostrophe ‘s’ happy. Also, the rumors are true: The dish is broken, not broke and irregardless is illogical, and thus not actually a word.


Curlyhairophobia – I have naturally curly hair, but I am not a fan. At all. And I have invested hundreds if not thousands of dollars into lotions and potions and straighteners and other accoutrement to fight my Irish genes. Possibly also related (to the genes more than the hair), I’ve also been known to go a little berserk if I get caught in the rain in my recently straightened hair. Okay, not a little beserk. A lot beserk. This no doubt speaks to some kind of rage disorder worthy of a little income.


Chronic Fashionista Syndrome – I’m obsessed with clothes. I’m driven to read each and every page of Elle, Lucky, In Style, Latina, Essence, or whatever you’ve got in search of tips, tricks, and the latest styles. This in turn manifests as an insatiable need for new stuff, adorable stuff, sexy stuff, any stuff…so long as it’s more stuff. This disorder speaks to my inner sadness and unquenchable emptiness, as well as a desire to look cute.


Cash deficit disorder (CDD) – See Above.

Syphilis – I’m just kidding. I don’t have syphilis. And I hope not to. So if you have it, stop looking at me and stay on your side of the bar. That is unless it’s grounds for a monthly stipend. Then I might consider actually allowing my bare ass to touch the rim of a gas station toilet seat and seeing what Mother Nature has up her sleeve.


I’m certain by now you agree. I am more than deserving of a cash influx…stat.

 

Cause célèbre November 22, 2008

Me and Dozer over the weekend

Me and Dozer over the weekend

It’s official.

My dog, Dozer, is a celebrity, a sensation, and a canine rock star. I doubt Bono would’ve caused a bigger fuss than the Big Doh elicited today. Quite frankly, speaking as a regular non-famous and non-famous looking human being, I’ve never seen anything like this. Ever.

A million years ago I knew Weird Al Yankovic and we once went to get some ice cream before one of his shows. A few people came up and asked for his autograph, but (and no offense, Al), it was nothing like the response to my dog.

You walk him down busy city streets and people stop in their tracks, drop to their knees, and start kissing him. Actually, I find this extremely brave considering the number one rule of strange dogs (particularly huge strange dogs) is don’t invade their space unless you know it’s safe. Luckily for the crazed dog lovers stroking him, embracing him, and even sticking their lips millimeters from his mouth on every block, it’s safe.

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Last night, a group of Japanese tourists ran out into traffic, their eyes shining as they frantically dug out their cameras. This is a testament to his northern beauty, a furry siren song, as these folks were risking death or at a least a head-on collision with a bus in order to meet Dozer and have their pictures taken with him. I’m starting to think if this writing career idea doesn’t pan out, maybe I’ll just set up on the corners of popular tourist attractions like Times Square, Las Vegas Boulevard, or the Embarcadero and charge $1.00 per hug? $3.00 for photos.

Either that or take him to Hollywood and get this pretty boy an agent. I foresee a bright future selling Eukanuba or Kibbles and Bits and Bits (with more Bits!).
It worked for Benji, and he wasn’t even all that cute.

The look on his face in this picture makes me laugh

The look on his face in this picture makes me laugh

 

Catastrophe in real time: Canine road trip November 21, 2008

Sleeping in the car

Sleeping in the car

So after three weeks at home, it was time to get back out there and do some traveling. However, poor Dozer (my soft hearted Alaskan Malamute) suffers from residual mental duress caused by losing his sister and then me in a week’s time back in July. Whenever he’s given a bone or a toy since Pixie passed, he roams around with it crying and crying and crying. It distresses the hell out of me. So effectively both of us suffer.
Anyway, when an opportunity to go on a little journey arose, it didn’t seem right to leave Doh behind. So I decided to drive and take him with me. On paper (or screen), this might actually sound like a good idea.


However, truth be told, Dozer has led a pretty sheltered life, and it doesn’t take much to move his cheese. In fact, throw a coat over the back of a chair, and he’s liable to be spooked for half the day.


Moreover, and in light of some previous trips that ended with unexpected and unfortunate violent explosions out of both ends, I decided to see what gems the internet had to offer. I found a couple sites offering up road trip tips, and below you can find the condensed highlights:

A Month Before

Ummmm? What? A MONTH before? Oops.

