Women Talk

Wednesday, 15 March 2017 10:23

Today I was for four and a half hours on the phone, with just three people. It wasn’t a typical day, as days may go by without a call. Thus I do feel a little tired by all this listening, answering, interrupting, laughing, listening and then talking again, but I can’t complain. It’s not that my tendency towards fewer words has changed. It’s that I’ve finally managed to decode and profit from what is derogatorily called incessant blabbering.

 

Women are considered to talk a lot, and this quality is dismissed as frivolous. But would it be sustained if it were useless? Something lasting through the centuries must have a purpose.

 

I didn’t touch upon the current Dutch elections or the impact of the Frankfurt School on Marxism in my conversations today, and that’s probably a pity. However, I learned that two of my friends get intimidated at work and that makes them question their self-worth. I also learned that another friend feels socially awkward among the other mothers at school. So, besides being there to comfort them, to act as a counsellor and crying shoulder, how do I benefit from all this information?

 

Women tell each other their stories and pass on not only their experiences but the workings of their minds. Women are excellent observers of their own emotional life and sharing their insights ensures the preservation of an already immense network of support and understanding that leads to awareness and growth. Women are involuntary researchers, using the ancient and dependable techniques of oral tradition to communicate their findings.

 

In a day full of distractions and urgent tasks having people talk to me about their fear of rejection from their individual but commonly hostile environments wasn’t a burden. On the contrary, it was a lesson. Without them having payed attention to their own feelings and having decided they were important enough to discuss, I wouldn’t have realised how common my anxieties are: I’m not a freak and I’m not weak. Thus, by giving a stage to my friends’ ramblings I discovered that what has been looked down upon as a waste of time is no less vital for our species than buzzing is to bees – although equally incomprehensible to those outside the hive.

 

 

["forever friends" is part of the greens collection]

 

Published in experience

Congratulations

Friday, 01 July 2016 22:25

While writing the closing sentence in my last article, I hesitated. I felt I shouldn’t take it for granted that the result of the UK referendum would be respected, but then dismissed the thought as far-fetched and somewhat paranoid. It was probably my bad experience talking. Besides, I had decided to remain positive towards humanity for the day.

A few hours later, articles started to spring up all over the internet, stating that the referendum was provisional (which is technically true) and it would be perfectly sensible for the parliament to ignore it, that people shouldn’t be trusted with such important decisions, and that the referendum was a draw. Journalists and “progressive” individuals the world over supported plainly skipping the democratic principle, as if there will be no history to judge them. Along came petitions, and statistics supporting that the vote was uninformed and racist, and that old people sentenced future generations, as if old people should be thrown off the cliff, because they are, well, old. Then, of course, Boris Johnson withdrew, making Brexit seem even harder, if not impossible.

So, instead of adding more democratic elements to the world, more referendums and immediate involvement of the people in politics, we’re actually debating diminishing rights and muffling voices, with incompetence as the excuse, as if incompetence within our societies weren’t our own fault. The supporters of far-right policies, since such are the measures proposed to avoid the impending Brexit, will be equally devastated as they are now, wondering “how could this happen,” when in less than a decade extreme-right parties will start winning national elections all over Europe. Because this is what will happen, if no one else gives the poor, the old and the disadvantaged the sense that they are being respected. I’m afraid that by then it won’t really matter who’s in charge: It’s going to be authoritarianism one way or another.

Published in thoughts

No guests in anybody's country

Friday, 08 April 2016 13:18

Our perception of a place is very much if not solely related to our experience of its people. For example, I am fond of Germany, because I would go there on vacations as a child with my parents and would be embraced by a couple of loving locals that made life beautiful. I did return to Germany as an adult for my master’s degree – in a way searching for my roots – and although I found things different from how I’d left them (as I was approximately fifteen years older), nothing could or probably ever will erase the emotional importance of that place and its people.

When a friend from Greece recently told me that she has been taking the kids of a refugee family from the Elliniko camp to her home for a bath and a few hours of play per day, I took it for granted that the unconditional love these kids receive from a stranger is an experience that will escort them for the rest of their lives, and something they’ll give back to humanity in the future – and this is how the world becomes a better place. Also, these people will cherish Greece and the Greek people.

