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5 avril 2012 4 05 /04 /avril /2012 11:57

Traces of Romanticism

In March to Athens on 4 April 2012 at 16:33


March to Athens
Day 149-LXXV, Μεσολόγγι.

Mesolonghi, April 4

Dear people,

After four centuries of eastern domination, Greece rose up against the Turks in 1821. It had been carefully planned for some time, and it was supported by many graecophiles from the west.

Initially the uprising was repressed with the help of the navy of the Ottoman satrapy of Egypt. The rebels had to retreat to their strongholds in the mountains. But on the coast, the city of Mesolonghi kept resisting, twice, to an Ottoman siege.

In 1825 the city was besieged again. It held out for an entire year, but this time the Turks were determined to succeed.

When the end was in the sight, the brave people of Mesolonghi decided that they would rather die in combat than surrender.

They attempted the famous, desperate exit of Mesolonghi. And they were betrayed. The Turks knew everything when the gates opened and the starving Greeks swarmed out of the city with whatever kind of weapons they could muster.

It became a massacre. Very few of the Greeks made it to the hills. Those who had remained in town were brutally slaughtered by the Turks. Their heads were planted on the city walls.

Delacroix, Greece expiring on the ruins of Mesolonghi

At the end of the day, disaster was complete. But Mesolonghi had become a symbol of determination. It stands in the history of modern Greece like the resistance of 300 Spartans against the Persians at Thermopylae stands in the history of ancient Greece.

Every year the feat is subject to grand celebrations. That’ll be next week. Already the town is dressing up. One of the banners on the town hall is the Jolly Roger, the pirate’s flag. It’s there, waving from an official government building, because the pirates of the Mediterranean had come to the aid of the Greeks during the siege by attacking the Egyptian navy.

After the massacre at Mesolonghi, the international community of the day reacted – England, France and Russia. In the 1990s they would have bombed the Turks into submission with their air force, but in the early 1800s they sent their powerful navies. The Ottomans were decisively defeated at sea, and the balance in the conflict started to shift. The Greeks finally won recognition for their independence in 1832.

Acampada Mesolonghi. Check out the Jolly Roger in the background.

Fighting for liberty in Greece in the nineteenth century was a romantic’s dream, it was a sort of ‘cultural crusade’ to liberate the cradle of western civilization. From all over the west, people came to the aid of the Greek struggle.

The most famous among them was definitely Lord Byron. He died right here in Mesolonghi. Not in battle though. History says he died of fever. Gossip says it was syphilis.

Of the famous romantic poets – Byron, Keats and Shelley – Byron lived the longest. He was thirty-six years old when he died.

Personally I like to define a romantic poet as someone who dies young and whose life is more interesting than his work. As Lord Byron goes, he had many exploits to brag about. Drunk of ancient myths, he famously swam across the Dardanelles one day, mindful of Hero and Leander.

Hero was a mythical princess in a tower, and Leander was her lover on the other side of the straight. Every night Hero would light a candle on her balcony, and Leander would swim across the sea to be with her, following the fragile light as a beacon. It went on all summer, unnoticed. Then one stormy winter night the wind blew out the candle, and while he was struggling in the midst of the waves, Leander lost his direction and drowned. When his body washed up on the shore, Hero threw herself out of her tower to be with him forever more.

All the graves of the three great romantic poets have been touched by the March to Athens. Keats died of tuberculosis in Rome, next to the Spanish steps, at twenty-five. Shelley died at sea, in the gulf of La Spezia near Genoa at twenty-nine. It came to be known as ‘the Poets’ Gulf’.

If I remember well the story, Shelley had gone on a boat trip with one of his mistresses, the wife of his editor. They were caught by a storm and drowned. When his body washed up, Byron was there to give him solemn funeral on the beach, together with fellow poet Trelawney and editor Hunt.

They burned the corpse. And legend has it that the skull and the heart remained perfectly in tact. Byron had wanted to keep the skull as a souvenir, but Trelawney didn’t let him. He knew that Byron would use Shelley’s skull as a cup to drink from.

The heart was lifted from the flames and wrapped in a piece of poetry. The three men sent it to Shelley’s wife Mary, who would take good care of it. Years later, she still had the heart of her husband locked away in her desk when she wrote the story of Frankenstein.

