Friday, March 28, 2008

Coming back, then going again!




Here's where I'm going this weekend. Meteroa- "the suspended rocks". Said to be one of the most beautiful, mystical places on earth.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

LONDON, LONDON, LONDON!!!!

You may know what happened. You may have heard. Maybe you didn’t.

I woke up on Thursday morning feeling drowsy. As I laid in bed staring at the ceiling I was confused. The metal shutters on my balcony shielded even the faintest ray of sunshine from grazing my visage- and I was disoriented.

What time was it? Was today the day?

And as I rolled over to check my clock, my assumptions were confirmed. Today was the day I would leave for Rome. I was excited, but I felt apprehension in my heart. Not apprehension with regard to my intent---rather, I had that sinking feeling in my stomach. The feeling that something wasn’t right.

Instincts are rarely wrong.

I gripped the blinds cord and pulled open the shades tentatively, applying just enough pressure to peek between the thin white metal curtains. As the light streamed into my room I slid onto the balcony. I sensed it. Chaos in the air. To be completely honest, I didn’t need a sixth sense to tell me that unrest was gripping the city. People spilled onto the streets, large stacks of trash dotted the forseeable future in a multitude of colors. Cars swerved and stacked on the sidewalk, an unruly braid of metal and glass.

Today was the culmination of weeks of protest- Greece’s workers are in unrest over pension disputes. The buses are on strike. Herds of people are walking in the street hoping to find a taxi that’s has enough room to justify one becoming a temporary contortionist. Good thing I did my yoga yesterday.

Personal space or a ride to work? It’s your choice.

It was 12 pm and the airport is 15 minutes away. Our flight was at 3 pm. Plenty of time on a normal day. Every taxi we hailed (the ones that bothered to stop) rejected us.

“ Tha ithela pame sto areodromio para kalo” (We would like to go to the airport please)

“Ohee, then pao sto aerdromio” (No, I’m not going to the airport)

x 20

By the time we actually found a taxi to drive us, Byron and I were squeezed in the back seat of a fuel-efficient mini cab between two decrepit Greek ladies who insisted on talking to one another through us. They shouted right though our chests as if we were transparent. Let’s not even mention the old man in the front seat who kept turning around and bridging half of his body into the backseat to tell the women to SHUT UP. He was on edge. A little bit too much Greek coffee this morning?

For a brief moment all was silent until the crackle of the radio injected unintelligible Greek into the cab, igniting conversations again.

Try to keep up- there are six people in the cab including the driver who is dead silent (and who I’m sure is pretty much just charging arbitrarily at this point). Not only was traffic the worst I’ve ever seen it in two months, but so was the tension level. A chorus of off-color horns rattled and echoed off the pavement like improv jazz. Everything would have been mildly entertaining if we were not becoming increasingly late for our flight. Not only did we have to drop off the odd trio, but we still had to get to the airport ourselves.

I was getting nervous. I had never missed a flight before.

Well long story short: I did miss it. By six minutes at that. I was distressed because I lost out on the $350 ticket to Rome- they couldn’t refund me since it was a discounted flight. Well that was that, no complaining. Nonetheless, I had a very long weekend and I was determined to travel somewhere rather than sitting at home all week. Byron felt the same way. So I immediately started searching prices and found a ticket to London for just under $500. Obviously this blew my budget to hell, but considering they were last minute tickets, the price was reasonable. Here’s the clincher: I knew I would have free lodgings in London. A good friend of mine from high school, Yomi, just happens to be studying abroad in central London this semester. So I Skyped him in the airport. The conversation went like this:

Dan: Hey Yomi, we’re coming to London Gatwick tomorrow at 4:30 pm. You have room right?

Yomi: What….? Uhm, yes,

Dan: Good, see you then.

Yomi: Ok, bye.