On the contrary, the refugees who faced racism or were taken advantage of by Greeks who e.g. sold them a bottle of water for five euros, will probably hate Greece and its people, and so on and so forth. The younger we are the more absolute our feelings, but in any age our minds tend to work with generalizations that one can overcome only with hard, conscious effort, if ever. We tend to reflect our experiences like precision mirrors, and racism begets racism. It is to our benefit to try and control if not eliminate racist tendencies in our populations, if not out of interest for the advancement of civilization then as a precaution, as, according to natural law, what goes around comes around, and it often hits you hard in the face.

    Just a few days ago, the ICCT [International Center for Counter-Terrorism] released a research paper called “The Foreign Fighters Phenomenon in the European Union.” According to the gathered data, the number of “foreign fighters” from the EU – meaning people who embraced the Islamic State propaganda and left their EU countries to join the war against the Assad regime in Syria as well as the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan – is estimated to be approximately four thousand.

Even though the paper recognizes the importance of segregation, stating, for example, that many of these people felt secluded and without access to growth opportunities, it fails in a manner typical of the European policies of the past decades: Although the importance of preventive measures is rightly stressed, the proposed measures are limited to the ‘high risk’ populations, supporting an interventionist approach that will mathematically lead to increased marginalization and an even deeper sense of alienation and distrust.

Similarly, a few months ago there was an article in Huffington Post called “The Mothers of ISIS”. Interestingly enough and despite its title, the article stressed time and again the lack of a father figure in most of these families. The viewpoint was fresh and the details sensational, but here too there was the attempt to present extremism as a phenomenon springing mostly from the deeper core of society, the family, and not as a result of societal dynamics.

For prevention to succeed, we should start our interventions from the deeply rooted racist tendencies within our western societies, providing not a new vocabulary but new cohabitation standards. Immigrants and refugees should stop being treated as “guests in our country” who should be constantly under surveillance by the authorities or the ‘concerned’ citizen who is filled with prejudism, presuppositions and fear.

Since racism, and the gap it creates, is always an issue of class – i.e. it refers mostly to the poor and is eagerly embraced by the little-less-but-still poor – I like to think of the rioting and terrorism potential in this oversimplified way: Imagine a kid, kid A, that goes everyday to the pastry shop and gets ice-cream, and another kid, kid B, who everyday passes by but never has enough money to get ice-cream. Kid A doesn’t empathize with kid B and even makes fun of her. Normally, kid B will just resign and accept that she might or might not get an ice-cream someday but, under certain circumstances, she may get angry and trip kid A up, who will then start crying and blame kid B.

(Notice that in this paradigm I’m not getting into the causative details at all. Both subjects are kids, thus none of them is really responsible for their status or, to a certain extend, their behavior. And this is exactly the standpoint I believe we should adopt, since otherwise we’ll just get tangled in “the chicken or the egg” kind of argument.)

The major issue here though is that kid B takes action in the seemingly more harmful and hateful manner, so this is the action and thus the kid on which we tend to focus on. Instead of overanalyzing the behavior of kid B, it would be a good idea to place equal emphasis on the behavior of kid A, correct them both, and build a constructive relationship between the two. Pulling kid B away from the display window will only treat the symptoms, and only for a little while, but if we put in the extra effort to instill cultural understanding and empathy in kid A we can avoid much hurt, with long-lasting and transforming results for society as a whole.

Published in thoughts

Terror

Tuesday, 22 March 2016 15:40

 

“We’ll probably be safe here, if WWIII breaks out.”

“I have to call the airline and change my flight, or better cancel it altogether.”

“My husband and I are safe from the attacks.”

These are the first reports I got from today’s Brussels attacks. Many would consider these first reactions selfish. Then, of course, people can and will also fight about the most proper stance: “It was to be expected,” “We are all Belgians,” “Blood diamonds,” “EU’s official collapse is imminent,” etc. I gave it some thought and believe it’s a natural reflex to fall back into yourself in the face of disaster.

