Being a flaneur in Thessaloniki, Greece. Text and photos by Glenn Belverio

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Dear Shaded Viewers,

Before the evening Fashion Forward shows and after morning appointments/lounging around the hotel pool, I had time to see the lovely city of Thessaloniki. The second largest city after Athens, Thessaloniki is considered the cultural capital of Greece. It doesn’t seem like a terribly attractive city at first glance but its charms unfold once you abandon any specific plans and allow yourself to wander through its streets. Of course one of the great things about foreign travel, especially for those who are reading about it from the safety of their bedsit, is when near-calamitous things happen to the hapless flaneur. But first, some of the more idyllic highlights…

Castle

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On top of a tall hill overlooking the city is the kastro (castle) whose walls surround the inner citadel of Eptapyrgio.

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Ano Poli, or the Old Town, was once the Turkish quarter and is all that remains of old Thessaloniki after the city burned in 1917. Wandering through this labyrinthine area, where tiny rivulets of water flow down the center of the narrow, winding streets, is a phantasmagoric experience.

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The enormous 5th-centruy Church of Agios Dimitrios, Thessaloniki’s patron saint, is one of the best examples of Greek Orthodox flamboyancy that I’ve ever seen. The Russian art director I met, Katerina, wanted to stage her client’s fashion show here. She didn’t plan ahead, so no dice, but you just know that the ghost of Mrs. Vreeland would have been seated in the front row. Katerina was also astonished that I was able to take photos inside the church. Apparently that is forbidden in Moscow. I’ll have to bring my secret spy camera when I go there next month.

Crypt

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The crypt under the church would also be a great locale for a fashion show, yeah? Paging Rick Owens. I think Rick would appreciate the fact that before this was a crypt, it was a Roman bath. And we all know how wild the baths were back in those days, si? I’m blushing just thinking about it. But then again, I wouldn’t have wanted to be there on that night back in 303 A.D. when Dimitrios, a Roman soldier, was killed on the command of Galerius, who was infamous for persecuting Christians. A more obsure factoid: Bette Midler’s great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother (Thessaloniki was once Europe’s most important Jewish city) got her start in show business at those Roman baths. Would I lie to you?

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Speaking of Galerius, here is his arch. I love the way it’s contrasted with that modern and rather bland apartment building behind it. The arch was erected in 303 A.D. to celebrate the emperor’s victories over the Persians in 297. What chutzpah!

Rotunda

Galerius–it’s all about the G-Man, isn’t it?–built this massive rotunda as his future mausoleum. He never got around to dying there, though–he died in retirement in what is now Serbia. Apparently Serbia was the Miami Beach of eastern Europe back in the day. So this hulking mass of a tomb sat there uselessly, just like one of Karl Lagerfeld’s unused and forgotten mansions in Bavaria or Bologna. Then Constantine the Great came along and made the rotunda into Thessaloniki’s first church, Agiou Giorgiou. That came to a grinding halt when the Ottomans transformed it into an exclusive nightclub. No, wait–I meant a mosque. That would explain the minaret. Now, it seems, Jesus has moved back in and nobody seems to mind. (But it does raise the question, Why are there no Muslims in Thessaloniki? When my friend Scott was there in the early ’80s, he said he felt like he was in a Middle Eastern country, with Arabian women running around in burqas and whatnot. Now, the entire city is only populated by white Christian Greeks, from what I could¬† tell and from what a few locals told me.)

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Above: Inside the Rotunda

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I was delighted to see so many pomegranate trees growing around the center of the city. I love this photo I took of a bursting fruit on a tree in front of a small church. Of course the pomegranate is a potent symbol in many world religions. In Christianity, a bursting pomegranate represents the fullness of Christ’s suffering and resurrection. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the fruit’s seeds are used in kolyva, a dish prepared for memorial services, as a symbol of the sweetness of the heavenly kingdom.

In Greek mythology, the pomegranate plays an important role in the myth of Persephone, the chthonic goddess of the Underworld. When Persephone was kidnapped by Hades and taken off to live in the Underworld as his wife, her mother, Demeter (the goddess of the harvest) went into mourning and all green things ceased to grow. Zeus was not happy about this, so he commanded Hades to return Persephone. It was the rule of the Fates that anyone who consumed food or drink in the Underworld was doomed to spend eternity there. Hades tricked Persephone into eating four pomegranate seed and because of this, she was condemned to spend four months in the Underworld every year. She basically “wintered” in the Underworld and “summered” on Mount Olympus. We could do worse. Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s painting, “Persephona,” depicts Persephone holding the fateful fruit.

