Mountains of plastic

 

The pandemic has had a  lot of unpleasant side effects, one of which is the amount of plastic that is being discarded on a daily basis.

Over the last few years, supermarkets and many other shops abolished plastic bags, and people have started using bamboo straws and other recyclable objects.

Sadly this trend has suffered a reversal: at the moment one can hardly go for a walk without spotting a mask or two embedded in the bushes, or lying in the gutter.

 

Hospitals also are consuming veritable mountains of protective equipment: a friend who works as a doctor in a covid ward tells me she has to wear no less than three pairs of disposable gloves daily (as well as the mask, whole body suit etc.) When I visited the dentist, both she and her assistant looked like astronauts, covered from head to foot, including plastic bootees. I too was asked to don a pair, which went in the trash when I left.

We have also gone back to disposable cups, plates and cutlery, not all of which are recyclable. I find all this very depressing, because big efforts were being made to get people and companies to reduce plastic use, efforts which now seem to be partly wasted.

Beaches, and even the ocean floor to a great depth, are littered with plastic; and we are already consuming micro particles which have been found in the flesh of fish, so the future looks grim.

 

Scary, isn’t it?                                   Photo:Google

What could be a solution to this problem?

Scientists have discovered a kind of bacteria which eats plastic (anyone interested can read about it here), but I think the results are still quite modest. It’s a sad fact that humans litter wherever they go: the pristine beauty of Everest is nowadays marred by discarded oxygen bottles and other rubbish (even abandoned corpses) and even space is now getting to be full of trash.

 

Let us hope that human ingenuity can find some answers before the natural environment is destroyed for ever.

Mystras, a Byzantine city

A silver lining of the pandemic has been the lack of visitors in historic sites, and May is a perfect month for exploring Greece, since it’s not too hot yet.

The view of the fortified town from the road

A recent road trip to the Byzantine city of Mystras involved a hike up to the fortress during which we only met a handful of other visitors.

 

Mystras is a fortified town in the Peloponnese, built in 1248 by Guillaume II de Villehardouin, ruler of the Frankish Principality of Achaea. In 1259, William of Villehardouin was defeated and captured, along with many of his nobles, at the Battle of Pelagonia, by the forces of the Nicaean Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos. Two years later, the Nicaeans recaptured Constantinople, putting an end to the Roman Empire and establishing the Byzantine Empire. At this point, the emperor concluded an agreement with the captive prince: William and his men would be set free in exchange for an oath of fealty, and for the cession of Monemvasia, Grand Magne, and Mystras. Thus henceforth Mystras served as the capital of the Byzantine Despotate of the Morea in the 14th and 15th centuries, during which period the city prospered, culturally as well as practically, producing silk, citrus fruit and olive oil which were exported to Western Europe.

 

The view of the church of Pantanassa  from above

Wild flowers and butterflies were abundant, and the only sounds  were the chirping of birds and the buzzing of bees.

 

The view of the Palace complex from the top

It is a magical site, like so many others in Greece.

 

The Palace complex is being restored

The city contains a number of beautiful churches, in different states of preservation.

Icons in the small but beautiful church of Aghia Sofia

Looking out

And a view of the lovely Monastery of Pantanassa

Photo: Wiki commons

An old map of the city

Photo: Wiki commons

The hike made us hot and thirsty, so we descended to the village. After ice cold drinks under the shade of mulberry trees in the village square, we repaired for lunch to the village of Kastori. A small taverna with a garden full of roses at the back provided us with an excellent Greek salad and a simple meal followed by a bowl of cherries from their tree. This fortified us for another, this time shady, hike by a stream in the forest at the feet of the majestic Taygetos mountain.

 

The start of the Greek summer

May is a beautiful season in Greece. Not too hot yet, brilliant sunny days interspersed with the occasional shower, a pure transparent sky.

 

The sea is still a little chilly but, once you’ve warmed up in the sun, the initial shock only lasts a few seconds. And the sense of well-being afterwards lasts for hours.

 

The sun is good for replenishing Vitamin D, and the heat seeps happily into the old bones.

Below, fishermen mending their nets

Athens, too, is showing its best side. Cafés have opened their terraces, although people are still wearing masks in the street. And the bougainvillea is out in all its glory.

 

I’ve been volunteering to teach Greek online to a bunch of boys (unaccompanied minors in a refugee shelter belonging to the Home project, about which I posted a while ago) and we finally got a chance to meet in person, which was lovely.

