Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Every day is Halloween

No holiday makes me miss America more than Halloween. Greece might as well not even be aware of its existence, for the little people seem to know about it. The only knowledge most Greeks seem to have of Halloween is gleaned from Hollywood, and we all know that is the most accurate source of information on anything American.

The traditional ghost story also seems rather absent from Greek life. In America, in just about any town that has a population of at least twenty people you can find a haunted house, or barn, or some local lore about some ghost or other that just won’t leave people be. Here in Greece, supernatural stories seem to exist on a grand scale, and you almost never hear individual stories of hauntings in someone’s home. No, Greeks don’t have a ghost or two haunting a house, they have a whole damn ghost army. They have snakes that appear spontaneously in a church. They have haunted caves, haunted woods, haunted mountains. But the haunted house is a rare phenomenon.

One of the most famous Greek ghost stories involves the Drosoulites of Crete, a ghost army that appears every year at dawn on May 17th at the ruins of Agios Charalambos, marches towards the fort at Fragokastello and eventually disappears into the sea. Many people have claimed to have seen this vision and science has not yet been able to explain it with rational facts. The army is so clear to the eye that the Turks fired on them in 1890, as did the Germans in World War II. Now that’s spooky. I fully intend to visit Crete some May 17th so I can have a chance of seeing the ghost army for myself.

Davelis Cave , along with the mountain it lies on, are reported to be sites for strange paranormal occurrences. Located on the Pendeli mountain just outside Athens, people have claimed to see odd beasts on the mountain, from giant bats to horned men, and odd things have occurred in the cave, from moving balls of light to the cave being swarmed with domestic cats.

On the island of Kefalonia the denizens of the village of Markopoulo celebrate the feast of the Virgin on August 15th. During the religious services marking this holiday, small snakes with black marks like the sign of the cross on their heads appear at the bell tower and make their way towards the church. Thousands of snakes crawl into the church, slithering over people on their way to their final destination – the bishop’s throne and the icon of Mary. After the celebrations they disappear as quickly as they appeared, and no sign is seen of them again until the next year. The snakes are welcomed by the locals, and do no harm to people. The snakes are thought to be the spirits of nuns from the village, who in 1705, upon attack by pirates, prayed to the Virgin Mary to be turned into snakes to avoided being captured. Apparently, their prayers were answered.

No doubt Greece is filled with more stories of the supernatural, as you can’t help but walk through the streets without feeling the presence of thousands of years of history.

Happy Halloween from Greece!

Gone with the wind

One thing I was never quite prepared for upon arriving in Greece was the wind. Sure, we had wind in Nashville, sometimes pretty darn strong. But I never experienced anything like the wind I’ve experienced here in Greece. Athens wasn’t so bad, at least I don’t remember it being too terribly bad. When we moved to Kos I remember some folks saying something about the tremendous winds there but you know, it is wind, how bad can it be? The answer is bad. Pretty darn bad. When we moved to the mountain it wasn’t much better, and here in Thessaloniki, being as close to the sea as we are, the wind gets pretty frightening, making booming, godlike sounds as it whips through cracks in building walls and weaves its way through the city streets.

When we were in Athens, I noticed a lot of people had awnings over their balconies, and boy did I covet those awnings. They are great for keeping the sun from blinding you during the day and especially practical in keeping the balcony dry when you have laundry out and the weather turns moist. We weren’t graced with an apartment that had awnings until we moved to the mountain, and that is when I learned that with the wonderful awnings comes a grave and important responsibility.

It seems that the great winds that blow through Greece are not especially awning friendly, in fact, it would appear that awnings and wind are great enemies of yore, constantly battling for dominance. And so the awnings must be raised when the winds come, to keep them from ripping apart and causing general havoc, not to mention pacifying the landlords. There was many a day I opened the shutters on the balcony to find that one of the landlords had climbed onto our balcony to raise our awnings in the face of the bitter wind. Oops.

I learned a great lesson in awning maintenance while living on the mountain, and that is why, if I wake up at 4am and hear the wind chimes singing like angels hopped up on LSD, I make a mad dash for the balcony to put up the awning. There is a trick to it though, because the act of raising the awning creates an insane, demonic sound, as if wild pigs were loose on the city and very, very hungry. So I have to turn the crank carefully and slowly, which isn’t very much fun at 4am when freezing, gusting winds are threatening to blow your soul to kingdom come.

I suppose I could be one of those brilliant people who lowers the awning in the morning and puts it up again when the sun goes down, thus avoiding all the rushing outside at 4am incidents. This would make a relative amount of sense, except that I am a bit lazy when it comes to general, routine maintenance activities such as raising and lowering awnings. Not to mention I enjoy the extra bit of privacy having them down allows. So for now I’ll take my stand between the wind and the awning whenever I am called, hoping that one day the battle will not be lost.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

You want beer with that?

One thing I just can't get used to in Greece is seeing someone drinking a mug of beer in a fast food restaurant. Sixteen-year-olds can drink here and no one gets their panties in a wad about alcohol consumption, no matter where it is. I almost never hear about drunk driving accidents, and I rarely see people walking around town shit-faced drunk (except for a few tourists).

