Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A ticket to ride, a date and other bus stories…(Monday 29Sep– Day 5)

(Where am I now: in a double-decker long distance bus from Flecha (arrow) bus company, seat 7 on the top side, going to Santa Fe in the north)
(What is the time now: 00:33 pm on Tuesday,
What am I listening to: Bus engine but 2 minutes before boarding, the bus station was playing “Ticket to ride” from the Beatles.)

Part 1
“Why does Man seek immortality when he cannot find what to do on a rainy Sunday?”
That’s what she told me over a cold liter of Stella beer after a long walk in the rain, sharing the umbrella, trying to avoid the many water-filled puddles on the way. You see, on Sunday, I went on a date. Well sort of. I guess it might qualify as one, two people meeting a couple of nights before, she giving me her phone number and then calling to arrange for an afternoon coffee.

Sunday reminded me of Geneva not nearly because of the fact that on Saturday I got home after 06:00 am after that pena but because it was a late wakeup under a grey, cloud-filled sky in a city that although busy and still up for doing things on Sundays, it just didn’t feel like anything I was expecting. I wanted to go out and there was “nothing to do” And then I got a call. Actually Menelaos did – from Amparo, the girl we met at a random party on Firday night. Is Kostas around – can I talk to him? It wasn’t her phone number.
You see, she said: “My phone doesn’t work – it’s blocked since yesterday – so I can’t call/receive sms. Let’s meet in 45 minutes in El Ateneo. You know where it is?”
“El Ateneo, of course I do” (no clue whatsoever)
“You take the 132 us downtown, it’s a cool bookstore”, shouts Menelaos from the kitchen, probably haring my clueless tone of voice.

Remember (if you are over 25) the times when we used to meet your friends for a drink or cinema without mobile phones? Try and understand my excitement on doing this again, taking a bus downtown, to a place I’d never been before, seeing someone I (think) I remembered her face, without being able to contact her. Cool…

I got there, bus 132 and all. El Ateneo is not a “cool bookstore” as Menelaos said. It’s an amazing bookstore. Actually it is a three-level Opera house, converted into a wonderful bookstore and café in downtown B.Aires. You don’t believe me, check the photos. I got to the coffee area, full full full, I was looking for a table with one tall curly-haired girl, she was nowhere to be found.

Now, this is goingto be interesting, I thought. Immediate reaction, pick up the phone – oops you can’t do that this time my friend – so you got to do it old style. Wait.
Looked around, wondered if I made a mistake with the time, the place, the girl…
She showed up 5 minutes later. We walked around, she bought a book and then went to find a place to have beers.

We talked and talked – half Spanish, half English –when I got lazy or when it was her turn to practice. She was a breath of fresh air to what I was experiencing the past few days in BA. Definitely more sophisticated than the “hippies” I’ve been spending time with, undoubtedly well-mannered and with a great attitude to life.

She lives in Cordoba (the Argentinean one, of all places…), has a PhD in neurosciences and likes Buenos Aires but is “thankful every day for living in smaller place where people have real, meaningful contact”. Did you know Buenos Aires is almost 20 million people? Now you do. Big city syndrome, alienation, stress, work work work… Again food for thought on a rainy Buenos Aires Sunday afternoon.

“Why does Man seek immortality when he cannot find what to do on a rainy Sunday?” Get up, go out, do something for yourselves. I am…

Madonna: Round 2

Ok, this is a post from my best man Ody, I just decided to include it in my blog - this way you can have a referrence to my other previous comment on the Queen of Pop. I am now in Santa Fe bus station, uploading some stuf, waiting till 09:30 which is the time I can go to my new couchsurfing buddy... I'll keep you posted.

Matey Nice to hear from you "live" Didn't want to repeat what the others say, but the blog is kicking ass, and it's a spark of light and a smile on my face in the morning here on a different continent, time-zone but somewhat same life. I guess the following is not in sync with the current post but I’ll just put it here.

So let me tell you about the Madonna concert in Athens and I will not be as merciful as you! Total disappointment (my wife will completely disagree)It is not the Madonna I wanted to see, the Madonna I wanted to remember having ‘been there’ to see live. The Madonna I would tell my kids about on day. The Madonna that reminds me of my adolescence year’s , of my first shy dances on the sounds of Lucky Star and Crazy for You….The Madonna that simply brings us together even now after many years on the dancefloor with Like a Prayer and Into the Groove ……The Madonna of “Ciao Italia 1990 Live in Torino”This was a fully orchestrated marketing show, fully computerized, almost fully played-back, with a 55 year old woman on steroids who has still not found the real peace inside of her, and who needs to shout “I Can’t u hear you moth$#%ers” to her audience to get a lousy “Woua Woua”…….It was a freak Show, It was a night at the Circus…..I was looking all around me and could see vast amounts of entire families (grandparents, parents and kids) having come there to SEE Madonna ……….obviously the connection was never there....and I Admit that like most people there , I wanted to go and see her once in my life....but not like thatDon’t get me wrong, I know it could not be the Madonna of the 80s or the 90s for the obvious reason, nevertheless a concert’s reason of being is primarily to reward your audience, to give them a few hours of intimacy, to make them feel just a bit closer to you, to give them something they will remember and cherish for the rest of their lives, something that cannot be packaged into a CD or the screen of your MP3 player.

So why did she completely screw up all 4 of the oldies she played, I did not want to hear a heavy metal version of Into the Groove or a gypsy version of La Isla Bonita ???All I was asking was for 4 original songs out of a two hour promotional set, of the real thing, All I was asking was a tiny piece of herself that I would keep with me for the rest of my life, for every time I would be again on the dance floor (with you) - I guess , all I was asking was a 30 minutes of time travel into the last 20 years ……. And those who have benn to a U2 or Depeche Mode concert, know very well what I mean…..

So there you have it, my personal experience is sort of detailed in the above, I hope you’re having the time of your life, by the read of it, you are, take care of yourself, and live the dream.

Hasta La Isla Bonita hermano

Monday, September 29, 2008

Tango, Folk, … music everywhere… and more stories

Rainy Sunday in BA, time 23:16, I’m about to cross the street to go to an internet café and upload the article below. It’s been a good Sunday, although Geneva weather seems to make a comeback in my life, I have a good story to tell but that one is for tomorrow…

Tango, Folk, … music everywhere… and more stories
(Sunday 28Sep– Day 4) (Where am I now: sitting on my mattress at my host’s living room/my room, Rividavia 3789 Apt 1A)
(What is the time now:14:33 pm on Sunday,
What am I listening to: The rain outside the window and the cars passing by)

Beer takes you a long way
It’s been a wonderful weekend, no debate about it. It started nicely on Friday afternoon where, after a very long walk, zigzagging the streets of downtown BA, I ended up at a pub with Menelaos and some of his colleagues for some beers. Beer seems to be the staple drink in this city, at least for the income group of the people I’ve met so far. It’s also dead cheap, with $3.50 for more than a pint of Quilmes (the local brand) I just feel I’ve drank more of it than I’ve ever done in a weekend. The place, with the imaginative name Bar-Baro (add the 2 together you get a Greek word…) in the intersection of Tres Sargentos and Reconquista was pretty near Microcentro (the financial/business part of the city). That’s where you see the people still in “work clothes” hanging out for some drinks in preparation of the weekend. I met some of Menelaos’ colleagues, quite interesting people with a pretty diverse background. They casually mingled very successfully with the general population of after-work drinking bankers/office workers and the group of 6 local girls sitting behind us chatting about their boyfriends. Sounds like Geneva right? Not even close.