  • Create the expectation. Even if your animal is accustomed to riding in a car to the vet or groomer, take her on some short trips to other destinations. Walk her around some new places, and let her sniff and explore at her leisure. New smells and new places are highlights in a critter’s life — almost as good as treats! These little warm-up road trips can create the expectation in your pet’s mind that a car trip will be fun — not just a ride with a rabies shot at the end.

  • Ask and ye shall receive (another picture of the beautiful boy)

    Ask and ye shall receive (another picture of the beautiful boy)

Hopefully he’s picked up some of my optimistic attitude and presumed a car trip would be fun, because there was no expectation setting beforehand. Oops #2

  • Get a first aid kit for your dog. It comes in very handy if you need to remove any ticks. The kits are usually available at a pet store, a veterinary office or on the Internet.

Oops #3. Hopefully we don’t need one these cause we don’t have one!

  • If you do not already have a dog harness for riding the car, consider purchasing one for your dog’s safety. They are usually sold at pet stores or on the Internet.

Ditto. Oops #4.

Several Days Before (hopefully morning of’ is good enough)

  • Make sure you have enough dog food for the duration of the trip. CHECK

  • If your dog is on any medication, remember to bring it along. CHECK

Road Trip Day

  • Remember to pack all of your dog’s necessities: food, water, dog dishes, leash, snacks and goodies, several favorite toys, brush, towels for dirty paws, plastic bags for cleaning up after your dog, doggie first aid kit, possibly dog booties if you are venturing to an especially cold or hot region, and bring any medicine your dog might be taking. CHECK

  • Before you head out, put on that doggie seat belt harness. Hard to do when you don’t own one. Oops #5.

  • Bring a current color photograph of your pet. If something happens you can easily show other people what your errant buddy looks like. If need be, you can easily make copies of the photo to assist in the search process. Hmmmm… Under the law of attraction this seems like a bad idea. I could get my hands on a picture if I had to. But I won’t have to.

  • Some hotels are so pet-friendly that they have treats waiting when you check in. We recommend that you not give these treats to your critters, having found from experience that it is much better for them to eat as consistent a diet as possible when they are on the road.

And in conclusion, oops #6. I’ve let him eat everything offered by friendly humans. Hopefully this does result in an explosive outcome that I have to clean!

Although I managed to mess up most of the tips, we made it here in one piece, and without much ado. By and large, I listened to motivational Tony Robbins CDs loaned to me by a friend, and Dozer slept with his face smashed up against the back window.

Meanwhile, we’re learning some new things about each other. Like that I can’t sleep through the sound of a dog whining. And that there is pretty much nothing more gross than walking around carrying a steaming bag of poop. And that he has some separation anxiety if left alone in strange places, that manifests as loud crying and howling and a concerted effort to beat down the door until I return. In hindsight, I wish I had some doggie downers or a tranquilizer gun, but I’ll make a note of that tip for next time.

Caspar the Friendly Ghost

Casper the Friendly Ghost

On the other hand, the more things change the more they stay the same: Doh remains consistent in his easily spooked and high strung ways. Walking down the street we passed a Washington Mutual branch with a large stuffed toy horse visible through the window (presumably some kind of a Christmas decoration and nice to see the government bailout funds are going to such good  use) and he went into complete and total shock and alarm. “It’s stuffed,” I told him. “It’s not real,” I continued, not at all concerned that talking aloud to a dog might be perceived as sad or even crazy by those passing by. Alas, it was for naught and he remained riveted on the vision of this giant white faux fur creature attempting to determine whether it was friend or foe and sizing up how to get inside the branch to fight it.

***sigh*** Reasoning with Dozer is like talking to a dog.

 

Love – and a little well-timed hate – will keep us together October 22, 2008

This is one goat who knows how to mug for a camera

This is one goat who knows how to mug for a camera

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of money on dog school. A LOT of money. My German Shepherd went to every class offered through the local trainer: Puppy school, intermediate classes, advanced theory and logic, you name it. We spent Saturday mornings at ‘Agility’, Tuesday nights at ‘Paw and Order’, and who can forget “Choose to Heel”? This was a class in which my disobedient mutt was allegedly going to learn to CHOOSE to heel by my side – with or without a leash. This would be achieved partly through dog-training magic and largely because I lured her on with a fistful of roast beef.

