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Time Out’s cities: Astoria! and…Kypsele? No Pera propaganda, brother Turks of mine :( — and Belgrade…

29 Sep


Time Out has come out with the fifty coolest neighborhoods in the world, and two — arguably three — of them are Greek; one in Athens, Kypsele, and another in the capital of the Greek diaspora, New York: Astoria.  (Yeah, Melbourne…ok…chill).  Now there are only what, 14 or 15 million of us in the whole world, and we corner 8th and 16th outta 50.  Not just not bad, but figures that make it clear there’s a connection between Greek-ness and urbanity — even Greek villages are really just tiny Greek cities — the polis and everything political life implies, that runs deep.




What if you have no Greeks (or worse, no Jews).  Well, brother Turk, take a walk, or a nerve-wracking tourist shove, down what you’ve turned yourİstiklâl” into: its new garish, overlit, Gap-outlet, Gulfie, Saudi hideousness…  And weep.  That we left.

Oh, and what’s arguably the “third” Greek neighborhood…  Ok, I scrolled down the list, nervously expecting to find Pera (Beyoğlu) there, the formerly, largely Greek mahalla — the formerly Greek, Jewish and Armenian heart of the City actuallybecause Turkey’s American public relations firms deserve every dollar they get from the Turkey accounts and they manage to shove a fictitious Turkish tolerant multiculturalism in our face whenever they get the chance, and Pera has, for about the past 15 years, taken pride of place in this masquerade of Istanbul hipness and Turkish cosmopolitanism — quite an accomplishment since the Midnight Express days. (Too bad Turkey itself reverts back to Midnight a little bit more every day.)  And Pera wasn’t there, not on the list!


The old Grande Rue — Pera

And…  Well, and…a few years back I wrote a post here called: Nobody really cares about Gezi Park: Greek thoughts on the protests of 2013.  And perhaps the biggest stinger in the article was:

“All – I thought a lot about whether I should use “almost all” in this sentence and decided against it –because all the hippest, funkiest, most attractive, gentrified neighborhoods in the historic parts of İstanbul are neighborhoods that were significantly, if not largely, minority-inhabited until well into the twentieth century: not just Pera and Galata, but Cihangir and Tarlabaşı, and Kurtuluş — of course — and up and down the western shores of the Bosphorus and much of its eastern towns too, and central Kadiköy and Moda and the Islands.  (And if serious gentrifying ever begins in the old city it’ll be in Samatya and Kumkapı and Fener and Balat; I wouldn’t put any big money into Çarşamba just yet.)”

And so, happily, I didn’t find Pera being prostituted again by Turkey as a symbol of a multiculturalism that the Turkish Republic eradicated, exterminated, expelled and that no longer exists.  But I scrolled a bit further down…and there was Kadiköy and Moda, #42, also, until well into the 60s, heavily Greek and Armenian.  More sweet justification!

(I’ll take Egyptians on for the empty, dingy Alexandria they got stuck with after our good-bye party in another post.)


Finally, came the sweetest of all, my beloved Dorćol in my beloved Belgrade.  50th on the list of 50.  You have to be pretty attuned to the Serbian soul to know what coming in 50th out of 50 means.  It doesn’t mean being last.  It means: “You think we’re cool?  Who asked you?”

img_0828.jpgThe Rakia Bar in Dorćol

Plus, Belgrade comes in in way first place over all of these cities in one important way: the guys.  No joke.

Some restaurant notes:

Don’t go to Çiya in Kadiköy.  Unfortunately, the food is spectacular, and I’m a sadist for posting this picture:

CiyaBut the unfortunate part is that Çiya is owned by a sociological type: the newly comfortable, if not rich, provincial, pious middle-class; that’s the AKP’s and Erdoğan‘s political power base.  What that means on the ground is that your great food is prepared by puritans who won’t serve you alcohol, so you can’t have a leisurely rakı or beer dinner, but have to scarf it all down and leave, paying with dough that might indirectly end up in the AK’s coffers or ballot boxes.  The same goes with the otherwise excellent Hayvore in Pera.  Amazing Black Sea dishes but no booze.  Go ahead if you want.  You can go to Saudi too if you want.  I refuse to.  Even if I didn’t want to drink: just on principle.  And they — Hayvore — make one of my absolute favorite dishes which I can’t find anywhere else: an anchovy pilav.  But I’ll live without.  Or make it myself.

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And then, a little less geopolitically charged, there’s the completely baffling phenomenon of Cyclades in Astoria.  I can’t argue with the fish.  And if fish is their mission statement then fine, because it’s always fresh and expertly cooked — even if the owners are Albanian and hadn’t seen the sea till they were sixteen.  But you do want to eat something along with the fish and everything else is awful.  The cacık and eggplant salad is made inedible by that crazed Greek overuse of raw garlic, so that all you have is the bitterness of the bulb and not even the taste or aroma.  The zucchini and eggplant are fried in old oil.  The raw oil served for greens or salad is horrible — cheap, and I’m not even sure it’s 100% olive.  And in a Greek fish meal, where almost everything is dressed with raw oil, it really needs to be the best quality or everything else is shot.  The bread — and one thing we do well, γαμώτομου, is bread — is nasty and old.  This place reminds me of food in tourist traps in the old days before the foodie revolution in Greece in the 00s.

