How Athens became the Twilight Zone

By Yves Sztajnkrycer


Yves Sztajnkrycer is too complex for a brief description. He is a citizen of the world who writes with humor, honesty, and a poignancy that will stop you in your tracks.

Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus was a Dutch priest who lived in the 15th century and who was in favor of religious tolerance. And during my junior year of college I left Paris to follow a student exchange program also known as Erasmus program.

So I moved to Piraeus, a city not far from Athens. With my Parisian eyes I found the port of Athens full of agitation. I fell in love immediately with the noise, the smell of spices, the contrast between the crowd moving in and out of the ferry boats, and the constant deliveries to the street market.

I enjoyed walking home after class in the tumult of people and fragrances, watching the old men playing backgammon and drinking ouzo, slamming between the mopeds and the pretty Greek girls.

One evening, we decided to meet up with some other students in the neighborhood of “Plaka” in downtown Athens near the acropolis for a few drinks. So some of us went to a tavern in a small street on top of a hill between ancient ruins and old houses.

Inside, the stained walls were covered with black and white pictures of fishermen, bouzouki players,and some painting of the white houses of Mykonos. we ordered a pitcher of “Rakomelo”. It is a delicious blend of warm brandy, honey, cinnamon, and cardamon. We ordered a few of those pitchers to drink while puffing on some apple flavored hooka.

The honey makes “Rakomelo” very sweet, but it still is a very intoxicating beverage. And at some point during the night everything became blurry, shapes of belly dancers slowly moving and mixing up with the kaleidoscopic visions of candlesticks through the pile of empty glasses.

That is when I told myself it was time to go home to recover. I got out of the tavern to look for a cab in the labyrinth of streets. I wandered around that maze for a long hour when I finally found a taxi to take me home.

When I arrived at my apartment, I crawled to my room, I turned on the TV, and passed out. The next day I woke up in my clothes, the TV was still on, and I felt awful. I reached for a mug of stale coffee and the clicker on the night stand. I went over all the TV channels. On every single one them there was a movie, all sorts of movies, black and white, colored, recent, old, but all relating to the life of Jesus. Something was odd.

I took a shower then I went to the kitchen to find an empty fridge. Since I was famished, I decided to go to the street market to find something tasty. I went down the stairs. I lit a cigarette. I opened the gate. There was no one in the streets. I was in a a ghost town. The shops were closed. The pretty girls, the old men playing backgammon, the dockers, everybody was gone. It felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. Like everyone had been abducted by aliens.

I started to cruise around the port in search of a store or even an open kiosk to get some food. I became restless. Everything was closed, the restaurants, the banks, there was practically no car in the streets. After a while I saw someone parking close to me. A middle aged woman came out of the driver’s seat. I started talking to her, asking her why everybody suddenly disappeared and why all the stores closed. She explained to me that it was Greek Orthodox Easter, and that everything would stay closed for a couple of days. I wished her a happy Easter and she left.

I started to panic.

I felt trapped and started to ask myself how I would manage to find some food during the next couple of days. I lit another cigarette, and kept walking. I was giving up, thinking that my next meals would most likely be bags of chips and candy bars from the university vending machines, when I saw in the distance the yellow “M” of McDonald. I am usually a picky vegetarian and burgers have never been on the top ten of my favorite meals.

When I arrived in front of the McDonald’s entrance I couldn’t believe it was open. Inside there was almost nobody. The radio was playing some Greek religious choir music. I ordered a veggie burger and felt relieved. The food there tasted terrible, however it was a Greek Orthodox Easter miracle to find it.

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