Thessaloniki is BAE guys, seriously BAE (your headlines ain’t got nothin’ on my clickbait); also Greek culture I guess

The culture of Greece is something new to me. Before embarking on this journey, I thought I had an idea of what Greeks were like, and how the country is run. I sort of don’t remember what exactly that idea was, but I have a different idea now.

Thessaloniki as seen through a fence in the old city (i.e. ancient fortified area up a hill)

Greece is all about trust. About social connections, and a between-friends mentality. The place is run by people who enjoy going out to a taverna with friends and drinking and listening to music and dancing. I’m positive this can be overstated in its importance, but the phenomenon of relaxing through life exists here in a big way. And that’s different. That’s cool.

Not to toot my own horn or anything but I like this picture.

A lot of my insights into the culture of this place I gained by talking to Theo or Maria or Kristina or Kostis or whomever Greek person was nearby (huge shout-outs to every one of them). And I think this culture is special. Not the most suited towards running an efficient and accountable economy perhaps, but extremely good for the people within the community. There’s always an exception to the rule. There’s usually something you can do. You just have to know someone.

A Taxi.

And that is corruption in its purist form. Having a rule that can be broken at will by the watchers is undeniably hypocritical. But on the other hand, if corruption is the rule, then how can you be offended at corruption? It so often works that it’s just part of the society. People don’t have to pretend to not care about things which they might not care about.

It’s a different mentality, and I don’t think that this system is all that bad. It means that to have success in business or life or whatever work might be desired, one simply has to ask, in just the right way, to just the right person. And suddenly life is easy.

Oh Canada!

It sounds like I’m hyping up corruption and nepotism, and to an extent I am. It did work for the Greeks for a long time to operate in this way. It was only after they became a part of the European Union and became only a part of a larger game run by financial wizards in Germany and France that everything went to hell.

Dusty trains = disorganization?

But everything did go to hell, that’s the thing. After the government books fell apart in 2008, the economy hasn’t recovered. Only around now is there any hope of major economic growth for Greece for the near future. For perspective, most people have lost a little less than half their income from when the crisis started.

This sad vibe in street art is pretty common in Greece. But so is every vibe in street art. There’s so much of it.

But it’s not so visible as I expected. Carlene, our teacher and editor, she sent me and a couple others out on a story to capture the protest culture in Thessaloniki. She said something about writing about the drumbeat, and the constant schedule of protest and how its alive and well in this city, and to be honest that description didn’t ring true. Sure, there is a constant schedule of protests, but nobody in the streets every day is seriously expecting change because they’re out there stopping traffic for two minutes and yelling things. No, they’re hoping to make their cause or organization or party a little more visible and attract attention. This is not a bad thing, but it doesn’t call to mind any one drumbeat.

This is a pretty cool vibe too.

Rather a more festive type of drumming came when the whole of Thessaloniki went on strike on a Wednesday. The only people working were a couple cops, the street musicians and the food service people, but this too didn’t seem quite right to me. I mean I’ve seen protest before. People would gather and march in the streets of Ferguson in north county within the St. Louis area when I was in high school. Highways would be stopped by protestors and I’d turn on the television to see people throwing tear gas capsules back at the police. With Ferguson there was some chaos to be sure, but there was also focus. An expectation, a need for some sort of change, some response.


I just don’t see that here. Mostly the strike on Wednesday seemed like a citywide celebration or a parade. People chanted in Greek, which I don’t understand, and obviously, the vibe of the marches depended on who you were walking alongside, but they were marching in solidarity mostly. To be fair, I was by the communists, and a big thing with them is solidarity within social classes. But the teacher’s union felt the same way, and even the dogs running in the street looked excited.

Graffiti is really all over the place.

The story that we ended up turning in is one that I’m happy with, and I think it accurately represents the protests as they are. But honestly, I’ve come to appreciate the street art much more than the protests in this place. That’s what’s truly interesting to me—what people write on walls, and how common and quality it is.

Stylish as downright heck.

I’m getting off track. Here’s a new train of thought.

Not a train, though I have plenty of pictures of them (the old train station was a good photo shoot).

