Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Saving the Economy of Greece One Nail at a Time

This post is dedicated to my sister, Jenny, and my sister-in-law, Kathy.  They will both laugh out loud when they read about how I spent my first hour of free time in Athens, Greece.  It's OK.  I laugh at myself as well.
I got a manicure.

Jenny and Kathy are now both laughing and wondering what alien has invaded my body.  What's so funny?  For years (and I mean years) I pooh-poohed the notion of spending time and money on something as trivial as one's nails.  Whenever there was a Taylor family reunion, Jenny and Kathy always managed to fit in a visit to the salon.  It was always my choice not to join them on these grand events.  I'm not really sure what I did during their absence; probably made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the swarms of kids!

Flash forward many years (a lifetime, in fact) to Mother's Day, 2010.  Erin, a senior in high school at the time, gave me a mother-daughter outing to the salon for a mani-pedi. I did have fond memories of the pedicure I had done during one Taylor family vacation.  It was the year I was 8 months pregnant with Philip, so a traditional massage at the spa was out of the question.  I opted for the pedicure and remember that my feet actually looked good well past the day Philip was born.  So, I joined my daughter on our bonding excursion.
Not only did Erin and I have a blast pampering ourselves in those high-tech massage chairs that are installed in our local salon, my finger nails looked so good that it was easy to resist the persistent childhood habit of picking at (or worse, biting) my nails.  Since that time I have tried to keep up the good grooming.

We rolled into Athens at about noon on Wednesday, June 22 and got settled in the Electra Hotel.  On the way to lunch I approached the consierge of the hotel.  "I have a silly question," I started, hesitantly.  "Could you tell me where I could get a manicure?"  The beautiful, young Greek woman smiled and admonished me, "That is NOT a silly question at all!  That is a very good question!"    She turned and grabbed a three inch three-ring binder and thumbed the pages like a woman with a mission.  The page turning stopped abruptly, and within moments she was chattering away on the phone, booking an appointment for me.

I had not walked out of the Athens hotel since I had arrived and had lunch.  I was eager to get my bearings in this capital city of over 4 million residents.  I studied the map and directions that the consierge gave me and took off, into a sea of people.

The salon was just 2 or three blocks away, on a small alley-sized street tucked behind the main boulevard where the Electra Hotel is situated.  As I walked past store fronts announing their wares in an alphabet that resembles ours, but with some additional, strange symbols included, I felt like everything about my being screamed "American!"  I pulled my sunglasses across my eyes.  There, that instantly makes me more hip, with-it.

It was easy to spot my salon; it was called "Mad Hair."  Must be a British influence, not American.  Anyway, three women were hanging out, talking to one another.  It looked to me like they were manicurists with no customers at the moment.  I told them of my appointment; they replied that it would be about 15 minutes.  I wondered why one of these ladies might not be able to get started right away.  I was taken to the room next door, where one woman was working on the feet of another.  "She will be ready to take you soon," I was told.  Hmmmm, I thought to myself, trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together in my mind.  There's a manicurist; she's busy with a client.  But who are these other people?

I busied myself by flipping through a recent edition of Vogue magazine.  In Greek, of course.  But you don't need to be bilingual to educate yourself on high fashion.  And high heels.  Don't mind if I say so, but the new high heels are just awful.

It was so relaxing, flipping through the pages of a magazine and listening to the sounds surrounding me.  The chatter between the manicurist and her client; the shoes pounding on the street just outside the door; the occassional rumble of a moped or motorcycle as it zipped past the salon.

Finally the manicure ritual began.  If my manicurist spoke much English, she didn't let on.  The phrases that passed between us were "what color?" and "you like?" from her, and "ne, ne" from me.  Another woman entered the spa in the midst of my manicure.  She, my manicurist and the woman who had received the pedicure entered a lively debate.  Words flew from one to the other, often at the same time.  "Ne, ne, ne" and "Ola kala" were the only phrases that I could extract from the tumble of words.  No matter.  I had fun pondering what their topic of discussion might be.  The vote of confidence for the Prime Minister that was taken in the Greek Parliament just last night?  The austerity package that must be OK'd by Parliment in order for Greece to receive another infusion of money from the international community in the hopes of forestalling bankruptcy of the country?  The fact that their husbands don't pull their weight when it comes to household chores?

I gently fingered through the Vogue magazine for about 15 minutes after the last coat of polish was applied.  I was ready to enter the world of Athens.  

Now I know what I  was missing all those years--what Jenny and Kathy knew all along: a little oasis of relaxation.

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