Monday, February 27, 2006 

Keeping History Alive

She spent her money saving her homeland,
I'll spend my money saving her home.

When I spend money, I try to spend it wisely. Before I buy anything, I will shop around to get the best deal. I rarely ever buy anything on impulse and I usually complain about the prices of most things...except museums in Greece. I never question the price of admission, nor the fact that an 8-page pamphlet of whatever museum I visit costs 10€. I will even buy things there that I don't really need like 2€ postcards or a 3€ photocopied picture of the museum on a piece of laser paper. Why? Because museums in Greece are severely underfunded if they're funded at all. I feel that if my 10€ helps keep the museum open for another hour, then it's money well spent.

I just love visiting museums. I've been to the Acropolis, National Historical Museum, the War Museum, Folk Art Museum and Children's Museum in Plaka as well as the Jewish Museum. I find them all interesting and the historical details I glean from them gets committed to my memory much quicker than when I read my history books. Books give me an impersonal overview of events whereas the museums make events a much more personal experience. It's one thing to see a picture of traditional costumes from Northern Greece and quite another to actually see the fabric and the hundreds of creases in a dress on display in the Folk Art Museum. I sympathised with the poor Greek woman who had to iron all those creases in the days before Stirella irons were invented. I was amazed at the painstaking detail in the embroidery. You just can't experience that from reading a book.

Most of these larger museums and historical sites (Delphi, Epidavros, Palamidi Prison) are funded the by the Greek Ministry of Culture. Because nearly every square inch of land in Greece can be deemed a historical site, the State just can't afford to maintain and operate all of them. This leaves many of the smaller museums on their own trying to scrape enough money together from private funding and visitors to keep their places open.

On the island of Naxos, Mr. Della Rocca owns and operates the Venetian Museum. He converted his family's ancestral home into a museum all by himself and relies solely on the proceeds he makes from visiting tourists. He also makes sure everyone knows this by posting a sign outside the entrance stating that he's managing his museum on his own with absolutely no help from the Greek government. I admired this man's initiative to keep his museum open and bought everything he had to offer for sale.

When visiting the island of Spetses a few years ago, I was privileged enough to tour the home of one of my favourite Greek figures in modern history, Laskarina Bouboulina. Her direct descendant explained to me that he was also trying to keep her home open on a shoestring budget and again, I bought every single pamphlet, postcard and photocopy he had for sale to support his commendable efforts.

The other reason I never quibble over the cost of museum fees is because I grew up in Canada where anything over 100 years old is considered history. To be able to experience history on the scale of what Greece has to offer exceeds the 50€ or more I spend at the museums. It's a chance of a lifetime for me and I'd much rather spend my money trying to keep history alive than at a movie theatre or taverna any day of the week.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006 

Why Steven Seagal Still Makes Movies

Owning home entertainment stores in Athens has made me realize several things about people.
  • People really do like sex and violence.
  • People prefer to watch notoriously brainless movies rather than watch critically acclaimed ones because the subject matter is 'too depressing'. This is why I can't even give away Hotel Rwanda or Human Trafficking for free.
  • No matter how old and how bad an actor Steven Seagal is, his movies will always make money on rentals. We have two stores in two distinctly different income areas and Steven will be happy to know that he does well in both stores.
I've also come up with the following lists, based on our customers' rental patterns to let those of you who are interested in good movies know why your local DVD club may not order them.

5 Ways to Kill A DVDs Profitability

1. Print Rosebud/Cannes/Sundance/Toronto/Venice Festival Award Winner on the cover.
As soon as customers see those words, the majority of them will refuse to rent the movie no matter how good it may be. If it's not an Oscar award, they assume that it's an incoherent 'culture' flick that only "artsy-fartsy" people will like.
Examples are: Monsoon Wedding and Vera Drake

2. Use Unknown Actors
If a movie uses actors that aren't on this week's tabloids front covers, then the movie won't make it from the rental shelf into the DVD player. Band of Brothers was a great series but I had to practically whip the customers...even the ones who only rent war get them to rent it.

