Wednesday, 23 February 2022

The Amazing Race 33, Episode 8

Thessaloniki, Macedonia (Greece)

[Skateboarders at the base of the White Tower in Thessaloniki, which was the finish line of this leg of The Amazing Race 33.]

I watched this episode of The Amazing Race 33 with my stepfather, whose Greek-speaking and Greek-identified parents came to the USA as refugees from the city across the Aegean Sea from Thessaloniki in “Asia Minor” then known in Greek as Smyrna, and today in Turkish as Izmir.

We were both pleased to see the reality-TV show call attention to Thessaloniki, but disappointed that it highlighted so little of what makes this under-appreciated city so interesting and enjoyable to visit.

[Even in mid-winter, and even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Thessaloniki has been a city of cafe culture and outdoor dining.]

Part of the problem is that tourism promotion and city branding is being carried out by a municipal government which is trying to position Thessaloniki within the context of the public image of “Greece”. But while Thessaloniki is today Greece’s second-largest city, its modern Greek identity coexists with its Roman, Jewish, Byzantine, and Ottoman history, monuments, and legacies of influence. Wandering the city, you never know when the modern balcony-fronted apartment blocks will be interrupted by a Roman amphitheater or a mosque converted to a church.

[The most difficult task in this leg of The Amazing Race 33 involved searching for a clue hidden in a field of stones. Stones like these from the former Jewish cemetery — the site of which is now the downtown Thessaloniki campus of the largest university in Greece — are now scattered throughout the city.]

The best-known literary allusions to Thessaloniki are in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. But I suspect that few readers of the Bible today associate the two (brief) epistles of the apostle Paul to the “Thessalonians” with a modern city they might want to visit. Anyway, Paul’s focus in these letters — written after he had been driven out of Thessaloniki — is on the religious beliefs and practices of the missionaries and their converts who remained in the city, not on anything about the place or its culture.

[Peace marchers carrying the banner of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament confront police with raised clubs in this bronze bas-relief near the site of the assassination of Dr. Grigoris Lambrakis.]

The best-known allusion to Thessaloniki in modern popular culture is equally uninformative as to the city’s contemporary attractions — unless. of course, one finds a civic culture and tradition of resistance to war and fascism to be an attraction.

The award-winning 1969 film Z is based on a real incident, the public assassination of the anti-fascist and anti-war activist Dr. Grigoris Lambrakis by a rightist death squad in the central square of Thessaloniki on 22 May 1963. The director of “Z”, Costa-Gavras, was born and raised in Greece and may be the most famous contemporary “Greek” film director. Some of his films are extremely evocative of place, such as Music Box (1989), which was filmed on location in Chicago and Budapest.

But Costa-Gavras directed Z during his exile from Greece during its rule by a right-wing military junta. Z was produced in French, with a mostly-French cast, and filmed in Algiers. Z isn’t the only one of Costa-Gavras’ films based on real events that for political reasons had to be filmed in a different country. State of Siege (1972) is based on an incident in 1970 in Montevideo, Uruguay, but was filmed in Santiago, Chile, shortly before the U.S.-backed military coup in Chile in 1973. Costa-Gavras’ later film Missing (1982), based on events during that coup, was filmed in Mexico rather than Chile.

Algiers serves about as well as a visual double for Thessaloniki as Toronto does for New York City, but it’s not the same place.

[One of the small streets of shops near the central market in Thessaloniki.]

We tend to visit places of which we have already seen pictures or formed images in our minds. Sometimes, however, the fact that you don’t know much about a place, or don’t know what it will be like to visit, is precisely the reason to go there and see for yourself. Thessaloniki is its own place, not not quite like anywhere else, and places like that are among my favorites. As I’ve noted previously, Thessaloniki is worth a stopover if you’re passing through, or a detour if you’re nearby.

Link | Posted by Edward on Wednesday, 23 February 2022, 23:59 (11:59 PM)
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