Κυριακή, 19 Δεκεμβρίου 2010

Unusual happenings in Corfu...

This morning, (at 12 o clock that is, because that is what passes for morning in Corfu, especially on Sundays...) a small, but active group of people was seen in San Rocco. They managed, in just over an hour, to gather up all the rubbish that was lying, discarded all over the square.

Armed with rubbish bags, brooms, a shovel and a little (not much...) good will, they managed to tidy up a part of town that almost everyone visiting the commercial center passes from. There were a few passers-by because the shops were open, it being the last Sunday before Xmas. They stole a few glances, but otherwise went about their way...

At some point one of the immigrants sitting on the park-benches got up and dropped some litter into one of the bags, grabbing the opportunity to say "Goodmorning" to one of the girls sweeping nearby.

They gathered their rubbish-bags into a big pile in the middle of the square for some quick snapshots. Then they loaded them into a car and trailer and drove them to the rubbishtip in Temploni. The Greeks call it the CHYTA (X.Y.T.A.) which stands for Area of Healthwise Burial of Refuse... (I'm sort of making this up as I go along, bear with me...!)

Arriving in Temploni they had the opportunity to witness firsthand the result of Mans passing upon this earth, in all it's glory...but that's a big discussion for another time maybe, as big as the MOUNTAINS of rubbish there...

Who were these people?

It doesn't really matter. Suffice it to say they are people like you! Normal people who smoke or not, who have children or not, who ride bicycles (some more than others...) who may have dropped the occasional piece of litter even (but maybe not, I can't be sure...) Simple people, not perfect, but beautiful. Simple people joined together by one thing. The fact that they have decided to stop being part of the problem and start becoming part of the solution.

You can become one of them too. All that's required is your smile!

Δευτέρα, 6 Δεκεμβρίου 2010

Athens, 6th of December 2008

The police radio squawked its message. there was a grey sedan parked on the pavement somewhere along Alexandra's Avenue and impeding the pedestrians. Could the nearest police car go and check it out? The two "special guards" in their patrol car were nearby. They called in to say they were proceeding to the spot. But for reasons unknown they didn't. Instead they turned into the "Exarcheia" area, a neighborhood known as the centre for the alternative crowd, both musically and politically. And also known as a bit of a "no-man's land" for "batsous" the greek derogatory term for policemen...
They stopped at a junction and proceeded to have words with some kids lounging around. The verbal altercation became worse, some witnesses who testified said they didn't want to repeat the words they heard...There had been no protests, no gangs, no violence of any kind. As they turned to leave they apparently threw a stun grenade, standard equipment for the greek riot police...

This prompted a girl who lived in a nearby block of flats to come out onto her balcony with her videocamera. She saw the pair get into their car and leave. Ten minutes later, having parked their patrol car a couple of blocks up the road, they returned. They exchanged more words with some of the kids. A young boy of fifteen, named Alexandros Grigoropoulos, got up from where he was eating a sandwich,and commented on their behaviour. He was told to back off. He challenged them as to what they would do. "I'll show you what I'll do" said one of the guards. He raised his arm. He was holding a pistol. He shot two times, maybe three. Alexandros just about had time to state in disbelief "I've been shot" and he crumpled to the ground. He took a bullet in the chest, next to his heart. The two men walked away. A while later they would call in and say they had been attacked by a mob. No mention of shots fired, no mention of a victim, or of a dead 15-year old boy...

From the hospital, where the body of young Alexandros was taken, a woman used his phone to call his mother. She picked up, saying that she would be coming right away to pick them up. The woman said "I'm calling from the hospital. Your son is very badly hurt". "Is he alive?" she asked. "I can't tell you, but don't come alone, bring a friend". His mother put the phone down, called a friend of hers and told her. Her son was dead...

The news shot around the neighborhood in seconds. around Athens in minutes. Around Greece in less than an hour. Riots erupted ,first in Athens, then Thessalonika. Then a number of other Greek towns. The next day was to see the first use of tear gas in Corfu that I remember (excepting the Lefkimmi rubbish tip riots...)

People were angry. There was a lot of looting, burning, roadblocks, cars on fire. For 3 days Athens burned. The minister Mr Pavlopoulos has now conceided that there was talk of imposing martial law. It was not done because they wanted to avoid more deaths.