Most of these people are slightly off the beaten track, profiles pretty different to the well-paid, housing-allowanced expats you get to meet in Geneva (I am one of them, I know the kind). It’s not about the money or the position: diversity here has to do with the real background and the experiences of the people. Take Anita, 31 from Norway, she has been travelling for 4 years, left Oslo with a semi-complete degree in Social sciences and some debt she stills needs to re-pay for it. She’s been living in BA the past 2 years, speaks perfect Spanish, and earns less than a 1000USD a month (a good salary in BA) translating English/Norwegian/Spanish texts in a pretty well-known company (can’t tell you…). Her boyfriend is 5 years younger at 26 and Argentinean. Her plan is to save more money and tour Latin America, because “there’s nothing better than travelling and discovering places and people”.

Losers? Maybe by your “Geneva convention” standards but I’ve met a lot of “international” people in Geneva: same old questions, “where are you from, where do you work, do you like Geneva?”. Same answers as well, more or less. I asked exactly the same ones again (well, replace Geneva with Buenos Aires, anyway). Now you tell me why did I not get bored not for one bloody minute? Why was I actually interested in her real background (It wasn’t her looks and she has a boyfriend anyway…) not the CV elements we so easily dish out whenever we meet someone? I’ve done it many times, I even think I should prepare a pre-recorded helpline message on my profile: “For where I work/if I like it, press 1”, “For do I like living in Geneva, press 2”, “For Do I ski in winter, press 3”, “For Do I miss Greece, press 4” and so on…
I guess I will find out more about her, Buenos Aires people are so friendly, she has already invited me for an “asado” (BBQ) next weekend…

Music…everywhere (i)
You expect it. They’ve all told you about it. Buenos Aires lives and breathes tango. Yes, ok I agree. I don’t have the proof, just some indications but I guess walking around downtown on a Friday afternoon, in Calle Florida (the busiest commercial/pedestrian street in BA, think “Rue du Marche”, “Ermou”, “Tsimiski” whatever) and seeing a couple of dancers doing the tango, unmistakably reminds you that despite being surrounded with Global retailers (Zara, McDonalds, Burger King, Nokia, Kodak, whatever) you are in Buenos Aires. I paused, just like most of the people to watch this. Interesting contrast, the circle of viewers that had formed around them were mostly tourists, locals casually went about their business like this is a daily happening. I guess it is. It’s also beautiful. Sure, I would never be able to dance so elegantly, let alone convince someone to dance with me but it was still a wonderful sight. Choreographic movements, elegance, woman in a short skirt dress and high heels, gracefully, effortlessly spinning around the guy, his slick hair combed back, black shirts & trousers.

You don’t even need to like this type of dance or music, at that moment it was unimportant, for me it was beyond that – it was a clear statement, right there before my eyes: you are half the way around the world, far away from all you know and are used to. Welcome to the trip of a lifetime…

Music…everywhere (ii)
“Tonight we are going to a peña (péh-nia)”, Menelaos said. I didn’t know that word in Spanish. I only knew “pena” (pé-na) and it means “pitty”. Far from that, peña is a folk party/event with live music, that people go to dance. I mean in: People go to dance. Forget the European clubs (or the ones in Athens at least) where stylish, well-dressed, posh people go out, listen to music blasting from the speakers, unable to talk, too shy or uninterested to dance, they just “hang there”, drink in one hand, ultimate boredom & introversion in the other, they use the one hand and the contents of the glass to lighten the grip of the other one…
Forget classy surroundings as well, this is no club, peñas usually take place in big warehouses or hangars, large enough to fit hundreds of people, tables and a stage.

Ours was at the Caballito (pronounced: ka-ba-shii-to in Argentinean Spanish) District. It is an old converted train station with the most appropriate of names “Estación de los Deseos” (Desire station). We went there at a normal time, 01:30... It’s not that it took us long to get there, it’s that Menelaos had arranged for one of his friends to have his birthday party at his place so we also stayed around for a while. Beers, pizzas, birthday cake/singing and all. We didn’t kick them out because we had to go to the peña, on the contrary, Menelaos left the birthday boy some keys and told him to clean and lock up once they were done… As I had said before, different people…

Back to Desire Station. After paying the astronomical entry fee of $3 (makes you think of clubs in Europe…), we moved into a huge room full of people already drinking, eating and…dancing. You need to try and understand the first impression I got. This location, inconspicuously set up in an old train station, the way to the entrance extremely badly lit and away from any major intersection, was a place I would never access on my own, it looked just too scary to visit even if you knew exactly where you were going. Suddenly I felt like I was peeking inside a more real part of Argentinean life. It was almost something out of the Dirty Dancing film (except for the Dirty in the Dancing). I was the tourist and this was “Staff only” event it you remember.

People of all ages were simply dressed, little jewelry, no make up, just themselves, their friends and music. It’s all they did for hours and hours. Dancing to the tunes of beautiful folk music, drum, violin and guitar. Nonstop, elegant, slow dancing, gracious moves, on their own, in pairs, in groups, clapping to the rhythm of the music. It was wonderful! I had never seen such a thing, people twirling around themselves and around their partners, hands on their waist and then suddenly high up in the air, holding colorful pañuelos (handkerchiefs) never losing sight of their dancing partners, looking into each other’s eyes, even people who were obviously not couples or even friends, were having these non-stop conversations with their eyes, starring, smiling, so little said, so much meant…

I wanted to film it, it really tried. The fact that it was dark but most importantly that I was the only one doing so, made me feel completely out of place. I put the camera inside my pocket, took a girl by the hand and joined them till the sun came up…

Sunday, September 28, 2008

First test with email

Can you please leave me a comment if you can/cannot see the video? Still learning how to use this thing... :-)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sitting on the stairs, outside the apartment, this is the only place where I can properly “steal” the neighbor’s wireless internet signal, I am getting ready for a 3 o’clock asado (BBQ)…

Bus 86 to downtown, Rividavia 3789, Apt 1A
(Thur25-Fri 26 Sep – Day 2)
(Where am I now: sitting on a cushion on the floor of my host’s apartment, Rividavia 3789 Apt 1A)
(What is the time now:09:24 am on my first Saturday, What am I listening to: The traffic outside the window)

It will be tough to catch up and write all the things I want to write, even if it is been only a day more– I admit it. This place hits you with ferocious activity and unstoppable force, busy, lively, full of people and traffic. It will be a challenge as there are three moments in time: the one I describe, the one I actually write this post and the one I connect & upload it…

I arrived at the airport terminal and just after passport control and a 20minute wait to get my bag I slowly inched my way out of the terminal. My bag… Every time I wait in front of that conveyer belt, staring at the entrance, that mouth that is constantly open, tongues of plastic moving peoples’ baggage towards their rightful owners, I get these butterflies: “Is it here, is it opened, did it make the trip/connection?” I am wondering whether the choice to have about 16 flights in the next few months will ultimately help me get rid of this feeling.