Lunch reunion on front of town hall

The coasts of the Mediterranean are covered with the traces left by the romantic poets. One of them, who failed to die young, was Gabriele D’Annunzio. During World War I he once commanded a squadron of biplanes with which he flew over the enemy capital Vienna, dropping off sacks full of sarcastic pamphlets. After the war he scrambled a private army and conquered the city of Fiume, modern day Rijeka in Croatia.

On the balcony of the town hall, he proclaimed the Aesthetic Republic of Fiume, where Beauty would be the only law…

Back in Misolonghi, the Garden of the Heroes is closed. This doesn’t seem to be a poet’s town. There is no air of old here. I’ve been noticing that almost everywhere we went in Greece, and I don’t understand it. The Greeks take so much of their national identity from the past, but the past isn’t visible in the towns. Also here in Mesolonghi, every building that looks even slightly old is abandoned, in ruin, and about to be replaced by something new.

On the outskirts of the town, the statue of Lord Byron, next to the Philhellenic Study Center, looks strangely out of place.

Byron in Mesolonghi

 

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4 avril 2012 3 04 /04 /avril /2012 12:41

Through the Lagoon

In March to Athens on 3 April 2012 at 20:28


March to Athens

Day 148-LXXIV, from Χρυσοβέργι to Μεσολόγγι, 18 km.

 

Dusk over the lagoon of Mesolonghi

 

Mesolonghi, April 3

Dear people,

Our tribe is like a family. And like in any other family there are times when we argue among each other. Yesterday’s argument was particularly nasty.

We received a warm welcome in the little village of Chrisovergi. People cheered when we arrived. They brought us food and lots of wine. In the bar on the square anyone who entered got offered beer and tsipouro.

It was too much for some of us. There was already malcontent in the group, and late at night things went completely out of control.

I’m not going to tell you what the argument was about, because it doesn’t matter. It was Lord Alcohol who sparked the pandemonium. It was the first time he showed his evil face since we had camped in Pagani, two days marching from Naples, and like custom he had brought Lady Violence along with him.

I had been doing my things, and I hadn’t noticed how the situation developed. But I was angry with everyone when it went down at two o’ clock in the morning. Angry, because of the horrible image we were leaving as a march in this hospitable little village. But most of all I was angry because people made me regret that I had come along with the march.

I could have spent my night in the arms of a gorgeous school girl, and here I was, listening to my tribal brothers and sisters barking at each other like dogs. The locals had to intervene to get people to calm down. It was disgusting.

This morning I left the square before anybody else. I didn’t want to participate in the hangover assembly that would have to heal the wounds before we marched on.

The alcohol problem is occasional, not structural, so I’m not really worried about it. Maybe we just need to satisfy our violent impulse every now and then.

The Old Man, who was one of the protagonists of the fight, believed it was a result of people being dissatisfied with the decision of the assembly to go to Patras for two days, which had been nobody’s first choice.

If that is so, then I bear my piece of responsibility. I should have done a better job, or I shouldn’t have moderated the assembly at all.

However it be, I walk on, I follow my destiny. After the gorge there is the lagoon. The lagoon is like a womb. In the middle there is the little village of Aetoliko on an island. The island is like an ovum.

There are no traces of tourism here. Instead of clubs and lounges, there are shabby houses, little shops, and mosquitoes. I take a long siesta on the waterside, and then I take the ovary dike through the lagoon to Mesolonghi.

For miles and miles I walk in the midst of the waters. The wind rises, and then the rains come down. There is no escape, the water is on all sides, and the dike is interrupted. I have to turn back.


I reach the island again. And on the outskirts I spot the first traces of misery since I arrived in Greece. Patches of slums on the waterside. Houses built with pallets, covered by corrugated iron and isolated with plastic. It’s not much, but it’s there.
I keep on walking, and by contrast, miles down the road, I reach the ‘sacred town of Mesolonghi’. Truly, this town has reasons to be famous. And sooner rather than later, I will tell you why.

Slums on the outskirts of Aetoliko

 

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3 avril 2012 2 03 /04 /avril /2012 14:32

Through the Gorge

In March to Athens on 2 April 2012 at 23:11


March to Athens

Day 147-LXXIII, from Αγρίνιο to Χρυσοβέργι, 21 km.

 

The gorge

 

Chrisovergi, April 2

Dear people,

The assembly has decided, and the official blog of our march brings the big news. “We go to Patras!”

