Thursday, 3 February 2011


Most of the times it stands there, glorious and scary. Imposing on you whatever it is that it was build to impose.

But sometimes it seems out of place. Like a construction made from LEGO pieces. A thing out of a movie set, that after the shooting will be demolished and its LEGO pieces will be soon be part of something else.

this thought is more comforting. Simply because its perfection and beauty does not, and never will, excuse the motivation for which it was build.

Not as a sacred prayer place, but as a symbol of power, to scare and impose.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

The taxi driver

Even the most homogenous species produce an eccentric outlier. This person either dies out due to inability to adapt to the environment or he leads the new evolutionary leap of the species opening new horizons.

I was sure I had an individual destined for the second option, rare though it is, sitting in the driver’s seat last Saturday night. Way past midnight - a time when all other means of public transport sleep in Thessaloniki - the lonely taxi driver was pulling long shifts. We, small group of not particularly regular night-wonderers, took a taxi to return home in the late hours.

The late 1980s taxi showed clear difficulty to drive properly, but this is not to be considered a problem in Greece of crisis. The interior of the taxi though, resembled a living room (not mine… but that of a more high-Tec person’s). The driver had installed apart from the traditional GPS tom tom, also a portable DVD player on the controls console. On the flat screen we could see a popular show of the Greek television… live. The driver had connected the DVD player with an antenna to connect to proper television.

His driving was a master performance of multitasking. Consulting his tom tom was driving while watching TV singing along to the songs performed at the show and watching pictures on his mobile phone and sending text messages.

Most men, as they claim, are incapable of multitasking, to the extent that they cannot walk and talk at the same time. Thus this taxi driver is definitely the eccentric outlier that will bring the species forward.

Now, I can feel this discontent about health and safety at work, regulations for safe driving and respect towards costumers. I thing my dear readers that you are missing the whole evolutionary point here. This man manages entertainment, safe driving and earning a living all at once. Can you beat that?

We got home safely, it was Christmas time and Baby Jesus owed us a couple of presents, you see. Sadly I did not note down his registration number to report him as I should. I thought I will let evolution do the job, of either killing himself and a set of passengers or developing superhuman powers and bringing the species forward.

Did I mention he was also smoking?

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Tribute to the Beatle and his girl

In 1995 I went to Odessa. Being so young I had to be placed in the care of a family. I don’t know what you imagine about Ukraine in the mid 1990s but it was not at all like that.

The father was a very Russian-looking Ukrainian (that is what my memory of a 14-year-old tells me), very tall and squared, with beard and red cheeks. Also, very proud of his vodka (and his capacity to drink endless amounts of it). His way of showing me his country was to offer me few glasses and give me some pickled vegetables. It worked. My Russian became fluent after that (don’t ask…).

The mother was a nurse, a very useful mother of two. She was fit and sporty and was full of positive energy. Not at all motherly to my Greek eyes, where a mum should be at least size 18. Her way of introducing me to all things Ukrainian was to take me to the famous stairs of Odessa, and then to her hospital where I could see the state of the art equipment for ill children. Sadly, I was not interested, and mine and hers limited English did not help the communication.

The oldest daughter was my age, very round faced and happy-jumpy. She was exited that she could communicate in a language other than her own (you know the feeling, after all, this gibberish they teach us at school called English are actually useful for communicated with other bipeds). The youngest daughter was drawing non-stop princes and princesses (communist did not affect children imagination after all).

After a few glasses of vodka the father of the family was ready to make a statement. He looked at me very carefully and he said something in Russian which was later translated to me: I think I know why you look familiar to me! You look like John Lenon and Yoko Ono at the same time! Incredible!

Lenon was killed on December 8th 1980. I was born on January 24th 1981.

I am their lost child.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

The pre-teens phase

It seems that blabbering about previous forms of existences, even on a blog, has its costs. These costs I will pay right now by providing my views and some examples of Greek music.