Bag on my shoulders, I move out of the customs area in search for transport, the time is 21:30. Now before you go take a taxi/shuttle/normal bus you need to pay a ticket and for that you need local currency. Not only that but you need change.
Argentina, after being hit by the peso devaluation in 2001 has been a very cheap place to go on holiday – all in relative Euro terms. What are extremely difficult though to get are coins. Buses do not give change. ATM have a cap on Maestro withdrawals to the extreme amount of 300 Pesos (100USD) daily. Hmm, this will take some managing. So after withdrawing money from an ATM, going to the bank to get change (yes no one changes bills to coins, coins are rare) I was ready to get moving. Method of transport: Right. I am on a budget but at the end even the taxi ride to downtown, +20km away is about 20 USD. I decided to take the normal bus for 0.5 USD or 1.5 Pesos. You know why? Because I am not in a hurry! I won’t before the next 3 months, I just need to take the time needed for everything, besides seeing a bit of what it is really like to move around in Argentina.

So it’s bus 86 for me all the way – It took some time. About an hour and a half that is since it stopped practically everywhere. The buses are noisy and old, nothing to do with modern EU buses, they reminded me of the the first buses I used to take in Athens in the late 80’s, early 90’s, those with the extremely high step, bare metal floors, and big sliding windows on the side.

I am happy to be able speak Spanish. It’s such a gift because people are really friendly and helpful and not all of them speak English. Although the pick me out as a tourist on the first sentence, since my Castellano accent has little to do with Latin American variety.
“Pues que?” “Griego.”
”Ah, Griego!”, and that’s how it’s been going for the past day and a half now.

So Pablo, the driver on bus 86 to downtown, was helpful enough to tell me where to get off and my host Menelaos was nice enough to give me directions to get to his place… 4 blocks away from the stop, I am generally weary of walking alone with a 23kg pack on my back, looking as much tourist as I could be. The place is not everywhere perfectly lit but at least the main roads I crossed were busy with people on a late Thursday night.

Cultural shock hits me when I enter the apartment. After entering a really fabulous, nicely lit, marble covered lobby, with a key thrown to me (or actually, stringed down to me in a plastic supermarket bag, from the 1st floor balcony) I entered the apartment. This is Couchsurfing central or at least it is one of the places that has probably hosted many people in the past months. Menelaos shares this big flat with another 2 people: Anna from Poland and Paco from Spain. And then it’s the people that come and visit them to sleep over, for a day to a month…
Forget hotels, clean sheets, room service or even basic amenities (yes ok of course they have 2 bathrooms) but we are talking here really basic. And I think I like it. A lot. It could be cleaner for sure and that is a different point – the people are not dirty – the place is the one that needs a good paintjob and some repairs.

What the place lacks in comfort, the people make up with their openness and hospitality. I didn’t see any of you with your great apartments and flat screen TV to actually host someone (even in your living room) you’ve never seen before. And believe me, I am not passing judgment about who’s hospitable, kind or well mannered. These are simply a different type of people – as I will slowly get to realize. And I am loving every minute of it. I don’t think I would ever leave my apartment at this state but I would sure like to be as laid back and open minded about some other things. That’s probably the part that excites me the most about this trip; it’s getting to know different people with different attitudes. I’ve been here 48 hours, slept on a mattress on the floor, ate home-made pumpkin/vegetable soup, washed dishes in a cracked sink under a faucet that you can’t actually completely turn off, and already see this. Menelaos is like this, just different. Remind me to tell you a bit more about his story – and the story of the 3 pairs of trousers…

Friday, September 26, 2008

I made it! First morning in Buenos Aires, I am sitting at an internet cafe uploading the posts I wrote yesterday in the plane... Was a long flight but check it out for yourselves.
Did I tell you how much the Interner connection costs here? 2 Pesos/hr = less than € 0.80

Goodbye European continent, Hello Ms Iréne P. (Thur 25 Sep – Day 1)
(Where am I now: seat 21J - flight IB 6845 to Buenos Aires in an Airbus 340-600 called Pio Baroja)
(What am I listening to: Rock the Casbah from the Clash)

So, I’m about +3 hours in this flight already, a flight time that already makes some unconfident air-travelers nervous – I try not to think about the mechanics involved in this flight – that is not an option else I would spend all my trip worrying about the next flight. Some numbers though are interesting, although maybe not entirely comforting: the distance this plane needs to cover is 10,050km (already done 1839km is what I read on the screen and the little plane seems to be on the West coast of Africa, just west of Palma de Mallorca), these (4) engines will work for 12 hours non-stop at an external environment temperature of about -50 degrees, the plane is fully loaded (and I mean fully) This is the biggest, best airplane Airbus has ever built before the A380 double-decker. But frankly this one could be a bit newer.

Fearful flyers beware: the upholstery in the cabins and the in-flight entertainment system do not mean that plane A is better than plane B, it might just mean that this one could use a slight facelift. There’s however a difference: I’ve used the same plane with Swiss & Lufthansa and I admit that it DOES look better than the Iberia one. From the retro 60’s upholstery seats (the best are in business class, they look like the brown sofas we had in our Athens apartment in the 80’s), to the “flat” (yeah right) screens that are spread out every 20 meters, this is an “old/basic” model. I mean forget the little retractable joypad on your seat’s armrest, forget the screen on the back of the seat in front of you or the fold-out screens that come down from the ceiling every 3-4 rows, forget the lumbar adjustment button for your back or the foldable footrest on your seat. We are talking basic here. At least the film they are playing is new: Indiana Jones 4, but just like the plane, Dr Jones’ jumping/whipping/punching around simply seems out of date. Bah, who cares anyway, I just want the engines to keep humming (because that’s how they sound through my headphones) and the landing gear to come down over Buenos Aires - the rest is just details.

All I am trying to say is “Mana min anysuxeis, ola kala” (Mom don’t worry, all is well!)

Change of topic, I will talk about Iberia again a bit later if I have time. Let me tell you about my neighbor. She’s sitting next to me in seat 21K, Ms Iréne P. Of course it is not her real name but those that have actually met the real Iréne P (the mother of my “koumbaro” Ody) would immediately agree on the resemblance. A middle-aged, French-speaking (oh, yeah I am speaking French to her) stylish lady with light-colored bright eyes behind a rimless pair of glasses, she even has the same tone of voice Ms Irene has. I haven’t asked her name but I am sure it is Iréne. She lives in Nice with her husband but (of all places…!) she is Swiss and comes from Morges (for the non-Geneva residents this is a small town on the way to Lausanne).

It’s her fifth time visiting Argentina the past 3 years. “Why? Do you have family there?” I asked. “Well yes, sort of. A few years ago a man from Argentina with the same surname as mine sent me an email asking about my origins and the village I grew up.” It turned out to be her long lost second/third cousin /whatever (my French is not that good with family tree titles), his family immigrated to Argentina, he was born in Tierra del Fuego, his dad was a merchant ship captain (no, no bastard story here – I just told you what his dad did because being born in Ushuaia is not that common). And “he’s family – I visit often. I’ve discovered a whole new part of my family and who we really are”.

