I wanted to name this post “Thessaloniki, I love you but you’re bringing me down,” but then I thought Rosencrans Baldwin could have issues with that and, besides, I’m on a trip to promote transatlantic cooperation so need to focus on the positives. Right? Right.
It is dusty here and people smoke indoors. I am breathless. Gasping for air. The room assigned to me at the Electra Palace Hotel was a smoking room (I’ve changed to a non-smoking). At first, I thought it might be an all-smoking hotel. I tried to imagine whether I’d be able to make it through the night and felt panicked. The mayor, whom we met with this afternoon, smoked inside his office while we were meeting and I thought I might pass out. Does this make me a post-asthmatic mouth breather who’s having intercultural adjustment issues… or just a rational person noticing discomfort? Is this what I’m supposed to be learning?
I’ve always believed that one purpose of travel is to push myself; to explore boundaries. I think this is happening now.
In just one short day, I have traveled through time… learning centuries of history about the Greeks and the Macedonian region. The wounds are fresh and the feelings are strong. Who you are here… what makes you Greek is your blood and your religion (Greek Orthodox, natch). And so many who have come and stayed in Thessaloniki don’t fit that profile. They have come, depending on the decade, from Africa, Asia Minor, Asia, other parts of Europe. They have come from war-torn or totalitarian lands and discovered that this land isn’t always hospitable either… to those who are different.
As one Greek told me, despite the struggles of the past and today, people here are hopeful, despite the austere times, despite it all. And so… I will drink in what is good and sweet about this place (starting with the iced coffee) and remain hopeful myself, that the challenges I feel turn into growth and new perspective.