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Aug 30, 2007

On Shopping Abroad

[Spetses, Old Harbour]

I've been a very lucky girl in the past two years: I've traveled to Greece (ThessalonĂ­ki, Halkidiki, and the mountains), Norway (Oslo, the mountains, and the southern coast), Iceland (Reykjavik), and Greece again! And I'm not (yet) completely broke!

This time 'round, on Spetses, I stayed in a little apartment that cost 50 Euros -- about $70 -- a night with dusty, gray tile floors, a real shower in the bathroom, a patio where we sat with ice cream, a rumbly air conditioner -- and a kitchen. It was a tiny one, admittedly, but it still existed; I had a two-burner hot plate, a small oven, a mini refrigerator, and a few pots and pans with which to occupy myself.

So what this meant was, of course, that I could avoid having to go out for every meal, and that a trip to the local -- and only -- supermarket was in order.

On my first visit, with Kurt, I rather predictably wandered the aisles looking at the options and remarking on the differences between what I saw on the shelves there compared with the States. Orange juice, for example, was more expensive than here in San Francisco, and in a smaller container, and there was something in the refrigerated aisle entitled "Russian Salad" that I -- wisely, I'm sure -- steered clear of. I found a plethora of Nivea sunscreens attractively displayed (the spfs ranged from 4 to 10, and no higher) and lotions; lots of feta options; the brand of retsina I learned to love two years ago; a kind of candy made from pistachio nuts and sugar. I picked up a bottle of the ubiquitous "Fairy" dishwashing liquid (also available in Iceland) to outfit my little kitchen, and took a deep breath and committed to a small jar of Nescafe (I now enjoy, not just tolerate, it).

I knew before I left America that I wanted to eat a lot of yogurt, and I so got some of that at the market, too. Oh, Greek yogurt! I shall sing your praises for as long as I am able, for you are thick, creamy, rich, and with so much more character than some of these wimpy American yogurts (forget about forgoing the fat). I can't handle sheep or goat yogurt, but my favorite cow's milk variety came in a little earthenware container I was able to bring home with me to the States and will now use for ... something.

One night after we made dinner, we had a quick and easy dessert of one nectarine, sliced, arranged around a plate of yogurt drizzled with honey; I am making a reprise of that tonight it was so good. I ate yogurt and muesli for breakfast about half the time, and the other mornings I had a piece of bread spread with strawberry jam and topped with a piece of cheese. Though it sounds a bit odd, it was delicious.

I lingered over my cup of Nescafe in the mornings before I packed up my bag with my daily essentials: sunglasses, towel, water bottle, and swimsuit. One day I got up early enough to swim a few laps with the fish off the main beach, secure in the knowledge I could come 'home' to eat a good breakfast before going on about my day.

[My typical Spetses breakfast.]

In Reykjavik, I was pleased and delighted to be able to buy tofu in the "Bonus" supermarket; in Norway there was a strange abundance of broccoli and wheat flours in the bigger markets; in Greece, there were two kinds of oregano potato chips from which to choose, and I tried them both. Going to my local Safeway the other day to buy my bus pass, after the memory of my more exotic grocery shopping sprees, was somewhat deflating; life is back to normal, then.

There's really something special about being in another country for a short time but acting for that brief period as though you live there. I always get a secret thrill when I'm able to move through the supermarket, quietly filling my basket with products I couldn't get at home, carefully counting out my euros, and making a successful purchase -- all without coming across as a gauche tourist.

I hope I was able to pass, this time; you never know for sure.

But I sure was tan enough to blend in.


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