Sunday, November 16, 2008

last week (photos)


From day 1, the chairs I've encountered have not been comfortable. I flew to Athens on Olympic Airlines and the seat I sat in was well worn and sloped forward. Most cafes & tavernas have small wooden chairs with a woven seat that's old and sagging. The chair in my apartment is a folding chair with a thin slat of wood for a back. My first reaction was that maybe it's just me having back problems. But now that I'm sitting in a comfortable chair, I'm beginning to have other theories: maybe I'm larger then the average Greek, or maybe I don't sit the way Greeks do, or maybe living in the states has made me sensitive and spoiled. Uncomfortable chairs is not what i would expect from a nation that has more places to sit and chat per capita then anywhere in the world.

I haven't eaten out with that many people, but I have noticed that on my eating companions often cut up shared dishes into small pieces before we dig in. It's totally necessary in order to share certain dishes, but every time it happens it reminds me of how mothers cut up food for their children and it seems surprisingly sweet and touching.

Florina, Macedonia, Greece

On November 5th, I gave a lecture at the new visual arts department at the University of Western Macedonia in Florina. Florina is very close to Albania and the Slavic Republic of Macedonia. It's located in the mountains and has an interesting mix of architecture. I found this youtube video, complete with nationalist banter, that illustrates well how lost in time this place is.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Eating in Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki is known for it's food and, in particular, sweets. In the many sweet shops I noticed some items I hadn't seen in Athens: phyllo-dough triangles filled with cream, something that looks like chocolate covered challah called tsoureki, and lots of unusual types of baklava. My hosts in Thessaloniki and Florina took me to some very good tavernas and recommended some good sweet shops. I probably gained a kilo (not sure what that is in pounds).


I spent almost a week in Macedonia, the Northern region of Greece where Alexander the Great came from. I learned that Greece has an ongoing dispute with "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia". As far as I can tell, the dispute is only over a name -- the former Yugoslav country wants to call itself Macedonia. Technically, the Republic is only the northern part of Macedonia, and Greece wants their name to reflect this. I've asked around if there is more to the conflict and people say there isn't. This name issue strikes me as a strange form of nationalism and I wonder what the negotiations must be like.

Thessaloniki is as close to Istanbul as it is to Athens. I came expecting to see some Turkish influence, especially since this region was part of the Ottoman empire up until 1912. But just like in the other cities I've been too, the mosques have been destroyed and the Turkish architecture that remains is not distinct. There are exceptions: the Roman rotunda still has a minaret and the White Tower (the city's icon) was built by Suleiman the Magnificent (see photos below).

There are Greek Orthodox priests (or maybe monks) all over Thessaloniki. Near by is Mt. Athos, an independent state within Greece filled with monasteries. This place is also a source of controversy. And, well, I don't know much about what is going on with the land disputes but I do know that only men can visit Mount Athos. It's another curious and complicated geopolitical situation. However, the question I wanted answered was "have any woman snuck onto Mt. Athos?". The answer Fotini gave me was "of-course!".

Thessaloniki is on the water and has a very distinct waterfront; the water and the city meet with no barrier. The walkway along the water is smoothly paved and there is no chain, no bright yellow tiles, no warning whatsoever before you drop into the sea.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Trip to Thessaloniki

Market (Athens)

The Markets are alive and well. Stalls that sell fish, meat and fruit (and lots of other things) are open on a daily basis in the center and several neighborhoods have their own weekly market. The central market is smelly, loud and evokes a nostalgic desire for a world before supermarkets. Incidentally, I'm trying to ween myself off of the supermarket i found in Kolonaki that has an array of unfamiliar packaged goods. I am currently more comfortable shopping at the supermarket and I feel ashamed.

Eva mentioned that there was a difference between the fish and meat vendors. The meat vendors appear older, fatter and scarier then the fish vendors. but maybe that's because it's impossible to look good when you're surrounded by carcasses and covered in blood.
Eva and Dimitris have a few people they buy from regularly because by being loyal they get the best selection and preferred treatment. Back home, I don't think I have relationships like that.

Friday, October 31, 2008

the next leader of the free world

Being away from home for BOTH the election and Halloween is making me sad. Tonight is Halloween and I'm going to a party thrown by Americans, so maybe it wont be so bad. I'll try and make a quick costume but my resources are limited. For the last election I was in Florida volunteering as a pole monitor for the NAACP. This election I feel helpless.. even a bit irresponsible not volunteering for something somewhere. But what I will ultimately miss is that rare feeling of community or at least solidarity with roughly half of the country that will vote for the same person as me. Only every 4 years do we get to unite this way.

I've been reading the Times, listening to NPR and watching CNN religiously (btw, when i watched the Obama infomercial on you tube, it had been viewed less times then the SNL spoof the week before), but what I haven't been doing is talking to people about the election. not much anyway. I went to a Yoga class the other day and the guy behind the desk was reading this article on the Economist's website about how to talk about the American election on your business trip. It discusses a USA today article advising Americans how to avoid talking about the election with those nosy opinionated Europeans. So far, this has not been a problem here. Perhaps the local Politics (with the almost daily demonstrations) is enough to make people not that curious about our election.

I passed the American embassy yesterday (see above) and it's heavily fortified, just like they all are nowadays. the British Embassy is too. However the American one is the size of a stadium, and the fences and security booths are part of the site planning as though this is the way it's always been and will always be. the British embassy, on the other hand, has some concrete barriers on the street, like a temp road block in the west bank. It suggests that as soon as the war is over, they can remove the highway dividers and go back to being a normal embassy.