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Τρίτη 4 Αυγούστου 2015

Τετάρτη 29 Ιουλίου 2015

The news of Cecil's slaying came as I was standing at a bus stop on Columbus, skimming Twitter on my phone. “Go wild in New York” said the ad displayed on the side of the bus stop. It was a Bronx Zoo ad, portraying some of its cutest arrivals: the red panda.
I rested against it as I read about the torture and killing of Cecil, one of the most famous lions at Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. Cecil loved humans and often approached park visitors. He trusted them.
 A Minnesota dentist, is, according to the authorities, Cecil’s slayer. According to the allegations, Walter James Palmer of Eden Prairie, Minn., paid at least $50,000 to track and kill Cecil, who was a protected lion (wearing a GPS collar and tracked by the Oxford University research program.)
Together with his accomplices, Palmer—allegedly; although there is nothing alleged about this—lured Cecil from the national park to an unprotected area (to avoid legal charges) by strapping a "dead animal to his vehicle."
Once Cecil was outside the national park land, Palmer (allegedly) shot Cecil with a bow and arrow, but did not kill him. He and his companions then tracked the wounded animal for 40 hours, before shooting and killing him. Cecil was skinned and beheaded.
Palmer’s defence was that he relied on locals to make the hunt legal, and
"had no idea that the lion…was a known, local favorite, collared and part of a study.”
This story will probably play itself out amid legalese that lawyers will throw at each other. Boundaries, whether Cecil transgressed them of his own volition or was deceived into doing so, and protected status will be the verbiage that will be used in an effort to administer a certain kind of justice to this atrocity.
It’s understandable: boundaries, status, rules and transgressions define the lives of all animals, including the human kind. Yet our rules also get to define the lives of all other animals. Not because we’re better, or less wild, or wiser. Just because we can. We need to, we also want to.
It’s a very tenuous balance we need to keep with animals. Some we consider wild; others we breed to eat; others we keep as companions, to be loved and cherished.
Although I do not eat animals, I can understand those who do. I would never wear or carry leather or fur, but after a double whammy of pneumonia two winters ago, I did get a Canada Goose coat. I don’t really mind mice and rats on the streets and subway, but I draw the line when it comes to inside.
The northwest of Manhattan where I live, seems to have turned this summer into a refuge for bewildered wild ones: Two coyotes; one baby alligator ambling on the sidewalk; squirrels trying to cross Central Park West; racoons skittering down the underpass from Riverside Park to the boardwalk on the Hudson on 93rd; a family of groundhogs parked outside the Delacorte theater (perhaps they were Shakespeare-philes); racoons careening down 81st all the way to Amsterdam avenue, have all passed through, leaving behind a range of diverse emotions.

Not everyone loves the wild ones unconditionally, especially in the heart of our urban jungles. Understandably. Dealing with New York life is already too wild to celebrate encounters with any other (man or other animal) than our cat or dog. And even in smaller cities and towns, bears on your porch, foxes outside your apartment building’s garage, and stricken deer on the highway, are not always the stuff of Disney movies.
Some do like the wild ones—at a distance. Like zoos—and I must agree when it comes to pythons and cobras, for example. Others prefer to visit them in sanctuaries for psychotherapy visits (wolf sanctuaries are recently in therapeutic fashion.)
Others just want to limit their contact to their own cats and dogs, as well as maybe those “of our kind” (animals and their human companions.) The class system rules supreme, especially in New York. We cannot expect to treat animals better than we treat humans.
And yet, we do. I have often wished I were a dog, here in New York. It’s like being stuck in permanent infancy with doting parents whose helicoptering involves just being loved unconditionally.
We love our pets so because they are the only creature we are “allowed to” (normatively, pragmatically) love unconditionally. We do not fear their betrayal, we do not fear their competition, their ignorance and perversion. It’s safe.
Even so, it is a mark of civilization to be kind and respectful of the needs of those who have no voice or rights.
It is ingrained in American society. Initiated by the vital emotional need (to love somebody dammit, without wondering about potential cost) and refined by social norms. Responsibility, respect, as well as love, come with the territory of deciding to have a pet. Every time I see yet one.......... 

