Be Thankful and Respect Cities…lessons from Venice

I’m thankful for beautiful and clean cities. Venice (Venezia) Italy is a land of rich history and worthy of “respect”.  This is the social marketing message I got from the people working, living, or visiting there in my short visit,  as they also have a more visible campaign #RESPECT ENJOY VENICE . I was thankful to see the main square area as in a few days it completely flooded likely due to the rain and the Cruise ships allowed in which change the water volume in the old city canals — we made it through the forthcoming flood but several did not ironically the week we left.  It was certainly an “experience” and the children had fun as all in rainbow colored plastic galoshes patiently lined up to ‘walk the plank’ across San Marco square.

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As we also took a different direction to less water filled stores and restaurants it occured to me how civilized everyone was. I also observed very little trash and no huge problem with vandalistic graffiti like tagging which plagues most cities today.

We cannot deal with more vandalism, especially ‘dirty tagging’ as this contributes to our uneasiness, there is proof that once one negative event happens another one is right behind hence the Broken Window Syndrome (see theory). So why are so many people doing this in other cities and countries where they are visiting? Is it due to lack of empathy or intended damage (due to jealousy of the respected city or town history)?  Perhaps all graffiti artists need to ban together to develop a new ‘ethos’ of informing and discussing with younger generations to come.

Would people like the Colosseum full of multi-colored tags?  The White House and surroundings monuments? How about St. Petersburg? The Greek isles, or on the off-white color of the Acropolis (it was bad enough that pieces of it were taken away by Lord Elgen himself to ‘whiten’ the stone thus ruining the natural color of the rock and marble)?!

Do people have any idea of how many months and years of hard labor (albeit most was indeed ‘slave’ labor) it took to create these masterpieces?  Do people know the true reasons why  “Venice” was created in the first place? Basically to avoid being sacked and completely vandalized/destroyed as their mainland was during the barbarian invasions. Can and should continents like Europe do something about the issue and ban together?  Maybe create a good social marketing campaign or practically a type of coding of spray cans (similar to gun monitoring “aimed” to better control) so that we can trace back vandals….. People are poor enough, have hardships enough, they cannot bear to pay taxes to ‘fix’ their personal property let alone public property, especially to clean up streets and monuments. This is part of our community health literacy to be responsible citizens and visitors.

Let’s ask for RESPECT of all cities and great historical monuments around the globe. Let’s be THANKFUL for their existence, and for those who maintain them including taxpayers, city planners, cleaners and artisans everywhere!

Seeing the beauty and reading up on history was the basic inspiration of this poem:

Venezia (Venice)

Vivaldi played his seasons four
Now Gondoliers paddle to shore
San Marco, Giorgio, and Theodore
So many in Venezia.

For all her glory and her pain
Of wondrous knights for faith doth slain
The mists remain on stones of goth
She sinks inside, the days of sloth
The city of Venezia.

(Barbara K.)

 

Seeing red signs? color, nature, and signs

One of my students was interested in seeing what adjectives we associate with colors and how our mood is potentially are affected by color in the short or long-term. Her project truly reflects both nature (certain colors calm while others excite us neurologically) and nurture (what we see, hear in our culture reflects our perceptions).

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Red Moon — photo by Bill Coast (c) 2018

There is an entire ‘color psychology’ out there and many articles written like this one : Color Psychology: Does It Affect How You Feel? (VeryWellMind, September 2018). A while ago I had posted about the “Dark Moon….” and last summer there was a “Red Moon” citing starting late July through more recent weeks in August.

As leaves and seasons change to Fall-Winter our vegetables and fruits become deeper oranges and reds like vitamin C- rich pomegranates, cranberries, or Beta-carotene pumpkin pickings from the fields.  We eventually have these part of our Thanksgiving tables (if you are American) or your pumpkin soup like this great pumpkin-ginger recipe by my favorite ‘food revolutionist‘ and British chef, Jamie Oliver. Jamie’s TedEx talk about obesity in America and dietary changes around the world is still current today in our attempt to curb over-eating and eating food that is neither good for us or our communities. We love comfort foods to pep up our moods but let’s consider what we put inside our body today.