Myself, with all its shortcomings, is the best place I can fall back into when I think about the surrounding stupidity. The stupidity of those who placed the bombs. The stupidity of those who were supposed to stop them from doing so. The stupidity of the media covering the incident. The stupidity of those in charge. The stupidity of the legislators and what comes next. The stupidity of the vox pop. You can never be safe around so much stupidity. And it’s a factor so haphazard that you can’t really protect yourself from it. It has little to do with wealth, education, religious affiliation. Stupidity is everywhere and it’s the real terrorist. Brace yourselves.

 

 

 

 

Published in thoughts

Ode to Women

Tuesday, 08 March 2016 08:59

When I decided I was done with exploration and started to actively search for specific qualities in people, those who emerged through the fog of human relationships happened to be women. In time, my existing relationships became stronger, I’ve reunited with friends from the past and my long-distance friendships flourished. It was only then that I started to consider gender identity as perhaps something more than a crude categorization for sociological use.

In many past instances I would have reacted differently, if I had the friends I have now. In fact, considering their impact, my whole life would have been different. My women friends are my guardian angels. Women have shown me immense compassion and forgiveness. Women have offered me everything they had to offer, spontaneously and unconditionally. Women have accepted me and I have found them to be so satisfyingly complicated that I enjoy their company as much as I enjoy tea and a good book.

And then, there are the women of all ages I meet on the street, in shops, at the park, on the tram. There is mutual understanding and a spirit-lifting momentary bond in a smile, a gesture, a touch, in offering and indeed in asking for help. There is a restless sea of silent emotional interaction between women out there – a fascinating ecosystem that doesn’t need saving.

 

 

Published in experience

The Poverty Line

Saturday, 28 November 2015 19:47

At my grandparents’ house, circled by grandmother’s cousins like prey circled by hyenas, as they commented on how motherhood had made me prettier – although I couldn’t recall having met them before – and stuffed twenty euro bills in my puzzled toddler’s hands, I couldn’t take my eyes off the platters that lay on the baroque-style table. It was just as I remembered it from my childhood. There was at least a kilo of dried nuts – king hazelnuts, modest almonds, oily walnuts, salty pistachios, humble roasted chickpeas – a chock chip cake, pralines, buns, cookies, middle eastern sweets, coffee, liqueurs – and all this just for two guests. I instantly shrank to my ten-year-old self, only now I couldn’t help but start calculating the cost of this array.

It had never occurred to me before that I grew up in an affluent larger family, as there was always a certain amount of whining and an unfaltering dedication to hard work. This was the main ailment of my grandparents’ generation, the once-hungering generation that had survived a world war and a civil war: Working like there’s no tomorrow and building houses for getting old in and for passing on to the children seemed to be hardwired in their brains. No cinema, no disco, no holidays in unknown lands, just the occasional taverna and visits to relatives. Yet, these people were considerably wealthier than I will possibly ever be.

    I was so shocked by this exhibition of excess that I had to tell my husband the moment I got out of there. “Is there an ambassador visiting?” He asked. “That’s how people used to receive their guests,” I replied. “How come we only get biscuits when we visit?” He said laughingly, and I couldn’t but share the laugh and shake my head.

The image of the table blurred my thoughts as I slided with clear goals through the supermarket aisles, grabbing milk and choosing pre-cut salad. I only had a few items, so I stood at the express line. I had briefly noticed the man in front of me before, as we had entered the store together. He was rather tall, but something must had struck me as strange with his clothes, as I came to realize later.

The man had emptied his basket at the register and moved on to the front to fill his bag. I could now see both his purchases and his face. He wore a worn Lacoste varsity jacket, and that must have been what had subconsciously struck me before: I hadn’t seen such a jacket since the early nineties. His jeans were also an eighties cut and acid-washed. This wasn’t a statement: He couldn’t care less. Everything he wore was handed down to him.