The people on the streets were a mix. More of a mix than you might imagine. Mostly young pupils as opposed to students, but also anarchists, little old ladies, members of the communist party, immigrants, illegal immigrants, and an unknown number of members of the greek Neo Nazi group "Golden Dawn" (Yes there are Greek Nazis...) They hate the lefties guts and always take the opportunity of a riot to do two things. Do senseless damage so it can be blamed on the leftists, anarchists etc (The hairy ones as they call them) and get a good chance to kick the shit out of them too! I know from friends of mine who are involved that there is a certain "code of honor" among the anarchists. They won't burn people's shops. Only banks and big corporations or franchises. All the other shops broken into or pillaged were mostly by immigrants and common thieves grabbin the opportunity (hope that doesn't sound racist, it's not meant like that...)

A young boy who was interviewed, of a similar age to the victim, said he left his house on that day, hit the streets and didn't really return home until the 23rd of January. I can remember my daughter being teargassed here in Corfu (strangely, or not so, I felt proud...)

I remember those days. On the 6th of December, I was writing of the death of an old friend, Kate Roberts (Bless her wherever she is...) Then two days later, all this violence had erupted. On Tuesday, the 9th of December, I was in town picking up my daughter and her friend from art lessons. I parked in a side street and waited. Behind me an unmarked van pulled up. The side door opened and through my mirror I caught a glimpse of black suited riot police putting their helmets on and grabbing their shields and batons. I felt sick. I drove through town, in San rocco square there was a good crowd. With two 8 yr olds and a baby in the car I couldn't stop though even if I wanted to do.

And now two years on? The spectre of another kind of brutality hangs upon Greece. The financial brutality of the markets and their cronies.I am still waiting for the revolution to begin...

Κυριακή, 5 Δεκεμβρίου 2010

Christmas Sucks!

As December rolls on and the Xmas decorations start coming out of closet, the hunt is on for that ever elusive Christmas spirit. I've been trying for years to switch it on, sometime during the run up to xmas but it ain't easy...

As a child it never seemed difficult. Grandparents, aunties and uncles, and of course parents took good care of that. Parcels from England used to arrive during December, which we used to shake and smell, trying to figure out what was in them... I will never forget fighting with my sister about some present, in my grandma's old house in Piraeus, only to suddenly hear the deep, booming, voice of Santa himself, hiding behind the closet, apparently at the ready to resolve such problems! (It was our Dad)

Then you grow up, pass into the teens and twenties, when Xmas is just another occasion for a good piss up and some parties, and the xmas spirit slowly fades away... Another funny memory here, as a teen, staying up late on Xmas night, watching TV, only to be treated to the full Moulin Rouge show, complete with tall lithe British dancers, wearing next to nothing, all of us speechless, me gulping and wondering what everyone else is thinking...hilarious!!!

Time for a song...
Listen carefully to the lyrics...



I did however find that having kids brought some of it back, if anything because, you get the fresh look of their view on it. The las few years, what with the crisis and becoming a bit older and wiser, I have found another way too. Cooking, and especially baking, have added that little extra feeling and a lot of nice smells to the household. The kids love taking part in it, and the smell of ginger, cinnamon and something hot and sweet in the oven definintely add to that elusive Xmas spirit!

So regardless of the song, I don't really think Xmas sucks, however I am sure that making it another opportunity to persuade people to buy-buy-buy is not the way to go forward.

The other thing of course, is that our island is not a very christmasy place, is it? No snow, no pines, no Santas ringing bells on every corner, it isn't even cold! I mean come on, some of us are still in t-shirts!

Alex, my wonderful other half, has recently enrolled in this online photography course, set up along the lines of the "12 days of Xmas". The idea is to learn how to take good, festive photos. Everyday they are given an assignment, which teaches them certain aspects of "festive" photography. So everybody is sending in, all these photos of snow, (most of the participants are British) and all these lovely white landscapes, and what have we got? The closest thing to festive here is going to be St. Spiridon's litania on the 12th of December... Shame, she missed the dutch people and their Sinterclass celebration this morning, at the Marina...

Anyway at least it is getting cold now...

PS. This is the first entry of my new blog. I've been writing a couple of other ones on and off the last two years, but mostly in Greek. The idea is to combine some thought, social and political commentary and on occasion a distillation of the news and general goings-on in Greece and Corfu. And of course to do it in English allowing my non-greek friends an insight into life here.