Right. Now, I am really impressed. 10,000km away, never seen each other, the guy has never visited Switzerland and they manage to find each other (ah the glorious, unstoppable power of electrons moving through hyperspace eliminating distance, reducing all communication times to a flash)and end up being relatives– now don’t start telling me this is a big planet, so much distance to cover, travelling is hard, etc. No it’s not – look at us: You are practically travelling with me, even meeting the same people that are sitting next to me… so when there’s a will (to travel and keep the links), there’s a way…

Still don’t believe me? Look at Ms Iréne...

This is a long flight indeed (Thur 25 Sep – Day 1)
(Where am I now: seat 21J - same place...)
(What am I listening to: the cabin noise in the airplane.)

I did what I could, really. Followed all the rules, drank cups and cups of water, stretched every 40 minutes, went to the toilet, I’ve been a good boy. I just can’t get rid of this bloody headache that’s been bothering me for the past hour. The time in Europe is 22:15 and I’ve realized Argentina is -5, so it’s only the afternoon. I have about 2.5 hours to go and even if I wanted I won’t be able to use this laptop much longer – battery is dying. I guess that’s pretty normal after 6 hours…

I browsed through the Lonely Planet guide for Argentina, the one Adrian gave me after his own sabbatical. This country is immense – I will treat it with respect for a time allocation standpoint, that’s for sure: It will be the longest stay I am having in any place. I need to take a flight to Mendoza (near the border of Chile) on the 15 of Oct. This means I have 20 days to discover Buenos Aires, Iguazu falls and a few other cities close to this side of Argentina. Apparently they have a great bus network with overnight buses (yes mom, don’t worry, I will lock up all my things) It reminds me of my first big trip a while ago. Did I ever tell you about this? Exactly 10 years ago, at the tender age of 22, just fresh out of University I took a backpack and toured Europe for a month. Was brilliant. This was a time where cell phones we nowhere to be found and even internet was pretty limited (at least in Greece). I used all kind of transport at that time: a freight ship, Ro/Ro type (Roll on / Roll off that carries trucks) called Filippos, to take me to Italy trains, cars, airplanes but mostly buses. Greece, Italy, Austria, Belgium, Spain, UK… I have done the most absurd bus trip from Brussels, Belgium to Cordoba, south of Spain. 24 hours all in all… Through France, the Pyrenees, all the way down to Madrid and Cordoba. Different times, younger body and mind, but let’s see, I am all up for it.

Did I mention where I am staying the first few days in Buenos Aires? I am staying at a Greek I’ve never met before that is part of the couchsurfing team in BA. Now, don’t say, why is he staying (of all people) with a Greek?! It was karma. A few months ago I was explaining to a friend how couchsurfing works and demonstrated the search engine: “Let’s look for someone in Argentina, Buenos Aires that speaks English and Spanish, male and has a couch available” 5 seconds later I get the list and on the top of it is Menelaos P, a Greek. “I am going to see him” I said and the rest is history (or will be once I get out of this plane). I plan to write more about him once I get to know him, I’ll be getting at his place at around 23:00 local time. That’s about 4-5am for you guys in Europe.

I am also going to try and attach a little video: photos are great but I just realized you can do so much with all this technology I am carrying I might as well use it, so you can see exactly how things sound and feel over here. I’m not doing too much though. Once the words in the blog are replaced by the proliferation of images and even more so, moving images, all this typing on my little keyboard becomes redundant. Call me traditionalist, or plain nerdy, but it is text all the way over here. 14 minutes of battery to go and I need to stretch. “Headache, begone!!”

(Click again if it doesn´t work..)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

...Sitting in Barajas/Madrid airport waiting for my first long-haul across the Atlantic, below the equator, I am uploading 2 posts I wrote already this morning - my first day into this big adventure...

I have the greatest backpack in the world… (Thur 25 Sep – Day 1)
(Where am I now: gate A3 – Geneva airport – flight IB3489 to Madrid)

I have the greatest backpack in the world. I really do. I packed it yesterday, finished at 02:20 – not too much sleep was planned anyway, my first flight is to Madrid today at 08:25 with Iberia. It is the greatest backpack in the world because it locks up, looks beautiful, I can carry it (it weighs 17.5 kg with all the stuff) and it can fit everything I could need… almost.

Some things weigh less than air itself but to carry them they are unmovable, to fit them you need whole rooms. It’s the same with my backpack. How can it fit all the love and affection I’ve been receiving the past week, as the big day came closer and people got more and more into asking me about the trip.?How can it fit the smiles, hugs and wishes that I received yesterday night at my place from a few close friends? How can it fit the envious smiles and looks of surprise or admiration from colleagues and friends at work who either would have liked to do the same or failed to understand the purpose of this (it is not really good for your career now, is it?)
So as I said goodbye to the last 3 friends that visited me (the ones I’ve known the longest in Geneva and those that I’ve spent the most time) I went upstairs with a bag-full of gifts (books, locks, tripods, chargers) and anything you can imagine to make your travelling life a bit easier – I just stared at the white T-shirt that Kostas, Afroditi and Giorgos printed for me – “Kostas Around The World: life is a book and those who do not travel read only one page…”.
I couldn’t have said it better myself. So, special people do actually exist. It’s those few, like those I’ve seen the past few days that actually understand how you think, are in your DNA somehow; participate in your dreams, your worries, and your excitement. I guess that’s probably an indirect way to describe “real friends”…

So this first posting is for all of you. Friends and family. Not only the ones I saw this week and said goodbye to personally or over the phone but all of you who the past few months have listened to the plan a million times, all the destinations, those that have seen my eyes shine bright when I mention the places I will be visiting and the number of days I will be away from Geneva/work and, all those that have seen the big smile on my face whenever I am asked the question: “So, how many days to go?”…

I will try to carry you all with me, in my backpack, on the straps, in the ziplocks, on the handles, through these pages, through postcards and letters, through phone calls and emails. At the end, it’s one of the few things that could ever make someone coming back from such an adventure really worthwhile.

“Bonjour Mesdames & Monsieurs, le vol Iberia IB 3489 destination Madrid est prêt…”
I am leaving on a jet plane but I (…) know I’ll be back again…

See you in Spain…

Flight 3489, What? no paella…? (Thur 25 Sep – Day 1)
(Where am I now: Seat D25 in an IBERIA Airbus A-320 called Museo Gugenheim)

Ok, I have very low expectations on an economy flight to Europe. I’ve been trained for this. It all started a few years ago for me when Swissair crashed (financially I mean…), was then bought by Lufthansa and as part of the billion CHF restructuring program they did away with standard in-flight meals and replaced them with the world famous Buitoni calzone. The Greeks reading this that fly back and forth to Athens from Geneva with the (new) Swiss know exactly what I am talking about… (and are probably smiling)

