Rebetika, Athens to California

Here’s a great old tune–Πέντε Χρόνια Δικασμένος (5 Years Imprisoned) by Vangelis Papazoglou (it’s also known as Genti Koule, after the infamous prison, or Η Φωνη του Αργιλε). This was recorded at the workshop of Dimitris Rapakousios and features Pavlos, the baglamas player for the Disciples of Markos. I had the opportunity to see them play just last week. I was not disappointed. They have mastered the delivery of early-style rebetika. Songs are introduced with wonderful taximia; interjections–the tsakismata–were present throughout the show; and the violinist, Darcy Noonan, was simply divine, for a violin adds so much to any rebetika performance. Indeed, the group played some of my favorite tunes: Ενας Μαγκας στο Βοτανικο, Δεν με παυει πια το στομα σου, Ο Γρουσουζης, και Πρεπει να Χτιζω ενα Τζαμι. What was lacking? Well, Greeks dancing zeibekika and an audience conversant with the music. But, hey, it’s California, not Athens.

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Στον Πειραιά Συννέφιασε

Mitsakis, 1960. This is a very nice version from Melbourne, where rebetika is alive and well. Καλή Πρωτομαγιά!

Στον Πειραιά συννέφιασε
και στην Αθήνα βρέχει
άλλος αγάπη έχασε
κι άλλος αγάπη έχει

Ανάβω το τσιγάρο μου
και η βροχή το σβήνει
χτυπώ την πόρτα π’ αγαπώ
και ‘κείνη δεν ανοίγει ω!
και ‘κείνη δεν ανοίγει

Βλέπω τις κούρσες να περνούν
απ’ τον μεγάλο δρόμο
κι εσύ το ξέρω πως γελάς
με τον δικό μου πόνο

Στον Πειραιά συννέφιασε
και στην Αθήνα βρέχει
άλλος αγάπη έχασε
κι άλλος αγάπη έχει

Σε μια κολόνα στέκομαι
και πήρε να νυχτώνει
δεν λογαριάζω την βροχή
όσο κι αν δυναμώνει

In Peiraia it’s cloudy and in Athens it’s raining,
One guy lost love and another has it.

I light my cigarette and the rain puts it out,
I knock on the door I love and it doesn’t open.

I see fancy cars driving by on the street,
and I know you’re laughing at my pain.

In Peiraia it’s cloudy and in Athens it’s raining,
One guy lost love and another has it.

I’m standing by a lamppost and it’s getting dark,
I don’t care about the rain, even though it’s pouring.

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Refugees at the City Plaza Hotel

Tucked away down a side street in the Greek capital, the previously deserted hotel was occupied by left-wing Greek activists and turned into a squat for nearly 400 refugees and migrants – half of them children – in late April.

Sitting in the hotel’s cafe, Lina Theodorou, a 27-year-old Athens-based lawyer and member of the Solidarity Initiative for Political and Economic Refugees, explains that the activist group was inspired to take action shortly after neighbouring Macedonia sealed its borders in late March.

The closure was in response to the agreement between the European Union and Turkey to halt the flow of refugees and migrants seeking to reach Western Europe by crossing through Greece, the Balkans and central Europe.

The hotel is now home to Syrian and Afghan refugees and, to a lesser extent, families who fled Iraq, the occupied Palestinian territories and several countries across Africa. The squat is administered by the refugees themselves, as well as between 30 and 40 solidarity activists who volunteer informally on a daily basis.”

Here’s the group’s Facebook page, blog, and you can donate here to help this community of refugees.