Putting a closed fist of roast beef in front of a German Shepherd (mix breed or not) is like sticking your hand into a piranha tank: STUPID. I renamed that class “Choose to Eat,” and I would drive home each time bleeding all over the steering wheel. They no longer offered ‘Choose to Heel’ by the time Dozer came around, and Pixie, God bless her, never heeled a day in her life.

And Pix was my SMART dog. A veritable genius next to the Malamute, who for all his heart and beauty is several bones short of a skeleton (a la ‘several sandwiches short of a picnic’ but more dog-esque). So despite dozens of hours, hundreds of dollars, and vast amounts of energy contributed toward training their hairy behinds, I was a little bummed to discover that mine are not as remotely well-trained as the average European hound.

Case in point: While walking down a busy Vienna street, I passed a large supermarket. Outside sat several dogs – large dogs, like Labradors and Golden Retrievers, and not tied to anything or physically restrained in any way – urgently awaiting their owner’s return. They sat there anxiously peering in every time the sliding doors would open, hoping to catch just a glimpse of their beloved human. If MY dogs were left unleashed outside a large urban grocery store? They’d be hailing the first cab, trying to make it to the county line before I got out of the produce section. Their only passing thought would be, “Holy crap, we’re free to do as we please! Let’s GO!!!!!!”

This is probably why I find the unwavering obedience of the dogs of Europe so amazing. What kind of spells are these people putting on these dogs!? What kind of Cesar Milan dog whispering mojo does everyone possess!? And it’s not just the dogs. The goats of Greece seem uniquely self-possessed. They all stay within a few yards of their appointed yogurt and honey shack or gyro shed, sans collar or rope or fence. It’s positively spell-binding in its own simple way.

Maybe it has something to do with the baffling love/hate spectacle I witnessed today?

This afternoon, I ran across what may be the ugliest cat in the whole country. If you are familiar with cat breeds, I’d describe him as a “Scottish Fold gone wrong.” I was trying to get a few photos of the spectacle, when an older woman came out with a giant pile of cat food and meat – like enough meat to make a couple decent schwarmas. She placed the plate on the floor in front of the cat, and then proceeded to beat him with a newspaper while screaming at him.

A face only a mother could love...

A face only a mother could love...

I found this pretty damn confusing, personally. Anyway, she left, and the ugly cat went and took a few nibbles off the heaping mound of food. Then he went back to where I’d first spotted him, and resumed his sour expression.

Not two minutes later, the woman came back out, yelled what I can only presume are Greek expletives at him, and yet again swatted at him with a newspaper. She seemed to be swatting him toward the food, but who really knows what the hell was happening here??? She carried on like this for a minute, then started down the street, threw the newspaper in a trash bin, and turned a corner.

The cat turned and made eye contact with me, and I could almost swear he shrugged his shoulders. “She hates me,” his look seemed to say, ‘but I’m ugly as sin, and still I find myself the best-fed cat in Greece.” It is indeed a crazy world.

In other news, I can officially confirm that the mosquitos of Kos, Greece do NOT carry malaria. Because if they did, I’d be in the local hospital. I’ve been on Kos three nights, and it’s pretty much been a bloodletting around here. I’ve got no less than 20 bites per limb, a giant bite on my cheek, and a full-blown ‘mosquito sound’ neurosis well underway. Thank god I spent so much time in the Egyptian section of the Athenian archaeological museum. I applied several of the mummification techniques in order to wrap myself in my bed sheet last night in vain hope of keeping the whining mosquitoes at bay. I even wrapped my head, which is not a particularly comfortable way to sleep.

Communing with goats

Communing with goats

But I think in the end it was worth it. I’m not sure how to prove it, but I’m fairly confident that I’m at least one quart of blood richer for my efforts, and that can only be a good thing as I draw ever closer to the big race on Sunday. More blood = less chance of dropping dead during a Turkish half-marathon. Right??????

