Monday, 6 January 2014

It Helps to Pass the Time

We ate lunch (fresh salad with lettuce plucked straight from the garden, onion tops likewise and a few grilled pittas drizzled in olive oil. To accompany that a little Californian Rosé for her and a glass of the splendid Fix Dark for me) out on the terrace at 4.00pm on Friday. We didn't intend to eat so late.

You know, in January, when the temperature are frequently in the upper teens and the day stretches out before you like an empty (queue American expression here folks, for my Transatlantic readers...) two-lane blacktop, going all the way to the horizon some indeterminable distance away, you get the irresistible urge to don the trainers, lace-em up and set out on foot under a clearing sky.

I'd checked out the forecast on the new AccuWeather app that I just downloaded on the iPad and it assured me that there would be no precipitation during the daylight hours, thus rendering it a fairly safe venture to make the walk to Gennadi, the village down the coast about 4km from here and the only place for far too many miles around that's got a Post Office. OK, so it's only a room about the size of your lounge and it's now manned (Good old 'austerity' dictating the situation yet again) by a single, slim woman with a pony tail flecked with a few strands of grey who's fighting to keep up with the flow of clients like the proverbial little boy with his finger in the dyke. Actually, that simile may not be a very good one, but it's what came to mind so it'll have to do for now. Up until a few short weeks ago there was a staff of two and occasionally three in there. When you understand the geographical area that this Post Office has to service then you'll agree that two or three's the bare minimum needed for this Post Office to serve the community ably enough.

From our front garden gate to the door of the Post office is a walk of about fifty minutes to one hour, depending on how distracted we get en route. We set out at around 12.30pm, expecting to arrive at the ELTA (Post Office) before 1.30pm, which would mean getting back home here for 2.30 to 2.45-ish. Just about the time we usually eat lunch on lazy days when there's nothing much going on.

On recent occasions we've been in there (as other posts recently have mentioned) a few times to collect our mail and it's not gone well. Owing to the much larger workload caused by the closing of the sub-post office up in the Agapitos Taverna at Asklipio, coupled with the reduction in staff levels at Gennadi, frustration is a mild way of describing our mail-collecting efforts. On several occasions when we've been in the area I've nipped into the Post Office with a view to simply collecting our mail and found a queue of perhaps eight people waiting to be served. Even though all I wanted was to ask the girl to check if there was anything for us, it would have caused a major public incident to jump the queue in order to get her to check for me, since it would involve her getting up from her chair behind the desk and disappearing behind the wall to where the former Asklipio mail is kept. I don't know what physical law applies here, but there must be one. Something like Theodorakis' Law of Extenuating Exponential Post Office queues or something. 

See, every time I now go in there, without exception, there's always a bunch of people - who I swear have cobwebs draped across them - they've been there that long - all waiting behind the person who's currently at the counter, where precisely nothing's going on. The girl who works there is usually staring expectantly at something unseen under the shelf that hides a large area of her desk from public view while the current customer leans against the desk, passbook or some pieces of paper in hand while they stare out at the hostile natives behind them with an expression of deep unease over the tension that's rapidly ratcheting up. They have the kind of expression that you'd expect to see on the visage of someone who's on safari and suddenly realised that they're surrounded by lions who've not yet taken lunch.

If I had a Euro for every time I've been in there of late to see absolutely nothing happening before an edgy queue of would-be customers I'd be knocking Rupert Murdoch off of his position in the richest person in the world list in short shrift and that's for sure.

We ought to have known better. Still, as I said above, the weather was sooo saying to us "get out there and breathe in the great outdoors" that particular morning, that we succumbed and decided that the Post Office visit would be a good idea. Having been in there, as referred to above, lots of times of late and been dismayed to see how many people were waiting to be served, I should have been better prepared. Someone told me the other day, when I was bemoaning the fact that I'd gone in there three times in one day recently and at the third visit was still greeted by the sight of the same people waiting in the queue, that if we went in at around 1.30pm, just half an hour before closing time, then the place would be gloriously empty. Thus we'd thought it a good time to attempt to pick up our mail.

It sooo wasn't on Friday morning though. I think that one of the reasons for the constant build-up of customers is the fact that a lot of foreigners who live and work here use the Post Office to send money back to their relatives at home. On every Post office counter you visit here, there's a perspex dispenser stocked with A4 NCR Western Union forms, which anyone wishing to send money overseas via the ELTA organisation must fill in. I have no beef with the people themselves, after all, they're often Albanians or Ukranians, Bulgarians or Romanians (Yep, there's definitely a song going on in there somewhere) who are a long way from home, hardworking and living in often inadequate accommodation whilst they have nice detached houses which they're inherited back in their motherland that they can't return to owing to the complete lack of both work and welfare. The problem lies with the fact that to turn up at a Post office and send money 'home' takes what feels like a month of standing at the PO counter. The forms look horrendously complicated to me. I've never actually tried to inspect one at close quarters, but just looking at them waiting in their perspex makes me break into a cold sweat.

Coming from a country where we've been banking on-line and using plastic to pays bills for decades, it still comes as a bit of a shock to be somewhere where both the locals and many of the immigrants still either have a deep distrust of handling their finances in such a manner, or simply wouldn't dream that such a thing was even possible. We still get requests from Greek friends here who want my wife and I to order them vitamins or health supplements, even buy air tickets for them, because they either don't have a credit/debit card or don't want one because it's bound to be far too complicated for them to understand. Or perhaps they just feel that it makes all their financial to-ings and fro-ings a little too easy to trace? Perish the thought.