Under his jockey, his oily brown hair was crudely cut with household scissors in front of a half-broken, aged mirror. All these I had seen before, but only now did I come to verify and add significance to, through the narrative told by his countenance: His was the tormented, pale face of malnourishment. The slight tremor of his lower lip attested the dilapidated state of the senses of time and identity in his mind, distinct in the chronically homeless. His hands were very clean, and there wasn’t a single hole in his clothes or shoes, as his existence screamed in self-sacrifice: “Don’t pity me! I don’t want your charity!”

On the counter, there were three packs of instant noodles and a bag of apples. This would be his breakfast, lunch and dinner. This was his long-term diet. Comparing that to my grandmother’s soiree, my mind high-wired on the thin poverty line, and did what it is set to do in similar situations: It sank into vertigo.

Published in thoughts

The clash of the classes

Sunday, 12 July 2015 22:57

In my last article, just before the referendum, I wrote that a society can never be truly democratic unless it cultivates certain values in its people. I wrote that, until this happens, “democracy will be an illusion and a dummy word for essentially fascist regimes,” leaving an open-ended implication that Greece is under a fascist regime. During the past week, I’ve been wondering whether I’d been too harsh in my claims and whether this leftist government was a sign of progress. The latest Greek reform proposal submitted to the creditors – which was in essence the same as the last one, and was voted for by an 82% of the Greek parliament, which thus loudly ignored the 61% of the people who voted against it in the referendum – came as proof that my implications weren’t that harsh after all. This realization was quickly followed by a question mark, about why did the referendum take place in the first place.

There is the official viewpoint, saying that the government was indeed hoping to put pressure on the creditors by asking the support of the people, publicizing the matter and blowing it to heroic proportions and to the level of notions and ideals. On the other hand, some support that the government was counting on propaganda and the bank shutdown to force a “yes” outcome, since they didn’t want to take full responsibility for the new rough measures and their counterblast. And of course, there are many theories in between and beyond, which basically shows that few people know what is really going on.

However, regardless of the goals of those who called the referendum, I believe it brought an unexpected change: It made people conscious of their political and even social identity. The referendum, according to its results, was a clash of the classes. Simply, the richest areas voted for “yes,” while the poorer voted “no,” with extremes such as the upper class northern Athenian suburb of Ekali, where 85% voted “yes,” and the traditionally working class Ano Liosia, with 80% of its residents voting for “no.” Nevertheless, many people – notably, middle class people – told me that they would personally benefit more by voting “yes,” but they voted “no” because they thought of the others, the less privileged. So, although many now feel disappointed and angry at the government, arguing that their vote and hopes meant nothing, I, on the contrary, feel that having an opinion and voting for specific questions – and not for political parties – means in itself a lot. Realizing who you are and what you stand for is a very important step towards conscious living. My only wish is that the awakened social and psychological dynamics will eventually lead to more responsible choices and mindful citizens. And solidarity is the value we’ll be needing most in the ensuing years.

Published in thoughts

The side of power

Saturday, 04 July 2015 19:26

Since I became a mother, I’ve been hanging around improbable places, such as playgrounds, interacting with improbable people, such as other parents and caregivers. These new interactions have proven to be a rich sociological resource, as people at playgrounds are more bound to talking to strangers, than e.g. people on the bus. Also, as a mother and dog ‘owner’, when I walk the streets I am susceptible to the praise or deprecation of random people, either for raising my child with animals or for taking the dog with us to the playground. Most people are kind, accepting and even supportive, while some are rude and deeply encrusted in their convictions.

                Somehow, the parent that complained about the lack of fences at the playground – since he would prefer to have his daughter caged than explain to her why she shouldn’t run to the street and trust that she won’t do it –, the woman who exclaimed that dogs should be banned from playgrounds, unable to grasp that most people clean after their dogs and that excluding every dog owner from the park and playground is less of a healthy and just option than educating people and expecting them to act accordingly, or the woman who shouted to her seven-year old daughter so that I could hear “This is unbelievable! Couldn’t she take her dog someplace else?” while the baby was at the swing and the dog rested quietly next to us, help me understand facts of great implication regarding our society.

