No longer as truthful as should be deserved, some names, places and events deliberately vague to protect identities that aren't mine

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Hellenica Day 3

My third full day - tomorrow I leave, but not till late, and tomorrow my friend finally has a day off work to spend together.

We drive 75km there and back to drop my friend at work - a necessity so he can work at one of the more lucrative tourist spots whilst affording a house.

I'm shown the port of Piraeus and the coast road in the light - it was dark walking it last night, only the huge ferries were obvious.  4000 people a day to Crete.  The only other feature I previously was introduced to, also at night, was the cruising spot in the ferry park at 2am - Turkish truck drivers stay on one side, Greek ones on the other.   Alas it was dead - no fish market on Saturday night means no trade to drive the 'trade'

We take the long coast road to Glyfada, passing endless tourist restaurants opposite multiple harbours of sailboats and yachts.  Nothing too huge; nothing too outlandish, that remains firmly the demesne of the ferry and container ports, at least while there's no big cruise ship in town - its nearly the end of the season here.

I'm dropped at the Flea Market and pointed towards Constitution Square.  Never ending 'unique' craft outlets and tourist tat that would no doubt have my aunts haggling like the seasoned pros their heritage entitles them to.  I take in the National Park and actually go into the Zappeion this time - a Russian cultural programme is being held - a photo exhibit and later a series of music performances which I return for.  I'm much more a fan of the Russian music tradition than Greek and the weather and setting of the Zappeion lend themselves well to outdoor performances with a wandering audience.

A circuitous route down to the Metro station adds to the km walked again today - my shoes become marked even whiter from my travels.   Back at Piraeus I manage to navigate enough Grenglish to order myself some souvlaki for another late lunch/dinner before starting the 5km uphill walk to my friend's house - no one parks with their wheels towards the curb; this seems almost sacreligious.  As I pass the Greek Orthodox churches (increasing in density as I travel away from the tourist port area) they are calling people to Sunday evening prayers - 1900, a little later than the British tradition, but not perhaps surprisingly given the warmer climate and longer sunlight hours.  Flashes of gold glitter at me from inside the churches and the spiritual side of me wishes to go in, observe, and join the service - to experience and feed on the spirituality of others which thereby renews my own.  But I've not had a confident day; I realise I know nothing of the Greek Orthodox tradition; I'm in an almost exclusively local area by now; and I'm wearing my bleachers which are hardly appropriate; I do not wish to offend or intrude upon the importance of the ritual of attendance and service for those who's place this is, so I move on.  I'll obtain my spiritual fulfillment another day.

Exhausted at home, I sleep for 2h before needing to go pick up my friend from work.  I drag myself up and get changed again before heading out - the 30km over the last 48h is making itself known.  As are insect bites from a rest in the National Park earlier.  A memory surfaces.  Exhausted whilst on holiday and yet going out - both me and my ex always tired from our various trials each day - both always forcing a way to drag ourselves up and out.  To see each other in the brief time we had, to see others when we had the rare chances, to rescue those who always seem to need it from boys barely holding on themselves.

I think I'll lie in tomorrow.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

What a game!

***Publication of this post was intentionally delayed significantly from time of writing as it brought several unseen advantages; if you don't know, you won't be told why, but the points still stand fairly even without full context***

I've taken a much more considerable and closer interest in the Rio 2016 Olympics than I did in the London 2012 ones - I pointedly and almost completely ignored the 2012 ones with a few minor exceptions.

I was, controversially, against London hosting the 2012 Olympics from the start - I remember specifically refusing to sign several petitions etc in the street when the country was trying to bid for it and demonstrate interest.  I didn't think it was a good use of money, I didn't think it would do the things it said it would, I thought it would run over budget and cause massive disruption.  Some friends I knew at the time who were involved in sports the UK considered minor at the time but were Olympic events did point out it would bring increased investment to their interests, and that was a very fair point that gave me pause.  It did.  Not as much as promised, or hoped for, and the interest has more often than not waned in the time since Summer 2012, but it was something.  It also did force through many public works projects that were sorely needed, and would never have been progressed had it not been for the Olympic shadow driving them forward.  Many friends have memories of the London 2012 Olympics that I do not and a small part of me regrets that I don't have those.  I still, overall however, consider it a vast waste of money for the country.  Participation in the Olympics is great; hosting it is generally folly in my completely-not-expert opinion.  (See also here for a good primer on some of the many reasons I think the Olympics, and the IOC, are generally bad news for the hosts)

This year, several people I know were involved in Rio 2016 at various levels.  Almost all of these are people I did not know 4 years ago.  Some of them I have an especially huge amount of respect and admiration for - indeed we often disagree on many things but I have never had a conversation with them where I have not been overwhelmed by their compassion, intelligence, and perception.  As a result, I have found myself watching these Olympics much more, across several events, and taking a keen and personal interest in the outcomes.  And I've found myself enjoying them immensely.

I regularly identify as a gay sports fan.  I shouldn't really - it somewhat self-promotes bi-erasure against myself, but no-one would care about the straight cis white male side of me that enjoys sports, that yells at the TV, that applauds and cheers good performance by athletes, that armchair coaches and curses judges and referees for calls I disagree with.
No, the bit that makes me 'weird', or notable, as a sports fan is the side of me that likes sex with boys, and so in terms of promoting visibility of interest, it is the gay sports fan side that is important to make known.