I find it in interesting that you find the reverse to be true in the U.S., which is less permissive regarding alcohol consumption than Greece. Drunk driving accidents are fairly common in America, I can see openly drunk people walking around any given night (at least, in Nashville), and you can't drink until you are twenty-one. And you certainly can't buy a beer in Burger King.

It would seem that a permissive society makes people happier and more responsible. Either that or it makes them indifferent.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A day of No

Today is Οχι Day in Greece, which I blogged about last year and probably will every year as long as I am blogging. It takes guts to be the underdog and still stand up to your enemies, which in my eyes is kinda what this day is all about.

What this day is really about, however, usually ends up being annoyance at shops being closed, near dead city streets, and fighter planes scaring the bejesus out of my cats.

Even so, I stand in adulation of the brave Greeks who sacrificed much in World War II. I am honored to be here and be able to be a part of the remembrance of this day.

Outrage in the Greek blogosphere

The Greek blogosphere is all aflutter about an incident involving the administrator/owner of a Greek blog search engine, Blogme.gr. I have the disadvantage of reading the Greek accounts of what exactly has happened, but there are accounts in English here, here, and here. Now, if we are to take this news at face value, ie. that the administrator of the site had his house searched, his computer seized, and was placed in detention due to a link to a blog that allegedly posted a slanderous post about a Greek public figure, then there are a few things that are problematic with the system here in Greece.

Search and seizure is a pretty major operation for a simple slander case. I highly doubt there is a judge in America that would sign a warrant for this type of action under such circumstances. Most slander cases begin with paperwork from lawyers. Now, if the crime committed here is merely slander, and the public figure has such pull that he can request a judge sign a warrant for search and seizure not of the offending blog writer but the administrator of a site that links to the allegedly slanderous post – then obviously Greece isn’t getting very far in correcting the whole misuse of justice issue. I also realize that the search and seizure of the administrator’s home could also be from a general ignorance of how the internet works on the part of government and law enforcement officials. And they wonder why more people in Greece don’t use computers. Huh.

Slander is a pretty hard thing to prove, even in the good ol’ overly litigious US of A. Generally speaking, you have to prove that it is something that can be reasonably believed – ie., if you post that “so and so has sex with fuschia elephants”, then no one can reasonably believe that to be true, because there are no fuschia elephants. However, publications that publish allegedly slanderous material can be cited along with the writers, and this is where it gets interesting. Internet law is still such a wasteland there hasn’t been a ton of precedent. Does the mere posting of a link to a slanderous article make someone liable? Or do you have to post something along the lines of “hey, read this true article about so and so posted at this link”. I don’t know what the laws are regarding slander are here in Greece, but if they are worded in such a way that allows the administrator of an automated aggregator of blogs to be liable, then there is a big problem here.

Now, I say all this with a degree of caution because, like I said before, I don’t have all the facts of the case. There may be a lot more to this story, which may or may not have made the actions of law enforcement justifiable. If the laws of Greece make such actions justifiable under the simple claim of slander, then these laws need to be rewritten, and fast, otherwise Greece is going to fall on a downward spiral that limits freedom of speech, which isn’t quite appropriate for an EU country.

UPDATE: There is a listing of all blogs posting about this issue at magicasland, and a post at CNET about it. Thanks to DeviousDiva for those links, and for reminding me that a UN summit about the future of the Internet is being held in Athens starting this weekend.

UPDATE #2: kierenmccarthy.co.uk has the skinny on the people involved in this case. I didn't even know Greece had any televangelists!

Expat Interviews

My interview with the lovely people at Expat Interviews is now posted and available for reading and/or general mockery. I have the honor of being the first expat in Greece at their informative site and they would like to hear from more expats in Greece (and no doubt more from various places around the globe). If you are interested in giving an interview peruse their site and then give them a shout out.

I noticed, upon further reflection, that when talking about fellow Greek bloggers I left out the wonderful Flubberwinkle. My mistake! I had every intention of including her.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Is it something in the water?

Sure, Greece has its share of tourist deaths, especially during the peak seasons. Not only do we have all kinds of water for people to drown in, there are ancient ruins that can tumble, mountains to climb and gulches to fall into. But this year there have been three violent murder/suicide/injury/unknown cause incidents, all involving Brits on what should have been a pleasant holiday in the land of sun and sea.

The latest incident involves a family of four who were found poisoned in their hotel room on the island of Corfu. The two children, ages 6 and 7, were found dead, the parents are in comas. There is some suggestion that poison mushrooms might be involved, but no hard evidence is available yet.

In August, a man jumped from his hotel room balcony holding his son and daughter, killing his son and injuring his daughter and himself.

Earlier this month, a man was charged with attempted murder in the fall of his girlfriend from their hotel room balcony. Both of the latter incidents were on Crete.

All tragic incidents, all quite horrifying. I am so saddened by the the recent tragedy, especially if it is an accident of food poisoning of some kind. I pray that there is no evidence of a foul play. My thoughts are with the loved ones and the parents as they cling to life. May they find some blessings in their time of grief.

