greek communist party… get your strikes on

I apologize for not having posted in a while — I was vacationing with family in Pylos this past week (it’s a really beautiful region, maybe one of these days I’ll figure out a way to upload pictures without my USB cord), and didn’t come into much contact with computers.

It’s sort of late here though, so I will keep this post a short one. For the past two weeks, everything has gone on strike in Athens for at least one weekday, including the publication I work for. The strikes take down all forms of transportation, including the metro and, apparently, the media. A while a go there was a strike at the port of Piraeus, putting a halt to all ferry travel. The strikes are debilitating, but they only last a day at a time. The Greek communist party KKE is usually behind them.

KKE is a formidable force in Greece.  Some large percentage of the Greek population claims to be communist (somewhere between 10%-20% was the last figure I read or heard..still looking for a source on it). Their name has been graffitied all over Greece, and appears in the strangest places, for example, on lone slabs of cement in the Peloponnese. As Greece’s oldest modern political party, KKE is organized and counter-productive to Greek growth. Their website, and whole image really, is like something out of the Soviet Union, complete with the hammer and sickle for their insignia. You can also read their website in one of eight languages, including Arabic, Russian, and Portuguese. KKE’s website is better than most other Greek ones I have encountered. Despite shutting down the country’s economic activity, the Greek communist party couches their strikes in terms of heroic martyrdom. See this video clip for unabashed, absurd communist propaganda. Somehow, KKE hasn’t taken any lessons from Greece’s overblown public sector, which is the result of politicians trying to appease the populus. KKE’s existence and power allude to deep, penetrative contradictions in Greek society and in Greek politics. Its blind idealism in the face of real problems is a scary thing.

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petroula: 10% weather girl, 90% show girl

I was trying to do research for what I thought would be good and important topics to blog about — for example, the Greek Communist Party or racism against Albanians — and then I remembered this unbelievable thing I saw on television the other night. Special thanks to Debbie for saying it would make a good blog post.

The TV Channel Star doesn’t report the weather in the usual way. They have Petroula — a waif-like, non-Greek looking blonde — deliver the weather, usually 80% naked, with what can only be described as semi-naughty talk. She also talks in a frighteningly childlike pitch, the kind you hear in old Greek movies in which women are supposed to be obnoxious and tantalizing (or obnoxiously tantalizing?) at the same time.

Not that Star channel news even begins to border on serious (their news reports are usually on celebrities), but there is something so incredibly, fascinatingly weird about Petroula. I suppose I could translate what she says in this video, but it probably doesn’t matter. All you need to know is that her voice is whiny, and that she says she is going to be our new teacher and that she came from far away. I think it’s supposed to be a joke. It looks and smells like a joke, only I think everyone knows that it’s not actually joke. The real joke, probably, is that Petroula is firing up Greek men and thus getting them to watch the Star channel’s weather segment longer than they would otherwise.

As a bonus, I am including an Italian news clip on Petroula. Even the Italians can’t believe this.

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what’s the deal with greece’s blondes anyway?

Asi Biliou

As my friends and family have observed many times, Greek women are dying their hair blonde in ever-increasing numbers. I wish I could find statistics on it. The best evidence I can come up with is assessing the number of TV talk show hostesses who are fake blondes — and I must say, it’s pretty hard to come up with a brunette (pictures provided, left and below). Certainly more women are dying their hair blonde in Greece than in the US, or maybe I just notice it here more because blonde hair looks really unnatural on Greeks.

The only theory I’ve heard on this is that Greek women started dying their hair blonde because they began having to compete with foreign, blonde women for male attention. That might be true. Who knows. What definitely seems true is that Greek women started turning themselves into blondes once Greece started becoming more exposed to other Western media.

It’s also true that blondes get more attention here (and anywhere else where it is the minority hair color). I have a friend who gets twice the attention when she dyes her hair blonde. Greek culture is predicated on receiving attention and external validation from others all the time. I think this may also be why the blonde talk show hosts wear such heavy, obvious makeup. There is a lot of emphasis here not only on having the right clothes and lifestyle, but on showing it to the world, making sure the world knows you are there. You must be social.

“You’re a nice girl,” a Greek cab driver once told me. “You’re Greek, you’re social.” As if that was all the justification needed. Contrastively, I’ve been looked at funny for reading in the presence of other people and have been called a bore for not being outgoing.