The question came up in Amfilochia. Our proposed route doesn’t include Patras, but we could take a little detour sacrificing our margin to cross the gulf and touch the town.

I had good fun preparing a large cardboard map to illustrate the situation, together with the possibility to pass by the island of Aetoliko in the middle of a lagoon, which would cost us another day of our four day margin.

In Amfilochia we postponed the question, and yesterday evening in Agrinio I moderated the assembly that would have to take the decision.

Now, I could turn this into some kind of triumphant Bulletin de la Grande Armée, and say how the March to Athens has unanimously decided to take the bridge, to march on Patras and to to occupy the square for two days and three nights. But that wouldn’t be exactly how it happened.

As a matter of fact, it was a messy assembly, and I didn’t do much to create order out of chaos. The lagoon option had been branded as ‘revolutionary tourism’ by some, while many others didn’t feel the need to go to Patras. I myself rather fancied the tourist option, and I wouldn’t mind to bypass Patras in order to save our days of margin for the mountains and the metropolitan area of Athens.

We divided the options into four. Island and Patras, either one or neither, and after that the options got blocked one after another. Finally I formulated the only proposal that hadn’t yet been blocked. “We don’t go to the island, we do go to Patras, we spend two whole days there, and we continue to Nafpaktos with two days of margin remaining.”

For lack of alternatives, people agreed. We go to Patras. But since we are going, we better make something of it.

I have to admit, my mind wasn’t completely present in the moderation of the assembly. I was nurturing greater mythological schemes. Since we still hadn’t got any Greeks in the march, I was planning to abduct a local princess and bring her along to Athens, and then to Troy. She was sitting right beside me in the assembly. She had brought me ice cream and taken me to the concert the day before. And she had proven to be unpredictable, a quality that I value very highly.

“I want to get out of this place,” she had said.

“Then come along with the march, and take your camera. This opportunity won’t pass again.”

“I want to come, but I can’t. I have school.”

This morning she changed the scheme. Instead of coming along, she wanted me to stay, at least for tonight.

Up until now, neither the rain nor the cold, nor the mountains, nor sickness, nor the distance have ever prevented me from walking. In all three marches in which I have participated I never skipped a single leg. But like Oscar Wilde would say, “I can resist anything, except temptation.”

This morning I got very close to seeing the march off and remaining in the square of Agrinio. But I didn’t. I’m stronger than I used to be.

“You have school, I have march. I can’t stay,” I told my princess, and she gave me the disappointed face of a spoiled girl. She finally kissed me goodbye and trotted off. Sweet little sixteen.

La marcha sigue, cueste lo que cueste. The march goes on, whatever the cost. And today I feel like I could just keep on going. There’s a ridge of mountains ahead of us at the southern end of the plain of Agrinio. We cross through a narrow gorge. It’s like a giant vulva, excavated for millions of years by an ancient river that is no more.

The gorge is a gateway. On the other side, once again, there is the sea.

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2 avril 2012 1 02 /04 /avril /2012 14:03

Smoke

In March to Athens on 1 April 2012 at 23:55


March to Athens

Day 146-LXXII, Αγρίνιο.

 

Acampada Agrinio

Agrinio, April 1

 

Dear people,

 

When people say that Greece is in a deep crisis, they surely are not talking about Agrinio. This place is really flooded with money. It falls down from the sky like snow, and you have to wade your way through it with a shovel.

The money is condensed in all the bars and banks and flashy stores. Over here the anarchists are the one percent, and the 99% are the people sipping cocktails on the terraces.

Maybe I exagerate, just a bit. But it makes me wonder. “Where does all the money come from?”

Yesterday we were invited to attend an anarchist concert in one of the central squares of Agrinio. It was a good occasion to ask the big question.

Various people told me basically the same story. And it makes sense.

So, as I told you, the plains of Agrinio are a fertile agricultural ground where local farmers used to grow mainly tobacco. Then a couple of years ago, the EU has been showering the farmers with subsidies as an incentive to change their crops. Many farmers cashed in the subsidies and continued growing tobacco like before. In the same timeframe, the price of tobacco has multiplied in Greece because of the taxes. It used to be ridiculously cheap, and now it’s as expensive as anywhere else in Europe. So of course, there’s a thriving black market for home made tobacco. You can buy it at 15 euros a kilo, tax free. And the rest is still regularly processed and sold.

