- Europe on Five Dollars a Day
Lia Vasilopoulu seemed primitive to Susan. Her desires were too up-front, a word not yet coined at this time, the midsixties. When Lia desired something, she'd grip you by the arm and give you a little shake until you agreed. She'd stare you down. Because she's Greek, Susan thought, but Lia's powerful needs suggested more than a different culture. Her fierceness scared Susan a little. By nature Susan was more laid-back, another word just coming into currency then.
When Susan arrived exhausted with her bags from Piraeus, she discovered the faithless English travel agent in the Brompton Road hadn't secured her hotel reservation after all, though she'd paid him his five pounds. The comfortable hotel near Sindagma Square was packed with Americans, their cameras, bulging suitcases, little girls dressed in fur coats, though it was August. A huge convention of Greek Americans started that very day! "No, the deposit was never sent," the desk clerk said, "and we are fully booked."
Every hotel in Athens was booked. Susan had to put herself into the hands of the tourist police who put her into the hands of a skinny, unshaven character who loped along the narrow streets ahead of her to his rooming house, chanting, "View of Acropolis, view of Acropolis." This was true. If you stood on a chair in the corner of his cubicle and poked your head to one side of his tiny window, the visionary site was there to be viewed. But the overpriced bedroom was steamy, noisy. The toilet smelled, the shower was bug infested. For ninety drachmas! Traveling is hardship, Susan reminded herself, and traveling alone is triple hardship with no companion to quarrel with for diversion's sake.
In the morning she recollected the name she'd put on the inside back cover of Europe on Five Dollars a Day when she set sail from New York six weeks ago. Her going-away party seemed far off, indistinct from every other send-off she'd ever had. In her snug tourist cabin on the Liberté, amid the smoke and champagne-induced hilarity, just after the "All ashore!" blasted and while she clutched her friends and pecked their sweaty faces, her friend Diane's cousin Jared who'd come late shouted into her ear, "Take Lia's name. She's an English teacher just like you, [End Page 411] and she can show you around Athens and introduce you to everybody. She's a really great kid!" and Susan had written down the name and number with a borrowed pen. Now was the time to call.
Lia seemed eager to meet Susan. They arranged a rendezvous at a café in Sindagma, and after just a few minutes, Lia was beaming.
"Jared is a wonderful person. I have never met a more wonderful person. And you are wonderful, too. My uncle owns a hotel in town, and I'll make him get you a room. It's a commercial hotel for salesmen, not for tourists, but it's nice; you'll love it." Then Lia darted into the café to buy a telephone token and was chattering away with her uncle, nodding and smiling through the plate-glass window.
Warmhearted Lia quickly led Susan to the new hotel, which was heaven-sent, clean, not too noisy, in a convenient nontouristy location that reminded Susan with a nostalgic flash of Fourteenth Street in Manhattan.
So now they were best friends and saw each other every day, but only after sunset, as in the fairy tale about the Beast. Lia did exactly what Jared said she'd do. That night Lia introduced Susan to Basil and Fotis in a moonlit café at the top of Lycabettos, where they laughed and toasted each other with ouzo and ate a splendid meal of omelet and yogurt Turkish style with mint and cucumber on crusty bread. Then Lia dismissed her two friends, and she and Susan walked alone through quiet, leafy squares and dimly lit parks thronged with families with many children. "Oh, you could never do this at midnight in New York...