Whose lie is it anyway? The filth and the fury

December 10, 2008 at 11:10 pm (Culture, Politics) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Torn, I am. Conflicting feelings boil in me, and one moment I’d like the law to grab one of those little oversexed tweens and shove him (or her) in solitary for a couple of hours; and the next I wonder how far I could throw an Amstel bottle filled with gasoline, and whether it would reach the windows of Parliament.

I felt like spitting when I saw Nikitas Kaklamanis, the Mayor of Athens, tonight posing for a photo-op in front of the newly lit up Dromeas (The Runner) sculpture – less than a mile from Syntagma metro station, which was closed due to yet more tear gas-tinged episodes at the very moment he was admiring the ugly piece of shiny glass. What did they think? That the blue lights would somehow make the view from the Hilton balconies prettier? That if we ignore them, they’ll run out of beer bottles to make Molotovs and go home?

This won’t just extinguish itself. I don’t understand why they haven’t realized it yet. Um, Excuse me? New Democracy? (What a joke for a name.) I’m so sorry that you happened to be in government at this time – I truly feel for you, you Emo Administration, that we have the Nth scandal on your watch – but it is your watch, and you have to do something. Resign, if you want, but DO SOMETHING. Show your damn face. Don’t fly off to Brussels tomorrow, you chicken. And just so you don’t think you’ll wake up and it will all have gone away, there are 21 events planned for tomorrow, http://athens.indymedia.org/ informs us.

Then again, I felt even more disgusted when I read that when the Dean of Thessaloniki’s Law School entered his offices, protected from armed forced by the blessing of asylum – only to find them completely vandalized and robbed. Computers, phones, paperwork, books – I saw fires Monday night inside Athens Polytechnic, but I tried to convince myself they were being careful and respectful.  Eh, no. No. No, this is not why university asylum is enshrined in law – it is utter heresy to vandalize the place that gives you such shelter.

And just when I’ve had enough of seeing looting and mindless destruction, and I veer all authoritarian – that’s when I read this. http://www.skai.gr/master_story.php?id=103521

Firstly, Rambo picks Alexis Kougias to represent him. The sleaziest, dirtiest, most attention-seeking lawyer of the nation. Smooth move, Ex-Lax. He then goes on to say what a proper copper he is, and what a spoiled little rich boy Alex and his hooligan ilk are – and does not ever, at any point express sorrow that the boy died by his trigger hand. Even if it was a damn ricochet, as you testify, and even if you didn’t notice a bloody body fall at your feet as you walked away – how can you not be sorry? How?

And visions of burning police stations dance all through my head. (To the tune of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” no less.)

Fuck this. I’m going to go watch Euripides’ “Bacchae” at Poreia Theater. 3-5 Trikorof Street, off 3 September Street, right next to Victoria Station. It’s right next to the Polytechnic’s bacchanals of fury. And I’ve just got word that they are heroically playing on for anyone who cares to come on over. Let’s all go. Wear a scarf, bring some vaseline just in case, leave your television sets and your blogs, and let’s all go downtown. Let’s drink beers on the sidewalks and watch. If there are more of us than there are cops and vandals then something may happen. Or not. But waiting passively for the next corrupt and inept government, that we ourselves vote in, to come along and then whine about them is really no answer.

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The Guns of Tzavella

December 9, 2008 at 12:26 am (Culture, music, Politics) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

I love this city fiercely. Almost protectively. When something wonderful happens, my chest feels like it may burst from pride. I wanted my next blogpost to be about the Beggars’ Operas. I truly did. It was one of those times where my love for Athens and Athenian culture simply surges with joy.  I was composing the post in my head after their incredible performance of Verdi’s  ‘Il Trovatore” at the Bios warehouse venue a few days ago. Just a bunch of extremely talented twenty and thirty-somethings dressed in everyday clothes singing with expression and pathos, just inches away from the audience. The orchestra was comprised of an accordion, guitar, piano, trumpet, and cymbals – and still managed to convey the suspenseful lyricism of Verdi’s score. I cried like a fool from Miserere onwards.

But right now, I just don’t feel like writing about art. Or joy. Or love.

On Saturday, December 6, 2008, I unwittingly went for a peek on the wild side after taking Jenny to see Melted Butter.  At first, I couldn’t understand why Patision Avenue and Amerikis Square were so jam-packed at midnight. Grumbling, I decided to cut through the law courts and Exharxia to get over to Gazi – I knew she’d love K44 club over by the railroad tracks. We entered Spirou Trikoupi at approximately half-past midnight – little did we know that, by then, Exharxia had turned into a full-blown war zone since the 9:15 in-cold-blood shooting of a 15-year-old by the police.

I pointed to the neo-classical building at number 34. “See, Jenny? That’s where I spent four years of my life! Isn’t it pretty?” Jenny was not paying attention. She was gazing in horror in front of us. At the corner of Tossitsa and  Spirou Trikoupi three dumpsters were blazing. The heavy scent of tear gas was in the air. Jenny’s friend stated firmly that she was scared and did not want to go any further.

Well. I couldn’t exactly tell to get out of my car and walk back to Ampelokipous, now, could I? I slowly wove my way around the burning dumpsters in order to check out what was going on, regretfully turning back towards civilization – but not before a bunch of police in riot gear (who ignored both the flaming roadblocks and a few youths breaking a car about 50 yards away) sneered at me, “Run girlie, run!”

Rage.

Rage at the smarmy, arrogant bastards, and rage at myself, because I just drove on, tires squealing. I am a Coward. You just shot a boy, and you have the gall to catcall? Is what I did not say. Why didn’t I get out of the car and do… something? Coward.

Rage at the lying cops who insisted that they shot warning bullets in the air because they were surrounded by thirty rock-throwing anarchists. Thankfully, the cops were so stupid as to shoot Andreas Alexandros Grigoropoulos at point blank range at the corner of Tzavella and Messologhiou Streets, which is filled with cafes. Eyewitness accounts relate that after a verbal scuffle between the patrolling cops and a few youths, the cops left, parked their car – then walked back to find the boys and coolly aim at Alex’s chest.

Rage at Anthee Carassava, correspondent for the New York Times, who sticks so religiously to government press releases it’s just plain disgusting. It is now the third day and she won’t even type the dead boy’s name because the government “hasn’t officially released his name yet.”

Really? What a journalist. You remind me of the 1972 White House press corps. By the way ma’am, in case you’re interested, Andreas Alexandros Grigoropoulous’s funeral is tomorrow at 3pm, at Palaio Faliro.

Also, Ms. Carassava, you shold know better than to call Exharxia an “unruly haven of left-wing extremists.” If you really lived here you would know that this is a lively neighborhood filled with cafes, stores, theaters, bars, houses, supermarkets, minimarkets, pharmacies, boutiques, grannies, mothers, junkies, kids, artists – in short, it is a small, cozy microcosm of Athens itself. I have been going out (and practically living there for a while) since I was fifteen and have never, ever felt threatened in the neighborhood at any hour of the night, my car has never been burned, and so on. Is my life that charmed? I think not.

As an ugly cynicism sets in twenty-four hours later, I am glad that mayhem is going on in Trikala, Patra, Chania, Thessaloniki – even Berlin and London ex-pats are doing their share. I am also glad that if someone had to die, then it’s good he was the underage son of a bank manager. Perhaps now justice just might be served. Perhaps the media will now have to rethink their easy labeling of Exharxia as an anarchist ghetto. Perhaps the issue of police brutality in Greece will finally be addressed. As a http://www.skai.gr commentary noted yesterday, Exarxia is everywhere. Unrest and dissatisfaction are everywhere. Cops routinely hit protesters with the hard handle of their rubber baton. Wake up.