Let’s start with the disclaimer.

My choice of songs is by no means representative of any music stream. Neither is it a selection based on quality. The only thing that these songs have in common is that they compose the soundtrack of my early adolescence. Nothing more, nothing less. It is quite likely that many people of my generation (yes, of those born too late and doomed to easy freedom) will recognize the songs, but I doubt that many of them will get watery eyes.

Using my dad’s old radio and a new portable tape-recorder after hours of careful waiting and excellent reflexes I managed to create few tapes of my favourite music. The secret was to recognize the song from the first few notes, then run to the recorder (where you already had an empty tape waiting) press “REC” and hope that your grandmother did not arrive that precise moment to ask you if you had eaten your eggs or if you wanted chocolate. (I have a very caring grandmother who knows nothing about music).

Moving on to my immature revolution (click the titles to go to the youtube video of each song)

I am collapsing.

This is the first song I will throw at you, my poor audience. You have to realize that the quality of music resonates the great moments of 1980s as they filtered through post-dictatorship Greece. This is essentially a love song, about a man who cannot understand his woman. She is a girl of her times doing all the things a 1980s girl does: turning feminist, wanting a free love relationship that includes experiences with all kinds of men, a communist, a Christian, a junkie.. The man implores her to decide what she wants. In the refrain he tells us he is collapsing, that he can’t keep on loving women and he asks Papandreou (Andreas, the prime minister of that time) to give him a ministerial position, to forget women.
The song is a happy jumpy one, perfect for a seven-year old who knows the names of all cabinet ministers (yes, that was me).

We are room-mates in madness

This was a poem that made it into a song. Like all poems it is hard to tell what it really is about. Adult me can try to decipher what eight-year old me left unquestioned. It discusses the role of rationality in political and social choices and the twisted use of the words victory and defeat. It makes references to historical events like: Burning of Troy, Hitler’s Nazism, Defeat of Hannibal, Oedipus and Salome. Very deep… but back then I used to listen to it and march around the coffee table with my mum’s wrap around me, pretending I was Hannibal even though I had no idea who he was until few years later.

The street

Don’t play this loud. The Police will come and get us! Thus spoke my little cousin and that was enough to keep this song in my heart for ever. Written to describe the ways people treat freedom this song presents the story of a street. First freedom represented a crazy idea, a dream that only kids dared to imagine. Then life brought entertainment, football and fights, moving finally to economic wonders and consumerism… forgetting ideology and freedom. It is a song easily learned by kids. Later I had to sing this at school at the anniversary of 17th November, thus, my illusions that it was illegal disappeared, but I still feel I am doing something great for freedom when I sing it.

To be continued…

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The songs of my adolescence

There are very few things from one's adolescence that he can be proud of.
If I could burn all these pictures of me with long fluffy hair, sprayed to imitate my fashion idols of the early 1990s, the big red chicks and the tooth braces, I would. I would also erase the memories of my horrid clothes, reminding me that the 1980s culture arrived to Greece just half a decade too late, just to force me to look like Robocop with a pair of enormous shoulder pads.

The worst of all are the feelings of inadequacy and false revolutionism that come with this. Maybe it was just the bad timing of me growing up in the aftermath of democratization, but I truly wanted to be part of something big. Go to the streets and shout ala May 1968 or November 1973. Sadly, no tanks came against me, and no gendarmerie tried to stop me. Instead, an overprotective mother told me to be back by 9pm "because I say so". And so I did.


I kept though a small space of revolution in the form of a small radio. There I could listen to songs that my cousin secretly had told me that were illegal and I should not play them loudly, because the police could come and arrest us. He had overheard our parents' discussion about the times of the dictatorship and in his childish mind this created some great confusions. That stuck with me. The "illegal" songs were constantly on the radio, as an alternative to the ever-growing pop music industry. I refused to become fashionable and I listened day-in day-out to my imaginary-illegal songs.

