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My Favourite Planet > Blogs > Cheshire Cat Blog > 2012
back The Cheshire Cat Blog
May 2012
The Olympic flame burns in Thessaloniki, Macedonia, Greece at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Come on, baby, light my fire

The Cheshire Cat has a day out by the seaside in Thessaloniki
and runs into the woman who carries a torch for the ancient city.
Thessaloniki, Macedonia, northern Greece

Sunday, 13th May 2012

The Olympic flame arrived in Thessaloniki today on its way through Greece and on to its final destination in London for the start of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.

This was the fourth day of the 8-day Greek section of the international torch relay which began on 10th May at the Temple of Hera in Olympia, the historical and spiritual home of the Olympics, and is due to end in Athens on 17th May.

On a hot, sunny afternoon in Greece's second largest city, spectators gathered on the seafront, beneath Thessaloniki's trademark 15th century White Tower (Lefkos Pirgos), to await the arrival of the burning symbol of the ancient sporting competition. The torch's route though the city, along its long waterfront Nikis Avenue, to the boat moorings near the White Tower was guarded by hundreds of police, who appeared to outnumber the spectators; most Thessalonikans prefer to escape to Macedonia's countryside or beaches at the weekend. However, the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed, more like a village fête than a big city event of international significance.

Nobody was absolutely sure exactly when the flame was due to arrive. A quick straw poll among policemen, people with ID tags in suits and tracksuits and the general public revealed various estimates between 3 and 4.40 pm. Publicity and information about Greece's part in this year's torch relay has been sparse here, in stark contrast to the media overload which surrounded the 2004 Olympic Games which were held in Athens.

The welcoming committee of sporting officials and local dignitaries patiently stood on the open stage despite the heat. In the unshaded VIP seating area in front of the stage, invited guests broiled slowly on their plastic chairs while twiddling their cell phones. We mere mortals sought the shelter of trees or the shadow of police vans. The nearby kiosk (periptero) did a brisk trade in cold drinks and ice cream.

Finally, the moment came when traffic along Nikis Avenue ceased to flow as the young Greek torchbearer Giota Oikonomou, representative of the Association of Women with Breast Cancer "Alma Zois" of Thessaloniki, and her retinue could be seen running towards us. I had strategically placed myself just outside the police barriers along the torch route so that I could get the photo of Ms Oikonomou carrying her torch past the White Tower towards her goal. However, as she neared, a scrum of journalists and a gaggle of snapshooters with smartphones suddenly appeared - as if from nowhere - and, totally ignoring the police's security measures, crowded around the athlete, obscuring the view. My careful plans for a perfect shot evaporated in the heat of the afternoon and a quick spark of Greek chaos. The best laid plans of mice and cats... I really ought to know better by now.

Undaunted by the jostling hacks, Giota continued to the stage and raised her torch aloft to warm applause.
Greek athlete Giota Oikonomou carries the Olympic flame through Thessaloniki, Greece

The Olympic flame
arrives in Thessaloniki.
Greek athlete Giota Oikonomou holds her Olympic torch aloft at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Torchbearer Giota Oikonomou and uniformed colleague raise the Olympic flame.
The flame itself was difficult to see against the glare of the afternoon sun.
Greek torchbearer Giota Oikonomou lights the Olympic flame in the harbour of Thessalomiki, Macedonia, Greece at The Cheshire Cat Blog

The lighting of the Olympic flame in the Thessaloniki cauldron.
A young man had stoically stood to attention on the stage under the burning sun for over an hour, despite wearing a traditional Macedonian uniform made of thick wool. His tunic was festooned with huge medals (see also photo further down the page). In the excitement I completely forgot to ask at which terrible battles he had earned his gongs. Perhaps he had been brave enough to ride the overcrowded 78 bus at rush hour.

His part in the event appeared to be that of magician's assistant to the enchanting Giota, a role normally played by less-heavily clad young ladies. Since the torchbearer was a woman, the organizers presumably decided that she needed a male counterpart; one who would symbolize the heroic history of Greek Macedonia. It is somewhat ironic that a martial symbol should be employed in the context of a competition dedicated to international peace. But let's not be spoilsports, and instead admit that together they carried the ceremony with style and dignity.

