Remembering the Paper Eagles

Greece is a country of protests and protesters. On any given day or week, the Metro might suddenly be shut down. The taxis on strike. Ferries to the islands halted in the sea. Even the farmers  from my family’s region of Thessaly and other areas occupied Syntagma (constitution) Square last week, driving their tractors hundreds of kilometers to block off highways and roads. I found the sight incredibly touching; for they are the ones who provide us food every week at the beautiful Laiki markets. (There are of course farmers who raise/confine animals too — this, as I’m sure you know, I do not find touching. But I am not without suggestions: Transfarmation.)

Beautiful tractors chugging to Athens

The protests are usually about low wages, inadequate pay, or, in the case of the rail tragedy last year, safety and government failure to improve antiquated systems. I absolutely love the spirit of protest. I’ve heard some complain about the inconvenience this causes them — but that’s the point. One doesn’t make demands without a price. Movements halt movements to create movement.

Since we moved to Greece as a trial run in June of 2022 through June 2023, then now since November 2023, I have been writing a journal of sorts called Greek Gossip. Being here longer than a vacation as more than a tourist opens up a few new windows to this culture (through which I’m delighted to stare) I knew peripherally through childhood summer trips and adult vacations. This is the first blog in the “series.”

Filopappou hill, Feb 27 2023

Flying on the hill of muses

On February 27th last year, we went to fly kites as per the Clean Monday tradition on Filopappou hill. Our friend Karen was visiting, and the three of us went and bought cheap kites, Lagana bread (made for Clean Mondays only) and halvah. At noon, we figured we were late and there would be no one there. Yet as we approached, the hill was full of kite-flying families. My heart felt full. Some enjoyed picnics. We ate our Lagana bread and halvah, watching tiny kites soar, specs in the sky. Afterword, we wandered through the olive trees, following the notes of Clarino music. People danced:

Traditional Greek music and dance on February 27, 2023

The very next day, a train from Athens to Thessaloniki crashed, killing 57 people, mostly students. I wondered if any of the people were flying kites with us the day before, returning from their university breaks from Thessaloniki to Athens for the holiday.

Human error, the government said. Murder, said the public. A flawed and unsafe system.

Rob, flying his kite

Today the Greeks are protesting the one-year anniversary of the train crash that killed 57 people due to the negligence of both one individual and an entire system.

“It was murder”
2023 protest
2023 protest

On Forgetting

Greeks don’t forget. Memorials are, as the name implies, a way of not forgetting. In the works of French-Czech author Milan Kundera, he explores the idea of forgetting as a historical phenomenon that permits us — and those in power — to repeat the same mistakes.

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Our good friend Matt Y. was struck, on his visit to us last year, by the fact that Greeks are still commemorating the murder of a young teen who was killed in 2008. Or that a huge protest happens each year on November 17th,  marking the day in 1973 of the student uprising where the Junta killed several students and civilians, ramming a tank through the gates of the Polytechnic University. The gnarled, rusted gate remains on campus as part of the memorial.

Photo I took on November 17, 2022 of the Athens Polytechnic Uprising Monument
Photo of the gate (not mine)

I will leave you with a poem I wrote last year after the accident. (There is perhaps nothing more annoying that a non-poet attempting poetry, but I channeled my college poet-writing self. )

A note of explanation: The word “kite” in Greek (hartaetos) means “paper eagles.”

Paper Eagles

We ate halva with Lagana bread

sat flat on ancient rocks buried on Filopappou Hill   

where Socrates drank poison

they say.

Hundreds of kites soared skyward

hartaetos ghosting the hill of muses

souls floating to heaven.

Clean Monday, the fast begins.

We hoped a swift breeze

would guide our paper eagles to rise

not crashing into gnarled olive trees

or each other.

Children stared up impatiently

as parents pulled strings to prove

resurrection was possible

for the grounded.

I wondered which of those souls

soared the next day

flying off the tracks

as random as kites rising

or falling.

They found the heavens

cleaner than Monday

sooner than hoped.

We are left to remember,

tangled in grief


sunken eagles, eternally

demanding the unanswered


An old system

devouring young souls.

Criminal, the thief who steals kites

from empty useless hands

drowning a river of stone-eyed faces

searching for signs of flight.

Paper eagles, we are


a mere tear will end us

flesh no better than bread.

Forty days grieving

even mourning has an end

drunk as Dionysus in the late afternoon

whose own party celebrates   

one season giving way

to another.

(March 1, 2023)

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