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Athens: How are Your Backgammon Chops?

After reading a prompt and heartfelt comment to the last blog post, I had to write one final post. The comment was penned by Christos, an Athens business owner and pal to several Berklee students. My not mentioning Christos in one of the prior posts is a massive oversight because he was one of the locals that really made the Boston-based crowd feel like they had carved out a home away from home.

Christos waits for his opponent to make her move (Sabrina is in the darkness).

Christos owns Rezin, an inviting little haunt about a five-minutes walk south of the Nakas school, in the hip student-dominated neighborhood of Exarchia. Heavily tattooed 20-somethings and others huddle around tables sipping cocktails or Christos’s extraordinary hot chocolate. You notice two things shortly after entering the joint: the thumping (and for me, familiar) sound of all the great rock bands, from the Stones to the Jam to Rage Against the Machine; and the massive posters—rare photos of rock stars like Hendrix, Lennon, and others—lining the walls. An immediately comfortable environment for, I would guess, a large majority of Berklee students.

Then once you settle in and look back toward the entrance, you’ll see a stack of thin gameboard boxes, stacked about four feet high from the floor, containing everything from chess to Operation. But most importantly, backgammon.

Rezin not only is home to several backgammon games, it is also HQ for one of the most extraordinary backgammon players you will ever see. Yes, I’m talking about Christos himself. He plays the game in swift, powerful movements, reacting immediately after his opponent’s last move by quickly scooping his pieces and slamming them down in their new home. He smiles and laughs throughout his games, but he is efficient, ruthless, and from all accounts,  nearly impossible to beat. Christos is the Backgammon King of Exarchia (If Not the World).

The only way to get Sabrina to pose for this picture was to wait until her game ended. When it comes to backgammon, she's all business.

But one Berklee student gave him a good run for his money last semester—vocalist Sabrina Seidman. Sabrina is normally a quick-to-laugh, easy-going sort, but when she challenged Chris in backgammon, she was serious and focused, like a hungry tiger sitting down for a big meal. She and Chris played many sets (best-of 7- or 9- games) during the semester, and every time, Chris would come out the victor. Until, she tells me, their final meeting, the day before she returned to the U.S. Finally, she took the master down. It was a triumphant moment, rivaling perhaps the sense of pride she had in having transformed herself into a Magellan-like world explorer.

“Now that I’ve been here and learned how to plan trips and travel. I want to keep traveling. My goal is to travel around the world before I’m 25,” said the 20-year old. “I have a realistic idea of how to do this. My trips have gone so smoothly.”

One of Sabrina’s Athens pals, Ai Ichikawa, also seems comfortable with landing in new places and finding her way. Within weeks of arriving in Athens she was performing regularly with one of her professors at an Athens club. I was impressed, but Ai made it sound like no big deal.

Ai’s first degree was in linguistics and she had worked as an editor in Japan for a few years before enrolling at Berklee. She also worked professionally as a musician, writing and performing original pop and jazz songs with bands. One of her favorite courses in Athens was a flamenco guitar course. I didn’t get to see her play guitar, but I did see her perform once, when she sat in during Ben Thomas’s concert at Alekton. She had the crowd whooping and hollering during a rendition of “Route 66.” Comfortable in any environment, indeed.

Ai, during Greek language class

But her fellow student Adam Moskowitz assessed her performance much more articulately than I can: “ It was awesome. It was SO awesome. Dude, you just got up there and took command!”

Keep an eye on the Berklee website for more on the Athens trip.

Rob Hochschild
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  1. Hey Rob………….you are something…..I tell you, you are one of a kind, full stop. You even managed to bring tears to my eyes…..! I am speechless, just as well as this……silence could be the best way to say thank you……

    Give my love and regards to each of the…..gang. I miss you all…..

    Cheers mate

  2. Rob Hochschild

    Christos! Thanks for keeping up with the blog. I hope we all make it back there soon. You are definitely missed.

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