 

Tourist killed by angry mob of peacocks. October 21, 2008

Trying to look nonchalent despite the growing crowd behind me

Trying to look nonchalent despite the growing crowd behind me

This is the headline I envisioned as no less than 50 of them inched closer and closer and closer to me at the ‘Hidden Forest’ in Plaka here on Kos island. For such a pretty bird, they have mean faces. Menacing. And did that one just give me the evil eye? Lest you think a bird is a bird is a bird, follow me in this logic: Parakeets, and finches have cute faces. Owls look smart. And vultures? Enough said.

Anyway, on paper it sounded really cool, if not a wee bit complicated. Go about 30 kilometers out of town, just past the airport and shortly after the road bends to the left, take a right by the small blue and white church (they’re ALL small blue and white churches, but that’s just details), follow the road, cross the bridge and you’re there. A magical forest in the middle of the island.

At first, I sat on an empty bench near a couple with a German Shepherd puppy. A happy, exuberant little four-month old puppy that kept tearing after the peacocks like they were littermates, sending the birds – terrified – up into the trees. Then she would run over to me, and jump up waiting to be praised while her owners called for her by a name she was too young to recognize as her own. I wasn’t able to explain in Greek that I LOVED the attention from their dog and she was no bother whatsoever, so soon they put her on a leash, and walked away.

The cats know who's in charge at the Secret Forest

The cats know who's in charge at the Secret Forest

Shortly thereafter a female peacock (peahen? Is that right?) arrived to fill the lonely space left by the puppy. And then another and another and another, until there was no loneliness, but a fair amount of anxiety. Why are they getting so CLOSE? Is this normal?

A picnic table opened up, and I moved over there…and all the birds came. And it started to seem like a scene from an M. Night Shamalyan movie. And those so rarely end well.

It was at this point that a car full of Australians pulled up, and for a good long while they had to settle for pictures of the birds with me in the midst. One of the guy commented that it was “very Jurassic park”. Another series of movies that don’t always end so well.

I guess I felt nervous because I don’t really know anything about peacocks. I don’t know how to read their body language, and I don’t know if they’re dangerous or placid or bite or peck or get an inch from your ear and let out a shrill call just to see if you’ll drop dead. And I suppose all these ideas got in my head when it became clear that the three resident cats were afraid of the peacocks. This didn’t require anthropomorphizing on my part: The cats would try to slink by the peacocks, the peacocks would notice, get pissed, and start lunging, and the cats would run 15 up a tree to get away from them.

Your own private beach oasis in Ag. Stefanos

Your own private beach oasis on Ag. Stefanos

If you’d asked me yesterday: Peacock versus island cat, my money would have been on the cat. No questions asked. Thus, watching a lone female peacock threaten a cat…and the cat back down was a little intimidating to me. Vanessa versus peacock? I say put your money on me. Vanessa versus 50 peacocks plus however many are still in the trees waiting to swoop down and peck out my eyes? Well, let’s just say it might end up being a closed-coffin funeral. To paraphrase Julius Caesar: I came, I saw, I cowered.  And when a big one jumped up onto the picnic bench next to me, I left!

In other news, it’s only been about 48 hours, but my stomach is revolting against the buffets. I don’t know if it’s the quality or the repetition, but either way, I’ve spent some time on the gastrointestinal equivalent of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. At the same time, not only does the buffet menu repeat regularly, so does the music. Every day it’s the exact same rotation of 20 songs. Its kind of like the movie Groundhog Day. Hey, wasn’t I eating greasy pork and listening to Endless Love last night? WAS that last night? What day is this!? Wasn’t Tom Jones Delilah playing the last time I had oily chocolate cake with clove-flavored ‘Coca Cold’? However, I will admit that I enjoy that part of “Let’s Dance” where she transitions from a slow ballad about “last chance for romance” into the thumping disco groove. Almost makes you want to get up, dance to the keg, and pour yourself another glass of carbonated red wine. Opa!

Ag. Stefanos beach on Kos, Greece

Ag. Stefanos beach on Kos, Greece

 

Behold the inadvertent Pied Piper of Naxos October 16, 2008

Somewhere over Naxos tonight, there is a “bat light” summoning the island’s cats to Sunday Studios in Agia Anna.

I don’t know how they found me out, but they recognize a sympathetic cat loving soul when they smell one. I got home from a VERY long journey to and from town today (7km each way, as it turns out), and was changing out of my ridiculously warm pants when a cat opened the door and sauntered inside. Oh yes. These are no ordinary cats. The Naxos cats can open your door and/or bleed out your jugular before the word ‘go.’