Κυριακή 26 Ιουλίου 2015

The girl sitting on the sidewalk on the crossroads of 79th and Broadway does not belong there. Beautiful in an astonishingly innocent way, she does not appear to be more than 18. Wisps of dligently combed and demurely tied back blond hair frame her flawless skin and hopeful, self-contained eyes. She bites daintily at a sandwich, carefully brushing crumbs off her blue shirt and ironed buejeans. Although on the sidewalk, she is sitting on a clean orange duffel bag of the kind one can only imagine a mother choosing, to send her child off to college, fully-packed. Unperturbed by the traffic, she is greedily reading from an Emily Dickinson anthology. Hardback, pristine. She has not even crafted a “Pleas Help” sign yet; nor deposited a plastic cup or bag in front of her, to collect money from any willing to give.

People are noticing this child, sitting on the sidewalk, emanating desperate idealism and deep-rooted conviction that miracles and magic can happen in New York as long as you’re open and hopeful and in love with the city. We’re all shocked, and moved. For a brief moment, united in our consternation. What will happen to this child? We can see she does not belong there. She is not one of the hundreds—many of them, very young; almost all, artists—of homeless who roam the summer streets of New York. In a few days, this will change. The street will swallow her. She will disappear from our view, or altogether. It is what it is. The world can be a sad, bad, mad place.


A few days later, on the corner of Prince and Crosby in NOLITA, a group of pretentiously “destroyed” twenty-year olds peel out of a brownstone so grungy and dirty, that renting even its basement would be equivalent to renting a palazzo in Italy. On one of the walls, three words are spray painted: “Uber me a pizza”. Beneath it, a girl is sitting on the sidewalk. Early twenties, with an Asian-African delicate richness to her beauty, she is dressed to the nines. Lace beige shorts, a tight t-shirt, satin ballet flats. Her thighs are one with the dirty street. Immersed in a book (Malcolm Gladwell’s “David and Goliath”) she is unperturbed by the fact her apparently designer handbag rests on what could be aspirationally called an incohate compost heap. 


A purple long car pulls up. The brakes screech, slightly, like trying to make a point. She looks up. “Hey!” As she rushes I see the sign on the driver’s window: Uber. My intimations of dark things, die hard, happily. For the moment, this girl will not vanish. For the moment being the operative phrase. Fluidity is the nice name for the game, and you never know when you are the one waiting for Uber, or have become the one working for Uber. 


In this economy, it’s no secret, no shame. Everyone does Uber, and Uber is used to ferry everything: from people, to dogs, to pizzas. One hopes the list stops there (and dead bodies are still ferried about in the trunks of black limos driven by men who used to moonlight on the Sopranos, and work in waste disposal in New Jersey and on the East River.)

Uber is of course, just a symbol for a growing reality.

A recent www.newyorker.com piece about a house in Brooklyn whose residents claim it is haunted, and therefore seek a “ghost” discount on their rent, referred to one of the building’s doormen. In an aside, the piece mentioned that the man supplements his income by being paid to stand in line for Shakespeare in the Park tickets, as well as Cronuts. That is usual, as we all know. It’s the gig economy. Craigslist may seem to perceive of it as mainly “Pretty girls make big bucks easily. All safe, all legal. No clients outside Manhattan, above 100th street. Live the NYC dream!” and “Seeking arrangement with understanding woman with big bosom and small feet”, but in reality it encompasses everything and anything. From cleaning houses, to running errands, flying kites with kids, bartering, teaching yoga, cleansing karma, unclogging sinks, scaring off predatory ex-boyfriends, helping bored lonely pensioners fish in the Hudson. Outsource, Thumbtack, Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, and many more. 


The gig economy is one of the driving forces behind the recent positive jobs report. 

Large swathes of the middle-class are surviving exclusively thanks to the gig economy. 


Millenials and many people of all ages are subsisting exclusively, or complementing their income, through these new venues. This reinforces them: both the new “middle little guys”, and the new ventures seeking to replace the old behemoths in power. This makes the establishment—the old “little guys” (e.g. taxi drivers, nail salon workers, hotel workers, fast food workers), and the old “big guys” (taxi medallion owners, hotel owners, fast food chains)—really mad. 

And it’s not just about the money. 

The old establishment powermongers envy the new juggernauts for their effortless ease, their sexy freedom in making people like them, and want to spend money on their services. Once they too were like that (although, it is hard to evoke a world when real estate and hotel entrepreneurs, taxi drivers, airlines, big industry, delivery services, and telecom were liked by the public.)

The old establishment workers envy the new gig-ers, their freedom in working when they need to, where they prefer, as long as they want to. The gig-ers wish they had a good, steady job with health insurance, holidays, and days off. The grass always looks greener on the other side, unless you’re at the top—in which case, it doesn’t really matter which side you’re on.


