The Sponge Divers of Greece

I read this article on The Alk3R Post, a cool blog which always posts interesting things. These sponge divers were a particular breed of men, very brave, and very famous in Greece. I have some of these sponges – in the sea they look black, and have to be treated and bleached to reach their final form.

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Most sponge that we use today are synthetic, but in the old days sponge was collected from the sea bed. Some of the finest-quality sea sponge, a jelly-like marine creature with a body full of pores, can be found in the warm waters of southeastern Mediterranean.

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It’s not always sunny in Greece

The Greek daily paper Kathimerini posted this video today, about life in one of the refugee camps in Greece, where are large number of people are stuck indefinitely, with no idea of what will happen to them.

 

 

In another article, I read that in Syria the army has started to conscript civilians.

Relatives of detainees claim that Syrian forces are arresting and forcibly conscripting civilians fleeing opposition-held areas of east Aleppo. Dozens of military-aged teachers, medics and aid workers are reported to have been rounded up and spirited away, as regime troops push further into the city.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group,  more than 300 people have gone missing from east Aleppo since the regime began its blistering ground offensive late last month. They believe the army has been looking to bolster its dwindling numbers, having suffered a huge loss of manpower during the bloody five-year-conflict.

It is difficult to know what conclusions to draw from all this, but no wonder people are putting their lives in the hands of traffickers…

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This is an emotive and well-written piece by Nada Elfeituri from Benghazi, Libya. It is an eye-opening account of what many people are having to face in our world today. I will make no other comment.

Brave New Libya

This is how I remember it: There were missiles coming down, and it was pitch black. It wasn’t the missiles that scared us, we were used to them. It was the darkness, mostly, not being able to see what happened if something did hit the house. It was also the emptiness, knowing that most of the neighbours had already left, that there would be no one to call out for help. The morbid anticipation of what could happen was one of the worst parts of the war.

We packed in the dark, consoling our fears with the plan that we’d leave at sun-up, that we couldn’t stay anymore. We had no idea where we would go and we didn’t care. We just had to go.

One thing I vividly remember is that we didn’t lock the doors of the rooms. My dad said, “If we lock them, they’ll break the doors down to…

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Not much to be thankful for?

In Greece we do not celebrate Thanksgiving, but we’re still aware of it through foreign relations and friends. Many have been asking me if things are getting better, since Greece seems to be a lot less in the international news lately. Unfortunately, I have to report that the answer is no.

We cannot be thankful that we are saddled with an inexperienced and inefficient government. And we cannot be thankful for our ‘lenders’, whose handling of things has been a disaster. Negotiations have been going on over the summer regarding The Debt. Result: more and more taxes are to be imposed. To my mind, this only makes sense if the aim of the exercise is to make sure Greece sinks. I’m sure a lot of people would be interested in buying national and private assets dirt cheap, something which has already been going on. Airports and ports, anyone? A house on a lovely island? The list goes on.

We can't turn back now! (after all this effort...)
We can’t turn back now! (after all this effort…)

 

Various eminent economists from different countries have been at pains to explain what needs to be done for Greece to regenerate its economy, but their words are falling on deaf ears. It would seem self-evident: if you want to help the country out of this crisis, give incentives to investment, help small businesses, start new projects. Curb corruption and cut the public sector.  Maybe this sounds simplistic as a theory, but what is happening now is a dead end. The government, coerced by the lenders to produce more money is basically robbing people who have no more to give. I say robbing, because those who are owed money by the government are lucky if they see half of it, after great delay. And yet they are fined if they don’t pay the whole of their taxes on time. More and more are being forced into the black economy (on the advice of their accountants, no less), paying with cash or even using barter (You fix my plumbing and I’ll fix your back…)

At the same time, the country has been obliged to face a terrible humanitarian crisis, which is being mismanaged to an appalling extent.  People are herded like cattle into inadequate facilities, where, due to despair, loss of hope and lack of employment they are turning against each other. Fires are set, people are injured. These violent incidents will only result in turning opinion against them.  I’m not saying that all refugees, or migrants, call them what you will, are the same. But I have taken the trouble to read some stories of these people’s journeys and misfortunes, of the situations they have been forced to flee, and I am horrified by what is happening.

As a nation, we still have a lot to be thankful for. Our climate, our beautiful countryside, our heritage, and most of all, our people who, as a whole, are managing to deal with their misfortunes and remain optimistic. But it will take more than optimism to get the country out of the mess it’s in.

 

 

 

The Ancient Greeks and the Terracotta Army

One of the things on my bucket list is going to see the Terracotta Army, 8,000 extraordinarily life-like terracotta figures found buried close to the massive tomb of China’s First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, who unified the country in 221BC. I’ve always loved Chinese art, especially the scrolls, ink landscapes and clay sculptures of people, horses and other animals.
But an army of life sized soldiers, all buried upright, must be a fascinating sight indeed.