Posted in Refugee Crisis | 1 Comment

After Spring

On Thursday, my wife and I had the opportunity to see a screening of “After Spring,” a documentary about the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. The camp itself was opened in 2012 and has grown significantly since that time. Currently, there are ca. 80,000 refugees at Za’atari, many of whom come from Da’ara and the surrounding territory in Syria. The camp is administered jointly by the Jordanian government and the UNHCR. As the documentary notes, the majority of the camp’s residents have been there for many years now. Indeed, the place has taken on the appearance of a small town, with markets, restaurants and so on–all accomplished through the initiative of the refugees themselves. Although Za’atari is but one of many sites of refuge for Syrians today–over 4.5 million have been displaced as a result of the country’s ongoing civil war–one can watch this documentary and, in a remarkably direct way, see the refugees as they really are. For this is the film’s greatest achievement: the portrayal of the refugees as at once displaced and longing for home (or for some future hope), but also quite resilient and adapting to their circumstances. We see, for example, the children of the camp scooped up into taekwondo classes led by a Korean volunteer who helped build an entire facility dedicated to this purpose; we see an entrepreneur making gorgeous flatbread “pizzas” in the camp’s central market; and we see children–the most vulnerable among us–confined to life in tents or trailers (the so-called “caravans”). In short, we see a human population–no different from those of us living comfortable western lives–hoping for many of the same things: safety, prosperity, and a fulfilling life with family. But we see, too, that these hopes are nowhere near being realized; we see, in fact, some acceptance among the refugees that the camp might be a long term rather than a short term situation.

All of which made the events of Friday all the more depressing and nauseating. As an American it was among the most deeply shameful days of my life to witness a sitting president suspend our refugee admission program in its entirety; to strand thousands of approved refugees–the most desperate among us, those fleeing violence, warfare, and death threats. This order dictates that ca. 20,000 refugees will be prevented from settling in the US–800 approved refugees in this week alone; that refugees awaiting medical care will be left to die, including children; and that America will abrogate one of its most central and essential promises–to be a beacon for those in need, to be an accepting nation to the world’s most desperate and endangered. Beyond the suspension of the refugee program, one must grapple with the overtly discriminatory travel ban imposed on citizens of 7 majority Muslim nations–a ban which makes quite clear that Muslims and only Muslims are the target (for there is no other way to read the exemptions for Christians built into the order). This ban was mistaken in conception, implemented poorly, and is causing–and will continue to cause–numerous problems. It tells our Iraqi partners, with whom we are currently partnering to retake Mosul from ISIS, that we care not for their sacrifices; it forced this Iraqi general–who has been fighting alongside American forces for 13 years–to cancel his trip to the US to visit his family, which had been relocated for its own safety; it tells the Muslim world collectively that, indeed, American is at war with Islam itself; in fact, the jihadis are praising the current president as the “best caller to Islam” and al-Baghdadi himself has declared it a “blessed ban“; our own security experts agree that the ban is counterproductive; and it weakens our standing among our allies, who find the entire episode reprehensible. And what to tell thousands of college students who are affected by this order? There’s no silver lining here. The order is at once morally abominable and serves no security purpose whatsoever. So, we need to ban travel from these seven countries to secure the country. Why is that again–because this data set reveal that not a single American was killed on US soil by anyone from these seven countries since 1975. And how many Syrian refugees have been implicated in terrorist plots? Zero. ZERO. From the link:

“In addition to the visa restrictions above, Drumpf’s executive order further cuts the refugee program to 50,000 annually, indefinitely blocks all refugees from Syria, and suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days.  This is a response to a phantom menace.  From 1975 to the end of 2015, 20 refugees have been convicted of attempting or committing terrorism on U.S. soil, and only three Americans have been killed in attacks committed by refugees—all in the 1970s.  Zero Americans have been killed by Syrian refugees in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil.  The annual chance of an American dying in a terrorist attack committed by a refugee is one in 3.6 billion.  The other 17 convictions have mainly been for aiding or attempting to join foreign terrorists.”  

No, the EO is purely discriminatory in intent–it’s very purpose is to make the lives of outsiders difficult, painful even, because this is what nativist regimes do. Anyone harboring notions about the potential of this regime to settle into a state of normalcy should, at this point, be disabused of these notions.