Iberia is worse. I can accept Easyjet asking me to pay for drinks and sandwiches (after all it is a BUDGET carrier) but Iberia is the national carrier of Spain – they could at least serve some water damn it… My breakfast today consisted of a pain au chocolat and a bottle of milk (yes, I am the milk & cookies type of guy) bought from Cornavin train station as I was making my way towards the airport. But that was almost 3 hours ago and I am hungry. How about some paella (ok it’s a bit early for this) but then how about a nice tortilla (images of my first girlfriend in Cordoba and her mind-boggling pan-flipping, tortilla-cooking skills rush through my head down to my stomach… thank God I have my noise-cancelling headphones on and at least I don’t hear the “grumble in the stomach-jungle”). Anyway, maybe Madrid airport offers some sandwiches at the typically exorbitant prices for travel-weary around-the-world travellers. I Want a McTortilla or a McPaella now! Too bad this whole ticket was booked with the One World alliance – if only it was Star Alliance – I could at least munch on the peanuts in the business class lounge... :-)

I’m booked for my Buenos Aires flight as well – I have a 2 hour stopover in Madrid – and then a 12 hour flight to BAires. Now this is going to be a real test – I can’t remember if I’ve ever taken such a long flight (I guess my body would remember if I had). I’ve also been informed that the flight is completely full (oh yeah, right, you are flying economy.) I made a conscious choice when I booked my ticket: I asked for isle seats all the way. It’s ok I can survive the narrow seats or the knee-hurting table pushed in me after the guy in front has fully reclined his seat. Having however to jump over 2 people because “nature calls” or because if I don’t stand up I am risking a leg amputation or DVT (Deep Vain Thrombosis – what an acronym) is NOT an option, I need freedom to at least (pretend to) be able to move around. And as with all choices, this has a price as well: no window seat, no bird’s view of all the beautiful places I am visiting… ah well.

A small side comment, as I am going through the Iberia magazine – I love the section with the maps, where they draw these thin curved lines that connect the different cities the airline companies fly to. They look like strings connecting dots like a harp, you just think your finger through the lines and hear the hum of the jet engines, the “pling” of the “fasten your seatbelts" sign and the “kruunk” of the lock on the folding doors that let you connect with nature in privacy 10 kilometers from the surface of the earth…
I wanted to quote some of the advice on the exercising, proper drinking they suggest: “During the flight we are at a pressure equivalent to 1500-2000 meters. This causes a small reduction in barometric and oxygen pressure. When pressure is reduced, intestinal gas tends to expand, which can cause the passanger slight discomfort. For this reason, the day before flying it is not a good idea to eat meals that are heavy or might produce gas…”

Well, I guess that’s it then, no chili con carne for me before my 18-hour flight from Santiago to Sydney…. :-)

See you all at the airport…

Friday, September 19, 2008

3 postings and 1 flight. (Thur18Sep, -8days to go)

Ok I’ve been productive, so I’ve decided to include all 3 postings in 1 entry, read on, and let me know what you think…

LX???, the final rehearsal over the rainbow.
I can’t tell you where I am but it’s a long haul flight (LX???) in an Airbus A330-300, one of the pretty standard planes I will be using in my round-the-world-trip. Even if you can guess where I am going don't put it in your comments - some people don't need to know. I am typing on my new laptop, and what I am really doing is what you would call a “full dress-rehearsal”, as I’ve taken with me all the little gadgets that will be following me in my trip.

The 2 greatest are this little laptop (Asus Eee) a tiny litle magic thing that packs so much power in it - tiny screen, (and tiny keys making it difficult to type) but it will be the basic medium through which I will be able to keep in touch with you. And already after 10 minutes of typing mistakes, I feel it is manageable.

Little luxury number 2 are my new noise-cancelling head phones. If you don’t know what I am talking about and don’t want to try them, go to a beach party by the sea, get yourselves neck deep in the water and wait: listen to the music, now dip your head in. No music? Well that’s how this feels. It’s buzz-proof, rattle-proof, hum-proof, base-proof noise cancelling. Now, I am not sure it will be baby-proof when I have that screaming kid on seat G32 right behind me at the end of a long trip such as Hong Kong- South Africa but there I just count on my luck.
So, only a few days before my big trip I am doing another trip, only for 2-3days to meet a very special friend, someone I met only just over a year ago but still feels like I’ve known for a very long time. Crazy I know, I should be focusing on my trip’s preparations. So what?, it will be worth it, I am sure.

I am in a great mood to write, I really I am.. I want to cover so much more - I have another 2 hours before I land so I guess I will give it a shot. One thing before I conclude on this little entry: Thanks to all of you for the encouraging feedback on this blog! I mean, even my little (no more… “little”) cousin wrote in it. Keep it up: write, comment, make fun of me whatever, it brings the whole thing to life…

“I present to you this child… to be taken care of…and returned to me...”
Allright, this is not going to be an easy posting to write, I know it already. Since it touches religion/traditional customs people tend to have widely different points of view on these topics. Let’s see. It’s been 2 weeks since I was in Greece for a long weekend where my friends and “koumparoi” Kostas and Nana , asked me to be their son’s godfather. Now for some people in Greece, this is a natural consequence of being asked to be the “witness” at their wedding, they have a kid and then you also become the nonos/nona (godfather/mother), simple, traditional Greek, whatever.

Not the case when you are talking for the “koumbaros for hire”. (that’s me). You see, I’ve had the distinct pleasure for the 3rd year in a row (and always in September) to be a “best man” and really, I take it seriously (I mean the part of being “best”). So with two weddings (Costas/Nana and Ody/Ifigeneia) under my belt it was time for the next big thing. A Christening.
“Ok, I understand, you asked me to be the best-man at your wedding, are you sure you want me to be your kid’s godfather? You do understand who we are talking about now, right?” “Yes we do, and we would only want you to be the godfather”. as a way of actually

Fine, I am ALL in for it. In a country where some politicians did (still do?) take up being godfathers/mothers as a way to secure a big voting constituency, it is a stark contrast to me thinking this is one of the biggest honors you can have. I mean, I get the whole part about weddings, and people come together and they ask you to be a key person in the ceremony and a person of honor at their wedding table but this is a new life we are talking about. I still believe it is a pretty big responsibility. For me personally it implies 2 things really. I will cover them in a minute. Before that I want to tell you about a specific part of the ceremony. If you’ve never been to a Greek orthodox christening and are not familiar with the ritual, google it (…), I am sure something exists. Even if you read about it and understand it, you won’t even get half of the feelings and emotions vs. actually being there as the godfather - especially the final part, where the child now has a name, has been dried and dressed up with his new clothes and is held by the godfather near the alter. It’s a personal moment, not for the whole congregation. It’s you, the mother and the priest. The mother approaches you and kisses your hand, as a sign of respect (I finally get some from Nana after 8 years, carrying her child in my arms :-) )and the priest says to me: “Repeat after me: I present to you this child, baptised and anointed for you to take care of and keep from harms way, away from earthquake, fire, cliffs until the age of twelve, to be taken care of and returned to me at… the end off time”

And as I repeat the words and look into Nana’s eyes, holding Vasili, I understand that this goes beyond the 8 years of knowing her, beyond the 2 years of fun we had with her and Costas when they were living in Geneva, beyond the summer weekends at my mom’s summer house with all our friends, beyond that Valentine’s day in Geneva where I was crashing and she made the best risotto and we watched (of all things!) “Love actually“, beyond the Patra Carnival we visited years ago, beyond their wedding and the rain of rice we danced under.

