Where are all the Porsches? Creative and Community-Oriented Energy Pulses in Larissa

In early November of last year, The Telegraph picked up on a quote by a former head of the Greek prime minister’s economic department, reported in an Athens News article, claiming that Larissa “tops the list, world-wide, for the per-capita ownership of Porsche Cayennes.”

I visited Larissa in August last summer. I did not see any Porsches.  Perhaps I was just distracted by all the artists and community activists I met. Perhaps they just did not invite me to ride around in their Porsches.

Art installation by Christos Papanikolaou, under the Alkazar bridge in Larissa.

The quote is from an article Professor Herakles Polemarchakis published in the Spring 2011 issues of the Bulletin of the Economics Research Institute of the University of Warwick, where he wrote about the “rather faceless locale” of Larissa and used the Porsche statement as an example of Greek tax evasion. This statement then circulated on other media outlets and social media.  A few days later, a Business Insider article reported that Professor Polemarchakis could not verify the information, saying that it was something he heard a few years back, and that the per capita ownership number was from “someone else who researched the matter recently.”

My verdict on this Porsche issue: the example is moot.  Professor Polemarchakis did not cite evidence for the information, the Telegraph article (and the headline) was more a cheap shot than an informative report, and the other media outlets waving the story around certainly did not add any substantive information or context of their own.

It is frustrating to see a factoid used as a shocking illustrative example of a serious issue when the ‘fact’ portion of the ‘factoid’ is not actually cited – particularly when it refers to a whole city that is not well-known outside of Greece for any of its actual attributes.

Luckily, months before this article, I heard that Larissa was a growing hub for graphic designers and other creative types, and I had an opportunity to visit in August.  Less than 24 hours in Larissa was enough to show me that it was not at all a faceless locale. Everything I observed, heard and experienced in the city pointed to this being true.

Originally, I set out for Larissa to spend time with a friend and learn more about her work with the Synergy of Music Theatre (SMouTh), a non profit organization helping youth and adults learn and reinvent artistic expression through music theater. After meeting her over two years ago at an event in Washington, D.C., organized by an organization focusing on Greek diaspora communities, we had only exchanged a few emails and Facebook comments. Over a year ago, I was on a work trip in a location much closer to Greece’s timezone, and had an opportunity to listen live online to a radio show she was co-hosting. That was the extent of our interactions.

But this is Greece, where people welcome you to their town and mobilize their friends to give you the warmest welcome and most authentic introduction to their community and rhythm of life that they can possibly squeeze into whatever short timeframe you have.  To put it another way: a Greek host does not just invite you to meet up for a coffee somewhere. A Greek host will meet you for coffee, bring you into the kitchen to sample all the local specialties, and convince the place to stay open late and host a party, to allow you, the guest, to experience Greek kefi (no direct translation, something like spirit and fun and joy) – even if you are a Greek from abroad and know a little about kefi.

I met my friend for coffee, we caught up on each other’s lives and work, and when she heard about the Reinventing Greece project, she mobilized several individuals working to reinvent their community through art, entrepreneurship, digital storytelling, and community action. On only a couple hours notice, these people took the time to share how they are trying to contribute to their communities in a positive way through their work. These interviews will be featured in an upcoming series focusing on Larissa.

View of the First Ancient Theater of Larissa from the pedestrian street.

In between nearly seven hours of interviewing, everyone I met in Larissa still found time to make sure we could enjoy a few meals, some local wine and the beautiful summer evening together. They also helped me get in a little tourism, including a walk around the Frourio (the fortress) and the First Ancient Theater of Larissa (excavated recently, and dating to 3rd century BC), and a quick visit to the Municipal Art Gallery of Larissa/Georgios Katsigras Museum, with the second largest contemporary art collection in the country after the National Art Gallery. The tour was particularly enjoyable because of all the pedestrian paths in Larissa – an outcome of a direct effort to improve the urban plan of the city and enhance public spaces and cultural history. Read the case study at Eltis, The Urban Mobility Portal.

Consider this an introduction and please stay tuned for the interviews from Larissa.

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3 Responses to Where are all the Porsches? Creative and Community-Oriented Energy Pulses in Larissa

  1. Pingback: Discussion with an artist in Larissa: art in a hospital and art in a crisis « New Diaspora. New Dialogue.

  2. Pingback: Discussion with an artist in Larissa: art in a hospital and art in a crisis

  3. Pingback: Graffiti art and local dining: get out of the house « New Diaspora. New Dialogue.

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