There are few journalists I’d rather work with than Olivia Arnold, whose unmatched ability to laugh at my stupid jokes while coaxing me along to actual journalistic success is truly worthy of scientific study.
As such, when it came to embarking on the first video project of my career at Northeastern (we’re just gonna go ahead and glaze over that deep dive into Taco Bell closing down that Saratoga Steve salivated over then graded poorly), I had little doubt in my mind as to which reporter I wanted by my side. And so it was, after heavily paying her off to consider working with me, her least favorite journalist, that I set out with Olivia to capture
Australia a story about the planned construction of Athens’ first taypayer-funded mosque, a project that has spanned more than a decade in the eyes of the local Muslim community but only broken ground relatively recently.
Tuesday night proved to be the project’s breakthrough; Olivia and I, camera in tow, took an Uber out to the home of Naim and Anna, the two leaders of Greece’s Muslim Assocation, based in Athens. Met with smiing faces and plenty of salad, prepared lovingly by Naim in a style represenative of his Egyptian upbringing, we both fell into an unexpectedly beautiful evening, one during which we were able to glean plenty of knowledge about the mosque but also gain a richer sense of Muslim culture in Athens that has thrived without it for centuries. And, as mentioned, we ate a lot of salad, especially me, because I was too shy to tell Naim what it meant to be “overly full.” Other highlights included letting the household’s youngest and most energetic member check our audio levels on the camera, bashing Christians over mashed potatoes, and Olivia getting a nosebleed on the way back and repurposing my sock as a handkerchief. She didn’t seem to mind that it hasn’t been washed in over a month. Unless she was just being low-key about how grossed out she was. Or maybe she was just preoccupied bleeding out, who knows.
It was a great night, one that filled us with enthusiasm about the direction of the project and even made Olivia laugh, which I can assure you never ever happens. She’s like a rock. Humorless, hardened… rock-like.
Then, yesterday, we got a taste of one of the trickier aspects of filming a sensitive story in Athens: dealing with police. Essentially, what happened was this: Olivia and I traveled to the location of the construction site where the mosque will eventually open (after an Uber drive in which we became oddly obsessed with discovering the purpose of seatbelts), only to find an imposing, barbed-wire fence accompanied by a police car and four muscular, unhappy-looking officers who could have starred in a grittier “Training Day” remake. Actually, Olivia and I first encountered one of these cops in a gas station up the road. Our conversation went something like this:
Isaac: *sees cop buying drink*
Olivia: *sees cop buying drink*
Isaac and Olivia: *to each other* “A COP!”
Cop: *casts side-eye*
Isaac: “QUICK, BE INCONSPICUOUS.”
Olivia: “Please lower your voice.”
Isaac: “OKAY YEAH OKAY.”
Olivia: “Like actually.”
Isaac and Olivia: *loudly* “LET’S FOLLOW HIM.”
Turns out, the fence was literally right next to said gas station, so we lucked out. The only problem was, the cops seemed very unhappy that we were there, and – both due to my previous story involving the little kernel of intel that cops permit Golden Dawn members to attack immigrants and the fact that my experience with cops in America is so negative that that revelation was thoroughly unsurprising – Olivia and I sensed that there was a chance our interaction could go south pretty quickly.
Setting up our video camera, laughing and crying together as the white balance levels turned out to be catastrophically out of order, was a more tense experience than usual with the cops staring and murmuring to one another, arms crossed. I stumbled through my first stand-up, Olivia trying not to crack up behind the camera as I slipped into my “stage voice” (think the illustrious Mike Beaudet crossed with a version of HAL 3000 that pronounces “strawberry” incorrectly) and ran through what was essentially three small sentences about the construction.
Somehow, that footage ended up getting completed, even though the camera’s storage space inexplicably filled up despite assurances that no such calamity would ever come to pass by people who “know camera stuff.” Olivia told me it was probably time to scram, as the cops were getting antsy and starting to crack the knuckles. Because I’m me and stupid, I figured this would be a good time to go over and thank the cops for being chill or at least generally not violent about us filming footage of the fence they were guarding. Approaching them, I saw the first cop we’d met – whom I soon learned is named Nikolas – start to tense up. It was then that I noticed an intriguing tattoo on his swollen-looking bicep: AC / DC, with a lightning bolt between them.
Looking for a conversation topic, I thanked him for letting us film then said, “My favorite is “Back in Black,” what about you?” I kept my fingers crossed, hoping the answer wouldn’t be “Blow Up Your Camera.” Smiling thinly, he replied, “Flick of the Switch” [A/N: AC/DC’s Worst Ever album]. I could tell from his voice he was, how do you say, tired of our sh*t.
So we got out of there, high-tailed it back to the hotel, and headed up to the rooftop bar to order a drink – or in my case, due to the aforementioned me being stupid about everything, including ordering drinks, three consecutive whiskey sours. Olivia, meanwhile, savored an Aperol Spritz and a Ladies’ Charm. As far as happy endings go, I got drunk, and that’s good enough for me.