UPDATE: This article from the BBC website confirms that the children died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a gas leak. The police are looking into charging the hotel with negligent manslaughter. Both adults have regained consciousness, but have not been informed of the deaths of the children. I am outraged at the insensitivity that seems to have been shown the family by the hotel staff, as it appears the husband asked for help while he was still conscious. My heart goes out to this family, and poor mother of these two children, who had to get the call about their deaths from a thousand miles away.

My husband made me watch Rambo

That is grounds for divorce, isn't it?

No? Well then, I guess he'll just have to come with me to see The Devil Wears Prada.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Yia mas

Greece cornered the market on feta production in the EU, now, they officially have the right to ouzo production. Brand protection seems to be a rather hot topic in the EU, with similar rulings being passed for champagne in France. Now I'm know there are plenty of dissenters about such things, but these types of things that come from traditional cultures in the EU deserve such protections. Besides, if you ever drink ouzo, you always assume it comes from Greece. At least I always did. There is an expectation there.

Yia mas to Greece for earning the exclusive rights to ouzo. May you drink it well.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

What exactly are they trying to pull?

On an almost daily basis, delivery restaurant goons make their way into apartment buildings all over Greece and slide menus under doors. Often, they are repeats or updated menus of places that we have already tried and discarded (or tried and liked). But today, amongst the rabble of usual suspects was a new pizza place entitled "Domino Pizza". No, not Domino's. Domino. No apostrophe S.

Sure, there are Domino's Pizza places here in Greece (not in Thessaloniki though, that I know of) so people are at least somewhat familiar with the brand name. I suppose these people think they are being clever, well I got news for them - they aren't. Their menu went straight to file 13.

A week for united nations

Yesterday was the official United Nations Day, commemorating the day in which the United Nations Charter was formed on October 24, 1945. The entire week is devoted to festivities celebrating the United Nations, with tonight's concert sponsored by the Greek government and featuring the National Symphony of Greece.

The Evzones elite guard marked United Nations Day yesterday with a march by the Parthenon.

Personally, I'm not entirely sure the U.N. is something to be celebrated, but I suppose they've done some good here and there. Just not good enough.

Photo courtesy Kathimerini

Monday, October 23, 2006

It's a geek's world

You know you’ve been using computers too long when you are writing longhand with pen and paper and panic for a moment because you try to hit Ctrl-S in thin air and there is no way to do it.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Caffeine nation

I’m not certain, but I think the success (or is it failure?) of a household is proportionate to the number of coffee varieties available at any given moment. We are currently up to eight different types of coffee (and two types of hot chocolate) so we might be doing ok.

This is somehow related to the number of alcohol choices available, but I’m not sure exactly how. We need some work in that area, although we do currently have two different types of scotch and some Jack Daniels. The latter is really all any household needs, right?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The two party system:double the pleasure, double the fun!

This is what Americans have to choose from for the midterm Congressional elections on Nov. 7:

The Republicans:

The Arabs Are Coming (via Volunteer Voters)

The Democrats:

Where is Osama?

The world should be afraid.

(UPDATE: The Republican commercial has actually made Greek news)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Pop music is all alike

For some reason, at midday, one of my neighbors has deemed it necessary to blare the Greek equivalents of Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears at decibel levels somewhere between a pig’s scream and the voice of God. This has been going on daily this week, and while I am the last person in the world to begrudge someone the full enjoyment of their tunes, I’d really prefer not to hear it so loudly that I can’t even listen to my own music without getting in some sort of battle of the bands scenario, with both of our stereo systems blasting past a volume setting of 11.

I haven’t blogged much about Greek music because I avoid it like the plague. Sure, I can find some fun in our Eurovision Song Contest winning song and I always support the Greek contestant even if I hate the song. I enjoy traditional Greek music immensely and I adore the Greek Orthodox chants. But I cannot withstand Greek pop music even for a second.

Greek music comes in four basic forms*:

- traditional music, music from villages, islands, and such – which I really enjoy

- modern music that uses traditional music as its base, which isn’t too bad

- modern pop music that uses a blend of things, including rhythms from American or British pop music, creating sounds that make your ears bleed

- modern music that has influences in more alternative, less traditional styles, otherwise known as music that I like

Unfortunately, it is the third type of music that is prevalent in Greek society. This is not to say that I think all of these artists are horrible musicians, some of them have great voices, I just hate their choice of style. I think Christina Aguilera has an amazing voice but I hate her music. It happens. I have the same general objections to the music that is popular in American society so you shouldn’t feel so bad if you are indeed a fan of Greek pop. I just don’t have the stomach for it.

Until recently, I hadn’t really heard much music from Greek artists that wasn’t either pop or traditional. Lately, though, thanks to MySpace, I have discovered a bevy of bands in Greece who play great, original music that is more my style. At least now I can find something local I can enjoy.

Hopefully, my neighbor will learn to turn it down a bit. I’m not really sure they want to hear the likes of Sepultura or Ministry blasting in response. And I’m sure they don’t want to hear Old Rugged Cross Dressers at maximum volume.

My apologies to my sister-in-law, my brother-in-law, and any other Greeks who love Greek pop music. I just can’t stand it, I’m sorry.