And they commit one incomprehensible abomination.  They serve oven-baked potatoes — with lemon, fine… But. With. The. Fish.  These are potatoes, that according to the taxonomy and order of Greek food, if such a primitive cuisine can be said to have such order, are baked in the oven with meat in a composite dish or casserole.  It’s a sin of commission to serve them with fish, with which they haven’t even been cooked, unless you’re going for plaki which means tomatoes and a whole different palate.  And they taste as if they’ve been soaked overnight in lemon.  And I dunno, but the yellow color is so suspiciously bright that it looks like yellow dye #2.  Investigate them; I’m sure I’m right.  And, of course, everything comes garnished with piles of more lemon wedges, to satisfy that deep Greek urge to obliterate the taste of everything else on the table.

And people — Manhattan people — come out to Queens and wait, for over an hour, malaka, to get a table at this Soviet cafeteria (the lighting is awful; the music is deafening).  They’ll often go cross the street to wait to be called, to get a drink at Michael PsilakisMP Taverna, where the food is phenomenal.  It’s only slightly reinterpreted Greek — it’s deeply faithful to the roots but Psilakis — I dunno — freshens things, and combines traditional ingredients in ways that make you wonder why no one else had ever tried this.  It’s generally full and has a great and friendly bar that looks out on the bustle of Ditmars Boulevard.  But it should be a destination spot and it’s not.  And Cyclades is.  It makes me think that white people will eat bad food if they think it gives them woke and authenticity street cred.  And convince themselves it’s good.

He dicho.

comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

#stopmindborders — the New Neo-Greek recovers his conscience

13 Aug

I hate to throw the term “New Neo-Greek” at you readers who have just started to grasp what “Neo-Greek” means.  I should have explained more explicitly earlier, but I think some of you sort of understand.

The “New Neo-Greek” is first and foremost the Greek of the Crisis.  That should explain most of it.  In an old post titled: “Un Verano en Nueva York”  I wrote, about a conversation between me and one of my favorite waiters on earth at Bar Jamón in New York:

“So a Greek and a Spaniard get together,” the joke goes — and of course these days they compare notes on how fucked up their respective countries have become.  I tell José that I think Spain is salvageable but that Greece seems in danger of just slipping off of the face of the earth at some point soon.  He’s not so confident.  He says people in Spain are “learning to be poor again,” getting used to a life with “un plato de alubias” — a plate of beans — a proverbial Spanish expression for just-bare-subsistence poverty.  He’s probably around thirty and he says bluntly that his generation in Spain is destroyed; that they’re going to hit their late thirties and early forties without any job experience and that unless you’ve got family money, your only option is emigration, like “old-time Gallegos” we both say in sync.  (Galicians in Spain are like Epirotes in Greece, the archetypically emigrating region, so much so that in much of Latin America all Spaniards used to be collectively referred to as “Gallegos.”)

My heart goes out to him and I respect his straight-eyed stoicism and I think he’ll be ok because he seems strong.  As hard as I try, though, my heart doesn’t go out to Greeks of his generation nor do I respect them.  I think they’re cry-babies who would be scared shitless – or worse, think it beneath them — to work in a bar in New York the way José does and that they deserve – richly — to relearn the cultural lessons of emigration and being poor again.  Three decades of illusory prosperity created an unbearable type of human being in Greece, a nouveau-riche culture of entitled provincials, cold, petty snobs who are snobs the way only the truly provincial can be – and I’m talking about Athens more than the provinces…

I’m pained by the genuinely poor and the old and the sick and the heroin addicts who are suffering and dying in Greece…

But that urban, middle-to-upper-middle-class, twenty-five to forty-five-year-old demographic in Greece…they can just go back to washing dishes in Chicago again like our grandfathers did as far as I care.  Let ‘em start from scratch; see what kind of culture they can come up with this time.

Well, I have to now admit that I was a little unfair.  The “nouveau-riche culture of entitled provincials, cold, petty snobs who are snobs the way only the truly provincial can be…” still exists, of course, but they have been completely marginalized by a new awareness: of tradition, of “politesse,” of civilized behavior, and of a humanism that I’ll accept the charge of cliché for, but which suddenly seems to have become Greeks’ instinctive birthright again.

As far back as 2015, Roger Cohen wrote in the Times:

Greece has made me think about everything statistics don’t tell you. No European country has been as battered in recent years. No European country has responded with as much consistent humanity to the refugee crisis…

More than 200,000 refugees, mainly from Syria, have arrived in a Greece on the brink this year, almost half of them coming ashore in the island of Lesbos, which lies just six miles from Turkey. They have entered a country with a quarter of its population unemployed. They have found themselves in a state whose per-capita income has fallen by nearly 23 percent since the crisis began, with a tenuous banking system and unstable politics. Greece could serve as a textbook example of a nation with potential for violence against a massive influx of outsiders.

In general, the refugees have been well received. There have been clashes, including on Lesbos, but almost none of the miserable bigotry, petty calculation, schoolyard petulance and amnesiac small-mindedness emanating from European Union countries further north, particularly Hungary.

I might have put off explaining what the “New” Greek is like all at once then, and just kind of refer to it here and there in different posts, because I didn’t feel like there was any one thing that I could hold up as evidence.  Then this #stopmindborders campaign appeared and I thought I had to jump at the opportunity.  I think maybe Greeks would have responded to the migration wave that came into the country in the last few years with decency even if the country weren’t in such a crisis, but it was the waking up from amnesia that Cohen refers too that played the greatest part; Greeks suddenly remembered that they were once one of the planet’s great emigrating peoples.

More at some other time.  Watch all the campaign’s videos though (mercifully subtitled); they’re really moving and worth the time.  Their motto is: “The greatest borders are the ones we build in our minds”

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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