A visit to Greece is usually made nicer by friendly people who happen to make a lot of their money off tourism. It’s no accident that they specifically are friendly to strangers, perhaps more than the average citizen, but Greeks are also just friendly. It reminds me of the Midwest more than I expected. When I buy souvlaki from the Kantina truck, I get smiles. When I go to the Municipal Library I see people studying, so maybe not that expressive, but the receptionist is nice, even without knowing too much English. My experience here is not like Boston, where people are cold and there’s a huge difference between strangers and friends. Greece, or at least Thessaloniki, is warm and personal.

Some dude.

While gathering background info from people in Thessaloniki I’ve heard from a random assortment of voices. A North African man from Ghana named Ferris who makes a living half-selling (giving and then asking for money) colored wristbands to tourists (he had a lot to say about the experience of the refugees or migrants who don’t have papers from back home, yet still live in Greece). I talked to two motorcyclists from Turkey who were stopping by in Thessaloniki and happened to grab some tea at the same place I was at (they commented on the Greek view of the Turkish and the similarities of the cultures). I met and made friends with this journalism student named Kostis who has his own radio show on a volunteer internet radio station (Radio Nowhere). I saw a cool old dude smirking at a passing protest and interviewed him, and it turned out he is an anarchist himself, but from an Italian school of thought more based in peacefulness and words. I even met two Greek Jehovah’s Witnesses who helped me with my Turkey story by mentioning the sporting and television rivalries between Greece and Turkey.

Throwin shade on some dude.

Those people are the people I want to talk about when I talk about Greek culture. They weren’t busy, or maybe they were, but they didn’t seem worried about it. They took the time to tell stories and fill me in, and that is very Greek.


In talking with Kristina, until recently my RA and now a friend, I’ve gotten a bit of a feel for what young people are interested in here. They aren’t concerned necessarily with politics. They go about their business and worry about their lives and their studies and leave it at that. Obviously everyone has knowledge and keeps in the loop with current events somewhat, but the political activism of the Greek people can be overstated.

The close up of a proud statue in a park.
The vertical photo, adding some inappropriate context.

Mostly, Greeks seem to want to chat, relax and drink (coffee or ouzo, either way). They find pride in being Greek, sometimes more so than is historically accurate, but not so much that they can’t admit to a little nationalistic silliness.

Cats are cool as all heck.

And that historical tick comes as no surprise, what with all the random ancient buildings everywhere, sticking out from under roads and in the middle of squares. There’s clearly so much to call back to; it’s no surprise that referring to history to affirm oneself is popular here. You don’t need to look that hard for evidence of past glory.

Sort of speaks for itself don’t it?

And that’s as close to an ending as I can come up with. The past is on display here, but it’s also visibly sticking out from under roads. There’s too much of it to comprehend, let alone put in one piece. But having too much material to write about it is what I refer to as a good problem.DSC_3817.jpg


To good problems

and a wonderful city.

Old anarchist chilling at a table and watching a protest is dismissive of violent anarchists

While I was covering the demonstrations that went along with a general strike the other Wednesday I talked to an interesting man. He walked by the protests in my general direction while I was trying to get a good shot of protesters in both the background and the foreground (when the marching people curled up a street on a hill) and he just looked swag. That’s the only way to put it.

His name is Savaidis Makis. He seemed bemused by the protest, but not dismissive. I walked up to him when he sat down at a table outside an internet cafe. Next to him sat an older man who (apparently) has a son in the Greek air force.

A cool image from among some marchers.

Makis had reflective sunglasses on which he (sadly) took off before I took photos. He looked like a character, and I got to talk to him simply by being an annoying American journalist.

During the impromptu interview (made complicated by protesters chanting loudly in the background as well as his limited English vocabulary) we talked a bit about the culture and history of protest in Greece.

That makes our conversation sound sophisticated. And it featured some sophisticated thinking, but like any communications through language barriers, most of it was more simplistic. Just cause simpler is easier to understand.

“Greek protest is different from US,” Makis said. “We walk in the streets. In the US they walk in the (points at a sidewalk and grunts) these.”

Makis was very much an onlooker to the demonstrations right then, but seemed approving. Or at least bemused.

I dunno. He was an interesting face, who had interesting things to say, even if most of it didn’t translate into good quotes.

He’s a subscriber to the Five Star Movement in Italy, and apparently has studied five years of philosophy sometime in the past. I found his Facebook and his blog, but everything’s in Greek. Fortunately, browsers come with translation tools now, so it’s not impossible to get a gist.