*I am purposefully omitting Greek rap music, because I am trying hard to pretend it doesn’t really exist

Behold! The woman who controls the weather!

I am certain that I have some sort of power over the weather. Now that we have entered the northern Greek autumn, we pass awkwardly back and forth between clumps of rainy days and cloisters of sunny days. Every time that I think "oh, the weather is good, I think I'll do some laundry" (because here in Greece I am bereft of that all useful appliance - the clothes dryer) suddenly the forecast appears to have a spate of rainy days ahead.

This has been pretty much the way it has gone since I moved to Greece, so either Zeus is messing with me, or he has given me the weird ability to control the weather via my laundry habits.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

People watching on the city street, dusk

Autumn has officially descending on Thessaloniki. We had days and days of unceasing rains and the temperature is slowly dropping - it actually gets a bit nippy at night now, with lows around 50°F (10°C). Sadly, the lowering temperatures have moved most of the cafe goers to the indoors, which makes it much more difficult to people watch.

There is still a steady stream of people on the streets though, coming and going, always moving. Thessaloniki is a city of people on the move, people waiting, people with children, and by god, people with cellphones. At any given moment on any street corner you can hear myriad one-sided conversations of all kinds.

I believe Thessaloniki is home to some of the greatest window shoppers in the world. Of course, here there are a plethora of shops on every street in the city center, with all kinds of worldly delights to catch the wandering eye. People take great pleasure in their window shopping, and will often spend quite a bit of time in front of the window of their liking - gazing, dreaming, wanting that one thing they can't have. I hear sighs sometimes, the utter pain of longing - other times I hear giggles, and every once in awhile a declaration of something that will be purchased. To all of them I wish their heart's desire.

People watching in Thessaloniki is an overwhelmingly peaceful activity, even with the rushing sounds of traffic all around. The one thing that can intrude on this quiet, contemplative pastime is a motorcycle. These machines dare to be the kings of the road - loud, invasive and with an obstreperous attitude that implies the rules don't apply to them. They ride on the sidewalks, go the wrong way on one-way streets, run traffic lights, and weave between traffic at dangerously high speeds. No wonder one of the first things I ever saw within my first month of life in Greece was a motorcyclist getting knocked off his bike by a car. I don't have a problem with motorcycles, I just don't understand why they have to be driven by the most obnoxious people in Greece.

As the sun slowly lowers towards the horizon out over the sea, it bids goodnight to our fair city. In these autumn days the sun takes its leave well before the city has borne its day, and life goes on. People keep moving, waiting, watching. I wrap myself tightly against the quickly chilling air and find my way home.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The hubby doth speaketh

My husband and I were watching a forgettable music video starring a once famous fashion model in the starring role as the "hot mom". The model is shown swimming, and then as she emerged from the pool my husband said:

"It's never good when the boobs surface first. You can't drown the person, they have so much positive buoyancy."

Hmm, maybe I better go get some work done.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

My life with the wolf

October is a month of many things – the first full month of autumn, Halloween, time changes, and Breast Cancer Awareness. Yet October is also a month of awareness for a lesser publicized disease called lupus, which has two forms: Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), which most commonly affects the joints and kidneys, and can cause severe damage to the heart, lungs, liver, muscles and nervous system; and Discoid Lupus, which affects only the skin, but can, in some cases, develop into SLE.

For 30 years, the Lupus Association of America has gone to great lengths to help educate people about both forms of lupus. Currently, about 1, 500,000 people have lupus in America. 90% of people diagnosed with lupus are women, and 80% of people diagnosed are between the ages of 15 and 45. Lupus is two to three times more common among African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Latin Americans. There are currently no known causes for lupus. Research has shown certain predispositions for the illness, although environmental factors can trigger the disease. Lupus is not contagious in any way. While people can die from lupus, 80-90% of people with lupus can expect to live a normal life span.

A survey of 1000 people showed that only 38% of those polled had some knowledge of lupus, 39% had merely heard the name of the illness and 22% had never heard of the disease. Obviously, awareness of lupus is severely lacking when compared to other diseases, although knowledge has increased steadily over the past 30 years, including education for doctors about the illness. For more information about general facts and questions about lupus, please go to the LFA’s website Facts and Overview section.

I was diagnosed with SLE at the age of seven in the spring of 1977. While it had been years since the diagnosis of lupus meant a death sentence, the prevailing attitude of the time was that lupus was more deadly in children. With some damage already to my kidneys, my pediatrician took this to heart, and prescribed me a dosage of a steroid drug called prednisone that we would later learn was three times what should be given an adult with a lupus flare-up. To my doctor’s credit, he had no idea it was such an overdosage, and not much knowledge of lupus. His main concern was keeping me alive. Unfortunately, the side effects of the prednisone would change my childhood, and some of the aftereffects would change my adult life as well. My growth was stunted (I’m 5’2”, luckily my genes had destined me to be tall so I had already done a lot of growing at age 7), I swelled and gained weight like a blowfish, and my bones became soft. Not having any warning about the latter, I still played and was as active as I could be as a child with an illness, and as a result the soft ball joint of my left hip collapsed. Someday soon I will need hip replacement surgery.