That is where all the money comes from. There is a wealthy class of large scale producers, and everyone that depends from them. They lead a good life on a provincial scale. But that doesn’t mean that people don’t feel the crisis.

They do. It’s awful. ‘Before the crisis we went to the bar and took two coffees. Now we take only one.’ So they say.

 

Still, for young people there is no future in Agrinio. Aside from the tobacco and olive oil industry, there is no possibility of a gratifying career. So they go away to Athens, or to Thessaloniki, or overseas. And they leave this little place to its continuous building frenzy, where the past gets cancelled out and destroyed to make way for an ever more ephimeral present.

Popular assembly in Agrinio

 

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1 avril 2012 7 01 /04 /avril /2012 11:37

A Fragile World

In March to Athens on 31 March 2012 at 21:06


March to Athens

Day 145-LXXI, from Στράτος to Αγρίνιο, 12 km.

 

Ritual sacrifice

Agrinio, March 31

Dear people,

Three ridges of hills near the river bend were the site of ancient Stratos. From here, the citizens of this town controlled the plain and the entire hinterland of Akarnania until the Romans founded the city of Nicopoli.

What remains today is the theatre and the outlines of the agora. I sit on my rock in the morning sun, right between the two, when the tourist commission of the march comes walking up the hill for a visit.

The agora of ancient Stratos

This town bears the same name as the modern village in the valley, but that’s about as far as similarities go.

We enter the theater, we stand on the stage and comrade Jose Miguel, the archeologist, mic-checks the acoustic. They hear him loud and clear up above.

The theater is a ruin. The seats and stairs have gone, many rocks have been recycled, and the remainder has been invaded by the vegetation. All over the hemicircle where people used to sit and cheer, there are flowers growing by the thousands.

Comrade archeologist in the ancient theater of Stratos

For me, and for others among us with a romantic soul, it couldn’t be better than this. But for José Miguel it’s different. He has studied too much antiquity already, his fingers are itching. He can’t help it. He would like to dig it all up, dust if off, and tell the story.

Alas, some stories are best when left untold.

After the sacrifice, resurrection...

The march breaks up camp and crosses the river into Aetolia. Today we go to town. The town is called Agrinio.

On the road we get honked almost continuously. The last time I witnessed something similar was when the Columna Norte was approaching Madrid. A car stops by, a window rolls down. “March to Athens?”

“That’s us.”

He gives a thumbs up and drives off. The voice of our march is spreading. It seems we have been on television after the demonstration in Preveza.

Arriving in Agrinio

We enter triumphantly in Agrinio. Local anarchists await us. We take the square without any problem with police.

I pitch my tent and take a little tour of the city. It turns out to be an alienating experience. From the looks of it, there’s money going around in this place. All the brands are present, the bars are hip, and aside from that there is little else. The buildings are very recent, they are quickly puzzled together with prefab concrete. It all looks extremely fragile.

In a couple of months time, this city will be different. The brands will have changed, the bars won’t be hip anymore, the buildings will be replaced by new ones that will last even less, etc.

If Agrinio were to be abandoned tomorrow, it would take only a few years for the city to crumble. In a few decades you won’t recognise it as a city any more, and in two thousand years there will be nothing left but polluted soil covered by vegetation. Not even a theater will remain, not even the outlines of the agora.

Agrinio is just an example. Our whole civilization is as fragile as this. It is going to crumble.

When people ask us what we propose as a solution, we say we don’t have any. We don’t propose socialism, or communism or anarchism, or any other -ism. All we want is to exchange ideas with people and think about something completely new.

Comrade Lorenzo

 

Comrade Nicolas

 

Comrade Blanca

 

The Old Man

 

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30 mars 2012 5 30 /03 /mars /2012 23:23

 

Tobacco Country

In March to Athens on 30 March 2012 at 16:40

March to Athens

Day 143-LXIX, from Αμφιλοχία to Ρίβιο, 15 km.

Day 144-LXX, from Ρίβιο to Στράτος, 15 km.

Stratos, March 30

Dear people,

The other day in Amfilochia we held our first serious assembly since our arrival in Igoumenitsa. We have been rejoined by a Spanish comrade who speaks good Greek. And aside from him there were a few locals who spoke either good English or Spanish, so it was more than enough to create a connection.

