The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup ArtistsThe Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Game, pickup artists, the art of seduction and all that is something that has fascinated me for a while. The pretension of it all, really. It’s so different from the WYSIWYG way I believe I usually project myself; foreign, yet with a certain unmistakable allure: imagine being able to seduce anyone! How can people live like this, moving from woman to woman without any emotional attachment? Do they feel omnipotent? How can they lie, or rather bullshit so exquisitely? Do they ever get impostor syndrome, or can only narcissists and megalomaniacs immune to impostor syndrome really excel at seducing? Who are these guys anyway? Don’t they ever stop, look at themselves and wonder what they’re trying to prove? Probably not, right?

Turns out the techniques work like clockwork, like Jedi mind tricks on stormtroopers, but even if you mingle with celebrities for a living, like Strauss did before sitting down to write his story, at some point you will either (or both): a) get tired of casual sex with bimbos without any lasting connection and seek something deeper; b) meet your seduction match who will drive you crazy because what she wants is the real you and trying to seduce her by the Playbook amazingly turns her off, and by the time you realize the fact you’ve almost lost her for good.

Relevant xkcd: Pickup Artist, #1027

Still, listening to this book worked as a mood enhancer for me. I speculate it was the effect well-known to us self-improvement book readers of getting a high merely from visualising a change in your life by following the advice suggested instead of actually following it, which, it should be noted, often leads us readers never taking the steps necessary for change to take place, satisfied from the imagined high we’ve just had. Second-hand success stories almost work just as well, and this is essentially what you get here: “look at the self-proclaimed loser get all the chicks he’s never had! I could do the same, if I chose to!”

But would I ever choose to be that guy? I wonder: by not playing The Game because I believe it’s dehumanising and pathetic and that self-confirmation and self-worth come from within, not from forgetting how many women you’ve tricked into falling for you, am I really just displaying my “mediocrity” as a man, my “beta”-ness? That’s definitely what a player would say about me. But is it because I’m scared of pulling it off that I’m shunning seduction, or could it be that, since I don’t need conquests to feel desirable or indeed complete, I am already “ahead of The Game”, the very place pickup artists go all this process through to reach?

The words “you are what you love, not what loves you” came as an answer while I was typing the above, as they’d done once before while I was out running and listening to this book.

To be honest, close to half the enjoyment I got out of The Game I got from the narrator and the way he switched accents between Neil and bimbos, Mystery and Style, tones of voice etc. Here you can find a sample. Actually, not just a that: by looking for a sample I ended up with a link to the full thing (which might not even be with us for long, judging by Youtube’s policies) and realised by looking at the comments that what I listened to in the end wasn’t even the full version of the book! Come to think of it, I did just finish it in a couple of days…

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Conversations with God, An Uncommon Dialogue: Living in the World with Honesty, Courage, and LoveConversations with God, An Uncommon Dialogue: Living in the World with Honesty, Courage, and Love by Neale Donald Walsch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t have much more to say about the 2nd book of Conversations with God than what I did in my review of the 1st one, at least not as far as the whole concept goes. It was on the same wavelength as the first one, with an emphasis on world politics, social topics and economics, suggesting for example that a good way to end income inequality would be to have all money-related data public and visible—“nothing breeds fairness faster than visibility”.

An analysis I particularly enjoyed was on the subject of education and how it should teach children how to think, not “memorise” facts (right now I’m reading another book, which is on memory, and that one says that it’s not even proper memorising we’re doing at school, which makes what most children and youngsters do there even more useless. But I digress).

On the other hand, I was rather surprised to read that God thinks we should have a world government as a solution for stopping wars and competition for resources. The idea was that once upon a time, the precursors of the United States, before they were unified that is, were competing between themselves and could not co-operate, however, their unification proved that it was possible to have a working federation which would go beyond nationalism, which is really tribalism on a larger scale. Hey, it was a matter of fact of the mid-’90s zeigeist that the US had to lead the march of progress of the civilised world, no doubt about it. God was speaking through the writer, with all cultural filters in place, don’t forget that.

I do wonder what God would have to tell Neale Donald Walsch about the current European crisis and how much of a success the EU has or hasn’t been. In a way, it’s been more successful than the US, since it’s covered a lot of ground towards federatio in a short period of time, considering it had both world wars fought on its soil. Today, no matter the shape of current events, it still is possible to envision a world where the benefits of having a completely united Europe would outweigh the downsides. I should know: the EU has granted me with thousands of euros on its intention to make me feel stronger about my European identity than my national one(s), and while it hasn’t completely succeeded, I must admit I can see where they’re coming from.

