I feel I owe everyone who was forced to listen to me chant, “Thirty on Thasos, Thirty on Thasos!” for ten months the story of how the big day went. It was my landmark birthday. The crossing over into the next decade. The fulfillment of my cleverly coined phrase! But underneath the alliteration there is important question to be addressed:
What is it like to celebrate a birthday in a foreign country when all of your friends and family from home are, well, at home?
It could have easily been lonely, or depressing, or just like any other day*, but I have the unmerited fortune of being surrounded with people who wanted to make my day special.
*which, when in Greece, is still a win
When I arrived to Archodissa in the morning, I was greeted with “Xronia polla!” from the waiters and staff, and immediately Tassos of Thassos ushered me into the kitchen to show me what he had picked up from Potos that morning. “Look!” he said, pulling out a metal tray layered with a heap of burritos. “It is from a restaurant in town, I know the guy. I ask if he can make them when you said you wanted chicken burritos.”
I didn’t recall saying I wanted chicken burritos specifically, but a week before I’d made a comment–one that I’d forgotten about until just then–that we should have Mexican food on my birthday. I’d arrived to Thassos with red chile powder from New Mexico, which we hadn’t yet used, and I thought it would be fun to share a slice of my hometown on my birthday. I was shocked he remembered.
“What happens with the red powder?” he asked.
“You cook it into a sauce and pour it over the burritos,” I said. “But, it’s spicy,” I warned. Tassos seemed un-phased.
“You can make the sauce?” he asked.
“Umm. I can read the directions and tell you how to make it?” I offered, because that is the level of my culinary skill.
He agreed to the terms, despite the fact he runs a restaurant and has a thousand other things to do. We planned to have Mexican dinner instead of lunch so I could invite two professors from the writing workshop who had stayed on Thassos for an extra week. Dinner time was set for 8:30. Once that was arranged, I went about my normal day.
Normal day things: I wrote at my stone table, unpacked the watercolor kit my parents got me**, drank a frappe, talked to Giorgos the excavator who came by to wish me a happy birthday. His English is limited, so he speaks Greek to me, although I think he’d prefer to practice English. That day he taught me the words “comfortable” and “turtle.” Very useful.
**please note: my parents are the best. They sent me a package with birthday cards, clothes, and watercolors. No matter where I’ve been in the world, they’ve always gone out of their way to send me something. Thank you, M&D 🙂
One of Tassos’ best friends, Mpampis (pronounced “Bobbies,” but the last time I spelled it that way, I was made fun of by the guys here), was visiting Archodissa, and he invited me to sit at his table and share his messimeriano. I wasn’t hungry for lunch–especially since I was saving myself for Mexican night–but he went through the trouble of putting one of everything on my plate AND cutting it into small pieces. So I mayyy have nibbled.
Later in the day I took a walk to buy tequila (Mexican night is not complete without margaritas!), had a minor existential crisis, recovered, put on my new party dress, and returned to Archodissa to help prepare the chile.
I learned an important lesson that day: I should not be allowed to instruct people when it comes to certain things, like “brown flour and oil into a rue.” WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN? (As a technicality, “roux” was misspelled, not that I knew it at the time). I definitely helped destroy the first batch, at which point Tassos called in Christina, one of the cooks, and without speaking English, we managed to make the chile together–“we” meaning she. After I gave my glowing taste-test approval, she tried a large spoonful, not realizing it was spicy. She has an aversion to spicy things. I think I ruined this poor girl’s day.
My professor friends, Jess and Nickole, arrived shortly thereafter, and we feasted: margaritas, salads, burritos, red chile, and homemade limoncello that they brought as a gift. We talked about the magic of Thassos and how this place ruins people, in a good way. Tassos kept bringing us burritos by the plateful. I ate at least eight–I stopped counting out of fear and shame, but I was in chile bliss. Mpampis joined us and kept cutting up burritos and putting them on my plate. It did not occur to me that I would need to save room for cake.
But, oh, there was cake!
My boys, as I call them, Dimitri and Paul, (the waiters) and Tassos came out with my glowing cake, and I was serenaded with song in both Greek and English. Tassos bought trick candles that didn’t blow out, even though I attempted to do so 800 times, so that was fun. (I’ll spare you all 800 photos.) The cake was perfect, the first I’ve ever had with a dedication to “Tzenaki,” my Greek name. Layers of chocolate and mousse that dissolved into every bite. Thankfully, I was so full from the Mexican food I could feign selfless generosity and give away all but one piece. It pains me a little to think about it now, but I’m happy to have shared the joy.
Oh, did I mention the champagne? There was champagne. Margaritas, limoncello, champagne (and water). I had the entire yellow spectrum across my four glasses. Thirty is not the year for holding back!
One might think the party would end there, but not in Greece. (Unless you’re Jess and Nickole and leaving on the 9 a.m. bus the next day.) Once the restaurant closed down, a cohort of us went to Potos for drinks. My friends DJ Snow Cone and Paris the Bouzouki Player wanted to celebrate, too. We met them at a bar called Margaritas (coincidental, but appropriate) and just as I was groaning about how I needed to be rolled out of the establishment, the lights dimmed and they brought out another cake, this one decorated in oreos. I was actually so full, I could only take one bite before pawning off my piece with Paris’ band mate***.
***THIS NEVER HAPPENS. aka. welcome to the 30’s?
As 2:00 a.m. rolled around, and I was ready to keel over, “Wild Thing” came on the loudspeaker and I had sudden flashbacks of Dance Team my junior year of high school. “Wild Thing” was THE dance we did, it was one of my favorites, and I couldn’t leave until I remembered and performed the entire choreography.
(To give you some perspective, I learned this dance fourteen years ago. That is one year shy of being half of my life ago, and–shockingly–I haven’t performed this dance since I graduated high school. It took ten minutes and me having to ask DJ Snow Cone to play the song a second time, but I figured it out! A 30th birthday miracle! And they say the first thing to go with old age is…)
Where was I?
Oh right. So, there you have it. Thirty on Thassos. I certainly missed having all of my friends and family here with me–a TRUE occasion that would be!–but I can’t say that I was without them. Instead, I think my family just got bigger.
I learned that one of Mpampis’ good friends passed away on July 10th, yet Mpampis wanted to make sure I was happy on my birthday, that I was able to appreciate this time with friends, enjoying the food that’s fresh from the land around me, being thankful the parea we’ve formed together, that I’m filling each of my days with life. His friend was only 57. I would like to dedicate the blog to his memory, and may his soul rest in peace.