Up Close and Personal

Coming into this trip, I knew I would be dealing with covering the Syrian refugee crisis. Greece is the entryway for many of the refugees seeking asylum in Europe, and thousands of them are stuck here waiting to be relocated or reunited with their families. It’s easy to read articles and watch videos and think you have a grasp on the situation, but the past couple weeks have shown me that’s really not the case.

Last week, we visited Elpida Home, a refugee center on the outskirts of Thessaloniki. It was great experience. The facility was in good condition, there was a communal kitchen with fresh food and lockable dorm-style rooms. The building itself was covered in art drawn by the refugee children themselves and blown up by professional artists. The children, which make up two-thirds of the home, were running around outside with smiles on their faces. “Elpida” means hope, and it truly was an uplifting visit. Here’s a short look into the home that I shot while we were there.

Things got a little more personal when I went along with Gwen, Paxtyn and Bridget to visit a refugee family that had been placed in an apartment in Thessaloniki. There has been a push by the European Union to move refugees out of camps and into their own apartments. The family had luckily remained intact: the husband, wife and their six kids all madeit to Greece after leaving Syria six years ago and going through some harrowing experiences along the way. It felt so much more real than our visit to Elpida. To actually see the conditions they’re living in and hear their stories firsthand was an incredibly moving experience. After we interviewed the husband (for four hours, Syrians love to talk in circles, as Carlene warned us) we played outside with the children, kicking balls and playing monkey in the middle, laughing the whole time. I left feeling sad for them, but also happy that we will be able to share their story.

Finally, yesterday Gwen, Paxtyn, Sydne and I went to visit a camp far outside the city called Softex. The residents there live in “iso-boxes” which are essentially cargo containers with windows. There was no running water, and one young man we spoke to said that the camp “was for animals, not for humans.” We interviewed another family, this time with three kids, about their journey from Syria and it was equally as devastating. Still, all the kids we met were happy, playing on bikes and scooters and asking to see the photos Sydne was taking of them.

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Meeting these people, being brought into their homes and fed by them, playing with their children…it struck me how open they are. These are people who have almost drowned in rubber boats, had scissors sewn back up inside them after giving birth in a camp hospital and lost loved ones along the way. It would be easy to shut down and give up hope. Yet they still want to talk, they want to have their stories told, they want to be listened to. A running theme across all these visits was the happiness of the children. When we asked the mother of the family in Softex about her kids’ state of mind she smiled and said “they adapt.”

It’s easy to feel guilt about being welcomed into these families’ upturned lives, when we get to return to our cushy ones in just a few weeks. But these people want their stories to be told. Our connection for these interviews and visits, Alex (who is a Syrian refugee himself), wants their stories to be told. Even if we only reach a few people back home, that will be more than if we never came at all. We came on this trip as journalists, not tourists, and we have a responsibility to report what we’re seeing here, difficult or not. If these children can be happy given all they’ve gone through, I think I can handle this feeling of guilt. I know as a group we will use it to tell their stories in the most authentic and meaningful way possible.

I can’t stop getting yelled at during museum tours

I’m 24 years old and in the past week I have twice been scolded like a toddler. Right now I am two-for-two in being verbally eviscerated by museum staff here in Greece. The first tour was at the archaeological museum in downtown Thessaloniki. I’ll be frank here: I was bored. I don’t know why, but this museum just wasn’t keeping my interest. I’m not above museums and usually I really enjoy them…not this time.

So, I was entertaining myself by using Snapchat to put copies of Brandon’s face on a row of statues. Objectively, it was hilarious. I was laughing, we were all laughing, the security woman was not laughing. She came up and explained that this was not a joke, it was history. I apologized and I legitimately felt bad. It was disrespectful. I even went back about ten minutes later and talked with her for a while to smooth things over. Lesson learned, right?

I think deep down even she would admit that’s kinda funny.

Nope. Yesterday we traveled to Vergina to visit the museum that holds King Phillip’s (Alexander the Great’s dad) tomb. Unlike the other museum, it was really interesting to me. I was so interested that I decided to take a photo of one of the tombs…MISTAKE. Apparently I had missed other members of our group being chastised for taking a photo earlier in the tour.

The infamous photo.

I snapped the photo, with flash, in a very dark room. Sidenote: if I had known not to take photos, would I have used the flash? You be the judge. Out of nowhere, a museum staffer descended on me like a shrieking banshee. “I TOLD YOU NO PHOTOS THIS IS SECOND TIME!!!”