The result? A hopeless romantic dreaming about a better society, heroic lovers and grand voyages.

Now, having adopted a cynical view of life, these songs remind me who I am and are there for any emotional moment of my life. Illegal only in the sense that they come from a different time... But nobody dares saying "Oh you still listen to that??". It seems I have many accomplices in this story. Many hopeless romantics neo-cynics that never forget the songs of their adolescence.

Monday, 15 November 2010

What do the numbers tell us

Today, I regained my full confidence to the Greek race. I had a good look at the election results and now I can tell you I am proud. In a totally crazy situation with a lot of sacrifice, a lot of fear and desperation the Greek voter gave a clear message to the political system as a whole.

No camp should be allowed to celebrate. The turnout was the lowest since the birth of the Greek democracy. People felt that their vote would not make any difference so they simply did not bother. And ten percent of those who did bother showed their discontent and disagreement with the political scene by voting blank or purposefully destroying their ballot paper. I truly honor these people, who go to queue, spend part of their day just to send this clear message.

And those who voted? The results showed the deep questioning that takes place in the heads, and the hearts if you want, of the voters. The old party candidates representing a much hated political establishment could not easily be defeated and the new ‘fresh’ voices supported but not generated by the same establishment (ok but different party) could not easily gain majority. The main fear was wether, having gained power, they would just join and re-enforce the establishment, throwing away their ‘alternative hat’. In the end positive thinking won but only by few hundreds of voter.

PASOK, the governing party, did not lose, but has no reason to celebrate. Their candidates won in the two major cities but only because they did not come from within traditional party lines. New Democracy, the major opposition party, did not manage to capitalize on public discontent against the horrid government measures. They have no reason to celebrate either. The largest losers of these elections were these ecclesiastical voices that attempted to manipulate the electoral result. Church should not be a political actor in any democratic state, and this result was a slap in the face of militant bishops. And there cannot be a better result than that.

Now, what remains is to see what the ‘fresh’ elected mayors will do with their power. Will they re-produce old habits and finally cause more political desperation leading voters to new dead-ends and finally increasing the percentage of blank votes, or will they actually engage in meaningful work? Time will show. In the meantime, I will be proud of the Greek voters and will secretly hope that eventually they will produce more engaged citizens.

Thursday, 20 May 2010


A short story - My first attempt in fiction

My father was born in 1938. It was a difficult birth, both for the mother and the country. The country was struggling to feed all these newcomers of 1922, who landed unwashed and unclothed seeking a new home and doubling the population. The country do the best it could to offer at least basic survival needs to all of them, but it did not guarantee them an easy life. The mother, being one of the unclothed, gave birth to one short-lived child after the other, she worked hard and made herself important in her small community. She was the midwife of the village. When the country was already deep into yet another dictatorship, comprehending slowly the local breed of fascism the mother gave birth to the eighth child, hoping that this time she would see the baby grow.

My father took his first insecure steps when the Germans marched proudly across Europe. The country only bothered with the later. My father brought so much happiness to his family. The only boy who survived child mortality. As the country suffered, he learned to speak during the German occupation. The country and his belly were hungry, the country and his limbs where numb and cold.

When liberation came he thought it was the beginning of the happy times. The whole country was out and about celebrating and cheering. But one day in the fields, he found his dad half dead. Sun-stroke and daily life struggle taxed him. He tried hard not to choose, but when he was forced to, he chose death and left them alone to struggle. A small loss among the many. The long and bitter civil war taxed many fathers, sons and daughters, pushing the country into darker times. My father was lost and scared, he was going through his own dark times. The fight could not last too long, like a bad illness it forced for a decision to be made. The country belonged to the West, the war finished, and my father went to school for the first time. Few years too late. Just like the country entered the post-war era few years too late.