Philopappos monument. Photo: Wikipedia commons


We went for a hike on Philopappos hill. This large park, which is known for the beautiful landscaping and stone pathways created by architect Dimitris Pikionis, is the home of many indigenous bird and a great variety of plants and trees. It is a favorite promenade of Athenians and presents the visitor with great views of the Acropolis, the whole city of Athens and the Aegean Sea that surrounds Attica. In 115 AD, a monument dedicated to the exiled Roman Prince Gaius Julius Antichus Philopappos of Commagene (a region in ancient Armenia) was erected on top of the hill. 
After his exile, Philopappos settled in Athens, became an Athenian citizen and held religious and civil offices. He was considered a great benefactor and was highly esteemed by the residents.


Best of all, the backdrop: the Parthenon, under a  brilliant Attic sky. 

I can draw a cat

Here’s a post from the blog of Michael Richards, an artist after my own heart.

A Certain Line

Mickey (A5 Prismacolor indigo blue pencil 2020)

Axel Scheffler, perhaps best known as the illustrator of the Gruffalo, once said in a radio interview that if you can draw, people think you can draw anything. There are, he continued, so many things he wouldn’t even attempt.

As a young man this used to bother me enormously. Why can’t I draw a passable bicycle? If I can draw a dog why do I struggle to draw a horse? These days I simply avoid drawing bicycles or horses, but if my life depended on drawing a bicycle for some odd reason then I’d draw it like Quentin Blake.

I’ve also regretted never learning to play the guitar – or the acoustic bass. Why didn’t you then? you might ask. The answer, I’m afraid, is that I never wanted to be a mediocre musician and I was daunted by the amount…

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How Odysseus traveled

There have been many depictions of the familiar story of Odysseus and the Sirens. In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus (or Ulysses), following the advice of the sorcerer Circe, stopped his crew’s ears with beeswax so they’d be deaf to the sweet song of the Sirens, creatures half-woman and half-bird who lured sailors to destruction. He himself wanted to hear the song, but he had the crew tie him to the mast so he could not steer the ship off its course.

One such detailed depiction can be seen on the red-figure vase below, dated c. 475 B.C.

 

Amazingly, a ship which looks just like the one on the vase has been found by archaeologists using a ROV (remote operated vehicle) at the bottom of the Black Sea, off the Bulgarian coast.

The 23-meter vessel is thought to be a Greek merchant ship dating back more than 2.400 years. It is being hailed as officially the world’s oldest known intact shipwreck. The rudder, rowing benches and even the contents of its hold have been preserved  because at that depth the Black Sea water is anoxic, or free of oxygen. Lying more than 2,000m below the surface, it is also beyond the reach of modern divers.

 

The Anglo-Bulgarian team that discovered it used two underwater robotic explorers to map out a 3-D image of the ship and they took a sample to carbon-date its age. The vessel is thought to be one of many trading between the Mediterranean and Greek colonies on the Black Sea coast. As yet the ship’s cargo remains unknown and the team say they need more funding if they are to return to the site.

“A ship surviving intact from the classical world, lying in over 2km of water, is something I would never have believed possible,” said Professor Jon Adams, the principal investigator with the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project (MAP), the team that made the find. “This will change our understanding of shipbuilding and seafaring in the ancient world.”

Described as the most extensive underwater archaeology exploration to date, the Black Sea MAP (Maritime Archaeology Project) not only discovered or rediscovered a total of 67 shipwrecks from the Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Modern Era found on the bottom of the Black Sea in Bulgaria’s section, but it also explored the once flooded coast with its submerged prehistoric settlements, and even offered insights into the hypothesis that the Black Sea was the site of the Biblical Deluge.

 

 

 

 

A figure from the past

Recently I came upon an article about the ”pizzardone”, as traffic policemen in Rome are known (due to the shape of their helmets, nothing to do with pizza!) They elegantly direct traffic while perched on a pedestal in central spots, such as the Piazza Venezia.

This brought back amusing memories, since we also used to have traffic policemen in Greece, at most major crossroads in the cities. In the very beginning they stood in the road, which must have been terrifying, given Greek driving habits. Then they were put on a dais, which eventually evolved into the cylindrical so-called ‘Barrel’.

They were a respected presence in their area, in their white gloves and white diagonal sash; some even acquired a measure of fame, like Mr. Nikos Kostakis, who for many years was a cult figure on Vassilissis Sofias Avenue. He was known for his impeccable manners, stern but unfailingly polite approach and perfect control of the flow of traffic. Impervious to weather conditions, in later years he was offered a desk job, but declined, preferring the outdoors and his daily contact with the public.

Mr. Kostakis, known as ‘the man with the moustache’

Later came the tradition of gifts deposited around the barrels by an appreciative public at Christmas and Easter. This tradition was inadvertently started in 1936 by the king, King George II, who stopped his car in front of the palace to wish the traffic policeman a Happy Christmas and left a gift of wine. This was copied by the public and became a custom. People gave what they could, sometimes just sacks of potatoes and baskets of eggs.