“Uh…um, well, not me personally,” is the best I could come up with, shocked that I was again being verbally bent over and spanked for misbehaving. I almost got our entire group kicked out of the museum. The kids call this “taking an L.” The L’s continued when we went over to Veroia, a small town nearby with great views.

Anxious to not miss any sights there, a group of us entered a restaurant with no one in it and had some of the worst food I’ve had not only on this trip but maybe this calendar year. If you see the below restaurant in your travels someday…run away. Here’s to less L’s and more W’s in the future.

BOOOO

Suma summing up our dining experience.

Take Note, Restaurants in the U.S.

A big pet peeve of mine is when people say “I love food.” Oh really? You enjoy one of the four things that is necessary to keep you alive? Same! I’ve never asked anyone to go get some food and they’ve responded “oh no thanks, I’m not really a food guy.”

But I digress. The food here is amazing. Earlier this week, we went to a ‘taverna’ called “It’s Getting Late” because our guy Theo recommended we check it out. As usual, he didn’t steer us wrong. The owner, Leonidas, was a great guy and was very apologetic that the grill wasn’t on yet because we had showed up “early” (it was 8 P.M.). The restaurant itself was also great. It had a variety of guitars on the walls that Leonidas said are regularly taken down and played by customers. Our group shared a huge amount of food, and Leonidas still brought us more on the house. He even took us down to the basement to show us where he made the restaurant’s ‘retsina,’ which is basically a light, cheap wine (think Franzia but better tasting).

Which brings me to my larger point. Restaurants back home need to step up their game. I firmly believe tip culture is ruining our collective eating experience. I don’t need Kristin checking in on my table for the fourth time, making me sputter out a noise that resembles “it’s good” as I’m eating. What I do need is a more laid back atmosphere, the ability to relax and decide when I’m done, and free desserts, which I’ve received three times here already. Let’s abolish tipping, pay our waitstaff and start doing this the right way.

Free dessert. No tip necessary.

Wine…And F*** PAOK

Yesterday was an awesome excursion, as we got a chance to visit a Greek winery about 40 minutes from our group’s apartment. The views were incredible, it was so serene and quiet, the air just smelt better. Most importantly, the wine was delicious. We were even blessed to be on the tour with a wine snob enthusiast who chimed in with helpful remarks and plenty of affirmations that our tour guide did indeed know what he was talking about. *rolls eyes*

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After the tour, we drove to a beach nearby to hang out for a few hours. There’s nothing quite like a Mediterranean beach to make you never want to go back to Boston again. If it didn’t have the same deep house beat playing for the entire three hours we were there, it may have been the perfect place.

As far as the other part of this blog’s title, I am officially a fan of the Aris basketball team, which is one of two teams that play in Thessaloniki. One of the students, Brandon, is working on a story about the team and I’m helping shoot some video for it. On Friday, we went to a game and let me tell you: Greek fans go HARD. There was more passion in those stands than I’ve seen at pretty much any sporting event in the US. They were losing the entire game, and they were chanting and dancing and clapping for all of it. I found myself getting genuinely pissed off by the end of the game when calls weren’t going our way. (Yes I said our).

Aris basketball stadium

Some food truck sausage and “poor wine” and Coke in the background. Thanks to our guide Theo for introducing us to this drink

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part of my newfound fandom is developing my hatred for our rival, PAOK, the other team from Thessaloniki. I wore my Aris jersey for the first time at the beach, and I don’t think I imagined the dirty looks I was getting. There’s no love lost between these two teams, and all it takes is a quick walk around our neighborhood to find evidence of it. Sorry for the f-bombs, but this is my lifestyle now.

In Memoriam: Isaac Feldberg

(To understand this blog post, please read the masterful work of my good chum Isaac Feldberg)

Wow. You know, I was going to blog about the exciting upcoming stories the students are working on and the food I’ve been eating here…not today.

It takes an uncanny talent to get to know someone so well that you don’t know them at all. My good buddy Isaac Feldberg, one of the students on the trip, is nothing if not talented. You readers know me, and you know I crave having attention brought on myself. Like most people that work behind a camera for a living, I simply love being out in the spotlight. Ideally, I’d like to have my picture plastered on every billboard, takeout menu and iPhone background in the world. Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” I’m like 99% sure was written about me.

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Bridget, another student, showing Isaac what a camera is.

Without even so much as a five-minute conversation, my good friend Isaac Feldberg picked up on this deep-rooted desire of mine almost immediately. If you ignored my instructions and didn’t read his ode to my many accomplishments, you should do so now.