But that is beside the point right now. I just came back from the “marches” that were arranged by the Coalition of the Left and the Communist Party.  And now I feel like a fool squared. My idealism and naivete will be my undoing – they have already plunged me into a deep depression.

I had been itching to march since Saturday night, and on Monday I got my chance, as the riots showed no sign of abating – every day more protests and riots were mushrooming all over the country. I was so proud of all the school-age children that protested so peacefully this morning.

So I went to protest myself. And I saw what I did not want to believe.

The fact is, these self-styled anarchists have no ideology whatsoever. It’s not that they mistake anarchy for something else – there is nothing else. They just desire a pretty label for random violence. They don’t actually believe in anything. Apart from fighting and destroying for the hell of it. Supposedly they are anti-establishment.

If so, then they are also mentally challenged.

The killing of an under-age kid by a police officer is the best Christmas present an anti-establishment type can hope for. Apart from Parliament sinking into the ground during a plenary session, I can’t think of anything better. It is cold, hard evidence that the Man is out to get you – with eyewitnesses.

And yet.

Tonight, they burned all of Panepistimiou Street – while the other “peaceful” marchers cheered every Molotov cocktail and rock that was thrown into a bank window. The mania with which they attacked streetlights, bus stops and small shops was almost a wonder to look at. There were no cops, and no provocation. It seemed like the externalized frustration of a would-be rapist who chickens out at the last minute – and then runs over a dog.  It certainly did not seem like they wanted vengeance for the horrific shooting of an unarmed boy.

The atmosphere at the march was heavy, confused. No one knew what to shout, or where to go. I took lots of fuzzy photos. We were surrounded by flaming dumpsters at every turn – there was no way out in case the police attacked. The cops were warily aware of this – they flooded us with tear gas when we got too close, but made no moves to stop the destruction. Possibly they were scared shitless at making another “mistake” – but honestly, you don’t have to shoot someone in the chest to stop him setting fire to an apartment building. There must be a middle way. I’m sure that is part of police training somewhere on this planet.

After running to safety during a brief scuffle with fire and tear gas in Omirou Street, I persuaded Tina to go to Exarxia before we headed home. I just couldn’t leave without going to my favorite square in the city, and damn the baby guerrillas allegedly hiding with Molotovs in narrow streets.

I almost wished there was fighting when we got there. Not even a token oblivious junkie was lounging on the empty benches. It was dark, dirty and desolate. Everything still standing was shuttered close. We picked our way through shards of glass, rubble, extinguished fires and black car-shells. A few rioters hung out nervously near the university gates, ready to bolt back inside at the first sign of trouble.

Teenage looters giggled as they lugged boxes from the destroyed Plaisio Shop. Surreally, I could see a bunch of riot police gazing at them from a safe distance and doing nothing. I was nearly in tears by the time we drank a beer in front of the Archaelogical Museum – we bought it from the only newsstand open within a 2-mile radius, which was doing brisk business with the rioters barred up inside Athens Polytechnic.

And now? The riots are spreading to Athenian suburbs that have never seen such random violence before. And instead of the people raging against murdering police officers (and the reasons why they are so arrogant, rude, undertrained and underpaid) – they demand justice from the anarchists who have gaily burned their livelihoods.

Way to go, guys. And a merry martial law Christmas to you.

and R. I. P. Alex. (1993-2008)

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Bummertime Blues in the Vienna Woods

November 30, 2008 at 2:42 pm (Acting, Culture, music, Theater) (, , , , , , )

Some days it’s just a bummer being sentient.

I feel heartless packing my tupperware lunch while hostages are dying in Mumbai, but what are am I supposed to do, starve? It’s quite surreal watching CNN’s panic-driven coverage and calmly cutting up little squares of roast beef in my serene kitchen.  I feel queasy, because it’s obvious that the networks had been praying to Satan for such a newsworthy story; amidst their anxiousness for their fellow-reporters, glee – get cameras! stories! i-reporters! should we use the holograms again??? – is oozing from every Max Factor-ed pore.  I don’t know what caused me to pull over on the highway on the way home, puking my tupperware lunch 50m from the Kifisia exit, but the nausea had been steadily building all day, and has carried on through my weekend.

Nausea with the play I saw last night, and nausea at the sickness of modern consumerist society, that left a Wal-Mart employee trampled to death in Long Island, and two men dead by their own hand in Southern California. Why does Wal-Mart end up being blamed for not having enough store security? For pity’s sake, what are we? Animals that need herding? Can we not live peacefully without the fear of the whip?

Yes, the credit crunch>recession>New Depression has left many of us much worse off, but can a simple sale at a store cause such pandemonium that people would claw and flatten their fellow beings to get a three dollar DVD or ten cent tomato? How can we act this way? In California, two fearsome hausfraus had brought along their gun-packing escorts to the Black Friday Sale, who actually shot each other in bizarre knightly fashion, after the ladies fought over some frivolous discount item.  I am reminded of Huxley’s Savage, quoting excitedly “O brave new world that has such people in it!”  And what a bummer that brave new world turned out to be.

Perhaps misanthrope Odon von Horvath was right all along. Truly, I have never felt so sickened by a play in my life. On the one, more inconsequential level, the performance Tales from the Vienna Woods proved that the more A-list talent you hire, the worse a show will be. All  my indie favorites (now playing at the National Theatre, thanks to the demise of Nikos Kourkoulos) were there, hamming it up in an obscene parody of themselves. There was my beloved Nikos Kouris, spitting freely and yelling as he tried gamely to support his nasty, cardboard-cut-out character. Aggeliki Papoulia gazed as wide-eyed, trembly-voiced and knobbly-kneed as ever, as she tried to ignore the play she was in.  Themis Bazaka and Akyllas Karazisis had decided between themselves that they would compete for alpha dog status in a shouting match, overpowering even the amazingly strong lungs of wizened Titika Sarigouli.

At first I was confused. I couldn’t understand why director Yiannis Chouvardas would want to mock the genre of big, ensemble musicals in such a mean-spirited way. I mean, Ok, you’ve got the National Theatre, already, it’s yours. Only experimental performances from now on — must you rub it in the face of more mainstream theater-goers? They love the theater, too. We need them to keep coming and paying tickets for our shows, or else we might as well set up shop in our backyard, playing only for ourselves, the self-satisfied, arugula-chomping elitist crowd.  I believe that the National Theatre of any country is obliged to offer fare for all tastes — the name says it all. National. Last night, the curtain went up and we saw a set that could be the backdrop for Guys and Dolls — and were then forced to watch every stock character (the butcher, toymaker, granny, vamp, etc.) turn into horrible, crooked caricatures.

Yet, as the hours (3 of them) wore on, I realized that the course jokes, exaggerated acting, and endless Austrian ditties (one was played at least 9 times — I was amazed at Kat’s self-control) were all trying to cover up what a bad play this actually is. It is not a window into pre-Anschluss Austria, it is a portait of vulgar, nasty, loud, idiotic louts who sing, drink beer and get on with their miserable lives. Von Horvath’s goal, according to the program’s notes, was to “harshly rail against stupidity and lies.”  The author goes on to say that he despises stupidity and lies, and supports logic and honesty. Fine. So why is it that the only character who tries to escape from stupidity, lies and a fiancee who can’t kiss without biting, is left up Shit Creek without a paddle?

Everybody else ends up just the way they began in Act One. They have a few adventures, a few ups and downs, and that’s it. The moral of this play is, all ends well if you don’t try to be an honest person who strives for integrity. The one who does try to follow her heart becomes a single, cabaret-dancing mother – who then loses both her child and her crummy job — and ends up (with permanently sore lips) back in the arms of the fate she tried to escape. If that’s not a bummer, then I don’t know what is.