 

Bad photo, but I couldn’t resist the live turkeys!

Along with wine there were seasonal sweets such as kourabiedes, and toys for the policeman’s kids. As the years went by and Greeks became more affluent, the gifts became more valuable. Local shops joined in and donated household goods such as mattresses, boilers, or even refrigerators! The gifts would be taken to the police station and balloted out to all.

Photo Dimitris Harisiadis (from the Benaki Museum Archives)

 

This is all history, but I remember well our own barrel, and my mother wrapping a crate of wine in red crepe paper with a big bow. Like everyone else, we’d stop the car right in the middle of the junction, and she’d get out to deposit the crate at the base of the barrel, and wish the man on duty a Happy Christmas or Easter.

 

Most hilarious, though, was that at Easter the police saw fit to turn the barrel into a giant Easter egg, from which the poor man would emerge like a newly hatched chick.

 

So sad all this has been replaced with mere traffic lights.

 

Yayoi Kusama, again

 

Spring is finally coming to New York, with an exhibition in the Botanical Garden guaranteed to cheer up the grumpiest souls.

Yayoi Kusama, I Want to Fly to the Universe (2020) at the New York Botanical Garden. Collection of the artist. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

 

Yayoi Kusama has done it again, producing a number of joyful and exhilarating works, which people will be able to enjoy amongst the daffodils and blossoming cherry trees, without having to queue up for hours, as they did to experience her Infinity rooms.

The artist’s passion for nature—nurtured in her childhood since her parents made a living from the cultivation of plant seeds—is expressed in explosive exuberance.

Yayoi Kusama, Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees (2002/2021) Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Trees wrapped in polka dots lead the public from one work to the next

Dancing Pumpkin (2020) Photo by Robert Benson Photography, courtesy of Ota Fine Arts and David Zwirner.


Her iconic pumpkin has broken out legs and is dancing.

 

Yayoi Kusama, Starry Pumpkin. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Another is blossoming in a greenhouse .

The exhibition is entitled Kusama: Cosmic Nature, and will be on until October.

I remain awestruck by this 92 year old artist who, despite her complicated familial and romantic history, and chronic mental problems—she permanently and voluntarily lives in a psychiatric hospital—still has the creativity and zest to produce such joyful works.

 

Previous posts about Kusama  here and here and here. Photos from Artnet News article by Sarah Cascone, April 8, 2021.

Celebrating Greek Independence

Today Greece celebrates 200 years of her declaration of the War of Independence, which freed the country from 4 centuries of Ottoman rule.
The Greek Revolution was waged between 1821 and 1830 by Greek revolutionaries against the Ottoman Empire. The Greeks were assisted in their efforts by Great Britain, France and Russia, while the Ottomans were aided by their North African vassals, particularly the eyalet of Egypt.

The start of the revolution. Photo: Benaki Museum



The annual national holiday of March 25th, despite being marred by coronavirus restrictions, is being touted as a new starting point after a very difficult decade. Years of painful austerity drove the country deep into poverty, making one in two young Greeks unemployed and forcing more than half a million people to leave the country to find work abroad. No sooner had the economy started to recover, than the coronavirus pandemic hit and Greece slipped back into recession. Greeks really need to herald a new, more hopeful era.

The entire world will mark the bicentennial, since the Greek Diaspora thrives in every corner of the globe. Iconic landmarks in all of those countries will be illuminated in blue and white in honor of the Greek people and their struggle for freedom 200 years ago.

 

The battle of Navarino. Photo: Wikipedia



It is sobering to think that, despite the weight of her history, modern Greece is still a young country which, having missed the Renaissance, has had to struggle to catch up with her European neighbours. At least we had the good fortune to escape being included in the communist bloc after the war, something which has cost our Balkan neighbours dearly.

Heroes of the Greek Revolution. Photo: Google


🇬🇷 Footnote: A well-known Greek actor has proposed that, in order to properly celebrate the bicentennial, Greek men should grow moustaches like the ones above.

How important is plot?

A few years ago I watched a film called Arrival. A number of mysterious spaceships appear and station themselves near major cities on earth. Then nothing happens. The usual debates start: Shall we attack before they attack us? For once the doves prevail over the hawks, at least momentarily, and the American government hires a woman expert in language and communication to try and establish some kind of contact.

I’m very interested in language and means of communication between humans, or even between humans and animals; and in this instance the aliens were, in my opinion, portrayed in a very imaginative and subtle way. So I became fascinated by the ways this woman came up with in attempting to communicate with a species which has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in common with us humans. We do not share any parameters of DNA, culture, location, experience or anything else.