The month of November starts with health issues including Alzheimer’s Awareness, Diabetes Awareness, Tobacco Awareness and COPD month, and we end up thinking about all our extra calories after eating our turkey dinner. Perhaps our need for extra food is part of our packing up for our natural winter ‘hibernation’ as some may also suffer from seasonal affective disorders? There is a SAD test you can take today to determine if you indeed suffer from this disorder, consider environmental changes like diet and ‘light treatment’… again on the issue of colors — yellow, blue, red… ergonomics research on firetrucks has proved that lime yellow is a safer color than red, yet we seem to be stuck on the former as our preferred color of firetrucks around the world. Old habits die hard, including our own health literacy habits. Red is an ‘excitable’ color it makes sense that fire alarms are still red, and the red ‘do not smoke sign’ is just as common. I personally think Starbucks has the best line on its “thank you for not smoking” sign reminding people about maintaining the coffee’s smell and taste —  simply brilliant!

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Post Rafina fires … “I saved my family and property” one family’s story

October 10th is annual World Mental Health day (WHO-MentalHlth) and all that Falls upon us may include recent or past traumatic events, including the Rafina “Mati” fire of July 2018 (see past post ‘Ashes to Ashes‘). As psychosocial and public health professionals we refer to post-symptoms including anxiety and depression, loss of sleep etc. which may be indicative of a post-traumatic stress disorder after a shocking or life-threatening event. Last September I interviewed and photographed one woman and her property in Rafina, 10 minutes away from “Mati” where approximately 100 people lost their lives in July 2018.

Fire moves fast, mostly passing on the ground or heat melting  leaves from trees and plants, or parts of homes.  We heard so many stories of ‘survival’ of people jumping into the sea and swimming for hours to be rescued by the Hellenic Coast Guard, or running down stone pathways away from the fire. Just a few hours…. that was the time it took for utter devastation. This post focuses on survival. How one woman’s story of saving her home and property with her family.   Eleftheria (her name means ‘freedom’ in Greek) is in her 70’s and she made it through using prevention smarts, quick courageous actions during the event, and likely one who has high health literacy.

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This close….I saved my family and property.

Traveling to their home I did not know what to expect.  Realizing the last time I visited the area was the beginning of July, coming ‘this close’ to the now tragically famed “Mati” fire where many people died, many lost their property.  What I encountered left me open-mouthed.  This family’s home was completely surrounded by ashes — several homes and surrounding land were burned to the ground. A few streets down there were blackened charcoal regions, houses with burned windows in a corner part near one of the small ports nearby — there an elderly couple died of smoke inhalation.  They did not know each other — but it came this close — it could have been them….

To my amazement, as we walked around their four-acre land only a few trees were burned, though clearly evidence of heat-fire having passed as if on the surface of the earth’s skin… Now only happy animals play or search for food in this family’s fields.  This includes 40 chickens (only one was lost in the fire because it got scared and wandered off), two dogs — a shepherd and a hound, almost all bee hives were untethered.  I sat down with Eleftheria to hear her family’s story, what they did and how…. in hindsight they took risks but they managed to stay out of harm’s way near cemented parts of the home (like their basement) — we now understand for the area there was no clear evacuation plan of the region by the local municipality or media. As a matter of fact most families watching the news that day thought that the fires were only happening in the Peloponnese in Kineta, and from Pendeli (in Attica) fires moved quick as if in a large downward ski slope all the way trough Rafina, to the Mati area.

“It took two hours”, “I thought it was the end of my parents” said her daughter, “I thought it was the end…” said her husband who is now over 95 years old.  But Eleftheria kept moving fast, protecting the animals, using water, throwing dirt or using large branches and wool type blankets to put out fires.  As she says, the primary reason they survived was due to prevention.  Some neighbors who do not maintain their field or surrounding areas to their home had much damage done. In thinking of around the-year prevention, she shared these tips and actions:

  1. clear bushes and surrounding trash, tall grasses, cut down trees year-round, especially during the fire season (summer, dry months)
  2. some plants/trees like cactus fruit, fig trees, aloe vera prevent fire from spreading due to their deep roots which keep moisture in — maintain and plant more of them!
  3. bee hives should have a solid type foundation away from tall grasses if possible
  4. glass windows closed — wooden or plastic panels pulled away so that fire does not pass, and any melting doesn’t prevent doors from opening (for quick escapes)
  5. water storage areas (wells, containers) replenishing and cleaning fire equipment and extinguishers once a year as maintenance
  6. evacuation route pre-planned if possible (knowing the area, clear road/route signs)

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Eleftheria gives me a jar of honey taking a pose for a photograph. I am happy that she, her family, and all the animals she cares for and loves, made it through this tragedy safe and sound….. may we continue sharing lessons for locals as well as our governments to look at “lessons learned” towards improving communication and better planning efforts.