Fast forward to the next day (Friday) and I was in London. I couldn’t believe it. I was actually in London on a Friday night. Consider this: I live in another country by myself and I fly myself around the world at my leisure. Sometimes I really feel that I have absolute control of my own destiny.

London is so cold. And windy. And wet. When we arrived I felt the chilly air stabbing me through my thin cotton longsleeve. Bear in mind that I was actually hot wearing this in Greece. It is always nice to see Yomi. We have known each other for 6 or 7 years now and we are on the same wavelength. We’ve gone through a lot of the same experiences during our formative periods so there is naturally a myriad of things to talk about. Lo and behold, Yomi and some of his roommates had prepared sort of an Easter weekend feast. We came just in time. It was the best eating since I’ve been in Europe- mostly because I’m barely eating in Greece. Everything was homemade: Fried chicken, barbeque chicken and curry chicken. Mashed potatoes, rice, shrimp, veggie stirfry and fresh baked brownies. Oh and Bacardi. LOL. The meal was great! What a great welcoming gift. Then we headed off to Picadilly Square to check out the club scene. The Square is beautiful at night, thousands of people and just as many glittering, glowing lights contrasting the traditional Gothic architecture. Quite a sight- definitely reminded me of Times Square, but with a distinctly English feel.

The club was disappointing. Besides paying an arm and leg for drinks, the music wasn’t that good. Techno. It was awkward to dance to, although the Brits seemed to be enjoying it. Oh- I should add that we got rejected from the first club because I didn’t have an ID with birth date/. I had my international student card, but my passport and license were in the bags back home. I’m not used to carrying them because there is no age for..well…anything in Greece. The club was ok, but we were all tired and cold. By the end of the night we were sitting on the benches waiting for Yomi to close the deal with some girl and get the number. 45 minutes later I found him back on the floor dancing and I was pretty pissed because we were ready to get home. So I gave him the stink-eye that said, “Get your shit together and let’s GO”. Haha.

I have to say, his apartment is SO nice. I mean genuinely nice for a 30-40 year old, not a student. Hardwood floors, crown molding, a huge panoramic view of the city, three bedrooms, stainless appliances and two huge marble-layered bathrooms. I felt pretty bad about my unmistakably student quality living in Greece, but on the whole London is a much nicer city than Thessaloniki in terms of housing, so I can’t complain. I also want to say before I forget that Yomi cooked for us every day, several times a day and he’s a damn good cook. Different types of meats, really good veggies, rices, pancakes and eggs for breakfast. The works everyday. I tried to warn him that when he comes to Greece my lack of cooking isn’t for lack of love, it’s just that we don’t really have the means in terms of space and lifestyle factors to cook like that. Greeks basically don’t eat anything but pastries, and the grocery stores reflect that for sure.


Saturday was exciting- we knew we were going to do the whole tourist bit. Yomi helped us navigate the intricate (but surprisingly well organized) London subway system known as The Tube. We visited Buckingham palace, Picadilly Square (which is equally beautiful in the light) and London Bridge. We also saw Big Ben, the River Thames and Trafalgar Square. It was surreal, I couldn’t believe I was there. I have always dreamed of going to London- I dreamed so hard that I thought maybe London WAS a dream. But there I was, standing in the flesh, looking at these beautiful and ancient monuments. The pictures can’t do justice, but they are interesting. The link will be posted at the end of this blog.
One thing that I can say truly changed my life forever was the Dali Museum. It cost 12 Pound to get in, but it was so worth it. I realized he is one of my favorite artists. I realized that if I had real wealth, I wouldn’t buy stupid jewelry or cars, I would buy art. There are pictures of that as well. It was a good night- we went to the club again that night. This time it was much better. The club was called “TigerTiger. It was huge- about 6 floors with different themes. Much better than the first night.

Sunday was Easter and we got up early to go to Yomi’s uncle’s house- the trip was abouth an hour and a half away on the tube. It was nice to be with a family, anybody’s family for Easter. We ate Nigerian food- it was really good. Stewed tilapia, rice and sweet plantains. I enjoyed it. When we rode back late that night we were exhausted.