Anyway, I found the film explored this subject well so, when two of my grandsons turned 11, I thought this would be an interesting film to watch all together (with something to discuss after). Well, that was not a huge success, to say the least. One of the boys kept pausing the film to criticize some technical or scientific detail they’d got all wrong, while the other kept up a running commentary on the ‘plot holes’. At the end I got mercilessly teased about the fact that I hadn’t understood half of it but it was just as well, because the whole story made no sense and if I’d tried, I’d have become even more confused. We ended up crying with laughter because yes, they were right in a way—the plot did contain holes, and a ridiculous and unnecessary subplot at the end. Moreover, when I looked up the reviews, I saw that I really hadn’t got the half of it. However, I still remember the scenes where the woman tries to find ways to connect to those aliens, and I still find them fascinating. This made the plot secondary in this instance.

At other times I can get so annoyed with the blatant disregard for continuity or even simple cause and effect, that I stop reading or watching. So, how important is plot in a story? Of course, a solid, well-constructed plot is a thing of beauty in itself. But the impact of it on the enjoyment of the story can be quite relative sometimes.
Mystery or crime writers can be so clever at unexpected twists and red herrings that they paint themselves into a corner—and you find that the brilliant page turner that kept you up all night ends in a damp squib. Or a denouement that defies all plausibility. But—you’ve still enjoyed the ride.
At other times the lack—or manner—of plot is so annoying that you’re unable to go beyond a couple of chapters or episodes. Is the difference in the quality of the writing? The characters? Your own mood? What do you think?



Also, I think that tastes have changed. Exposure to new technology means that we expect instant gratification: for example, usually we don’t even have to wait a week for the next episode of a series, we can binge on the whole thing at once. Thus people’s attention span has become shorter. We don’t feel we have the time to read reams of description. We expect short bites, hopefully ending in a cliffhanger, which keeps us turning the page, or going on to the next episode. Long, meandering novels like Middlemarch, or classical short stories such as those written by Charles Dickens or Herman Melville have given way to flash fiction and mini series.

I’d be curious to know if some of you still have the patience to read the old classics and enjoy the slower pace.

And the winner is…

While I was slightly underwhelmed by the response to my limerick challenge, some people did rise to the occasion so, true to my promise, I made some illustrations to go with their creations.

From Bruce Goodman at Weave a Web

This lady was convulsed in a rage:
There was not enough room on the page.
They asked her address,
She made a big mess,
And said, It’s not my fault I come from Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu.

(This is the name of a place in New Zealand).

 



From Tialys(Tialys)

There was an old lady of Dorset
Who struggled to put on her corset
She turned to her maid
Who was bold, not afraid,
‘Don’t worry’ she said ‘we’ll just force it.’



From Anna:

There once was a handsome young lad
Who hated the limerick fad
But he did send his own
A few words just randomly thrown 
To be told, oh so sad
That there wasn’t a prize to be had

 




Two from Eleni, who for some reason seems to be obsessed with hair!


Cat hair cat hair everywhere
‘It’s just too much’, I despair
I try to ignore it
But truly abhor it
It’s even on my underwear!




So here we all are, in quarantine
Thanks to this treacherous Covid -19
By the time this is all over
I’ll be a human pullover
Please don’t mistake me for Wolverine


From Goeff Le Pard at TanGental who couldn’t be bothered to write his own, but sent some by his father (who, by the way, has written some proper, lovely poems in his time)

(based on a sculpture of a writer in my garden)


A poet cast in concrete
Said, ‘I don’t wish to be indiscreet’
‘But it’s a bit of a sod,’
‘Stood here on my tod’
‘While your dog pees on my feet.’



(or his most tasteless)


Nose pickings’ said Mrs McGraw,
‘Have many uses, I’m sure’
‘For instance, by rolling
‘And folding and carefully molding’
‘You can make condoms, cheap, for the poor’.

(and then there is his non rhymer)

There was a young lady from Bude
Who went for a swim in the … lake
A man in a punt,
Stuck a pole in her… ear
And said, ‘You cant swim here, it’s private’.


Goeff apologises to readers who might think these a little tacky. I love the last one, but wasn’t about to make a drawing for the second one…

And one from me (continuing with my boot peeve theme)

There was a young man from Beirut
Who struggled to take off his boot
His sweetheart then said
Oh please, come to bed!
But he couldn’t untangle his foot



Heartfelt thanks to all contributors. 
All this was meant for a bit of fun, but do you think there is a winner? Up to you to decide!