We deserve better.

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Peaches oh 🍑 peaches!

61ED0575-A0CD-4AD8-ACC2-0ED00F7C2AB8I’ve never met a peach I didn’t like. Can you tell the difference among white or yellow flesh type peaches, nectarines and other local varieties? I used to live in the southern U.S. “Peach State” Georgia which first got me thinking and making wonderful peach tart-pies. I also got to appreciate the rich character and identity of each place I’ve lived in. We often overlook symbols and sayings but these add value to our historical knowledge as well as likely contributing to our health literacy. Phrases like “how peachy” can be positive while saying “oh, peaches!” could be a softer more comical way to express one’s frustration. So yes, we sometimes use “fruit language” when we speak.

Not only are peaches an attractive looking fruit, they taste great, are low calorie and have necessary fiber and carbohydrates and vitamins, including potassium and Vitamins A through E to help us function better during our day — particularly good for our skin fighting against the stress of everyday pollution. Furthermore, peaches are supposedly good for those with high blood pressure but as with everything please eat in moderation…yes, if fresh peaches are not an option, eating canned peaches with strained Greek-style yogurt is a low calorie meal especially at the start of your day. If you can afford the extra calories try “peaches and cream”, another southern U.S. tradition which is especially delicious. I particularly like one variety which comes from the region of Naoussa in Northern Greece where it looks like a squished flat peach but it’s sweeter than other varieties.

Here’s a secret for a great peach tart — bake the crust for about 15 minutes before then add your peach mixture and if your peaches are tart just add some more brown sugar! Yummy…

 

 

Waiting time, me first!?

Yesterday I was waiting in line at the bank as they had changed their system in the last five months so those in the que needed to have numbered tickets. Summer is also a time with a lot of ex-pats and visitors to countries who may have no idea of the way things are done or changes and indeed a new system could create several communication issues…

I happened to ask a question and one of the few employees (think cut-backs and vacation time so it was the so-called “skeleton crew”) and she had directed me to an odd looking stand with a digital button to receive a number for the que. There were primarily older people over 70 years, one whom I’ll call “Gus” and one mid-lifer (45-50 years) who sat down after me, started listening to music singing to himself whom I’ll call “Dick”.  What came to unfold was another case of personality traits up against digital – access literacy.

Gus was talking to me about the cuts in his social security and his disappointment with the current leadership and how he doesn’t see for the last three years any improvements. In fact, on a functional societal level it’s been the worst ever and the damage has been done for years to come despite these articles about Greece getting out of debt (well financially banks have gained and all Greek tax payers have been squeezed like no one can imagine since WWII!) a good one by Ms. Stamouli for the Wall Street Journal (link WSJ). Gus it turns out had not gotten a number for the que, so when the number changed Dick sprang up and in essence cut, even though he clearly saw the people waiting before him.

Gus: “Sir, sorry but it’s my turn in line” (Dick first ignored him, looking at the bank teller).

Dick: “Well this is my number”

This is where I had enough and said to Dick “please don’t tell me you didn’t see the people waiting here in front of you AND you see it’s obvious the man is older and likely didn’t know he had to get a ticket?” (no response just looking at us and the teller).

Bank que number

Waiting time 10 minutes on average

At this point, the teller was going to allow the older man to go in front, but Dick (true to his name) didn’t budge, so Gus just said “it’s ok…it’s obvious to me this man doesn’t have courtesy”. I got up gave Gus my ticket and got another one glaring at Dick. You guessed it, we waited until Dick was done, as I said to Gus loudly for Dick and others to hear “You see if you’re dealing the ‘me-first’ people there is no point in talking sense to them…” Gus agreed as did a woman next to me and of course we continued pleasantly to talk about a group, maybe even a newer generation of people who are oblivious to their surroundings most of the time including to those with special needs or elders, pregnant women, etc. there is such a need of mindfulness training!