And let me just say – before I go back to reading up on nuclear fallout and measuring the miles that separate the Indian subcontinent from Greece – that people have using make-up in the theater for the past 2000 years – Mr. Chouvardas, do you think you know better?

Let us ponder. Hmm… that would an emphatic NO.

My gorgeous, Carmen-like friend Kika may be able to get away without wearing makeup, but quite a few of the others were pale, pasty, and scary — logical, with all those bright lights shining on them, non? Think of Ms. Bazaka’s age and lack of eyebrows, and then reconsider if a middle-aged vamp would even go to the window without make-up. But Chouvardas needs to be an iconoclast, so he acts accordingly — even if it is to the detriment of a show.

It’s like those Greek rappers/low-bappers the other night — Totem, DJ Moya, and Xnaria. They have these crazy insecurity complexes, and must, at all costs retain negative attitudes, so, instead of being happy at opening for Public Enemy, they told us 5 times that they’re not getting any money for this show, and rapped with rage against managers to the refrain of “What do I say? Fuck the USA!” The crowd loved it.

Now, that just drives me crazy. You wouldn’t even know what rap was, you dumb bastards, if it wasn’t for the USA. That’s where it was born, like it or not. And you’re wearing your hoodies in emulation of the rappers of that country. So just shut up. Oh, you’re angry white boys? Well, why don’t you say say Fuck Agion Oros and its dirty priests/ Fuck Pasok and Fuck Karamanlis — those are the ones damaging this country, in case you haven’t noticed.

But you don’t notice, because you’re too busy sneering at Public Enemy’s 20-year history, saying to the crowd, “Well, I would have been excited doing this 10 years ago, but nothing good has come out of that country since then.” Dude, don’t open for the legendary Public Enemy, then. Put your money where your mouth is, Monsieur Ellinaras. Some manager must have gotten you this gig — or would you have preferred he wangle your opening for Peggy Zina?

Then Public Enemy took the stage. And I boogied like it was 1989, sweaty and happy, for the next 3 hours. They were simply amazing. Uplifting as hell. Their musicians (on bass, guitar, drums, and the uber-scratching DJ Lord) were excellent, their sound hard, and they did not stop smiling and jumping around like they were still 20 years old. Chuck D and Flavor Flav’s genius lies in the way they mix their “happy” music with lyrics full of political criticism completely lacking in nastiness.

And when you show how happy you are to be on stage performing, when the love for you do is so obvious, then the audience gets in sync with you and just keeps wanting more — without being bummed out or wanting to beat anybody up after the curtain falls.

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Election Odyssey: 2008

October 25, 2008 at 11:49 pm (Politics) (, , )

I can’t believe I’ve been obsessing about the US presidential election for over a year – and it still isn’t over! If I compare to what has changed in my own life in this span of time, the stasis of US politics is even more dumbfounding.
Nevertheless, here we are. 10 days to go, and, as Puccini’s Calaf sang desperately, “alba vieni, quest’ incubo dissolvi!”Or will the nightmare go on? That is my fear, and no Cosmix will assuage my anxiety until the 5th. Remember, remember the 5th of November!
If the hype is to be believed, this election is as important as the one of 1972. Perhaps even more so, considering in November 1972 we only suspected the forces of darkness drooling close by.  (I use “we” in a very loose sense; I include my unborn self and those who did not give the culture wars their proper due.)
Let me begin by saying how amazed and confounded I am that there are still people who call themselves undecided. ?#$%^@#&*(*&^!%$!!!!
If you’re not in a coma, people, then I really don’t know what else you want. What more do you need? Do the candidates have come over and carve your jack o’ lantern for you? Do your kids’ homework for you? Go trick-or-treating and, apropos, talk credit crunch and national security? Please.
Yet even more worrying is the matter of those who have eyes, but refuse to see. My dear daddy has been nearing apoplexy every few nights or so, when he chats to one of his oldest friends on Skype, and who, although not a raving religious jingoist, plans to vote for McCain.
He says Obama scares him.
You scare me, dammit, when all you can bleat is socialism and taxes. Can’t you see what is going on? Can you really not care?

Hearing my libertarian daddy (or, obamacon/ obamican to be hip) one night sputtering “but! white trash! from wasilla!” (Incidentally, wasalla in arabic means washerwoman… ok, I found it amusing…) I took it upon myself to pen him a little note for his friend, who had picked up on the McCain camp’s latest rhetoric, and was protesting, “But he’s a socialist!”

He liked it, and decided to send it to all his friends.

Unfortunately, those who choose to be blind will not be swayed; but, just in case, here it is, for your forwarding pleasure.

p.s. Lucky for us Biden is no Eagleton, so we can get some sleep….And I’m lucky enough to live in Greece, where the political situation has become so amusing, that I check out New Democracy’s land buying/selling travails for comic relief. It really works, too… (The only boy who could ever reach me/ was the son of the postman, and so on…)

If you have a friend who likes McCain, you may wish to send him the note below.
==========================================================
Dear Friend,

  • “Socialism refers to a broad set of economic theories of social organization advocating state or collective ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods, and the creation of an egalitarian society.” (wikipedia)

This is a general definition of socialism. As with all theories, it is very nice and utopian. Unfortuantely, the human race is such – as all countries show – that, whether a communist government is in charge or a capitalist one, the end result is the same. Those in power protect themselves and their friends always – populace be damned. And they always try to cover their asses when something goes wrong.

Therefore, the more power a government concentrates, the more change and/or damage it can bring about. So, the logical thing for a person – who is lucky enough to be able to choose who to vote for – is to think, who can be trusted with this power that I will give them? No politician is pure, so how do I choose? How do I see through the campaign bullshit? What am I looking for?

I think the main thing to look for in the leader of any country is someone with integrity, intelligence, empathy, humility, ability to see many sides of a matter, ability to choose a good team, to be able to listen, to inspire, to be calm and far-seeing. The best thing you can say about a president is to say, “He was good for the country – as a whole.”

Not one of these characteristics can be matched to McCain’s don’t-question-me-I’m-a-war-hero personality. And they called Romney a flip-flopper? Truly, his choosing an agent of uneducated intolerance (if you remember, those were his words in 2000 regarding Falwell et al) with the ugliest, trashiest, most divisive political rhetoric I have heard in years, makes me sick.

It also proves that McCain is a man with no integrity – he just wants to win the prize of President (since he was too incompetent to make admiral) no matter what. That, to me, is extremely scary.

As to McCain’s last ditch effort – I am sorry that you do not see through their crying socialist wolf.

The amazing thing about the new GOP is that they fit in with this definition of socialism exactly – apart from its actual aim. An egalitarian society is really none of their concern.

They advocate state ownership and administration to further their own gains and oedipal interests – to boldly go where no Bush has gone before. And just like China, North Korea, the Soviet Union, and Joe McCarthy – if you dare criticize us, you are not a patriot. You are anti-country.

Actually, the antics of this party are more anti-American than Sarah Palin (who thinks that she has power over the Senate) can imagine in her wildest dreams. Where is the patriotism in suspending habeas corpus? Copying your hard drive if you bring your laptop to the airport? Allowing government to listen in on private phone conversations or read private email messages without court orders? Lying to the people in order to go off to to play 1-billion-$-a-day hide-and-seek in Iraq?

