Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Greece: Laying Bare the Mainland And On Beaches



Ruins among apartment buildings in Thessaloniki
If you truly want a trip to reflect and relax, enjoy natural beauty, gasp at fantastic views, ponder the past and simply feel alive, Greece provides. So long as you have patience and can ease easily into the Mediterranean mind-set – the birthplace of western civilization lives up to the hype. It’s Athens ancient history that attracts us, yet it’s tumultuous recent past has a much greater influence on today's society. Despite a lack of LGBT openness (even the police!?) and an initial hesitation in meeting new people (Greeks may generally be friendly, but not quite warm at first) – Greece’s location, between East & West, provides diversity in the (hot) people, (ruin-ed) architecture and (of course) food.

Headed to the Greek Isles first? Check out my subsequent blog (and video) here.


Thessaloniki


Gay-face takes root 300 B.C.
After a surprisingly enjoyable (friendly, liberal & beautiful!) stay in (often forgotten) Bulgaria, I arrived to Greece in Thessaloniki – basically a relaxed beach town (even if it’s Greece’s second largest city). Immediately you’re struck by the mosaic of history in parts & pieces throughout the city. Not knowing much about the historical details (maybe none are even known) – you’re still forced to reckon with it because it’s there, bare, worn in front of you. Ancient columns, beautiful sculpture, preserved & uncovered courts, thrones and temples - plus sometimes the guys even live up to those chiseled statutes!

For a city of a million, Thess measured-up with a small gay nightlife – sadly I only had a few nights to experience it. There are a few bars & listed restaurants but I mainly experienced the club, En Ola (translates basically to "Alive") it's Facebook works too! It has a unique, lit-up wall, visible in this terrible vid (showing why not to hire go-go boys as performance dancers), but for me it was difficult to meet people with loud music blaring and on a slow weekday night. Still, I chatted up an adorable scruffy-twink (possible?) – though soon after he was walking home with his friends.

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Athens

View of the Acropolis from Monastiraki Square

From Thessaloniki in the north, Athens can be reached via train, across breathtaking mountains and even the famed Mt. Olympus! Upon entering this gritty, dusty city you see results of the recent “crisis” – the economic downturn here has hurt everyone, but from day-to-day activities you can't tell. People are still living, partying, enjoying – and subsisting; and that’s the reality here. If you can subsist, you can live. The weather is great, beaches are beautiful and people are friendly, once you get past initial hesitations.

Hellenic pubic shave pattern

In the city you must visit the Archeological Museum – which is filled with the most homo-erotic stuff I've seen since last night – plus it houses the first known analog computer, discovered in a shipwreck in 1900! Also after seeing the actual Acropolis – walk down to the Acropolis Museum, which has some of its pieces; the UK still has all the best stuff. Previous UK arguments for not returning the "marbles" included "Greece had no where to put them"– now the British Museum has a nice long (political garbage) excuse for keeping them but with the beautiful Acropolis Museum many including George Clooney & Bill Murry (after starring in Monuments Men) have called for their return. Let's face it – it makes sense to see a historical record together in one spot!


Limanakia B "Beach" at sunset
Still the time to visit Athens is not during the hot summer months when everyone leaves to the islands – fall or spring is better! Gay life does exist openly, despite ignorance & intolerant religions – check out the main gay spots here. The major club is Apartment along with the stylish 2 dance floors at Sodade – where I met a new friend who invited me to a more summery event:  the gay (and nude) beach called Limanakia B. But don't expect sand, just a rocky shelf – be smart and wear proper shoes down (although Greeks won't) Then enjoy being naked in the sun, dipping into the deep blue Agean, and making fast friends with the friendly, fore-skin floppin' locals.


What little is left of the Acropolis
mosaics displayed as if still in place
You might think after so much history, the society might function a bit more – well let's say smoothly!
First same-sex marriage
But in the end, the realities that Greeks face are due to the nation’s location. Most recently on the dividing line between the Soviets & the West and prior to that a pawn between Ottoman Turks and European powers. For Greece, the ancient past remains it’s bedrock, the only unchanging feature of it’s reality – though it's not doing much more than wooing tourists – as society's day-to-day reality constantly is turned upside-down. This reality has meant that enterprising, creative and intelligent Greeks have left – just like my great-grandfather did in 1912 to escape war. The Greek diaspora in the US, and elsewhere, is huge! If you wanted to build a business, achieve set goals or sometimes just survive you left the chaos that envelops the country. Still Greeks can't stay away from home long – from the climate to the rich healthy food to that beautiful blue Med – it's too enticing not to return.

First recorded gay
"flail"
The memory of this great ancient city now seemingly declined, appears constantly – be you sitting alongside the Parthenon or any (uncountable) ruin. Each continually reminds & taunts; the past cannot be ignored – whether that motivates to live up to those long-past triumphs or feeds into a psyche of "I'll never measure up." The latter appears to be the case for Greeks more recently, but things are looking up. I appreciate the general attitude that life is not about work – it's about enjoying, getting by, subsisting on what you have. But Greek society has to stop resting on its past; the country may bring people back because of its history & beauty – but it needs to stop neglecting it's culture!

Still, no one will be neglecting the Greek Isles anytime soon – look for my next blog about the "Island of Long Life" – Ikaria, my pic for most beautiful place in the world – Santorini/Fira, and (why I nearly skipped) over-hyped, but yes gay – Mykonos.

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My good side from below the Parthenon
Parthenon atop the Acropolis!

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