Letter from Thessaloniki

Although I know a lot of people who disdain the use of the first-person in journalism, I must confess I do not know what http stands for, nor URL. If it weren’t for a helping hand from Yiannis Tanidis, my Internet tutor (everyone has one, hasn’t he?) I would be lost not knowing the difference between http and www, and would be still wondering why they seem forever destined to be separated by //. Yet, to get impersonal, one should rather choose untutored ways when one surfs all day long, with the world literally at your fingertips. Inevitably, the sad incident with the Athenian teenager last week, who committed Net-aided suicide, has been presented by the local TV stations as incontestable proof of how harmful the Web really is. Imagine that. Amid these signs of improved ignorance, I might be the wrong person to ask about Javascript, but one thing I know for sure is that Internet cookies are hazardous only in case you consume them with pesticide. «He was a lad of 17, who is now dead…,» laments one of the unparalleled songs of Manos Hadjidakis, titled «The Postman has Died.» It was one of the tunes that was heard and greatly appreciated last Saturday at the local concert hall. The house (the Megaro Mousikis as it is called also here) brought its season to an opening with a grandiose sold-out gala titled «Songs From my Country» directed by Stavros Xarhakos and featuring Agnes Baltsa. Classic-styled all-Greek programs are both a blessing and a bane to the concert scene: How long can one stare at sober Greekness without going blind? All the same, our Agnes Baltsa, a mezzo-soprano of vast international fame and a unique career that brought her from the Deutsche Oper Berlin to various opera houses in the USA – including the Metropolitan Opera in New York – the Bavarian State Opera, Covent Garden, Zurich, the Paris Opera etc. etc., worked miracles with Xarchakos conducting. Certainly, the concert with works by Manos Hadjidakis, Mikis Theodorakis, Vassilis Tsitsani and Stavros Xarhakos himself was a huge success. Transcribed in a classical form (with bouzouki and accordion as added principal instruments on stage), it eventually became a perfect balance between the intellect and the heart. It couldn’t be otherwise, as it concerned a form of repetitive consumption. However, all songs so magnificently sung by the justly acclaimed Agnes Baltsa were not merely heard in the past. They have been listened to over and over and over down the years. Now it was like hearing them for the first time. In this sense, listening to a popular program like that was not an action anymore, but a passion. Hearing songs in a new context makes them sound quite different. But it must be I who has changed, not the songs. They are the fixed points of reference with which I measure how far I’ve come and how long it has taken me to get there. Now, there came the first-person again. A vibrant 24-hour city, Thessaloniki is said to be one of the liveliest art-loving cities of Europe. Consider that only during this past week I also had the chance to listen to one of the real great pianists of our time: Domna Evnouchidou, born and living in Thessaloniki, but touring the globe as well. With the city’s Symphonic Orchestra – Vyron Fidetzis, another Thessalonian living, alas, in the capital conducting – Evnouchidou tested her powers with Mozart’s Concerto No. 13, some of the most challenging music of the classical age. I remember the choreographer Boris Charmatz saying: «You may think that because we perform naked you will see everything. But with dance, nakedness hides more than it shows.» In Thessaloniki, there has been some debate over what constitutes «expression» and whether nude dancing should be seen as such, especially in the case of state-run theaters. Often the concept of «dance theater» makes one want to skip both the drama and the dance.  With its latest production «Igor’s Room,» which last weekend kicked off its winter season, «Chorotheatro» at the National Theater of Northern Greece may restore your flagging faith in the (not necessarily nude) dancing. With the music of Stravinsky («Les Noces» and «Le Sacre du Printemps») choreographer Constantinos Rigos has successfully opted for the aerobo-romantic maneuvers of contemporary dance. It is a very interesting production that will run through the end of this month. Prudes do not have to worry about bringing their offspring along. There are also some great petite theaters in town, such as the «Small Theater» which is only a five-minute walk from the White Tower. Founded two years ago by three former actors of the State Theater of Northern Greece, it has at its heart the declared mission of focusing upon plays that reflect the concerns of young people today.  Last week I saw Len Jenkin’s «Five of Us,» a brilliantly constructed play about the parallel lives of five lonely young tenement dwellers in New York. There are some amusing scenes, such as when Mark, a young writer who churns out pornography while planning the «big novel» he will someday write, gets involved in the mugging of Herman, a mentally deficient messenger who speaks in a language all his own, who just happens to be his ideal reader. The last few moments of the play, translated by Athina Paraponiari and directed by Ivi Dimitropoulou, are sublime, but it is a rocky road that leads there. There are laughs to be had here, but they come with groans. In this the play resembles Thessaloniki, a sweet-and-sour place.