Methoni — The Overlooked Upper Road (Πάνω Δρόμος)

Methoni, the town where I grew up, has grown into a primo vacay destination. So much so, that I’ve overlooked some pics I took of places because, frankly, there were just too many to choose from.

Take the above, for example. Zoom on in and you’ll see a cute menu catered for tourists. It’s mostly a local winter or low- and off-season staple. Then again, off-season is the time to go. Even pre-season of May-June is great. My favourite time is post-season of mid-September to early November, where you can enjoy all the amenities at bargain prices and temperate weather (as opposedto the 52-degree Celsius feel of Juky and August. The water will have few swimmers and you’ll be sure to eat without a reservation. Even though most restaurants are closed in the winter, pre- and post-season finds almost all of them open. And you’ll be treated like a king.

Although he deserves a separate article, and will get one soon, Andreas runs a great place. The owner of an organic olive orchard, Andreas Diles has the liveliest place away from the beach. In the evening, the main Methoni street, made of mostly cobblestone, is closed to traffic. Mind you, there are only two streets long enough to traverse the whole town. This is the “upper” street where the “market” is. In relaxing wooden chairs and old-school tables, Andreas and his wife, introduced as a chef from Poland, offer sumptuous nouveau-Greek cuisine. Or is it fusion. You have the old favourites your Greek grandm used to make but with an Eastern European twist. I never knew how many different versions and name ratatouille really had. When asked if this was ratatouille, Andreas says “I can’t say if is, since our version is a lot better”. It’s this proud spirit and Andreas’s constant interaction with the tourists taht makes this an unbelievable dining experience.

With its colourful non-matching chairs, “το καφέ της Φιλιως” or Filio’s Cafe, is a hit with the locals. A traditional coffee shop in the morning (above), quiet WiFi and contemplation spot in the afternoon (although the owner will try to outdo herself to make sure you’re continuously comfortable), and bar at night, there’s always something going on here. This is a surprising hotspot to meet people.

There you go. And not a beach in sight. It’s about a 10-minute leisurely walk away.

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My First Few Hours in Jamaica, Queens

I got out of the metro that faced the Jamaica Hospital with homeless people on the benches in front of the metro exit. They looked at me curiously. I looked like a tourist. I crossed the Van Wyck expressway and made mynway into the small hotel.

The cute Indian girl at reception had a bit of an accent, between Brooklyn and Jersey, that was hard to classify. The whole staff were Indian. They were very polite. I was there early. It was only 11.30 and check in was at 2. The polite girl at reception managed to find me a room that had already been cleaned.

“Please make sure it’s clean and smoke-free, ” I said.

She told a younger guy to stay at reception and came down to see the room with me. Itbwas very clean. Everything worked fine.

“You’ve seen your share of crappy rooms, ” she half-asked. She was smiling. “It’s in the basement, but it’s fine.”

I agreed. I thanked her.

“By the way, it’s Friday. I just wanted to invite you to a party tonight. Here’s a coupon. Just mention my name,” she said, unbuttoning 2 buttons of her hotel shirt. It was the way it worked. It was a trap for people they thought would waste money.

“Do I look that desperate?” I asked.

She looked at me, surprised.

“Look, Rani,” I said, looking at her still-intact name tag, “I don’t waste money on things I can get for free. Can I get you for free?”

“Ok. It’s just a party,” Rani said. She buttoned up, smiled, and tried to look kempt. She looked like she’d just had sex. She probably felt worse.

“Thank you, Rani,” I said. I figured pretending nothing happened was good for my staybat the hotel. She smiled and felt better after I became ‘normal’ in my demeanour again. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I think I may show up.” This made her happy and she exited the room.

———————

I wanted to fill the small fridge with a bit of food, like Greek yoghurt and such. The new Indian girl at reception pointed me to the direction of the big supermarket. I walked a big block and still no sign of it. I saw a guy lening against the wall eating the last of his sub.

“Where’s the big market, man?” I asked him.

“Name’s Reginald. It’s another street down. ”

“Thanks, Reginald.”

“Hold up,” Reginald said as he approached me and gulped the last of his submarine sandwich. “You into black pussy? I know you’re a white guy, but some of you are secretly into that. ”

“I don’t discriminate on pussy,” I said.

“Here’s a ticket to a party,” he said.

I showed Reginald the ticket Rani had given me.

“Oh man. That’s a whole different thing,” Reginald said, laughing.

“Tell me, Reginald, what are these parties?”

“The one the hotel girl gave you is a place to buy bitches drinks and then maybe eventually bang one,” he said. “The one I gave you is an underground place. Lots of legit bitches who like white guys like you.”

“Reg, I’ll take your fucking deal. Just tell me it’ll be cool.”

Reg smiled. “You and a few other white guys will be there.”

“It’s too much trouble for me, man,” I said.

“Cool. But I’ll get you what I promised. Is 100 reasonable?”

“Yes,” I said. You need to be careful in these situations.

We walked to the market and he introduced me to Lola, newly arrived from Ghana. He looked at my indecisive manner.

