We spent a whole afternoon wandering the rabbit warrens of narrow streets in the Plaka district, trying to find Itaki, the "good food" "chipp" recommended by the concierge, helpful directions to which she had outlined for us on the tourist map, along with the written out instructions that it was "behing the cathedral." The cathedral we found soon enough, a Byzantine edifice covered with orange tarp as it underwent some sort of restoration. However, looking for the side street she had circled, we overshot or undershot, and our attempts took us in loops that got us nowhere. Nancy asked to hold the map, rather testily it seemed to me, and after "doing it her way" a few minutes, we were as lost as ever. I asked to hold the map myself, and she yielded with ill humor, and ill-concealed distrust. I'm afraid my tone may have been supercilious. Normally Nancy and I share a bonhomie that is thicker than butter, but when we are tired and hungry, we grow snappish. It'd been at least an hour since the concierge had phoned the restaurant, promising we'd be there in "a few minutes." So far we only succeeded in finding a place that sold sea food, a mackeral looking at us with fishy disinterest from a bed of ice in the display case. Nancy said that was not the place we were looking for. I never said it was.
Finally, driven to desperation, we asked a shopkeeper. He helpfully pointed down the street, indicating we were to turn left, but saying "right." "Do you mean left?" I asked nervously. "Oh, yes, left The road winds a bit, but just keep going and you'll get there."
We went left at the appointed road and followed it as it wound around, and the more it wound, the more it confirmed the sagacity of the shopkeeper's directions, until finally we came to a building with a familiar facade. "That's the damn Parliament Building," Nancy announced. "Where our hotel is. We're back where we started."
A passing stranger took pity on us. We him the map and explained where we were going. "Yes, Itaki," he said. "Their fish is very good." Down the street and take a left. Nancy, as I recall, was becoming querrelous. I, as I recall, was sweetness and light itself. We turned left and came again to the cathedral and the labyrinth of back streets. Before we could get any more mislaid, we asked another stranger, who enthusiastically recommended the place, urging us to "drink a beer for Pappi," when we reached our goal.
Which we finally did.
It was - if you can't see this coming, get your eyes checked at once - the fish restaurant we passed three paragraphs ago. As we ate - and my mussels were delicious - I studied the sign and the unfamiliar Greek letters that had floored us - IθAKH - Itaki. Below it was a drawing of an ancient Greek sailing vessel.
That evening, going out to dinner at a nearby restaurant - that was our only requisite this time, that it be nearby - it suddenly flashed on me that the name of the restaurant was Greek for Ithaca - Odysseus' home, that he spent an entire epic attempting to return to, and how appropriate that we'd spent so long wandering in search of it ourselves. "That's not what the name meant," Nancy said when I shared this with her, "but when you write this in your blog, you can say the name means anything you want."
It was dark by this time and none of the shops offered food. We were greeted by a stranger (odd how full of strangers these foreign cities are!) I asked if he knew a place to eat nearby - nearby was paramount. Price was no object. He said, yes, there was a very good place, that he lived in the Plaka and could lead us there.
We turned off Ermou onto a dark side street, he chatting the whole time, asking where we were staying, where we'd come from, and other questions of a personal nature. I responded in ever decreasing numbers of syllables, my jaw muscles tightening making it difficult to answer because I now perceived I had naively followed (bringing along my innocent wife) a perfect stranger into a dark allwy where he would surely rob us. I stuffed my hands into my pockets, studying his face, the better to describe it to the Athens Chief of Police, who would only shrug and explain there were any number of men in Athens who fit his description.
I begn to feel relieved when I saw lights and awnings, as place that sold gyros. "This is like the Athens McDonalds," he said. "Excellent!" I cried. "No, no," he said, and I realized comparing it to McDonalds was not his idea of a compliment. "We go on."
We passed some sort of construction site. "This is where it's going to happen," I thought, strangely feeling it was too impolite to just cut and run. "His accomplice is going to step from behind that orange tarpulin with a gun. I began practicing the long face I would wear - more in pity than in anger - as I handed over all our money, but then we emerged again into light.
The waiter recognized us at once, and we him. Never has anyone been more grateful to eat at the same place twice in one day.
As we waited for our salad, I asked the waiter what the name of the restaurant meant. "Does it mean Ithaca?" a smile playing about my lips.
"No," he said. "It means 'old.' Because - ha, ha - the waiters here are so old."
A joke. Not nearly as funny as if the name meant Ithaca.
So the way I tell it, it does mean Ithaca.
After all, it's my blog.