Personality traits like narcissism, digital literacy, corporate and human communication….hmm….don’t even get me started about the tailgating and “me first” attitude on the roads!

 

Ashes to ashes…tragedy befalls us

Tragedy befalls us or does it? in Greek «τραγωδία» is a word referring to a very sad situation that doesn’t have a very happy conclusion as it leads to suffering and most often death. When we say “befalls” it refers to things that happen by fate or chance. In the ancient world there were perfect explanations for everything, and usually involved ‘gods’ or other deities and mere mortals often trying somehow to make things “right” as they raise for us ethical or real life dilemmas.

Taking a recent trip with a group of colleagues and friends to the ancient theater of Epidaurus, we experienced one of the most famous of Sophocles’ plays “Electra” which the wise poet wrote towards the end of his career playing up the post-trauma of the Trojan war in the house of Mycenaean King Agamemnon (more here: classical literature ‘Elektra’). Though many directors change the structure of the plays to make them more to modern standards, this version was truly respectful of the storyline. More importantly we FELT the pain and inner struggle of the characters…I can still hear the drums beating as fast as my heart in the evening darkness as the actors in unison walked slowly with floating robes like solemn soldiers on a mission.

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Concluding the play Elektra, Epidaurus Summer 2018 Festival

This ancient theater in the valley of the Peloponnese is an acoustical marvel, and many world famous actors have passed through including Kevin Spacey as King Richard III (by William Shakespeare) honoring the ancient tradition with exceptional performance — glimpses can be had on this ‘World Stage’ clip.

I still recall Elektra’s brother Orestes’ blood-stained arms, the circles of ashes made in Elektra’s frenzy. Ashes to ashes, from dust to dust, this indeed is all we are made of. How ironic that the very next day we would be witnessing real-time tragedies of fire and ashes with almost 100 people dead in the ‘eye’ (mati) of Rafina, a seaside community outside of Athens (coincidentally the most losses in a fire since WWII), multitudes of animals, properties and nature burned within a matter of hours…. in the days following rainstorms and flooded streets in many parts of Greece as well as a “state of emergency” in California fires on the other side of the planet this year with several firefighters already dead and almost 100,000 acres of land burned to the ground.  Apparently since last year a sobering 60 servicemen have lost their lives on duty from such things like falling trees, bulldozers, etc. (more in the Mercury News article)

Unfortunately, tragedy befell Greece, and this is due to several factors in my humble opinion —

  • communication  breakdowns — in many countries in a state of emergency the military and the government have the right to take over a situation that is out of hand and work directly with media and municipalities.
  • organization and planning — ditto for this, but we know in the summer with high winds fires are constantly being set off, what are we doing to monitor beyond forest volunteers?  what about having a ‘drone watch’? See aerial surveillance for legislatures.
  • the “oh brother” syndrome («ωχ αδελφέ μου») — really now, you ARE global citizens so act like one!
  • environmental preparedness and social marketing — cutting down overgrowth, keeping water hydrants functioning, a system of communication (sirens, media buzz sound, megaphones), volunteers patrolling forests. One favorite character that was ‘built in’ U.S. culture was Smokey the bear to ‘prevent wildfires’ including some practical how-to steps…
  • health literacy about fires — taking care with outdoor fires (beach, camp, etc.), understanding that plastic and other waste (that people often leave near bushes on the sides of the roads) can be ‘fuel’ for any set fire.  If near a fire and no access to water hoses or water (many people were saved because they went to sea) keeping wet or wool blankets, crawling on the ground to avoid smoke inhalation, having adequate fire drills (and alternate with earthquake drills in schools once a year at least!), the need to have smoke detectors as well as functioning fire hydrants, firemen equipped with supplies (addressing shortages in Greece), using volunteers effectively, understanding how important time is when there are high winds…..moving quickly is of the utmost importance.

