Sunday, September 17, 2017

82nd Thessaloniki International Fair + China = Game on!

Been too long since I had last attended the Thessaloniki International Fair. But what really caught my attention was this year's "honored country," China...especially after reading the NYT article "Chastised by E.U., a Resentful Greece Embraces China's Cash and Interests" updated online August 27th, the day I came back to Greece. You can say what you want about leftwing PM Alexis Tsipras -- who recently also organized a love fest in Athens with France's President Macron -- but he's no capitalist slouch! 

The Fair (since 1926, minus time-outs for war) is basically a trade fair, with many interesting pavilions which run the gamut. Let's just say that I tasted a lot of cheese from Crete. Also saw a jarring 1-hour movie titled "Thessaloniki 1917: The fire that birthed a city." An, of course, I LOVED the Nescafe "Frappe Museum" -- the frappe having been (accidentally) invented at the 1957 Fair. Lucky to stumble upon the fascinating radio museum as I was exiting. But I was most curious about Pavilion #13.

The Chinese seemed to have spared no expense to put their best industrial/technological foot forward (see photos), in a country that they consider a linchpin of their "One Belt, One Road" economic campaign to move into Europe and anywhere else they can.  Proof of that is their moves on the Port of Piraeus, where COSCO Shipping has invested heavily since 2008. By 2016, COSCO owned 51 percent of the Piraeus Port Authority, transforming it into the busiest Mediterranean port.  Another big-time (currently stalled) investment revolves around the development of the former Athens Ellinikon Airport property. Lots of serious -- some say practically neo-colonialistic, for better or worse -- Chinese business in a country trying to become solvent again. 

Tsipras had opposed the port's privatization when he was elected in 2015 -- but in the face of tortuous and unrelenting EU austerity measures, he chose to be nice and deal with a country throwing money, modernization and progress Greece's way since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008. In return, Greece has been China's political friend when it counted, even casting questionable EU vetos -- and causing Europeans to complain that Greece is abandoning it European alliances. 

You must ‎ read that NYT article for a thorough report on 10 years of Greece-China economic/political relations. Therein, a prominent Dutch EU Parliament member is quoted as saying that "...the EU‎ is not only a market, but first and foremost a community of values." Really?

Costas Douzinas (head of the Greek Parliament's foreign affairs and defense committee) said this: "If you're down and ‎and someone slaps you and someone else gives you an alm, when you can do something in return, who will you help, the one who helped you or the one who slapped you?"

Game on!

NOTE: Last year's "honored country," much to my dismay, was Russia. Indeed Barack Obama visited Greece after last year's election primarily because of fears that Putin was gaining ‎too much traction here. If there was a Russian display of any kind this time, I didn't run into it. Hacking, fake news, and sports doping do not, after all, put food on Greek tables.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

"Any news from your friends in Miami?"

Been a couple of days now since I have stopped obsessing about Hurricane Irma with all-night Internet binges trying to get news from Miami. Some brief relief came with a Stockton Record article ("Thousands get their Greek on at popular festival") reporting on the 58th St.Basil's Greek Festival -- and with a picture of good friend Gayle Maduros continuing my mom's legacy of quality control in the sweets department :)

Meanwhile my friends here in Greece were asking me daily‎ if I had any news from my friends in Miami. They had been watching  with horror the destruction being wreaked by the giant "typhonas". No storms like that here -- even though Climate Change brought one of the coldest winters on record throughout Greece last year and searing heat all summer.  And Greeks are well-aware of what President Trump thinks about Climate Change. (I totally HATE being asked about Donald Trump!)

On the one hand, I was lucky not to actually be in Miami going through all the preparation and angst associated with a Cat 5 hurricane.  Yes, I have been through a few hurricanes, but not the infamous Andrew. As I saw Irma develop, I was both terrified and feeling guilty about not being there.

Amazingly, I could tune into CBS4 Miami local news online -- but not without being forced to watch a VW ad at least 100 times. In the end it was a small price to pay for updates I could relate to, like rivers of water rushing down Brickell Avenue and the attempted looting of my favorite Publix on Biscayne and 17th Terrace. "Reality TV" made palatable only by no big wind damage in Miami as far as I could see...unless you count 3 downed cranes.

Devastation in the Keys was something else, largely unspeakable. Good Samaritans are collecting food and emergency supplies to drive down there if they can. The FL West Coast is much more flooded. Many places still have no electricity.  8 seniors perished in a Hollywood nursing home because of no AC.  There are continued curfews and boil water orders. Paradise lost on a grand scale.

And here I sit on a gorgeous Greek day in town of about 20,000 people in Macedonia, trying to digest what has happened a world away -- feeling safe and even happy to be in what is essentially a bankrupt country.  Thinking, too, that there is something not right with this picture.