The de Blasio-Uber standoff highlighted the clash of the two worlds: the medallion taxi drivers and Uber. Charges of corruption and big-bank backing were exchanged. Public transport, as well as the vagaries, vicissitudes, and paradoxes of the gig economy (a comprehensive article on this can be found at http://www.fastcompany.com/3042248/the-gig-economy-wont-last-because-its-being-sued-to-death) became grist for the mill of the vicious war that broke out in the heart of summer. Things came to a head when every site, newspaper, prime time TV show, and even MTA bus (!) became festooned with Uber’s vituperation against de Blasio’s plans to effectively kill its business in New York.


It all felt unexpected and rather shocking, yet it shouldn’t have.


It’s a world of extreme competition for even the meagerest trophy. And when the trophy encompasses something less (traditional) than a steady pay cheque and the trappings of belonging to a larger entity that cocoons as well as demands, then we’re in unchartered waters. That’s when the jungle happens.


So, as de Blasio argued, that’s when the city (or state, when we’re talking federal level) should step in and put restrictions and regulations into place. 

Not so fast.

This concept works only when dealing with “traditional economy” jobs—and in many cases, it’s long, long overdue. It seems city/state step in to ameliorate conditions for the little guys, and establish the basics of justice and freedom, only when journalists raise the issues and campaign for them.

One recent such example: the introduction of a $15/hour minimun wage for fast-food workers http://ny.eater.com/2015/7/22/9008347/new-york-minimum-wage-fast-food founded on a probing article written by the New Yorker’s William Finnegan http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/09/15/dignity-4 a year and a half ago.


Yet, things become more opaque and equivocal when dealing with small businesses. 

An example: the New York Times made much of its story on the alleged exploitation of nail salon workers (by Sarah Maslin Nir http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/10/nyregion/at-nail-salons-in-nyc-manicurists-are-underpaid-and-unprotected.html) but early today the New York Review of Books ran a story by a former NYTimes reporter, Richard Bernstein, alleging that The New York Times front-page exposé of a culture of wage-theft at nail salons that has been systematically ignored by city and state authorities, is neither true nor well-reported http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2015/jul/25/nail-salons-new-york-times-got-wrong/


Wherever the truth may lie, this instance manifests two things: First, that it is difficult to know where the balance lies in many areas of work (blue-collar, white-collar, small business owner are no longer worlds away in the new economy) and second, that competition (in this case between two behemoths of traditional media, the NYTimes and the NYReview of Books) evens out the playing field and may lead to an overall eventual justice for all involved. 


In any case though, nails and cuticles aside, the American way of life has far transcended the world of good old fashioned capitalism. Amenities that used to cost a fortune have become necessities, usually free of charge. Information, education, communication, entertainment, money transfers. Products and services very few had access to, are now, instantaneously, or almost instantaneously, available to all—and at radically low prices, compared to what we were used to. Amazon Now, Amazon Prime, Jet, Google Now are just a few examples of instant gratification at maximum value. 

Amenities, “experiences”, culture, ways of life, are constantly being invented for everything the human (and artificial intelligence) mind can conceive of. And when that is done, our minds, emotions, and very nature are stretched and led to evolve in ways adequate to the new content being generated every milisecond. 

This new emergent world cannot be understood in traditional financial, political, and therefore, social terms.

Many of these companies (such as Google, Twitter, or even Amazon) operate for years at a loss. The market—always more versatile than politicians and law makers—has come to terms with the fact that for many companies belonging this world, it’s not about the money—or not primarily. It is indeed an unprecendented time: to be living in a world where most media has become reduced to an inch on a Twitter feed; and where Googling is tantamount to breathing…and yet, both companies make less than a median mustard company. Old power cannot be divorced from money, it seems. But new power can do even that.  

On Friday, a financial analyst on Bloomberg’s “What did I miss?” markets show recapped thigs beautifully: “nowadays, especially when talking tech, value and profit are two entirely different things.” 

Of course, Google, Apple, YouTube, ApplePay, Facebook Messenger, Twitter are the behemoth planets of a cosmos populated by a gazillion smaller or larger tech companies and app developers. Some care more about money (Uber, for example) than others (23andme.com) AirBnB seems undecided. It’s recent ad (mankind: is man kind? ) 


Yet this story is not about the war between old power reliant on money and new power reliant on more than money. 