3. Put women on the front cover.
Unless it's obvious the women are lesbians, a movie with only fully-clothed women on the DVD cover (almost always on a white background), will get labelled as a "chick flick" and therefore will only be rented by women when their husbands are watching a soccer game.
Examples: First Wives Club, Waiting to Exhale and Beaches

4. Put an an animal on the cover.
Unless it's a porno movie, animals appearing on DVD covers will ensure that the movie will only get rented if it's Sunday, all the other titles aren't available and the customer has children. Hidalgo managed to escape this fate because Viggo Mortensen (of Lord of the Rings fame) was emphasized and the horses appeared far off in the background.
Example: Seabiscuit, Snow Dogs and The Horse Whisperer

5. Classic Movies
We have ordered classic titles such as To Catch a Thief, Casablanca, The Caine Mutiny and over the course of 5 years, we have rented Casablanca only a few times. The rest of them are in pristine condition, never having been removed from the shelves since the day we bought them. Customers would rather lie to me saying they've already watched them so they can get away with renting garbage like Parasite.

5 Ways to Ensure a DVDs Profitability

1. Put naked women on the cover
No matter how bad the movie is, we will always make money off movies depicting women in various states of undress or in sexually provocative poses on the front cover. Most infantile college humour movies are bound to rake in money just because they have a semi-naked woman on the cover. It doesn't matter if the movie tanks at the box office, as long as there's sexual innuendo on the front cover, it will rent.
Examples: Road Trip and Harold and Kumar Go to Whitecastle (You'll notice that the words "unrated" appear on both covers which only serves to hike up the rentals)

2. Put Guns or Blood on the Front Cover
Movies that people probably wouldn't watch if they read the plot summary, will end up renting them.
Examples: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Oldboy. Both of the movies are worth watching in their own right but I'd have a harder time renting them if the covers didn't feature violence.

3. Use A list Actors in the Movie
Just as using unknown actors in a movie can send it straight to the bargain bin, using A list actors will ensure the movie gets rented by enough people to turn a profit...even if the movie has been panned by every critic.
Examples: Ocean's Twelve and Showtime

4. Print "Oscar Winner" on the Cover
Even if you didn't think Halle Berry deserved Best Actress for her role in Monster's Ball, it will still rent because the word "Oscar" appears on the cover. I doubt anyone would have rented A Beautiful Mind without it's Oscar status unless of course a gun, blood or naked woman replaced the little gold statue.

5. Create a catchy movie title
If the movie Promised Land was not released in Greece as Whores, then I would have lost money on it. Also notice how the cover changes from two women to several women in their underwear in the Greek version. Men rent this movie and are quite disappointed to find out that it's a mockumentary about human trafficking and not a movie about happy strippers. The only reason people still rent Sex, Lies and Videotape is because of the title. Most customers have returned it saying that they got bored because there wasn't enough sex, lies or videotapes of sex and lies.

Saturday, February 18, 2006 

All Dressed Up and Everywhere to Go

Party Time in Greece

In Greece, you don't dress up in costumes for Halloween, you dress up for Apokries. It's a 3 week period preceding Lent. This year, the dates are from February 12 to March 5. All over Greece, you'll see children dressed up as princesses, pirates, cowboys and the villain in the movie "Scream". The custom is said to have pagan roots related to the Dionysian festivals celebrating the God of wine and feasts. The last day of Apokries is celebrated with carnivals. In Athens, the district of Moschato has a parade down the main street complete with festive music blaring over loudspeakers and entrants wearing elaborate costumes comparable to Mardi Gras celebrations around the world. The most popular carnival is held in Patra. By the end of Apokries, many adults will join in the fun and dress up as well.

The day after the carnival is called Kathara Deftera (Clean Monday) and most Greeks will celebrate it by flying kites. Quite a few Greeks still follow the tradition of excluding meat and eggs in their diet for the 40 days leading up to Easter. Many Athenians will head up to Mt. Philopappou hoping to get better winds to propel their kites higher and longer than the rest. Every time I go, I spend more time with my kite on the ground or disentangling it from the dozens of others around me. Hope springs eternal so maybe this is the year I'll actually manage to get mine aloft for more than two minutes and high enough so that when it eventually does its spiral descent, it'll be somewhat entertaining. Since the kites are readily available from the kite vendors all over the city on this statutory holiday and cost only about 10€, everyone in the family gets the chance to fly one.