If you really want to fit in to Greek culture then, blonde is the hair color of choice. The problem with it is that it comes with all these contradictions of Greek identity. Greeks like it when people are Greeks, and they like Greek Identity with a capital ‘I’. But if you ask Greeks, they’ll describe the classic Greek woman as brunette. For example, Maria Tsagaraki, the runner-up for Star Hellas, has been described as more representative of traditional ‘Greek’ beauty than Anna Prelevic, the winner (who, of course, is half Serbian, which brought on its own controversy).

Then there is the Greek show Beat the Blondes in which a contestant wins money for each blonde who loses a question he gets right. One terribly translated description of the show reads:

A format based on preconceptions and prejudice, BEAT THE BLONDES is a game of strategy where the contestant has to use his intuition to figure out what he knows and what the Blondes don’t. But will the contestant only judge the Blondes by their appearance? Or can the Blondes double-bluff him and win some cash for themselves?

As promised, here is a quick selection of TV hostesses from the Alpha channel. I could provide more photos if necessary. Notice that they aren’t just blonde, but white blonde.

Natalia Germanou

Eleni Menegaki

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the city beneath pt. 2

The Athens Metro system.

Athens’ perception of itself (and Greece’s by association) is reflected in its public train system. The more I thought about the ruins in the Monastiraki station the more I realized I was fascinated with the whole train system overall. On one hand, you have the above ground, century-old HSAP (the electric iron-railways of Athens, Piraeus), which runs roughly north to south, with slower trains. On the other, you have the Metro, built just a few years ago when I was still in high school, whose trains are at least twice as fast. The Metro runs east to west. It runs deep underground – a feat of engineering that usurps that of the HSAP. Unlike the plain, outdoor stations of the HSAP, the Metro stations are cavernous. They appear unnaturally clean, even though hundreds of people go through them every day. The trains and floors glisten; I have yet to find graffiti on them, whereas the HSAP bears graffiti like battle scars. The Metro has air-conditioning, the HSAP doesn’t. I use both to commute to work, and when I transfer to the HSAP the difference is instant, shocking. The air in the HSAP is warmer, it’s more crowded, people smell more. Even though the HSAP and the Metro cost the same, and you can transfer from one to the other on the same ticket, the HSAP seems like the train of the working class, while the Metro seems to be the train of the middle class.

The Metro declares to the world that Athens is a modernized, European city. While both the Metro and the HSAP were built for reasons of convenience, the Metro aims to represent Greek progress. In the end, the Metro will cost $1.4 billion to build, half of that funded by the European Union. The Metro represents itself not only as a distinctly European and therefore modern construction, but also as a vector of culture. From the English version of the Metro website (poorly done, I might add):

Further to the comfort, speed and reliability of its itineraries, the Athens Metro is renowned for the impressive archaeological exhibits at the central stations of its network, as well as the works of art of prominent artists, which embellish almost all stations of Lines 2 and 3. It is worth mentioning that thanks to the construction of the Athens Metro, the greatest archaeological excavation was carried out in Athens (79.000 m2), which brought to light more than 50,000 archaeological finds from the Neolithic period until the present day…In all twenty-eight stations of the Athens Metro currently in operation, the “hidden” city and our cultural heritage are revealed through the coexistence of significant archaeological finds with works of art of contemporary Greek artists.

I think its interesting that they use the phrase “hidden city” (also, why the quotes?), especially in reference to my last post. Is there some anxiety here about Greek culture being hidden, or obscure to the rest of the world? Anxiety about ancient Greek artifacts remaining under the earth, unknown? The Metro website also provides a list of archaeological finds for each station.

Meanwhile, the HSAP represents itself with nostalgia, its website supplying clips of old Greek movies in which the HSAP appears. I could go on. I feel like I could say something about how the HSAP—which runs from working class Piraeus to the wealthy northern suburbs—has been constructed with hopes for class mobility, while the Metro has been constructed with hopes for a middle class. If Franco Moretti’s Maps, Graphs, Trees taught me anything it’s that mobility is class mobility, that where and how people move says something about their society. See the Paris metro map for the fingerprint of a society that believes in democracy (or perhaps, more accurately, socialism?). Anyway, that’s my pseudo-intellectual thought for the day.

