Much better suited to our circumstances was the Akropolis hotel, a solid stone edifice with a sign in 1930s neon. The entrance was tucked away on a side street; the harbor had not yet been filled in to make the city’s main street when the hotel was built, and the sea had originally lapped up against its facade. Some rooms had wireless Internet, others, in the back, a view of the ocean. The elderly proprietress listened to the news on her radio with the television on mute, smoked hand-rolled cigarettes in the lobby and discussed left-wing politics with friends over cheese and nuts.
She was the one who recommended the tobacco museum. Stretching out along the waterfront beyond the walls of the old city, 19th-century brick warehouses stood alongside larger concrete ones from the ’30s and a host of modern buildings. Past the naval museum (one room, model ships, rigging), we eventually found the tobacco museum building, then the tobacco museum. (Go in the main door, go up the stairs, get sent back downstairs, find a doorbell with a Greek word that looks like museum, then push the door open without bothering to ring.)
The tobacco museum is a museum of things: machines for sifting tobacco, presses for baling it and hand carts for moving it. And for moving it without hand carts, a “human saddle,” designed to hold the load on a porter’s back. Leftover space is filled with plastic-wrapped packages of pressed tobacco leaves tied with ribbon — sample wares prepared for a 1980s fair. And, unexpectedly, an astounding collection of maps. Maps showing happy peasants planting tobacco, maps showing routes for shipping tobacco, maps of tobacco varieties (Basma, Bachi-Bagli, Kaba-Koulak, Myrodata, Mavra) and finally an ordinary map of the region, made from tobacco leaves.
If the human saddle didn’t arouse sympathy for the workers, other details did: Factory employees took the nicotine-laden dust from sifting the tobacco leaves home to sprinkle in their garden, where the nicotine acted as an insecticide. There was a sanatorium up in the hills for workers who contracted tuberculosis after years of steaming tobacco leaves in confined spaces. As one visitor had written in the guest book, “You can smell the history.”
Conflict and commingling
Like other cities in Greece, Kavala has several Byzantine churches that were turned into Ottoman mosques before being turned back into Greek Orthodox churches, resulting in an assortment of architectural features from each incarnation.
There’s a building built as an Ottoman mosque that had been transformed into a church, and another mosque turned into an art gallery. Beneath faded blue flower frescoes from a 19th-century renovation, the Czech curator was stacking some modern sculpture — a winged turtle and a wooden nude — with the help of several workmen who communicated with us during our brief visit entirely in high-fives.
The surrounding countryside offered a full spectrum of religious conflict and commingling. In one nearby village, we stood on the ruins of a mosque whose vanished floor revealed the even scarcer ruins of a Byzantine basilica beneath it. In fields of corn outside another village, we visited a shrine to Saint George with an icon-filled antechamber that led into the tomb of a Muslim holy man. His broken tombstone lay in the center of a gravel floor, beside a single prayer rug covered with bird droppings. The Koran, however, nestled in a niche in the wall, was protected from the resident hawk by a tattered plastic cover. Both rooms had brass tray-shaped candelabra filled with sand and melted wax. All around lay empty matchboxes.