The country was a good student of the Western powers, did its homework and got rewards. My father was the brightest child at school. He was not left to herd the village sheep, he did his homework, he got rewards. The church, herding souls and politics, offered him a scholarship to herd his mind towards more education. The country slowly but steadily re-build itself, under the supervision of Western Powers and its very own Church. My father builds himself slowly but steadily, walking to the closest town with a high school, even in the snow storm without much of shoes, to get education under the supervision of the teacher and the bishop. The country begs its allies for money to build industry, my father begs his mother for two eggs to buy a notebook for calligraphy.

Early sixties, the country wakes up to more social demands. My father demands higher education. The workers movements become stronger. The tobacco workers are a strong union and are supported by the pivotal agrarian party. My father is a tobacco worker child. They ask for more education, he gets their scholarship. The country feels too old and rigid to pass more socialist leaning legislation. My father feels too old to follow his dream and study medicine. He goes for the useful, economics.
The country experiences a huge wave of urbanization. My father moves to the city. Student demonstrations, money to education not to the monarchy! My father studies and shouts. The country balances financially. My father has a full belly. Just as the democratic left makes it into parliament my father graduates. He is now an economist. The country is still a democracy. Joy all around.

The country cannot feed everybody. Many have already left to countries with grey skies and more jobs. They also have better universities. So my father, without speaking anything but Greek, heads to Germany. The country, without speaking anything but Greek, heads to a period of political turbulence.

He struggles to learn the language, to earn money, to make friends. The country is put in plaster to get cured. The dictatorship starts. My father becomes a fashionable émigré of an abused country. He organizes awareness events, resistance speeches, and when the country experiences the worse oppression he becomes the chairman of the émigrés. As the tanks attack the Polytechnic, he is in divided Berlin protesting. He is on hunger strike.

The country wins over its oppressors. My father gets his PhD. The leader returns, monarchy is abolished. My father returns home and reunites with his family. It is a period of great joy. Everybody wants to help to rebuild the country. The air is full of ideals, happiness and democracy; all the big words. The country builds its democracy. My father is determined to help the country and his roots: the refugees of 1922, the tobacco workers, his village. He finds a job, he becomes important. The country joins all the international organizations and eyes the European Communities.

The big 1978 earthquake of his city shakes all the citizens. It also shakes his world. He meets his future wife, gets married. The country is experiencing a new era. The time for change has come. The moment is the elections of 1981, when the socialist government takes over for the first time ever. The whole country is in joyful frenzy. His daughter is born, the year of the change. Joyful frenzy in the family too. The country joined the European Communities.

Glorious times for the average citizen start, as the socialist government can offer something to everyone. Glorious times for my father, as now was the time he could offer. The youthfulness of the country provoked hope and joy. My father’s ambitions grew bigger and so did his child.
At the end of the eighties politics became a difficult game to play. But my father had ambitions, and ideals and people to help. So he played along. With every change of government the public sector enlarged, making a bigger whole in the national debt. With every electoral campaign my father gave a new blow to the family budget, which looked similar to the national debt. As corruption creped in the government, lies and mistrust solidified the silence between my father and his wife. The financial scandals left many things better untold, for the country and my father.
As the country joined the common European currency my father’s daughter embraced her European future.

The country was dancing in a European music, imposing itself to an illusion of prosperity with borrowed money. As the country covered with loans the public deficit, the citizens fed their consumer needs with credit cards. The country was promoting democratic ideals for public consumption and my father was fighting to give his dreams a last chance. Public finances got out of control. My father’s budget got out of control. Corruption dressed as democracy became the rule in the country. Corruption dressed as charity blinded my father. He gave too much, he could not afford it any more.
Now the country woke up to its bankrupt future. Those who believed in it revolt. Those who love it despair. Nothing can be the same any more. My father, just like his country, woke up to the same dead-end, frightening those who believed in him, despairing those who loved him. Austerity and insecurity faces both.
The country and my father always had a parallel life. The country and my father cause me always the same feelings. Pride, love, sadness, despair, fear, insecurity, pain.

That is why it is called Fatherland.