As a seven year old I had little understanding about what it meant to have a chronic illness. All I knew was that I couldn’t play in the sun anymore without wearing a hat (boy, that was a major inconvenience), I grew tired easily, and my grandmother and I had matching days of the week pillboxes filled to the brim with pills. I also knew that none of the other people with lupus at the support groups were anywhere close to my age. At that time it didn’t bother me so much, but by the time I was twelve not knowing someone going through similar things was very difficult for me.

When I became a full-fledged teenager I developed a sense of defiance about my illness. In true teenage fashion, I decided my parents and my doctors were morons who knew nothing and that the whole diagnosis was a lie. So I proceeded to sit in the sun to try to get a tan, starve myself to get thin, and in general not take care of myself. My body did not react to this very well, and I spent part of the first half of my junior year in the hospital and being home schooled. Ooops.

In college I had a rather insouciant attitude about my disease. I knew what the consequences would be, but I wanted a semi-normal life. I avoided the sun, but I partied. Hard. Sometimes I stayed up for two or three days at a time. That, too, took its toll on my body. A couple of hospitalizations got me back on track.

Now that I am in my thirties, I’ve learned a lot about living with a chronic illness. With one kidney barely functioning and another that works moderately well, I’m too wise, too tired, and too disgusted by the prospect of a kidney transplant (seriously, I won’t eat food off of other people, do I really want someone else’s kidney??) to take any more risks with my body. My disease has become more like a part of my personality than an enemy combatant. A good sense of humor, tons of love and support from family and friends, and a lot of years of paying attention to what my body needs keep me sane and relatively healthy. I have had to make lots of amends and changes in my lifestyle to ensure that good health, but I’d rather do that and enjoy as long a life as possible than risk extreme sickness or death.

All that being said, I can offer a few words of wisdom to anyone who has recently been diagnosed with lupus:

- Keep your sense of humor close, and if you don’t have one, find one quick.

- Find a good rheumatologist, one that you can communicate with and feel comfortable with. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – you are paying for his/her time, make the most of it. Work with your doctor, not against him/her. If you don’t think a treatment is working, discuss it before taking matters into your own hands.

- Learn how to read your body. Understand how tired means too tired. Understand what feelings you have when you are getting ill. Get rest when you need it.

- Understand your body’s reaction to the sun, and don’t take unnecessary chances. I know this can interfere with your life, but if you are someone who likes to do a lot of outdoor activities, take the right precautions – high SPF sunscreen, hat, and reflective clothing that covers your body.

- Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Family and friends should be your saviors in times of need. Rely on them, keep them close, and do for them in return when you are able.

Obviously, there is more to my story of life with lupus but I’ve kept it as short as possible to keep from boring people to death. My main motive here is to share information about lupus to increase awareness of the disease. If anyone who reads this has questions, needs advice or a friendly ear with regards to lupus, feel free to email me at the contacts link or send me a message via MySpace.

Friday, October 13, 2006

If it's fall, it must be election time somewhere

No, I'm not talking about the fiercely competitive midterm elections in America which are coming up in just a few short weeks, I am talking about the humdrum local government elections which are happening in Greece over the weekend.

I am actually glad the elections are almost here, because after it is over, the cities can go back to their normal, less than efficient operations. Things change in Greek municipalities right before election time - projects get started, beautification occurs, everything is coming up roses. Too bad it is all a facade - and Greeks know better.

I'll also be glad to be rid of all the creepy candidate signs all over the place, smug, smiling, benevolent politicians staring back at me on every street corner. The current Thessaloniki mayor is running for re-election and I find his signs particularly troubling. He looks kinda like Lenny Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) from Law and Order (may he rest in peace). I have the same problems with picture posters from U.S. elections - that fake, supercilious smile isn't what is going to get me to vote for you, so please, spare us.

There are a few differences in the way campaigns are run here than in the U.S. For one thing, voting is compulsory. Can you imagine if that were the case in the U.S.? I can hear the wingnuts bitching already. Campaign commercials are also not candidate-centric, they are party centric, and while they may lash out at the mistakes the opposition has made, they aren't nearly as harsh as campaign commercials can get in the U.S. Greeks have yet to learn the value of real snark.

Another difference is the plethora of political parties with candidates in the pool. You have your conservative party, your leftist party, your socialist party, your communist party, and a host of others. Sure, the balance of power seems to shift between the conservative and leftist parties, but other parties get elected into parliament, and have at least some voice, even if it is a squeak.

All in all, I'm glad I'm not yet responsible for voting here. Greek politics contain myriad problems, quagmires, and no one actually seems to know how to run a government. All this and voting is compulsory. Yeowch.

I'm not here just to rag on the Greek government. I think things are holding out ok considering it was a mere 30 years ago that there was a coup here. I have hope that things will get better, although holding on to that hope is difficult. But the people of Greece deserve a strong, functioning, healthy country. The politicians should work harder to make sure that happens. Creepy smiles and public works just aren't going to cut it.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Minding your own business

I may not agree with the Turkish need to deny the Armenian holocaust, but honestly, what business is it of the French to make it illegal to deny it? Now, it is unlikely (I hope) that this bill will make it all the way into law in France, but I think this marks a high point in the whole "getting in each other's business" Western countries seem to be so good at lately. I know France and Turkey have some kind of snotty bitchfest going on with each other lately, but this goes past ridiculous.