He was vocal about being a self-professed anarchist, but of an older school of thought. He is not an advocate of violence like some of those who were out that day. Instead he subscribes to the philosophy of someone whose name sounds like “Glicko” (like how Glee Co. would be pronounced).

“Peaceful, only with word,” he said. “Words are the biggest bump that exists.”


I found the music with Marina Satti

So before this dialogue I wrote a post about the music that defined Greece at the time for me. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the country but it sounded like there was a lot of troubles. So the songs I chose reflected that.

Now that I’m here, I don’t think this is a good choice at all. Post-hardcore rock is too slow, with not enough movement. It could be described as zombielike. But in no way is Greece zombielike. Being vibrant and enjoying life seems to be national pastime, whatever the struggles of the present. The adjective lifeless does not apply. That’s for certain.

During the introductory language classes that we attend on weekdays, the teacher introduced us to Marina Satti, playing one of her songs on the screen. She recently released this song.

The streets in the video as well as the people dancing remind me of Thessaloniki. There is so much graffiti and the buildings look similar if not the same. This video could have been filmed on some of the same streets that I’ve been walking for the last two weeks. It might as well have been.

I love this song (and already adore the artist though I heard about her two days ago). The dramatic and building nature of this music appeals to me a lot, and it incorporates eastern rhythms (played on what sounds like bagpipes) into an otherwise contemporary song. The production of the song is slick to be sure (just listen to when and how the synth comes in), but the vocals are in Greek. It doesn’t sound like music that I’ve heard before. This is a Greek interpretation of conventional something quintessentially Greek, and I enjoy it as much as my favorite music back home. The fact that this song exists excites me. I’m a huge fan.

Below is the song the teacher (Maria) originally showed us.


The above song (Koupes) is a modern version of a more traditional Greek tune. It reminds me of Magda Giannikou’s song Yerakina, another modern performance of an old Greek song.

I’ve asked a lot of people about what Greek music means and to be honest I’m still not totally sure (is it more in the history of music unique to Greece and the Balkans or in the modern reinterpretations and mixings of this tradition?). When I figure that out I’ll let you know. In the meantime, listen to Marina Satti.

Header photo by Bradley Fargo. The pictured sculpture was spotted by some building associated with the Orthodox Church. The picture was included because I feel like this man would have liked Marina Satti’s music based only on his expression. He looks like a hip priest. RIP Leonidas Paraskevopoulos.


Dinner today

I’ve never had so many olives as I have in the last 3 hours. I blogged straight through dinner-time. It was glorious. For my (late) meal I ran down to the convenience store and bought some olives (in a jar). Then I cooked some rice. Then I poured the olives in.

It turns out there was feta inside the olives (!). It sated my appetite.

For bonuses, I warmed up a lovely frozen pastry filled with feta. It has been described as a feta intestine. Good appetite friends.

Kickin’ around the city

I didn’t know what to expect from Thessaloniki but it’s been about a week now, and I think I have a sense of the city.

I like it.

These cars are parked.

I’m not sure why exactly. It’s not the busiest, or the most exciting, but it’s consistently nice. The people, the weather, the food, the protests, the beaches. Everything is laid back in a way.

Alongside foot traffic, protesters gather in Kamara square.

It is not jarring. To talk to a Greek is only inconvenient if they don’t want to talk to you or they don’t know English. Many know English. If you are friendly, and you don’t act like a loud crazy tourist then people will be gracious even.

Young people.

Over the last couple days I covered protests (alongside Sophie and David) and shot pictures all over the city. These protests were not violent, or even particularly hurried (but they were legitimate). And we knew when they would start, so taking some time to eat and drink and look around was only natural.

The White Tower of Thessaloniki.

I’ve gotten lost once or twice, and those are among my favorite times. To be alone in a city is to truly be in the city. Navigating is part of the experience. And in Thessaloniki, everything is a short bus ride away. If you’re downtown, you can practically see everywhere you might want to go on the boardwalk.

A view of the boardwalk, facing toward the old city.

Thessaloniki is bright, and it is filled with graffiti. This may be a European thing, or even a Greek thing, but it is striking. There are ruins from antiquity as well as churches from Byzantine times, and between them stand off-white buildings erected in the 1920s. The old city is filled with variety, and the whole is more interesting than any one of the parts.

The old among the new.