This is a story about those of us who have neither power nor money, and who need a basic modicum of both in order to survive in today’s world (where wolves act in a therapeutic capacity towards the more agressive species—humans.) 


Enter the gig economy. For everyone who is not an overall success story, who does not have a safety net if they fall, it is necessary that the gig economy be allowed to go on evolving unfettered, especially in the New York City metropolis where inequality has hit the sky and has already infected all adjacent territories, including Pluto, our new favorite planet.


Competition will level out the playing field: competition between the old establishment and the new, and between the various iterations of the new establishment.

All the state/city has to do is ensure it keeps an equipoise between the forces that seek to stand their ground and those that drive evolution. Through this tempered disruption of inefficient and skewed status quos, everyone has to gain: the big guys, the middle guys, and most of all, the little guys.

Δευτέρα 13 Ιουλίου 2015

‪#‎ThisIsACoup‬ was, last night, the most trending hashtag on Twitter. “Greeks Face 'Humiliating,' Anti-Democratic Austerity Demands from the Troika” was how Twitter explained it.
The hashtag was inspired by a New York Times OpEd written by Nobelist economist Paul Krugman, notorious for his fervent desire to apply his best intentions in “shapeing destinies” in a kind of Lawrence of Arabia way—but from a world of safety and entitlement away.
The truth, I believe, is different. 
Every story has its back-story, heroes, and villains. So does the Greek crisis epos (after nearly 6 years I think we can safely call it an epic drama.) But because it is a neverending story, everything is of the moment in the Greek crisis. There are no safe bets. “Trust no one” like Mulder told Scully in the X-Files.
Yet throughout this crisis, four things have become clear:
First: Everyone showed their worst sides. Everyone also botched things, at some point. The EU and IMF with their pig-headedness in insisting on Greece continuing to implement punitive measures that only deepened the crisis for everyone. The ECB refusing to take a haircut on the Greek bonds it held, thus burdening only the other shareholders—Greek banks and funds (and private shareholders) with the cost of the haircut purportedly done to alleviate Greece. Greek politicians who did not reform the economy as promised in the bailout agreements, and who consistently pandered to the worst instincts of the people-whom they never saw as “the Greek people” but as “voters”. Tsipras, for hollow brinksmanship, and for taking so long in understanding what was at stake (Greek survival.) Varoufakis-just through existing. 
The Greeks, who voted NO… demanding to remain within the eurozone on their own “others pay for us to sit around” terms. (Still, this Greek insanity can be understood better by the fact that many of those responsible for getting the country in this situation were “sensible Europeanists”—yet totally corrupt. And many of those who voted “No” in the referendum were anti-Syriza, yet the hits they had taken for far too long, blurred the lines between fighting and fatalism.)
The Twitter Marxists (Scandinavians, French, Brits, Greeks) and some American game theorists, who urged Greece onwards to jump off the cliff (leave the EU and somehow miraculously recover—in the arms of Putin? God only knows what is going on in their minds)
Second: Yes, there are villains. Two of them. Scaheuble and Varoufakis. 
All along, Schaueble planned to expunge the EU of Greece. This much was proven by the plan he had devised, that was leaked to the media two days ago.
Was Schaueble sadistic toward Greece and Tsipras? Of course he was. Schaueble’s tactics and intentions embody everything that Germany and the Germans have, consistently, for 70 years, been trying to change—in optics and substance. 
Schaueble’s best “ally” in giving his malevolence and nefarious plans, free reign, was the former Greek Finance Minister, Yianis Varoufakis. There is no denying that Varoufakis is charismatic, brilliant and informed. Yet his whole demeanor and “russian roulette” attitude to the destiny of Greece would have—and did—enraged even the most devoted Hellenist. He hurt Greece’s cause more than anything and anyone ever could, at a “life or death” moment. 
Third: Redemption came into the game too. Enter Merkel, Hollande, and Tsipras. 
Merkel is not Schaueble. Throughout the years, and especially throughout the months Syriza has been behaving like an arrogant, entitled, wayward child (to put it mildly) the German Chancellor has kept her equanimity and persuaded the other members of the EU to do the same. She may suffer from the same flavor of German truculence re inflation, but she has also proven to be the only one believing that the European Union cannot exist, as an ideal and shared endeavor, if any of its members are missing. She is also the one putting her (representing the German nation) money where her convictions lie. That Schauble may turn this against her, ending her political career, is something she knows. 
Tsipras also proved to care more for his country, Greece, than for his political career. He is already “over”: he has lost his own party’s parliamentary support, and will rely on the opposition parties (all mainstream, “establishment” ones—who, by the way, are the ones responsible for squandering and appropriating the funds Greece relied on to survive, and then, cooking the books) to implement the measures he committed to.
French PM Francois Hollande, during the past week, proved to be more than a man with a tumultuous love-life. The new Greek proposals that served as the basis for the final deal, were crafted by the French delegation. The French also, within the Eurogroup and EU summit, openly clashed with Germany and fought to preserve Greece’s existence (in the eurozone.)
Fourth: God Bless the USA. If it weren’t for US pressure, Europe would have jettissoned Greece long ago. The support that the US government (President Obama and Finance Minister Lew; Secretary of State Kerry was tied up with the Iranians!), media (from the New York Times’ OpEds and extensive reports, down to the last blog) and social media (Twitter) showed Greece was of invaluable. The right kind of words, delivered passionately and enduringly, become actions. And generally speaking, US actions are things the world—Europe, at least—respects. That almost every American with a Twitter account stood up yesterday and spoke for Greece, calling Germany’s bullying “indecent and sadistic and reminiscent of a Nazi past” changed the zeitgeist inside the EU summit negotiating room.
This, is more or less, how things went down last night. Crazy, unfair, wrong—or not, they may be. But a coup? No, they were not. Sometimes you have to sacrifice everything to get what you most want/need. It’s harsh. But still, a choice: #ThisIsNotACoup

