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 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 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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Flip, Flop & Glide: An Excercise in Post-Punk

February 16, 2008 at 4:27 pm (music)

So there I was, driving downtown and sulking big-time.

I wanted to dance. TO DANCE. All damn week. And you ask where I was driving?? To a “post-punk” party. What the fuck is post-punk, anyway? Anything after 1977? I mean, are we talking Madonna here, or Pearl Jam? Considering the venue, I was certain we were in for a night of nasal, Placebo-like navel-gazing.

So I sulked.

My not-so-subtle hints of cruising by a certain funk and soul-loving bar were not appreciated. But we’re going to the post-punk party, I was patiently reminded. My second suggestion was more enthusiastically received, however. A friend was playing old Greek songs with an electro twist nearby, so went to check it out before post-punking.

Naturally, there was a huge queue. Cursing trendy Athenians, we went next door for a drink while the crowd dispersed.

That was when the sun came out. The moon twinkled and spun, the stars started shooting in unison. (And so on.)

DUSTBOWL were playing!! ( )

I had no idea who they were, but it was obvious what they dug. Beautiful, jangly country music, old-style. A love that I had forgotten, spurned for other genres, suddenly reminded me that the best damn music in the world was written in the 1950s.

The guys and gal were absolutely amazing. They were dressed like the Man in Black down to his retro silver mike. Big George was channeling Johnny Cash’s larynx with the utmost success, and I heard live (LIVE!!!! whoda thunk it?? I certainly didn’t) Folsom Prison Blues and Ghost Riders in the Sky, (I happily raised my hand to his query, are there any cowboys in the audience tonight?)

When they played the theme to Rawhide, I started shrieking, jumping up and down in delight, trying to keep up with Big George who sang it a lot faster than Dan Ackroyd. (Kudos to their amazing drummer.) Country music really brings out the child in me, yet its themes are so blue; that’s where its attraction lies. Who doesn’t love to wallow in gorgeous self-pity with a rollicking beat?

And then came the post-punk moment of the night.

A friend of the band’s came up onstage and sang the Stooges’ No Fun as if he were Johnny Rotten. We pogo-ed accordingly, feeling increasingly as if we were in junior high as the concert progressed. I was in bliss. Big George thought for a bit, and then sung the entire song again, completely straight-faced, rockabilly style.

And you know what? It sounded just right.

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