But that is not the fault of the Bush Administration – that is the people’s fault for believing that all this is done in the name of national security and safety, therefore no one opens their mouth to say “Hey, we are wandering over to the totalitarian side of the fence, y’all … We are turning into what we are ‘protecting’ ourselves from”. As to finance, then no honest capitalist government would not have lifted a finger to save any corporation – it would have just shrugged its shoulders and let heads roll.

To not excercise your right to vote – that is one thing. But to vote for John McCain? No, I cannot understand that.

Sincerely,
ABC

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And now for something completely different: My mother, Vice President of the U.S. (and so can you)

September 8, 2008 at 5:26 pm (Politics) (, , , , , , )

OK, Dajieblack is royally pissed off.

I sent a letter to the New York Times, in regards to their 158th article regarding Sarah Palin.

I was extremely polite and non-abusive. I did not call her Charlton Heston in a skirt. I did not say that it’s kinda hypocritical to shoot, kill, skin & eat a live being, then call youself pro-life. I certainly didn’t say that religion has been an excuse for war & oppression since man invented the Gods, and therefore should be quarantined (preferably, in Alaska) until wars cease to exist.

Nor did I crow over the striking similarities of Jamie Lynn Spears – who was literally skewered and served with oregano – and Bristol Palin. (I was confident that all the rabid “morality” voters would disavow the lying, hypocritical, holier-than-thou Ma Palin without my 2 cents.)

They didn’t print it!!! Please, please, somebody explain to me where it is off-topic and abusive. Where??? I must be blind. They have 800 comments per article on Palin, and this is offensive?? How? Where? I didn’t even say the word abortion, dammit!

Please advise. Thanks. Here it is:

Dear Sirs:

My mom is a great person, extremely clever & personable, with a sterling & steely character. (My dad and I tease her that if she had lived in Nazi Germany she would have been a Hitler Youth leader.)

But I don’t think she should be vice president. I know we’re taught from kindergarten that the greatness of this country is that anyone can be president, but come on.

I also know America is going through an extremely anti-intellectual period where university degrees are anathema, and all politicians have to do are smile their fluorescent Colgate smile and drink beers and bowl.

But that is the fast track to permanent decadence, and the decline of this country into poverty and ridicule. It would be nice to identify with my president, but I would much rather he/she were smarter than me; I want to say, “Wow, you know so much, your conversation rocks!” And, “Wow, how do you handle yourself so well with all sorts of people? Your communication skills are magical!”

I want to proudly proclaim: How logical and practical my president is! My president doesn’t get all excited and sidetracked by morality issues, or tell us how to live.

Our president should inspire us to be better people, to achieve more, and to love our neighbor, whether he is Charlon Heston or Priscilla, queen of the desert.

So, I will not ever vote for someone like Sarah Palin for anything beyond Mayor. It is a vote for – I quote from “Amadeus” – “Mediocrity! I salute you!” She is not even an example of affirmative action; she is being used as a puppet of the worst kind.

She may be clever, personable, a fighter, and have many more admirable qualities. But, like it or not, our President, Vice President, and the Cabinet need to have a semblence of qualifications that Sarah Palin does not have. People in high-ranking positions are not supposed to be like your mom, or hapless Uncle Harry.

And, because important people become role models – well, Juno was a cute movie, but what kind of example would our Vice President be to girls? Get knocked up before you finish high school, and destroy the best years of your life? (at least Juno gave it up to continue her carefree existence) Or just have unprotected sex, and don’t worry, mommy will take care of it? Or, worse, mommy is a social conservative in politics, so will force you to get married to your babe-in-arms, or else?

I’m getting 12th century goosebumps all over.

Dajie Black

Athens, Greece

I also posted it on the Economist’s website – and they took it off! Which is even more insane, because the Economist (with its libertarian live-and-let-live philosophy) lets everybody abuse each other, no matter how gaily off-topic they are. In their March article All At Sea regarding Greece, Macedonia and their name troubles, the comments were about whether Methodius and Cyril were Greek, or spoke Greek, and “Tremble, snooty Greeks we’re a-coming!!” and so on. The Greeks, naturally gave as good as they got, turning the forum into – for the most part – an ugly, uninformed, macho brawl with awful spelling.

Where, pray tell, is the abuse in my letter? I specifically tried not to sound like a college-loving liberal – ok, maybe I failed at that. But I truly believe that the more knowledge you have about anything – first-hand, second-hand, accredited or not – the better you become as a person. Open-minded. Able to converse. To think in diverse ways.  To have empathy.

Even if Sarah Palin was Governor of Alaska for the last 20 years, she lacks everything needed in a diplomat. And that is what everyone who works at the White House is. They are go-betweens, smoothers-over, hand-shakers, and problem-solvers. The president serves as uber-diplomat #1, and sets the tone for the rest.

This is a woman who, having university qualifications for an internship at best, wanted to deny her fellow-Wasillans access to certain books that she deemed bad! I didn’t call her Hitler, either, but with that action alone, she is more like him than any other inexperienced politician I can think of.

I am just a human being who believes that any and all extremists (left or right) should never have more power than a toll booth on a highway. They are annoying, they slow you down, but you drive on and forget about them – until the next one comes along and asks for your money – no pennies, please.

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A must-see movie: Diorthosi/ Correction

August 20, 2008 at 5:26 pm (Acting, Culture, Movies) (, , , , , , )

Harsh Elegy
To Athens, with love – that howls

There are some films that offer their point of view with all the delicacy of a steamroller.
Diorthosi is not one of these films.
With the utmost subtlety, it strikes a blow at the collective Greek gut, addressing the practically taboo theme of xenophobia. The camera is a detached observer, never wagging a finger at us, and filmed so naturally as to seem almost documentary-like.
However, the poetry emanating from the shots of a cheering soccer stadium framed to seem like a holy temple, a passing Good Friday procession of the bier, or illegal immigrants fleeing the police with their wares on their backs belie their simplicity.
Nothing here is what is seems. The hero, Giorgos Simeoforidis – a clever wordplay on the actor’s actual name of Symeonidis, and the Greek word “simeoforos” (flag-bearer) – utters no more than 30 words throughout the film. His impassive Buster Keaton mask, and matter-of-fact movements manage to portray more despair and determination than any wordy monologue, yet we are at a loss to understand exactly who he is, and what he is trying to correct. That information is fed to us with all the speed of an IV drip, yet the suspense is nerve-wracking.
We walk the streets of Athens with him, streets that many of us rarely stroll down, and perhaps never have: the alleys behind the Panathinaikos Stadium, Menandrou Street, Sophocleous Street; roads that have become the mainstay of Chinese, Nigerian, Albanian, and Pakistani immigrants. He lurks, stalker-like, around a single mother and her young daughter and is himself stalked by dangerous former associates. The final scenes are harrowing, more so because in the end we do not feel catharsis. Is it being withheld purposely, or are we being told that some things can never be cleansed from our soul?
An hour to midnight, Monday night. Five people and myself watch perhaps the most important Greek movie released in the past few years, inspired by true events that occurred after a Greece-Albania soccer match. Albania emerged as the victor; a few hours later, an Albanian ended up murdered. Will Diorthosi continue to be shown so sparsely, one movie theater at a time, doomed to be as ignored as its subject?

Diorthosi [Correction]
DRAMA, 2007, 87’

Directed by Thanos Anastopoulos, starring Giorgos Symeonidis, Ornela Kapetani, Savina, Alimani, Nikos Georgakis and Buyar Alimani. (In Greek)

Won Best Screenplay, Best Actor awards at 2007 Thessaloniki Film Festival.

(I copy/ paste my review, because i am pretty sure if it makes it into the paper, it won’ t be in this form….)