As it is now, however, twenty years after this book was written, a world government, or a more integrated European Union, would not be a good idea. I said before that I wondered what God’s comment would be. Allow me to rephrase: having read the book, I can easily imagine what God would have to say about all this, as well as about our freedom of actions and that we have everything we need on this planet to make it work, we’re just choosing not to. Huh, maybe I should go write my own version of this book. No; God would say I’m already doing so! I’m exiting this loop before it’s too late.

Here are some indicative quotes I’m copying from my Kindle’s clippings file, something I kind of regret I didn’t do for my review of the first book. These quotes will end up being quite a bit lengthier than the review itself, but I’d like to share them with you anyway.


“…It may be normal, but it is not natural. “Normal” means something usually done. “Natural” is how you are when you’re not trying to be “normal”! Natural and normal are not the same thing. In any given moment you can do what you normally do, or you can do what comes naturally. I tell you this: Nothing is more natural than love. If you act lovingly, you will be acting naturally. If you react fearfully, resentfully, angrily, you may be acting normally, but you will never be acting naturally.”

“Practice saying this ten times each day: I LOVE SEX Practice saying this ten times: I LOVE MONEY Now, you want a really tough one? Try saying this ten times: I LOVE ME! Here are some other things you are not supposed to love. Practice loving them: POWER GLORY FAME SUCCESS WINNING Want some more? Try these. You should really feel guilty if you love these: THE ADULATION OF OTHERS BEING BETTER HAVING MORE KNOWING HOW KNOWING WHY.”

“As Americans saw how good it was possible to have it, they sought to have it even better. Yet there was only one way to have more and more and more. Someone else had to have less and less and less.”

“Not just in matters of sexuality, but in all of life, never, ever, ever, fail to do something simply because it might violate someone else’s standards of propriety. If I had one bumper sticker on my car, it would read: VIOLATE PROPRIETY I would certainly put such a sign in every bedroom.”

“Appropriate” behavior is not always the behavior that’s in what you call your “best interests.” It is rarely the behavior that brings you the most joy.”

“Betrayal of yourself in order not to betray another is Betrayal nonetheless. It is the Highest Betrayal.”

“It is only through the exercise of the greatest freedom that the greatest growth is achieved— or even possible. If all you are doing is following someone else’s rules, then you have not grown, you have obeyed. Contrary to your constructions, obedience is not what I want from you. Obedience is not growth, and growth is what I desire.”

“It’s time to make friends with your mind again. Be a companion to it—it’s felt so alone. Be a nourisher of it—it’s been so starved.”

“Programs calling for children to develop abilities and skills rather than memories are soundly ridiculed by those who imagine that they know what a child needs to learn. Yet what you have been teaching your children has led your world toward ignorance, not away from it.”

“- As I keep saying repeatedly here, taken a look at the world lately? – You keep bringing us back to that. You keep making us look at that. But all that isn’t our fault. We can’t be blamed for the way the rest of the world is.
– It is not a question of blame, it is a question of choice. And if you are not responsible for the choices humankind has been making, and keeps making, who is?
– Well, we can’t make ourselves responsible for all of it!
– I tell you this: Until you are willing to take responsibility for all of it, you cannot change any of it.”

“On your planet you have created a society in which little Johnnie has learned how to read before getting out of pre-school, but still hasn’t learned how to stop biting his brother. And Susie has perfected her multiplication tables, using flash cards and rote memory, in ever earlier and earlier grades, but has not learned that there is nothing shameful or embarrassing about her body.”

“Your first question, always, must be: What do I want here?—not: What does the other person want here?”

“Be a living, breathing example of the Highest Truth that resides within you. Speak humbly of yourself, lest someone mistake your Highest Truth for a boast. Speak softly, lest someone think you are merely calling for attention. Speak gently, that all might know of Love. Speak openly, lest anyone think you have something to hide. Speak candidly, so you cannot be mistaken. Speak often, so that your word may truly go forth. Speak respectfully, that no one be dishonored. Speak lovingly, that every syllable may heal. Speak of Me with every utterance. Make of your life a gift. Remember always, you are the gift! Be a gift to everyone who enters your life, and to everyone whose life you enter. Be careful not to enter another’s life if you cannot be a gift.”

“(You can always be a gift, because you always are the gift —yet sometimes you don’t let yourself know that.) When someone enters your life unexpectedly, look for the gift that person has come to receive from you.”

“Know that every thought I am sending you, you are receiving through the filter of your own experience of your own truth, of your own understandings, and of your own decisions, choices, and declarations about Who You Are and Who You Choose to Be. There’s no other way you can receive it. There’s no other way you should.”

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Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-DiscoveryPersonality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery by Don Richard Riso

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Experience has shown that … personalities … may be grouped into various major categories, and for purposes of studying them this is a helpful device. Classifications must never be taken too seriously—they ruin much thinking—but the fear to use them has prevented much more thinking.