Yes, I realize it is illegal in Germany, and perhaps other European countries, to deny the Nazi holocaust of WWII, so there is precedent for this sort of law. But I can't say I agree with that law either. I know a big part of it stems from guilt - and there should be some guilt there - but if people want their delusions, well, it shouldn't be illegal. And if you say that denying the holocaust (any holocaust) is hate speech and so that is why it is illegal, I don't buy into that either. Now if the denial of the holocaust is followed by some vitriolic invective against Jews or some other race, there is the hate speech. Not the denial of the holocaust. But I have my own problems with hate speech laws, so lets not even go there.

This is the one big problem with freedom of speech in the Western world. It works, just as long as you don't offend anybody. Just as long as you don't speak untruths about genocide. Just so long as you agree with the status quo. Is that freedom, or control? So if the Turks want to maintain that while lots of Armenians died during WWI there was no holocaust, let them have their delusions. It should be their right to protect their own history, true or not.

I'm so peeved

Danea has tagged me for this top six pet peeves meme, and after careful thought, I have picked the six most annoying things (out of a cast of thousands).

1) Telling me to do something I am already in the process of doing or have plans to do. I know what needs to be done. I don’t need someone telling me.

2) Car alarms. I’m sure I’m more sensitive to them since I live in the city center, but geez people. I know you think you need the extra security, but when the darn thing is so friggin’ sensitive it goes off when my husband farts six floors up, it does you absolutely no good.

3) Smokers. Now, I’m the last person to say that someone can’t do what they want to do. If people want to smoke, that is their business, and I believe they should have the right to smoke. But I think smokers should be banished to their own homes and not be able to smoke anywhere, even outside, that is a public place. I could make a couple of exceptions for bars and nightclubs, but not restaurants. The problem with smoking is that you can’t keep it to yourself. When you smoke, it infiltrates the people (and the clothes of the people) around you. And let’s not even get into everything that has been discovered regarding secondhand smoke. So, if you want to take that addictive drag of tobacco, I don’t mind, as long as it isn’t anywhere near me. Unfortunately, that will never be a reality for me here in Greece, since a huge percentage of the population smokes, including the young ‘uns, so the smokers won’t be dying off anytime soon.

4) People who don’t have enough friggin’ sense to understand the simple logic involved in getting on elevators. I know it all seems like magic – you press a button and suddenly (ok, eventually) doors open to a fantastic world that somehow teleports you up or down without using leg power on the stairs. However, if there are people in that fantastic world, and they wish to exit said world (who can imagine why someone would actually leave such a place), then you need to get the hell out of the way and let them pass before shoving your scrawny ass into the elevator. It is really quite simple. I bet even Paris Hilton has figured that one out.

5) The gene that somehow renders men unable to hear, comprehend, and respond to the frequency of their wife’s voice. This is the same gene that makes them think, for some strange reason, that if they say “I love you” they are off the hook. Nope.

6) Going into the bathroom and finding only a square of toilet paper on the roll. Going to get ice and finding no ice. Finding empty boxes of baggies on top of the fridge as if they are still full. Reaching for a paper towel only to find the roll empty. Wanting a bottle of water from the fridge only to find them still packed. Sure, I could blame all these on my husband, but sometimes I am the guilty party, only to have it come back and bite me in the ass. However, hubby is the guilty one 95% of the time. Ok, maybe 75% of the time. But still…

I won’t tag anyone for this, but if you want to do it, do it. It feels good to get these things off your chest.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

It isn't even Halloween yet people!

I've gotten a half dozen hits to the blog in the past few days from people searching for "Christmas porn".

Sheesh people, it is still October! It is too early for Christmas porn! Go search for Halloween porn or Thanksgiving porn or something. We all know you aren't supposed to look for Christmas porn until after Thanksgiving.

No more Kofi

As of December 31st, Kofi Annan will no longer be the secretary general of the U.N. Taking his place will be South Korea's Ban Ki-Moon, an ironic twist considering North Korea's controversial nuclear weapons testing this weekend.

People are saying that Ban will be more low key than Annan, more of an administrator than a spokesman. However, I will miss Annan, as my dreams of a UN themed coffee house will go splat with the loss of the signature drink, Coffee Annan.

Speaking of replacements, I am also going to miss super kyoot Japanese PM Junichiro Koizumi, who is being replaced by Shinzo Abe, an alleged nationalist who could shake things up for our Eastern friends. Conspiracy theories abound around him, including a strong Japan-US alliance to keep China at bay. China certainly is a country to keep an eye on, but so far Abe has remained a cool diplomat, even acknowledging past ill doings of the Japanese government against the Chinese. Time will tell, but let's hope the situation in the East doesn't heat up more than it already has.

Monday, October 09, 2006

She might be a humanitarian, but...

