In praise of Thessalonica

Back from Thessalonica. After four long days of working from 9 to 8 and lots of great food (as I wrote from there). Thessalonian cuisine is an unlikely but exquisite merger of Italianate finesse, tang and subtlety, Turkish flavour, abundance and a focus on ingredients as well as Balkan simplicity and understatement. The above hold for any odd place we cared to sit down (or stand in) to eat, and — definitely — places for pastry and sweets. So, Michael (Manske): drive there as soon as possible for the most mindnumbingly delicious varieties of baklava.

The city itself is a Barcelona of the poor: esplanades, avenues, quirky architecture, bars, restaurants, cafés, a waterfront, old and new unexpectedly mixed. ‘Old’ as in ubiquitous Ottoman, Byzantine and Roman antiquities:

galerius palace

The city is cut in two by the university campus and the annual world expo grounds. I was driven into it from the airport in a GPS equipped cab, its driver having a sense of humour. I think Thessalonians are the main asset of the city. They are informal and fun: after all these years in the Outpost, it was good to see couples kissing in public again, second hand bookshops, cafés and bars full of people actually enjoying themselves (unlike that).Yes, affectedness: at 8:30 on the second day, having skipped breakfast, I stopped at a kiosk and bought a chocolate milk and a swiss roll.

“I am on this diet.” I told the kiosk keeper.
“Good, you are in the right place. We only sell health food here.”, she said.
“Organic, too?”
“Sure thing.”

A delicious break from Outposter shopkeepers’ silent staring at anything but asking for a product. Speaking of which: waitresses! They would actually engage in casual witty conversation; they would be invariably sweet and pretty; they would serve a smashing cappuccino freddo (a Greek invention, apparently) and Belgian beers (aaaahhh!!!!). During our in-venue coffee breaks I struck up conversations with the caterer (good coffee). She turned out to be someone trained in Kiev, in the ex-Soviet school for diplomats, on a scholarship from the Greek state.

Variety, then. In many senses.

Like London last October, Thessalonica made me feel alive and happy, imbuing me with that precious sense of well being.

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5 thoughts on “In praise of Thessalonica

  1. Amazing how you can pack so many nuances of praise in such a short post. As I was reading this (initially on the feed-reader, then on your blog page), a ticklish, warming pride overcame me: hey, I’m one of them ‘Thessalonians’, I thought. Does it matter I’ve surrendered my ancestries some twenty years ago in search of better opportunities? Cherchez la femme…

    One thing I need to point out: the very first time I visited Barcelona (1990 it was, the city was in frantic Olympics’ preparations), I felt I was in a version of Thessalonica of the future, and one I immensely appreciated. Barcelona became my favorite foreign city; I keep visiting and usually feel a bit depressed whenever I run comparison tests. So, I was really glad to see similar feelings were invoked to a first-time visitor with similar experiences.

    My visits to my “home-city” are now rare and wide apart. Two weeks ago, as I drove in the crowded city-center streets (and picked up a parking violation ticket in the process), I felt completely like a tourist: not vague, not accidental but the kind of the amnesiac tourist who, much like Eco’s Queen Loana hero is trying to re-absorb smells and sights and sounds of his childhood in order to understand his old age. I wonder if there’s actually any benefit for doing so.

    Anyway, you were lucky to visit my city during its “best” season: Spring.

  2. I do not want to be the expression of discontent here, but perhaps all these jolly emotions have to do with the fact that we are all visitors to Thessalonica. Friends who live there tell me that they cannot wait to get away. A city with virtually no open public spaces, a place where unless you stand right next to the sea you would not guess that it has a port, a world with (now declining?) religious hyper-patriotism etc. Wherever I go, Athens (and its Barcelona: New York) is my favorite.

  3. I’ve been swamped with other things, so apologies for taking so long to comment, but many thanks for the recommendation

    I’m not sure if you encouraging my baklava addiction makes you an enabler, or even to what degree you would be legally accountable if they end up finding me dead in a Thessalonica sidestreet with quadruple the normal blood-sugar level. I guess we’ll have to wait and see…

  4. Pingback: Homage to Catalonia « “… neither reveals nor conceals”

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