Nick the Greek
Sometimes childhood recollection seems stronger than present experience. I know this sounds all very Proustian, only for me today, it is not the smell of steaming madeleines, but rather the tart astringency of my mother’s yoghurt. Mum learnt it from the Greeks. At 25 she was on a ship to Athens via North Africa. Fortunately she turned down the marriage proposal of Nick, the Greek soccer player she met on her way or else this story, as much as its author, would never have come into fruition.
I learnt how to prepare it, and also how the Greeks prepared it. Apparently, every household had a pot that was left at the front doorstep overnight. In the early hours of the morning the milk man would come past each door and fill the pot. By breakfast time, it would be ready for the family to haul into the kitchen from the hot Mediterranean sun.
I could tell by Mum’s tone that she wished we had a milk man to fill our yoghurt pot, as in Greece. I guess she made her own yoghurt out of a frustration with the gelatinous farce that was 1980’s shop bought Australian yoghurt.
I’d drag one of the wooden chairs, with intricate wood carvings in recession, across the wooden floor to the kitchen bench top that overlooked our jungly garden. Climbing the chair to add to my 5 year old height, I’d soon be by Mum’s side as she prepared the milk. She would boil, mix and finally pour it into her brown earthenware yoghurt pot.
In the scorched summer mornings Mum would place the pot, brimming with milk, out on a wooden chair under the sun, wrapped in a tea-towel, to incubate. By dinner time, after a few hours of refrigeration, we would cup our own cool bowl filled with it, scooping it into our mouths as it swum in the mahogany juice of home stewed plums.
Today, I echoed my mother’s frustrations for shop bought yoghurt. It’s sitting by my window garden now, waiting to incubate while I write at the library. Though ironically, given the Melbourne weather, it’s started to rain.
Oh! For a Mediterranean sun!
El Griego Nick
Se que esto puede sonar muy Prusiano, pero algunas veces los recuerdos de la infancia parecen más fuertes que las experiencias del presente. Para mi, hoy no estuvo presente el aroma de las magdalenas al vapor, pero si la fragancia de la tarta astringente del yogurt de mi madre. Ella lo aprendio de los griegos cuando tenia 25 años de edad y mientras viajaba por barco desde Africa del Norte rumbo a Atenas. Afortunadamente rechazό la propuesta de matrimonio de Nick; el futbolista griego que conocio durante su trayecto, de lo contrario esta historia junto con su autora nunca hubiesen sido posibles.
Aprendi a como prepararlo y tambien como los griegos lo preparaban: Aparentemente cada hogar dejaba un recipiente en la entrada de la casa durante la noche, que luego muy temprano en la mañana, el lechero pasaba de puerta en puerta llenandos. A la hora del desayuno, el Yogurt ya estaba al punto debido al calor mediterraneo, asi que esta vasija podia ser arrastratrada hacia la cocina para la familia.
Por el tono de mi madre deducì que ella deseaba que nuestro yogurt fuese como en Grecia. Y creo que apartir de su frustracion por la gelatina artificial disponible en las tiendas de los 80’s que dio origen al yogurt australiano, ella empezo a preparar su propio yogurt.
Yo arrastraba una silla de madera, con grabados intrincados en el espaldar, atravez del piso tambien hecho de madera, para ubicarla junto al meson de la cosina que tenía vista hacia nuestro jardin selvatico, al treparme a esta silla ganaba más altura de la normal a mis 5 años de edad, de esta manera podia estar a su lado mientras preparaba nuestro yogurt. En el proceso ella hervia, mesclaba y finalmente vaciaba la leche en una olla de terracota oscura destinada para el yogurt.
Durante las mañanas calurosas de verano, mi madre sacaba al sol este recipiente rebosante de leche, previamente envuelto en un paño y sobre una silla de madera para que se aliñara. A la hora de la cena y despues de algunas horas de refrigeracion, ya podiamos llenar nuestras tazas con el producto final, el cual lo degustabamos al mezclarlo con el jugo caoba de los duraznos guisados en casa.