‎But for now I'm just glad to have good news, in the realm, from Miami.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Greeks living in Europe are closely connected to 2017 Greece, Greek-Americans not so much...

Back in the States after my last 11-week stay in Greece (primarily in Naousa and environs),  it seems surreal that I was spending the weekend in the village of Nea Pella not too long ago.  I am constantly asked: "What's it's like there, how are things going in Greece with the economic situation." Things will most probably get worse for regular folks before they get better, and it's a totally different world.

About half a million Greeks have left Greece since 2010 -- many of them educated young people, a "brain drain" that will have lasting repercussions. That does not count those who left years earlier to work in nearby more prosperous countries. A number of AFS Girls School graduates did so, and some subsequently put down roots in Germany. Germans occupied Greece not all that long ago without paying a drachma in Reparations...and are not as a country exactly at the top of the Friends List these days due to austerity measures being repeatedly inflicted on the Greeks primarily at German insistence.

So it was with a bit of a chip on my shoulder that I set out shortly after Easter for a 4-day visit with a grad living in Essen. Soula '76 had traveled to Thessaloniki not once but twice recently to take part in our Girls School reunions. I wanted to know about her her life there, how do Greeks live in a second  European country so different on many levels?  I was surprised to like Essen -- and gained insight into why many Greek-Americans do not have the same connection to or concern for 2017 Greece as do Greeks currently living in European countries

Essen -- home of the infamous Krupp steel empire and Zollverein coal mines that closed in the 1986 -- is a beautiful city of 589,000 that has spent years being built beautifully upward to erase it's wartime, sooty past. It's now a green, clean city filled with charming homes (for the most part) and perfectly manicured gardens. Colorful tulips, excellent ice cream and bike riders everywhere!

As previously reported ("When Greeks went to Germany...and some stayed"),  Soula not only earns a good living in Essen, but appreciates her current home country even as she is constantly connected to Greece.  She has a small business with 2 additional employees in an upscale neighborhood, a meticulous shop that specializes in clothing alterations...and where the racks are consistently bulging with garments: "People need to come and get their clothes, we are out of room!" At least 3 times during my visit, we ran into customers of hers on the street who greeted her warmly and vice versa. From an economic standpoint, it would be ludicrous for Soula to return to Greece permanently.

She has long-lived in the same apartment building as her sister and brother-law, just 2 tram stop from work, and has a number of Greek friends that she pals around and travels with. And most importantly, her 2 sons and their families live in Essen, too, where they grew up after Soula migrated in 1990.  They have their church, "Greek School" and Greek soccer team for the grandson, plus Greek TV -- not unlike Greek-Americans. I flew RT from Thessaloniki to Dusseldorf for 109 Euros, so travel back-and-forth by plane and also by car is not a big deal. And if people are not actually going to Greece, they are in constant contact with their relatives and friends on the Internet (by Facebook, Skype, Viber and WhatsApp).  Greeks in Germany and other European countries are closely connected and dedicated to their homeland, and they feel the pain.

Most Greek-Americans (like me just a few years ago) not so much -- even with the Internet, our many organizations, newspapers/TV,  or through church with some charitable projects for Greek Relief (as if it was Help for Haiti). Almost all congregations in the States have annual, highly-successful Greek festivals where their heritage is extolled and traded on. But just ask the parishioners what they think about how their relatives are doing back in the village and are they extending a helping hand to anyone, and you might be met with blank looks or worse yet ignorant/disparaging comments about Greeks in Greece being lazy, corrupt and not paying their taxes. Talk about fake news! Half of all Greeks are now living below the poverty line due to 25% unemployment/constantly reduced pensions....and don't even have $$ to pay their electric bills.

Clearly distance and time have disconnected Greek-Americans to a great extent from the current Greek reality. So many more Greek-Americans must make renewed efforts to care for real about the humanitarian crisis in Greece, to be in touch with their relatives in the "Old Country." Extend a helping hand if you can. Most of all, feel their pain -- which is collectively our pain, whether you like it or not.

PS: Political activism helps, too! Rep. Gus Bilarakis (R-FL12) is a very dedicated co-Chair of the 130-member Congressional Hellenic Caucus along with co-Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-NY12). Did you know that Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) was married in the Greek Orthodox Church and is also very active on behalf of Greece? Join the Hellenic-American Leadership Council (HALC) to receive daily news about Greece and Cyprus. Or start your own project to help Greeks in Greece. Zito Hellas!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What can I say about Corfu at Easter?

Let's start with "Wow!" -- and then "Thank You!" to the family that made‎ my Easter perfect. Easter is the most important Greek holiday, when families get together to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ and also of nature by spending the spring day roasting lambs outdoors and just being together. These days most people can't afford much, but they pull out all the stops for Easter. Next week, back to the New (and continuously disintegrating)  Normal...

