The first photo below was sent to me by my friend Anna, with the sole information that it came from the archive of AgnesBaldwinBrett. Elegant ladies walk in the snow between neo-classical houses under mount Lycabettus, in what today is Kolonaki Square, the chic quarter of Athens.
Looking up Agnes Baldwin Brett (1876 – 1955), I found out that she was an American numismatist and archaeologist who grew up in Newark, New Jersey. She attended Barnard College and Columbia University, and from 1900 she spent two years as a Fellow at the AmericanSchoolofClassicalStudies at Athens. While in Athens, Brett worked on the coin finds from the excavation at Corinth and also took a number of photographs. The one below is entitled ‘Delphi’, but I was unable to find out why there are camels there! I thought it was very amusing.
Finally, here’s a photo of what used to be called ‘The Great Road,’ which became the main retail high street in Athens, OdosErmou, named after Hermes, the god of trade. It was one of the basic axes of the first urban plan of the city, designed by architects Kleanthis and Schubert in 1833.
And a later view, circa 1920 (unknown photographer). It has been paved, but as you can see it’s somewhat narrower, slices on each side having been appropriated by the owners of the buildings…
I was away from my kitchen for the first part of the month. We were on holiday in Epirus, northern Greece, in the Pindos mountains, an area known as Zagoria. Just to remind us where we were, painted folk art on a plastiri (πλαστήρι), a traditional round board for rolling out thin sheets of homemade phyllo, spells it out. Not only was it pretty, it was symbolic of one of the notable culinary elements of Zagori food – the pita or pie, often made with homemade phyllo. I have two recipes for pies from this region to share when I get the chance – blatsaria (μπλατσαριά) and tembelopita (τεμπελόπιτα) – although neither of these uses phyllo.
We were staying in the central Zagori village of Vitsa with its mountain views and stone roofs.
Rhythms of life in the mountain villages begin with the morning bread delivery in the van. After…
The Carlos Acosta interlude proved to be short. We were lucky the performance was not cancelled, since the next day Xenophon, our local cyclone, struck in earnest, with gale-force winds and intermittent showers. Schools were shut for a day, and the fire brigade has been busy cutting branches that threatened to crush all beneath them. Plus Xenophon is now scheduled to meet with a buddy, Zorba, and they will no doubt be dancing a syrtaki in the skies.
Meanwhile, in a report published in the daily KATHIMERINI, it appears that the Greek state is holding back tax returns of 1.83 billion euros which it owes to taxpayers and businesses. This tactic is aggravating the cash flow problems in the market and in households. To add insult to injury, taxpayers are not allowed to offset what they are owed with what they owe, but are still required to pay their own taxes on time or incur hefty fines. The law requires the state to return sums owed together with interest if the delay is over 90 days but, according to accounting firms, this has in fact never happened.
By the end of this year, Greeks will have been working for the government for a total of 198 days. Greek taxation is equal to that of Germans, but higher than in Sweden or Finland. However, Greeks feel they are getting a lot less bang for their buck, as the saying goes. At least, in the aforementioned countries, the roads are not full of potholes, nor are the pavement slabs cracked, and the streets often strewn with rubbish. Greek pensions are tiny and threatened by further cuts, and hospitals and schools in dire need of improvement.
In contrast to the depressing news from Athens I have been reporting lately, a magical evening awaited us at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, where the star dancer Carlos Acosta and his company performed for one night only.
At the entrance to the ancient theatre a huge full moon greeted us—during the performance we could see it rising slowly above the stone walls.
Despite a brisk breeze which meant people were wearing jackets (the side effects of a weather front aptly named “Xenophon”), the stands were packed with an enthusiastic audience.
The performance itself exceeded all expectations. The music was a mixture of contemporary, flamenco, and tribal African, and the repertory included works by the Belgium-based Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Cuban choreographer Marianela Boán and company member Raúl Reinoso. The last piece was accompanied by a medley of old Rolling Stones favorites, such as Little Red Rooster, Lady Jane and Play With Fire.
The 25-member Danza Acosta company is made up of a racially diverse group of young people who combine grace with unbounded energy and exude joie de vivre. They are agile, well-trained young Cubans, many of whom gave up good positions in prominent dance troupes to follow the call of a national hero. Acosta is undoubtedly the star of the show, but he didn’t hog the limelight. Everyone got their chance to shine.
Acosta was born in a very poor neighborhood of Havana, Cuba, on June 2, 1973. He was the 11th and last child in his family, and grew up occasionally shoeless, with no toys. He was over-energetic and his father, a truck driver, was worried he’d end up on the street, so he made him audition for the national ballet school, which was state-funded and also provided students with a free lunch. From there he rose to the top, finally joining the Royal Ballet in Britain, where he became an international star. He stayed 17 years, and retired at 43, to form his own company—back in his beloved country, which he’d left but never forgotten.