Let me just add, that I put this flick in the same category as Theo Angelopoulos’s Traveling Players (O Thiasos), and that I have never, ever felt so proud at having been taught by someone than when I witnessed Giorgos Symeonidis’s indescribable performance. He is an incredible teacher, a fabulously versatile actor, and a wonderful, humble person. (I’m not pandering, here, I mean it.)

Thanos Anastopoulos is a gifted director, even the extas are amazing, every actor, every scene, just overwhelmed me with the obvious love that went into making this movie.

Also, the subject of this movie is one that really gets to me, interests me, I want to help, vre paidaki mu, and change the racism Greeks feel which breaks my heart; I have been derided for my obstinate defense of any and all immigrants, and my happiness at belonging to a multi-cultural society. To me, Athens is like London in the 1950s, or New York in the 1880s, where there was this flood of new people and cultures that took a while to assimilate, a painful while. That is the stage Athens is at.

A few years ago, an Albanian kid that went to Greek public school (i.e. his parents came here, and he was born and bred in Greece) and got the best grades among his fellow pupils. The best student in a class is the one that has the (dubious) honor of holding the (heavy) Greek flag at the Independence Day parade. You can imagine the outcry that occurred, for Greeks are not ashamed about their racism; it was a nationalist thing, how dare a foreigner (filthy or not) hold the sacred symbol of Kolokotronis? Did the heroes of the revolution die for the Albanians? And so on. And many “normal” people agreed that he should not be allowed to carry the flag.

Ah, they cleverness of the Americans! To make one love both America and their country of origin, be proud of both…I think there’s even a holiday called Heritage Day – or maybe my third grade teacher made it up.

But I am confident that in twenty years things will be so much better; That it will be normal to have mixed-race couples, and not to just see them at the yearly counter-culture Anti-Racism Festivals. This year, I worked a little bit with kindergarden kids, and they all played together happily, all the while their teachers were griping about the flux of foreign, non-Greek-speaking kids that had been unceremoniously dumped in their care by this oh-so-efficient government.

Change is blowing in the wind. Fluttering. A butterfly just flapped its wings in Tokyo. It’ll take a while, but change will come.

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Valse Oedipalle

August 16, 2008 at 1:01 pm (Acting, Culture, Film, Movies, Theater) (, , , , , , , , , )

Obviously, I am no state to be watching art these days.  How else to explain the nervous giggles, acute boredom, and disbelief I have experienced in the last two shows I’ve attended? Two creations that have as much in common as Dubya and ingenuity? Either my id is acting up as a result of quitting theater and my I’d-rather-be-in-Gori-nursing-shrapnel-wounds-rather-than-auditioning attitude, or I truly did witness a double violation of the thespian craft.

Perpetrator number one was definitely more painful than the second.  A Greek dream team of actors took part in Roula Pateraki’s double Oedipus, including my second-favorite director ever, in whose theater I had just rehearsed.  I was ecstatic at finally going to Epidaurus, as for most of June and July I could only listen wistfully (OK, I was pea-green with envy) to the raves regarding the performances in this year’s Athens Festival. For me, being part of it was not enough. I don’t think I will get over missing Fiona Shaw playing Happy Days in Epidaurus; my taste of the Wooster Group’s exquisite Hamlet had only whetted my appetite for cerebral, avant-garde theater. Being a working actor means you never get to actually watch any performances other than your own, and even then, not properly. (The last show I was in, people kept telling me how much they loved the lighting design; I had no idea what the lighting looked like, and thanked them with cluelessness painted all over my face.)

But there I was, finally perched on the holy hill, grinning happily and squirming on the still-warm rock. We were sure that the performance would be exceptional; our only worry was that our sweet Marmarinos might not have the acting and vocal prowess to properly portray both Oedipus Rex and At Colonus.  We traded insider gossip, as only the most jaded, theater-going, know-it-alls do. We worried about his mouth surgery.

We needn’t have.

Marmarinos and the guy who played Creon as a baddie in some Zorro movie (circa 1940) were the only two people having a ball in this excruciatingly bad production. Four hours later, with a third of the theater gone and feeling like we had been beaten up, our only questions began with Why? Why? Why? We just couldn’t understand – anything at all.  As my shitlist of bad productions was given a new numbering system, we wondered:

Why pretend to use (i.e. light, and place a few benches on) the entire forest backdrop? I am all for treating actors and extras with the gentleness they deserve, but this duped us into thinking that it had some dramatic purpose.  Nope.  It was only for the guys who made the pretty patterns with silver dust in the orchestra to hang out on, until they had to go back and remake the pretty maze that the actors had the bad taste to spoil by stepping all over it. (We felt intellectually stumped as we debated the reasons.  The characters ignored the restraints of the maze of life, thus provoking the Gods’ wrath? The characters try to change the paths that Fate has laid out and fail?)

Why was everybody dressed Neanderthal-style, but the extras making the Silver Maze dressed like exterminators? Why could we see them? Why did they give up on the maze on the second part of the performance? Why did Antigone become an extra all throughout the second part? This brings us to:

Why on earth was Oedipus at Colonus performed first? I won’t begin to recount all the reasons we thought of; suffice to say, I stand by our last.  It simply was much better than Oedipus Rex, and they were aware that people would leave in droves.  When, a few days later, I found out the “truth” – all this was supposed to be Antigone’s recollection of her dad’s misfortune, and that was why she remained onstage throughout – I was aghast. I am sure there were a few simple things that could have been done (or even explained in the program – they weren’t) so that I would not have had to hunt throughout the acting community to find out.

Was this what the director had been dreaming of throughout her much-documented quest for the perfect production of Oedipus?  This was the summation of a year’s work? A leaden, academic reading of the two plays? With a few misguided directorial flourishes? Let’s not even get into the scratchy-voiced, shuffling, paper-clutching, half-monk, half-Star Wars extras that was the chorus.  The less said, the better about the emasculation of the most important part of any ancient Greek play.

Why was Kariofilia Karabeti as Antigone so unrecognizably bad? An Epidaurus veteran and with the sexiest voice in Greek theater, she normally has a knack for looking good even in bad productions; this time she bounded around like she was auditioning for Xena; the shrieking Ismene was her Gabriella, and they excelled at motion-stop-motion-speak/screech-start-motion-again acting. Amateur? Amazingly so.

Why did everybody wave their hands around, emphasing Ev-er-y syllable, in the most unnatural manner, and then stay stuck with their hands in the air for an indeterminable amount of time? Why? What was the purpose? Even our Press Secretary speaks with more feeling.

Why was the audience treated to a most kindergarten-like THERE WILL ONLY BE A 7 MINUTE BREAK (to a four-hour show) warning, and then forced to watch the most artless scene-shifting in history? (Lefteri, your Prince of Homburg was pure poetry; where are you in our hour of need?) The intermission occurred 4 minutes before the end of Oedipus at Colonus, provoking another Why? At this point, the only thing we were sure of was that there was not to be any experimental theater going on; so why don’t you just make a nice, classic production of it? Why?

The anti-intellectuals in theater may have a point, after all. (Dear Teacher, all is forgiven.)

My fit of giggles occurred during the lowest point of the performance.  Jocasta (played by Mania Papadimitriou, another revered actress) was dressed as Peter Pan, posing as a two-armed Kali and held aloft by two men on a white saucer (come on, National Theater! Where did all the budget go? On Ismene’s “horse”?) She admonished the quarreling Creon and Oedipus in such a funny, you-silly-silly-boys way that I keeled over with laughter.  Taking deep breaths, i watched, shocked, as she soon hopped off her palanquin, started screeching like a savaged pig, “KAKOTYXE!!” and crawled through the palace “gate” moaning – and only then did they guys holding her realize she wasn’t on her white saucer anymore, and they rushed after her a full 5 minutes after she had begun having contrived hysterics.