The presence at the assembly was a perfect split of the Greek population. Old folks, young folks, a mother with a baby. There was also a group of high school students present. They sat out the entire two hour assembly. They didn’t say much, but they listened very carefully.

Popular Assembly in Amphilochia

As usual, the greater part of the assembly was about general issues. Local initiative versus centralised government. Civil disobedience. Power to the people.

In the end we asked questions to the people of Amfilochia. About the local situation, about organised resistance. And if they knew anything about the movement of the indignados.

They did. And indeed, last year people have tried to stage protests and organise assemblies in this town, but very few people attended.

One of the locals gave his personal opinion on the matter. He said that people are very much engaged in protest, but they are not used to start thinking from scrap. They have grown up with the idea that politics belongs to the parties and the unions, not to the people, and it’s hard to change that mentality. They don’t participate in popular assemblies, but when the parties or the unions organise strikes and demonstrations, they don’t hesitate to take part in it. And they even go to the big cities, Agrinio or Athens to do so.

He concluded that this is probably a typical provincial mentality, and that things in places like Patras or Athens are different. But from what I heard, also the people in the big cities are still very much linked to old ways of thinking.

Amphilochia

Amvrakía Lake

Yesterday we marched straight south to the little town of Rivio, and we almost missed it. It consists of three gas stations along the national road, of which two are permanently closed, a couple of houses and a monstrous concrete structure which allows pedestrians and wheelchairs to cross the quiet road.

 There is no mafia in Greece, so they say, but corruption is rooted deep in the system.

 In the absence of a square we planned to camp on the side of the lake, but we were invited by a locals to spend the night in a covered space of their family home. It was really touching. They didn’t have much, but they insisted on bringing us what they could offer, mostly their hospitality.

Today we were woken up by comrade Cansino, a veteran of various marches, who joined us here together with comrade Manuel from audiovisuals Madrid, and comrade Gigì from Belgium. They had been bussing, walking and hitchhiking for three days through Greece to reach us.

We march east again, into the plains, to the horrid little village of Stratos, which used to be the ancient capital of Akarnania. It’s one of very few plains in Greece, it has a river, and so it used for intensive agriculture. Olives and tobacco mostly.

Town hall of Stratos

 This part of Greece is definitely hidden away from the eyes of foreigners. You won’t find hotels or campings here, just lurid sheds and modern houses along the road. This region is centered around the city of Agrinio where we’ll arrive tomorrow. Some of us have already gone ahead to check out the situation, because Agrinio has about one hundred thousand inhabitants. It is by far the biggest town on our route so far.

 

 

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29 mars 2012 4 29 /03 /mars /2012 12:47

Sea’s End

In March to Athens on 28 March 2012 at 10:34

March to Athens

Day 141-LXVII, from Δρυμός to Αμφιλοχία, 20 km.
Day 142-LXVIII, Αμφιλοχία.

The famous town of Amfilochia

Amfilochia, March 28

Dear people,

I never thought that one day I would have the privilege to see the famous town of Amfilochia. But here we are. Now, don’t ask me why this town is so famous, because I don’t know. It just is.

Three days it took us to board the southern shore of the internal sea. It was a memorable walk up until the very last.

Amfilochia is built against the hills at the tip of a narrow bay, hidden away at the far end of the gulf. It’s one of those places that gives you a good feeling straight away.

Along the boulevard the bars are interspersed with old houses in ruin. Life is slow and unpretending. The outside world seems far away. During the season there must be some low key tourism along the waterside, mainly from Greece itself, but the place is all but hip. In fact, the whole town breathes a kind of nostalgic 1980s atmosphere.

Breaking up camp in Drymos

 

The road to Amphilochia

 

 

Comrade Milton on the road with a historic banner

So far we haven’t found any traces of ancient Greece yet, but the Ambratian Gulf used to be of strategic importance during the glory days of the Greek city states. It provided a perfect harbour on the Ionian sea, it gave access to Italy and the West. The territory was originally settled by Corinth, but it soon came under the influence of marittime superpower Athens.

After the Peloponnesian War it passed to terrestrial superpower Sparta, for as long as it lasted. When the age of the Greek city states came to an end, the Ambracian Gulf became a quiet backwater of history. And everything seems to indicate that it has remained so ever since. It’s probably the reason why it’s such a marvellous place.

