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Monday, April 2, 2012


Kalimera fellow travelers! Which is Greek for "Good Morning", which it will still be if I write quickly and get this posted before the noon whistle. We actually have a noon siren here in small town America. How many of you live where you hear a noon siren or whistle? How many remember when we had Civil Defense drills and the siren would sound and you had to take cover, etc.? The days of bomb shelters in the 50's and 60's.

I include the Fallon weather because it was one of the most requested items, along with our daily doings, during the ten year run of the Desert Home Companion (1998-2008). The DHC was a daily e-mail newsletter which during its peak went out directly to 6 countries and 25 US states. It had jokes, word definitions, news items, and other various items of interest; but the the two things that were in constant demand were my stories and the "top section" where I gave the weather report and told about our daily lives. If that formula stills works for you, let me know. If you would like to see something different let me know that too. Reader input and feedback helps me decide what to include and what stories I use.

The weather for beautiful downtown Fallon will be a Sunny day all over itself with a few clouds racing by. The Fahrenheits are jumping up to 62 and a little more I believe, with a shaky 10 cents worth of rain chance and light breeze from the NE struggling to reach a kite floating 10 mph. Tomorrow will be warmer yet!

I wrote my recurring Solar System Ambassador column "A Space Nerd Speaks", for the Mensa newsletter the Neva-Mind last night in between e-mail barrages and attacks by Hurricane Jessi. That screwball puppy craves affection and being hugged like an adopted child who grew up in an orphanage! Fortunately for me the editor wants a short column, so I just have to gather some data for the next month, (in this case May) and then write a couple of sentences and I'm done.

A question for my esteemed readers: does writing a blog and/or contributing to a group newsletter, constitute being "published?" Or does that take an ISBN to satisfy the claim? Think about it and let me know your opinion either here or on FB.

Today Mr Peabody's Wayback machine will take us to the lovely Mediterranean for a "three hour tour" (Sorry Skipper!) and another cultural learning experience. Enjoy!


In 1982 I was in the United States Navy and stationed aboard the U.S.S. America CV-66, home ported in Norfolk, VA. Being stationed on the east coast of the USA, the usual six month deployment involved sailing the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, a trip through the Suez Canal, and the Indian Ocean.

This story is about just a tiny fraction of that trip, a liberty call (port visit) in the ancient land of Greece. Due to my relatively advanced years (being twenty-nine to the average sailor’s nineteen) I had a completely different expectation of what to do and see in Greece.

I was thrilled by the opportunity to see the city of Piraeus of “Never on Sunday” fame, then move on to the fabled city of Athens, of which I had read so much. To be able to stand on the Acropolis and see the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike, and below the Acropolis the theater of Herod Atticus built by the Romans, was like being able to live the books I had read. To the others from my ship, it was all about ouzo and hookers, if they could find some.

One of the least expensive ways to see a lot of a country and experience some of the culture was through organized tours sponsored by the ship's Morale & Welfare department. They made group purchases and arranged everything way ahead of our arrival so really good deals were able to be made. There was no way an individual could get the same price breaks, which I had learned the hard way.

The tour that I purchased (and the real beginning of this tale) was to the Treasury of Atreus, also known as the Tomb of Clytemnestra. This remained the largest beehive shaped tomb for over one thousand years after its construction in 1250 BC. It was quite a long bus ride out there and back, as we had to go to Panagitsa Hill in Mycenae which was a long way from Athens, especially given the conditions.

The most difficult “condition” was that in 1982 the Greek Communist Party was extremely active and had thousands of members well connected and willing to mobilize at a moment’s notice. They also hated Americans with a passion for reasons that I did not know.

Our tour guide was a tiny lady named Delphina, who was maybe 4’ 10” and eighty pounds soaking wet. She was elegant, well mannered, impeccably dressed, and spoke multiple languages. Delphina also had an MBA from an Harvard.

She had gone to the US in order to go to the best business school and then returned to Greece to give the benefit of her training to her country. The communists didn’t see it that way and labeled her a traitor for going to America. She had lost her job in Athens when the rallies and rioting started because her company was afraid their building would be burned because she worked there.

Delphina was quickly hired by the tour company the navy had contracted with due to her language abilities and detailed knowledge of the country.

Fortunately for us she had many relatives and friends in the area we toured, as we actually played hide and seek with several vehicles full of potentially violent protesters during our travels.