These people are all professional actors and directors of quality.  They have acted in and/or directed incredible performances.  Let’s not nitpick anymore.  Therefore, my final query is, Did you know what you were performing in?

What was left of the audience clapped madly, and I even read a blog that actually raved about the show.  Is it me? Us? We bowed our heads and rushed out to drink mass qualities of ouzo, averting our eyes when the performers walked by.  Only a few hours before I had fantasized about introducing myself, and now I couldn’t leave fast enough.

On to perp number 2.

I decide to go to my favorite open-air cinema, drink a Carib and watch the latest in Greek nepotism.  I had heard positive things about Kostantina Voulgari’s Valse Sentimentale, and I have a soft spot for the “alternative” lifestyle of my youth, so I figured in I was in for a pleasant evening.

The whole movie was set in my beloved Exarchia district of Athens, and I cooed at seeing pigtails, Doc Martens, Chartes cafe, Club Decadence, the steps of Kallidromiou Street (fondly, I recalled drinking cheap beer and singing on those steps); I began guessing (correctly) at the other locales that would be used in this ode to the anarchic neighborhood.

The game soon wore off.  If this had been a short, 15 minutes max, it could been a masterpiece.  At two hours, it was almost painful.  Let’s ignore the fact that the camera was held by an epileptic, the acting mediocre, and the lighting non-existent.  (No “wow, what a cool shot!!” here, you were lucky to see anything at all.) We’ll just assume Ms. Voulgari is of the make-your-audience-uncomfortable mentality.  So far, OK, live and let live.  But.

My basic disagreement with this “love story about nothing” is that Stamatis, the love interest, was so obviously an immature, unattractive, self-involved, verging-on-mental-retardation twat.

I don’t think I would have fallen for his line (by line, i mean his mumbling incomplete sentences) had I been 14 and he even remotely appealing.  To see the cute little punk-metal chick aching over this jerk was excruciating to the extreme.  Their conversations were infantile, plebian, and boring. Yet, there was even a gorgeous former girlfriend who practically had a fit when the git left her birthday party.

In a nutshell? This movie is forgivable only if the director’s age is not yet 18. (She’s pushing 30.)   I argued that her own sentimentality was to blame for this movie that had so obviously been in her drawer since junior high.  But, when you consider that her father is a respected, successful director, you realize she could have made this no-budget flick back then.

So, again, we are back to why? Why was this movie made? What was it trying to say?  That there are some women whose self-esteem is so low that they will pin all their hopes on an ugly fucker with the IQ of a cucumber?  That awkwardness and bad sex are cool?  That its ok – nay, nice - to put up with a disturbed “artist” (reaching for my barf bucket here) who can’t sleep in the same bed with you, and sends you on your way after the aforementioned bad sex? (“But I thought we were good,” she snuffles when he dumps her. Why, honey? Why? Are you retarded, too?)  When she picks up the used hanky he has thrown disdainfully on the floor and blows her nose, I wanted to shake her.

Valse Sentimentale is not a love story about nothing, because there was no love involved. Let me rephrase that, if that is love, I hope I never get it.  But that’s the thing.  I have gotten it and I know what its like; in its worst, most suicide-inducing moments it is not like this.

And then, for some reason, they hug and the credits finally roll. And I get Total Recall: The screeching Ismene and our pathetic movie heroine? One and the same.  Loukia Michalopoulou, unlucky girl, make better career decisions or else people will actually come to believe you’re a bad actress.

Fucking Karma.  I must have done something bad again. This must mean something.  I have to figure it out before next Friday’s excursion to Epidaurus; i don’t think I can handle 3 crappy shows in a row.

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No Fulbright For You, Gazan…

June 3, 2008 at 12:12 pm (Politics) (, , , )

Yes, it’s just another great day for peace in the Middle East.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/30/world/middleeast/30gaza.html?ex=1212897600&en=cfbf8bf8dae505b1&ei=5070

I come from a background where the house religion was that of Education.  The fervent belief that the more educated you are, the more the world will smile upon you, has been drummed into me from an early age.  Equally, I was taught that in education, meritocracy is king.  If you work hard and are deserving, there is nothing that can stand in the way of your success.

The temple of this religion lies, naturally, in the hallowed halls of American universities.  That is where we look to for hope and guidance; the direction of our Mecca is west and covered with Ivy.

Therefore, to me, Fulbright scholarships being taken away from those that rightfully earned them is akin to Catholic priests molesting cherubic altar boys.  We may tactfully look away when Father O’Leary downs his third sherry in five minutes, (religion, by definition, is imperfect) but here is an outright betrayal of all we hold dear, and cannot be ignored.

I have always admired how spunky and powerful a 2.2%  (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/US-Israel/usjewpop.html) of the US’s population can be if it so chooses.  Drive is an admirable quality.  Cowardliness is not.  America is guilty of the latter.

President Bush is the latest in a line of American presidents who dream of going down in history as the One who resolved the Middle East peace crisis.  In January, he stated that it would be his mission to have a peace deal signed by January of 2009. He also “issued a stern warning to both♣ sides not to do anything which breaks promises they have already made, or which might make negotiations more difficult. (italics are mine.)

♣ [To ignore the fact that there are three, and not two sides to the matter dooms it before it can even begin.  While it is certainly easier to negotiate only with Fatah involved (at least they recognize Israel’s right to existence), Hamas remains in charge of Gaza, having been democratically elected, and that is just the stark reality of things.  But, that is another article…]

Clearly, this Fulbright fiasco falls squarely into the making-negotiations-more-difficult category.  And it is such an ideal opportunity to do real, as well as photo-op good.  But America was so powerless (let us ignore for the moment the existence of Kosovo) that it could not even manage to bring this act of goodwill to fruition.  Or prevail upon Israel to do so.  Iran and North Korea must be shivering in their boots.

This is not the way to show integrity, dedication, or objectivity; all, qualities a mediator must have.  Most of all, the two or three or four sides must trust the mediator.  Else, he should just pack up and retire to Crawford.

And as for Israel itself?  For, one may ask, why must America insist on being Israel’s and Palestine’s keeper?  Why can they not work it out themselves?  Why can they just not throw out the preconceived notions of 1948 and 1967 and take a good look at reality in 2008? Take a deep breath, and just go on from there?

That is even more depressing than America’s bumblings and double standards.

Sixty years ago, a diverse people held together by their ancient religion and suffering argued for their right to nationhood in their ancestral homeland.  This was freely given, though not by the people who actually lived there.   And now? In the same blood-soaked piece of desert, there is a people who share the same religion, suffering, and barbed-wire apartheid.  How shocking that that the righteous sufferers of old are the ones holding the whip, and overusing it with glee.

Israel is acting perfectly rationally, like any small and selfish child in its position would do.  Like a latter-day Khruschev, it bangs its shoe on the negotiating table, and yells, “I was oppressed for years and years! I was slaughtered! I was discriminated against!”  The subtext here being, “And now, it’s your turn, neighbor. Watch your back, for I am in charge of Lady Justice’s good smiting hand.”  So it goes. Perfect symmetry.  After a few thousand years, the circle has reached its starting point.

The sad thing is,  I am sure that there are many non-extremist Israelis that honestly believe that if they give an inch, raging hoards of suicide bombers will descend on Tel Aviv.  The thought of killing and oppressing others doesn’t sit so well with their left-of-center western intellectual beliefs, but they raise their hands in the air and fatalistically say, “What can we do? If we don’t protect ourselves in this way we are doomed!  They must learn that there will be retribution, and will give up – or suffer the consequences.”

