Saturday, October 30, 2010

Back to my birthplace

At the beach... looking south. On the horizon
a trace of the island of Samothrace.
Last week I visited my birthplace and hometown in Greece. The city of Alexandroupolis, in the north-east of the country. I left the place after highschool 40 years ago to go study in Athens and never came back. I left them with eighteen thousand inhabitants and came back to find four times as many.

Understandably, streets became much smaller, as people are parking their cars on both sides. Underground parking areas or dedicated buildings for parking usage alone are an unfamiliar concept altogether, and most streets look as chaotic as the rug markets in Istanbul. That's what my fellow Greek citizens call progress. An interesting development nonetheless: They started building pavements for bikes along main streets, which renders the space for car traffic even smaller. Town authorities should be courageous enough to abandon car traffic from the city center altogether. Like it's happening more and more in any given Central European city. And build parking spaces. And get their cabling underground. It's so depressing. Oh, well... Let's talk about some other stuff next...

I also visited the cemetery, the new one. I managed to find the grave of my mother, with the help of a dear friend (Takis) who was kind enough to be my guide and guardian angel almost 24x7 in the few days that I stayed in town. I am ashamed to admit that it's been 18 years ever since she passed away and that was my first time visiting her grave. Yes sir... Shame on me and let the world know!!! With nobody stopping by, the grave was in an appalling state of dirt and wild plant growth. This made me feel like shit even more about myself. Takis volunteered to fix the problem and make the grave look a lot more descent. I was obviously grateful.

The best that happened to this town since I left was the completion of the Egnatia Highway north of the city. And a huge Hospital that is also used for classes and training of MD students attending the local Medical University. That's right. Alex/polis has got a university these days. Good for them! They also have frequent flights to Athens, meaning they shouldn't have many excuses for not building some local industrial activity. However, I haven't seen much of that anywhere. If there was any at all they have certainly hidden it from me... Or is it because Takis only wanted to bring me to places I knew from the past? Like the old French railways station. The Gare Militaire as we used to call it. When I was young I thought Gare Militaire, pronounced by locals as Karmilitar, originated from Turkish. True story! It's only in my recent trip that I found out what the correct name was. So much I knew about the tongue of Molière those days...

They also build a relatively large port but I saw no cranes. Not a single one. I mean, compared to the crane forests of the ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam, Alex/polis port looks like a huge Lego for 7 year olds. I didn't see any commercial ships docked either. Only a ferryboat to Samothrace (remember its headless Victoire statue at the Louvre?) , an island 30 km off the coast to the south, and a few retired ships from other origins, docked here to avoid excessive port taxation  (as Takis mentioned). Oh yes before I forget: Outside the cemetery I also saw a large cotton field. I didn't know we grew cotton in town before?! Takis said the field will stay like this, unexploited. Nobody plucks the cotton anymore, he said. They just planted it because they received state subsidies (probably from the Eurocrats). After they put up Dodge City this way, and pocketed the subsidy they left it to its destiny, to accompany with its millions of white cotton flowers the dead resting on the other side of the street. A great subsidy plan Mr. Baroso. That's exactly the way Europe will end up in Chinese pockets altogether in less than one generation. But you'll be dead by then. Why bother?

The best part of my trip was my encounter with so many people from my past, all grown up, grayed or bald. Hugs and kisses everywhere I went. I was actually moved by the positive feelings I received from all these people, who would be entirely justified to hate my guts and spit on the ground in contempt at my approach. On the contrary. They almost stayed in row to hug me, kiss me and shake my hand. This is Greece too. A country of emotion and affection. I did my best to hold my tears. Only thing that bothered me though is their obsession for smoking cigarettes at all times, over dinner and lunch too. I stopped smoking long ago, but I believe I must have 'passively' smoked more than a pack during these four days.

I was impressed by the women from my high school classes. With one or two exceptions (that I was told about but didn't see, so I can't really confirm) most looked like they stopped adding years to their age in their thirties. Mary, Efy, Tety, Anta, Kaity all looked stunning! I guess it's the water they drink and the good life. On the contrary, some of their husbands looked like shit... more like their fathers, so to say. I felt really bad for one of those women in the company of her dad (sorry... husband, I meant). I also came across an old flame of mine. She looked gorgeous. As like the galloping years left her untouched. As beautiful as ever. Or, at least I thought so. I got to clarify here. She had never known then that I was insanely infatuated with her as a teenager. I was a nerd you see, and too shy to even look her in the eyes. Or any girl for that matter. I almost fainted once when she looked back and smiled. Seeing her again after all these years, still looking as beautiful, gave me a strange feeling. This time I was courageous enough to talk to her though. What could possibly go wrong, eh? Like my old boss used to tell intimidated salesmen, who didn't dare ask customers for the order. "Why worry lads? The worst that can happen is the customer sez 'no'. He ain't gonna eat yah!"That's right! She didn't eat me. She looked like she enjoyed the conversation too. We talked about our families and what our kids did for living, you know, the usual.

