Friday, February 17, 2012

Staring at the hearts of lilies

Written to the sound of this

For the first few days, I slept at the very edge of the bed, making room for you. 

If you were here, you would inevitably joke that this is more room than I make for you in the bed when you are in it. 

Last night, I had shrimp and bacon (bacon!) and wine in a shirt that exposed my collarbones to a world that was unshocked by them. I am ready for falafel and fruit crumble by your side. I am ready to go back to dreaming about bacon.

I sleep in the middle of the bed now, claiming one whole mattress for the little person it houses.

You sleep on overnight trains across India, in the kinds of beds that only leave you with only one option as to how to lie. Since you went there, the world keeps shoving India down my throat. Even the Sunday newspaper I bought to see if Greece would default "tomorrow" came with a complimentary copy of "Sensuous India: The Kama Sutra (unabridged)." What is the less subtle, less welcome version of the universe winking at you?

When your flowers arrived, the man who brought them to me looked weary. His face said "yeah, yeah, yeah, *yawn* more Valentine's Day flowers." He must have arranged countless lilies, which sit in bedrooms across this city, listening to other lovers' Brandi Carlile's, eavesdropping on other lovers' negotiations of mattress space.

Right now you are on your 26th consecutive hour on a train. 26! I told you to take a photo of a different scene every hour to mark the journey, knowing that this is what I would do, with you over my shoulder muttering "my little dork" every time the shutter closed. 

You complain of suffocating heat. I am looking at snow. Colombia-Uganda-Egypt. Guatemala-Cuba-Sudan. Desert-Equator-Tropics. One foot in this hemisphere, another foot in the other. A smile at the lowest point on earth, a grin at the peak of an active volcano. Between them, I had erased the snow, exchanging it for sand and monsoon. Now I stare at it till my pupils shrink, till all I see is whiteness.

The lilies are not changing as fast as the landscapes outside your train window, but I photograph them every few hours regardless. I hear "my little dork" whispered every time; I picture you feigning impatience at the constant clicking. Through their life cycle of these flowers, I measure time. Every wilting of the lily brings us a day closer to falafel, to the orange chair I hate in the living room, to the reunion of the little dorks.

I stare at the lily till all I see is a blushing world.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Recession in graffiti: Walking in Greece

We were staring at a wall and its many eyes were staring right back. It was his last night visiting me in Colombia and we were sitting across my favorite graffiti in Bogota. It was neither the most intricate, nor the most innovative, but the simplicity of its gaze resonated with me. There were eyes floating on walls all across Colombia, bearing witness, reminding us that we were watched in all the ways that raised the hairs on the back of my neck and seen in the ways that make a heart sing.

Two years later, in Thessaloniki, Greece, the walls display no eyes. They have become receptacles of public anger at the financial crisis sweeping through the nation. The walls of my hometown are covered in messages of hope, revolution, indignation, and judgment. Some of them are bohemian, others misspelled. Most of them denounce the decisions of the Greek government and the austerity measures the IMF bailout package brings with it. As I was watching the news this week, I was dismayed by the fact that violence -- even by the usual agent provocateurs -- overshadowed nonviolent protests. I know there are people in my homeland who want to effect change without breaking marbles and burning movie theaters. I am always on the hunt for positive images, for photographs of hope. Even though my walk through Thessaloniki yielded many more photographs of anger than of love, the humor that some Greeks have maintained and their attempt to preserve their sensitivities is fueling my own optimism.
Indignados, a reference to the Spanish protest movement, are welcome in Thessaloniki -- as are peace and love.

A message to tourists

A reaction to the Neo-Nazi messages spreading through the city. 
An allusion to the messaging of the Obama campaign: "Together we can." Incongruous next to it: a swastika.  I find Neo-Nazi messages appalling and alarming, especially in a city that suffered heavily during the Holocaust. The White Tower, an emblematic icon of Thessaloniki, is visible in the background.
Unsurprisingly, one of my favorites.

Calls for an emotional awakening, amidst the now common sentiments towards the police.

Men in chains, with the White Tower in the background.

One part misspelled, one part emo, one part true: When the dream dies, it becomes a tear and it falls.

Your wealth -- your riches -- are our blood! Scribbled on an apartment building on Nikis Avenue.

A logo of the "I'm not paying" movement is superimposed on a Greek flag. This movement efuses to accept the additional taxation the austerity measures dictate. A different group crossed the logo out.

Another favorite.

This was Day 11 of my Measuring Life in Photographs project.

Socialism for the Rich, Capitalism for the Rest -- on Nikis Avenue

"Nobody is free when others are oppressed." - Near Athonos Square, one of Thessaloniki's 'tavern districts'

Unbelievably, this rhymes in Greek: "I will poop in my espresso" -- commentary on Thessaloniki's cafe culture

Monday, February 6, 2012


"They" say there are certain things a Greek woman "should" be able to do. You know, "before she gets married." Make good Greek coffee [or, as it is more commonly known, Turkish coffee, but do not say that if your grandmother is listening]. Cook the perfect pastitsio. *Insert other quite gendered expectations here.*

My father had a slightly different idea about the capabilities his daughter should develop. He deemed it essential that I know how to roast lamb on a spit, lest I ever go without a Greek Easter in any corner of the world. He also thought his girl should know how to get the fireplace running, starting at age 10. I watched him roll up newspapers for kindling, strategically placing them between the bigger pieces of wood. I giggled as he blew air into the fireplace. I heard it howl.

Towards the end of his life, my father lost his vision to complications arising from glaucoma. He had only a foggy impression of the woman I was slowly becoming. We could no longer start the fire together, as the doctor counseled that he shelter his eye from the heat and the glare. So he sat at the table where three generations of us did our homework and rolled up newspapers. It was his makeshift kindling. My father was a firestarter, even as he slipped away.

This morning, I blew into the fireplace. Silence. I blew harder, only for smoke to come out and fill my eyes with tears. There was nobody sitting at the table and nobody doing homework. I am now the one feeling around this land with closed eyes and hands outstretched, seeking familiarity. I got up and took a sooty walk around the living room, acknowledging that somewhere between Sudan and the Middle East, between distance and loneliness, between endless miles logged and premature departures, starting fires has stopped coming easily to me.

I resorted to the dwindling stack of his rolled-up newspapers. The paper still smells like cigarettes and his hands. If I were to unroll the kindling, it would be a glimpse into the news in Greece circa 2000. Before the recession, before the Olympics, before we won the Euro, before we joined the other Euro, before I ever fell in love, before.....

Another deep breath and an exhale into the fireplace. And finally, a spark.