Σάββατο 11 Ιουλίου 2015

Eris, the Greek goddess behind the Trojan War, is now provoking a world war. It’s on Twitter and it’s about the ongoing Greek crisis. Around the clock, heads of state, economists, Europeans and Paul Krugman engage in verbal warfare that roils markets globally.

Δευτέρα 6 Ιουλίου 2015





The Gods Abandon Greece


“When suddenly, at midnight, you hear/an invisible procession going by/…don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,/work gone wrong, your plans/all proving deceptive—don’t mourn them uselessly./As one long prepared, and graced with courage,/… say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.” (Konstantinos Kavafys, Greek poet)


This is the story of my mother and myself. It is also is that of most Greeks. Our stories of who we and our families are, inevitably encapsulate the story of Greece—the circumstances, manipulation by great powers, corruption of Greek elites, and the internal discord that led to Greece now slipping to devolution, soon to be oblivion.

Everyone is a Greekologist at the moment. Still, the buzz is ending—and it’s long overdue I suppose. The world will move on to other things, other crises, other interests. We the Greeks will be remembered either as heroic victims (who did not pay their taxes) or as profilgate, arrogant madmen (who did not pay their taxes.) As Leonard Cohen says, there is truth that lives and truth that dies, and how my motherland and nation will be remembered, will shape whatever future it may have. So I am writing to preserve the truth I have known all my life.

On Sunday night, my mother and I watched the Greek referendum results, thousands of miles away from each other. On a bad Google hangouts connection (wifi is sketchy now in Athens) we were alone together, silenced by despair. Earlier in the day, my mother had, with trepidation, left the apartment to cast her “Yes” vote. Yes, to remaining in the eurozone. Even so, she was torn. Many of those responsible for getting the country in this situation were proponents of the “Yes” vote. Many of those rooting for “No” were anti-Syriza, yet the hits they had taken for far too long, blurred the lines between fighting and fatalism.

The only child of a single mother, I was born in a country where, even in 1980, the mother had no right over her child. My mother worked day and night, as an interpreter and guide (it was the only way she could be paid in dollars and not drachmas), in order to send me to an American school. To this day, the sight of dollars generates awe, fear and longing in me.

My American education came at a heavy price though, for my mother. Although licensed by the Greek state, travel guides were not recognized as a profession by social security until the ‘90s. This meant that when my mother retired after almost 45 years, all she received was a 300 euro pension—the kind the EU wants to further cut, making no distinction between high and low pensions, and no consideration as to the current age of the pensioner, as well as the age when he/she received the pension. European… thoughtlessness has made Greeks suffer for many generations.

In 1923, in Smyrna (Izmir, Turkey) my mother’s father, Spyros, returned from his American school one afternoon to find his family slaughtered by Turkish troops. He watched people he knew, killing and being killed as the French and British looked on from their ships in the harbor. 

