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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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    December 3rd, 2010adminActivism, Economy, Graffiti/Street Art, Greece

    The graffiti crews of Greece...

    This above photo  is the first image I captured after arriving in Thessaloniki. Maybe I took the picture because I feel like graffiti is very Greek, at least of late. Of course, I could also bring up this whole historical saga related to classical Greek and Roman graffiti — but that is not what I mean. Rather, I’m talking about the Greece of the 21st century, which I saw already in upheaval when I visited Athens and surrounding cities in the summer of 2009. Now, in 2010, the problems already highlighted one year ago — social and economic — are even more urgent. While this piece does not suggest social upheaval (it’s plainly graffiti, like something you could see in Rome, Berlin or New York), it was eye-catching …and I’m always drawn to street art in different cities.

    Smashing something so big to make it feel more small.

    One night, my friend,  Adriane, wanted to withdraw some euros from the ATM. We were planning to head to the Ladadika district for some drinks (which, incidentally, used to be a part of the Jewish district,  but that’s for another post). Anyway, we absolutely could not find an open ATM. All the bank machines were locked up behind heavy metal doors.

    A photo that accurately conveys much of my Athens experience in 2009. This photo, by the way, was taken across the street from my ghetto hostel.

    However, we soon discovered why. Upon passing a bank, with smashed windows and “Sabotage the system” stencil art, we made the connection. Yes, there had been a protest earlier, commemorating the police shooting of an innocent young boy in Athens ten years ago. And, on this anniversary, the ardent and angry young Greeks took to the streets. Perhaps their anger was larger and heavier than just one tragedy. Perhaps it was a passionate dissidence against a clearly broken system, a thoroughly distressed people, a stagnant political order. But I’m not Greek. I was just a tourist, looking for a drink. So, who am I say?

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    November 28th, 2010adminByzantines, Greece, History, Roman Empire

    Thessaloniki's White Tower

    For many years, Thessaloniki’s White Tower was a place of horrors — a building known for torture and executions, where soldiers and civilians alike were massacred, all while overlooking the seaside city. Yet, this Ottoman tower now represents a different Thessaloniki — the espresso-sipping, well-heeled Thessaloniki. Of course, the tower was the first image I saw online when researching Thessaloniki. And it was the iconic building plastered over guidebooks and flyers for city tours. But its history remains more dark than glossy promotions would lead one to  believe…

    Day One: Obligatory gyros stop

    So, I spent a total of about 3 days in Thessaloniki (2.5 days first round, then 1/2 a day on the second round). While the city was not as bustling as Athens, and perhaps the nightlife was a bit more quiet than expected, it was a lovely place. I felt calm there — maybe because we were always close to water, and beautiful Byzantine buildings, and the people were hospitable in a gracious, but more cool way.

    The illegal workers of Greece, many from the Middle East and Nigeria, selling everything from Nike shoes to umbrellas on the street.

    Anyway, Thessaloniki is located in historical Macedonia, a name with obvious associations. Yes, the land of Alexander the Great! In fact, the city was named after the half-sister of Alexander, the Princess Thessalonike (who married King Cassander of Macedon, the founder of the city). Very interesting, no?

    Arch commissioned by Roman Emperor Galerius in the 4th century

    Well, the city remained an autonomous part of Macedon for some time. But then it fell to the Romans — and, eventually, was incorporated into the Byzantine Empire. It was such an important city to the Byzantines that it was sometimes called “co-capital.” And, as a visiting tourist, I most certainly saw vestiges of its Byzantine past. Nearly everywhere I went, I felt I saw some old, dark monastic-looking building that was probably Byzantine. As a resident of Istanbul, it’s always fascinating to see Byzantine and Ottoman elements in a different city. So, Thessaloniki was a nice get-away — both familiar and, of course, very different.

    Archaeological dig in the city center -- something I imagine to be a common event

    In the next few days, I’ll post more photos, historical tidbits and observations from my time in Greece. But, for now, I’m off to a Thanksgiving meal with American expatriate friends who badly desire some turkey and stuffing in Constantinople.

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    November 22nd, 2010adminGreece

    I was in Greece for 5 days and returned home yesterday. On this trip, I spent all my time in the northern and central regions of the country — definitely not the typical tourist route of a quick stop at the Parthenon and then party-hopping Mykonos/Ios/Santorini. Quite the contrary. We had a relaxing stay in Thessaloniki, then headed to the small village of Kastraki to visit the gorgeous mountaintop monasteries of Meteora. In the process, we drove through the city of Larissa, too.  In the next few days, I’ll provide photos & observations from my travels — including, perhaps, some comparisons with my last  time in Greece (I visited Athens, Corinth, Delphi and Sounion in 2009). Anyway, I already miss the Greek food and the adorable old men, curious and good-humored, wearing jackets much too big for their slight frames.

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