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the city beneath

On my way to work I have to switch from the metro to the train at Monastiraki. In order to get to the train, I have to go through the station, through a passageway that goes through ancient ruins that were uncovered when the Metro station was built. It seems strange thinking about it; it’s neither exhibit nor station passage.  The floor of the passage itself is clear, so that you can look down and see the ruins. It sort of stops all the commuters short and makes them look down. I keep meaning to bring my camera to take a picture of it. This sentence from a non-related book review in The Millions reminds me of it: I’ve been thinking lately about the ways in which our cities are layered, the way different versions of a given city exist as shadows of one another…

Is Athens the shadow of ancient Athens? Considering how clustered it is around the ancient center, it seems like it probably is. What effect has that had? I keep looking at Google maps of Athens, surprised by how orderly the neighborhoods seem, fascinated by their layout. I keep wondering if the pattern holds information or secrets. From afar, as with the map below it doesn’t seem ordered. You have to go in closer to see it.

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the greek church needs to give back

Out of all the people who owe Greece money, the Greek Orthodox Church may owe Greece the most. It is well-known that the Greek Church is one of the wealthiest institutions in Greece, thanks to its owning a huge amount of land from which it collects rent from. In 2008 the Church made 20 million Euros, according to a Reuters article. That doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider that the state is paying priest salaries, it does. There is other evidence that the Church has more money than seems appropriate. According to the Reuters article, one spokesman for the Church owns a 150 million Euro share in the National Bank of Greece. Despite its wealth, the Church has been exempt from paying taxes until now. The Greek government plans to tax Church property at 20% in addition to other taxes. It seems like the Greek Church might have a real opportunity to help Greece – by finally paying up.

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star hellas vs. miss usa

It might seem like a useless endeavor to compare beauty pageants (it seems equivalent to comparing two evils of the same brand), but I couldn’t help thinking that Greece’s longest running beauty pageant – Star Hellas – is somehow more abrasive and disturbing to watch than the Miss USA pageant. I did a quick comparison between the 2010 Miss USA interview round and the Star Hellas interview round and here are just a few differences I noticed:

1. In what seems like a particularly objectifying setup, the Star Hellas contestants have to answer the judges on stage while wearing the same purple bikini from the Swimsuit round, whereas the Miss USA contestants answer questions in their evening gowns.

2. The Star Hellas contestants are asked inane, personality-oriented questions like, “What could a friend do to make you cut ties with them permanently?” while the Miss USA contestants get asked questions like, “Should the state or the Federal government mandate whether police officers are allowed to check the immigration status of any citizen they want?” The difference in questions could be because Greek culture values personality over intellect in general, but I suspect not. Only the girl who eventually won Star Hellas (who, coincidentally, I had a Greek class with in middle school) gets asked a reasonable question about the strong and weak points of Greek media.

3. While the Miss USA round is presented by a man and a woman, the bleach blond hostess of Star Hellas wears a massive, silver gown with a plunging V-neck in what ambiguously seems like her trying to compete, or at least, take as much of the spotlight as she can. “Bravo my doll,” the hostess says to one girl in the beginning of the video as she finishes her answer. Really the hostess embodies the whole Star Hellas endeavor, which is to congratulate women for being demure, people-pleasing, and embodying society’s perception of beauty.

Not that any beauty pageant ever had a good or healthy message, but Star Hellas is particularly obvious and insistent. Then again, I suppose the real message of Star Hellas is not so much on how to be feminine, but that the best possible outcome is to be a star – hence the name.

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mother seeks bride for son

I arrived in Athens yesterday, after a relatively smooth flight on British Airways with a stop in London, and I am already finding fodder for this blog. My family told me that there is a reality show in Greece called A Wife for My Son, in which women compete for marriage to a man looking for a wife – with the catch being that the man’s mother is involved in the selection process. If you don’t believe me, this is the website where you can sign up to compete for one of the sons. I have yet to watch the show, so I can’t say how serious it is yet, but just its existence suggests all kinds of things about Greek society and about how Greek mothers and wives are essentially interchangeable. I am also looking forward to watching Single Farmer Looking… The description on the show’s website says, roughly. “Ready to become protagonists, contemporary farmers want to make their dream come true and find a wife that is worth sharing their unique lifestyle with.” Half the population of Greece lives in Athens and the other half lives in villages in the countryside. It will be interesting to see how this urban/rural dichotomy plays out with the farmers and their potential wives in this show, especially since Greeks are so self-conscious about their modernity. More analysis to come.

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