—Karl A. Menninger, The Human Mind

The above quote would find a lot of people in the world in open disagreement. Even in the US, where different social needs and anxieties gave birth to almost all forms of typology developed today, there is still some skepticism about the extent to which typology works and is based on fact; in the culture I grew up in, namely millennial Greece, the very concept of the existence of a number of more or less concrete personality types, is rather foreign to say the least—ironically, too, because some of the most adamant proto-typologists were ancient Greeks philosophers such as Galen, who is the best-known.

My enduring fascination with the subject and my attempts of discussing it with my surroundings have been mostly welcomed with polite indifference and at worst with open contempt: surely the entire wide spectrum of humanity cannot fit in a handful of archetypes. “How is this any different from astrology?”, asks a One that has made her mind up about right and wrong; “no system can pigeonhole the infinite complexity that is me” is a common reaction from Threes or special-snowflake disintegrating Fours; “you do know that people’s behaviours change according to their surroundings, right?”, comes the valid though overly dismissive comment from a Five who likes to think he’s unusually smart and thorough.

It’s been very difficult to get people to look at this seriously and see the strengths of existing typology systems and how they can help us empathise with and understand eachother and ourselves. Half-arsed online tests and the seeming equation of typology with “which Disney/Game of Thrones/famous person are you?” hasn’t helped people take the field seriously either, but I’m not one to judge; after all, it is how I myself, and many others I’m sure, originally came across typology. The difference is that I took an interest in the theory of it all, the questions that result in the answers that are all the different types. Thus did my research in this realm begin years ago and ever since I’ve been slowly trying to follow Kierkegaard’s advice to become subjective toward others and objective toward myself.

Before reading Personality Types, the typology system I’d been most familiar with was the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI, developed in the ’70s and in later years built upon by David Keirsey and his theory of four temperaments.  MBTI was based on Jung’s eight cognitive functions and laid out the sixteen four-letter type system we know and love today. According to it, each type is a different ordering of these Jungian functions that correspond to each individuals preference of use. I, for instance, am an INFP because I primarily use Introverted Feeling and then Extraverted Intuition.

Understanding how the cognitive functions work for each type is essential for understanding the MBTI, a fact which regrettably but understandably is most often missed by online tests, because it makes the whole thing about ten times more difficult to decode.

To sum up, MBTI is used to categorise people according to their cognitive functions: the mechanics of the manner in which they perceive and process information, how they perceive the world (by observing or by abstracting?) and how they make decisions (thinking their way out or doing what feels right?).

Nevertheless, the MBTI isn’t even what this book is about; I just wanted to illustrate the difference between it and the Enneagram, which is a different school of typology, and what Personality Types is about. Riso and Hudson did an excellent job with it of presenting the Enneagram as a more organic form of typology than MBTI. Sometimes the latter feels as if it’s somehow constructed or artificial; the Enneagram, on the other hand, is very convincingly presented in this book as something that does exist out there, that it is what had been attempted to be captured by the first known typologists in ancient times up to Freud, and consequently it is something that absolutely has to be part of modern psychology and psychotherapy. They make a convincing case that the Enneagram’s the culmination of everything that’s been done before in the field, the most perfected and complete system that has been developed to this day. And after reading the book, I do stand convinced.

Here’s a small sample of what the types are about and our problems:

Twos spend their whole lives searching for love from others and still feel that they are unloved.
Threes endlessly pursue achievement and recognition but still feel worthless and empty.
Fours spend their entire lives trying to discover the meaning of their personal identity and still do not know who they are.
Fives endlessly accumulate knowledge and skills to build up their confidence but still feel helpless and incapable.
Sixes toil endlessly to create security for themselves and still feel anxious and fearful about the world.
Sevens look high and low for happiness [through new experiences] but still feel unhappy and frustrated.
Eights do everything in their power to protect themselves and their interests but still feel vulnerable and threatened.
Nines sacrifice a great deal to achieve inner peace and stability but still feel ungrounded and insecure.
And finally, Ones strive to maintain personal integrity but still feel divided and at war with themselves.

The way out of these self-defeating patterns is to see that they cannot bring us the happiness that we seek because our personality does not have the power to create happiness. As wisdom has always recognized, it is only by dying to ourselves—that is, to our ego and its strategies—that we find life.