A lot of people say to me, “Hey, Danny, if I could just have a second of your time…does it ever get annoying being so cool and jawlined and superior to everyone?” My response is always the same. “Get away from me you peasant, you’re casting a shadow on me and I’m here to work on my tan.”

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Here we have Isaac playing the role of “that guy who comes up behind Jack” from the cult classic Titanic.

The haters and losers, of which there are many, probably read my good pal Isaac Feldberg’s blog post and thought “Wow that was really funny…but borderline creepy.” Sad! Those people are wrong. Not only was it not funny, it was everything I stand for and represent.

So thank you, my main man Isaac Feldberg. You are doing the Lord’s work. You’re doing my work.

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Friendship.

P.S. Ever wonder what Saddam Hussein’s favorite snack food is? Check out Isaac’s story. It’s the first one we published on our main site and it’s a great one.

Thessaloniki Living

We have arrived in Greece, more specifically the mouthful of a city Thessaloniki. I had no idea it was such a big city…it’s actually right behind Athens in terms of population. In a lot of ways it reminds me of Barcelona: cafes everywhere, open markets, and pedestrian paths sloping down to the water.

A look down at the water from the center of the city.

On the water, with the “White Tower” on the left.

It definitely has its own Greek twist, though. There are ruins from antiquity sitting smack dab in the middle of the city center. At the top of the hill, there are the remains of an ancient marketplace called the Agora.

Part of the ruins in the middle of the city.

Today we got our first look at the university that we will be spending a good chunk of our time for the next three weeks. I’d say it has, conservatively, one billion times more green space than Northeastern. It’s pretty beautiful.

Campus of the university.

The weather is great, the food has been great (full disclosure I had souvlaki for lunch but my two dinners have been pizza and tacos, whoops) and the people we’ve met have been accommodating and seem to really understand what we’re trying to accomplish here. I’m sure there will be some bumps along the way but so far it’s smooth sailing.

Another One

I’m writing this blog on a four-hour layover in Frankfurt, about to begin a trip in Greece with a group of student journalists. This is third time in four years I’ve been lucky enough to start out my summer this way and I couldn’t be happier about it. If you are one of the literally tens hundreds of readers of this blog, you know that the past two trips were to Spain and that I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. These dialogues are great because they not only allow us to experience a different culture and challenge ourselves, but they also really bring the group together. I’m actually currently living with my Barcelona homestay roommate from two years ago (a testament to Carlene’s self-proclaimed roomie-pairing abilities).

Airport. Wow what a photo.

As far as the logistics of the trip, we’ll be spending three weeks in Thessaloniki and two in Athens. I’ve been to Greece once before, on a family trip when I was in middle school. This will obviously be a completely different experience, but it’s nice to at least have a tiny bit of familiarity with the country. We also have four video cameras on this trip and an additional professor in Mike that has video and TV experience. I’m a videographer for my “normal” job so this has me very excited. As the person tasked with lugging around the 100 pound bag of equipment it has me a little less excited, but somehow I think I’ll manage to get through such an incredible hardship.

Adios Otra Vez

I thought last year would be my last time writing on this blog. I was wrong. And I’m so happy I was. This return trip was incredible, and I want to thank Carlene once again for the opportunity. I can’t come close to writing as touching a note as she did to everyone this morning, but I do want to congratulate everyone on accomplishing all that they did on this trip. It was a really talented group, one that made my life as an assistant editor easy.

Also, to prove (to my Mom) that I did actually do some work of my own while here, this is a link to my video that accompanied Alex’s (begrudgingly) awesome piece on Toledo swords. Check it out. 

Finally, I need to say a written goodbye to the boys of Cuatro Cuatro. From this old goat to you youngins(except for you Alex, you’re old too), you made the trip that much more fun. They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, and since I already used 1,000 writing that ridiculously stupid Mad Max post, I’ll do it in picture form.

Dylan after eating three Big Macs in about ten minutes. Still one of the most impressive things I've in Spain/ever.

Dylan after eating three Big Macs in about ten minutes. Still one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in Spain/ever.

Ethan wearing a wax paper napkin hat on the tapas tour.

Ethan wearing a wax paper napkin hat on the tapas tour.

Alex putting up with me pointing my camera in people's faces, as I am known to do.

Alex putting up with me pointing my camera in people’s faces, as I am known to do.

Adam doing some sort of hand sign that I am assuming he picked up during his time on the streets of DC.

Adam doing some sort of hand sign that I am assuming he picked up during his time on the streets of DC.

Joe using his computer in one of the weirdest ways I've ever seen. This guy is full of surprises.

