Ten years ago, I lived in this building, high on a hill in the center of Athens. My apartment on the first floor was filled with the owners' stuff: enormous wooden desks and dressers, fluffy Persian rugs, antique maps, ostrich eggs. I used to say living there was like camping in Sotheby’s, or like a low-budget “Amelie." While the tenants had left beautiful furniture and collectibles, they had taken anything of practical value. There was no stove, no light fixtures, no refrigerator.
At first I didn’t mind. I carried a lamp with me from room to room, made my coffee on a camp stove, ordered food from the kafenio downstairs. After about a month, though, I decided it would be nice to get some modern appliances. So on a Saturday, I went down to the market district, where I'd seen junk dealers peddling household items alongside their antiques. I went from stall to stall, until finally I found a handsome mini fridge. It was used, but clean, and when I plugged it in, it worked. I paid 40 euros for it and the vendor carried it to the avenue for me. I planned to take a taxi.
The problem was, in Athens, taxi drivers could decide whether they wanted to pick you up. And seeing me, a scrawny young woman with a refrigerator, driver after driver drove by. I was feeling increasingly desperate on the side of the road, like CP30 with R2D2 in the desert, when I heard a gruff voice behind me.
“You need me to take that home for you?”
A large man stood there with a dolly. He had a short grey beard, and his belly poked out from under a stained sweatshirt. I gathered he was one of the vendors.
“Nai,” I said. “Yes. Could you?”
“Yes, I will go at 5. If you pay me.”
I offered him 15 euros. He clicked his tongue and nodded, which is a Greek way of saying "no." We negotiated, and finally I agreed to pay him 30. He wheeled the fridge away and I went home, light on my feet. At the appointed hour, I opened my shuttered window and pulled up a chair to wait. But no one came. Looking outside, I berated myself for giving away my fridge and the cash – wasting the equivalent of what I made in a week at the newspaper on nothing. How could I be so naive?
And then I heard it, the put-put of a motor on the street. I leaned out the window, and there, on a wobbly little moped, was the big man from the market. The fridge was strapped to his bike, and his back, with several bungee cords. Sweat streamed down his face, which had turned an alarming shade of red. His sweatshirt was soaked. I had given him my address, but I’d neglected to mention you had to drive up a very steep hill, wending back and forth up narrow streets, to get there.
I ran downstairs.
“Ela! Hello,” I shouted and waved.
“Why didn’t you tell me you lived so high up?” he shouted.
“I’m sorry — I thought you had a truck, a car!”
He disentangled himself and picked up the fridge. He rocked back and forth and looked as though he might collapse. I begged him to set it down. The old men who sat outside the kafenio were watching us now, laughing. The man muttered something in their direction, pushed by me and began to lumber up the stairs with his load, which he finally deposited in my kitchen. I gave him some water, a dish towel to mop his brow, and an extra 20 euros.
It was worth it. Over the next year, I filled that little fridge with the brightest, crispest spinach, cucumbers and tomatoes I’d ever tasted. I made ice to drop in my coffee when the weather turned warm. I chilled wine. Looking at the heavy, humming little thing in my kitchen, I often thought of how it got there, and a Greek expression the old men at the kafenio taught me. It’s about the crazy things that men will do for women. The actual expression is more explicit, but the meaning is the same. “If you find a boat on a mountain, one thing is certain: a woman got it there.”
Photo credit: Petros Babasikas (c) 2004