This one was until the end of time…

Godfather likes postcards
So what do I think is important when being a godfather:

Point 1: Being there. Being there in the kid’s life. Now that one is a tough one. In a time where I don’t even know where I am going to end up living, how can I be able to ensure this. I really thought about this in the previous months before the actual day. At some point I was even about to tell them they need to find another one for this - I don’t want to be absent. I remember myself and my brother when we were young. My nonos/nona live in Athens, during Easter we always used to get gifts and a "lambada" (that’s the candle you take to church in Easter - a key “responsibility” of a godfather, not the brazilian 80's dance). They always used to bring one for my brother too: his nona was my mom’s oldest sister, living in South Africa, a tad far away to visit every year, especially at those days. I don’t think she was a bad nona, it was just that she didn’t manage to see my brother as often as she could if she were closer.

So that’s not what will happen with me and my godson. I made a promise to myself, that anytime I am in Greece I will make the time to pass by and see him and when he’s old enough take him out, and play and whatever ever ever ever…! It’s a risk I know. I don’t know if I will eventually be living in Greece, so it might make things more complicated but he will be just like his parents and all my other (close and real) friends.. You make time, you “go the extra mile”, you do the extra effort. Because when I held him during the ceremony and I was asked: “And his name?” and I shouted out “Vasileios” , this was the “Beginning of a beautiful friendship” as the Inspector told Rick at the foggy airport of Casablanca. I will make sure it is. It’s not always been easy to keep in touch with people that live far away, lead their own busy lives, I’ve covered this more than once in my previous posts so let’s leave it to that - ultimately just like with friends, time is the only real test.

Point 2: Teach…anything.
Teach him to follow a football team (I don’t follow any), teach him to play an instrument (I am tone deaf), teach him to ride a motorcycle (I’ve failed the test twice/and his parents wouldn’t approve anyway), teach him math (I can’t remember a thing anymore…), so I better find something else…

I already know what I would like to teach him: to enjoy the moment as it comes, not just wait for a distant and promising future or reminisce on the past but actually live the now and today. And travel, discover, expand, learn on his own. I’ve already started doing it, even if you don’t think it is possible, even if he doesn’t yet understand me. Because I have a plan. I will use this trip as the greatest story-telling opportunity that ever existed. I’ve already started writing to him. I will write postcards and send them from all the places I will visit. And when he’s old enough to read them on his own, I will sit down with him and tell him all about this story. Because who knows, by that time maybe there are postcards no more, maybe all is done through “cloud computing” and virtual mailboxes and maybe people take sabbaticals to orbit around the earth or visit the moon (if they are rich…)

I love postcards. They are the greatest story telling machine ever invented. Forget MMS, face book photo albums and “wish you were here, now send to your friends with 0.30 Euros digital photos of your cool holiday with your mobile phone”…
A postcard is alive: It travelled in a bag, in a plane, train, car, scooter whatever… A postcard has a stamp and a date on it, it shouts: “I was there at that place and at that time”. A postcard has a picture on it, usually from a special place for you to see, to imagine, to remember… and above all it has someone’s handwriting on it. Whether it is a couple of lines or my “super-condensed font size 8 writing”, where I try to cram days of experiences in 10 lines, this thing is full of life. And imagine, if you sit down and tell a story about each and every postcard you’ve ever received/sent. You can fill a book. So next time you pass by the tourist shop think about it. I have a wall full of them in my appartment inb Geneva. And one day, when/if I decide to move out and have to take them down, I will sit down and re-read them before putting them in a box and remember the places and the people that sent them.
So I’ve already started I said. He should be getting his first one anytime now. A wonderfull panoramic view of a Geneva summer afternoon, gold colours everywhere and the jet d’eau right there in the middle, just the way I’ve been seeing it for the past 5 years from my own apartment window.

And I promise you, just this is a very long tale to tell…

Monday, September 15, 2008

10 plus one to go… the final countdown but still so much to do. (Sat 12 Sep, -11days to go)

Sitting at my desk in my apartment or what is left of the “my” part, since I’ve already started to move most of my stuff into storage. My new tenant and her friend are already here, using the guest room and we’re trying to “transition” my stuff into boxes, suitcases etc. Not a great feeling from my side, although they’re doing all they can to help. I wish I didnt have to do this – it would be so much more convenient but paying rent for 3 months in Geneva without income is way too expensive for most people to afford.

I am making progress though: I’ve emptied my big closet and the 125 t-shirts I have; it’s ridiculous how many clothes one can accumulate and even forget he ever had them – you don’t believe me? Try moving apartments and packing/unpacking and you will see what I am talking about. The other thing you realize is that you probably need about 10% of all the stuff you ever bought just to go by. I will prove this: I am taking 12,5 T-shirts(…) with me for this trip – now this will be interesting. If I have to stay out for 106 days, assuming I change one every day (yes I aim to have a shower once a day hopefully) that means I need to wear (and wash) them about 8 times for the next 3 months. Why would you need to carry more? Why would anyone need more stuff to walk around and see the world? And if you can do this while travelling the world, why can’t you (at least consider) doing it living a normal day-to-day life? Ok the question is rhetoric – let’s see how you answer it if you feel like it. I see no reason to have more but it also remains to be proven…

Carrying my stuff… I have the greatest back pack in the world now J I had bought one in the US (really good and great deal as well) but it was a true “backpack” that means it’s got straps and clips to tie everything together: very practical but no locks. It assumes I live in a perfect world where no-one steals and no-one needs your things. I wasn’t happy travelling alone with that on my mind. So yesterday I went with Andriana and “cashed in” my belated (May…) birthday present from her and Aris and got the coolest carry-pack money can buy. You can actually wear it on your back but it works with side-loading zips (that lock!). So no more: “¿perdóname puede cuidar mis cosas hasta que vuelva desde el servicio? (“Sorry can you look after my stuff till I get back from the toilet?”) Let’s see how that works. Everybody knows I am absent-minded; I tend to loose my stuff or misplace it. As my brother clearly said before I left Greece: “I will be very surprised if nothing happens to you during your trip” He didn’t mean getting hurt, he’s just referring to my inability to manage my stuff properly. Well, that’s another test for this trip.

I have mixed feelings currently. I’ve kept telling people that have been asking me where I am going/what the plan is and haven’t had time myself to sit down and digest the implications. I wrote about this previously but it’s still something that bothers me. I now have a Lonely planet guide for Argentina – but I think I will start reading it on the flight to Buenos Aires. I will just roam the Earth for the first few days. The idea is to book a cheap hotel for a couple of days to get my bearings and then get to know the city a bit better. No rush. The Latin America adventure will last almost a month… A bit too long vs. what I had originally planned – but you try to book a flight from Santiago to Sydney almost 2.5 months in advance and let me know if you manage.