                These people are called to vote tomorrow, and thus support or disapprove the new measures imposed by the EU and the IMF on Greece. Most citizens who realize that “no” is the only sensible – and even obvious – option are amazed by the high percentage of people unable to distinguish between welfare and unfair. Unfortunately, the regular cultivation of idiocy in previous decades, along with the good old stupidity factor, have had crippling effects on the sense of (and right to) personal and social freedom, if, indeed, such a sense ever existed. This lack of principle is first and foremost conveniently applied to the “other” but, in a causative manner, eventually comes to include oneself. People have replaced common sense, empathy and tolerance with rigid rules serving sides, hoping to be on the right side: The side of power. Under such circumstances, no matter the outcome of any referendum, a society is doomed to be backward and democracy an illusion and a dummy word for essentially fascist regimes.

Published in thoughts

How the way was paved for fascism

Saturday, 04 July 2015 19:20

 

[An article written by Pitsirikos and published on 24 October 2012. The original, in Greek, can be found here: Πώς στρώθηκε ο δρόμος για τον φασισμό]

 

If I were asked to choose a key phrase that was overly heard in Greece during the past two decades, I’d have no doubt: “I’m not interested in politics.” It came out often from thousand simple citizens’ lips. You might have said it too. “I’m not interested in politics.” It was given as an answer by hundreds of “artists” and actors, when they were asked in previous years about what was going on in our country. Did they believe it? Were they saying it because they wanted to be in good terms with everybody and not lose any ‘clients’? Anyhow, they said it.

During the past decades, politics in Greece weren’t as popular as they are today. If you started a political conversation, people were indignant. It was ‘boring’.

Something else which wasn’t popular at all in the last decades in Greece was knowledge and intellect. The term ‘intellectual’ popped up in your mind as a label not if you tried to say something too heavy, but if you made the mistake to digress a little bit from Klik and Nitro magazines, football and TV clichés.

If you weren’t listening to Vissi, Remos, Sfakianakis, Rouvas and Chatzigiannis, you were an intellectual. And thus we’ve reached a point where the folk songs of Tsitsanis and Chatzidakis were considered intellectual.

When you talk to young people, you realise that they have read almost nothing. Alright, we’ve never been a nation of book freaks that’s always had a book in hand, but older generations had more or less read something. Even if it was just the classics. In any case, they didn’t make fun of those who loved reading.

It wasn’t by accident that Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist was such a big success in our country. First of all the book was small and secondly it contained a phrase that Greeks learned en masse by heart: “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”. How? Just by desire? Without any toil? Without any pains? Without reading? Without knowledge? Whatever Coelho meant, the passive – also due to the orthodox religion – Greeks where reassured, left their fates to the universe and waited for it to conspire for them. The universe didn’t conspire.

Disregard for politics and complete lack of intellect have led to bankruptcy. First to the social, ethical and cultural bankruptcy and then to the financial one.

Even if someone disagrees that the disregard of the majority of citizens for politics and their aversion to knowledge have led to financial bankruptcy, they cannot disagree that citizens today are called to deal with bankruptcy with the intellectual resources they have gathered all these years. That is, with Sfakianakis, Menegaki, the zodiac circle, the cooks, the recipes and everything else broadcasted by the mass media.

Look at the CDs you’ve bought all these years, the books you’ve read (if you’ve read any), remember the movies, the plays and concerts you’ve watched (if you’ve watched any), because these are the arms by which you’ll deal with bankruptcy. That’s who you are.

Of course, a great number of Greeks deals with bankruptcy with the stupor offered by Greek television as the only resource. And they keep on getting stupefied.

You need resources in order to think. And you won’t find these resources on television.

Television has nothing to do with education, knowledge and intellect. It’s a medium which might sometimes – and under certain circumstances – be interesting and entertaining, but not even this has ever happened in Greece. Greek television is addressing our lower instincts and – with but a few exceptions – is a trashcan, with sold‐out crooks, stupid broads, call girls and other light‐minded people.

It’s no wonder that Greeks who respect themselves don’t appear on TV. Maybe they accepted to appear on some dignified show of the national television, but no further.