As for my calico visitor, moments later, she was followed by five others, one only three or four months old. And they all proceeded to love upon my feet and calves in a manner that can only be described as obscene.

I didn’t have much by way of food, so I resisted feeding them. And that’s when they brought out the big guns, the deadly weapons – the kittens. Kittens so young their eyes are still blue. I’m not even sure how they made it up the stairs. Probably one of the other cats carried them? I had some milk, and cow milk isn’t actually good for cats…but they like it, so why not? You only live once. And apparently, in the case of the cats of Naxos, you not only live once, you probably don’t live long.

Wherever I go on the island cats come up by the handful meowing and rubbing on my legs, and it doesn’t take much to notice that they all have upper respiratory infections. Some of them have it quite badly, a terrible weeping from their eyes and nose. At one point in my life I had nine cats (simultaneously) and they all got sick like this. In their case, they were all given medicine (which makes it sound so simple. One of them, a calico named Wingnut BIT THROUGH MY THUMB NAIL when I gave here her medicine, but that’s another story for another time) and they all recovered. However, Alexandra, the owner of the place I’m staying, tells me that every winter for the last three years, the cats have died a terrible death.

As it gets colder, their eyes get worse and worse. And then, within a week’s time, they lose all their weight and cannot move. And they lay around on the driveways and sidewalks and streets of Naxos mewing and dying, so weak they cannot get up. “They suffer,” she said, “You can tell that they suffer.” She said that if they have 20 cats in the fall, by the next year there are only two or three.

We were watching this funny little baby kitten stalk one of the older cats when she informed me that the tiny ones are sure to die. After I calculated the odds of getting a cat out of Greece, into Turkey, and through customs in the United States – ZERO – plus the fact that even the babies claw the crap out of you if you pick them up, I decided to make a more rational contribution. This is I bought them the largest bag of cat food at the store today – probably brought in at the start of the season waiting for just the right sucker to arrive.

As for this pandemic, Alexandra tells me she’s talked to vets and they say nothing can be done – there’s no medicine. And in a twisted way, I suppose it’s nature’s horrible way of controlling the population. I guess the only upside is that I didn’t come so late in the year to witness the cat plague in full form. For now, they’re cheerful and friendly and I’ve done what I can to make their last month one big binge. Bon Appetit, kids!

Meanwhile, and totally unrelated, can anyone explain the curtain-less shower to me? How is this supposed to work? How is everyone else managing not to get soap and shampoo and water everywhere? Once I’m done, it looks like someone took a hose to the room. As a solution I’ve taken to sitting in the little tiny basin on the floor, crouched up against the corner, and only turning on the flow when absolutely necessary. And let me tell you, this sucks.

The first time I encountered the configuration was at my place in Croatia, and I thought it was a mistake – like they forgot to install the curtain or had the glass encasement on back order or maybe just figured they’d get around to it next season. This situation was particularly tense because they didn’t provide any towels or floor mats, and I’ve got one travel towel and no consistent means to do laundry, so I’m not about to mop up somebody’s filthy floor with the same thing I use on my hair. Thus, I had to leave all the water all over the place and remember to walk carefully when going in there at night.

Now I know there are worse things out there, but that’s why I don’t put myself in the $6.00 a night Portuguese hostel where the shower and the toilet are the same thing (meaning hole in the ground, and the shower spigot is directly above.) I believe they call this a ‘Turkish toilet’ and I hope to hell I never have to use one, at least for showering. Imagine if you SLIPPED!?!? (***cringe***) And I’m not saying the lack of shower curtain situation is uncivilized…just wet. And baffling. And probably unnecessary. I mean, give me $5 and access to a Dollar Store, and I’m confident I could rig up something pretty efficient.

Meanwhile, I am using Alexandra’s laptop to write this, and she and her father are having a very heated ‘discussion’ (screaming fight???) behind me. It brings to mind the two guys on the train from Ljubljana to Vienna, and I’m wondering if typical run-of-the-mill Greek conversation comes across like verbal warfare or if they just fight a lot or ??? Regardless, I’m feeling a little awkward here in their living room, so I will cut this off and catch up with you all tomorrow!