So, there we were waiting in the Post Office last Friday for about an hour when, suddenly the log jam broke and customers actually started to filter through the counter area with visible dispatch. Of course, a little old bloke who had much more energy and "go" than one would have thought from merely glancing at him, came charging back in, having been served an hour earlier but having then spent the entire intervening time just outside the door talking with a local "papas", butted in at the counter to ask the harassed PO clerk a question.

"Sorry, sorry!!" he said to everyone in the room, "Just forgot to ask. How do I get this, that or whatever?" He seemed to be referring to something like his pension, or maybe his wife's, but he was waving a few A4 pieces of paper at the girl behind the counter as he spoke in an accent that I'm darned sure that most Greeks would have trouble understanding, not just me. The clerk said that he'd need to return another time with something he'd forgotten to bring with him this time. With those pieces of paper he wouldn't be able to draw the cash, she was afraid. He needed yet other pieces of paper before she could hand over any money. 

That was enough to make him crack. I didn't get everything he said, but the gist of it was something like: "WHAT? THEH MOU!!! ["My God!!] I give up!! Don't you realise that I live in Appolakia? That's 16 kilometres away!! Time I've driven here and back the cash will only just cover my petrol (Gas, guys). What good's THAT to me, eh? EH? Aaah Deh (no direct translation of that one) this is beyond!! I'm an old man!! probably die before I can get home and back here again to get what's mine!! You're closing in half an hour anyway and it's FRIDAY TODAY!! That's another weekend before I can come back again. It's not just up the road y'know!! PANAGI'A MOU!! This country's gone MAD, MAD!! I tell you."

The girl behind the counter simply waited until he'd burned out his rage and then once more repeated the position. Nothing she could do. Not her fault and she was right, sadly for the old palika'ri. The man had been shouting so loud that the rest of us were thinking "bring back sonic booms" when my wife turned to me with a smile on her face and whispered, "This is more like it! This is the Greece I know and love!" Then, to my response that it was truly hard for the old codger, she said, "Well, it helps to pass the time. It WAS getting boring in here after all."

The disappointed old bloke eventually left, muttering to his God loudly as he did so, and the clerk returned to staring at something (probably some machine that needed to whirrr and click a few more times before she could shove a piece of paper into it for it to print something on it) whilst her current customer returned to leaning on the counter, various pieces of paper in her hands too.

By now I'd quite forgotten why we came in here anyway. My wife replied when I asked her that we were enquiring whether we could rent one of the little blue  mailboxes, paying the first water bill we'd received in over a year (which amounted to the grand sum of €35) and checking if any mail had come for us. Well, not just us, our neighbours up the hill and our other neighbours over the hill (though not so far away) too.

After over an hour we eventually and almost unbelievably reached the counter ourselves, but not before having agonised over whether to let the little old ya ya who'd come in well after us jump the queue out of respect for the elderly. She was dressed rather unsurprisingly all in black, and that included the scarf that was wrapped around her head and tied under her chin. No one else had ventured to suggest that she be allowed to go first, so we followed suit in the end. I couldn't help noticing that her feet were shod in an old pair of backless slippers. It was quite evident that she lived her entire life in those slippers, indoors and out. I'd been studying the remnants of their soles as I'd sat behind her for a while and she'd crossed her ankles under the seat so that the soles faced my way. What an interesting variety of small and not so small objects there were stuck to them. My wife commented how horrified she was that someone would wear her slippers to go down the Post Office. I replied that she should know, after all, a lot of these old folk live in houses with concrete floors inside, the cleanliness of which is hardly discernible from that of the yard outside anyway.

After we'd finally spoken to the clerk, paid our water bill and been told that it was too early to know whether any of the mailboxes were becoming available, she rose and went around the corner behind the wall with a small piece of paper on which I scrawled the various names she'd need to look for. When she re-emerged carrying a stack of parcels and boxes that almost hid her head from view we knew were were stuffed. There was no way we'd be able to walk back with all this lot. Some of it would have to stay while I called the neighbours from over the hill on the mobile phone and told them they'd have to get in the car and high tail it down here, since all the boxes were theirs. They had about twenty minutes before she closed the doors for the weekend. She was staying open an extra half an hour out of pity for the customers who were fast making a hobby out of standing around in here for something to do.

So, after finally exiting the tiny Post Office and setting out for home, we were not only extremely tired after all that waiting around and staring at our own feet, but we were also starving and thirsty, our schedule now having gone to pot. When we eventually got in through the garden gate my stomach was thinking that my throat had been cut and my bladder was making a bid to get into the Guinness Book of Records under "Largest distended bladder without bursting" or some such category.

So, that's the story of why we came to be eating lunch at 4.00pm. Still, it had been a nice day for a walk and it was still easily warm enough to be sitting outside in a t-shirt on January 3rd. Plus, on the way home we'd passed these nice little fellas, all tethered beside the lane and waiting for someone to come past so they could get a scratch or a smooth...

Actually, looking at these little chaps I was struck with a brilliant idea as to how Greece can reduce all its mountains of paperwork. Catch my drift?

Come on, you can't be that slow. Won't goats eat just about anything?

No comments:

Post a Comment