On to Athens

We’re officially checked into our hotel in Athens. We left Thessaloniki early Tuesday morning and despite the warnings from Carlene and Mike, I failed to get enough sleep Monday night. A combination of a late night phone call (sorry Bridget!) and some general agitation about leaving our three-week home.

Agitation about sums up my feelings about Thessaloniki as a whole to be honest. I didn’t love the city and I couldn’t pin point why until a few of us began to wander Athens in search of an elusive Thai restaurant for dinner tonight. As I glanced up to the buildings looming over me, I realized why: Thessaloniki didn’t feel like enough of a city to me. Call me a New York snob but I like my buildings massive, my pedestrians purposeful, and my ability to see the sky limited. Thessaloniki is a beautiful area, but didn’t meet these utmost important criteria. Bridget accurately compared it to North Hampton. Not a bad thing, just different than say, Boston.

Also, bad pizza. And that’s not just coming from me–some individuals are working on a covert project to rank pizza in every city and town we go to. So far…the results have not been good.

But Athens! Athens is a city. After getting lost–which I’m fairly certain was not actually our fault, I just don’t think this restaurant exists–we found a fantastic, if touristy spot in the middle of the square with delicious traditional Greek food. Unfortunately the pizza was subpar, but the food otherwise was some of the best I’ve had in Greece.

I’m looking forward to getting a better handle on the city in the coming days, but already it’s looking up.

Speaking of looking up, we spent Tuesday and Wednesday traveling from Thessaloniki to Athens, with stops in Meteora and Delphi which were simply incredible.

While I’m not really religious, I did grow up in the (Presbyterian) church and I’ve always felt a sense of peace in churches. Religion, to me, is a form of story telling, whether ancient or modern. So it seemed fitting that a group of journalists got to witness the story telling, in somewhat grotesque paintings, of eternal damnation.

But the story telling doesn’t stop there! Wednesday, we drove to Delphi, the home of the Oracle and Apollo’s sanctuary. This has been one of my favorite excursions of the trip so far, as it wove together my love of archaeology and mythology. Plus, I finally have proof that Molly’s dad was right: the Greeks did steal their artistic styles from the Persians!…and the Egyptians and “orientals”. And while I’m not entirely clear on who the orientals are exactly, I was excited to get a shout out. (I’m not slandering either, this is all straight from the mouth of our wonderful tour guide Vicky.)

I’m excited to hit the ground running tomorrow, as Suma and I go to a women’s center to yet again cover the refugee crisis. (Click for captions)

When to Shoot?

With practically only two weeks left, this trip has proved to be one of the most challenging reporting experiences I’ve had. Despite being almost a month out of school, I feel like I need to head back to Alan Schroeder’s Journalism Ethics and Issues course to ask him some questions.

And it’s not just the language barriers and translators. After editing for hours (and frustration crying through several Final Cut crashes), I finally have two stories I’m proud of from our time in Chios. But as I write this, one is at an impasse. The cause? A young girl.

Here’s the breakdown: we were at Souda camp and shooting b-roll, not interviews, mostly just shots of tents. Suma set up the camera for a shot and…in walks a little girl. Suma doesn’t even reframe around the girl, you can only really see her face and shoulders. She eventually walks off camera, as Suma beckoned her to come out of the frame, because, as we all know, you don’t shoot kids without a guardian’s consent.

Suma was approached by a man we assume to be her guardian, trying to corral the girl who was now climbing on Suma. But the reality of the situation here is that a lot of kids are unaccompanied minors. For all we know he was a total stranger. He didn’t ask Suma not to film the girl and in various other shots, the girl and an even younger boy appear again, playing around in the corner of the frame as Suma moves the camera to other subjects. The other reality is that the shot of the girl is a really powerful image. Regardless of whatever “political views” you hold, it’s nearly impossible to argue that this child should have to live in these conditions.

Collectively, Team Chios has debated using this five-second clip a lot. Olivia said today that she changed her mind on using it four times through the course of a conversation. It’s still up for debate now. But when (if at all) does the weight of conflict override the issue of consent? Did the AP debate the issue of consent when it came to Nick Ut’s The Terror of War? Did The New York Times worry over the consent of Kevin Carter’s The Vulture and the Little Girl? I don’t know. I wish I had an answer to this.

When I figure something out, I’ll let you all know. Till then…

The World Is Cool AF

As I sit here, praying my laptop doesn’t crash once again as I try to export my latest video stories (hitting the site tomorrow!), I’m trying to capture the enormity of today’s excursion to hike Mount Olympus. On the bus, I let my excitement about the mountain get the best of me and started just spewing facts about various aspects of nature and how cool the world is. 