My grandfather, my mother's father, managed to escape to the Greek mainland. During the Nazi Occupation of Athens (especially brutal because when Greece was asked to capitulate, the national response "OXI" was so overwhelming it forced the dictator, Metaxas, to adhere to public emotion--and that led the Nazis to decide to make Greece an example of what happens to those who resist), my grandfather, like many middle-class people, he worked in an office by day, and by night fought with the Resistance. Like many Greeks, he used all the family savings to buy milk and eggs for the women and children starving in the streets. The milk and eggs were provided by the black-marketeers—a small group, some of whom, after the war, used their riches to become ship owners and industrialists. Now, they have decamped to London and Geneva.

My mother followed in her father’s footsteps. In 1967 the Greek Junta seized power. It was a Colonels' dictatorship supported by the CIA (thereby engendering an anti-establishment conspiracist sentiment in the Greek people that lingered for decades, adequately manipulated by politicians, from the center to the extreme left.) My mother left her well-paid job as flight attendant at Onassis’s airlines “Olympiaki” so she could become part of the Resistance, and the subsequent movement to constitutionally get rid of the German-imposed king. 

A few years after the Junta fell and the dethroned king fled, Greece came under the governance of PASOK, a center-left party founded by Andreas Papandreou, an American-trained economist, son of a former Prime Minister of Greece. The incipient democracy easily fell prey to his demagogery. “The EU and NATO are the same syndicate” and “Banish the US military bases (in Glyfada, Athens) because they kill people” were slogans he launched, fermenting anti-western sentiment in the nation. “The poor will become rich” was another. His charisma made him a demi-god in the eyes of half of the Greek public—the half he rained (the then, seemingly endless) EU subsidies on. His crony socialism created a new class of nouveaux riches, while creating an atmosphere of natural entitlement and discord among those who benefited and those who did not. For me, it practically meant that my mother and I could not afford to take a holiday, and—adding injury to insult—doughnuts, bubble gum, and American books were hard to get by and cost a fortune. 

My mother just worked and worked, taking care of me and my grandmother. When the Junta fell, she, together with some of her companions, watched people who at best tolerated, at worst collaborated with the Junta, receive a "resistance bonuses" (like a pension, regardless of age). It was one more event that created a rift in my people that endures to this day, through other guises.

After the restoration of democracy to Greece, my mother shied away from politics in disgust. Like most Greeks, she always hoped someone incorruptible and effective would come to power “some day”; like all Greeks, she never expected that to happen. Still, she never ceased hoping, not even after my grandmother passed away in a public hospital where, like all public hospitals, life and death was largely determined by what politician you knew, in addition to the size of the daily bribes the (underpaid) doctors and nurses received.

While studying Law, at 18, I became a foreign affairs reporter. 

I felt the limitations of my country and language, yet could not conceive of a life elsewhere. Besides, Greece was on the rise. In 2001, five years since Andreas Papandreou passed away, in London, in the arms of his decades younger spouse, known for her love of luxury real estate, psychics, and soft-porn selfies, Greece acceded to the Eurozone. In 2004 Athens hosted the Olympic Games with phenomenal success. Greek banks, as well as the Greek welfare system, grandiosely funneled money to all the Balkans, even Turkey. Greece was dreaming big dreams. 

Yet the country’s foundations were sinking. Papandreou’s successor, the correct yet pusillanimous Kostas Simitis succeeded in his endeavor for Greece to accede to the eurozone. Still. Many of the elites close to the government allegedly made billions during the final depreciation of the drachma, on the eve of the entrance to the eurozone. This set the tone for what was to follow. Everything was a business, and all business was black. It is telling that during the years that followed, all over  Greece, not just Athens, myriads of bouzoukia centers (something between a concert venue and a club) opened. In even the seediest bouzoukia, millions of euros were consumed each night in grand reserve champagnes, thousand-dollar whiskeys, flowers to rain on the performers who sang old rebetika songs of Greek expatriation and pain-nostos and ponos. European companies, like the German Siemens, were among the protagonists in this nexus of corruption. 

Greek life entails taking the incredible (and not in the surreal Chagall way) into stride. In 2006 a major scandal erupted involving Greek monks and the government of Kostas Karamanlis. The epicenter of this conspiracy was a monastery in Mount Athos, a peninsula in northern Greece where entry is prohibited to all females—from women to cats. The Russian President, Vladimir Putin frequently sojourns there.