Joe using his computer in one of the weirdest ways I’ve ever seen. This guy is full of surprises.

All the men of Cuatro Cuatro with the namesake in the background. Party hats for life.

All the men of Cuatro Cuatro with the namesake in the background. Party hats for life.

And so another trip is over, and I wait for my family to join me abroad once again. To everyone who came on this trip, I know you’ll remember it as fondly as I do. How else could I end this blog but to simply say “okay, let’s move on” or: valé.

Toledo Pt. 2

Toledo was one of my favorite places we visited last year. It really feels like a medieval town with its high city walls, narrow winding streets and cobblestone roads. I think it’s why, when I heard my roommate Alex’s idea to do a story about a famous sword-maker in Toledo, I jumped at the chance to make a video piece along with it. I’m really glad I did.He, Maria and I went on Friday afternoon to interview him before the group excursion on Saturday. Not only was it really interesting to see and hear how he makes his swords (read the piece for specifics) but he was actually an incredibly nice and accommodating  man as well. I was so impressed I splurged a little bit and bought one of his hand-made swords. Mariano Zamorano, gracias muchisimo.

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I was also pumped that on Saturday, I finally got to see the Cathedral of Toledo after our tour guide botched it and didn’t get us tickets last year. I went in alone because we missed it while asking some follow-up questions, but it was incredible. I think it was my favorite church I’ve seen while in Spain, and that’s saying something because La Sagrada Familia and the Cathedral of Salamanca are no joke. I was wandering around with my mouth open half the time, especially in the “treasure room” which had sculptures and gold pieces from centuries ago. Here are some of the pictures that really won’t do it justice. And stay tuned for the video and Alex’s piece on Zamorano and his swords.

A Comprehensive Guide to the Mad Max Quad-rilogy

*dedicated to my fellow Road Warriors Ethan and Alex…and the rest of “the Thunderdome”

This took way too long.

This took me way too long.

This past week, I have had the unique opportunity to view all four installments of the Mad Max saga in rapid succession. Was this experience the best possible use of my time abroad? No, probably not. Was it fun? Yeah, it was. The Mad Max movies aren’t for everyone, as evidenced by the fact that the six simple police officers that attended the first viewing were eventually whittled down to three true road warriors (plus one that looked at his laptop the entire time.) I am sitting on a train ride to Toledo with no Wi-Fi, and for that reason I will now begin the comprehensive guide to the Mad Max series. Spoilers, by the  way. It all starts with…

Mad Max

aka Max gets Mad

The original Mad Max was not what I was expecting, especially coming off the high-octane, guitar-shredding, beast of a film (Mad Max: Fury Road) that we saw in theaters. This Mad Max was more laid back; like its protagonist, it’s cool and detached. Max (Mel Gibson, in one of his first starring roles) is introduced as a leather glove-wearing cop in Australia, whose fearless driving skills dispatch a cop-killing junkie called Nightrider in the opening minutes of the film. Turns out that this junkie is part of larger gang loyal to a guy named Toecutter.

Which one is Toecutter?*

The gang seems to enjoy nothing but sabotaging the cops’ cars, which they do often. Max and his friend Goose set out to take down the gang, but Goose is taken out by Johnny the Boy, who lights him on fire under the pressure of Toecutter. Max sees his friend’s charred body in the hospital and is traumatized. He takes time off from the force, spending it all with his wife and son, Sproggo (worse name than Toecutter somehow.) They get ice cream, they do rope swings into rivers, have picnics, say cheesy things and make out. But before things go full blown rom-com, the gang comes back for Max. As he tries to get his family out of harms way, his wife and son fall from the car and are run over by Toecutter. When Max sees them dead he goes…mad. He sets out with a vengeance and one by one, kills the gang in various automobile-related ways. He then drives off into the distance alone, never to be seen again. Until…

