A Citizen

On Thursday, March 6, 2013, I broke out of the comfort of my apartment in search of the Hilton Hotel where I hoped to swim on a regular basis. As I reached Vassilissis Sofias, I could see a crowd walking towards Symtagma Square. Change of plans. I followed them. The closer I got, the more police I could see. Finally the street was completely cordoned off, so no traffic except those of us on foot could pass in front of the Parliament Building. The police were stationed close to the florist I sometimes patronized. The incongruity of colorful, fragrant flowers along side riot-geared, machine-gunned, gas-masked police on the ready made me smirk in painful irony. I was reminded my own protests in the sixties. I am living the class I am teaching at the university, Film of the Sixties.

I put on big sunglasses and armed with my iphone readied myself to be a “citizen journalist.” I had tried to do the same this summer during the elections in Spetses.  At that time, a friend asked me, “How can you be ‘observing Greece” from the lap of luxury?'” I had been staying in a Villa.  Today, living in Kolonaki, another lap of luxury, on my way to the Hilton, and not speaking Greek does create some difficulty. I didn’t understand the signs; I didn’t know what was being protested. Most of the people in the streets were young, so I imagined the gathering might be about unemployment which is about 25% for youth.

My classes had been canceled on Tuesday due to a protest against the merging of departments at the University which would result in an elimination of part of the Humanities. However, I thought that protest took place on Tuesday.

I took photographs, placed myself directly in front of the Parliament, and waited to see what would happen. There seemed to be about two or three thousand people. Standing next to me was a “woman of a certain age” as the French would say. She petted a dog who like many in Greece has a collar but belongs to no one. She spoke to me in English after I made my one statement in Greek that everyone seems to understand, Then milaw Ellinika. I don’t speak Greek. She told me that the dog’s name is Victory. We laughed. I found out that the protest concerned the changes being made in education, that is, firing of teachers, getting rid of some schools. I was in the right place.

After some discussion about this situation, she confided that she had given up her Greek citizenship. Shocked, I asked her why. She said she couldn’t be part of a country that handled this crisis so stupidly, whose leaders were corrupt and still no one did anything. I told her that I had wanted to quit the United States when George W. Bush was president, but my husband had insisted that “someone had to stay and fight.” She went on to say that she is having trouble living in Greece because she speaks her mind, saying what other’s don’t want to hear. I wondered if she was being harassed by people from Golden Dawn as she kept mentioning cults. However, that wasn’t the case.

She is on her own and is in conflicts with her community, with her neighbors where she speaks freely about her frustration with Greece. I was reminded that Freedom has a price. Just that morning, I had been considering applying for a Greek passport, having dual citizenship. I can as my grandfather was born in Greece. Another contradiction, another consideration. What does it mean to be Greek with the blinders of romanticism taken off?



Return to Athens

I have been in Athens for almost a week; this visit is different. I will be living here for three months with an apartment, a neighborhood, and a job- teaching film studies. Presently, I am living in a posh neighborhood and seem to be partially “protected” from the desperation that lives in other parts of the city. There is graffiti on a few walls, and occasionally, a homeless person emerges, posting herself next to a kiosk; however, unless I move out of this enclave, I see little of the suffering that Greeks are experiencing.

Last week, as I walked to the National Library for an exhibit, a seemingly professional man seemed to be lost. He followed people, mostly women, looking for direction, not directions, but direction. Naturally, those he approached were uneasy. People moved away from him and police scowled. He drifted away.

Two days ago, as I sat in a cafe reading The International Herald Tribune, a middle aged man who also had the air of the middle class about him, paraded in front of the cafe speaking aloud to the coffee drinkers. He wasn’t particularly aggressive nor did he seem unhinged. Yet, there was something he needed to share. No one responded.

As I was walking home that same day, I crossed behind the National Gardens. At the corner, a soldier stood at attention with a machine gun held to his chest. Who is he protecting?

Another sight that seems more prevalent on the weekends are individuals laying prone on the sidewalk arm extended for an offering. One such women lay in front of an expensive boutique. She moaned as two young women discussed the price of the handbags displayed in the window. Now, I find myself crossing the street to avoid beggars. How much would it cost if I gave to each of the beggars I encounter? Then, there is my New York scepticism. Are they for real?

Yesterday, I decided to go to a high end shopping center which turned out to be a block long department store. As soon as I entered, I wanted to leave. There were many clerks but no customers. The store, Attica, could have been anyplace where wealth is possible. In Greece, where universal health care has been eliminated and people are cutting down wood in the national gardens to heat their homes, this store wreaks of moral decay. Berlin in the thiries?


Learning Greek

Many months have passed since my last entry. Is there anybody out there still interested? I am taking a bit of a left turn as I move closer to not only observing Greece but perhaps understanding it as well.

Three months from now, I will be living in Athens and teaching a film studies course to university students as a Fulbright Fellow. Although I will teach in English, I hope to occasionally communicate in the language of my students. Therefore, I have become the student and am presently taking an elementary course in Modern Greek. The class has seven students, and I am the least accomplished. This situation comes as a great surprise: I have never had a failing grade in my life. I considered abandoning the class; however, I enjoy listening to Greek, learning to write in Greek, and reading in Greek, even if I only master forty percent.