The Terracotta Army is a form of funerary art buried with the First Emperor, whose purpose was to protect him in his afterlife. An extraordinary feat of mass-production, each figure was given an individual personality although they were not intended to be portraits.
The figures vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals.
Current estimates are that there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried.
Since 1998, figures of terracotta acrobats, bureaucrats, musicians and bronze birds have also  been discovered on site.
They were designed to entertain the Emperor in his afterlife and they are of crucial importance to our understanding of his attempts to control the world even in death.

 

Getty images
Getty images

 

Then my interest in all this was piqued by a recent spate of articles in the papers. According to new research, Ancient Greeks artists could have travelled to China 1,500 years before Marco Polo’s historic trip to the east and helped design the Terracotta Army.

This startling claim is based on two key pieces of evidence:  First, European DNA discovered at sites in China’s Xinjiang province from the time of the First Emperor in the Third Century BC. Second, the sudden appearance of life-sized statues; before this time, depictions of humans in China were figurines of up to about 20cm.

The theory – outlined in a documentary, The Greatest Tomb on Earth: Secrets of Ancient China, which was shown on the BBC Two channel in the U.K. – is that Shi Huang and Chinese artists may have been influenced by the arrival of Greek statues in central Asia in the century following Alexander the Great, who led an army into India. But the researchers also speculated that Greek artists could have been present when the soldiers of the Terracotta Army were made.

Another piece of evidence of a connection to Greece has come from a number of exquisite bronze figurines of birds excavated from the tomb site. These were made with a lost wax technique known in Ancient Greece and Egypt.

I am now keener than ever to visit the site and, meanwhile, to watch the documentary, if I can get a hold of it. Any ideas?

Meanwhile, I will include a charming short animated video on the subject.

A general malaise

The US election result left a lot of people in shock. I will not attempt to comment on the subject, since I do not consider myself knowledgeable enough. After all, I have never lived in America, so what do I know?

Taking a step back, however, I can discern a depressing trend in what we consider as ‘the western world’. The Brexit affair; the whole Greek catastrophe; the information that today the French president, François Hollande, holds the unenviable record of the lowest approval rating ever (4%); the wish of both Scotland and Catalonia to secede from their countries… I’m sure there are many other examples. Also the fact that the polls are increasingly getting it wrong – their predictions are off. What does this tell us? That people are dissatisfied, resentful, uneasy. This makes them vote in unpredictable ways – against, rather than for, something. But why? The reasons I can perceive are the following:

  • Financial anxiety – the middle classes are seeing the steady erosion of the comforts they worked hard for, which they had started taking for granted, and which are now being taken away from them. The distribution of wealth is also becoming increasingly unfair.
  • The failure of globalisation and open border policies. This feeds into the fears mentioned above.
  • The disappointing performance of coalitions such as the EU, which failed spectacularly to address all the major issues facing it.
  • The role of the social media, which rewards extreme behaviors and disdains political correctness, or even good manners.
  • The failure of the ‘democratic’ political system. The inherent corruption, nepotism, lobbying etc, combined with the reluctance to expose oneself and one’s family to the viciousness and intrusion of the press and social media, is driving away a lot of capable, intelligent people who could make great leaders. I wonder how many amongst us would encourage their children to go into politics today?

People are angry – they feel the carpet is being pulled from under their feet, that the choice given them at voting time is untenable. The prevailing zeitgeist is one of depression and fear, and loss of optimism and hope for the future. So they vote for change, any change, even risky – and to express their desire to kick the established order in the butt.

And the worst of it is, there is no real reason for having arrived at this impasse. Humanity has never had it so good: health, life expectancy, infant mortality, accessibility of consumer goods and travel and education, leisure time – compared to previous generations, we are blessed.
So, did we get greedy? Complacent? Did we put our trust in people who were way below expectation? Did we allow people with the wrong ethics to manipulate the system and take over?

Whatever it is, it smells like the end of an era. Something new must be built, but I don’t see it happening under the present leadership in most western countries. Meanwhile, we are witnessing the rise of more extreme, fanatical groups.

So as not to finish on a depressing note, I will include a bit of British humor, by Matt, one of my favorite cartoonists (he does a daily cartoon for the Daily Telegraph.)

 

img_4120I can imagine the same little alien landing on America, and telling a bemused local: ‘Do NOT take me to your leader!’ (I’m quite pleased with this – perhaps I should contact Matt and suggest he draws it!)

 

 

 

Fall colors

We don’t celebrate Halloween in Greece – apart from some themed kiddy parties – but how could I resist painting these awesome pumpkins?

 

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I love fall colors, all those burnished oranges and reds.

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How could you ever hope to reproduce those brilliant colors in paint?
How could you ever hope to reproduce those brilliant colors in paint?

In strong light the colors are almost fluorescent. Or almost fake!

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And an irrelevant photo. But I do love ducks!

 

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And a swan.

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As for Halloween, the commercial aspect is hard to avoid. I even chanced upon a Simpsons spoof version of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven on television.

‘…and the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain…’

Was a spookier verse ever written?

Photos by Peter (follow him on Instagram @Alma_Peter)