Saturday, November 9, 2013

Life in Prism

These days I feel like the proverbial hamster plugging away on his treadmill.  I guess that beats Sisyphus and his boulder—though on reflection that seems more a difference in perspective than substance.  But, no matter the analogy, since disembarking at JFK last Saturday it’s been relentless 5AM to midnight days working away at what’s piled up (literally and figuratively) during my six months in Greece, plus preparing to travel west to launch my two-month book tour in Berkeley at a shindig shared with our own Cara Black that begins (began?) three hours before this post went up. (My schedule is posted on my website).

If you read my post from a week ago, I’m sure you realize that the very last thing I wanted this week was an invitation to attend the presentation of a documentary film on the Greek crisis—followed by an open panel discussion on the subject.  I’d just spent six months experiencing it up close and personal.

Though technically titled, “The Hellenic-American Cultural Foundation presents Looking Through The Prism: Greek Culture in a Time of Austerity and Innovation,” it was about the Greek crisis. Everything these days involving Greece is about the crisis, no matter what it’s called.

But the documentary, “The Prism–GR2011”—nothing to do with the NSA surveillance program of the name Prism—is the work of the son of dear friends and since the venue was less than twenty blocks from my apartment, I figured I’d spare three hours and go.  Besides, as one of NYC’s quintessential Wall Street law firms (though none these days is actually on Wall Street) had kindly donated space in its offices for the event, I looked forward to the vibe of the venue giving me a booster shot reminder of why I’m now so very happy with my life. :)

The room was packed, and being half as long as a football field (the sort of room needed for those mega-closings Wall Street thrives on), that meant a few hundred attendees; all the men in suits and ties but two—yours truly and a gentleman one might mistake for Santa Clause on holiday in Greenwich Village.   Ahh, the booster shot took hold.

But wait, there’s more. The panel represented distinctly different Greek generations and perspectives. Two of the three panelists, the filmmaker and a well known Greek journalist, were in their thirties and lived in Greece. The moderator, a respected Greek diplomat, introduced the third panelist as his mentor “in both the art of diplomacy and tennis” and each diplomat made clear that most of their time these days was spent outside of Greece.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  The film showed three of twenty-seven vignettes shot in the winter of 2010-2011 by fourteen Greek photojournalists, subsequently edited into one film called Krisis—The Prism GR2011.  As I said, everything about Greece has to do with the crisis. 

The vignettes were not what I expected, and I think it safe to say they surprised most folks in the audience with a view I’d venture isn’t often “officially” presented to the Greek-American community.  The filmmaker in his movie, and along with the journalist in the follow-up discussion, put his finger on what truly threatens Greece’s stability.  And I’m not saying that because their views agreed with mine (many of which have been expressed in posts here), but because they honed in on day-to-day life in Greece and told it like it is.  The diplomats, as diplomats are prone to do, tried putting a different cast to the less than flattering elements in the film that grabbed you by the throat, and to skirt tough questions from the audience. The filmmaker and journalist did not.

Two of the three segments focused upon immigration—in my opinion the most significant long term issue confronting Greece and the EU. 

The first (“Battlefield”) was an overview piece examining the attitudes of Greeks and non-Greeks living together in a now marginal Athens neighborhood.  It spares no punches, presenting raw confrontations between Greeks and non-Greeks, interviewing Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) members (filmed before that neo-Nazi party’s rise to power) and subtly raising the role of the church and government in all of this if only by their lack of involvement.

MC Yinka
Segment two (“MC Yinka”) focused on a very black, very articulate young man born in Greece to Nigerian parents.  He’s involved in the Athens music world and offers a unique, personal take on what it means to be different in Greece.

The third segment (“From A Distance”) showed two young people who left life in Athens separately and for different reasons and are now creating a new life together on an island.  Whether or not it’s a romanticized tale, with at least forty percent of the country crammed into Athens and a 57% youth unemployment rate (27.6% overall), such an adventure seems the only fairy tale ending still within reach for most Greek youth.

In introducing the panel and the episodes, a speaker said that far too many people who offer comments and criticism on Greece are clueless about what’s really going on.  If he’d not seen the film when he said that I wonder what he’d say now?  It’s not a pleasant thing to watch about a land that you love. But it’s real.

Most importantly, the filmmaker captured the essence of a pervasive melancholy that haunts so much of Greece.

Bravo, to the co-directors and -writers of The Prism, Nikos Katsaounis and Nina-Maria Paschalidou! You shined a light on what can no longer be safely ignored. 

Nikos Katsaounis & NIna-Maria Paschalidou

Here’s a link to the entire twenty-seven segments comprising The Prism and another to the feature documentary film fusing those segments into Krisis—The Prism GR2011.  So far I’ve only seen three segments, but I’m looking forward to watching all twenty-seven and the film via the Internet in hotel rooms along that long (hopefully not so lonely) road to book tour perdition.

PS.  Yes, I’m very happy I went.



  1. We too will look at the links you've provided. Glad you ventured out to this presentation. Great post, Jeff. Good luck on your tour. See you in AZ.

    1. Thanks, J&J, looking forward to seeing you in Scottsdale too! It's only a few days away. My how time flies.

  2. bravo Nikos...keep telling the stories Jeff...thanks so very much.

    1. You're welcome, S, and I join you in that request of Niko.

  3. You were great last night Jeff - how could you do it jetlagged and on Greek time I'll never know!

  4. It was a team effort, mate! Thanks for being there to carry the laboring oar.

  5. Three days away, and I've fallen SO far behind. Sigh.

    Thanks for the column, Jeff! After just spending a day tearing down a 3-story, 70-year old brick chimney, I'll take the treadmill over the boulder ANY day!

    As for "an articulate black man," I don't see that in what was written, Betty, I suspect that may be your own sensitivities. What I took from that paragraph was, "Here is a young Greek-born man who is smart (articulate) and talented (musician), and yet struggles with life in Greece as a (perceived, because of his looks) non-Greek."

    Thanks for the links, Jeff, I'll do some exploring (and maybe some self-edoocating... :-) )

  6. You may have fallen far, but at least not off that chimney. And yes, you nailed the word usage correctly. By the way, in the course of your exploring you might want to take a look at a France 24 special on Greece's Golden Dawn that ran a couple of days ago. It's chilling.

  7. Thank you for your comment, Betty, though I do not agree with your premise. Also, I think you missed the point of the sentence. "Articulate" was in no sense a code word for "black," because I specifically described MC Yinka as black, in fact "very black." That was the essence of my point; a decidedly, talented, articulate man born in Greece to foreign parents facing unique difficulties because he is black. Take a look at the documentary, I think you'll find it instructive.