Angelina Jolie's bodyguard is at it again. Apparently, photographers trying to take pictures of Jolie and boytoy Brad Pitt in India are getting strongarmed by the humanitarian's bodyguard. British photographer Sam Relph was nearly strangled by Ms. Jolie's bodyguard after trying to take a picture of the worldly couple.

I do have some sympathy for celebrities who are blitzed by paparazzi 24/7, but at the same time, isn't that the cross you bear for fame? Honestly, I think stars who aren't stalked by paparazzi should be a bit worried, because that means no one gives a damn. This isn't the first incident of a Jolie bodyguard roughing someone up either, which makes me wonder how deep her humanitarian roots go. It is one thing to go about the world trying to make a difference, and another thing entirely if you order your bodyguard to kill someone if they try to take your picture. It is kind of like getting a Nobel Peace Prize and ordering hits on people that look at you funny.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

If it is a catastrophe, it must be biblical

Many areas of Greece have been hit with torrential rainfall over the past 24 hours, along with dropping temperatures and real fall-like weather. Unfortunately, due to Greece's geography, what with all the mountains and flood plains, many areas have been hit with flooding. This is a sad fact of life in Greece when the rains come in autumn, and lasts through the seasons into winter and part of spring. I suppose this is why the Greek word for summer is καλοκαίρι, which means good weather - thankfully, Greece is blessed with three months (or more) of generally rain-free weather.

Watching the dramatic news coverage of the flooding today I couldn't help but notice, for the ten thousandth time, that every catastrophe of such proportions is deemed by the Greek press as a "biblical" catastrophe. Doesn't matter where it occured - the earthquake in the Middle East? Biblical catastrophe. The tsunami? Biblical. Hurricane Katrina? Yep, biblical. The bombing of Lebanon? Oh yea, it's biblical. Plane crash? Oh wait, they didn't have planes in biblical times. Oops.

I am certainly not making light of what any of these people have gone through, although it seems the Greek media does by labelling everything a biblical catastrophe. Some things just happen. A confluence of science, nature, and bad luck come together and cause these events. Yes, they are catastrophic to the people who are affected. But they aren't wrath of God, Noah's flood type occurrences. In fact, I would say that in general, any area of Greece that is a flood plain (or an inhabited riverbed) that gets flooded is quite far from a biblical catastrophe. It is pretty much a man made catastrophe.

All that being said, I hope that Greece doesn't experience many catastrophes in the upcoming seasons, biblical or otherwise. That goes for the rest of the world, too.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Life on Mars

In true form to my absolute geekiness, I have to share these latest photos from the Mars rover and point you to the awesome multimedia presentation (you'll have to excuse the dorky rock anthem that goes along with it) of pictures from the rover, which is in the upper right of the same page.

Mars looks good, very desert-like, but totally habitable. We should just send some denizens of desert regions in the U.S. to check it out, see if they can stand it. Maybe they can adapt somehow. Wouldn't that be awesome?

At the very least, it is nice to see that NASA is actually doing something cool in the quest to learn about other planets. If only they could figure out warp drive, we'd be set.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Everything looks better in pink

Today I washed our new pink and red striped sheets. When I opened the washing machine after the cycle was done, my eyes widened when I saw a couple of things that were not part of the sheet set staring up at me. Apparently, I had left some of my husband's underwear in the machine, unbeknownst to myself. I carefully removed the monstrosities from the machine, holding them as if they contained C4 that could explode with the slightest movement (pretty much the same way I handle his underwear before I put it in the wash). For a second, I had a brief hope that maybe my husband wouldn't notice that his underwear was now a subtle shade of pastel. Then I remembered that he isn't blind.

He'll look right pretty in them pink underwear.

Heavy petting

Last night as I was flipping channels I came across a show on VH1 entitled "The Fabulous Lives of Celebrity Pets". Since I'm always attracked to the bizarre spending habits of the rich and famous I thought I'd give the show a look-see.

Most of it was as I figured - extravagant spending on things cats and dogs couldn't give a rat's ass about. $15,000 dog houses, $10,000 dog beds, perfume for dogs, bling for animals of all types, overpriced animal carriers and of course, clothing of all kinds. I don't have an issue with putting funny suits on animals for purposes of laughter and mocking, but dressing your dogs every day, especially with little booties, is just downright cruel. If it isn't bad enough that we are domesticating animals meant to be free in the wild, do we really need to dress them up? I love my cats, but even if I had a celebrity pocketbook I doubt I would buy such things. My cats are happy with a soft pillow and a feather on a stick. Why buy them a fancy bed they will never sleep on and jewelry they just want to get the hell off?

But the thing that really got to me in this show was something I hadn't yet heard of before - animal massages. Yes, we can now all take Fluffy and Spot for therapeutic massages for the low, low price of $250 an hour. The funny thing is, I thought we already did this for our pets. It is called petting them.