I am sorry that this is not one of my deep-thought entries. It might seem a bit superficial versus some of the others but it also reflects my current mood. Not too happy, not too sad. I have a couple of stories to tell you – they are “work in progress” but I haven’t made much of it recently…
There’s also a lot of change happening on the work side for me but this is not the place or time to discuss it.
Does proximity (or the lack of it…) make things seem different? This whole expression of “step back and see the big picture…” does it apply to travelling as well? Because then I am really stepping back big time. Back across the Atlantic and the Pacific, back below the Equator, back about 12 time zones. Let’s see how my friends, my job, my city, my whole life seem through this kaleidoscope of destinations, images, tastes and smells… Let’s see how the people I’ll meet shape the way I see things when I am back and how I will relate to those that are the closest back home…
And with this little tidbit of philosophical questioning I leave you to rest – big day tomorrow – my last big presentation to management in my current role – don’t know if it will be good but will make it a fun one, promise.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Go Godfather… and my friends are around again (Sat 06 Sep, -19days to go)

(posted from Athens airport: 05:54 8-Sep-08)

I’m back “home” – laptop clock posts the time at 00:56 but that’s my Geneva laptop, so in Athens it’s already +1hr. (which I guess it means I am also 1 hour closer to Dubai…) I just finished helping my mom tidy up the place – had my friends over for a “farewell drink”. It wasn’t a party, not at least in the way people are used to me throwing parties: booze and music of course but it was fewer people. I enjoyed it so much. I love these big parties we’ve been throwing with friends, like the Black/White/Red big bash every December around X-mas. But this was different – it actually managed to cover a different kind of need, slightly more special. You see, as I just said, lot-of-people parties are great, a confirmation that a large group of people want to come over, drink and listen to our music – oh and see/talk to us. And that happens. And it’s great. But where I’ve failed is seeing and talking to them. Some I just manage to greet at the door, offer them a drink and talk to them again as they pass their “thank you’s” on the way to the door. How can you have a proper individual discussion with 60 people that are interested in knowing what you are doing, if you like the place you have been living at for the past 5 years, if you are happy etc?

Well you can’t, it’s impossible.

But not tonight. Dia, Thanassis, Aris, Evi, Petros, Vicky, Kostas, George, Irini, George, bro, mom where enough for a true Close and Real encounter (read my 2nd posting…) George T’s birthday was a wonderful way to make this day extra special – being in Dubai I don’t think he’s spent one birthday with his family and old friends the past 5 years. Having him here makes things so special – besides my business trips to Dubai, I managed to see him once a year: around Christmas.
Tonight was wonderful, we spent some good time together – they asked me about the Madonna concert and about my upcoming trip. Some amazed, some doubtful on the choice of destinations, some curious on how a “Round-the-world” ticket works. But that wasn’t important, the key was that I could really sit down and talk. I had missed that for quite a while. The more I answered questions and told my plan, the more I started realizing the colossal implications of the trip on myself, the time I will spend travelling and the time until I see some of these people again.

Did I tell you why I am back “home”? I am here to give a little boy his name. HE will be called Vassili, like his grandfather and I am the godfather. In greek the word “koumbaros” would be something close to the English equivalent of the “best man”. He’s the person that is called “temoin”/witness in French, but he can also be a “Nonos”, the godfather of a child. And for the past two years every September I’ve had the opportunity to be a “best man” for two couple that are very close to me. And now, this September, again, I am back to give a name to the couple’s firstborn. How wonderful, what a big responsibility “Koumbaros for hire” as I jokingly say sometimes.. At the same time it’s the perfect opportunity to see my close and real, and say goodbye to them, with confidence that I will be seeing them “next year”. After the 25th of September, I will set foot back in Europe, only on Jan 8th if all goes as planned.

My mom is worried about the trip J I am slightly more worried about the first part – Latin America/Argentina/Chile, where I will be travelling alone at a place where I’ve never seen before without knowing absolutely anyone there. How exciting… however at this point I am personally more concerned about the fact that I didn’t manage to get an automatic visitor’s visa for Australia, which represents 1/5 of my travel time, a place I’ve always wanted to go, a place where I have at least 2 good work colleagues I want to see again and an apparently very special person I’ve never personally met but really want to see. Let’s see – If I’ve managed to get a 10-year Visa for the “land of the free and the home of the brave”, Australia should be reasonably manageable. After all, I don’t want to stay there, at least not yet because I haven’t seen the place.

I’ve moved to the balcony, Hotel California from the laptop’s speakers, and I realize it is quite late. Tomorrow we’re driving down to Loutraki to see most of my other friends & colleagues attending the christening. And after that I only have another 36 hours left in this country till I revisit it… next year!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

“Material Girl” had “4 minutes” to save my world. I was left behind looking around for the “Lucky Star”

Sitting at my desk, “Papa don’t preach” on my black iPod, a gift from my best-man, I’ve just come back from Zurich, I reflect upon what I thought would be the ultimate trip back to Memory-lane and my teenage to late twenties period… I briefly managed to travel there but got abruptly yanked back into the inescapable reality of the ending of another decade… things change and you can’t do anything about it.

So I got there, past the long queue, ticket clutched in hand, heart racing with anticipation and dropped in the garbage bin the bottle of water I was carrying– Swiss concert rules forbid bottles into concert areas... Safety first, welcome to Switzerland. Who cares anyway? A whole fair with food and drinking stands had been setup inside the old military airport to accommodate the 70.000 fans – the biggest concert ever organized in Switzerland. Speakers blasting Madonna tunes (even the “old ones”!) in the hot summer afternoon, sun blazing on the people lying on the grass, others walking around with food and beer, waiting to get into the main concert area. I was there with my two friends, 5 hours in advance, I small price to pay for someone willing to be as close as possible to what he considers his ultimate teenage/twenties period soundtrack. I don’t like her as a woman, I promise and even if I used to at some point before she posed naked in Erotica and hooked up with Dennis Rodman, for sure, all that had faded as quickly as she built her muscles and changed her hair from the brown, silver, black,…whatever transformations I adored, to the latest “yellowish-gold” 2000 version look.

Listen up. I am really talking about the soundtrack of my life now: from my first high school nervous up-close dancing with the schoolgirls and “La isla bonita”, to the videocassette of Material girl I played till it was ruined at my cousins’ house in South Africa to the shocking at that time “Like a prayer” videoclip and song that could be heard from our bulky, low power heavyweight stereos during our high school excursions at Shinias beach, to the first vinyl record I ever bought (“True Blue”) with her posing so confident with that short silver hair-do, to the non-stop “Into the Groove” and “Lucky Star” dancing with Ody more recently in Club22 where I thought time stood still and nothing else really mattered. Time did stand still, beat filling my ears and reverberating in body, we danced alone, no need for alcohol or any other “upper” – who needed it? – we danced like no one was there and still having hundreds of people everywhere around us. She’s even written the last song I ever want to hear, me, slowly humming “Holiday” every time I was in the taxi on my way to Geneva airport for my Greek summer break, this is the song I want people to play at my funeral. This is how I want them to remember me:

“If we took a holiday,
took some time to celebrate,
just one day out of life, it would be,
it would be so nice.
Everybody spread the word,
we’re gonna have a celebration.
All across the world, in every nation…”

“…You can turn this world around
And bring back all of those happy days
Put your troubles down
Its time to celebrate
Let love shine
And we will find
A way to come together
And make things better
We need a holiday…”

Period. Get up and dance.