Lefteris and Nikos enjoying Belgian goodies...
The one thing we did during the last evening, something that I'd never have expected to see in my hometown, was a visit to a bar where they serve special German and Belgian beers.  Called 'M-beer-ia'. Pronounced as one word means 'experience' in Greek. Very clever. You got to be Greek to come up with something so ingenious, nooot? It was set up and managed by Greeks who were born in Germany to immigrant parents and came back home to Alexandroupolis with all their knowledge of lagers and special beers. See a shot I took of my friends at our table filled with Belgian beer, Duvel, Kwak, Brugse Zot, Chimay! And grilled German sausages, goes without saying...  Of course I pretended to be the expert. Shit I know about Belgian beer, but anyways...

Last, the one thing that hit me like a a lightning was their indisputable lack of any PC and Internet literacy,  true for almost all my peers (baby boomers). They made me feel like I was at the same age as their 20 year old kids, who obviously know PCs inside-out, and even prefer Linux to Windows. Some of my peers wouldn't know a laptop even if it hit them in the face. I thought of coming back to organize free PC courses for 50+ for them buggers. Sad story. I mean, I never asked them to built any Java servlets for crying out loud... just simply power on a PC box, log in their email, or surf and read a (my) blog... it's not much to ask, innit! No wonder they keep gossiping all day long. They got plenty of time talking to each other, whereas their kids are staring at computer monitors. They'd better surf a bit for a change. Poor bastards. Yep, I forgot. Some know how to Skype. Talking over IP, that is. No keyboard typing (the Antichrist!). I must say, I've been typing Greek the last few weeks, on a software adapted AZERTY keyboard and I can tell you, accenting Greek words is a bitch. Especially if you are trying to figure out what is what on an AZERTY. Oh, well... it's a matter of habit at the end. Where there's a will there's a way...

 Would I go back? I think so. Under pressing 'advice' by my daughter I might even buy a small place to go back more often than I ever thought possible.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I met Zorba the Greek...

I have never thought he ever existed outside Kazantzakis' imagination. Even Anthony Quinn was nothing more than an impersonator. Zorba had to be Greek by birth. Quinn was anything but Greek. My Zorba is an ex-football legend, of PAOK first and Panathinaïkos later. After he stopped active football, he maintained a restaurant at the famous (infamous to some) Omonia Square in Athens, where he made himself a fortune serving 'patsas'. "We used to earn money by the buckets" he said. The menu contained only a single item: Patsas! Most Westerners wouldn't go anywhere near but Greeks eat that for breakfast, lunch and supper too, especially during cold winter days. My dad used to breakfast like this as well, I remember. Not me though. Mother hated it...

Achilleas (not Alexis) is the name of my Zorba. He simply acted naturally like everything Nikos Kazantzakis described. Sing, dance, talk like an Olympian God for hours. He dominated the whole scene. My Zorba is bigger than life. Sure thing! I was speechless for most of the time I was in his company. We were both scheduled to pitch about the book on the following day's ceremony, you see. It would be him first and then I'd follow. At a given moment during supper the night before, he started talking with unseen energy and in much manlier vocabulary than I could ever use, and repeat in his own special manner about the same that I had planned as my closing statements. I leaned over to Lefteris and said: "I believe he has hijacked an entire chapter of my pitch". Zorba overheard me and said. "Don't you worry Professor. I won't pitch. I'll sing! I always sing in events like those". I thought he was joking, but the day after the singing happened indeed. Without music. Just like Zorba would do it! Never ever have I seen a man like this. He actually gave meaning to the concept of 'man'. If manges were like him, I can now understand why rebetika became so popular. I was trying to absorb every single word he said. He turns sixty this year but I imagined every woman who'd listen to him for more than a quarter would dream of getting in bed with this alpha male!

Achilleas Aslanidis
Authentic Zorba the Greek
My friend Lefteris, the writer, was listening to him the same way I did. His brain was working faster than mine though. I could almost hear his hard disk in his head doing billions of random accesses. He picked up every word coming out of Zorba's mouth. At a given moment in time Lefteris said: "Have you heard what Achilleas just said?". I hadn't. It was all too overwhelming for me. I said so. "Well", Lefteris continued, "he said 'Great men only have expectations from themselves, while common men have expectations from others...' that's a hell of a statement, innit?". I must admit it was.

Achilleas was proud to publicly admit that he wasn't fortunate enough to go to school but he felt he could often see the truth more clearly than many so called educated men. On the day of Lefteris book ceremony our timing clashed with a pitch by Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou who unexpectedly came to town. As the PM, after his pitch, was shaking hands in the hotel lobby where everyone had assembled, Zorba approached the PM and said. "It's the first time I am in the neighborhood of a PASOK (ruling party) PM and I feel sad!" "Your father, Andreas" he said, "never missed a penalty. But, you keep shooting penalty shots to the tribunes" Zorba meant that the current government, instead of getting their arms around various well known capitalist sharks with undeclared billions in questionable income, is only exercising pressure upon common citizens with empty pockets. His words and ideas were so much Zorba's. If I had Kazantzakis' talent I could have written volumes about the man. I hope Lefteris, obviously with a writing talent comparable to other great Greek writers, will one day publish a book about Achilleas. I'll stand in the row to get one.