We toured the Treasury of Atreus and it was very impressive as a structure, but I was still as puzzled about it when we left. They had no idea who was supposed to have been buried in the tomb, or what had happened to whatever had been inside it. It apparently was cleaned out before the contents were recorded. This had to have been one of the quickest grave robberies on record.

Not far from the tomb site we parked the bus under a grove of trees and walked over a hill to the site of a small palace. That palace wasn’t on the tour list and was seldom seen by anyone other than the locals who lived around the area.

Delphina said that it was the ancestral home of her family which dated back hundreds of years. By keeping it off of the tours it suffered less damage from souvenir hunters. She was very worried that the communist group who was looking for us, would vandalize it terribly should they find it. We all stated to her that we would defend it should they arrive while we were there. That moved the tiny lady to tears.

The palace was not really a “structure” at that point. There were a few standing walls, several partial walls, and a complete foundation. Oddly enough their water systems seemed intact including wells, irrigation channels, indoor plumbing, and several baths.

The toilet and bathing areas attracted the most attention from the sailors and many wanted to sit on an ancient toilet. It was hard to comprehend what was so exciting about sitting on a stone slab with a hole in it. The young guys took each other’s photo sitting on the marble “thrones.”

Delphina explained the idea of the vomitorium to them, where the party goers would stick a feather down their throat, (or have a servant do so), to induce vomiting and thus be able to consume more food and drink.

The young men were mightily impressed with the “party attitude” of the old days. She asked me if she should tell them that it was just a misconception, and she had only told them this tale as a joke. I told her no; let them have their grand idea of partying people to remember. She just covered her face and laughed.

The scheduled meal stop had to be eliminated due to a large contingent of troublemakers waiting for us there. One must remember that this was prior to the advent of cellular phones being in everyone’s pockets. Tremendous effort was being expended by both sides to call land lines and then send someone out to notify the interested party. We were lucky that Delphina was on her home turf.

Delphina had been so taken by our offer to defend her family estate from harm that she called a cousin and arranged a meal for us at his restaurant; a business which was normally closed on that day.

We deliberately turned away from our destination on the main road in the area and traveled via back roads to the house in the trees where said eatery was situated.

Immediately upon arriving the passengers offloaded quickly and were herded inside by a scared woman who turned out to be the owner’s wife. The bus was then taken around behind the buildings out of sight and the kids took brooms out to sweep away the tracks of the bus in the dirt. They had learned well from their grandparents who were Greek Resistance fighters in WWII.

Once inside we were seated at nice tables with linen table cloths and napkins, nice place settings, and a bottle of red wine on each table. The aromas coming from the kitchen were making us crazy with hunger even though we had no idea what we were being served.

The incredible meal they prepared for us was lamb and stuffed grape leaves with green vegetables and bread. Plus the aforementioned red wine which seemingly had no bottom to the bottles. Our hosts were very attentive and brought us new bottles of wine as fast as we drank the others empty. The Greeks loved their wine and we did too!

As we finished our meals, the owner and all of his family came into the dining room and took up musical instruments. As some began to play, the owner and his grown sons began to dance with their arms linked and shout, “OPA!” They switched directions back and forth and danced wonderfully well to the music.

The music stirred us, and the wine removed what inhibitions “might” have been found in young American sailors. Everyone was singing (who knows what) and clapping their hands to the rhythm. Excitement was at its peak as the family tossed plates into the air from the stack they had brought from the kitchen and as they came crashing down everyone shouted “OPA!” 

It should have been expected; it had to happen as sure as rain falls down. As the loudest “OPA!” yet was yelled out the room immediately filled with plates flying through the air.

Every occupant (myself included) of the tables around the room had tossed their plates into the air like the other plates had been. When we looked up from the sight of piles of broken porcelain, the music had stopped and the owner looked like he had just been shot, such was the expression of disbelief on his face. 

We didn’t know that the family had put their best dishes on the tables in honor of our visit, nor did we know that only those participating in the dance were supposed to throw plates. They had brought out old, chipped plates for the entertainment and never anticipated our reactions. 

American military men were not ones to let anyone else suffer for their actions so all was set right with them in short order. Their good dishes had cost them the equivalent of about sixty U.S. dollars which was a tremendous amount to them in 1982, and something that they could not afford to replace. We not only paid cash for our meals, which gave them tremendous bargaining power in their market (and black market), but left them over two hundred U.S. dollars cash in tips. 

The man and his wife were both crying when we left and Delphina said it was because they were so happy. I’m not sure if that was happy for all of the cash, or happy that we were leaving. Either way, it was an experience that I’ll never forget.


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