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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Athens, Barcelona, and the Civilization of it All

April 4, 2008 at 4:43 pm (Politics, Travel) (, , , , , , , , , , )

“Come on, they’re not gonna step on you! Zebra crossings are sacred here!”

“Absolutely not,” I retorted. Madmen. Maybe in England they don’t run you over, but a speeding Spaniard? My mad friends tugged at my unwilling hand and lo! the speeding Spaniard slowed to a perfect stop. Not a wheel over the sacred white lines. They all did so. All week! Was this because it was Easter? Which they don’t even celebrate in Catalonia anymore – I was assured of this by all of the South Americans I met – but, perhaps, an innate feeling of piety and goodwill remains nonetheless? Ha. Fat chance. The definitely un-Christian gleam in the Vueling Check-in Girl’s eyes as she demanded 16 euros because I was 2 kilos over the limit (BItchBitchBITCH! I breathing-exercised) killed that thought.

A real Greek would have brought his carefully chosen Monestir de Tallat merlot over her head, (It is our Right as the Cradle of Democracy and/or Civilization to bring as much shit from foreign lands as we can carry… often buying an extra suitcase in the process) but I am an emasculated, overly polite, faux-EuroAmerican, resigned to being conned and bullshitted and saying Thank You Very Much…

So, the only rebellion I managed was to make her repeat everything she said in English. Now, you may not think this is much, but she fumed as I (who had previously conversed pleasantly in ItaloSpanish with her) kept saying, “What? Where? What?” with an idiotic cow’s gaze. Take that, you crypto-Teutonic bitch! Retaliation came swiftly. I was punished by 3 hours of turbulence.

Angrily certain that the baggage compartment was being flooded by the litres of Iberian wine being brought over, I sulked, pushing my chair as far back in the lap of the unfortunate gentleman behind me as it would go. Leg room is not a Spanish word. Neither is belly room. No wonder there were no Americans on board. The bottles, I knew, were being broken on purpose by the pilot; he was most certainly in on it all. No doubt he is banging the small-eyed Prussian behind the check-in counter.

It is all a conspiracy at the expense of our highly developed Greek consumer culture. You came, paid handsomely for the fun our city has to offer – now really pay for having vastly superior olive oil. Sneaky little buggers. Didn’t see that one coming. I actively enjoyed hunting down the edgy boutique I knew must exist somewhere in Raval. Most victoriously did I lay down my euros when I discovered it. Funiculars, museums, and restaurants did not satisfy my lust for purse-drainage. I needed Stuff. There is Stuff everywhere in Barcelona. Traveler, you have been warned. They have lots of Stuff and they are very civilized. (Quite unlike the Parisians. Cue gnashing of teeth at the recollection of Isle S. Louis’s devil-in-a-cheese-seller’s-guise.)

I constantly marveled at how civilized the Spanish (or, Catalans, more precisely) were. They have solved their transportation problems so efficiently that they were even left with a budget surplus. And thought, what should we do with it? Put it in our pockets? Give some to our mistress for a pied a terre in the Barri Gothic? Keep it for The Party? A yacht, perhaps? (All perfectly natural ideas to a Greek.) Nope.

They did this:

Feeling like i was in Sweden, I watched, amazed, as a bus went by. It was normal, yet not quite. It had plush chairs with armrests, little tables, and large, living room lamps. It looked like a posh bar on wheels. My friends explained that it was a normal bus; you simply pay a little extra for that added comfort. Mostly used by senior citizens. Cruelly unaware of their masterplan for all tourists, (especially those blessed with better olive trees) I was enthralled, entertaining the idea that perhaps I, also, deserve to live in a civilized city. Do I not have the right to cruise Panepistimiou Avenue in an armchair?

After never being run over once, I figured it’s because they’re northern Spaniards, they must have a little more Saxon blood in them than is Mediterraneanly acceptable. I became sure of this when, in even the most underground bars, the music was abruptly shut off and every light in the place was turned on at 3am precisely. The first time this happened, I was ready to flee, certain the police were on to us. Later, I cursed the UK flashbacks (ding-dong – last drinks – please leave the premises) this caused me. I waited to join in a drunken backlash with the rest of the customers. In vain.

These indefatigable Catalans had even changed the driving persona of my friend. One year in civilization, and he was driving like your grandmother. When he gave me his car to play with he was nervy, urging me to stay on the right and to not cut people off. This, from the man who taught me to run red lights and u-turn wherever I wished!

I felt like a third-world citizen, whose friends had moved on to running water and I was still lugging buckets from the well. The day before I arrived in Barcelona , upmarket Athenian salons and restaurants were being berated by their clients for not having thought of buying a generator. Tightly-lipped maitre d’ apologized profusely instead of screaming, “How the fuck could I have imagined the (government-owned) electricity company would strike for weeks and cut our power at regular intervals??”

Panic and hate prevailed on our traffic light-less streets. Hunching forward, hand on the gears, I assumed battle pose and dexterously avoided destroying my vehicle, leaving my unlucky co-citizens to cry and sue over their own scattered debris.

We don’t have night buses or enough asphalt to fit us all with our 4 cars per family, we are destroying what is left of clean rivers and forests, our fake fast internet chucks us offline at whim, inflation, government MIA, and so on and on and so on, and “po-tee-weet!”, sings the bird in slaughter-house 5; the only news fit to print in the months of December and January were the failed suicide attempt of the portly secretary of of the Ministry of Culture and his saucy DVD.

It requires a daily column and a bottle of raki to rue the woes of this land, but still. I can drive any way I damn please, and I’ve got the best raw material in food in the world. Ok, the divine mango is to be found only in Egypt; but that is not strange at all, for they are as uncivilized as we, and more so, for their fruits are the equivalent of celestial harps playing in heaven…. but I digress. It is a proven fact that the more civilized a nation is, the less tasty is their food. The question really is: how much “civilization” am I willing to take? How much privacy and individuality shall I trade for Comfort? Can’t I have my cake and eat it, too?

But, to put some things in perspective, Miss Landmine 2008 of Angola (dream job, “anything”) surely cannot feel my fake existential angst; she has the real deal. Hopping like a lunatic on her one remaining leg, she cackles, juggling her tomatoes and watching our national obsession of obstructing pension plan reform at all and any cost.

“H gh 8a tremei, o ilios anatelei!!” is belted out by 15-year-old supporters of PaSok in the metro; a lively debate between two grannies ensues. I curse at not having my camera on me as I leave, smiling.

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