We had a science teacher at school called Mr Loukakis. He was very proud of his Greek heritage and whenever we did anything stupid in class, he would growl: “My ancestors were playing chess while yours were still up in the trees.” Not surprisingly, Mr Loukakis was the first person who came to mind when I tried to decipher the Greek phrases sent to me by author Alexis Stamatis.
“Are you sure you want them in Greek?” Alexis had asked. And I had confidently replied, “Of course,” because I had a fiendishly clever trick up my sleeve: I would simply replace the Greek letters with their Latin/English equivalent, thus creating a sentence I might be able to comprehend, with a few words I might recognise, like souvlaki or Acropolis or sirtaki.
I was wrong. Very wrong. I realised this when I applied my fiendishly clever trick to Alexis’ first phrase, describing his favourite sight in Athens:
“E thea apo to chayiati tou eksochikou mou oto Pelio.”
“Of course …” I thought, and immediately decided to revert to my tried and trusted (read: slightly less useless) method of submitting words and phrases to Google Images.
Sight: “Η θέα απο το χαγιάτι του εξοχικού μου στο Πήλιο” – I think Alexis is referring to an apartment block that his father designed in Pelion. How do I know this? Well, I think “χαγιάτι” means “house” or “dwelling”; “εξοχικού” means holiday; and “Πήλιο” means “Pelio”. Also, Alexis sent me a picture of his favourite sight: an apartment block designed by his father.
Sound: “Ο ήχος της πόλης το βράδυ” – Stumped. When I submitted the whole sentence to GI, I got some pictures of bands and musicians. And the word “βράδυ” seems to refer to twilight or night. Could Alexis be referring to music coming from bars and restaurants at night?
Scent: “Η μυρωδια απο τις λεμονιές” – Judging by the pictures, “μυρωδια” means “scent”, while “λεμονιές” seems to be a reference to oranges and lemons, or citrus fruit in general. Could Alexis be referring to the scent of a citrus orchard?
Taste: “Φρέσκο ψωμί απο το φουρνο” – When I submitted this phrase to GI, I got thousands of pictures of bread. So I think Alexis is referring to the taste of a freshly baked loaf!
Before I rush off to the nearest bakery, I’d like to share a surprising coincidence with you. In my very first blog, I mentioned my father’s globetrotting life and the fact that many of his photos featured his old Volvo Amazon. That first blog also featured a photo of my father posing at the Acropolis, but his car was nowhere to be seen. Imagine my surprise and delight when I took a closer look at the photo of Alexis’ father’s apartment building and spotted what looks like a Volvo Amazon parked in the street! Both photos date from the 1960s.
Lastly, Alexis sent me two sentences advising readers what they should and should not say in Athens. Strangely, they are exactly the same:
You SHOULD NOT say: “Kαι α, και ου, γαμω το ΔΝΤ”
You SHOULD say: “Kαι α, και ου, γαμω το ΔΝΤ”
I’m pretty sure this means: “Waiter, waiter, there’s an ΔΝΤ in my soup.” Greek readers who have a better translation are hereby kindly advised to choose their words carefully.
(Alexis Stamatis is a Greek writer. His books have been translated into seven languages.)
Richard de Nooy