There I was, now just 4 hours to go, the gates open and in typical Swiss fashion, no one rushing in and pushing, not at least until you made it to about 50meteres from the stage barrier. Another 20 is all we could do. Moving further would require floating above a densely knit group of people which by that time seemed like one creature: All ages, races and sexual orientations, heads, limbs and of course eyes and ears, all waiting, all longing for one thing. We made it – it was close enough despite having another 3 hours to go – who cares, this is still the Queen of Pop, right? The seated section started to fill up only later, again in typical Swiss way…orderly excitement I call it. Let’s have fun at the right time. On/Off, it’s a switch. Everything, even feelings, controlled with clockwork-precision.

That’s when I made a first comment to my friends:”This doesn’t feel like a big concert…” Wrong comment, all numbers where against me: this was the largest build up of musical fans in this country, and I probably had about 30,000 looking over me from the seated section and another 40.000 of them leaning against me, pushing behind me. It still didn’t feel right. I was sharing with my two friends my U2 experience in Thessaloniki (already more than a decade ago) remembering that at the moment the crowd got the notion that U2 were coming on stage, the whole arena exploded, taking body temperature and sweat to levels that had to be sustained for the next 2 hours. You had to. You faint, you lose. No option. I was expecting the same; after all, all humans have the same body temperature: 36.6 degrees give or take a bit. But what is the temperature your heart beats when you see for the first (or second or whatever) time your idol, your queen, the musical chariot that has taken you places for the first time in your life, that has made you dream, cry, fall in love, sweat, sing and dance? I couldn’t be the only person feeling like that. Not here, not with so many people around me. Well, that’s exactly how I felt at that moment…

Don’t ask me about the support act – I don’t even remember the woman – I wasn’t paying attention anyway. Eyes, ears tuned to only one thing. We thought she wouldn’t be on time – her Cardiff opening concert was +1hr late. But this is Switzerland and 15mins of delay is pretty acceptable for a star like her. And so it happened, at exactly 21:15 the lights went out, the huge M signs on the sides of the big stage were lit up and there she was, music blasting into the night, lasers in the sky and all lights on her, sliding forward from the backstage, sitting on a glittering throne with a huge silver M on its back. Madonna…

The rest is history and you will probably get it all on DVD in a few months, glossy cover and all, another perfectly orchestrated and commercially successful world tour. I am sorry but the purpose of this posting is not to tell you the sequence of the songs or discuss the stage performance, singing, lighting, sound quality or anything else. Most of you will be seeing her in the next few weeks in Rome, Athens or wherever you’ve managed to get tickets for. And good for you because this is probably a show worth seeing. She might not do it again, you might not have the chance to see it again, so why not, do it, it’s something a few people have and will manage to experience.

I want to talk about me and how I felt there. Read on, understand, and if you do, you will understand more about me and what I am thinking right now than you would in any other occasion.

I didn’t mind the fact that some of the songs were unknown to me. Apart from the ones heard on the radio the past couple of years signaling a great “come back” and an “idol’s reinvention”, this was expected since I’ve stopped following her the past years. She evolved and I didn’t. Or that’s how it felt. While I kept jumping around with the child-like pop sequence of “Open your heart” and “Material Girl”, she was pushing the ABBA barrier with “Hung Up” and jumping for "4 minutes" on cars’ roofs with Justin Timberlake. I connected, for one sweet moment, when Into the Groove came up, the song completely refreshed, with a more contemporary beat and Keith Herring visuals flashing bright on the video walls. There I was, jumping for 5 minutes, non stop, screamed the words at the top of my voice. Word for word, verse after verse, like a big karaoke screen was right there in front of me. No need, this one comes from my heart, no tele-prompter needed; it all just flashed in front of my eyes as the music lifted me up and carried me away. People started staring, they seemed unable to understand, incapable of comprehending my excitement, they didn’t get it, some of them visibly annoyed by the “strange person” interfering with the “correctness” of their concert: This is Madonna you idiots…! Was it, really?

She didn’t like us either. We were too cold, too far away – you would expect a bit more excitement, a few more hands in the air and screaming from 70,000 fans that paid a minimum of 100 Euros a head to be there, even if they were mostly Swiss. Not sure whose fault it was: us (the older “us”) expecting to taste a bit of the past and relive it all again (our parties, our sense of dreaming and freedom she gave us) or us (the younger) who just thought she’s not modern enough, comparing her with the other contemporary 3-hit artists you forget by the time the season is over…?

I can’t answer that but I know I couldn’t follow. Throughout this 2-hour singing journey I was left on the “Borderline” of “La Isla Bonita” and she was moving on fast, past “Die another day” and “4 minutes”. I guess it’s a bit like life itself. Life and the people you love and care about. Everything evolves. Think about it like planets, rotating and travelling into space. At some extraordinary moment two objects come close together, their orbits so close they gravitate and just like people, connect. And at that unique, magically sweet moment, time is frozen and turns into a memory. It’s a memory that you will carry for as long as you keep spinning around, tracing your orbit that might even bring you away from the other object. And as you travel into your life’s orbit, you also change. It’s unavoidable. You’re not the same. No one is. People you met, spent time with, loved in the past, long gone now have changed into something new, better or worse it’s not important, they are different. Just like “Borderline” seemed vaguely familiar, words exactly the same, a more rock version being played out, it took me a while to realize this was the very song I heard again and again when I had a crush in high-school. You can’t stop change or time. You can decide however to evolve with it and still adore your pop idol for what she has become or hold back and relish the past that made you dream. Or you can do something in between…

Just like with your friends and loved ones. I have a few that seemed to have travelled in space with me for many years. They chose their own orbits and transformed themselves. But whenever our orbits meet, despite the differences, there’s still beautiful gravity. For some others, nothing exists anymore. Don’t feel sad, it’s how things work in the Universe and with People. You just need to accept it and make the best out of the ones that are still around. I am there. I am still happy to hear my “oldies” and I might not be up for listening to all the “newbies”. Because I am also different. I’ve also changed. And through my travel in space and time I am so grateful to have met so many beautiful planets and stars: they light up my night, all so bright. They are my own private constellation, my unfaltering ever-brilliant guide that prevents me from getting lost. I am so thankful that they’ve followed me around, despite my wobbly orbit and strange movements. It’ such a beautiful place up there with those stars…Dad, Mom, bro, Aris, Alexis, Andriana, Afroditi, Amalia, Apostolos, Christina, Christoph, Dimitris, Dia, Elena, Fabio, George, Giannis, Ody, Nana, Nikos, Melina, Katerina, Kostas, Kaori, Lefka, Ifigeneia, Stathis, Susanne, Vicky, Vassilis, just like stars, many, too many to write down, too special to forget. They are all up there even if not on this page.

There’s just one thing I am still missing. One thing I haven’t found.
Where’s that one and only, magic, Lucky Star I’ve been searching for so long?

I guess I just need to keep on dancing until I find her…

“You must be my Lucky Star,
‘cause you shine on me wherever you are
I just think of you and I start to glow
and I need your light and, baby, you know…

Starlight, Star bright, the star I see tonight…
Starlight, Star bright, make everything all right…

You may be my lucky star
‘cause you make the darkness seem so far
When I am lost you’ll be my guide
I just turn around and you’re by my side

Starlight, Star bright, the star I see tonight…
Starlight, Star bright, make everything all right…

Shine your heavenly body tonight
‘cause I know you’re gonna make everything all right

You may be my Lucky Star
but I’m the luckiest by far…”