We arrived in Amfilochia with six people less than when we left Preveza. Two Frenchmen, three Spaniards and one Italian have turned back or wandered off in different directions. They might return later on, and in the meantime we are expecting other veterans of the march to rejoin us here.

So our numbers will keep floating around twenty. And in general we don’t regard that as a bad thing, given the territory we will have to cross. A little further down the road there will only be very small villages for days in a row, and so our rations could suffer, especially when we are many.

Here in Amfilochia the food doesn’t lack at all. People are most generous, but for some strange reason it still leads to trouble, now and then.

This morning I got woken up by a loud discussion about coffee and sugar, while there was a wide breakfast buffet ready on one of the benches in the square. Bread, feta, olives, oranges, juices, etc.

Comrade Chino described it concisely. “Little food is a problem. A lot of food is an ever bigger problem.”

 

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27 mars 2012 2 27 /03 /mars /2012 15:41

 

The Enchanted Garden

In March to Athens on 26 March 2012 at 18:18 March to Athens
Day 140-LXVI, from Βόνιτσα to Δρυμός, 16 km.

 


Drymos, March 26

 

Dear people,

 

When we crossed the sea yesterday from Preveza to Actium we left Epirus and entered the region of Acarnania. All I can say about it is that it’s getting better all the time.

Up until now, it was mostly the gorgeous countryside that enchanted me. The villages and towns looked strangely modern. They gave me the impression that they have changed a lot in recent years under the unifying influence of voracious capitalism, and that little is left of how they used to be.

Vonitsa was different. It’s a small town that completely blew my mind. Last night, when I wandered through her small streets and up to the old Venetian castle, I realised that this is the place that I have been looking for for a long time. It’s one of those places that I only know from classic Donald Duck adventure stories and of which I feared that they didn’t exist any more, at least in Europe.

View of Vonitsa

Vonitsa owes most of her beauty to her location on the shore of the Ambratian Gulf. This inland sea is speckled with green islands, rocky capes and lagoons. It’s surrounded by small fertile plains and high mountains whose peaks are still covered with snow. I like to think of this gulf as a miniature Mediterranean. And I already imagine adventures like a miniature Odyssey. I can see myself sailing along her shores in the morning fog…

View of Vonitsa from the other side

I shouldn’t be telling you all this. As we are moving straight east, away from the outer Ionian coast, we are leaving mass tourism behind. This territory is authentically Greek. Don’t spoil it, don’t come here, don’t tell your neighbours.

The castle of Vonitsa is one of those things that you won’t find elsewhere. It’s lit up at night, but that’s about as far as the modern touch goes. There are no fences, there is no entry fee to pay. People don’t go there, there is no trash, no graffiti. Just the ruins left to the invasion of nature, and the air of mystery.

Inside the castle

 


If I had known about this when I drafted the route in Naples, I would have planned a day off in Vonitsa. Instead, this morning we prepared to move on, but the locals wouldn’t let us. We were invited by the mayor for lunch in grand style. We might not be able to communicate fluently with the Greek people, but they know what we’re doing, and they wholeheartedly support us.

Max at the lunch table

 

On the boulevard of Vonitsa

After lunch we walk on along the hills to the small village of Drymos, where people are not at all used to meeting foreigners.

You won’t find any fashionable bars here. Instead you find only the typical Greek pubs, which all more or less look the same. Square wooden tables, wooden chairs, tiles on the floor, bare walls, and a kitchen instead of a counter. The customers are either busy watching football, playing cards or playing backgammon. They all smoke like Turks.

When I enter the local pub together with my American comrade, we are already well known. The word of our march is spreading across the region, and we harvest sympathy wherever we go. We are invited to drink, we are invited to talk to the mayor. There is always someone who speaks enough English or German to translate.

I have a feeling that the villages of northern Greece are not doing so bad, because of the fact that they have the land and the sea and relatively few inhabitants. But that doesn’t mean people don’t care. There is a strong sense of solidarity in these places, both among the locals themselves, and between them and all the people over the world who are resisting.

Right now, in this village, we represent those people. When we walk into the local pub, we aren’t strangers any more. We’re part of the family.