If this was any other country speaking, I might have some empathy.  But not for Israel. How can they willfully forget what the Jews have withstood?  For two thousand years, often under the worst of circumstances, they kept their religion and traditions alive.  The more desperate the times, the more obstinate the resistance.  No, sir, I will not convert.  Burn my temple, go ahead.  I will remain inside clutching my Torah.  I will die for it.  Remember the Warsaw ghetto? It resisted the Nazis longer than the whole of Poland.  Proudly, do the Jews recount these and other tales.

But slowly, insidiously, and – I guess, – inevitably they have turned from oppressed to oppressor.  Yet, how can they expect the Palestinians to just roll over and comply?  Why would they give up their dream of Palestine when the Jews did not?  Why should they not desire equal opportunities and freedom? And will Israelis dare complain when these seven kids, who have played by the rules in order to achieve their pursuit of happiness, pick up a grenade and blow themselves up in a disco?  Does Israel give anybody any choice in Gaza other than extremism?

Collective punishment only brings victims even closer together; anybody who has ever attended school knows this.  And when teacher is deemed as unfair and prejudiced; well, she’ll never have a moment’s peace.  Inspiration is needed.  A view of a flickering light at the end of the tunnel would do more damage to extremists than a nuclear bomb.  But America and Israel seem to not even have the skills of a kindergarten teacher.

By not letting these kids leave, who are not guilty of anything other than being Palestinian and living in Gaza, Israel (and America)  are committing a disastrous diplomatic faux-pas.  Israel “proves” that it does not want to solve anything, that it is a bully, and that it leads America by the nose.  And America?  It proves beyond a doubt that it is the biggest hypocrite in the world.

Like Eliot Spitzer, so go the rest of the country’s ruling elite; there is nothing more disgusting than pretending to be so much more ideologically and morally above the rest, shoving that democracy spoon down everyone’s throat until they are sick, and then being caught with your pants down in a cheap brothel with no condom.

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Regarding Tobacco: an Ode

May 25, 2008 at 6:50 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

I’m just going to be completely unoriginal here, and declare loudly, melodiously, and operatically with my warm, jazzy (and, not to mention, husky)  contralto, that I love smoking cigarettes.  Adore them, in fact.  Everything about them. Let us count the ways: The way a cigarette fits so snugly in between your fingers.  The more uncomfortable the social situation, the more comfort a cigarette doth bring.  The incredible way it tastes after a swim in the sea.  With a exquisite rare steak and a Merlot.  After exercise.  The way it makes a meaningful pause full of added juicy meanings; all unique, and all depending on the way the smoke is inhaled and exhaled.  Slowly? Through the nose? Perhaps a playful smoke ring?

Whoooo are youuu???  Is there a more stable or content character in all of Alice in Wonderland?  After rough and tumble sex?  When you’re bored?  When you have come across a particularly thorny problem?  When you’re so mad you want to play baseball with the china?  And best of all: the first drag after a few hours of forced separation from nicotine.  Priceless. It reminds me of the first time I felt head rush; Stumbling from the girls’ bathroom, my head spinning, I felt like I had gained new insight into the LSD trips that I had only read about.

Cigars do absolutely nothing for me. I want the smoke to reach my bowels – what’s the point of keeping it all in the mouth?  Pipes, I get the attraction, but the cloying cloud produced is way too heavy for me.  My extremely thinly rolled (with green Rizla)  Old Holburn (mild) smokes with the (narrow, Swan) filter tip is the last stop of the line for me.  There will be no more flirtations with other brands; Old Holburn has fitted me with its lacquered ball and chain mechanism for good.  I do. Forever til death do us part. Probably.

Tobacco’s detractors just don’t get it.  We don’t want to be Humphrey Bogart or Mae West; we want to feel what they feel when they smoke.  And we only notice them because they’re served to us on a 50 inch gilt plate.  If you stopped showing people smoking on TV, then those who smoked in real life would immediately gain our wide-eyed attention.  Where’s uncle disappearing off to in the garden?  Fascination ensues as the kids spy on the poor man denigrated to a position six yards away from the house and under an umbrella, trying to in vain to achieve some semblance of the pleasure of smoking in a rocking chair in front of a crackling fire.  To the rest of the millenial family, he is a pariah.  But to the kids?  He is mysterious, an outlaw.  He does not finish his spinach when he is told.

http://www.scenesmoking.org/ says that 2050 teenagers begin smoking each day (influenced, naturally, by the movies) and that 340 of those will die of a smoking-related illness.  That’s about one-sixth.  So, of the 748,250 brainwashed-by-Hollywood kids that begin to smoke each year,  124,100 are deemed goners.  At some point in their lives.  Assuming they’re not squashed by a car, flood, earthquake, cyclone, or Charlie Manson wannabee . Am I crazy in thinking this statistic is playable?  What a shame that Hunter S. Thompson, gambling fiend, is not here anymore to tell us the odds.

Gambling is a peculiarity found only in humans (and cats that enjoy crossing the road only when a vehicle is practically upon them).  You don’t have to spend your days at the casino to be a gambler; you can gamble with emotions, material and spiritual goods, and other people.  And you do.  All of you.  And I? Genetics has spoken.  I like to gamble with my life.

And so, on the eve of my dad’s emphysema diagnosis – such an inelegant epilogue for a survivor of cancer in the urinary tract, don’t you think? – I feel like writing a love letter to tobacco.

My dearest addiction: You never misled me.  I always knew you were no good.  My baby voice can be clearly heard on tape lisping “Oxi tigalo, babuli,” (roughly, “No cigaet, daddy!”).  I was parroting my mother, although I adored the way he smelled when he came home from work – a mixture of cold, rain, and tobacco emanated from his gabardine and signalled DADDY to me for all eternity.  The first time he announced he was quitting (about 25 years before he actually did) I went into hysterics, crying uncontrollably.  I couldn’t understand, why would daddy want to change the way he smelled?  He would cease to be daddy!

This four-year old’s existential nightmare soon gave way to a vicious anti-smoking campaign.  I threw away his packs, soaking them under the sink for good measure.  I lectured him.  I bought him anti-smoking trinkets.  I encouraged him whenever he proudly announced, “That was my last one!”  I refused to speak to him when he finally said, “I’d rather smoke for five more years and die, rather than live as a nonsmoker for the next twenty.”

But then…  Then, I don’t quite remember what happened.

My first cigarette was an unfiltered Camel (filched from my wholly unsuspecting father) at the rebellious age of 14.  It was pretty disgusting, as I recall, but I determinedly smoked it until it my fingers burned.  I decided that since fate had dealt me the unpopular-loner-with-no-friends card, I would try to cast myself in the Heathers-era Christian Slater mode rather than Revenge of the Nerds.  I threw myself into the role with gusto and careful research.  Silly girl makes silly choice!  I could have been a Google-type millionaire had I chosen the chess club route, but it was much easier to wear black and not care for homework completion.

For what it was worth, it worked.  The short-term benefits were immediately apparent. My status changed overnight in school.  I smoked!!  I began smoking Marlboro lights, the safe choice for a beginner.  I daringly left school grounds to do so.  An influential smoker girl had followed me one day; when we were caught, and I managed to tearfully convince the principal of our innocence with some outrageous excuse, my cool outsider status was guaranteed.