We felt privileged to be there on such a beautiful evening, which was a rare reminder of the benefits of living in Greece.
Parts of the proceeds of the show will be donated to the organisation Coeurs pour Tous Hellas (Hearts for All), set up in 2015 for Greek children with congenital heart disease, which has so far supported 106 children with the disease.
When artist Zao Wou-Ki left China to come to Paris in 1948, his whole family gathered on the quay in Shanghai to bid him farewell. They were dressed in western clothes, the men in coats and felt hats, the women with Lauren Bacall hairstyles, flat shoes and leather gloves. His wife Lalan was coming with him, but they left behind their son with his grandparents, because they were only planning to stay for two years. By the time he came back to visit his mother, it was 1972 and his beloved father had died four years earlier.
Zao Wou-Ki had to wait two years to get his passport and visa, and months to get a passage—boats to Europe were rare. He disembarked in Marseilles after thirty six days of a voyage that filled him with boredom. But he was determined—he felt he had to get away from China or he would die.
Zao had been obsessed with painting since childhood, a pursuit encouraged by his father, a banker. At fourteen, he left home to study at the school of fine art in Hang-Cheou, 300km from home. But he felt stifled by Chinese art, which he thought mired in convention and rules. He wanted to free himself and his creativity. So he ended up in Montparnasse, where he remained. He did, however, travel extensively to New York and Hong Kong.
In Paris, Zao was influenced by major artists of his time, such as Paul Klee, Picasso, Matisse and Cezanne, and developed close relationships with Jean-Paul Riopelle, Alberto Giacometti, Joan Miró, Joan Mitchell and Sam Francis, among many others. But he was also inspired by poetry and music. Two of his best friends were poet Henri Michaud and composer Edgar Varèse. His work became increasingly freer, and he produced his marvelous glowing large works.
It is difficult to reproduce the depth, subtlety of color, and brilliance of these paintings in photographs, especially ones taken on a phone. But this is art to soothe and elevate the soul.
Across his career, Zao sought to create works that captured ‘the presence of nature’. He had rejected the classical conventions of Chinese calligraphy and landscape painting, but, by 1971, he returned to the brush-and-ink technique in which he was trained in China, with work that reflected its sources in Chinese traditions. Zao explained in a 1962 interview with the French magazine Preuves, ‘Although the influence of Paris is undeniable in all my training as an artist, I also wish to say that I have gradually rediscovered China.’ He added, ‘Paradoxically, perhaps, it is to Paris that I owe this return to my deepest origins.’
Zao was a member of the Académie des beaux-arts, and was considered to have been one of the most successful Chinese painters during his lifetime. He died in 2013.
Exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la ville de Paris.
Greek children are brought up on mythology—the shenanigans of the gods on Mount Olympus, the battles of the Trojan war, the travels and adventures in the Odyssey. However, although I knew how the story ends, I really enjoyed this backstage view of the Iliad by Pat Barker.
The tale is told from the point of view of Briseis, a princess who becomes a slave, awarded to Achilles as his prize after he sacks her city, slaughtering her father and brothers. She ends up in the camp of the Greeks besieging Troy, together with many other women. This is their voice, their side of things.
Pat Barker is a master of writing about war, as evidenced in her Regeneration Trilogy—the reek, the noise, the far-flung effects on everyone involved, however remotely. Here we are placed firmly in the camp—we see the cooking fires, smell smoke and roasting meat, unwashed bodies. We are inside the weaving huts, where the women are shut up and made to work all day, or the hospital hut, where bloodied and maimed men are brought in after the battle.
The women’s situation is horrifying, and their treatment at the hands of the men is appalling, yet Barker manages not to veer into one-sidedness. The men are not one-dimensional brutes, but have a human side, and some passages are from their point of view as well, since they are the ones fighting the war.
The pace is kept up throughout, so that I found the book unputdownable. For anyone interested in the lives of the Ancient Greeks, give it a try.
I think these are marvelous! It’s fantastic when artists use their imagination to overcome shortcomings such as lack of funds or other materials. This type of recycling is done a lot by African artists such as El Anatsui, about whom more to come.
IN THE age of the Greek crisis, some artists look further towards alternative methods of creativity and materials. Most traditional art materials are expensive, but there are also options that are free, and everywhere: arte povera was a movement that pioneered this approach in a conceptual manner, back in the Sixties and Seventies. Today, Lefki Christidou has found some contemporary ‘poor materials’ of her choice, using them in a more decorative style, especially the Coca-Cola tin, which adds a slightly more pop aesthetic to her work.It’s also in line with how artists today combine the art process with recycling. She manages to transform this everyday object into flowers, cats, people, landscapes and more, at Athens’s Gallery 7, in an exhibition entitled ‘Debt relief programme – developments’. Opens on September 25 (runs till October 13).