Πέμπτη, 24 Σεπτεμβρίου 2009

Globaltravellersncensored goes Bucolic

This month one of the blog's entries is hosted at voukwlos.blogspot.com, a fanzine published by the english literature club of the Univercity of Cyprus, in a special travel-associated issue

Παρασκευή, 18 Σεπτεμβρίου 2009

Fear in the Air

It was the morning of my departure from Barcelona when the frenzied call came in. At the other end of the line was my father, who in a worried tone told me to be extra careful, because things went really bad and all hell broke loose. He then went on to telling me something about Muslim terrorists and things going rough. I really did not understand that much but kept a cautious eye around me; on the journey to the Barcelona Sants train station. Nothing suspicious appeared there, and so with a sigh of relief I dived in the seat of the Altaria and then watched the landscape of northern Catalonia and Aragon zip by. Four hours later I was relaxing in my Madrid hotel room watching TV bulletins in anticipation of more information. In the next morning I was reluctantly leaving for Athens after an amazing trip around Spain, leaving behind any plans of visiting Portugal or Morocco. Pretty soon I was fully aware of what had happened. An Al- Qaida terrorist plot of attacking civilian airplanes using liquid explosives had been stopped in Britain, and everyone was catching their breath, as new safety measures against possible threats in the air were being thought of. Meanwhile all flights in and out of the UK (where it originated) and the USA were suspended. Things seemed pretty rough. With the TV screen humming I just sunk in the bed and went to sleep, to be ready for the next day’s departure.

On my arrival the next day nothing seemed like whatever I had seen in any post 9/11 arrival at an airport in Europe. Multiple security checks, and, at the X-RAY machine people being forced to hand over their shoes so that they can be passed, mothers forced to drink part of the milk stored for their infants, and people being forced to prove that they were carrying medicine. All other liquids had to be dumped. And, at the check in line I was looking at the passengers of a lot of flights to the UK, most of them being returning holidaymakers, tired, dirty, some even hungry, waiting patiently for their return flight. Some of them had stayed up all night hoping to catch some early flight, and all of them did not have any idea whatsoever concerning the time and date of their return home. And then the real ordeal started when I was to move on to the departure lounges. I had to go through some checkpoints, that made sure I was not carrying any liquids before entering the duty free lounge (after entering it I was free to carry as many tons of liquids as I liked- capitalism cannot be bothered by some security measures), and requesting me to remove my shoes so that they too can be scanned. Stuff that I could not imagine before this day. Big brother entering Europe’s air travel.

As the airplane was climbing, thoughts charged across my head. The thought of terrorist hits in mid-air, especially Al Qaida-style, caused many more backfires across Europe than the Madrid-Atocha and London hits. It scared the hell out of Europeans and helped European governments implement more anti-democratic legislation on their citizens. Fear, one of the most effective drugs any politician can use, it can cut across all class lines and turn on any sort of conservative reflex. This means that the public might turn the other cheek to any government’s misshaps, as long as the government can “protect” it from any foes that might rise up from any occasion such as this, whether they are real or imaginary. Suddenly Europe woke up in a state of terror, and started to become accustomed to the idea of giving up some of its constitutional rights in return to some ambiguous sort of security.

Finally, au contraire to their American counterparts, European governments will not turn their attention into subdoing some “rogue” developing country, but toward an all interior enemies, whether they are disobedient activists or part of the weakest link in all European Countries, the immigrants and the refugees. This result is visible today, two years later, with Islamofobia, racism, and, even worse, their totalitarian brother, fascism, rearing their ugly heads over the continent, and, at the same time most European democracies are turning into police states of one sort or another. And this, in a time when social struggles may rise, can make things very interesting. A few months after this trip, the ghettos in France erupted. About a year later Athens burned. Both explosions started because of police violence and part of their causes where related to police malpractice. And strike actions, occupations and demonstrations are met with violent reactions by the security forces. All these practices existed even before 9/11, but after 9/11 they became more common, and after these arrests, they have become some sort of standard response. But the more the repression, the more angry the public will become. And this will spark the fuse for more and more intense struggles.

Leaving all this behind though, I was reluctantly travelling back east, trying to get back to some sort of Greek-summer experience.

Τετάρτη, 16 Σεπτεμβρίου 2009

An Italian synopsis

She said, 'There is no reason
and the truth is plain to see.'
Procol Harum, Whiter Shade of Pale

As I zip by the countryside of northern Italy, I get once again the all-familiar feeling that occurred to me during the trip. That Italy, and especially the Italians need a saviour. Under the carpet there is a feeling that everything is in the process of changing. And the said change is not one that will make things better for everyone. In fact I think that il Cavagliere and his cohorts will continue to loot the country in the expense of everybody else that inhabits it. And in the wake of the impending economic crisis, those that will pay the price are going to be the working class, and especially the immigrants. Already the Italian government is implementing stricter and more inhuman immigration policies by every passing month, even by collaborating with dictator like Mounmar Kadafi (who once said that there are no refugees or immigrants, there is only people who travel abroad), on the issue of returning expelled immigrants back to their countries. At some point unemployment will be a problem too, and tensions will reach boiling point. And if you count in the factor of the rise of the far right across Europe, then things will become really interesting.