Corfiot Easter traditions are legend, so I went to see for myself and to visit with the family of Evangelia "Litsa" Meschini (née Thinori, AFS Girls School '70), who hails from the village of Episcopi just a few km from Naousa. Her husband Aristos was a policeman there when they met/married, and they have been in Corfu ever since -- living now in Kanoni, just south of Corfu City and one of the most picturesque places of many around this beautiful island.

Corfu was never occupied by the Ottoman Turks, but instead was under relatively congenial Venetian rule ‎ from 1386-1797. That's why you think of Italy when sitting out on the various plazas drinking your freddo espresso. There are many Catholics in Corfu and so both the Orthodox and Catholic Easters are celebrated together EVERY year, not just every four -- 2017 capped by great weather and a visit by Prime Minister A. Tsipras  & family

On Good Saturday morning, the remains of St. Spyridon -- brought from Constantinople in 1456 --  ‎were led in a solemn procession by 3 of Corfu Town's 18 Philarmonic Bands playing the funeral march from Franco Faccio's opera "Amleto." St. Spyridon is credited with saving the island from "food privations" around 1553. Quite the spectacle...Followed immediately by a"First Resurrection" service in the Mitropolis‎ Church and the ringing of bells at 11 am to start the prevailing calling card of the Corfiot Easter:  the throwing of red (or whatever you have) clay pots of all sizes -- some tiny and a few as tall as 5 ft! -- from balconies all over town. Thousands of visitors jostled for position to witness a pretty amazing sight that signifies the victory of life over death, out with old and in with new, and wishes for future prosperity. You are supposed to take a shard for your own good luck, but then you wonder who is going clean up what's left underfoot everywhere you go.‎

For me, however, the religious high point was Good Friday -- with at least 35 churches in town bringing out their "Epitaphio" (Christ's flower-laden funeral bier) starting at 12:30 pm for processions around their neighborhoods led by one of the bands, a chorale group, and representative ‎Boy/Girl Scouts, etc I never get tired of this part, and by 3 pm it was Epitaphio "gridlock" at various intersections with the many people following each procession through the narrow streets. Saw my last one about 7:30 pm from the Saints Iason and Sosipater Church in the Garitsa neighborhood...Then back to the same church for The Resurrection service at midnight on Saturday when candles were lit and we said "Christos Anestis" (Christ is Risen).  ‎ Over the Old Fortress and waterfront, a booming fireworks display put exclamation points on the joyous moment. 

After The Resurrection we went back to Litsa's house for the traditional magheiritsa soup -- super delicious, but you'd better not ask me what's in it! -- and a meal including meat and cheese to break The Fast. We cracked red eggs, too, and I somehow went undefeated in that department...In the afternoon we gathered at her daughter Elena's house for Feast II. Dad Aristos had roasted a lamb to perfection in the backyard and let me pick off little burned pieces of skin (a delicacy!) before he took it down, something my mother would not have approved of‎ :) Lunch was stellar, accompanied by "oven potatoes" and a fab pitta made by Sofy, daughter #2 and quite the go-getter. They had baked revani for dessert and just to be on the safe side topped it with bourbon vanilla ice cream. I did not say no (surprise!), but after an inevitable power nap on the couch eagerly went for the long walk around Kanoni.  What gracious hospitality, and so perfect a day.

Easter in Corfu 2017 -- Double Opa!

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network.

Friday, April 7, 2017

I'm in love with a river...

And the Arapitsa is not just any river.  It's a magic river that swirls down through Naousa in a succession of waterfalls‎ beginning above us at Aghio Nikolaos Grove in the foothills of Mt. Vermion and fed by the many springs in the area (and now also melting snow). I never get tired of watching those rushing waters‎!
The Arapitsa -- one of only 3 Greek rivers with a feminine name -- is not just an amazing sight. These waters once powered famous textile mills that employed about half the town, but are now largely closed and shuttered due to globalization. It used to be a pretty big deal to buy a Vetlans blanket from Naousa.
About halfway up the river at Stoumpani Falls there is a poignant monument to Naousa women who jumped to their deaths in 1822 rather that subjugate themselves to the Ottoman Turks who had just killed about 10,000 Greeks and burned the town to the ground. Naousa was not liberated until 1913, but that battle diverted Turkish forces enough to enable the Pelopponesus to become independent -- thus the unique honorific "The Heroic City of Naousa" bestowed by Royal Decree in 1955.

Today, the Arapitsa flows down into the valley below, serving to irrigate the many crops. Fruit trees, grapes, vegetables, and, more recently‎, kiwis. The associated springs also give us our drinking water.  And there is promise of more energy uses in the future...
There are many amazing things about ‎this Macedonian  town of about 20,000 people an hour west of Thessaloniki. But Naousa's backbone is a river, the magic Arapitsa. Indisputably and indispensably. 
Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network.‎