The Greek people lost all trust in church and state. Despair started overtaking us. Overwhelmed by all that terrible and wonderful complicatedness with our roots that we never get over, some people forgot how to forgive; others forgave too much. Every line that was drawn soon became a bad mad farce...and then a gap.

On December 6th 2008, a 15-year-old Greek student, Alexandros Grigoropoulos was killed by two policemen in the anarchist ghetto of Exarcheia. The boy’s death resulted in large protests and demonstrations, which escalated to widespread rioting. The extreme left (Syriza, and its more extreme siblings) started rising in popularity.

On May 5th 2010, swarms of black-hooded, masked anarchists overtook a massive anti-austerity demonstration in Athens. One of the many gasoline bombs they threw, set fire to a bank building. Three people died, trapped in the burning building. One was a young pregnant woman. The divide between "us" and "them" started growing. For some, "them" were the anarchists; for others, "them" were the Europeans, as moral instigators. 

Like many middle-class, moderate Greeks, I started feeling an outsider in my own country.

Things got worse, even worse, then plateaued. We paid inordinate taxes; our property devalued; private sector salaries were cut mercilessly; even Greek yogurt became pricier than anywhere else. Banks that had served as vehicles to enrich to the already very rich, were bailed out by the state. "Good" banks were saddled with the rising public debt. The “blue chip” bank stocks the “little people” had sacrificed generations of savings to buy, turned to ashes. The loans the middle-class economy had relied on, stopped. Big companies downsized. Small ones closed. We all lost someone we knew to suicide. The escalating price of electricity made summers fatal for the vulnerable and old who could not afford to use their air conditioners. Throughout the winters Athens was covered the fog of pollution generated by people burning anything they could lay their hands on to stay warm. My mother with her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease could not breathe. Even so—or maybe, exactly because of the diverse hits nearly everyone was taking—we expected that things would get better, soon. 

In 2012, I abandoned all I knew and with astonishing naivete, came to New York, telling myself and everyone else, the timeless immigrant tale: it’s just for a bit; I’ll be back. The gods laugh at the plans people make, we say in Greek. 

The other day, right in the middle of Greece’s devolution, my mother’s time here was up, she had to return. Permanent resident status cannot be extended to mothers. Only to husbands and kids (even though I have neither). At the airport I cried. 

In Athens now, crime is rife, the supermarkets are cleaned out. No one knows what is yet to come. It is a world that my elderly mother will have to navigate entirely on her own. This endeavor becomes even harder without a pension, and no access to medicince for her very serious lung condition.

“What can we do?” I asked her helplessly over the Internet.

“Go on” she says. “What can we do? My one joy is that you are in New York. Because our home, is no longer home. It is nowhere any more.”

Παρασκευή 3 Ιουλίου 2015


Παρασκευή 26 Ιουνίου 2015

Κυριακή 26 Απριλίου 2015

Wistful Don Draper of these last episodes of the Mad Men saga, has made us feel a little heavier, a little older this season. Don is no longer a grade A asshole—why even Meagan got him apologizing to her (“for what exactly?” even feminists tweeted, ranting against her, devious seductress that she is) and after he handed her a million dollars for no apparent reason. He is wiser, sadder, more human, vulnerably loveable. We all know this cannot end well. 

Truth is, Don evokes the zeitgeist no longer of the Mad Men era, but of our times. We are all kind of sad these days, this year, 15 years into the once-new millenium. Through different paths, for different reasons, but in much the same way. Contrary to the trope “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”, in our post-ironic, meta-content way, our private griefs have transmogrified into a generic melancholy spreading over the country like a wistful fog.

Ironically, this “non-happiness” is equally present in the lives of people with families, as well as those who do not and will probably never have them.

A recent slew of essays and books (e.g. the new anthology “Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision NOT to Have Kids” edited by Meghan Daum, and Kate Bolick’s “Spinster”) reveals that making the “right” (for each person, this is a different thing) choice does not, alas, directly translate into happiness.

At the same time, families are definitely not a font of unfettered joy for most people. We expend an inordinate amount of our lives working at loving/avoiding/hating/detaching from/forgiving our parents; then working at forgiving ourselves for everything we could have forgiven but didn’t, and everything we should not have not forgiven, but did.