In the clip above that I shot with my iPhone at the Restaurant Spitambelo, where we were all invited at the end of Lefteris official ceremony at the Grecotel (launch of his third book in a Rebetika trilogy), a middle-aged Pontian virtuoso plays the Lyra and sings. In the second half of the clip, Achilleas sings along, with a heavy voice like the Pontian singing God Kazantzidis, and is telling me that he himself originated from the area where that song came from. He then confirms to his neighbor, Neurosurgeon Dr. Antoniadis (another legendary Pontian with track record in writing lyrics for contemporary Pontian songs) that these were indeed the best Pontian songs ever written. I wouldn't know. To me they all sounded the same. Until a moment came that I felt I was part of them Pontians too. There's something electric about the people and their music. In a very rare and unusual moment, all quite unexpectedly, I suddenly felt very humble. I felt like being in the company of mythical giants... and I was just a hobbit...

Αλεξανδρούπολη μεριά - Take 2

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Αλεξανδρούπολη μεριά...

(Click bottom right for full screen viewing...). I shot the pictures last week when in my birthplace Alexandroupolis for the launch of Lefteris Hapsiadis 3rd book, "13+1 why?". Had the time of my life. Saw loads of people I haven't seen in almost 40 years. I even shook PM G. Papandreou's hand while he's been campaigning in town. Not that I was looking forward to... Everybody was sitting down in big sofas at the Egnatia hotel lobby when somebody shouted, "the President!" Most of us stood up and I saw them shaking his hand. I was still sitting down minding my own business (had a nasty back ache and preferred the sofa instead), as he leaned towards me to shake my hand, so I kinda stood up and shook back... I feel so fortunate I did that... noooot?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How to email your internet jokes to your friends!

What kind of title is this, you may rightfully think. Well, a very valid indeed. How often have you come across emails sent to you by friends and relatives with some sort of viral Internet content that friend sends to friend, colleague to colleague, and before you can spell "Scheveningen" the email has gone around the planet ten times and more, faster than the speed of light! In that process, your own email adress travelled along too, by the way. Because most of us are too lazy to think how to transmit this type of content to another soul. Or too ignorant. Together with the hundreds of others' email addresses too. And before you know... there come all the spams into your inbox! And try to get rid of them buggers next. No way! This posting is about how to avoid all that.

So, learn to transmit these funny buggers properly. Here's the way.
  1. First, you decide you wanna forward this further and to whom.
  2. Next, you hit forward on the mail you just received. 
  3. Third, you put your target recipient addresses in the BCC field. That's extremely important. The Blind BCC field is the only one you have to consider. Neither the TO, nor the CC fields.
  4. Fourth, you clean any headers from the email contents that you are forwarding: These appear just in front of your useful content and are put there automatically each time you forward any received email to someone else. The headers contain email adresses of other recipients that have got the item as part of its cyber bounce from desktop to desktop that it started ever since it left the first originator's computer. 
  5. Also, don't forget to scroll to the end of the message as there's a lot of garbage there too, automatically added by (mainly) company mail servers, about how to save trees by not printing the message, or some legal lingo about confidentiality rights and BS like this...
  6. Only thing you can now see is your recipients in the BCC field, and your 'funny' content. 
  7. Hit Send!
Anyone who receives such a message will only see that it's coming from you and might have some good laughs or curse you for wasting his/her time, but that's it.

Another thing I do, is keep separate email groups where I keep my recipients' email adresses organized. Mine are like this:
  • Soft: normal jokes and content, not obscene, minimum nudity (if at all), soft anecdotes. 
  • Hard: spicy (sometimes XXX) stuff, that I get from time to time from dudes in my inner circle (four or five blokes located in Europe, UK and the US)
  • Kids: a bunch of young adults, many of them students, and my own siblings and some of their friends, between 20 and 30 yrs of age, that is.
  • Family: Spouse and own family members.
My forwarding process is as described above. I used to forward everything I got in the past, to make people laugh (I thought), but nowadays, I'm pretty selective. I never transmit racial jokes, or extra vulgar nudity (even to my Hard core group) and I often send interesting serious stuff... I think. The fact that quite a few of my recipients react these days with approving remarks, tells me I'm not wasting their time.

The golden rule about sending something to someone: If in doubt, DON'T DO IT!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Is yours any faster? Seriously doubt it...

It looks like Telenet built a special tube for my 'Highness'. How else can you explain the delta? And, by the way, there's no limit to download TB volumes either... In other words, pretty close to Internet Paradise on Earth! (click the screenshot for readability)

For those moaning that my average is not that spectacular, OK dudes... you win: I only had the 100Mb (optical fiber) line for just a few months. I was on 25Mb before that, so my average very much reflects the low value, right?