Monthly Archives: October 2018






One thing required for a trip like this is a lot of office time to plan for what’s next. I literally spent all of last summer preparing for this trip, especially for the Greek part of it. I spent much of this week on my computer in our apartment in Athens getting ready for the next two weeks and also the next two months in Italy. Ellen continued her heroic effort of tying down the logistics of everything. This is really a team effort! In between office hours we continued to photograph.

One day was spent at the remarkable state-of-the-art Conservation Lab at the National Library of Greece. I love places like this because there is so much physical stuff to photograph.

We also had two evenings with remarkable groups that are dealing with Athens’ homeless and refugee populations. The first was a mobile library staffed by a group of women volunteers. We met them in a dilapidated “artists squat” that they shared with a van providing a free mobile laundry for the people living on the street. One woman said that Athens has a big drug problem and we saw a street full of junkies shooting up as we drove away in their van at night.

The next night we went to an opening for a new library/center for refugees and homeless sponsored by a group called We Need Books. The Mayor’s Office helped with this project and we got to meet the Mayor before he gave a little speech to the large crowd. The DJ blasting tunes gave a feel of an art opening in the Mission District in San Francisco. It was a stark contrast with the rough neighborhood we were in.

We also met with three remarkable people this week: Artemis Zenetou – the head of the Greek Fulbright in Athens, Ioannis Trohopoulos – former head of the Veria Library and also the former head of the Niarcos Foundation Cultural Center, and Ioanna Nissiriou – the head of We Need Books. We are lucky to know these amazing Greeks.

Finally, we photographed the beautiful Gennadius Library. It was established in 1926 with funding from the Carnegie Foundation (yes, that Carnegie). It contained a remarkable exhibit by a contemporary Greek artist Antonious, about the 19th century German archeologist, Heinrich Schliemann, who discovered Troy and made major discoveries at Myceane. He spoke 19 languages and this exhibit was using his words as art. It felt very appropriate for this historic library to show this exhibit re-interpreting words from the past.

Our next week was back on the road again. The Peloponnese is steeped in history and contains several really great libraries. Corinth was where St. Paul unsuccessfully tried to convert the natives to Christianity. Ancient Corinth was master of this part of the world in the 6th Century BC and today the site called “Ancient Corinth” is spectacular.


The modern Corinth library is very active. We watched a short video made about the library that included the librarian’s son playing really good guitar. After they served us delicious Greek coffee we had fallen in love with this library. As always, it is the quality of the people working there that make this place special.

After a brief stop at the historically famous Corinth Canal we headed on to the city of Argos. Sadly, the library was closed and the outside looked like it had seen better days. We will have to find out why. We ended the day at the pretty coastal city of Nafplio. We stayed in a pension in the old town with attractive narrow streets, elegant Venetian houses and an interesting library. It reminded me of a smaller version of Corfu Town without the tourists.

The Nafplion Library is another example of a generous benefactor endowing the city with his collection of books. In this case, to begin the first high school in Greece in the 1830’s. The books are now in the library and this seems like a well- loved place.

For the rest of the day we went back several thousand years to visit two ancient sites: Ancient Mycaene and Ancient Epidavros which consists of the spectacular Theatre and the Sancturary of Asclepius. Mycenae has many tourists, especially near the famous Lions Gate. But it is so spread out that we find ourselves being able to contemplate in solitude the vast distance of time that separates us from this place and culture. The underground cistern is especially interesting. It’s all about water!

The Theatre of Ancient Epidavros is the best-preserved structure of this scale from the ancient world. Literally, one can drop a coin on the stage and you can clearly hear it at the top seats of the 14,000-seat theater. The Sanctuary is also impressive and is considered one of the birthplaces of Western medicine and healing. Travel is a great teacher and all these sites today were a revelation.


