Letter from Thessaloniki

Clean water is a commodity that we take for granted, at least in most of the developed world. One of the most basic truisms is that water is life. While people can fast and go for weeks without food, it is impossible for our bodies to go more than a week without water. Thank God the collapse of the water supply in Greece’s second largest city – with a population exceeding 1 million – has lasted less than the critical time limit. Yesterday – that is on Sunday – it rained for more than 12 consecutive hours, making citizens forget worrisome water shortages and share confidence that the situation will be readily handled by wise management strategies of a new administration – next time. Anyway, instead of welcoming Russian President Vladimir Putin who was scheduled to visit Mount Athos this past weekend, we saw on TV the horrendous scenes of the school hostage crisis in North Ossetia and had full understanding for Putin’s adjournment. With horror, we were informed that some hostages had to drink their own urine. After all, the delicate balance of nature depends on water. At least we could buy bottled water here. Last Thursday, after a cordial invitation by the local consulate-ggeneral of the USA, we took a small bite out of the Big Apple. Some journalists followed a digital video conference on the 2004 US elections and the Republican Convention. My personal conclusions – two of them – was that Iran is a most probable target if Republicans win and that a likely Republican candidate for the 2008 presidential elections could be Rudi Giuliani, NYC’s former mayor. Our American interlocutors in New York were Ann Stone, a political analyst and a founder and chair of Republicans for Choice, and Roman Buhler, a legislative and political consultant in Washington DC and California. Yesterday, a major Greek newspaper – Sunday’s Eleftherotypia – produced on its cover the horrifying picture of a Beslan mother holding on her bosom her half-naked bloodied child. The huge title, below the fold on the front page, read: «Mother Courage.» Excuse me, but I cannot forget my main occupation – that of drama critic – and thus I have to comment on the misuse of Bertolt Brecht’s title. Yet again a huge deception has been practised by the Greek press. Although unknown to the general public, Bertolt Brecht’s play «Mother Courage and Her Children» relates the chronicles of a woman and her canteen wagon during the Thirty Years War in Central Europe. She is above all a businesswoman who lives off the war. Whenever presented with the choice between her money and her life or her children, she unfailingly chooses her money. Her actions often run contrary to human nature. What real mother would negotiate the price of her son’s head? The title of a mother is here used by Brecht with acid irony. It is often in the movies and in the theater that the people appeal the verdicts of history. Brecht wanted his audiences to receive his work in an unemotional and analytical manner, and not credulously follow it like a melodrama. Ultimately, and since we are speaking here of a genius who led the art of drama onto new paths, the exquisite models of human behavior Bertolt Brecht has constructed in order to show how society works – or fails to work – and how society could be modified give us the opportunity to examine how another of Brecht’s works applies to our so successful Olympic Games. Here the ending of the «The Threepenny Opera,» his most popular play conceived in the 1920s, comes to mind. It is not only the musical parody of operatic sentimentality, composed by Kurt Weil, which has survived unaltered to this present day. Corruption and poverty don’t go out of fashion. «Gathered for the happy ending all crowd under the same hat (designed by Calatrava perhaps?) If good money is quite handy, Everything ends well for that.» There, in a society full of mockery, insidious irony and low-life romanticism, everything comes to the most successful conclusion – although the «rescuer» at the end announces that in real life, no relief or justice ever comes. In the film version of «The Threepenny Opera» (directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst), the great setpiece is the march of the beggars through London’s streets to disrupt the most festive event of the decade: the Coronation of the Queen of Great Britain. Happily, our Olympic guests in hip Athens were spared a similar grimly sight. No dramatic confrontation with beggars, homeless and drug addicts was ever possible for the last five weeks. How did that happen? The notorious great «clean-up» of Athens before the Olympics, which allegedly included removing lots of immigrants, drug addicts, homeless people and beggars from the capital’s prettified neighborhoods, drove many of these vulnerable people to other Greek cities. To Thessaloniki, for instance. Of course, many asylum-seekers from war-torn countries were briskly sent back home. «Psychiatrists told The Guardian that many of the capital’s burgeoning population of drug users had mysteriously disappeared,» The Guardian’s Helena Smith reported about a month ago. However, she conceded, «The authorities deny that the police have conducted a sweep, saying that no group had been deliberately targeted.» «If good money is quite handy, Everything ends well for that.» In these words lie the biggest moral for practically everything. Don’t party conventions, terrorism and water have a price, too?

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