Monday and Tuesday.What.A.Blur.

We got lost in the London underground, sipped coffee at quiet cafes in the heart of the city and generally enjoyed ourselves. I couldn’t have asked for a better time.

As I look back on the experience (although it is in the very recent past), I can say with conviction that although England was nice, I definitely made the right decision to study in Greece. Besides the beautiful weather of the Mediterranean, I must confess that the people are generally nicer in Greece. And while London certainly has a rich history and a deep past, it lacks culture in general. I feel like it is a superfluous extension of the States. And the accent gets old. Quickly.

Now I am on the plane back to Thessaloniki. London was amazing. I can check it off my life’s “To-Do” list. But I will be happy to go home. Or, “home”.



EDIT**Pictures to come soon!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Looking back on the last 12 months, I've certainly done alot of travelling. Stepping on and off planes, meeting new and interesting people. Encountering new situations. Whether it was last summer's trek trhough the midwest, the Thanksgiving visit to New York City or the spring trip to Europe, I'd say it's been a pretty restless year for me. Thursday marks my departure to Rome and Hungary for easter. Should be a blast. The trip to Egypt and Israel is in full swing now, I've made a downpayment to signify my commitment.

The last few weeks here have certainly been interesting. Whether we were at a carnival celebrating lent, a festival celibrating the phallus or just chilling at a taverna I am continually shocked by the caliber of people that I come across. But now, I am ready to unveil the most startling revelation thus far. I am ready to tell you the most interesting thing I have learned while living among Greeks. When I came here, I thought that the feeling of euphoria was temporary- perhaps a side effect of the excitement caused by a new enviroment. I thought the differential I felt in the ebb and flow of time was percieved, not actual. But gradually I started to become more aware of my surroundings. It's not that I percieve time to be slower here- it is slower. It's not just my opinion that the culture is more carefree- it actually is. And the evidence is everywhere. When my friends and I go out to a Taverna, all of Greece is with us without a care in the world. When I am liesurely walking outside by the waterfront at 3 am on a thursday morning, and decide to stop in for pastries, I immediatley find I did not have a novel idea. All of Thessaloniki is behind me. Of course there are things that must be accomplished, jobs to be done. But this truely IS a parallel universe. I question if the words "deadline", "expedience"or "bedtime" are even part of the Greek vocaublary. It's the most bizzare thing- especially coming from a culture of urgency.

Case in point: there have been many strikes recently, but two main strikes are holding strong: the bank strike and the sanitation strike. I know, I know. Probably the two worst types of strikes to have. The Greek National bank has been closed for 2 weeks. Some select private banks still function, but this is like shutting down Bank of America. It's a big deal. Iron mesh gates and barbed wire fences seal off the teal-green glass doors to all the major branches. The ATMs are on, but will not dispense cash except for a 2 hour window during the afternoon- which makes it increasinly difficult to get money. Normally, this would not be an issue in the States. However, in Greece the infastructure is not so well equipped. Let me be more clear: NOBODY TAKES CREDIT CARD.

Want to go shopping? Better have cash.
Want high end electronics? Bring hundreds or euros.
Want to buy a bus or train ticket? Cash only, sorry.
Going to a resturant? It can be a hassle.

Being without cash never alamed me at home. It was normal in fact. I'll swipe some shoelaces and a pack of gum on my debit card for $2.00. Here, no such luck. Being without paper is the same as having no debit card at all. So now you can see why the bank strike is such a big deal. Factor in the issue that everything is expensive and you have a catch-22 of sorts. You are always spending money (whether is is a taxi to get home, or paying for a shopping cart at the store. YES, you have to RENT a shopping cart). On the other hand, this money goes quicky, but due to the shortage, you don't know when you will be able to get more money out. It's a real headache. But we deal with it and work out way around it. Let's call it a lesson in finance.

