The War Diaries

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Archive for the ‘Santorini’ tag

The Heartbeat of the World

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Katerados village where I’ve been coming before or after many a war zone.
©2019 Derek Henry Flood

Thera- Having come to Greece, or the Hellenic Republic as it’s actually called in English or Hellas more colloquially, for over two decades, I have a deep attachment to the place. But my personal history and relationship is a very narrow one involving just Athens and the port town of Piraeus as they relate to going back and forth to the Cyclades island group. I always have the best of intentions of visiting other parts of the country but that rarely works out. Back in 2015 in the heady summer of refugees welcome, I had finally resolved to visit Thessaloniki (aka Salonika). After paying for an airbnb in the city centre up there, I didn’t realise there were no seats on either trains or buses as genuine refugees lumped in with political asylum seekers and throngs of economic migrants posing as either of the two former heading toward Macedonia (since renamed North Macedonia to appease Greek nationalists and thereby open the door to possible EU assimilation) in their collective exodus to reach Germany or Sweden . Then there were no flights from Athens as there was an election whereby people were going home to cast votes and see family. An extreme example to be sure, but alas I’m in my content, utterly familiar Cycladian rut.

The island I may be on at any given time is a signifier of age to some degree. For much of my youth, I traveled to Ios which is situated neatly midway between here and Naxos. The island was a notorious party place since perhaps the early 1980s and so by my arrival in the late 1990s its place as a rite of passage was well established. Its pin to the ancient world was that it is said to be the burial site of Homer. Homer, if one believes he was an actual individual person depending on what side of the Homeric question the reader falls on, was born in Ionic-era Smyrna (today’s Izmir in modern Turkey), lived on Chios in the North Aegean, and perished on the “insignificant island of Ios” according to the 1965 work of the late English classicist Geoffrey Stephen Kirk entitled Homer and the Epic: A Shortened Version of The Songs of Homer.

Ios never became as developed as some of the other islands here because it had no airport and was only promoted as a fairweather destination. It was the haunt of Australian backpackers and Irish seasonal workers as I remember it. But this little place known mostly for summertime debauchery was what lured me into Greece to begin with. At night, walking back from the Chora (town) to Mylopotas beach, I would hear the bells jingling around the necks of a goat flock in the nearby brush as I trundled down the donkey path toward wherever I had a bed for the night. Beyond the red bull-fueled (and brand new thing at the time) bacchanalia in the main square, I somehow felt connected to the ancients. The constellations shone above the shimmering blue sea to give the feel of an epic, uninterrupted continuum where history never ended.

The rugged beauty of Ios on the way to Manganari beach. How I loved this place.
©2005 Derek Henry Flood

This time around I ended up on an unplanned, extended stay on Naxos, the largest of the Cycladic islands. It doesn’t have the mass global tourism of here or Mykonos owing at least partly to that it doesn’t have an international airport nor a reputation as a bucket list destination around the world. A more provincial feeling place, the tourists there were entirely mainland Greeks or Westerners and the island only had a tiny handful of male Pakistani migrant workers. Here on Thera, primarily referred to as Santorini (Santa Irini-Saint Irene), it is back to a more bustling cosmopolitan reality with huge numbers of Chinese, and now Indian, tourists who come for short, busy, selfie-laden stays. There used to be large numbers of Russians as well until sanctions were set in place for the Russian president’s war in Ukraine in 2014 and the ruble plummeted in due course. Though only a 1-2 hour ferry journey apart, it is as if Thera and Naxos are on two different planets in terms of the numbers and national demographics of visitors.

As it sit and type this rather simple blog post, the Turkish military and its Syrian Arab and/or Türkmen epigones are reportedly beginning to attack northern Syria. I’m constantly flipping back and forth from WordPress to Twitter to keep up/see what I’m missing. But Thera, as the late British novelist Lawrence Durrell once wrote about Corfu, with the encompassing Ionian sea “being like the heartbeat of the world itself.” For me that is the Aegean and Thera is my 21st century Corfu.

