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Monthly Archives: February 2013

For my  last weekend in Thessaloniki I invited over a special friend from Athens.

We met on the train platform on the Friday afternoon. After a short rest  my best  friend in town  picked us up for a surprise destination…

We ended up on the third floor of one of the city’s major  hospitals looking up at the thousands of blackbirds that dot the sky above the building complex every  evening with mathematic precision.

They fly around in different cliques and formations with no apparent plan. Not really going anywhere. At a certain time, the feathered little creatures decide to  dive into  the tilting branches of the courtyard pine trees to rest for the day. Flock by flock they settle.

birdspottingThat image somehow projected onto the the following two days.

We fluttered around the city center. Vesper sight-seeing of Agia Sofia and the Mitropoli.  Evening stroll against a backdrop of azure skies over the sea promenade.

seafrontbynightWe paused at the  rotating cafe of the  telecommunications tower for a bird’s view over Thessaloniki.

360degreesBeing perched high up over the sepia coloured streetscape was like going back to the time when strawberry granita was an undisputed choice.

IMG_0397We nibbled on seeds, because a  visit to Thessaloniki is never complete without some bites of a sesame-sprinkled koulouri.

IMG_0409We reignited family bonds over a  Sunday lunch with longtime no see old relatives of my guest. We landed in their warm nest and spent a few hours with homely food,  complex Cretan family trees, war stories and cats purring by the hot stove.

IMG_0423After months of being on the receiving end of people’s hospitality it felt genuinely good to redeem some of the kindness  that has been coming my way. Being Eleni’s hostess for the weekend was like giving something back to all of those who have shared their homes with me. I thank her for giving me that opportunity.

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I love February. I always have….

It is my birth month, I confess, but I cannot help but to like this short month, bringing together several occasions to celebrate the good things in life.

The beginning of lent, marked by Mardi Gras and mouthfuls of creamy, almondy Swedish semlor…

IMG_0364…or by Greek Ash Monday, observed with handmade kites and fast-food, including sweet sesame halva, salty olives, pickles and freshly baked  flatbread.

IMG_0425Shear white and pink flowers appearing on delicate crimson  almond tree branches.

St Valentine’s as a good excuse to bite into heart-shaped chocolate on a coffee-break with colleagues or tell your friends how much you love them.


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Carnival complete with thin masquerade costumes that can’t protect you from the cold, nor from curious looks.  Loud music and massive amounts of confetti and serpentines.

masquerade
Then, as the month draws to an end, after a series of  friends’ birthdays, it is my turn to blow out candles and get a fragrant bouquet of freesias.

The coffee break is a great invention. It  gives you something to look forward to while it has a guaranteed refreshing effect on the mind and on the spirit.

This afternoon, I met my author, photographer and publisher friend Spyros for a coffee and downpour of thoughts and feelings.

inspyred coffeeOn my way to the meeting place I looked for the red, yellow and green graffiti parrot that used to hang out on a school wall behind the Metropolis church.

Every little walk in the city can easily turn into a tiny pilgrimage and mini discovery tour…

The wall was still decked, but my old friend was missing. He had been replaced by another bird of the same species, only somewhat rougher and less one-dimensional.

parrotrevisitedThe city landscape thirsts for inspiration and creativity.  Vital space for it to thrive.

Wishes for the grace of an urban fairy…

godblessart

31 December 2010. Saigon, Ho Chi Minh city, on the last day of the year.

My plan is to spend the day on an exercise of self-indulgence, consciously giving myself that ounce of extra attention. A way of nicely rounding up the year and looking forward to new times with some extra layers of nail polish to ward off any apprehensions.

It turns out  to be a really nice day….

socialistcapitalism

I start out  before noon, taking a taxi from Spring hotel in District 1, to the Vietnamese Traditional Massage Institute at 185 D Cong Quynh. I pay my ticket and I am led to a small room where I remove my clothes, put on a blooming gown and lay down on the massage table.