Then we become parents ourselves, our entire life’s perspective shifts radically and becomes attenuated to our kids’ every breath and step in life. Helicopter parenting is now often criticized, as is the level of frenzy and sheer craziness involved in getting their children into those nursery schools that prepare them for those schools which have become select highways to the Ivy League, which in turn defines everything: whether you will become part of the entitled 1%, part of the large increasingly poorer, sadder, murkier sea of “mass middle class”, or-god forbid-part of neither of the two previous classes. Two recent books on this phenomenon are Frank Bruni’s “Where you go is not who you become” and Robert D. Putnam’s “Our Kids”.

Yet no one seems to have come up with a better way of doing things. And until some brilliant disruptor and innovator comes along and does just that, the rat-race for parents and their kids will go on pretty much as it is doing so already.

At the end of this race, sometime in the spring of our kids’ senior year, when college admissions are through, we know if we have won or lost. Either way, that is the moment we embark upon the small death that is called “transitioning into a separate life and identity”, which leaving for college signifies.

This reality which is celebrated as a result of successful parenting, leads many people in their mid 50s flocking to shrinks for help with their “empty nest” sad syndrome. Paradoxical yes, inevitable too, or so it seems anyway.


It’s not just in family life though. A feeling of unfulfillment seems to permeate the pursuit of everything else too: power, money, accomplishment, love. In seeking an elusive, ever-mutating “meaning” which we cannot adeptly pinpoint yet whose absence we feel intensely, as distress, even grief, the “no ones” of our world unite with the most important “somebodies”, in solitary, parallel harmony. (David Brooks, the New York Times columnist and author of the “Road to Character” writes interestingly about this http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/06/opinion/david-brooks-the-problem-with-meaning.html )


The Have-nots are sad because… they do not have what makes most people (if temporally) happy: money, success, content personal lives. 

The Haves are sad because they have it all and yet their insides emanate grief because they often perceive of their lives to be devoid of meaning. Why sadness claims victims even amongst the scions of absolute privilege and entitlement, the kids of those “in whose favor the cards are stacked” as Hillary Clinton diplomatically put it in her official announcement video. Frank Bruni wrote about this movingly in his most recent article http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/opinion/sunday/frank-bruni-best-brightest-and-saddest.html?_r=0


We become sad when we feel our potential going to waste. Sad too, if we feel so trapped into a Sisyphean state of constant transient “arrival”, that even if we have seem to have acheived and possess everything, we can credibly feel we have nothing. People use clinical terms like “depression” to explain what happened to exceptionally gifted, creative, rich, and successful individuals such as Robin Williams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, L’Wren-Scott, Dr Frederick Brandt. Psych terms help us feel insulated from such conditions; as if defining something as a mental condition conjures a threshold we will never transgress. Yet feeling unfulfilled and lost is a feeling we all share from time to time, so we are all equally at risk.

  Stressed and weighed down by the norms our society lives by; sad when we see values replaced by situations reliant on money alone. Each of us, according to the class we belong to, the money we make, the dreams we had/have, the lives we lead, are sad about something we have too little or too much of.


And as any marathon-runner can attest: when you’re running, it all becomes about speed, constant motion and acceleration required to acheive a transient win. Yet what happens when we stop? Because at some point, we all have to. Faced with the omnipotent continuity of online life—Facebook, Twitter and the entire Web—it is hard not to feel alone, small, at a disconnect from everyone else, and even the person we were before we stopped.


That’s why no one really stops. Ever. Even for those few who defy the mainstream, in order to pursue more “meaning” in their lives, it’s anybody’s guess whether they will find what they are seeking. There are no guarantees and everything comes at a cost.


Yet even those who objectively lead lives that transcend the rat-race most of us are currently involved in, and whose lives are meaningful to humanity (like the doctors who left the US to volunteer in Africa, saving Ebola patients) can fall prey to the same sadness of those of us pursuing more individualistic lives. Meaningful rarely coincides with happy, scientific research has recently proven.  Making other people happy doesn’t always translate into becoming happy or feeling meaningful ourselves. We are all our own greatest paradox: solipsistic, parochial, far-sighted, generous, parlous and exemplary, individualistic and humanitarian.

That we know we are all this tangled mess, and we have enough intuitive intelligence, cognitive and verbal erudition........


Αγαπημένε μου τρομοκράτη
Εκδόσεις: ΛΙΒΑΝΗΣ
Έτος: 2001
Σελίδες: 403
Ελληνιστές: Η Ελλάδα δεν τους πληγώνει
Εκδόσεις: ΛΙΒΑΝΗΣ
Έτος: 1999
Σελίδες: 314


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