Written by derekhenryflood

October 9th, 2019 at 7:13 am

Sunsets of Fire

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A typical sunset as seen from Oia. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

A typical sunset as seen from Oia. A cliché to be sure, but undeniably timeless. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Thira- I’ve been existing in my news vacuum here for just about two weeks. I wanted to see if I could go 14 days without ingesting any news. Taking a break from breaking news on beheading videos, leading from behind the curve Obama speeches, people ranting about Putin and Putin not caring whatsoever etc. I’ve been doing some personal projects here with photo installations, writing, catching up on some old books I never finished in NYC over the years, and simply socializing. No one talks about world events here as if nothing is happening.

When I was here a few years ago and anti-austerity protests in Athens had a causal effect on the island with sanitation, airport and ferry strikes being instigated in solidarity here, we talked about Greek politics as it was unavoidable in the context of that time. My achilles heal however was my new hobby Instagram account. I was following a journalism power couple who work for opposing news outlets and when I noticed they were both on the same story at the same time next door in Turkey, I knew I was missing something big.

Otherwise I’ve had no inkling of what’s going on beyond the island save for a snippet I saw of a Greek news broadcast in a mini market talking about the crisis spilling over into arch rival Turkey. People are here to do yoga retreats and party. It’s fairly simple.

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I put images of my guerrilla art gallery on Buzzfeed just to get the project out there. For years and years, I’ve had a drawer of old prints sitting around from the turn of this century that have never seen the light of day and I finally decided it was time to do something with them that I had envisioned at that time.

I did another installation in an unfinished hotel near Monolithos Beach. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

I did another installation in an unfinished hotel near Monolithos Beach. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

In other news, I very belatedly saw that I was quoted in early 2013 on PBS NewsHour/Council on Foreign Relations titled What Is Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)?. In no way a new development but I only now noticed it. More recently my work from Kirkuk in 2013 was cited by Stanford’s Mapping Militant Organizations project in its entry on JRTN.

Down the backstreets of Pyrgos. Quietude. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Down the backstreets of Pyrgos. Quietude. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

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October 1st, 2014 at 4:18 am


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The 1980's-era Iranian-built shrine complex of Sayyida Ruqayya, Imam Hussein's daughter, north of the Umayyad mosque in Damascus' Old City. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

The 1980’s-era Iranian-built shrine complex of Sayyida Ruqayya, Imam Hussein’s daughter, north of the Umayyad mosque in Damascus’ Old City. While I hung out there Iranian pilgrims quietly milled around the site in awe. I dug this image up while mentioning Damascus in my writing today. So many places I’ve traveled to may be inaccessible now due to war or the ability of regimes to google journalists perhaps. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

“A man who has been through bitter experiences and travelled far enjoys even his sufferings after a time”-Homer, The Odyssey

Thira- Back on Santorini after two months in Barcelona doing some long form writing and not near the bustle of any major city, although some of the drivers here think they’re racing to beat a red light in Athens. I’m keeping my head down from the constant news out of Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, West Africa or even Scotland or Catalunya.

My Magyar friend Patrik gave me an impromptu motivational talking to in Barcelona mid-summer. He’s off to Turkmenistan this week to see the Darvaza Crater a.k.a. the Door/Gate to Hell and view the absurdities of Ashgabat. When I was in Turkmenistan 13 years ago I didn’t dare take my camera out of the hotel due to the pervasive paranoid there. That’s one place, like Damascus pictured above, I’d very much like to return to.

I read yesterday that cruise ship traffic to this island is down because of “political instability in the eastern Mediterranean.” Santorini is nowhere near Syria. Are people worried about Achille Lauro redux? It kind of reminds me of being in Budapest in 1999 and the drop in tourism was credited to the NATO campaign in Kosovo. I understand people being risk averse. But sometimes boundless precautions are a bit over the top. I doubt IS is going to suddenly overwhelm Tartus and then begin a Somali pirate economy. But what do I know.