Warrior and athlete raised the torch and tranferred the flame to the kind of tripod-mounted bronze cauldron that Aristotle would have recognized, and the local transfer was complete.

A brass band played (rather well, I thought) the anthems of the Olympic Games, the United Kingdom and Greece as the respective flags were raised. Speeches were made by members of the welcoming committee, in which the history and spirit of the Olympics and Greece's undeniable contribution to them were dutifully iterated, the courage and endurance of Greek athletes and sports officials lauded, and the hospitality and ambitious organization of Britain (referred to as "Agglia", England) as hosts of this year's summer games generously praised.

I failed to notice any representatives of the UK in attendance, and it seemed that I was the only Brit there. I felt as if I should sing "God save the Queen.." along to the British anthem. I didn't, of course: there are some people around here who still blame Lloyd George and Churchill for many of Greece's woes, even if these boo-men have recently been shifted way down the Hellenic crud-list by Merkel, Sarkozy and the EU "Troika".

After everybody had had their say, Ioannis Melissanidis, the handsome young athlete who was to take the flame on the next stage of its tour of Greece, eastwards to Kavala (see the itinerary of the torch relay through Greece below), lit his torch from the cauldron and ran off on his errand.

Then the dancing began. On an adjacent stage a troupe of Macedonian dancers in traditional garb performed a set of spirited Greek dances.
Olympic torchbearer Giota Oikonomou in Thessaloniki, Greece at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Giota Oikonomou,
Olympic torchbearer and
representative of "Alma Zois",
the Association of Women with
Breast Cancer of Thessaloniki.

Website in Greek:

Info in English:
The British Union Jack flag being raised during the Olympic flame ceremony in Thessaloniki, Greece at The Cheshire Cat Blog

The playing of anthems and raising of flags.
Greek athlete Giota Oikonomou holding her Olympic torch at The Cheshire Cat Blog

The gold-coloured Olympic torches, designed by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby of East London, won the Design of the Year competition awarded by London's Design Museum. More irreverent Englanders have dubbed them "ice cream cones" and "cheese graters".

Made of lightweight aluminium alloy, the 80 centimetre-long (31 inch) torches have a tapering triangular section and are perforated by 8,000 circular holes, representing (it says here) the 8,000 torchbearers who will carry the flame around the world. The holes also help to dissipate the heat of the flame.

We hear that for the next Olympics, they are already planning a torch with GPS, blue-tooth functionality and a built-in espresso dispenser sponsored by a well-known coffee-shop chain. You heard it here first, folks.

The torchbearers get to keep their torches, and some have already offered theirs for sale on e-bay. In the current economic climate, you can hardly blame them, though I'm sure our Giota wouldn't do such a thing...
The Olympic flame in Thesaloniki, Macedonia at The Cheshire Cat Blog

If only it was just as easy
to get the barbecue started.
Greek Olympic torchbearers in Thessaloniki, Greece, at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Let the speeches begin!
A speech being given during the 2012 Olympic flame ceremony in Thessaloniki, Greece at The Cheshire Cat Blog

I always feel like groaning when I see a speech-maker approaching a microphone
with a thick sheaf of paper. Luckily, no one here was about to attempt to break
Fidel Castro's record for brain-numbingly long orations.
Young Greek athletes during the 2012 Olympic flame ceremony in Thessaloniki, Greece, at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Some of Greece's Olympic torchbearers exchange gratin recipes.
Greek torchbearers during the 2012 Summer Olympics flame ceremony in Thessaloniki, Greece, at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Young Greek athletes.
The British, Greek and Olympic flags flying during the 2012 Olympic flame ceremony in Thessaloniki, Greece, at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Fluttering flags in Thessaloniki.
Young Greek Macedonian dancers fly the flag at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Standing in front of this ship, these young Macedonian dancers and flag-raisers could be
mistaken for pirates of the Aegean. Disappointingly, this is just one of the bar boats which moor
on Thessaloniki's waterfront and take tourists on cocktail cruisettes around the city's wide bay.
Greek torchbearer Ioannis Melissanidis lights his torch to take the Olympic flame to Kavala, Macedonia, Greece, at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Ioannis Melissanidis, gymnastics champion at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta,
ignites his torch from the cauldron before taking the Olympic flame on the
next stage of the relay to the Macedonian port city of Kavala.