 

 

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26 mars 2012 1 26 /03 /mars /2012 11:32

Independence Day

In March to Athens on 25 March 2012 at 20:01


March to Athens
Day 138-LXV, Πρέβεζα.
Day 139-LXVI, from Πρέβεζα to Βόνιτσα, 17 km.

Vonitsa, March 25

Dear people,

Even though Preveza seems to be a fairly prosperous town, the inhabitants did everything to make us feel at home. In the square there were locals present around the clock to exchange ideas and bring us sweet Greek wine.

On Friday evening we were invited by the Popular Assembly of Preveza – one of the first popular assemblies in Greece to sprout up after the 15th of May last year – to watch a documentary by Naomi Klein on shock therapy and disaster capitalism. After the film there was a little concert with classic rock ballads and Greek music. At the end of it, the two Neapolitans among us didn’t hesitate to take the microphones. They played the partisan song Bella Ciao and a few evergreens of the great Italian poet Fabrizio De André to the enjoyment of the locals.

We were also invited to stay another day in Preveza and take part in a demonstration for independence day.

We only have five days of margin to spend, but this was the first opportunity to do something together with a local movement, and so we accepted.

Today was independence day. We were up early, we folded our tents, and we prepared banners and slogans. The official parade would pass right along the square of our camp.

Cleaning the square

"The future is not what it used to be"

During the morning a small crowd of local protesters assembled. The entire police force was out for the occasion, even though their numbers didn’t ammount to much, and neither were they provocatively armed or dressed.

When the parade began, police gently forced us aside. We would have wanted to resist more, but the local protesters urged us to be patient.

"Revolution"

The parade itself was a disgusting display of child exploitation for nationalist purposes. The entire school youth of the town was dressed up in uniforms and marched by like army batallions, waving flags. From the podium they were applauded by political, military and religious authorities.

Together with the Greek protesters, we made sure that our voices were heard. “Solidarity is the weapon of the people. War against the war of the bosses”, the Greeks chanted. And in the midst of them, our presence gave a touch of colour to the protest.

Comrade Bobò infiltrated between the bigwigs

Near the end we made a move, we hooked up behind the last of the school kids’ batallions to be able to close the parade. Police were determined to block us. We tried to force our way through, but they delayed us long enough for the authorities to quickly leave the podium before we passed by with our peace flags and our slogans calling for revolution.

Closing the parade

Comrade Milton making friends with the police

That was it. In the midst of a ridiculous nationalist piece of theater we made our point. Afterwards we peacefully mixed with the crowds and the schoolkids on the boulevard.

They saw us off, a few hours later, when we crossed the sea in small launches, to continue our march on the southern shore of the inland sea. Initially we planned to take the tunnel, but a local Englishman was happy to play the role of Charon, and bring our march over the waves to the other side.

Bringing the shopping cart to the other shore

Stuff on lorry

It was a long long day. After the demonstration we marched a full length leg, be it without gear because one of the Greek comrades we met in Riza helped us out by taking all our stuff on his lorry, through the tunnel, right to today’s destination, Vonitsa.

Vonitsa is a breathtaking little place on the coast of the inland sea. There are Greek flags everywhere along the boulevard and around the national monument when we enter the town.

We take the little square, and we look forward to relax a bit when a police car arrives. None of us is in the mood to talk to them, especially because they are not nice. The two officers give us five minutes to leave or we will be arrested.

Five minutes later we were still there, and police had silently retreated.

Marching on...

On the square in Vonitsa

My tent in Vonitsa

 

 

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23 mars 2012 5 23 /03 /mars /2012 22:17

 

Witch Hunt

In March to Athens on 23 March 2012 at 13:44

March to Athens

 

Day 137-LXIII, Πρέβεζα.

 

Street Art in Kanali. Photo: comrade Diego.

Preveza, March 23

Dear people,

After the decline of the ancient town of Nicopolis, Preveza was founded in the middle ages on the tip of this peninsula. The town has been under the dominion of the Turks and the Venetians for most of its history.

During her golden age, Venice ruled over the long string of Dalmatian and Greek islands, that goes all the way from the Adriatic to Cyprus, passing by the Ionian and the Aegean seas. Preveza was one of her commercial outposts when the republic was liquidated by Napoleon during his first Italian campaign.

After Bonaparte made his peace with the Austrians, the town came under the rule of the French. It was occupied by a small garrison of grenadiers, and the revolutionary ideas they brought with them were well received by the local population.