Take a second and just think about this: you, due to all the genetic miracles and impeccable timing and all the beauty of the universe, exist. How cool is that? It’s cool that coniferous trees exist in Greece and in California. And of all the coniferous trees of California, the Giant Sequoias are probably some of the oldest trees on earth, reproducing under extreme heat. That they can withstand huge forest fires, that they in turn need the flames to survive. 

But don’t stop thinking about pine trees and their relatives just yet. Because wrap your head around this: the forests we hiked today are not so profoundly different from the ones we see in Massachusetts or New Jersey, where I hiked regularly. 

Mist rises off Mount Olympus. // Ellie Williams
If only we had more time to wander the forest. // Ellie Williams

These same photos could easily have come from the forests I know and love. And if I’m doing my conversions correctly, it was in the forties today while we hiked, and raining too. Not so different than the last time I went hiking in Reading, MA. But what was different was the truly profound experience of walking on ground that hold so much lore. 

Forests are ancient, beautiful things. And this isn’t to say that American forests aren’t as old. But perhaps it’s because we are such a young nation that ignores the history of those who lived on this land before us, I feel very small watching a stream rush past me that has been rushing past this spot for millennia. Very small and very young. 

Luke made a small friend! // Ellie Williams
Feeling very young next to a cliff. // Ellie Williams

Everything is relative I suppose. Compared to this grass hopper, our life span seems practically infinite. (They have a lifespan of about a year.) But next to these cliffs? We are but grasshoppers. Which isn’t to say that what we do doesn’t matter. I used to feel that way, that the universe is so large, our actions cannot have any true meaning. But I don’t think that’s the case any more. Everything we do has a ripple effect, no matter how small, no matter how much we think no one notices. And in a world marked with so much turmoil and injustice, I think it’s pretty incredible that our actions can make a difference. 

The Police Don’t Come Here

This week has been packed, to say the least. After an intense 24 hours in Chios, I’ve been transcribing interviews and writing scripts for what feels like forever. But in reality, we’ve been on a few excursions for the two days we’ve been back. On Tuesday, we went to a number of markets in Thessaloniki, which are really, really old. Like Byzantine old.  Continue reading “The Police Don’t Come Here”

Chios pt. I

Chios is a beautiful island, harboring such deep pain. I am, as I sit here attempting to process this, numb. Here, you can see both the worst parts and the best parts of humanity. A warning though, this post will discuss suicide, perhaps ad nauseam. If you need to stop reading, I understand.  Continue reading “Chios pt. I”

En Route To Chios

Currently sitting in the airport again, this time waiting for a quick flight to the island of Chios. Mike, Suma, Olivia and I will be on the island for almost 24 hours to shoot a story on Leslie Schick, a Boston local who does humanitarian work in the refugee camps here. 

I’m excited, but nervous. This is my first time being in the camps proper and this is the sort of situation you can’t blow. It’s people’s lives, you know? Not fun and games. 

It’s times like this that I’m so grateful for my past experiences with MSNBC and News12. MSNBC gave me the experience of high intensity, fast-paced work; it taught me that I love breaking news. But News12 gave me a more relaxed environment to build these skills, to get those rejections, to fail safely.

I’m fairly confident there will be no failure on this trip. This is a good team of experienced and competent journalists. But I want, I need, to get this right. 

Sic(k) Transit Gloria Mundi

Today marks the end of week two here in Thessaloniki, and it’s a full week that I’ve been in the country. It’s been a whirlwind and it won’t be slowing down any time soon. Here’s a quick recap of what I’ve done:

  • Walked to the Old City for some amazing views and cool street art on Saturday
  • Went to a Winery for a tour and a tasting; hit the beach afterwards. Had a bit of an existential crisis swimming in the Mediterranean Sea on Sunday
  • Covered the anti-austerity rally and general strike on Wednesday
  • Finally am not jet-lagged on Friday

In transit news, the bus drivers are on strike. They haven’t been paid in quite some time so are off until further notice. It’s quite a hassle–less for me, since the cabs aren’t as expensive as the Boston, but more for the people we’re reporting on. Suma and I are working on a piece focused on a refugee center and the work they’re doing, but unfortunately because the buses aren’t running, the people who normally go to the center for language classes and psychological services can’t get there. The center’s coordinator told me today that normally they have over 100 people on a daily basis; with the strike, they’re seeing about half that number.

If the MBTA was on strike; Boston would be crippled. Life goes on in Thessaloniki though. Apparently the last major strike went on for two weeks. For the sake of those who use the center, and for our story, I’m hoping the strike ends soon.

Since we’ve been taking cabs everywhere, I have learned about Greek tragedy: the parking situation. The double-parking alone is horrific, but today I saw something even worse. These cars were just parked in the middle of the intersection. Color me incredulous.