Monday, January 11, 2010

Laser Tag

It's been months, I know. I've been procrastinating as much as I can. There's a post that I have to write one day, but I've found yet another way to avoid writing it. The last time you heard from me, I had my students on a ferry from Italy to Greece.

Our trip culminated with three days in Athens. By this point, we had been ushered into the Vatican vaults, had seen the Colusseum, visited Pompeii, Olympia and Epidaurus.

However, as far as one of my students was concerned, the best part of the trip so far was playing laser tag in Montreal. Because you cannot bank on getting out of Kangirsujuaq on the day you are scheduled to leave, we went to Montreal a couple of days early, and stayed in the Youth Hostel downtown. This alone was a pretty big deal for some of the kids. I was trying to show them that they could come down to Montreal and not stay at the Travelodge in Dorval where many Inuit stay when they come to Montreal. I wanted to show them what the city really had to offer. One of the students was adamant that we play laser tag. Begrudgingly, I acquiesced, and took the kids out. It didn't take very long for me to get into it. I must admit that laser tag is a whole lot of fun.

For one of the students, the experience couldn't be surpassed by the cultural and historical gems offered by Europe's ancient empires. At every turn, I asked him, "Is this better than laser tag?"
Without fail, he responded, "It's great, but no."

After getting our bearings in Athens and visiting some of the most important archaeological sites in all of Europe, I became comfortable with the city. It was easy. Athens is compact, busy, and easily walkable. One of my goals became taking the students out to see some live music. I consulted the tour guides and my guide book, and all signs pointed to Exarcheia.

Exarcheia is traditionally the leftist/activist neighbourhood of Athens. In the 1970s it was the centre of political activism and Marxist/anarchist thought. It was the site of the Polytechnic uprising in 1974, and parts of the 2008 riots as well. Indeed, while we were on the boat from Brindisi to Greece, I sat down in the café and began to watch the news. All that was being shown were scenes of chaos and fires and molotov cocktails and tear gas and rubber bullets and cops with their batons crashing into young adults' skulls. It made for good television, especially since I didn't understand any of the commentary. I asked a man what was going on. He told me there were riots happening in Exarcheia.

For all of its reputation, Exarcheia seems to be a neighbourhood which is going through an identity crisis. Although there were pallets burning in the central square as we approached, it was easy to spot the signs of gentrification. We sat at an chic café drinking coffee, and we could see that there was a crêperie on the other side of the plaza. Its sign read "αναρχία", which means "anarchy". I rolled my eyes... and then got a crêpe with nutella on it. Anarchy never tasted so delicious.

After coffee and crêpes, we went on the hunt for some live music. We passed a bar with a bunch of posters on the window. The posters were in Greek, so I asked a few locals who were sitting on the patio to translate for us. The locals turned out to be Irish, but they lived in the neighbourhood, and knew about a party that would have live music. We followed them to an empty lot, which was about to be converted into a community garden. There were about 100 people milling about, drinking, and talking to each other. We had missed the music, and as much as I would have liked to have stayed, it wasn't exactly an appropriate situation for the students. We moved on. We came to the border of the neighbourhood, and realized that there were police at every corner. I asked one of them if something was going to happen.

He replied, "You mean a riot? Probably."
"So... we should get out of here? Probably."

We scurried away, and just as it looked like we weren't going to succeed in finding the concert we wanted, we could hear some loud punk music coming from what looked like a three-storey house. We walked into it through a haze of smoke. The venue was really cool, and the band had just finished a set. Sayard, my colleague was about six and a half months pregnant at the time, and did not want to deprive her child of oxygen in this smoky venue, so she left with the girls. That left me alone with the guys.

The band began playing their second set, and I knew that the music would be right up the students' alley. Youth in Kangirsujuaq listen to almost exactly the same music as I did when I was their age. Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, Nirvana, and other angry stuff. The two boys who had come to Europe are in a band called Samati, which is also in the metal/punk genre.

I turned to the guys and asked them after the band had finished its first song, "Have you ever been to a concert before?"

Both answered "no."

After a few more songs, I asked them, "Is it better than laser tag?"

They stopped banging their heads, looked up, nodded, and went back to enjoying themselves.