Then there is the TRASH strike. I've never seen a more absurd problem. Imagine a world where you leave your trash out at the curb, yet nobody comes to pick it up. So you pile more and more. And then more. Still nobody comes. Imagine that problem in a city with the population density of New York City..and you have big issues. And compound all this with the fact that every human being smokes. My lungs hate me. The trash is getting out of hand here while sanitation workers negotiate for new salaries. Every block is a miniature mountain of trash. The funny thing is, it doesn't smell. Well, I'm sure it does. But we're all used to it. I'm actually grateful to get up to school in this instance so I can breathe that fresh mountain air.

Lastly is the electricity strike in which power may go out for hours at a time without warning or reason. The good news is it doesn't affect my neighborhood because I am 2 blocks away from a hospital- which leads me to believe we are part of a main power line on the grid which they cannot disconnect. Although I have to admit, that hospital scares me. Every person I see limp out of those dilapidated, decrepit doors makes me sick to my stomach. They are always horribly bandages and bloodsoaked. The property is frequented by the seediest Thessaloniki has to offer, and their one converted-hatchback ambulance is hardly suffice. It's like a bad horror movie. It's the hospital for the uinsured. I will say this though, I think they have running water.


Ok, done painting pretty picutes for now.

:)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I've been getting some fire on the pictures that I just posted I'm not going to take them down because I don't want to censor my trip. I want to stay truthful. A few things to bear in mind:

1.) The festival at Tyrnavos is more about FERTILITY than the actual penis. The phallus is obviously just a representation of such.

2.) This is a different culture. There were hundreds of little kids at this festival wearing penis shaped ornaments and sucking on penis lolipops. It may seem shocking to the conservative American culture, but Greece has been embracing both male and female nudity for thousands of years. So take things for what they are worth.

Look on the pictures with a light heart and try to adopt the perspective of the culture you are viewing.

Tyrnavos Phallic Festival Pictures

Ok- this definitely warrants a detailed description, but I wanted to get the pictures up first. Wow. The most interesting thing I've seen so far. Enjoy. Also, check out the short video. You can get an idea of how packed it was.

http://picasaweb.google.com/DanDipiazza/TyrnavosPhallicFestival video

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Untited

It seems like my contributions to this online journal have become weekly rather than bi and tri weekly like they were in the beginning. Greece is still great for lack of more precise terminology. The weather becomes increasingly warmer everyday. The climate is breezy- I can feel the air swelling with the scent of fresh plant life as oxygen pulses from the mountains. The city is a thick cloud of congestion- but when I get a chance to walk by the water near the Aegean or scale the dense, rocky hills at school I can feel the earth swelling an pulsating under the pressure of my feet. It’s as if the immenence of spring radiates from every corner of the terrain. Greece is trying to tell me something, but I don’t yet have the tools to listen yet.

Everything else is business as usual- which is both good and bad. I feel entirely integrated into normal life again. But with that return to normalcy, the temporary barrier created by a novel situation is wearing off. I’m no longer immune to the stress of everyday life. Trying to find balance is stressful- knowing that my soul wants to go out, but my brain argues against it. Trying to live in the “moment” yet being forcefully reminded of responsibilities. But I guess this is life in a microcosm, right? That’s what it’s all about- balance.

I have to admit, something has been bothering me.

Sometimes I feel like I don’t do enough for myself. Friends at home are so involved whether it be as the president of a student organization, leaders of their fraternity, pageant winners, All-star students or simply participating in extra-curriculars. Some are applying for internships, some are applying to be USF ambassadors.