The next morning after a several-hour drive we enter the beautiful and steep Arcadian Mountains. Our goal was a library in the tiny mountain town of Andritsena. After a gazillion hairpin turns on a tiny mountain road we came to the Public Historic Library of Andritsena. This one is a gem. Established in 1840, it is one of the most important historic and richest libraries in the country. It is housed in a neo-classical building built in 1879. A Greek ex-pat of staggering intelligence and no money living in Paris somehow gathered together one of the largest privately held libraries at the time. He donated his collection of books to his father’s home town. He planned to move there with his library but while cleaning the books he got a paper cut and later died from infection. The books eventually arrived in Naplion but sat there for decades because of unpaid bills. Years later they finally arrived in this tiny mountain village. We are met by the President of the Board and his wife. After a wonderful overview of this romantic place I have just a few hours to photograph this amazing library. The library even contained replicas of carvings stolen by the British in the 19th Century from a nearby ancient Greek temple. As we head to our apartment I am amazed that such a really small town could have such a really great library.

So as to not waste any time we rush off again on even smaller mountain roads to the very remote ancient site of the Temple of the Epicurean Apollo at Vasses. This is another extraordinary place and we are the only people there! High in the Arcadian Mountains I feel like we are the edge of the world. This UNESCO World Heritage temple was completely covered and was in the process of being stabilized and restored. The tenting and an artist’s soundtrack playing in the background added greatly to the surreal experience of photographing this crazy interesting place. I had 20 minutes to photograph before they closed and I was exhilarated when I finished. Some places are just very special and this was one of them.

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As we drove back at dusk we saw incredible vistas and a shepherd and many goats and dogs on the spaghetti-like road. We head back to Andritsena and go to dinner. As I was driving down the one street in town we spot a tiny café and a woman who comes out and invites us in. It is where the locals eat (not the tourists) and we thoroughly enjoy our meal. The TV news is on and when Trump’s face appears on the screen I instinctively cover my face. When I look up at the Greeks in the café they are all smiling and nodding at me in approval. This is a moment of cross-cultural connection. At breakfast the next morning I spotted a large black and white photograph of a shepherd girl spinning wool in front of the Temple of Epicurean Apollo that we had just visited. The owner of the café explained that the girl in the photo is her mother. She had fond memories of playing in the rubble of the Temple before it was turned into a World Heritage site. I gain a small insight into the transformation of this small community. It also represents something of the larger transformation of Greece today and its relation to its near and ancient past.



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NORTH BY NORTHEAST: Thessaloniki and Xanthi





We left Athens in the rain on a train heading up the long coastal plain to Thessaloniki. I love the stately, almost 19th-century pace of traveling by rail. Countless Alfred Hitchcock movies flashed before my mind. But the beautiful Greek countryside was the real star of this show.


Thessaloniki is often called “Geece’s Second City” but it really is a world on to itself. Athens is considered the heart of Ancient Greece. But this part of the country produced the Macedonian Empire and Alexander the Great. They conquered Athens and much of the known ancient world.  Thessaloniki today is a vibrant port city with a great cultural scene including world-class museums of contemporary art, cinema and photography. Lonely Planet is not exactly our Bible but it does help us locate interesting and quirky places to eat and stay, here and throughout Greece.

The next day we rented a car and headed east into the part of Greece called Thrace. Soon, looming just to the north were the massive Rhodopi Mountains and the border with Bulgaria. Kavala is bustling city with a massive old fort sitting atop the highest hill in the old town. History is never far from the landscape here. The Kavala Public Library is large but mostly empty when we visited. The very friendly staff were excited to see us and I make some nice images of researchers in the newspaper archive. As we were leaving a young man sprinted to catch up with us in a parking lot. He was a local journalist and we did an interesting interview on the spot on why we were there, libraries, refugees, politics, etc., etc.

We continued east through the mountainous, coastal Thracian landscape to our destination of Xanthi. This is one of Greece’s least visited places. It was once home to a powerful, non-Greek ancient civilization and is influenced by its neighbors Bulgaria and Turkey. The area contains unique Muslim minorities that settled here during the Ottoman times.