In my house, Apokries has started with the traditional Scare Tactics. My son has been terrorizing me all day in his Scream costume so I better hurry up and find a Genie costume so I can threaten to turn him into a frog if he dares to jump out from behind one more door. If that doesn't work, at least I know I'll drive my dog batty wearing it around the house.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006 

Germany's "Muslim Test"

German Citizenship Test: Discrimination or Necessity?

Last March, I blogged about the need for culture-immersion courses for new immigrants in light of the honour killings and abuse of children committed by foreigners in western countries. In a district of Germany, it looks like they're trying to implement something similar. "Discussion Guidelines" for new citizenship applicants attempts to gauge their attitudes towards behaviour which is considered criminal in Germany but sometimes tolerated if not promoted in their native countries and/or religion. The 30 question test given to applicants is under fire from the Muslim population.

They believe that these questions are for the sole purpose of excluding them for citizenship. As far as I know, this test will be administered to ALL new applicants, not just Muslims. I believe it is a necessary process because I really cannot stand to read anymore news articles about women being murdered for 'disgracing' the family and children being beaten because it's an acceptable form of punishment in their native countries. If a simple questionnaire can prevent more women and children from abuse in our countries, then it's worth people's feelings getting hurt. I can say this because I wouldn't object to any such questionnaire if I were emigrating to a new country. In fact, I would expect it.

If I were to immigrate to Indonesia and I plan on smoking marijuana while I'm there because my country allows it, I would think the Indonesian government has every right to ask me about my beliefs pertaining to drug use since it is a taboo in their society and chances are I will force them to spend quite a bit of money to prosecute and incarcerate me. Likewise, if I were applying for Saudi Arabian citizenship and they asked me what I thought about forsaking my rights to vote, work and drive without my husband's permission then I'd fully expect them to reject me based on my answers. And they would be right to do so because it's obvious I will not adapt or integrate into their culture.
The questions, which have been leaked to the German media, cover a range of subjects. A few examples:

How do you view the statement that a woman should obey her husband, and that he can beat her if she doesn't?

You learn that people from your neighbourhood or from among friends or acquaintances have carried out or are planning a terrorist attack - what do you do?

Some people hold the Jews responsible for all the evil in the world, and even claim they were behind the attacks of 11 September 2001 in New York. What is your view of this claim?

Imagine that your son comes to you and declares that he's a homosexual and would like to live with another man. How do you react?

Are Muslims complaining because they know what their answers will be? If so, then all the more reason to take the test. Or are they complaining on behalf of ALL foreigners? If so, why aren't the Chinese, Greeks, Russians, Japanese and Filipino applicants voicing their disdain for the new measure?

Friday, February 10, 2006 

Turin's Opening Ceremonies

Let the Games Begin.

Athens has nothing to worry about. The 2004 Summer Games Opening Ceremonies were the best I've seen. What a letdown to see Turin's Opening Ceremonies. In a word--boring. I've seen the same routines a zillion times over. Maybe I expected too much from a country who gave the world da Vinci and Botticelli, Verdi and Puccini, law, aquaducts and good roads.

The producers promised us Rhythm, Passion and Speed and what we got was Clumsy, Uninspired and Lethargic.
Why on earth were we listening to disco? Was Pavarotti in Las Vegas? While the parade of countries took place, disco songs were the background music. Athletes were waving "hello" and Gloria Gaynor was singing "Go on now, go, walk out the door, just turn around now 'cause you're not welcome anymore". Didn't anyone listen to the lyrics?

The acrobatic 'dancers' hanging from the Olympic rings performed in oblivion--their size (in comparison to the ginormity of the rings) and their costumes served as camouflage making it next to impossible to even see what they were doing without zoom binoculars and a front row seat. And the performers with the huge lightbulbs on their heads? Apparently they were supposed to represent snow but that was lost in translation for me. It looked like a Kraftwerk video from the 80s.