I've watched many many more events than I did for London across a broad spectrum; some where my interest was personal, some where it just happened to be what was on and entertaining that day.  And I've loved it.  And it further drives my consideration that whilst yes, at school I hated sports, I was ill in many ways, I had life-threatening asthma difficulties on a regular basis, I was short and small and bullied which does not make for a great team-sports player, it's more to do with the fact that I never got exposed to the right kind of sports at school, and this has a huge impact on how as a child you perceive sports.
I concede, it wouldn't have exactly been easy to get me exposure to the kind of sports I would have enjoyed - ice hockey, skiing, shooting, archery, mountain hiking, air-racing.  These all require extensive, even prohibitive resources and are largely the luck of location making them available. There's also the difficulty of being able to take things at your own pace - partly something you only learn over time as you grow, but fundamentally something that doesn't lend itself to teaching a class of 30+ kids.
But as I've got older I've learnt that actually, I'm a MASSIVE sports fan.  Not in football or rugby or tennis or anything traditional (certainly in the UK), but when I get into a sport it shines through in an utterly unmistakable way.

Part of this is understanding of the technical parts of the sport - its farrrrrr easier to maintain even a passing following of a sport you're not that interested in if you understand how the sport works, what is easy, what is difficult, what warrants and deserves applause against other things, and sports commentary is very complex, usually referencing a hundred different names of past participants, recent and near-ancient history of teams, performance, events etc.  To an outsider its boring and impenetrable.  And there is, unfortunately, pretty much no way to teach this barring sheer exposure.  The speed and aggression of ice hockey was what caught my interest when I was a child, but it is 20 years of following it, supporting a team, reading game recap!s and scouting reports, watching plays and listening to the radio and having to imagine the action off the basis of it, that means I love ice-hockey, because I understand it.  I like skiing because I can do it myself and I know what it demands of the body and mind; I admire the technical skill and physics at play in archery and so on.

Throughout these games I've been motivated to find out about the sports I've been watching, to learn how the sports work, and as a result, I've thoroughly enjoyed them.  I now have even more sports to follow and keen a close eye on and that's GREAT.  But I will never stop being slightly bewildered at how much I hated sports as a child, and how much that was a great shame, because the passion that comes with following sports is something that's quite unique, and not quite replicated by anything else.

Luckily, hockey season starts in a few weeks...

(There was of course, the abhorrent Nico Hines story of a straight man hunting down athletes on a gay sex app and then posting the sordid details of it as an 'article' online.  I have skipped over this as, although from a gay sports perspective its the obvious major thing that occurred in Rio, it has been covered plenty enough by the internet, and I have no wish to drag it all back up again here; it's not relevant to the points I was making.)

Hellenic Observations Day 2

A random collection of observations from day 2.

My shoes are covered in dust - dry sandy soils mean it can't be helped.  Walking over monuments and ancient fields makes it even worse.  My shoes become stained a dry white from walking.  I like walking on holidays.  I like hiking in the heat.  15-20km throughout the day as I encircle and recross the entire Acropolis hill 4 times over.  It's a good hike, something I don't get in the UK - the weather isn't good and I'm allergic to half the countryside there and just not enthused by the remainder.  The last time I hiked this well it was Labor Day and I walked 20 miles through the Marin County headlands north of the Golden Gate and back down through the Presidio along the cliff line.  I miss such days.

Coffee is popular here.  Good coffee.  I saw but a single Starbucks in 15 miles of walking (also meaning the availability of free power to scam is limited).  Coffee is cheap (1€) and available 24h everywhere whether in the centre or suburbs - is the 24h culture a product of the warmer climate, or is London just truly very very shit at 24h amenities? (An ever constant gripe of mine).  (As a side note, coffee is also awkwardly political, as its basically Turkish style coffee, but that's a dirty word, so here you have to say Greek coffee.  Because politics)

No McDonalds either.  A lot of fast food pita places though.  Not complaining.  Souvlaki has been my staple every meal except one.

The state of the economy is obvious.  Everyone talks about it to an effectively rich tourist like me.  Every street has multiple abandoned storefronts and homes.  Huge industrial complexes lie mothballed, the cost of recovering the equipment proving even too exorbitant.  Everyone here smokes - what is it about the seeming connotation between smoking (or drugs in general, be they socially acceptable or not) and low quality of life, despite the necessity for regular excess expenditure it creates?  There is graffiti everywhere.  I mean even on the abandoned shops next to the state palace (now parliament building) and on the fountain in front of the Zappeion.  There is no money to pay to employ people to clean it up.  Most of the shops I wander through outside of the tourist areas are run down light industrial and commercial - a fruit warehouse, car mechanics, spare parts for boiler repairs, phone and tech pawn shops.  I don't have a comparative point of reference, this is my first visit.  The middle class complains most to me - money they have but can't access, frustrated at having seen their quality of living drop so suddenly and dramatically despite their relative wealth.  But its a Saturday night, the streets are packed in my tourist free suburb of Keratsini, the youth of Athens and Piraeus out on the streets in their little groups and those around my age and older filling out every table in every restaurant.  If there's a shortage of money and rife unemployment you couldn't see it in the nightlife.  It's the harsh light of day that shows the stark reality of how many restaurants are surrounded by failed, vandalized once+competitors.