They always say a fool and his money are soon parted. Maybe that should be amended to say a celebrity and his money are soon parted. I just wish I had gotten on the animal massage train myself. I could so deal with $250 an hour to pet animals.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A trail of blood

My sister-in-law left for Sweden today, where she will freeze her ass off in the study of all things Swedish and hopefully continuing her pediatric specialization. On Monday we took her to our latest favorite restaurant in Thessaloniki - Κουρδιστό Γουρούνι (The Wound Up Pig), and for once, she had to wait for our arrival. When we sat down, she said that she was going to sit on the marble wall facing Agia Sophia, but there was blood all over it. Bloody handprints, pools of blood, spray, and a bloody cloth - all over the marble and the street. While we were eating our dinner, we saw a guy with a walkie talkie looking at the bloody area, and a cleanup crew arrived promptly to pressure spray the entire area clean.

Later, my husband told me actually had seen bloody footprints either leading to or from the scene with all the blood - footprints that ended abruptly on the curb, as if someone had gotten in or out of a car.

Is this the kind of scene you just wash away without trying to figure out what happened?

Life is just a game

I’m trying to figure out why gaming companies are so desperate to attract female gamers they resort to inane ideas like pink Playstations and the Frag Dolls (a group of women hired by Ubisoft to promote women gamers). I can see why companies want to expand their market, but they act like they don’t understand why there aren’t more female gamers.

I’m going to risk pissing off a gaggle of feminists by saying that women in general are likely not disposed to sitting and staring at a computer for huge stretches of time, even if they are having fun. I have played video games in one form or another since my daddy could plop me on a stool in front of a pinball game, and I’ve faced just as much derision for being a girl trying to play video games when the boys around me felt threatened by my mad skillz. But I also got plenty of “cool, a chick who likes video games!” commentary to balance it all out. I have logged many hours at the computer, playing a variety of games from FPS to MMORPG to RTS, and I have enjoyed them all. However, I find I get a wee bit antsy, cranky and impatient if I sit at the machine for too damn long. If I sit down at the computer and get up periodically to do various things, then it doesn’t bother me as much. So I’d have to say that women have too much going on in their lives to sit at a friggin’ computer for 12+ hours a day. I just can’t do it, unless I’m working, and that is a whole different story.

The thing is, when it comes to gaming, some people (male and female) are going to play games while others don’t. Since the gaming industry is a multi-billion dollar market already I don’t see why it matters so much to split the industry in two by gender. Girls play the same games as boys do. Some of them play just as much as the boys. Pink Playstations and feminist guerilla gaming groups aren’t going to change things much.

The gaming industry can develop all sorts of new games that are more tailored to the feminine mind, but I think in the end they are going to find the same problems they have encountered with other games – girls just get tired of them after a certain amount of time, especially teenage girls. Unless you invent a game that actually takes them to a mall and gives them unlimited spending with a plethora of kyoot boys walking around in the background, I don’t think gaming companies will have much success.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Those that can't do, teach. Those that can't teach go on strike.

Let me preface this post by saying that I am a staunch advocate of the teaching profession. I believe that teachers as a whole are undervalued, underappreciated, and underpaid for what they do. I’ve been friends with a few elementary school teachers, and I’ve witnessed the care and effort they put into their classroom and students.

All that being said, I am disgusted at the opprobrious actions of elementary school teachers in Greece, and the secondary teachers might just garner a bit of my ire as well, depending on their behavior in the upcoming week. Elementary school teachers are now starting their third week of strikes, and secondary teachers are staging a 48-hour strike as of Monday. The reason? Teachers want the Greek government to increase educational spending to 5% of GDP, which isn’t an unreasonable demand. But they also want a nearly 50% increase in their monthly pay, raising their 900 euro paycheck to 1400 euros.

Unfortunately, here in Greece teachers aren’t made up entirely of people who choose the profession voluntary. For some teachers it is the luck of the draw – or the luck of their national exam scores and what university spots they are offered. Better to be a public servant who can never get fired than unemployed, right? Sure, I can’t blame them for that. Employment in Greece is very difficult to find. But if being a teacher is your lot in life, then you damned well better step up, because educating the youth of the world is probably one of the most important things anyone can do.

I can accept teachers striking for a day or two, to make their voices heard. But any teacher who actually cares about their students and about their job as an educator could not, in good conscience, strike for three weeks – especially given the extravagant demands they are making. You have to assume teachers are at least somewhat intelligent, and so if they live in Greece, they know damn well the government can’t afford to increase anyone’s pay by that much. Do I think 900 euros a month is a paltry sum for teachers? Yes and no. It is considered a living wage here in Greece, where average monthly salaries seem to hover around 700 euros a month or so. Not to mention they get paid during the summer months as well, when they are not actively working, and as a civil servant they have automatic tenure. Personally, I would be happy to make 900 a month as a teacher here. Would I want more? Of course, wouldn’t everyone? But I wouldn’t see the prudence in striking for three weeks (or more) for any terms, let alone unreasonably lofty demands that are impossible to meet.

In the end, what is happening is a subtle form of terrorism. The teachers are basically holding the Greek government, and the students, hostage. While I am sure that there are some genuinely decent teachers in the mix, I am disappointed and appalled that any teacher would engage in such actions. Honestly, at this point I have serious doubts about the integrity and ethics of teachers in Greece. This isn’t an honorable strike. It is an avaricious strike, with tragic victims – Greece’s children. I certainly hope the matter can be resolved soon, for the good of all. Greece’s future is riding on it.