But what am I doing, and what have I done in college so far? I take a long pause when I ask myself that question. One thing that I’ve said before and I’ll maintain is that I will NOT join an organization or devote myself to something that I’m not enthusiastic to do. I will not do something that I’m not totally devoted to. I don’t want to do activities for the sake of resume building, solely with graduate school in mind. That’s so narrow-minded. I have a feeling that when people join organizations, sometimes they don’t ask “how can this improve my life”. Rather, they ask, “how can this improve my appearance” or “how can I appear more benevolent/intelligent/well-rounded than I really am?” Is this pessimistic? I don’t think so- I think it’s realistic. My main goal is to be real with myself first, and let the world catch up. I picked my major, communication, purely because I like the subject. I don’t know how it will correlate to grad school (a nd where/if I will go to grad school in the first place)- I don’t know how it will look and I don’t care.
Last summer I had the opportunity to become more involved at USF, but instead I chose to train for two bodybuilding shows. This was the most mentally and physically testing endeavor I’ve encountered to date. Bodybuilding has nothing to do with it- the sport or genre of activity is just the vessel that brought me closer to the true prize: actualization. The biggest battle I’ve ever fought was with myself. Before last summer, I’d never devoted myself to something so completely. I’d never gone to sleep and woken up with the same thoughts. I truly wrung the fibers of my being until they were dry and weary. I denied myself so much more than food. I isolated myself. I felt alone and tired. Discouraged and disgusted- yet I kept going. I doubted myself everyday, but I was persistent. I questioned my own integrity, devotion and self worth. But at the end of the day, the only person that could answer to my worries was me. This may sound crazy, but in a way I felt like I could channel God. Or maybe I was my own God. As if I alone was in complete control of my destiny. There were rare glimpses of character when I felt my mental fortitude so strong that I could change the course of the universe or history on a whim. It felt so good to know that I had that sort of passion for something. The point is, I don’t know where else in my life I’ll be able to have that kind of drive, but at least I know I’m capable of it. I do not believe everybody is capable of that- so I pride myself on it. I’m also an NANBF champion. The hard work paid dividends. And I was ripped to the bone. Pretty cool.
The decision to come to Greece was selfish, I admit it. Again, I passed up the opportunity to become more involved in my community to serve a greater goal: serving myself. It’s not that I intend to avoid my community. I just don’t feel like I can give back to it until I actually know what I have to give. I need to know how I react in untested situations, what I do in times of crisis, how I deal with deal with defeat. Knowing these personal aspects rather that merely speculating will make me a more solid person. I’ll be able to back up my talk and walk the walk. I’ll have evidence of my own limits/tolerance from previous situations.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s harmful to stay inside the university “bubble”. College makes things so easy. You have a schedule, there are organizations to join, you get automatic friends and for the most part, guaranteed acceptance within some subset of the university population. Hell, you even have advisors to tell you exactly what steps to take if you are confused. Is that real life? The system is set up to make you feel successful and accomplished, but not have much to base that success on. Everything seems easier when you have an entire support system at your disposal. I was just getting fed up with the fact that I really didn’t know what I would do without all that extraneous help. When I arrived in the airport at Thessaloniki, I couldn’t read the signs, nobody spoke English and I couldn’t find my ride. When I went to use the phone, I realized I didn’t have the right tender, I couldn’t understand the operator and on top of that I wasn’t sure if that annoying beep I heard was supposed to be a dial tone. I couldn’t even make a simple phone call. I consider myself intelligent- am I that sheltered? Tell me, where, in this brief crisis, does all that success training at school kick in? Ahh, I suppose since I spearheaded the Honors College fundraising drive for the American Cancer Society, this should be a breeze! Good thing I was involved with my community! Wrong. Once again, I’m not putting down community involvement. It’s essential to a positive, evolving society. I just don’t think it’s the key to self discovery. When you bury yourself in organizations that give you roles and titles, how can you ever discover your own role? How can you make your own way when you are just walking down the beaten path? I’ll tell you one thing, nothing else matters when you are stranded, wide-eyed and nervous in a foreign land. Nobody cares that your organization works for youth empowerment or put 27 turkeys on the table last Thanksgiving. How are YOU going to find your way home?


This is my little piece of actualization.