When looking at the old, cracked walls I realise that they are only visible to me; the personnel is blind. The otherwise quite straightforward and simple treatment becomes a peephole to a different sensory dimension where vision is ostracised.

When I am back in my clothes, I cross the street and Yên Stylist Beauty Salon appears in front of me. I step in, agree on a price and off we go. Shampoo is applied on my hair while I am still sitting upright on the salon chair. With my hair whisked up in cappuccino mode, I am taken to another room in the back. On top of  a very  thorough hair-wash, I  get a neck and shoulder massage – the bliss…

The best part of the experience however,  is the hairdresser. Simply the most talented one I’ve ever come across. He explains something about a local female artist who is singing on the TV screen.  In a very determined way he sculpts my hair into a very becoming shape.

I sport my new haircut at the Ben Thanh Market, one of the bustling covered Saigonese markets where you can practice haggling skills,  marvel at the colourful display of merchandise and stop for a bite or a drink.

marketsaigonI am amazed at how well people use space in this country.  People are small built, alright, but they also manage to neatly stack their stuff in small stalls in a very orderly and organised way. To buy myself a set of white and blue porcelain mugs I have to first gently wake up the lean woman who is taking a nap curved on the floor of her tiny narrow booth.

Impromptu naps and pedicure seem to be the, female at least,  panacea for long and tiring working days. Everywhere sales women can be spotted napping or trimming their feet.

And that is exactly the focus of my next stop. My feet are going to get some  tender love and care.

A pair of happier feet take me to Cafe Sozo, a social entreprise that trains and employs disadvantaged youth. As usual, Vietnamese coffee tastes great and I get the boost I need for the rest of the day.

sozoAfter several kilometres of walking, my solo tour of Saigon comes to an end. It is time for a break at the hotel followed by a  New Year’s eve dinner.

Celebrations culminate in a club hidden somewhere in a back alley.  Getting there means cutting into honking hordes of vespas all very determined to go somewhere.

The night-club is dark, the  crowd is enthusiastic, the eighties’ music concert is uplifting, but the show comes to an early end.

So we head back to our neighbourhood and walk up and down the main street, scouting for a place that is still open after midnight.

We end up at Bernie’s bar & grill on Thai Van Lung Street. Live guitar music in the background and  a delicious fruit-shake in front of me.

happyfeetPampered and in perfect company, in a bar in South East Asia, in the realm of a new year.

Life at its best.

This Sunday was a day of mellow, spring-like weather. I took a morning train to the city and walked from the station through the narrow streets of the centre.

When walking down one of the empty  main streets, I could feel gusts of warm air coming from the sea front.

dead end

The meeting place was St Minas, one of my favourite churches in Thessaloniki. Some time for silent contemplation against a background of Byzantine notes. Rows of middle-aged ladies with short, well-groomed hairdos in different nuances of lacquered wood. Fur coats and neat black shoes the day ad honorem.

Agios Minas

The core message  of the sermon was to share the good things you have. Being filled with God’s grace is not enough if you do not share it with others;  just like a tank brimming with water that will end up stagnating if it is not allowed to flow.

I liked that. Straight-forward and applicable. Wholesome food for thought rounded up with an appeal for aliments to help support the many families in need.

After the mass, we walked along  the sea promenade and there it was…The same old boat I have been taking pictures of since the age of seventeen.

Aristotelous square

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On my way back to the station, I had to remove my jacket, the sun being on full beam. I stopped to watch a  group of people that were painting some of the ugly parapets screening off the metro work site.

The Thessaloniki metro, whenever it materialises, will be a miracle in its own right. In the meantime, I appreciate that people with a vision of a better city make a gesture of good will and generosity in sharing it with the rest of us.

street art

sofiawise

Clockwise, otherwise & likewise

The Chick on a Pea

Clockwise, otherwise & likewise

Buttercupgoeswest

Buttercup is a newborn and we are taking her on a 5000 KM journey from Ahmedabad to Kanyakumari

Sadness Theory

Music with passion for the environment

zee pause café

taking a moment, having a coffee, writing down some thoughts