The Botticelli Birth of Venus inspired lady in the clamshell was pretty though.

All I can say is that I hope the actual Olympic events will compensate for the disjointed and lacklustre Opening Ceremonies.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006 

Million Euro Baby

Population of Greece: 10,668,354 ..... + 1

Yesterday, I became an aunt for the second time. I now have a beautiful little niece who will make it next to impossible for me to pass a baby store without finding at least 127 things that I will convince myself to buy for her.

I like to think that I am a practical woman. Anything I buy must be good value, good quality and of course, useful. However, when it comes to babies, practicality takes a back seat to fluffy, colourful sleeper sets and little dresses with Walt Disney glitterized cartoons emblazoned on the front. I know babies aren't toys or pets. I understand that. And even though I have worked amongst the conniving forces who market and advertise these non-essential and often overpriced items to consumers, I still succumb to their machinations. The only thing I can say in my defence is that I don't substitute necessity for style. A baby's safety and comfort come first and then I load up on the non-essentials like Weebok sneakers before she can even walk.

The birth of a new baby anywhere in the westernized world is expensive even if you are immune to guerilla advertising tactics. In Greece, probably even more so. Most Greek parents will pay several thousand euros in cash bribes to their doctor even though their healthcare insurance covers the delivery and hospital fees.

The other costly difference is naming the baby. Babies are not named until they are baptised in the Greek Orthodox Church which usually happens in the baby's first year (unlike in Canada where they like to have the baby named and his/her birth registration forms filled out before you even leave the hospital). Baptisms are usually costly affairs involving many expenses. Most of my friends have paid anywhere from 3000-7000€ for the often lavish event. In a year's time, my brother-in-law will be paying for invitations, caterers, the christening outfit and bonbonieres, lambades (candles) and the priest before "το μωρό" (the baby) receives her official christian name. Since the guests will be bringing gifts in honour of the baby's baptism, she will be outfitted and spoiled with toys well into her third birthday.

Of all the celebrations in life, the birth of a baby is the one I enjoy most and I'm so happy that Greeks believe it too. Yes, babies are expensive but I consider the money spent on them is just a symbol of the love people feel towards them. It's wonderful knowing that my niece will grow up in a country where she will be loved by family and doted on by affectionate Greeks.

Thursday, February 02, 2006 

Burden of Proof

Jesus the Man or Jesus the Legend?

It was only a matter of time before someone actually got up the gumption to sue the Church and question its very reason for being.

Confirmed atheist, Luigi Cascioli, has sued the Roman Catholic Church for conning its citizens. Invoking a law known in Italian as "Abuso di Credulita Popolare" (Abuse of Popular Belief), he wants the church to prove that Jesus actually existed as a historical figure.

Whether this actually gets past the preliminary trial remains to be seen but it would be great to see what kind of evidence the Church can come up with besides using the Bible as the sole resource as their basis proof for Jesus' existence.

I have a vested interest in this myself. Last year, while helping my son research the life of St. Thomas on the internet for his religious class in school, I could not find any concrete evidence of his existence let alone his death. This has never happened to me. I always find what I'm looking for on the internet and my own library...from the names and addresses of long lost relatives to actual CDC invoices of viruses the US shipped to Iraq. I could find tons of credible evidence of men who lived long before Jesus from many different sources but when it came to researching saints, the only 'proof' of their existence came from religious sites.

If I wanted to prove the emperor Tiberius existed, I know where his house is. If I wanted to prove Alexander the Great existed, there are hundreds of places both online and offline to confirm it. But when it comes to Jesus or the saints, the Church seems to have the monopoly on any information pertaining to them. Anything else seems to be based on legend. It's easier to prove the existence of alien abductions than the lives of Jesus and his apostles.

For those of you who do decide to comment on this post, I want to make it clear that I don't really care to have the Bible quoted back at me verse by verse. I have read it. But if anyone has credible and tangible proof of Jesus' existence without resorting to how-dare-you-question-the-bible arguments, I'd love to read it.