Apart from this small sample, here are some of the reasons I think the Enneagram is an excellent tool and theoretical system:

• The Enneagram is based on triads, just as the MBTI is based on pairs. Each Enneagram type is the combination of thinking, feeling or instinct with a modality of overexpression, underexpression or repression, which in turn represents each type’s fundamental characteristic: all at once, its main weakness, the bane of its existence, what it strives to overcome, as well as what it’s ambitions are aimed at and what it thinks it lacks. That makes 3 times 3, three modalities for three fundamental aspects of humanity.
• The wing system adds more depth and intricacy.
• On top of that, the fact that if as a person you’re expressing your type well you’re “integrating” into another type and if you’re not you’re disintegrating into yet another makes it clear what each type can strive for or can expect to happen if it doesn’t remain healthy.
• The system is made even more complex by the fact that for each type there are essentially nine sub-types according to the level of development of the type. That also goes for the wings and directions of integration/disintegration.
• All the above combined make the Enneagram not only a great tool for self-discovery, empathy and understanding, but also quite revealing and useful for self-development as well.
• While reading the lengthy descriptions for each of the types, I had very clear images of real people I know or friends of mine who appear to be embodiments of their types. Imagine the symbol above but with the faces of people in my social network at each end. My personal Enneagram became these 9 friends of family of mine, and now I believe I can understand their possible fears, troubles and priorities much better, as well as see reflections of those characteristics on myself.

This stuff is real and I want to get deeper into it. I would heartily recommend you do as well, and there’s no better place to start than Reddit’s Enneagram Subreddit which has all the information and links to tests you might need. When you get the basics, reading an actual book, this one or another good one by Riso and Hudson or other personality psychologists and distinguished writers on the subject, will be the way to go. Good luck!

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From my favourite Julien Smith, that guy who’d definitely be invited to the cool people party. Posting here for future reference and inspiration:

I recently realized that I’d been reading a book every week now for  5 years straight.

It kind of made me wonder: what did I really learn? Am I smarter than I used to be?

I started to wonder, and this is what happened. 140 characters per book, for 174 books… 174 things you may not know.

Are you curious? I sure was when I started. Here we go.


The Ages Of Gaia: A Biography Of Our Living EarthThe Ages Of Gaia: A Biography Of Our Living Earth by James E. Lovelock

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It took me many months to finally finish The Ages of Gaia. I suppose it’s because a lot of it was dry in the way scientific writing is dry to people who are not scientists but wish they could understand what scientists say. Daisyworld, for example, is an interesting supposition and thought experiment on how planetary phenomena influence and are influenced by life on a smaller scale — an idea that today seems typically banal but was novel at the time it was brought forward. I understand it intuitively, but the relevant science flew over my head, along with a great part of what else made this book important, I’m sure.

Where Lovelock’s writing was more approachable, I found it profound and enjoyable to read. I particularly enjoy how some of it could easily be divisive among ecologists and could be used to spark discussion, for instance his careful (and in my humble opinion, very balanced) examination of nuclear power, or the suggestion that anything alive is by definition a polluter to its environment, helping some species thrive and others wither away in a delicate eternal dance (or war, if you prefer that analogy). The chapter “The Contemporary Environment” is a must-read for anyone who’s interested in big-picture ecology and where it fits today… or where it used to fit 20 years ago and more. Even his early approach to geoengineering, long before it was an unwelcome reality, is enlightening to read: “So that’s what the scientists were thinking before the big shots took control of global climatic planning.”

Generally speaking, Mr. Lovelock displays great wisdom on a number of different subjects, the discussion of which is seldom characterised by either lucidity or farsightedness (widesightedness?). However, looking at his views today, which show that in his very old age he’s somewhere between trying to be pragmatic and being resigned, they are even more difficult to digest. Has he gone off his rocker, is he paid or is he just that big of a visionary? Google him and you’ll see why I’m asking these questions in particular.

To end with his hypothesis: will Gaia “do” anything (to the limit of her proactiveness) to preserve life on her surface, much in the same way our body would react to anything which could harm the microscopic (our cells and tissues) as well as the macroscopic life — us? Are we really a terminal threat to life on Earth, or could it be that:

“Looked at from the time scale of our own brief lives, environmental change must seem haphazard, even malign. From the long Gaian view, the evolution of the environment is characterized by periods of stasis punctuated by abrupt and sudden change. The environment has never been so uncomfortable as to threaten the extinction of life on Earth, but during those abrupt changes the resident species suffered catastrophe whose scale was such as to make a total nuclear war seem, by comparison, as trivial as is a summer breeze to a hurricane. We are ourselves a product of one such catastrophe, the extinction of many species 65 million years ago. Could it be that we are unwittingly precipitating another punctuation that will alter our environment to suit our successors?”

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“As an introvert, interacting with other people feels like exercise. I feel better about myself every time I do it; it makes me stronger and healthier. It also exhausts me, and if I do it too much I feel sore and cramped. But if I go too long without it, I feel sluggish and stifled. Ultimately, it is the space between that energizes and sustains me. And some days, I just don’t feel like working out and would rather sit on my ass and read a book by myself.”

