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    December 13th, 2010adminBazaars & Markets, Food, Greece, Judaism

    A closer inspection than usually allowed in American supermarkets...

    These photos were taken at the Modiano Market in Thessaloniki. Sadly, the market was named after Eli Modiano, the Sephardic Jewish architect of the city’s past.

    Hailing from a prosperous, Greek family, Modiano designed the market’s arcade columns, which still shelter a frenzied mixture of meats, fish and spices. Today, one can be cajoled by ebullient fish sellers, tempted by bargain-ready spice vendors and, finally, utterly entranced by the prospect of 5 euro sweaters outside the market entrance. It is loud, colorful and very Greek.

    As a former vegetarian (and vegan!), I’m still uneasy around a sea of meat. No matter how many times I see ducks hanging, covered in red sauce, in Chinatown, no matter how many French or Italian or Turkish markets I pass, with fish eyes abstractly staring at me, I’m still uncomfortable!

    I was lucky to visit the market with my friend, Adriane. Her mother is a farmer in New England — and Adriane takes a grounded (and less neurotic!) approach to the food chain. She talked about the fact that, as meat eaters, we shouldn’t cower away from the actual process of producing meat. In fact, in America, the meat we buy doesn’t even look like an animal. I agreed completely. And, yet, I still cringed at full pig’s heads. One man, noticing my awkwardness, playfully pulled out the pig’s tongue for my inspection. Adriane laughed.

    Yes, we live in the “modern age.” The disconnection from food production extends to all forms of production — agriculture, clothing, carpentry, toolmaking, etc. One may work in a specific field (e.g. agriculture). Or one may make a conscious effort to learn basic survival and life skills — a desire that inspires everyone from New England farmer moms to crusty punks with DIY ethos. And, yet, by  in large, many of us don’t know how to make the things we use, or how to reconstruct the process of its creation.

    Adriane: Cooler than I am.

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    What is the story behind these Hebrew scripture tablets? Unsurprisingly, there was no information to be found, though they were placed right next to the Roman rotunda.

    In Thessaloniki, I stayed by the old Roman Rotunda — an imposing, cylindrical structure, commissioned by the Roman Emperor, Galerius. Like so many buildings in this region, the rotunda changed as did the times. With the rise of Christian Byzantium, the rotunda was converted into a Christian Church by Emperor Constantine. Lavish mosaics, all overlooking a circular sky, graced the church, which stood until the Ottoman siege. In the 16th century, the Ottomans added a minaret and refashioned the old rotunda into a mosque — the Mosque of Suleyman Hortaji Effendi.

    Pathway outside the rotunda

    And this is how the building stood until the Greeks recaptured the rotunda in the Balkan Wars. Interestingly, while it was re-christened into a church, the minaret was not destroyed. Today, it is a museum and historical monument. Some in the Greek Orthodox community want to reclaim it back as a church world, but it remains a museum for all visitors today.

    The destructed stones seem to represent more than just geological elements in waste...

    Oddly enough, when I was walking around the rotunda, I found destructed stones with Hebrew script. I wondered: Was there once a Jewish synagogue here? Unfortunately, there was no way to tell. The “helpful” tourist brochures, which detailed the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman elements of the rotunda, failed to mention the massive Hebraic slabs in the rotunda garden.

    The exterior of the rotunda, including the ubiquitous Greek graffiti.

    So, I took photos, confusedly tried to make out an idea in my mind (as to what they were for, as to who used them and looked at them), and moved on. It is moments like these that make European Jewish history particularly difficult to swallow — when one last vestige in a city like Thessaloniki, once *so* very Jewish, is not even mentioned. It’s like it was never there at all…

    I tried to think of a caption for this image. But, as I thought, I realized that the image says enough.

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