Hoy repreti la frustracion de mi madre por el yogurt comprado en la tienda. Por eso ahora mi propio producto esta reposando en el jardin de la ventana para que se aliñe, mientras estoy en la biblioteca escriendo. Ironicamente pienso en el clima de Melbourne porque ya empezo a llover.
Opa! Por un sol mediterraneo!
Translated by Fabian Rodriguez
Balconies are like little theaters and every morning, in Sofia, a similar play occurs on most. Not that I’m staring.
I sit on mine to write in the warmer weather. The sun streams in at the perfect angle at about 7:30am, hitting my shoulders instead of my eyes.
As I gaze out, I see another sea of balconies. From time to time a protagonist will stroll out, maybe stretch a little, but never too much in case the neighbors see. Indefinitely they will sidle onto their balkon, with coffee cup and cigarette balanced and poised in the one hand. It’s a ritual.
As they smoke their cigarette and sip the undoubtedly strong sweet espresso they survey the other balconies, but never too much in case the neighbors see.
My balcony gives me away. Never in town too long to plant flowers it’s pretty naked in comparison to some. I glance at a geranium filled balcony superior, not just to my left.
When I first moved into my apartment, friends would ask “Does it have a balkon?” On hearing the affirmative, they would nod their heads approvingly. To me it was a bit of a novelty.
I’ve mostly lived in apartments around the world- an old Austro-Hungarian one with winding marble clad staircase in Sarajevo with direct views of the Katedrala followed by the garish yellow apartment in a famous building called Papagajke (The Parrot) that had views to the skinny brown river Miljacka and an old Ashkenazi Synagogue. I’ve lived in apartments that reminded me of paper houses in Seoul with sliding shutter doors on my windows and oriental furniture, an apartment in the leafy suburbs of Melbourne overlooking a grand plane tree and oh, there was a small attic apartment in East Germany that overlooked a clear meadow with the flattest terrain I’ve ever seen and a vaporous overlay of light ebbed by cloudy weather.
Some had balconies, others didn’t.
I’ve often wondered did it matter? But now, instead I ask a different question- what does the balcony do in the Balkans? In a city modeled on the socialist block (I mean in terms of apartment style) one sees that the balcony is an indispensable part of urban Balkan life and no, the words do not share etymological roots (Balkan is said to have come from the Turkish which means “a chain of wooded mountains”, whereas, balcony has its roots in the latin, balco)
We have seen the city; it is the gibbous mirrored eye of an insect. All things happen on the balcony and are resumed within, But the action is the cold, syrupy flow of a pageant- John Ashbury
I interpret the Balkans as theatre. Interactions are dramatic, life is colorful and you exist in a paradigm where expression is seldom filtered. One minute someone is screaming at you and calling you a villager (one of the most offensive things you can be called) the next they are pushing in front of you, not even subtly, in a line and you are calling them a villager. Taxi drivers are volatile, the roads neurotic, the theatre completely brilliant with raw aching cameos, the market a pantomime.
But on the other hand many friends and colleagues would literally give you the coat off their back if you needed it or try push you some Leva even if they themselves are in a worse situation, so it all balances out in the end.
It’s on the balcony that you begin the day, inhale that nicotine in long deep streams between sips of bittersweet black coffee. You gradually absorb the interplay beneath you out of the corner of your eye, glance to a pretty view, if you have it (if I peer out the corner of mine I can see Vitosha mountain). I think the balcony is the vestibule leading to the public sphere. It’s why in the morning when you wake up, you have your coffee there so as to ease yourself into the drama awaiting. It is also the place where you find your urban gardens filled with chuski (bright red peppers) and tomatoes. It’s where you hang your washing to absorb the fresh air of the mountain and where, from time to time when your doting dog has the fortitude to leave your company, you find him sitting in a stream of sunlight, taking it in, just as you do.