The old town of Xanthi (it means “blond” in Greek and I am guessing it’s because of the presence of people here from the north) is located snug up against the beautiful mountains. It contains timber-framed houses on narrow, winding streets and old mansions once inhabited by tobacco barons. Walking the main street around 7PM we are astonished at the number of families with children strolling past the high-end shops. In the crowd I saw several elegantly dressed Muslim women wearing scarfs. Xanthi is obviously a fascinating mixing zones of cultures.

We spent a good part of the next day at the wonderful Xanthi Public Library. It contains a Tech Lab run by Dimitris Giannakoukis. The Tech Lab is part of American Spaces which is sponsored by the US State Department. We first encountered these two years ago in Poland and Ukraine. They receive books and American technology that are a part of a “soft power” effort by the US government. Like the Fulbright, it is an effort to engage America, on a local level, with the world.

The library was started in the 1950s by a Greek writer who donated his personal library to the city. He survived WWII and he was a communist. But he felt that books were a way of healing his fractured country. While photographing his Greek language notebooks and journals I felt as if I almost got to know him as a person. It was interesting to see how one person could make such a huge, positive difference. We saw the same story earlier with the founder of the library in Veria.  The most vibrant libraries that we have encountered so far seem to have been founded by a generous, charismatic individual.

We came back to the library at 6 and I gave a lecture to a large crowd of mostly young people who seem fully engaged with my talk. I am always surprised and happy when this happens.


The next morning we are undecided which of several places we should visit in the nearby area. I had been awakened at 7:00am by a marching band going by our window. When I later looked down on the street there was a police car parked in front of our hotel and our street was earily quiet. Images of the Greek military coup in the movie “Z” flashed before my mind. When we were about to check out we were told that we would have to wait because all the streets were blocked for a major parade. We decided that this was what we would do today and plunged into the gathering crowd. Ellen reminded me that the Fulbright had warned us not to participate in demonstrations but this seemed like a peaceful, even joyful group. After waiting a long time a group of generals with lots of medals and swords met a group of Orthodox priests on a reviewing stand and then the parade began.


It seemed that almost every child in Xanthi marched by us in school uniforms. There were all kinds of groups including Muslim girls in scarfs, people in traditional Greek costumes, a group of special needs kids and even a Tai Kwon Do club. The crowds were enthusiastic and everyone seemed to know someone in the parade. After that, a sizeable chunk of the Greek army marched by carrying machine guns and stepping smartly. We found out this was a celebration of when the Greek army kicked out the Bulgarian army in 1919. Apparently the Greek government makes a real effort to have a presence here because this area is considered an important frontier. After three hours we felt this was memorable way of getting to know this part of Greece. The sound of marching music filled my mind during the three-hour drive back to Thessaloniki.

The next morning I photographed the Derveni Papyri at the Thessaloniki Archeological Museum. It is considered the oldest European “book” and is part of UNESCO’s Memory of the World program. Greece’s climate prevented any earlier papyri books from surviving. This one was completely burned in a 3rd Century BC funeral pyre. But in the ashes the text somehow was preserved. This is an example of “bibliocide” where the destruction of the book actually preserved it.

We then schelpped my camera gear over to the large Thessaloniki Main Library. It is in a striking building with a friendly staff and lots of people. However, I had tried multiple times since last June to get permission to photograph here and had not heard back a peep until this morning when permission finally came through. Better late than never!

We ended the day at the Ano Poli Branch Library. It is housed in an old, beautiful mansion built for an Ottoman Turk military officer. At one point it housed refugees, later was a school and is now a library.

We ended the evening having a late dinner with a fellow Fulbrighter Herman Adney, his wife Michelle and their adorable infant daughter Sophia. He is on a Greece-Turkey Fulbright and they will be spending six months in each country. The conversation ranged far and wide and we all agreed that the Greeks have a very special regard and treatment of children and a love for sharing good food and conversation.


The next day we hopped back on the train traveling along the plain without the rain to Athens and home.

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