“Forget about tonight, man. Get to know Lola better.”

Reginald left and Lola and I went shopping at the grocery store for later. She was a very attractive woman. About 22 or so. She spoke English and Portuguese.

Lola insisted on carrying the grocery bag for the 10-minute walk back to the hotel.

Pittsburgh Scenes and General Observations 

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is one of those unobtrusive, benign cities,  known more for its sports teams than anything else. On a couple of layovers there,  I realized that it was a smaller version of most cities in the rust belt. 

It has a cute skyline and some cool neighbourhoods. It is not somewhat bohemian place if you stick to certain areas near the middle of the city. 

Then you’ve got beautiful old neighbourhoods. Sometimes you’re in the middle of an adorable time warp. But you need to be careful of the ‘hood on the next left turn. 

This is a quaint cafe next to a slum. 

This is one of my favourite pics. It reminds me of a poor man’s San Francisco. 

Yes, those are slums. 

This is a very nice place to walk around in the day. 

This is a Trump voter, apparently fearing for her safety. She may also be frustrated with her family’s economic state. So much for the Steel City. 

Let’s not forget. Pittsburgh is a great sports city. 

Love the funky bridge. 

This looks like Albany’s industrial doomsday chic. 

Here’s a girl getting ready for Sunday afternoon football.

And here’s one on the lookout. Tattoos courtesy of Pittsburgh Tattoo Studio, as per the young pretty lady. 

Cuba— A Double Espresso at 4 PM

It was low season. Pre-hurricane. Labour day. It was a siesta afternoon. My girlfriend was sleeping and the extra pizza slices I’d eaten wouldn’t let me do the same. The bar was barren as the 2 Irish blokes I’d met were on their way to their rooms to sleep off the extra cervezas. I guess I was better off than they were. 

I ordered my double espresso. Vladimir took good care of me. I had paid him $20 upon the first day of arrival.  I read Bukowski and listened to the Gipsy Kings. Vlad had it really loud. 

“Did you go on the half-day excursion?”

“Yes,” I said. It had been appalling. 

Vlad looked away. He didn’t want to comment. “Did you know the Gipsy Kings are from Cuba?”

“No,” I said.

Vlad loved Cuba. You can see it in his eyes as he spoke to me of the anti-capitalist posters along the rural highway. 

He believed in the above, for it had been done. Che and Fidel had fought against the imperialists and won. “Again and again, ” he would often say. Vlad knew I was safe for him to express his views to. 

The trip was just a bad propaganda exercise. I couldn’t define what to call the group conducting  this other than rebels working with anti-Castro sympathizers on the outside. Don’t let my fancy terms fool you. This was no revolution or crime. It was just someone in charge of an excursion taking you to places to feel pity for the locals. And only later do you realize that almost everyone in it was a pseudo-thespian.  

“This is the beach for the locals,” the guide would say of a prickly pebble beach. Then one of the thespians, apparently with his wife and 2 kids, his feet in pain from the protruding rocks, said “this is where WE are allowed to swim.”

Then there was the farm with all the dangerous animals. I distinctly remember the humongous snake being put around my shoulder and then my neck, among other frightful animal shenanigans. I thanked Jose, the farmer. The guide said $5 for Jose would be worth $100 for us. I was shamed into handing it over. I didn’t doubt the truth of the statement. I just couldn’t bear the thought of the system falling apart because of such unethical activities. 

The last stop was Moron, the closest city to the resort. We were taken to the squalor and dirt of the city.  There was supposed to be a museum visit we “had no time for”. Squalor and propaganda were not part of the itinerary. I was getting irritated with Gustavo’s, the guide’s, fake smile. I couldn’t look him in the face anymore. 

He never took us to this part of town. 

In comparison,  this is good old Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

Gimme the slums of Moron. Not because they look better, they look worse, but because I feel safer. Much safer. Poverty doesn’t define danger here. And the whole trip was a nadir-zenith example of socialism, not Marxism. 

The lady in the room next to ours stopped us to tell us about the trip. She was crying. Real tears rolling down her cheeks as if she had seen a family member die. What utter ignorance,  I thought. I tried to incorporate  the thespian and propaganda angles, but she just looked at me funny. Poor ignorant woman. 

Vlad sent me to Francisco (Frank) to buy my Habaneros. Frank worked at the resort but moonlighted as the illegal cigar seller and the pimp of the resort. The British were especially fond of him. Frank had the gift of the gab,  even in imperfect English. 

His den would be the back of the gym where he’d have CNN on high volume. This was the real CNN. There goes that myth. Especially with Euronews on the next post. “They suffer,” Frank would say. “They have to provide for their families. Some are just 19.” I recall prices starting at $10. I also recall Hans, a Welshman no less, having a companion all week long. I don’t know how much he’d paid. 

“Victimless crimes,” Vlad would say to defend his support for Frank, “the state encourages this. Think about it. They need to satisfy the tourists but keep the ideology intact.” Vlad slept well at night.