The shooting down of a passenger jet over eastern Ukraine may have seemed unlikely until it happened. Weird to think a place as tranquil as this is somehow affected by Syrian chaos in a butterfly effect for lack of a more original term.

On an unrelated note, my 2011 biography on Khalifa Haftar was cited in Libya: from Repression to Revolution: A Record of Armed Conflict and International Law Violations, 2011-2013 edited by M. Cherif Bassiouni, Emeritus Professor Law at DePaul University.  A 2012 article I authored from Mali for CNN was cited in Fragile Stabilität – stabile Fragilität (Fragile stability – stable Fragility) in a chapter written by Scott G. McNall, professor of sociology at the University of Kansas and George Basile, Professor of Practice, School of Sustainability at Arizona State University. Very pleased to learn of these citations.

Poolside reading here in Karterados. Taking a break from news and social networks for a couple weeks to focus on my own writing rather than the constant drumbeat of political violence and trends in secessionism that dominant today's inescapable news cycle. of©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Poolside reading here in Karterados. Taking a break from news and social networks for a couple weeks to focus on my own writing rather than the constant drumbeat of political violence and trends in secessionism that dominant today’s inescapable news cycle. Sometimes one has to shut down and look into longer term trends.  of©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

September 22nd, 2014 at 5:44 am

Posted in Europe,Syria

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Sunrise on Thira

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Took a very early morning walk down to one of Santorini's volcanic beaches. Complete calm. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Something about the light in the Mediterranean keeps forcing me to return as often as I can after nearly two decades. There is just no other place like it on earth. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Black sand, white surf, high contrast. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

My footprint in the pure volcanic sand. Good times here. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

But the best thing about staying at Caveland? Puppies! Romping in my room even at 5am. I felt like C. Montgomery Burns in the episode '101 Greyhounds.' ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

October 2nd, 2011 at 3:24 am

Posted in Europe

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From Paris to Piraeus

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Underneath the innards of Le Tour Eiffel. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

My place on stage at Maison de la Chimie on Rue St Dominique.

Paris & Athens- Firstly I want to thank Jean-Luc Marret and the staff of his Fondation de la Recherche Stratégique for hosting me and allowing me to speak at their global terrorsim conference yesterday. The title of my talk was Western Boots on Eastern Ground: A Comparative History of Western Intervention in the Muslim World in the Post-911 Decade (Which I may very well transform into an upcoming article). My only regret is that I had virtually no time to enjoy the city on my sleepless, croissant fueled whirlwind. I was happy to be part of the trans-Atlantic political continuum if only for a moment in time.

Asia Times Online reproduced my article on Said Bahaji from the August edition of Militant Leadership Monitor.

I left a gleaming, well functioning Paris this morning, full of shimmering life and bustling with tourists to arrive in a sullen, deserted Athens. I found out upon arrival at the nearly empty airport that the Greek capital is bracing for yet another paralyzing transport strike to show union and neo-Communist displeasure at the austerity measure being imposed on them by the Papandreou government. It was told that if I had flown in tomorrow rather than tonight it would not have been possible for me to reach to port of Piraeus-where I am holed up in a budget hotel for the night to catch the morning ferry to Santorini-except if I had hitchhiked. The few locals I was able to talk said this next day of direct action is meek compared to others earlier this year where the port was blockaded and tourists were apparently prevented from reaching their intended ferries by burly union types. I was assured that ferries will be running despite the possibility that most of Athens proper will reach a tense standstill rather quickly.  But I have left my big DSLR behind on this trip in order to take away the temptation that is always there to jump into the fray (though I do have one hell of a point and shoot should the mood strike). Heading to Santorini at the outset of its long, quiet (I think?) off season to get my nose to the grindstone on some long overdue long form writing.

Written by derekhenryflood

September 27th, 2011 at 2:27 pm