My big fat Greek party
A man dressed in a boisterous Hawaiian shirt, a small goatee and dreadlocks came for shade under the tree.
“My name is Raju,” he says. “I am from Morocco but have been traveling for 15 years.”
In one more hour there was a colorful group under the tree, including Peter the Greek-Australian, who has been coming here for years to bond with his ancestry and try to find himself, and Jane and Gareth from Belfast, Northern Ireland.
“But we don’t really think of ourselves as Irish,” one of them says. We don’t want to be associated with the Irish, and we certainly don’t want to be associated with the English. We carry a British passport, but it’s as if we’re a people with no identity.”
Paul says he’s Greek-Canadian.
“But I hate everything Canadian,” he says. “My friends call me “Buddha. Buddha the Greek.'”
He rubs his belly, his big belly, and there’s no question why his friends would call him “Buddha.”
Buddha says he hates Canadians because they agree with everything the Americans do.
“No one should agree with everything the Americans do,” he says. “The Canadians have no mind of their own. I think there’s something fishy going on there.”
“Maybe they agree with the Americans,” adds Francesca, the Italian-now-in-Britain.
And that makes everyone keel over and split a gut laughing. Poor, naive Francesca.
A couple from Holland comes by and there’s no more room under the tree so they take a seat on the first flight of stairs. They’ve just come from Pella, home of Alexander the Great. Buddha the Greek says he hates Alexander the Great.
“I hate Alexander the Great because he introduced Jews to Greece,” he says.
Peter the Greek-Aussie shifts around in his chair.
“Aye, mate, you don’t know what you’re going on about.”
“Ask anyone,” Buddha barks. “He brought Jews into this country, they multiplied like Hindus and spread all over Europe. The downfall of Europe, those Jews. They’re trying to economically rule the world. Those damn Americans have no idea what the Jews have done to this world, protecting them like a mother hen. Damn Americans. F-ing Jews. I hate Alexander the Great.”
My friend Chris says that when Europeans start talking like that about Jews I’m supposed to get them all riled up and say the Jews wouldn’t be taking over the world economically if the rest of the world wasn’t so dumb and lazy. He says it always gets them going. Of course I would never say such a thing. I just raise a quiet brow.
Peter gets his back up, “Listen, Zorba the Greek or Buddha the Greek, or whatever your name is, your talking a load of nonsense. Alexander the Great could not have brought Jews into Greece because he never came back to Greece. He lead his troops across Persia and died on the way home in Iraq. I don’t mind having a good wee hash there, Buddha boy, but you need to go home and check your facts, Mate.”
Buddha changes the subject.
“And those Albanians! Aye yah! I hate those Albanians! They have ruined this country. The cause of all the crime in Greece. And have you ever seen them eat?! Aye! Pigs, those Albanians! Pigs!”
My friend Chris says when Europeans start talking nonsense about other races I should start ranting about “The Swedish Conspiracy,” how Swedes are all beautiful and blonde and how the Swedes are taking over the world media and how the Swedes are entering countries illegally because the men in charge are too agog to say “no.” My friend Chris says to ramble on and on about those f-ing Swedes and it always leaves them bamboozled. I would pay good money to watch my friend Chris go head-to-head with Buddha the Greek.
Peter rolls his eyes clear to the back of his head but dare I say I appreciated this show of complete freedom of speech. This is the West and God bless it.
After a year in a very tradition-locked Asia, I appreciate opinions and freedoms – even when I don’t agree with them.
I couldn’t help but wonder what the reaction of a woman from, say, Iraq would be if she were to get deposited into this youth hostel and this conversation at this very moment with this medley of people and opinions and dress and social mobility. Her eyes would bug right out of her burka.
Peter tells us about Alexander the Great.
“He lead his 40,000 troops across Persia encouraging them to marry women along the way. He wanted to rule the world and was determined to spread the Hellenistic seed, so to speak.”
A medley of chuckles rustles under our tree. Leonard wonders if Osama bin Laden should use the same strategy conquering America today.
“Just give those American woman a little attention and they’re yours. Trust me, I know. And once a Muslim, always a Muslim. Can’t go back.”
Buddha asks, “Polly, where did you say you were from?”
“No, really from.”
“I’m really from Minnesota.”
“No, where are you really, really from?”
“Regarding my ancestry, my mother’s side of the family hails from the Scandinavian region and my father’s side of the family comes from a Lithuanian village.”
Then I went for it.
“They were Russian-Jewish.”
Leonard says Letofsky isn’t a Jewish name.
I say yes it is.
He says no it’s not. It comes from Poland. You’re from Poland. You’re a Polack. You don’t even look Jewish. You’re not Jewish.
My back gets straight.
“Russian-Jewish – period.”
I go to my dorm thinking about the enormous power in freedom of speech and the Iraqi women who will never know it. I wonder if a pill could be developed to cure racism. I wondered if Alexander the Great’s Hellenistic seed could have spread all the way north to the villages of Lithuania. And while the French-Canadians, the Croatian-Italians and the Holland-periods all start to snore, I doze off plotting how to secure a position with the UN and internationally abolish the hyphen.
Editor’s note: Vail resident Polly Letofsky has been on the road since she left town Aug. 1, 1999, on her mission the become the first woman to walk around the world and promote awareness of breast cancer. From Vail she first walked to the West Coast, then crossed the two islands of New Zealand, up the eastern coast of Australia and on to Malaysia and Southeast Asia, India, Turkey and now Greece. This is latest installment from her journal. You can follow along with Polly’s journey on her Web site at http://www.globalwalk.org.