In Islam,the prophet Mohammed encouraged his followers to eat pomegranates to ward off envy and hatred. No wonder POM is so trendy in places like New York and LA!

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Above: Beware Cerberus who lurks in the ruins of the Roman Agora.

While I was hanging out in the lobby of our super-luxe hotel, Les Lazaristes, I noticed they were playing one of my favorite soundtracks: Ennio Morricone’s score for Dario Argento’s 1971 horror film “Il Gatto A Nove Code.” How divoon, I thought. Little did I know that this Argento moment was foreshadowing a less-divoon moment…

The next day, while out sightseeing with Andria from Cyprus and Carlo from Milan, we stumbled upon the site of the ruins of the Roman Agora. Back in the early 200s (3rd Century B.C.) this was the place to shop for Fendi knock-offs (Fendi is an old Roman family, okay?) Anyway, Carlo and I took some photos from the street, as the gates to the ruins were locked.

A few days later, as I was wandering around alone, I passed by the ruins again and noticed that one of the gates was open. I entered and walked in to the center of the large area, excited that I would be able to take better photos. As I was about to descend some marble steps into the area where the arches are located, I heard a loud, vicious barking. At first I paid it no mind, but the barking quickly became louder and I looked up and a huge black dog–a hell hound!–was racing towards me at lightning speed, fangs bared and red eyes gleaming. I had to run as fast as I could (luckily I’m a runner) to escape, but frankly, the dog was running so fast I still don’t understand how it wasn’t able to catch up with me. I could literally hear its jaw snapping at the heels of my Lanvin sneakers as images of blood and carnage raced through my head. When I made it up the loooong cement ramp and back onto the street, heart pounding, the hateful beast stopped. Obviously it was a guard dog, but there were no warning signs alerting passerbys that a monster was on watch.

Which brings us back to Argento. There is not one, but two scary hell hound scenes from his films, clips below. The first is from “Tenebrae,” the second from “Suspiria.” The “Suspiria” clip is even more coincidental because of the surreal ancient Greco-Roman plaza setting! For this scene, Argento was inspired by the Greek myth of the blind seer Phineus, who was tormented by Harpies on the island of Thynias.

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Above: Malice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

The so-called White Tower (it’s actually grey) is the symbol of Thessaloniki. But back in the 1820’s, the decor scheme consisted of a blood-red facade. Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II ordered here the massacre of janissaries (elite troups made up of forcibly Islamicized Christian boys) deemed disloyal. When the prisoners were executed, their bodies were positioned at the top of the tower so the blood would run down the sides–a fearsome reminder to the Thessalonians of the power of their invaders. When the Greeks captured the city in 1913, a Jewish prisoner allegedly white-washed the tower to expunge the dark memories. I heard a rumor that Planet Hollywood will open a restaurant in the top floor some time next year, with an “ancient warrior-themed menu” to coincide with the 300 sequel release.

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And now it’s time for something a little more modern…

Kojak

Okay, I was floored by this. I didn’t think that anyone remembered the American ’70s TV crime drama, “Kojak”–but because the late Telly Savalas was a Greek-American, he must be an eternal pop hero in Greece. Love the detail of him sucking on the lollipop (it helped him quit smoking–how do I remember these things?!?) Unfortunately, this shop was closed so I didn’t get a chance to buy any Greek garage punk records.

Some local street and poster art:

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Above: This store sign really made me giggle. Miuccia better sic her legal team on this!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

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Above: Me and Ioanna Darakli

The trendy TIMES restaurant hosted a fun party for Fashion Forward.

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Beautiful people in Greece: Ioanna with our very handsome, Thessaloniki-born driver, Nikos.

Thanks for reading!

Love,
Glenn Belverio

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Glenn Belverio

Glenn Belverio is a writer and New Yorker. He has been reporting for ASVOF since 2005 and currently works at The Museum of Modern Art as the Content Manager for MoMA Design Store.

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