While Napoleon himself was busy ‘harvesting glory’ in Egypt and Palestine, the garrison of Preveza was attacked by the Albanian warlord Ali Pasha.

Ali Pasha ruled over a semi-independent Ottoman satrapy that included most of modern day Albania, Macedonia, and northern Greece. He held court in the inland city of Ioannina, and he was famous for his cruelty.

When he took Preveza, he massacred the French and a large part of the population that had sympathised with them. Many Greeks managed to flee to the hills. They were promised to be spared if they returned. But when they did, the promise was forgotten and Ali Pasha had them slaughtered anyway. Together with the French revolutionary ideas, it would inspire the nationalists to rise up against the Turks two decades later.

Today you don’t find much that reminds you of the past here in Preveza. It’s a modern town that lives from tourism, a town that has sold its soul to the big brands and the banks.

It’s one of the things I noticed during this first week in Greece. In the villages we passed, we hardly found any historical centres like we did in Italy. Most of the buildings are of recent construction, and those who aren’t have been thoroughly polished to look like new.

There are other things. For one, I haven’t seen any visible traces of misery yet. Nothing like the scenes we witnessed in the townships of Naples. If I hadn’t heard the stories or the numbers, I’d say that this part of Greece is a wealthy western style nation.

For two, there’s the discrepancy between the theory and the practice of the law.
Like everywhere in Europe, it’s obligatory to wear a helmet on a scooter. But here, like in many places in the south of Italy, hardly anyone does. They risk big fines, but the police close an eye on them.

The same goes for smoking in bars. In every bar you will find the usual signs that prohibit smoking. There are no ashtrays on the tables. But when you light up a cigarette, they will bring you one without saying a word. The fact is that many people smoke in Greece. When the European laws were implemented, the police have tried to enforce them. But when the officers entered a bar where dozens of people were smoking, they were simply kicked out and didn’t return.

On the other hand the Greek police are fanatical in the persecution of cannabis users.
Ever since we arrived, an informal Weed commission has been active to find the necessary substances for a recreational smoke. In Italy or in Spain, despite crazy legislation, it’s no problem at all. But here it is. People are absolutely terrified to be caught with even the smallest quantity of cannabis. And police are always on the look out to find some.

Yesterday evening many local youngsters joined our group, they brought wine and beer. Some of them brought a bit of grass, and while they were rolling with the utmost prudence they explained the situation.

There is no shortage of good weed here in Greece. With all the wild mountains, you can imagine that harvests are rich every time the season comes around. And indeed, most of the Greeks smoke pot, so they say, but they don’t dare to carry it around.
If you get caught with half a gram, you will be taken to court. You will be fined half a month’s wage, and apart from that you will be forced to hire a lawyer which will cost you double the amount of the fine.

So it’s not just a case of applying the law. “It goes much deeper than that. It’s big business.”

The majority of cases brought before Greek judges have to do with small ‘infringements’ like the possession of grass. For the state it’s the perfect excuse for oppression. They cannot arrest or enjail people for their opinions, so they resort to the phantomatical ‘war on drugs’ to intimidate citizens and violate their privacy, knowing well that most people – police included – enjoy their occasional joint.

The prohibition of hemp is completely illegitimate. It’s a plant that has benefited the human race for thousands of years. It has served to produce high quality clothes, paper, ropes, sails, oil and hundreds of other useful products. It could be the backbone of a sustainable economy. During the 1930s it was outlawed mainly to make way for synthetic products based on petroleum. The whole ‘drug’ story was only a pretext. As a side effect, it allowed authorities to criminalise large parts of the population, especially the ethnic minorities, and to create an immense business around products that would hardly have a monetary value in a real free market economy.

Anyone who speaks of human rights and personal liberty can only be in favour of cannabis re-legalisation. Otherwise he or she is a lurid hypocrite. A plant, being a gift of nature, can never be outlawed. Growing and possessing any herbal substance is more than a human right. It’s a natural right, as self-evident as they get.

I’m sure that future post-revolutionary generations will look back at the ‘war on drugs’ with the same horrified wonder with which we look back on the witch hunts of early modern times.

Yours truly in Mesopotamo near the Gates of Hell. Photo: Diego.

 

Check out more of Diego’s pictures in the gallery of his blog

 

 

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