The 2012 Summer Olympics torch relay through Greece

The torch relay will take the Olympic flame all over Greece, including many places which are of particular historical and symbolic importance to Greeks. As well as Olympia itself, Corinth, Athens and Crete, the flame will reach Kastellorizo, Greece's remotest island.

Day 1 - 10 May: Olympia, through the Peloponnese to Piraeus
Olympia, Pyrgos, Amaliada, Ilida, Gastouni, Lechaina, Corinth, Piraeus

Day 2 - 11 May: to Crete and on to Kastellorizo
Crete - Chania, Rethymnon, Agios Nikolaos, Iraklion; Kastellorizo

Day 3 - 12 May: Piraeus to northwestern Greece
Piraeus, Patras, Rio Antirio Bridge, Antirio, Amfilochia, Preveza, Parga, Igoumenitsa, Ioannina

Day 4 - 13 May: Epirus to Macedonia
Ioannina, Kozani, Veroia, Thessaloniki, Kavala

Day 5 - 14 May: Macedonia to Thrace, northeastern Greece
Kavala, Komotini, Kipoi, Evros, border crossing between Greece and Turkey, Alexandroupoli, Xanthi, Drama

Day 6 - 15 May: Macedonia to Thessaly
Drama, Serres, Katerini, Larissa, Volos, Lamia

Day 7 - 16 May: Thessaly to Athens
Lamia, Chalkida, Athens Acropolis

Day 8 - 17 May: Athens to London
Panathenaic Stadium, Athens

During a ceremony on 17th May at the Athens Panathenaic Stadium, the symbolic flame will be handed over to British representatives, including footballer David Beckham and former Olympic champion Sebastian Coe (now Lord Coe), who will accompany it to the United Kingdom for the start of its 70-day 8,000 mile tour around the host country of the 2012 Summer Olympics.

The international journey of the flame will culminate with the Opening Ceremony of the £9.345 billion Summer Olympics on Friday 27 July at the Olympic Stadium, Stratford, East London. Athletes of 200 nations and territories will parade through the stadium during the ceremony, which will also include an artistic presentation organized by top creative Brits, such as film director Danny Boyle, and featuring the appearance of actor Daniel Craig in his guise as James Bond.

Boyle has already made a short Bond-type film with Craig to be televised on the evening of the ceremony. It is mere coincidence, of course, that the new Bondbuster movie hits the world's cinemas this summer. What will they think of next? And what the Fleming has the brutalized spy-thug got to do with the lofty Olympic spirit? It's enough to make a Cat cringe.
Ioannis Melissanidis (Ιωάννης Μελισσανίδης), Greek Olympic torchbearer in Thessaloniki, Macedonia, Greece, at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Ioannis Melissanidis,
1996 Olympic gold medallist.

Read more about Ioannis at:
A Macedonian folk dance troupe in Thessalonica, Macedonia, Greece, at The Cheshire Cat Blog

The Macedonian folk dance troupe line up in front of the "pirate ship" before their performance.

The dancers seemed to be really enjoying themselves; their smiles were genuine, not showbiz grins. They were a breath of fresh air after the ritual, the suits and the speeches, and their performance and rustic costumes added to the arcadian atmosphere of the event.

Anthropologists say that the genuinenss of a folk tradition is inversely proportional to the degree of self-consciousness betrayed by its participants. The traditions of Greek music and dance are still very much alive and practised with great enthusiasm and joy - and without self-consciousness - by Greeks of all ages throughout the country, as well as in Greek communities worldwide.

I wish I could tell you more about this happy band, their costumes and dance traditions. If you know more, and would like to share your knowledge, please get in contact with My Favourite Planet.

A Macedonian dancer in Thessaloniki, Macedonia, Greece, at The Cheshire Cat Blog
A Macedonian band playing traditional Greek dance music in Thessaloniki, Greece, at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Strike up the band.

A traditional Macedonian band, complete with drum ("tympano"), trumpet, clarinet and accordian, accompany the traditional Macedonian dance troupe.

Unfortunately the trumpet man had forgotten to wear his sash. A tiny folkloric detail, but somehow, without it he looked more like the Dizzie Gillespie of bus drivers or Miles Davis of waiters than the wild Macedonian mountain musician he actually is.