Soon, I decided that smoking plain old Marlboros was not enough.  Davidoff slims did it for a while, as did Gauloise. But when I was the first to smoke MarIboro Mediums (soft pack), they became my trademark. They were perfect in taste, strength, and image.  I used matches to feel retro and cowboyish.  At the time, I was indistinguishable from my male friends in dress and demeanor.  When I decided to be more girly, I popped my Mediums in a hand-carved red cigarette holder from Mexico.  It was unique; therefore, I became unique.  Simple.

In our acutely image-conscious bubble, instead of being derided, everyone wanted a piece of my cigarette holder.  What a ridiculous sight we must have been! Barely out of school, with vintage clothes, too much makeup, and torn doc martins, boys and girls fighting over who would use the Mexican cigarette holder.  When, drunk one night, I accidentally stepped on it and broke the delicate wood I was heartbroken.  I don’t know what I loved more about it; the way I felt like Greta Garbo when I used it, or the way others looked at me when I did.  Would I be the same without it?

Now, before people – with the artistic and historic sensibilities of a twig – start making a case for airbrushing cigarettes out of classic movies, (to me, this is akin to painting the Pyramids green, evening out the leaning tower of Pisa, and making David’s penis larger) l would just like to note, that yes, adolescents will do everything in their power to find out who they are, and then mold themselves into what they would like to be; but at some point this stops.  You become “mature.”  You don’t obsess over what other think about you anymore, you stop buying matching clothes with your best friend.  Some people stop smoking.

I went in search of the perfect cigarette the way others seek out the perfect mate.

Every brand that I tried was like a romantic encounter with a new partner; the act itself was unchanging, but the ritual around it oh-so-different.  Long, brown Mores or short, lethal Gitanes?  Which did my fingers like best?  Which taste was truer?  The non-EU approved Marlboros my roommate in college had blew my mind, putting me off Mediums forever.  I pounced on cigarette brands that I had never tried before.  I always ignored Camels superstitiously; I refused to think that I was genetically predisposed to them.  This fear was obliterated when I decided to dip into local brands.

My heart still flip-flops whenever I see the square Karelias Gold cassetina; recollecting the way I flipped that old-fashioned pack open one-handedly and makes me want to smoke one for old times’ sake.  Karelias was my true love.  The jewel of Kalamata and I fell in love one day, and until a cherry-flavored rolling tobacco came along, I would have gladly sworn my undying loyalty to the Greek tobacco industry.

However, the moistness of rolling tobacco, the aroma, and the ritual involved in the preparation ruined my relationship with Karelias.  Sadly, when they tried to win me back by putting out their own rolling tobacco, it just didn’t work out.  To further the relationship metaphor:  When the thrill is gone, ain’t no way to get it back…

And I love it.  I know I’m addicted.  I get testy and incoherent whenever more that 5-6 hours pass without a dose of nicotine.  Transatlantic flight gives me the willies. The immediate effect it has on me can be frightening.  Sudden lucidity.  I don’t want to end up talking through a little box in my throat.  I know I am reckless.  I see its effects around me every day.  But I feel like gambling some more. Puff. Cough. Spit. Yellow.

I will quit, if i so choose, when i feel like it.  I put out my cigarette, and worry about my dad.  Oxymoron? You bet.  But we’ve got the life-gambling gene.  Do excuse me now, for I’ve got to go pry his fifth wine and plate serving from his pudgy hands.  And then roll another.

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The Eastern Question: Letter to the Economist

April 18, 2008 at 3:28 pm (Politics) (, , , )

Dear Sirs:

As usual, whenever an article about Greece is printed in the Economist, I am led to wonder what your sources are. Whatever the topic, your articles are uniformly one-sided and show a stunning lack of knowledge of the reality of any given situation.

Nobody knows better than Greek businessmen what “great strides” have been made in Macedonia in the last few years.  They are the chief investors in the country’s burgeoning economy.

And it is laughable to fault “Greek nationalists” for Greece’s veto; I do not recall any other time in which Greece’s polarizing political parties have been so unified on a single issue.  From the far-left to the far-right everyone has been supportive of the largely unpopular government’s actions.

Certainly, this unity should give some food for thought to any journalist covering the situation.  I know that regional politics are small fry compared to US elections, wars, food shortages, and the general “big picture”, but if you insist on covering and offering opinions on them, you should be a bit more well-read and less trigger-happy with your analysis.

Nothing is ever so simple as it seems.  Your article (All at sea, April 10th 2008) is saying, in effect, look at this nice little country which is trying its best to become like us civilized types, and stingy, nasty Greece won’t let it.

I was vaguely of that opinion; more specifically, I felt it logical for a province that has known itself by a certain name to keep that name upon asserting its statehood. Usually, countries change their name only if they had been oppressed by the previous regime.

However, I cannot help but find it disturbing, when symbols of another day and age (and historically ascribed to the heritage of Greece) adopted by this country as their own. Why the flag of Vergina? (Vergina is a city situated in Greece; the tombs of Philip and the revamped Macedonian museum are there.) Why should the current prime minister lay a wreath in front of a map showing Macedonia’s border reaching to the Aegean? Why do their history books state that Pella is not the Pella of Greece (Philip II’s birthplace) but a valley located inside the modern-day Macedonian Republic?

These actions do not point to a squeaky-clean little country trying to create a bright future for itself.  Rather, it seems like their discovery of American support (who are, in turn, scrabbling madly to find new yes-men in the area) has led them to become cocksure, arrogant, and disrespectful of their neighbors and investors.

I understand the need for a national identity, and I am sure that Alexander had close ties to the region;  but he went all the way to India, and had a particular regard for Persia. He belongs to everybody that he conquered; including the Egyptians, who are very proud of their own city of Alexandria.

There cannot have a dearth of history between the 3rd century BC and 1992; true, the region was occupied by many and never existed as an independent country. Still, there must be something else (especially for the ethnic Albanian population) to use as a national symbol, to bring this new country the internal harmony it so obviously needs.

As to the events of 1948, Greece was undergoing a brutal civil war at the time, and any one suspected or found to be a communist was either killed or deported or jailed by the government forces. Thousands of families of every ethnic origin have tragic tales of woe to tell regarding this black period of Greek history. (As do those families who were destroyed in 1922, 1913, and so on.)

I can only assume that because the Greek communists were acting upon their dreams of the USSR as an ally (they had no idea that Stalin had agreed -under the 1944 Percentages Agreement- to give Greece to the UK’s sphere of influence) that Greek Slavs were more attracted to the Communist way of thinking than the Nationalist-Royalist; thus, more of them were hurt by the eventual Nationalist triumph and backlash.

But this is the Balkans. We who live here know how quickly one can turn from aggressor to victim and back again; and we know the Ancient Greek, Latin, Turkish, Pontic, and Slavic names of any city you care to ask us about. Our history is intertwined, and continues to be so; to ignore that fact is hypocritical to the extreme. This is the reality of the sad, confusing, and exciting past of the Balkans.

And that is why Macedonia’s posturing and self-righteousness strikes me as a completely cynical attempt to take advantage of the current American favor they enjoy. They must at all costs keep the country together and not show the cracks to NATO and the EU; what better way to than to shift attention to the masquerade of who can claim Alexander the Great as their own?

I take my hat off to them, for they are proving extremely adept at playing politics. Certainly better than Greece ever has. So, by all means, let them try to win Alexander; just don’t condemn Greece for playing the game with equal intensity.

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dajieblack’s two cents on the question of Macedonia has been sent to the desk of my favorite-magazine-in-the-world’s editor…. she also posted it on the online version as a comment to the original article….I await nationalist attacks (of either country) with glee!

April 30, 2008: dajieblack is sad.  nobody at the economist’s forum wanted to play with her.  they preferred debating cyril’s, methodius’s and bucephalus’s origins. with horrid grammar. sniff.

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