Not appearing on TV means – amongst others – that you don’t believe that profit is everything. Because lots of money is involved in television. All these years, the personas of Greek TV didn’t care, of course, about politics. They were national stars, so they belonged to all Greeks and never expressed an opinion about anything. Moreover, TV personas – at least those who prevailed – are heavily uneducated.

In a country that a large part of its citizens didn’t care for politics or knowledge – and its ‘education’ derived from television – no one should be impressed that Golden Dawn expresses the opinions of hundred thousand fellow Greeks.

If you were never interested in politics and, at the same time, you are under the impression that Kazantzakis is a football player, it makes perfect sense – when needed – to express yourself politically with complete darkness, fascism, blustering, bullying, kicking, screaming and all that bestiality expressed by Golden Dawn. The beast is represented by beasts.

Of course, the affinity of TV personas for the Golden Dawn members of parliament isn’t accidental at all. They feel very comfortable with them, since intellectually they are on the same level: That of the chimpanzee.

Golden Dawn isn’t a new phenomenon. Neo‐Nazism isn’t a new phenomenon. Fascism isn’t a new phenomenon. You should have distinguished it in Eleni’s [Menegaki] narcissism, in Sakis’ [Rouvas] self-centeredness, in Roula’s [Koromila] and Grigoris’ [Arnaoutoglou] superficiality, in the ruthless cynicism of Themos [Anastasiadis] and the bestial stupidity of all these self‐absorbed anthropoids who made a god out of easy profit, promoted idiocy and sold their soul to the devil.

And if they made lots of money, those who watched them entranced – and are still watching them, since they are intellectually handicapped – get Golden Dawn as a trophy.

Citizens have the obligation to get involved in public affairs and be interested in politics.

Citizens have the obligation to take care of their soul and their mind, to pursue knowledge and avoid trash.

“We were betrayed by politicians” the citizens say. Yes, but long before that, the citizens had betrayed themselves. The first wouldn’t have happened without the second.

Fascism is here. Within us.

 

 

 

Published in translations

Self-Preservation

Sunday, 28 June 2015 21:21

It was the 27th of June, Friday, a little past one in the morning. The baby was fast asleep and my husband was about to go to bed, when he checked his cell phone one last time. A friend had just texted him: “Referendum??!!!” it read. We said “What? Is he tripping?” We decided to check, anyway. I sat on the PC and he told me “Go to a news site.” “Which one?” I asked, as I never read the news. He named one at random, and there it was: “The Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, announces a referendum for the 5th of July, calling the people to decide on whether to accept the measures proposed by the institutions or not.” In total, there had been seven referendums in Greece, the last being held in 1974, forty-one years ago and eight years before I was born.

                “Don’t get so excited” he said to me. “The IMF put pressure on the government towards this development. They want Greece out of the EU, so they can control the country and cause the collapse of the Union. If the IMF takes full control, we’re going to starve,” which of course seemed to be the case either way. We’ve decided to get as much information as we could and conclude later, but before that I urged him to go to the cash machine and get the remains of his salary, since the news were about to bring havoc – which they did, as by Saturday evening one billion euros had been withdrawn and on Monday the banks were closed. There was unusual traffic for this time of night in the suburban streets: The whole neighborhood was to its feet. I could hear elevators moving, doors locking, car engines starting. People were out to get their savings. As my husband left and I went to bed to comfort the baby, I kept thinking that I had forgotten to tell him to be careful. He had been attacked at a cash machine before and, although he couldn’t remember a thing, it was causing him nightmares that made him shout in the middle of the night.

                When he returned, he told me that the parking lot was full of Porsche Cayenne’s and C-Class’s and there were lines of people withdrawing packs of hundred euro bills, inserting one card after another. “Find a good hiding spot for our valuables,” he told me. “Robberies are about to go up in the next few days.” We couldn’t find a decent hiding place, so we decided to take our chances. “Where’s your father’s gun?” He asked. “In the baby’s bedroom. But we don’t have any bullets.” “That’s OK. I just need it to scare them off.” “I’ll take the rolling pin.” We laughed at our own absurdity, but that’s how we slept that night: Baby in the middle, weapons on the bedside tables.

Published in experience
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