My sister-in-law was in Athens when I met my wife. Not when I met my wife as in, "I met her for lunch" or something. Rather, as in "when I met her for the first time", so she wouldn't then have actually been my wife just yet. That bit came later. You get the general idea.
Of course, I had no idea at the time, but when I met my wife Greece was under the rule of the Military Junta, which ran from 1967 until 1974. Things here were a bit edgy. Of course, I was a young impressionable hippie-in-the-making and had no idea about such things. All I knew was that there was this mysterious older sister whom I may one day meet, but when that day would come and what it might hold - I had no inkling. Apart, that is, from the dread that were the big sister to come home then my place in the life of my new girlfriend might face a serious threat, since the two girls, despite there being a five year age gap between them, had been quite the girls about town together before big sis had left for Greece.
Christine is my Kounia'da, meaning my wife's sister, as opposed to my brother's wife, who'd be my ni'fi. See now, you get the idea in cases like this just how tricky Greek can be. In English my wife's sister and my brother's wife are both my sisters-in-law. In Greek there's a distinction. It's further complicated by the fact that the word "nifi" also means "bride". But, ah ha, oh no, wait a minute, a man's daughter-in-law can also be his "nifi", which in English would make him sound like a bigamist. And by the way, while I'm on the subject, I don't have a brother.
Right. That all sorted? Good. So, I first met my wife in October 1971, when she was sweet sixteen and may have been kissed once or twice. I didn't want to ask. We'd been "going out" for a while before she told me that she had a sister. I'd met the two younger brothers, but it came as a bit of a shock when the news came out that there was this mysterious sister who lived in Athens and whom I had yet to meet. Since she was five years older than my new girlfriend, that made her also about four years older than me. Once she entered the scene I was soon appraised of the fact that, despite the relative youth of my significant other, she'd been on the nightclub scene with her sister for a while owing to the fact that she stood five eight, which meant she could get away with looking older. These days, of course, she gets away with looking a lot younger. In fact, it won't be long before people start thinking I'm out and about with my daughter, either that or I'm a cradle-snatcher.
We'd been an item for probably eighteen months when she broke the news to me that big sis was coming home. Her plans to stay in Greece had been shattered by the fact that the bloke she'd been engaged to marry, a certain Stefanos, had been two-timing her and it had broken her heart. Cheating bastard.
I'm going a long way around the mulberry bush, nay the houses too, to get to the fact that just yesterday my wife said, as we were gazing at a fruit bowl which was groaning under the sheer weight of a hundred oranges,
"Christine always used to say that when it comes to fruit the Greeks never do things by halves." Each season has its fruit and, during that season, there's that much of it that you start feeling like it's coming out of your ears. Other orifices too no doubt. Let't not go there.
|Mandarins too, of course. In the UK there all these fancy names like Satsumas, Tangerines and the like. Here they're all mandarin'ia|
Some years ago we used to get our oranges free from our diminutive Bulgarian friend, Dopi. She'd supply us with plastic bags full to bursting with wonderfully juicy oranges all through the winter months. This was due to the fact that she was a live-in carer, looking after an old ya ya for a Greek family who had a business in Lindos and thus didn't have time to care for their old mum, who was slowly losing her marbles. The small cottage in which the two women lived was surrounded by a dozen orange trees, the fruit from which the woman's family would never bother to harvest. Thus, each time Dopi got into our car she'd emerge from the garden gate, vigorously "shhhhing” me and furtively dashing up and down the path with three or four bags of oranges, which she'd bid me stow in the boot pretty sharpish. It was all a bit clandestine because the woman's children, all grown up and running their business, although they never bothered wth the oranges themselves, used to threaten her if they thought she was picking the fruit.
It would sorely distress Dopi, well, us too, to see all these wonderful oranges being left to rot. So Dopi would go out and rattle the branches until the fruit dropped, then she'd gather up the fallers (seconds after they'd done so) and bag them up for us. She'd get into the car saying,
“Whenever they ask me, 'Have you been picking those oranges?' I can truthfully reply, 'no, I only gather up the fallers', tee hee.”
Sadly, a few years ago our tiny, bow-legged, sixty-something Bulgarian friend with the shock of frizzy white hair returned to her native Bulgaria and we found our primary source of ripe oranges cut off. What on earth were we to do? To actually pay for our supply of winter oranges would be a painful experience. Well, would you believe it but we became acquainted with a new family of Greeks from a village just up the road, and they have about fifty orange trees just outside the village of Massari. For the past six weeks or so, every time we see them, which is at least once a week, they're carrying plastic bags full-to-bursting with delicious navel oranges and those bags are destined for our car's boot.
So, here we are once again eating our morning muesli topped with chopped chunks of juicy, sweet oranges straight from the tree. Our fridge is stacked with small plastic water bottles whose use has now been turned over to holding freshly-squeezed orange juice and we're frequently hanging bags of oranges on our neighbours' and friends' fences and gates to share the bounty with them too. There's an identical ongoing situation with lemons as well.
It's the same in June with apricots, in the high summer months with water melons. In May you can't move for cherries and in September watch out for those peaches, because it's easy to eat so many that you might just be well advised to carry some loo roll with you if you attempt a country walk.
In the UK you can waltz along the supermarket aisle and load up your trolley with whatever fruit you want, you pay no mind to what season the fruit's supposed to be grown in. It's shipped half-way around the planet to make sure that the supermarket shopper can have his or her choice of whatever fruit or veg he or she wants - any time of the year. Here one gets into the habit of buying local. It's not only a great deal cheaper, but it's far better for the environment and the fruit and veg tastes infinitely better for having been grown just along the road.
The only slight drawback is, by the time you get to March/April, you feel like you never want to see an orange or a lemon again. You feel like you've almost turned into one or the other. It's OK though, because come November, you'll be eager to taste the first ripe oranges of the new season all over again. In our case too, it'll once more bring to my wife's mind her sister's words,
"It's all or nothing. One minute you can't find an orange anywhere. The next you're buried in them."
Of course, my Kounia'da came home, but didn't, as I had feared, displace me in the affections of my girlfriend, much to my relief. But then, you'd already worked that out hadn't you.