 

We’re not cooking with gas October 15, 2008

Greetings from Naxos, Greece, the largest island in the Cyclades. There are dozens of Greek Islands, but the Cyclades chain is probably the most famous due to its proximity to Athens (six to ten hours by ferry), and the fact that it’s the chain that includes the two islands with the highest name recognition – Santorini and Mykonos.

As for Naxos, the ancient Greeks believed that Dionysus (aka Bacchus) – the god of wine and revelry – came from here, and there are still some ancient Greek ruins scattered along the coastline, including a pretty amazing arch right by where the ferry comes in. The middle of the island is filled with olive trees and vineyards, and I booked a little room with an ocean view which ended up being a rather large two-bedroom, four bed suite with no chance of seeing the ocean whatsoever. I hate to be judgmental, but the claims of an ocean view have been irrevocably exposed as a balls-out lie. Nonetheless, it’s spacious, so if any of you are in the neighborhood, come on by!. Although the view is blocked by the hotel in front of it, the room is just 50 meters from the beach…and a mere 5 kilometers from civilization.

Unlike Santorini, which is very tourist-focused and has several decent-sized ‘towns’ spread quite a bit apart, Naxos consists of many independent, tiny villages a few kilometers from one another. In Santorini, you are very isolated from the rest of island (25 minutes by car, an hour by 4-wheeler) and the routes are quite mountainous and not walkable. However, when you’re in your little town (Perissa, in my case) the area is heavily laden with grocery stores, restaurants, souvenir shops, and bars, Granted, 75% of them are closed in October, but there’s still a fair offering. Every building that isn’t a hotel is set up to sell something to the people staying in them, and whatever you need (within reason) can be found.

I think one of the things that perhaps made me a little overconfident about what I might find in Naxos is that Perissa (on Santorini), had not one, but two 24-hour bakeries. I don’t know how the local baker got swindled into this deal, but it seems unfair. They’re already making their product, do they really need to available at any time to sell it?

Meanwhile, on my birthday I took a late night walk in the moonlight. I decided to go by the bakery I came to prefer for its lower prices and friendly owner and see if he really was open and if he had any spanikopita. He had been there the last two times I’d gone by, so I was surprised – if not a little dismayed – to see him dozing in a chair at 11:30pm. Remember those “Time to make the donuts” ads for (Dunkin Donuts? Well, on Santorini it’s ALWAYS time to make the donuts.

In contrast, when i got to Ag Anna here in Naxos, I was informed that there are no longer any restaurants open this time of year…and the one mini-market would be closing in ten minutes (at 7pm). I rushed over there, and was immediately flummoxed. It was extremely small. And the cabbie who had charged me an arm and a leg for the ride to my studio was running the cash register. At first I thought I was hallucinating or maybe he was a twin or something, but after I stared at him for about five seconds in disbelief, he threw up his hands and gave me a sheepish smile as if to say, “Busted!”

It was like a scene from an Adam Sandler movie: You’re on a small island and everywhere you go, the same guy is working there, waiting to overcharge you. The same guy played (poorly) by Rob Schneider. Unrelated, there was a Rob Schneider doppleganger working at the hotel in Santorini. i considered pointing the uncanny resemblance out to him, but didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

As for the market, I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised by anything anymore, but this place hit a new low. Among the limited offerings and vast empty shelf space, one could find potatoes with very healthy looking 3′ sprouts (at 1 euro a pound, a virtual steal!), oranges from 1981, a variety of cheeses that expired in August, and a package of hotdogs with no expiration date, but an usual white hue along one side. In the mini-market’s defense, they did have piles and piles of canned dolmathakia (dolmas) – rice wrapped in grape leaves (as well as a variation in cabbage leaves), but unfortunately for me, I don’t like those.

As with the markets in Santorini, the place was desperately in need of restocking. The freezer had two gigantic restaurant supply-sized bags of peas and an entire octopus. You probably think I’m exaggerating, but this was no squid. The arms alone were the size of specimens more commonly seen at an aquarium. However, between the dog food and the dish soap I did find a package of linguine and a jar of Barilla spaghetti sauce. In need of protein, I threw caution to the wind ad bought a tin of meatballs. I know, I know. Normally I would be having the same reaction, but I’d already stared down an entire octopus, so I was feeling unusually bold.