The clarinet, known in Greek as "klarinetto", is said to have been introduced to Greece in the 19th century by northern European musicians at the court of the Bavarian prince Otto, who was made King of the Hellenes following the country's independence from Ottoman Turkey. Greek musicians quickly adopted such western instruments to play their own local music, often replacing older, simpler instruments of Balkan and Asian origin, such as variants of the Turkish zurna and Armenian duduk.

See photos of a traditional Turkish band accompanying Köçek dancers in Istanbul in "Istanbul essentials - Part 3: Istanbul wedding dance".

Incidentally, students and fans of music history will be dismayed to learn that Thessaloniki's renowned Musical Instrument Museum has been closed permanently.

A Macedonian clarinettist playing traditional Greek dance music in Thessaloniki, Greece, at The Cheshire Cat Blog
Macedonian dancers perform a traditional dance in front of Thessaloniki's White Tower, at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Macedonian dancers perform in front of Thessaloniki's seafront Lefkos Pirgos (White Tower).
Traditional Greek dance in Thessaloniki, at The Cheshire Cat Blog

The circle is unbroken.
Traditional Greek dance in Thessaloniki, at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Hippety hop!
Traditional Greek dance in Thessaloniki, at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Macedonian smiles
Young female Macedonian dancers performig a traditional Greek dance in Thessaloniki, Greece, at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Macedonian maidens
Young Macedonians dancing in traditional Greek costumes in Thessaloniki, Greece, at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Everybody dance now.
Young Greeek dancers in traditional Macedonian costumes, in Thessaloniki, Greece, at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Two of the dancers in Macedonian garb.
Traditional Greek Macedonian dance, in Thessaloniki, Greece, at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Kicking up the tempo.
A traditional Greek Macedonian dance team, in Thessaloniki, Greece, at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Team photo.

The dancers and athletes at Thessaloniki's Olympic flame ceremony remained good-humoured and friendly throughout, and contributed immensely to the relaxed nature of the event. They were happy to pose for photographers and fans.

By this stage of the event most of the journos had already disappeared, probably to upload their articles from the comfort of an air-conditioned bar.

A young female Greek Macedonian dancer, in Thessaloniki, Greece, at The Cheshire Cat Blog
Greek Olympic torchbearer Giota Oikonomou and friends pose for fans at the end of the Olympic flame ceremony, Thessaloniki, Greece, at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Olympic torchbearer Giota Oikonomou and friends pose
for fans at the end of the Olympic flame ceremony.
Olympic torchbearer Giota Oikonomou and friends at the Olympic flame ceremony, Thessaloniki, Greece, at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Giota Oikonomou and friends.
Member of the Thessaloniki welcoming committee for the Olympic flame, at The Cheshire Cat Blog

"I love a man in a uniform."

Unfortunately, I did not discover this guy's name, but I don't
think he normally walks around town dressed like this.

Bravo! Good work, Kapitano.

According to one source, he is Nicholas Kochi of
the "Panhellenic Association Descendancy Macedon".
If you know him or have any further information
about this association, please get in contact.

Old soldiers never die, they go to Thessaloniki
The flags of the United Kingdom, the Olympic Games and Greece flying in Thesaloniki, Macedonia, at The Cheshire Cat Blog

Flags of the United Kingdom, the Olympic Games and Greece
fly in the spring breeze on Thesaloniki's waterfront.
The torch of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games at The Cheshire Cat Blog Article and photos copyright © David John 2012

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Vyzantino Greek Restaurant, Plaka, Athens, Greece
NEWGEN Travel Agency, Athens, Greece
Hotel Orestias Kastorias Thessaloniki, Greece - The heart of hospitality beats at the heart of the city
Hotel Liotopi, Olympiada, Halkidiki, Macedonia, Greece
Hotel Germany, Olympiada, Halkidiki, Macedonia, Greece
Big Dino's Galini, self-catering beach hotel, Nea Vrasna, Macedonia, Greece
Hotel Okeanis, Kavala, Macedonia, Greece

George Alvanos

in Kavala's historic Panagia District

Anthemiou 35,
Kavala, Greece

Olive Garden Restaurant

Kastellorizo, Greece

+30 22460 49 109

Travel Agency

Kastellorizo, Greece

+30 22460 49 286
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