-Daniel Miles


Nuestro norte es el sur — Our north is the south

I was in Uruguay from April 14th to 27th!

It was my first time to cross the Atlantic, indeed the farthest I’d been from home since my last time in Australia in 2002.

What took me to the second-smallest country in South America was yet another you-only-pay-30%-of-travel-costs European youth project. This one’s called Grassroots Youth Democracy. In it, youth from Greece, Italy, Ecuador, Uruguay, India and Mauritius will participate in joint research on the water context of each participating country, which in turn will culminate in a media product and relevant campaign to raise awareness on the issue of water as a basic human right and common good.

Grassroots Youth Democracy is separated in phases and will take most of our time for the rest of 2015. Phase 1, which was the purpose of the trip I just came back from, was a week-long seminar on water rights in general. Participants had the chance to make presentations of what the water context in their specific countries is, and we also made a first draft of the plan we’re going to use for organising this international campaign between ourselves: who’s gonna do what, what our research methodology will be, what we’re going to with the data etc. After all, co-ordinating a local team can be hard; one strewn across four different continents? Yeah.

Phase 2 will take place in May in Rome and will consist of a media seminar: teaching the participants how to use a camera, do interviews, edit videos, update a website and such things I have the skills to help with. Thank you, University of the Aegean!

Phase 3, which will start right after Rome and last until mid-July, will have the participants from the extra-EU countries come to Greece or Italy and do a field research on the water situation in the respective country, that is collect data for articles, videos and other material to be used in the campaign. There will be interviews with NGOs, analysing stats and delving into the unique water-specific problems of that country. In Greece, for example, the participants will look into what happened with EYATH and its privatisation and how it was avoided by the resistance of the civil society through the 2014 unofficial referendum. They will also research the problem of the lack of drinking water in some Greek islands, such as Aegina, and the sometimes even more problematic solutions corrupted authorities have come up with to alleviate the situation. These are just some examples.

Phase 4 will start right after Phase 3 and last until September. Basically it will be like Phase 3, only the other way around: the Italians and the Greeks, of which there’s four of each, will do the same kind of field research in pairs in Uruguay, Ecuador, Mauritius and India. This is when I’m going back to Uruguay for two months, during the southern heart of winter! No Greek summer for me this year.

After all the above, we’ll collect all the data we’ll have got and make something out of it: a small book, an online database, a documentary, a social media assault… a little bit of everything. This will be our awareness campaign (and I hope it will end up a little bit more exciting than I’m afraid I’m making it sound here.) There will be a final conference/presentation of results but not a lot is known about it yet.

To be perfectly honest, Phase 1 in Montevideo, the one that just finished, needed more outdoors activities. The presentations and material discussed on water issues were interesting and our team-building was successful, but after a certain point I found it hard to concentrate on Powerpoint after Powerpoint and group brain-storming activity after group brain-storming activity. Being in the same room for hours on end with little chance of going out in the warm Autumn sun apart from during the short coffee breaks and the lunch (which was admittedly DELICIOUS and very vegetarian-friendly—THANK YOU CRAZY MARIO, cook of La Fonda!) made it much worse. During the first few days we saw practically zero of the city and at the end of each session I felt much more exhausted than I believe I should have.

No matter. In the end it was a valuable getting-to-know-you with the team and we did some important work. We will just have to work hard from here on out.

…what? You want to read about Montevideo and Uruguay, NOT the seminar? What are you, crazy?!

OK, get this: Uruguay is an extremely interesting country, given its small size and low importance on the grand scale of things. Sorry, let me rephrase that, because everything that’s ever taken place on this planet is of extremely low importance on the grand scale of things—low importance as far as human societies go; countries, politics… you know, that sort of thing. I mean, what do you know about Uruguay?

What I knew was that the country’s (now ex-) president donated 90% of his salary to charity and generally lived super simply, and that recently they legalised marijuana. That’s pretty much everything /r/worldnews would let through the filter. Ahem…

Let me tell you: both of these things are true.

Mujica with his three-legged dog and some maté. More on that in a sec.

José “Pepe” Mujica is seen as a bit of a populist in Uruguay itself, but here  are eight reasons why he should be missed by the rest of us, according to The Independent:

1.  He donated 90% of his salary to charity.
2. And lived on a farm.
3. He drives a 1987 VW Beetle.
4. And picks up hitch-hikers.
5. He legalised marijuana.
6. He leaves the economy in rude health.
7. He’s just not like other politicians
8. And all that after being shot six times and being put in jail for 14 years for opposing the country’s former dictatorship.