Mad Max 2: Road Warrior

aka The Auto Western

Road Warrior is often cited as one of the best action movies of all time. It also launched the career of Mel Gibson, which can be seen as a good thing (Lethal Weapon, Braveheart) or a travesty (Apocalypto, Passion of the Christ, anti-Semitic ranting.) It definitely has the themes of a Western—nameless rogue (Max) shows up and helps strangers out of his own self-interest…but then starts to empathize with them and sacrifices himself for their well-being. This one is action from the word go. It is mindless entertainment with almost no dialogue. To start, Max is chilling with his dog in the desert when some guy tries to rob him. He turns the tables on the guy and is about to kill him when the guy pipes up that he knows where to fLord-2ind the gold of the Mad Max universe: fuel. From a mountain, they overlook a community that has managed to draw fuel from the ground, keeping it in a big tank. As Max watches, they are attacked by yet another motor gang—this time led by a massive shirtless dude named Humungus. During the fight one of the good guys is injured, and after the gang leaves Max goes and brings him to the community, on the condition that he gets as much fuel as he wants. The commune is skeptical of Max right away, but he’s got a deal with the guy he saved, and says to just ask him. But guess what—he’s dead from his injuries. So now Max is their prisoner. Eventually, they come around and Max helps them escape the gang by doing what he does best—driving a massive car that is hauling the gas tanker. Turns out the guy he didn’t kill in the beginning can fly a helicopter, and together they kill off the entire gang in an awesome continuous driving scene and head off into the sunset with the fuel in search of a better place to call home. Max doesn’t go with them, though. He heads off alone, never to be seen again. Until…

Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome

aka Memba This?

This installment starts out with Max doing Max things—namely being alone in the desert, somehow still surviving 15 years after the events of Road Warrior. He immediately gets his car ruined by the very same helicopter captain he saved in the last movie (he didn’t know it was Max, but still–what the hell man.) He then stumbles into a slumtown called Bartertown, where he is held prisoner. Things have really fallen apart since Road Warrior, and this place is basically every Occupy Wall Street member’s worst nightmare. The 1% is represented by Tina Turner’s “Auntie Entity,” who  rules over the town from her ivory tower. She eventually recruits Max to kill her nemesis, the original Freak the Mighty combo called Master Blaster. They settle things as all men do—in the THUNDERDOME.

The Thunderdome.

The Thunderdome.

This movie spawned one of the most badass lines of all time for this part: “two men enter, one man leaves.” The ensuing Thunderdome fight scene was one of the coolest I’ve seen, with Max and Blaster strapped to bungee cords in a Hell-in-a-Cell type scenario, trying to get to various weapons at the top of the cage. Max wins (obviously) but then is banished because he doesn’t have the heart to kill Blaster, who is revealed to have the mind of a child. Back in the desert again, Max is picked up by a group of kids who are basically the Lost Boys from Peter Pan. In a very cult-like way, they tell Max they’ve been waiting for him, but he’s like, “no, I’m not the guy you’re lookin’ for.” Still, he develops a soft spot for the kids and helps them return to Bartertown and take down Tina Turner. The film ends with the helicopter captain flying the kids off to find a new home. Max sacrifices himself and stays behind, never to be seen again. UNTIL…

Mad Max 4: Fury Road

aka Is This a Sequel or…

Short answer: no, it’s not a sequel. Technically, it’s a reboot, but the director won’t call it either. Instead of good ol’ Melly Gibs, we get Tom Hardy, who at the beginning of the film is—yep, you guessed it—hanging out alone in the desert. He immediately gets kidnapped (yawn…standard ) by a motor gang called the Roadheads. They are loyal to Immortan Joe, a villain who is played by the same actor who played Toecutter in the original film.toecutter (1)

Max ends up helping Joe’s right-hand woman, Furiosa, escape with six women that Joe is using as “breeders.” When they realize there is no home for them out in the desert, they turn back and take Joe’s stronghold, killing him and his men along the way. Once Max sees that they are safe in their new home, he slinks off into the desert alone, never to be seen again (until the sequel which is coming out next year).

Other parallels:

  1. The two sons of Immortan Joe seem to be references to past characters—his one son Rictus is a massive shirtless guy, like Humungus from Road Warrior, and the other is a little person with a squeaky voice, like Master from Beyond Thunderdome.

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    Really getting the hang of pic-stitch now.

  2. Furiosa and Max drive the “War Rig,” a big 18 wheeler that looks a lot like the tanker from Road Warrior.
  3. In Beyond Thunderdome, the leader of the Lost Boys is a strong, short-haired woman…just like Furiosa.
  4. Themes of “home.” In all of the movies, Max and the other characters are concerned with finding a new home—they are almost always unsuccessful in the previous films, but in this one they seem to have found it.
  5. Themes of family. Max loses his family in the first movie, and since then he can’t let himself get attached to one. But in all the films, he helps people find their own “families,” whether it be the community from Road Warrior, the Lost Boys in Thunderdome, or the women in Fury Road.
  6. Awesome car crashes.

    Really proud of this one.

    Really proud of this one.

*Answer key: the one on the right.

That about does it. If you’ve made it this far, I am SHOCKED. As a reward/apology here is a gif of a hamster eating a tiny burrito. More serious blog post to come tomorrow.

hamster