And so here we are after one week of an openly nativist, expressly Islamophobic regime. America’s standing in the world has been diminished in a serious way; our allies are wondering what type of partner we will be moving forward; thousands of refugees have been abandoned to their fate; and incompetence reigns in the White House, where the Insecure Leader and his cronies gather to plot their next assault on American values, norms, and the global order. This regime is a menace, and it will remain so for the remainder of this term. Resistance is essential; this is not normal.




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The Collapse of the Greek Healthcare System

Patients who should live are dying.” Perhaps there is no better way to summarize the effects of 7 years of unrelenting austerity than the above quote. The numbers:

“Since 2009, per capita spending on public health has been cut by nearly a third – more than €5bn (£4.3bn) – according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. By 2014, public expenditure had fallen to 4.7% of GDP, from a pre-crisis high of 9.9%. More than 25,000 staff have been laid off, with supplies so scarce that hospitals often run out of medicines, gloves, gauze and sheets.”

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The inimitable luthier, Panayiotis Kafetzopoulos, now has a Facebook page, where he is posting photos and videos of his unique and beautiful instruments. I encourage you to take a look–these are really exceptional instruments. Here’s a preview, featuring a basobouzouki played by Stelios, who used to play regularly on Friday nights at Rebetiki Istoria:


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Trump Takes Power

A few hours ago a reprehensible man became the 45th President of the United States. This man openly mocked a disabled reporter; he claimed that John McCain was not a war hero because he had been captured in Vietnam; he quarreled openly with Gold Star parents; he is on video bragging about using his wealth and celebrity to sexually assault women–to “grab them by the pussy,” to use his words; he currently stands accused by roughly a dozen different women of various acts of sexual assault or harassment–but claims he never would have done so because some were too ugly for his liking; he mocked Ted Cruz’s wife, insulting her looks–he is a grotesque, sexist monstrosity. He also rose to political prominence as a leading figure in the deeply racist birther movement, claiming that President Obama was not an American citizen and therefore an illegitimate president; he scapegoats Mexicans and Muslims, labeling the former rapists and criminals, chiefly responsible for the economic ruin of America’s Rust Belt, while the latter are to be blamed collectively for the actions of terrorists across the globe. Thus, they must be banned entirely from entering the US and placed onto a federal registry. He also ran a fake university that was nothing more than a predatory institution meant to scam students; he operated a fake charity, whose proceeds he apparently used to purchase art of himself; he regularly stiffed contractors and other blue collar workers who worked on his properties, causing them (very often) to go out of business; he (more or less) openly bragged about not paying taxes for years on end due to a massive business write off years ago; he encouraged violence at his campaign rallies, and does not respect the country’s democratic institutions or norms–rather, he admires (openly) authoritarian strongmen around the globe. He is ignorant of public policy, seems to have no interest in learning anything about it, and does not understand in the least the tremendous benefits that accrue to the US as a result of its long standing alliances. The man is so simple-minded and ignorant that he simply sees everything as a sort of zero sum game, some sort of transaction in which the US is getting the worse of it. He has already said dumb things–about NATO, the One China policy–which, make no mistake, will have serious ramifications. I have no doubt that he does not understand any of this, nor might he ever.

This creature is now the most powerful man in the world–an erratic, temperamental, ignorant, bullying man-child with authoritarian inclinations will now stand at the head of the most powerful country and military in the world.

And how did we get here? For this we have to thank a broken Republican party, which has become so institutionally dysfunctional that it could not stop his rise during the primaries. The party fed its base such a steady diet of irrational nonsense over the last eight years via the conservative media bubble that Trump could come along and simply dispense with the dog whistle, saying all the things that the GOP base/primary voters wanted to hear. And then naked partisanship propelled him to victory in the general, as the entire GOP establishment eventually fell in line behind him and the “conservative” coalition came out and voted for him. Sure, there remained some principled conservatives–John Kasich among them, various think tank types–but defections were extremely minimal. He was embraced, eventually.

So it seems that we do indeed live in a great age of partisanship. There really are two Americas, a fact which I have long sought to play down. The divisions which separate the two are deep and meaningful and won’t go away any time soon. To claim otherwise would be to fundamentally misunderstand the country as it is today.

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