Have a look at the article for a few more details, it’s worth it. What are the chances a guy like this could ever be the leader of your country?

SWIM doing a preparation of a special Uruguayan herbal incense.

Now, that other thing. “You know that in Uruguay marijuana was recently legalised, don’t you?”, said one of the Uruguayan participants to me before I could even ask her anything about it. “Everybody does it here. Even ten years ago people in suits would light one up after work. The thing is, you can’t go somewhere to buy it. Not like that. You have to be a resident and a member of a marijuana club if you want to purchase it. But many people have a little plant or two at home and will soon offer you some!”

I suppose the above is true for young people, but who knows? It didn’t seem to me that marijuana use was 100% socially accepted in Uruguay, there must be some controversy remaining, but it looked close to it. I say they have the right idea. There really is zero reason marijuana should be as illegal as it is in such big part of the world. Zero. Addiction-related issues, whenever they arise, should be treated medically and psychologically, similar to the way alcoholism is treated, not be a matter of concern for law enforcement. This system has already been adopted in a lot of countries.  Have a look at this map caught from the wikipedia article on the legality of cannabis around the world:


But there’s a bit more to Uruguay than that.


What does this flag remind you of? They have the same number of stripes, too. Want another fun fact that goes with the similarity between the flags? Both Uruguay and Greece  were de facto created in 1828. But, as I learned recently, the Greek flag as we know it now was standardised during the military dictatorship. Before that it used to be simply this:


This was the state flag and the one we use now was the merchant and national flag, before the former was abolished completely.

Back to the other country with blue and white stripes on its flag.


Uruguay’s name comes from the river forming the natural border between it and Argentina. It is the indigenous Guaraní language for “the river where the painted birds live.” Beautiful image, isn’t it? It flows out into the that bay to the left of the map, the famous Río de la Plata — the river plate. It’s a hallmark and a point of reference for both Argentina and Uruguay. Some consider this formation more of a river delta than a bay, but really it’s somewhere in between: in Montevideo and even as far out as Punta del Este, the water is much less salty than normal. There’s no clear point where the río ends and the sea starts. Truly a unique formation.

Next: a brief overview of the country in video form. This video was funded by the Uruguayan Ministry of Tourism. I’m serious.

Uruguay es el mejor país: Uruguay is the best country. A semiotically complete touristic message if I ever saw one. We should try something like that back home.

In fact, there’s plenty of other policy “novelties” this country has going for it we should be trying out in Greece. Barring the relatively high cost of living, the not-too-great wages and the kind of plain landscapes (heh), in a few ways it really is one of the best countries out there. For a start, they have managed to stave off privatisation of their public sector almost completely, only selling off their mobile phone operators. Water itself has become a constitutionally-reserved state-managed human right since a relevant referendum was conducted in 2004. That’s impressive no matter what way you look at it. In addition, same-sex marriage has been legal for two years.

All the above together puts most of the “progressive world” to shame, let alone our backwards little country called Greece. Then again, Uruguay is a secular society, in stark contrast to our country where the embarrassingly rich church is still constitutionally connected to the state, which, just to remind you, means that Orthodox Christianity is taught at schools, priests are paid with our hard-earned IMF and European loan money (and pay no tax in return) and the country is still, for all intents and purposes, exclusively Orthodox. I won’t get started with nationalism and Greek superiority/inferiority complexes…

Tell me, how many people would you imagine enjoy the benefits of living in this little country? It’s whole population is barely that of Athens at ~3.5 million people, with roughly half of that concentrated in Montevideo. This bit surprised me, because I’ve always thought of South America as the land of mega cities. To illustrate, nearby Buenos Aires has a metro population of almost 4 times that of Uruguay as a whole, and Sao Paulo, which isn’t such a long way away either, is close to 6 times that.

For its modest count of human residents, this small country is the holder of a different record: it has the most cattle-per-capita ratio in the world: there are roughly 3.59 Uruguayan cows for each Uruguayan person. Impressive as that may be, note that this number still collectively accounts for just ~1% of global bovine populations.

Gauchos -- Argentinian/Uruguayan cowboys
Gauchos — Argentinian/Uruguayan cowboys

With so much mooing going on, you’d think the guys would have some decent yogurt. Nope… Even the “integral” yogurt, the one most similar to consistency to the ones we enjoy in Greece, contained sugar. This reminded me of Bulgaria, which most Bulgarians claim to have fantastic yogurt—supposedly very successful and sought after in South Korea. Needless to say, this legendary Bulgarian dairy product is nowhere to be found, or perhaps I tried it and just couldn’t tell the difference. What can I say, years of straggisto are bound to leave a mark.