This tragedy could have happened to any government (or political party) but the situation was all too familiar to the fires back in 2007… it was purposeful arson in many parts that also ended in tragedy. However we know that prior to 2007 the persons responsible for the fire brigade planning in the country seemed to have more clear plans to make clear paths for the fires not to ‘jump’, cutting down overgrown trees, etc.  There are so many unpaved roads, no street signs, no functioning fire hydrants (or none at all) and the list goes on and on. Notably when systems don’t work (systems), we need to test and change them to be more effective as public safety and the public’s health should override any individual ‘rights’ this is why public health law exists!

What’s left now for many are feelings of emptiness and anger for many (typical of grief and post-traumatic symptoms that can range from loss of sleep to anxiety or the need to self-medicate). Grief or “bereavement” Counseling is needed and it is important to continue support groups and understand that even those watching the news may have anxiety or worse panic attack type reactions (children are in particular vulnerable to anxiety so it’s important to discuss with them ways to feel safe and express their sad or angry feelings). Play and music therapy are useful as are regular counseling and parenting techniques. A local bookstore has a book for kids emphasizing the circle of life and loss for children to understand (Εκδόσεις Παπαδόπουλος «Η Έλλη και ο Κύκλος της Ζωής» — Papadopoulos book publishers “Ellie and the Circle of Life”) but there are no books in Greek specific to dealing with traumatic events. A spiritual approach and books like Thomas Moore’s Dark Nights of the Soul help people who have experienced loss and difficult life ordeals. There are several theories about the stages of bereavement and people can feel denial that it happened (avoidance), anger, or try to accept it and move on. Particular emphasis on expressing sadness and anger is needed here.  It’s also not easy for servicemen (people) to endure everything from evacuating to picking up the corpses. There are many groups, therapists who use cognitive behavioral, meditation, and virtual reality techniques proven to be effective with these workers.

We are angry at the government and inefficiency. Mr. Tosca, the Ministry of Internal Affairs recently resigned, but nothing will change unless we re-evaluate and organize better — house in order, country in order, and see my past post on Kondo method. We can help Greece, a country in its worse crisis since WWII, by donating to worthwhile groups and initiatives like Act4Greece or The Hellenic Initiative, and Red Cross initiatives for those affected. In addition some self-care on a daily and weekly level like guided meditation helps. If we do this at least 3 times a week (much like exercise habits) and I particularly liked this one to bring more inner peace:

We cannot change that which we cannot control but YES we can learn to be more effective for the betterment of our communities.

 

 

 

Poverty lives among us

Many  of you may think you know what poverty looks like. But given what poverty levels are there substantial numbers of people in the world living it every day. You can see it, you can smell it, you can feel it, it is not so pleasant for you or for your daily living requirements.

When poverty exists, there are no street cleaners picking up after daily trash, not enough policemen to go around and do an adequate job, people’s ADL skills are so low that you often have to hold your nose from the stench in crowded public transport systems.

One day I saw an older man picking through trash from a dumpster in broad daylight in a more upper scale part of a city but I didn’t have time to ask him what he was looking for exactly — food, or other? I frequently see some people picking out aluminum cans for recycle money and sometimes to the dismay of local people living there (since they dump other trash on the ground and don’t pick it up) or to monetary loss of municipalities.

Another day I saw someone rummaging through my neighboring garbage bin so I asked – stated “are you looking for food? I’m sure the local fast food place or the church further down can help you out with that….” He looked at me saying in broken Greek (so I knew he was a migrant, and pretty well dressed guy who could look like any local!) “you know what I’m looking for? Clothes for my wife and kids”. So I told him where he could find stuff including the fact that we now recycle clothes in big red bins in many areas of Athens now! Then I thought to ask how many kids he had? He said FIVE. So I smiled saying “wow, you moved fast but hard to support all of them…most of us can’t make it with one or two!” The current poverty levels falling under “extreme poverty” are up to 15% according to survey sources in Greece.

How can we reach people in being more health literate about spacing children and general contraception information, being realistic about responsibilities and understanding that we now live in cities mostly not in farms, and talking more seriously about overpopulation as  many religious leaders still continue to preach about the “sin” of birth control and encourage population growth… really?

Let’s help people better manage themselves their homes and communities to not delve in poverty so that the upper “land lords” gain the wealth only. Share the wealth, live in and with integrity.