Besides, I didn’t really eat much of anything today (mistakenly thinking I could get a nice dinner once I got here), and I’m hoping that they taste like Chef Boyardee ravioli or something in that ballpark. I don’t know that I’ve ever in my life WISHED for food to taste like Chef Boyardee, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

I hauled my wares back to my studio, and surveyed the scene. Somehow I hadn’t registered that one of the two kitchen hotplates was no bigger than the palm of my hand. If I had, I might not have gone with a meal plan that involved boiling water, because as it turns out, that was the only burner that worked. They’re electric and the light to tell you they’re on isn’t working, but I cranked them both up to to “3” (the max) and waited. After about five minutes, I came back and threw a little water on each of them. The larger burner didn’t react. The mini burner sizzled a little. Emphasis on the word ‘little.’

Long story short, I couldn’t really get anything warmer than tepid water out of the tap (something I will be discussing with the owner, as my shower was the same temperature), but I put a pot on the tiny burner, put a lid on it, and waited. And waited. And waited. And when the water finally got to a ‘pre-simmer’ (the most it appeared it would ever be able to achieve), I put the noodles in and waited, and waited, and waited.

In the end, they were crunchier than I might normally prefer, but they softened enough to be edible. In the same vein, the meatballs were bearable, and the tomato sauce they were in was better than the Barilla. The balls themselves were fairly standard, except for the unexpected yet unmistakable flavor of mint. It was an aftertaste, but mint is one of those things that’s so strong that even a little bit can be overwhelming. The effect was like a meatball with a smear of toothpaste on it.

Thankfully, the water here is not nearly so funky as Santorini, because one of the many things not offered by the Ag Anna mini-market was bottled water. For your drinking enjoyment, they carry a wide array of hard liquor, wines, and some orange Fanta. If you’re not in the market for booze, hopefully you’re looking for a sugar high and some orange dye.

Anyway, I realized I was thirsty about 10 minutes after I got back to my room…and 15 minutes after the market had closed. After making my linguine, I found a little tiny pot (probably meant for heating milk) and the same size as the little burner and boiled up some water. Well, I didn’t BOIL it, that’s not possible under the circumstances, but you get the idea. It’s my personal theory that if you’re going to drink something bad, may as well drink it through a veil of Earl Gray tea. Thankfully the tea tasted more or less normal, and a later sampling of the unadulterated tap water found it drinkable.

Food acquisition troubles aside, the Greek islands are incredibly beautiful – chalky white buildings along jagged coastlines, delicate olive trees, and endless blue water. I took the most gorgeous ‘sunset on the water’ photo today as the ferry was arriving in Naxos. Moreover, if you’re the kind that tends to wander on foot (like me) you will come upon hidden little spots with natural panoramas that are jaw-dropping perfection. Like something out of a calendar.

Otherwise, and to be honest, I am way out in the sticks. I thought I was in the sticks in Croatia, but I think I’ve topped myself here. For example, I have never actually seen a horse give birth, but if I had to wager a guess on the noise coming from outside my room right now, that would be my first guess. Seriously though, it’s kind of alarming, something akin to a child bawling mixed with a donkey noise, although it does help distract from the half-dozen roosters braying.

It probably goes without saying, but if you find yourself on Naxos and decide to drop by and crash on one of my unused beds, follow the sound of the distressed mule. I’m right next door. And if I’m already asleep, feel free to help yourself to some of the leftover peppermint meatballs in the fridge.

(And just so you aren’t feeliing too terribly sad for me, I will add that I ended up walking to Naxos Town this morning – which took over two hours. I didn’t mind. I could walk all day so long as it’s warmish and the sun is shining. Plus, I think it would have taken more like an hour if I hadn’t stopped on this one beach and also taken a bunch of picures on the way. And played with some cats. By the way: DO NOT PICK UP GREEK CATS NO MATTER HOW FRIENDLY THEY SEEM!!! They go from friendly feline to whirling dervish of claws, fur, and maybe even a couple switchblades in 0.3 seconds.

Anyway, I am currently savoring a lovely lunch rich with local feta and heavenly tzatziki and calamari and Greek salad AND it turns out they have free wifi, so I can post the blog! All’s well that ends well…)