Not all Uruguayan products are shoddy, though. Far from it. Mate (pronounced máte) is for Uruguayans what frappé is for Greeks, or, according to some Greeks, what it used to be, as freddo espressos have become more popular. Mate is an invigorating hot drink, like coffee or tea, ideally shared among a circle of friends. People drink it in wooden cups that slightly look like coconut shells but are made of gourd (or calabash). In it they drink the mate herb tea, which they infuse with hot water poured from a thermos and refill many times. It is drunk with a metal straw-like instrument called a bombilla (pronounced bombisha in Rioplatense Spanish). In the video below you can see an English speaker preparing mate.

I think I’ve written enough for now. I congratulate you if you made it this far! Here are some pictures for your viewing pleasure, half of which are taken by me and the others by Martina.

Punta del Este
Punta del Este, a stop on the Greek team’s Atlantic Coast single-day road trip.
The wake of Eduarno Galeano. We were lucky (?) enough to have just arrived in the country when this great person passed away.
The wake of Eduarno Galeano. We were lucky (?) enough to have just arrived in the country when this great person passed away.
Street Art Montevideo
Street Art Montevideo
The view from Faro José Ignacio.
The view from Faro José Ignacio.
Plaza de Independencia
Plaza de Independencia
Each night a different team of participants had to prepare dinner... one of the highlights of the seminar for me.
Each night a different team of participants had to prepare dinner… one of the highlights of the seminar for me.
Enjoying empanadas with part of the group.
Enjoying empanadas with part of the group.
Quino and a quote by Eduardo Galeano:
Decoration at the Posada al Sur. A sketch by Quino and a quote by Eduardo Galeano: “Joy requires more courage than sorrow, for, at the end of the day, sorrow we’re accustomed to.”
Martina could easily pass for an Uruguana like this!
Martina could easily pass for an Uruguana like this!
Candombe, the beat of the Montevideo night.
View on the Posada terrace and old Montevideo--that's where the seminar took place.
View on the Posada terrace and old Montevideo, where the seminar took place. Unfortunately, not upstairs on the terrace.

For dessert:

There is a Milonga at the centre of Montevideo, a public place where people of all ages meet a few times per week to dance and learn Tango.

The song below can be heard most evening at the Milonga and, as I was told, features in the playlists of most tango meetings. It’s called the “Greek tango.” I’m sure you know it.


Norwegian WoodNorwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some memorable quotes from this book:

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

“Letters are just pieces of paper,” I said. “Burn them, and what stays in your heart will stay; keep them, and what vanishes will vanish.”

“Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Only assholes do that.”

Murakami was born in 1949. Like Terry Pratchett, who passed away some days ago. Like my father. What would it be like to have Terry Pratchett or Haruki Murakami as your dad?

The protagonist was also born in 1949 and serves as our 20-year-old guide through the Japan of way back when: most of Norwegian Wood takes places in Tokyo and Japan in ’69 and ’70. I see it as a mental documentary of what it was to live back then. Such indirect or direct accounts always excite me and nostalgically take me back to places I never saw, memories I never had. Manos Hatzidakis gives me a similar feeling (ASXETO!)

I don’t know what it is in his writing, but Murakami-san can take me on a trip. His descriptions make sense. I connect with them in a way I just cannot with the works of a lot of other writers. I’m there. I smell the grass in the lush Japanese mountains and the cars’ fumes in dirty, crowded Tokyo. I taste the sake and the whiskey. I’m a voyeur in the sex scenes that are funny in their straight-forward explicitness. I care for the various tragic, funny or awkward characters. It makes sense that I do: I’ve got to know them. I grow attached to these living, breathing people that could easily be followers of a contemporary variety of the Tao of Zen.

So it also makes sense that I’m sick of them dying for no clear reason to me. What I can safely say is that, no matter if death at one’s own hands is a cornerstone of Japanese culture or that the protagonist considers that “death is not the opposite of life but an innate part of it”, I much prefer reading what Murakami has to say about life and love than about suicide.

Thank you Daphne for lending me Norwegian Wood.

PS: There’s a lot of ’60s music in this book and many characters playing well-known pieces on guitars and pianos. Here’s a little playlist I found that would do nicely as a companion soundtrack:

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English. It’s a bastard language.

~Wayne Hall

Introductory comment number one: judging by how many millions of Speakers of English as a Second or Third Language are mispronouncing these words, including TESOL teachers, I have no idea to what extent their original, correct pronunciation will be relevant, say, 20 years from now. The evolution of the language will be highly unpredictable (not that anything in this world is so predictable, ahem) because it has the largest speakers as a foreign language/natives speakers ratio in the world: for every native speaker there are at least two who speak it at or above a conversational level, and many more the lower you set the bar. Source for the above.