I find my response interesting. Who enjoys failing? Hearing and reading the language creates an excitement about the people, about their lives. Although I’m not successful, I feel a pride in knowing I can write a sentence in Greek. I can, even, read a sentence in Greek.

Perhaps, I will be able to understand the newspaper Kastelliotika Nea sent to me every month from the village where my grandfather was born. I am one quarter Greek on my father’s side. Since 2001, I have made seven visits to the village. I could not speak Greek and the uncle who lives in my grandfather’s house does not speak English, nor did his wife, his sister, or his sister-in-law who were the family members I saw most often. I have younger cousins that speak English, but they are rarely there. Yet, not speaking didn’t seem to bother me. I felt at home in the courtyard of my great grandfather’s house, in the village square where we had souvaliki at night, tiny delicious pieces of marinated meat skewered on a large toothpick, grilled over charcoal and squeezed with lemon- a “meza” before the evening meal.

The first time I went to Greece, I climbed into a closet every day and cried. The Greeks looked so cranky, pushed up too closely, and spoke with what seemed like aggression and abruptness. When I visited the village and was embraced by one relative after another, the two impressions didn’t jive. Now as I learn Greek, I start to understand.  When I say “nai” that is “yes” in Greek as it sounds in class or on the CD I use, I hear my voice emphasize, not in abruptness or aggression, but in the joy of agreement, the pleasure of interaction, maybe even, some Hellenic pride.



Almost by accident I was introduced to Temenos by sitting in on P. Adams Sitney’s showing of Markopoulos’ films at Princeton University. The course was titled, The Image of Greece in European Cinema. As the film screenings were open to the pubic and as I live in Princeton, teach film, and was keen to know more about my Greek heritage, I made sure I attended whenever possible. The Illiac Passion was shown that night along with a few of Robert Beaver’s (Markopoulos’ partner) films. Mr. Beavers presented the films and spoke about Temenos where every four years Markopoulos’ films are shown in a remote area of the Peloponnesus under the stars. I was on fire. The thought of seeing Markopoulos’ films in a meadow high in the Peloponnesus ignited my imagination.  I vowed I would go to the next one. I kept my promise; however, I added to my motivation by applying and getting a Fulbright grant to research Markopoulos, his drive and his creation of community. As Robert Beavers said at this year’s Temonos, the showing of Markopoulos’s films which are free and without any commercial restraint provide an artistic respite for the filmmakers who attend -a community, certainly.

I looked forward to participating in this three day “community forming.” However, circumstances altered my place in this newly formed group. Since my son and I had a car, we were not housed in Loutra Iraias where most of those attending were housed, but, instead, almost 30 minutes away in Rafti.  Consequently, we were somewhat isolated from the rest of the group. Also, we didn’t arrive until close to 7 P.M. the first day, another consequence of driving from Athens and getting lost on several occasions. By the time we got to our rooms, we were too tired from the stress of driving and didn’t make the first night’s celebration in Lyssarea where the films are shown.

Robert Beavers, when speaking to the group on Sunday, told of how a friend of his described him and Markopoulos as a “society of two.” My son and I for the most part were a “community of two.” Nevertheless, the thrill of making our way to each evening’s films and the experience of the films themselves created exhilarating and challenging discussions as we made our way back to Rafti in the middle of the night . As an undergraduate sculpture major, he had ideas about what art should do to an observer. I defended Markopoulos’ intentions while he questioned if those intentions made their mark with the audience,




One night my son and I were looking at a commercially successful film Moonrise Kingdom in Athens: two nights later we were in a remote area of the Peloponnese watching parts of Eniaios, filmmaker Gregory Markopoulos’ life work at Temenos, his sacred grove near his father’s birthplace of Lyssarea.

My son, Larry, chose to be the first driver but was unable to give up that position when I developed acrophobia as we climbed the narrow mountain roads with no side rails. On our way to Corinth, we discussed Anderson’s film, Moonrise Kingdom. Being annoyingly picky, I pointed out that saddle shoes worn by the female protagonist were not “Sunday” shoes as described in the film nor were they popular in 1965. They were all the rage much earlier. The film can delight most spectators with its fairytale mise-en-scene, its belief in true love, and a plot whose obstacles are overcome first by two protagonist and then by the “in-crowd” who realize they should be good “scouts” and join together to save the orphan and his love. Perhaps I’m jaded; perhaps I gazed at the lit up Acropolis too long during the film. Yet, the idea of a truth existing no matter how outrageous, no matter how difficult to bear, is not so far from Markopoulos’ intention as he decided to go his own way, making films by doing every part, filming and editing by hand. Then, he allowed his films to only be shown as he instructed no matter what the cost, which was often quite high as his films were not often seen. He had a vision, a truth and, since the eighties, he shared it with whomever made the journey to Temenos. Then, as today, there is no charge. A pilgrim has only to pay for his or her room and board.

Several hours outside of Athens, we started to climb up and down the Peloponnese mountains. We both agreed that the drive with its hairpin turns, its goats and sheep blocking the road, with the undulating blue of distant peaks welcomed us into the miracle of Greece, a miracle that Temenos creates every four years enticing filmmakers, students, and academics from different cultures to
it’s sacred grove.