At these times what is needed is a strong left opposition. But at the moment the Left in Italy is still unable to pick up the pieces of the Prodi debacle. And that makes the Left unable to oppose anything on the coming cyclone of change. But there is a glimmer of hope. The Riffundazione seems to have understood, at least partly, what went wrong in the past years, and at the moment looks as if it has taken a small but significant shift to the left. If this goes on to something bigger, then the left will pose a significant force to resist, at least on the level of a struggle of the streets. Another important point to be taken is that there is also a significant swing in the minds of a lot of young workers, who seem to have taken a liking to organising independent struggles, without waiting for the unions to start anything, from picket lines to strike actions. Depending on the success of these struggles, the conscience of the people might rise or sink. This remains to be seen.

Πέμπτη, 10 Σεπτεμβρίου 2009

Venezia in Cervelo

When arriving in Venice by rail, one cannot help but notice the huge amounts of water lying by the rails, and the vastness of the port area, including the oil refineries. But this can be forgotten really quickly when one reaches the St Lucia train station. Despite appearances there is only one source of revenue.
Tourism. Venice is a tourist destination. But not exactly in the way of an average tourist resort. In fact it has a cross-age appeal. In its streets one can see middle aged couples, pensioners, students and families walking around town. Venice has a bit of everything. Romantic rides for lovers, expensive and cozy cafes for fashion and lifestyle victims, and of course a lot of sights. But there is a sign of the city’s dependency on tourism. The prices on everything from hotel rooms to food and drink, can be high. Good thing I am staying in a student hall. The area around Piazza Santa Fosca, looks like an average neighbourhood housing university students and, of course, student bars.

“Not all who wander are lost”, explains a sticker on the ceiling of one of those bars. “Fair enough”, I think, but that does not have anything to do with Venice. If you don’t have a map, you can spend hours wandering around the streets of Venice, trying to find your way to the area you want to visit. The ambiguous street signs contribute to this too, since they just inform you that there are more than one ways to reach your destination, offering no further explanation, since the distance between them can be huge, leaving lots of uncovered crossroads in the meantime.

Exhausted from the hours of searching for the piazza, I finaly find my way there, and try to enter the famous basilica. First, I find out that there is a huge qeue in the entrance. Discouraging sight number one. Then I see that backpacks or bags are not allowed inside, and I have to go to a baggage guarding service, to leave my bag. That, of course might mean that I will be charged like hell, and this is not really good for the budget of a backpacker like myself. This is the second discouraging point. Wic h makes me decide to ditch the effort and try to explore a bit more. Maybe go to the islands surrounding the town, or make a go for the gardens I had spotted on my arrival, yes the ones next to the Santa Lucia station. I go for the second option, and pass a quiet afternoon there, before I return to the hall.

My roomies are a small picture of the kind of people travelling to Venice. An elderly American professor, a teenager from someplace like Vermont, and a family from England, all of them on vacation travelling around Northern Italy.

Venice does try to resemble the rest of the region. And though the rest of Veneto is being industrialized (especially the areas of Treviso, Marghera and Mestre, Venice does not really fit in the picture. And that because the whole of the area’s heavy industry has a really small economic impact compared to its prime export, tourism. And probably this is the reason why the Camora is trying to dig in the honey-vase called Venice. The mob has probably understood that there is a huge potential on the areas of tourism and constructions in the area, securing a profit for its more legit branches. Mind you crime is very low in Venice, but that does not prevent the financial sector of organised crime to invest there. Some of the most recent construction works have been undertaken by the mob, including the renovation of buildings. And the extent of the busyness probably extends to the handling of municipal waste too.

Another problem the city may face, is the rise of sea level. The city may not be under the threat of constant flooding yet, and it is everything apart a from being a deathtrap, but if the sea levels continue to rise and the water defences of the city are not upgraded, a Katrina-styled catastrophe can be highly inevitable within the next few decades.

There are also some other problems that locals currently face, the main one being the expensiveness of public transport. A one way ticket for the distance between Piazza San Marco and the Station of St Lucia, a very popular route that covers the distance of about 3 kilometres, costs about 3 euros. I can imagine the cost of the same route. using a taxi or a gondola. Much more expensive for sure.

My short stay in Venice is terminated at the dawn of Wednesday, when my long trip to the south of France begins.

Nevertheless, my impression of Venice is that it is a nice little town to visit and stay in, for a weekend. Not for a longer time, I gather. A picturesque town, a tourist magnet, an absurd town of the renaissance.