Introductory comment number two: English, for all intents and purposes and despite its foundational inconsistencies, the current world language. Need more proof that people don’t work as rational actors and the world isn’t a product thereof?



The kind lady who recited the poem below, originally found here, requests that people not “hotlink to them or steal them for their own website”. Well, I don’t if this counts as stealing, but if it does… This is the web, dear Ms. English Teacher.

The bandage was wound around the wound.
The farm was used to produce produce.
The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
We must polish the Polish furniture.
He could lead if he would get the lead out.
The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
At the army base, a bass was painted on the head of a bass drum.
When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
I did not object to the object.
The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
They were too close to the door to close it.
A buck does funny things when does are present.
A seamstress and a sewer fell into a sewer.
To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
After a number of Novocain injections, my jaw got number.
Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
I spent last evening evening out a pile of dirt.

Anonymous (unless you know better)

A rough coated, dough faced, thoughtful poughman, strode through the streets of Scarborough. After falling into a Sloug, he coughed and hiccoughed.

Last but not least: follow this, if you’ve got what it takes. Use this video as a guide and see how well you fare.

Click, if you dare

Gerard Nolst Trenité – The Chaos (1922)

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.

I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.

Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)

Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.

Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.

Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.

Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.

Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.

Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Fe0ffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.

Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.

Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.

Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.

Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.

Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.

Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Pronunciation (think of Psyche!)
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?

It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!

Just as an aside, there is a slightly different version of this poem right here, and here’s a link to a .pdf of it in the International Phonetic Alphabet.


Johnny Got His GunJohnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity ~Anonymous (as far as I know)

Metallica’s One is based on this book. The lyrics more or less summarise the plot:

(view spoiler)

Now that the war is through with me
I’m waking up, I cannot see
That there is not much left of me
Nothing is real but pain now

Hold my breath as I wish for death
Oh please, God, wake me

Back to the womb that’s much too real
In pumps life that I must feel
But can’t look forward to reveal
Look to the time when I’ll live

Fed through the tube that sticks in me
Just like a wartime novelty
Tied to machines that make me be
Cut this life off from me

Hold my breath as I wish for death
Oh please, God, wake me

Now the world is gone, I’m just one
Oh God, help me
Hold my breath as I wish for death
Oh please, God, help me

Darkness imprisoning me
All that I see
Absolute horror
I cannot live
I cannot die
Trapped in myself
Body my holding cell

Landmine has taken my sight
Taken my speech
Taken my hearing
Taken my arms
Taken my legs
Taken my soul
Left me with life in hell
(hide spoiler)]

The descriptions of early 20th century rural America once again had me nostalgic over something I never lived through. I could feel the pain of leaving behind your family, your mama’s fresh, delicious homemade food, your new girlfriend, your job, your stories… never to come back. How many millions of people in world history have had the same fate? How many of us would be ready to face such prospects?

I just have to wonder: would pro-war or at least pro-military people reading Johnny Got His Gun ever come out from it converted? Would reading the book that helped inspire the first truly massive anti-war movement budge somebody who isn’t moved by common pacifist arguments? Perhaps it is aimed more squarely at Americans, who have been waging wars in foreign lands, not their own, for at least a century. It is not the same dynamics that are at play when we’re talking about fighting in a defensive war for protecting one’s own home and people.

It has to be said, anyway, that, no matter how good it sounds, it is a dream that everybody put down their guns and their bombs and their missiles and whatever weapons the next war will be fought with, even though I’d love to see the day when a war would be de facto cancelled because the “little guys” would have turned their guns at the “big guys” to protect their own lives and interests…

Wait. Maybe it’s not a dream. I mean, we’re living through interesting times of great changes. What would happen if there was a draft tomorrow? What would a contemporary anti-war movement based on Twitter and Facebook look like? It could conceivably break new water, the same way the web and the net have helped revolutionise what we thought we knew about communication. We can’t predict what new disruptions our new social toys could bring about in such a terrible eventuality, and in this climate, Johnny Got His Gun is as an important and inspiring a read as ever before.

Among all the other reasons, it is inspiring because it reminds you of your blessings, of the little that you truly need in order to experience life at its fullest, what Joe was robbed of. But then again, the mind works in mysterious ways. It is one of the greatest obstacles to happiness, and one of the greatest human tragedies, that people can only appreciate what they have when it’s gone, including their five senses and the wholesomeness of their body. However, even in the hellish nightmare of sensory deprivation and paralysis, the capacity for some kind of happiness or satisfaction is still there.

A guy without a face and limbs is still capable of being grateful for his good fortune. How about you? Were you stressing over trivialities today, or did you stop for a second, be aware of the present and realise what a gift life is, or can be, if you let it?

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