Minoan Tastes

I’m still working on my next post—but, meanwhile, I thought any foodies or cooks amongst you might be interested in this post on one of my favorite blogs, Evolving Life. Sampling the food of the Minoans—some of you may have read my post on the ancient Palace of Knossos in Crete.

An Evolving Life

Recently we were invited to attend a demonstration on Minoan Cuisine – appropriately held near the Palace of Knossos on the island of Crete. Jerolyn Morrison, a trained archaeologist and one of the creators of Minoan Tastes, reenacted cooking techniques from ancient times. Minoan Tastes organises cooking events for people to (as she prints on her card) “experience the flavors of the land, sea, and sky of ancient Crete”.

The cooking pots she uses are custom made on Crete, based on pot shapes and ceramic fabric found in archaeological contexts – including the iconic tripod cook pot of the Minoans.

Before cooking, the unglazed pots are prepped by soaking in water, and charcoal is heated to the white heat stage.

The pots are then surrounded with the hot charcoal and diligently monitored, adding more coals when required to sustain the long, slow cooking process.

The food is also carefully…

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The first of May

On this day, I would like to celebrate springtime, with flowers as a symbol of peace. My wish is for an end to warmongering.
Below find the two parts of a floral diptych – it is still a work in progress, but it is my offering for May first.

 

 

Also I wanted to share the latest remake of Bob Dylan’s Masters of War – no comments added.

 

 

As we say in Greece: Καλή Πρωτομαγιά!

Yayoi Kusama and Joseph Cornell

Some of you might remember a post about Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (here for those who’ve missed it). This artist fascinates me both because of her work, which dislays a very original vision of life, and her history, about which I will say more later. I was therefore interested to come upon an article which described her relationship with another artist, Joseph Cornell, a man almost as strange as herself. Cornell, a reclusive who made the most exquisite collages and boxes, has also been an old favorite of mine, but I had no idea these two were connected in any way.

 

Kusama with Pumpkin, 2010Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/ Singapore and Victoria Miro Gallery. Source: Google

 

Yayoi Kusama was born in Tokyo in 1929, the daughter of a horrendously abusive mother who used to tear up her paintings. She suffered from hallucinations since she was a child and, although these developed into the mental illness that led to her spending her life in an asylum, drawing upon these experiences also served as a basis for her art.

Nurturing a fierce determination to move to New York, Kusama wrote to Georgia O’Keefe and, having received a reply, showed up in the city with no money and little English. In the beginning she was beset by loneliness and poverty, but eventually she became involved in an artistic community which included Georgia O’Keefe, Donald Judd, Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, and Eva Hesse. She became an advocate of free love in 1960 New York, leading nude happenings for which she was reviled as a national disgrace in her homeland.
She became renowned as painter, pop artist, cultural activist, and experimented in various mediums including sculpture, painting, collage, film, performance, happenings, fashion design, and publishing.

 

 

She gained recognition for her sexually charged public performances in Central Park protesting the Vietnam War, her large-scale infinity net paintings, psychedelic mirror room installations, and the ‘Narcissus Garden’ which was shown at the 1966 Venice Biennale.

 

Yayoi Kusama, Horse Play in Woodstock, a happening, 1967. Source:Google

 

Despite presiding over orgies, Kusama had a fear of sex, perhaps because she had suffered from her father’s philandering, and remained abstinent throughout her life. So it was that when she met Joseph Cornell, an odd-duck loner 26 years her senior, who lived with his domineering mother in Flushing, Queens, the two struck up an intense, albeit platonic relationship.

In the basement of his mother’s house, Cornell spent his days dreaming and making delicately detailed glass-covered boxes. These are small imagined worlds made up of found objects where a ping pong ball becomes the moon, or wooden animals and cutout birds are suspended over a landscape of newspaper clippings and little stamps. He often used star maps, small machine parts, pebbles and corks,  along with text from old newspapers and magazines, to create collages. Into these he channeled all his longings and dreams of romance, vanished European cities, and travel to faraway places.

 

Habitat Group for a Shooting Gallery, 1943. Photograph: Mark Gulezian
Source:Google

 

Cornell hated selling these precious objects, frequently changing galleries and dealers so that no one could gain too much control over his work. But he loved to give them away, especially to women. A deeply romantic man, he adored women but was crippled by physical reserve, accentuated by the behavior and influence of his jealous and possessive mother.

 

A Parrot for Juan Gris, 1953-54. Courtesy of Quicksilver/The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/Vaga, NY/Dacs.
Source:Google

 

Cornell became besotted by Kusama, flooding her mailbox with letters and personalized collages, and calling her on the phone constantly.

They became close, often spending time at Cornell’s mother’s home in Queens, passing the day sketching each other in the nude. Of course his mother deeply disapproved of this, and apparently once poured a bucket of water over them as they sat kissing beneath the backyard quince tree.

 

Yayoi Kusama with Joseph Cornell in New York, 1970
Courtesy Yayoi Kusama Studio, Inc. Source:Google

 

After some time Kusama took a step back, feeling the situation had got claustrophobic, but the two isolated, driven, visionary misfits remained close until his death in 1972.

 

Box by Joseph Cornell. Source:Google

 

Kusama was deeply affected by Cornell’s death. She returned to Japan, and in 1977 checked herself into the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill, where she eventually took up permanent residence. She has been living at the hospital ever since, going to work in her studio only a short distance away. Cornell’s influence did not end with his death, however, since he had given her boxes of magazine cuttings and other materials which she subsequently used to make a series of luminous collages. These feature elements of his style including surrealist cutouts, layered with her signature pattern of polka dots and infinity nets.

 

Yayoi Kusama
“Self Portrait,” 1972. Source:Google

 

As I mentioned before, Kusama was also involved in publishing a number of works; and while I’m not about to pick up a book entitled ‘Love suicide at Sakuragazuka’, I remain entranced by her unique, delightful weirdness.

 

These days Yayoi Kusama is rarely seen without her trademark red wig and dotty clothing. Source:Google

An orange sky

Any Greeks still doubtful about climate change are becoming more convinced as yet another cloud of dust from the Sahara hits Greek skies.
Athens, known for the pure blue of its Attic sky, is covered in a yellow haze, and people are going around coughing or hiding their mouths behind handkerchiefs.

 

Source:Google

 

Things have been even worse in Crete, because its proximity to Africa means the dust is denser, turning the atmosphere bright orange.

 

Source:Google

 

We have always had this phenomenon when certain climatic conditions prevailed, but it would occur only occasionally. In the last few years it is becoming more common and happens several times per year. According to scientists, it will probably continue increasing with time, as climate warming becomes more intense.

The dust cloud is not toxic, but it is extremely unpleasant and can cause breathing problems in people suffering from lung conditions such as asthma.

This is what the sky should look like at this time of year!

Almond blossom

Galaxidi – the failing of the sail

When I wrote about the wonderful community of the Estia Agios Nikolaos, (click here if you missed it) the post became too long for me to include anything about the town of Galaxidi. In fact, this picturesque little town, with its fine natural port nestled in the gulf of Korinth, has a very interesting history.

 

 

Before Greece had acquired good roads, seaways were essential to trade, and, by 1775, the Galaxidi port, under the tolerant eye of Ali Pasha, the Ottoman ruler of Ioannina, was fourth in strength in Greece, with 60 large ship of a total tonnage of 10.000 and crews numbering 1.100 souls. The fleet operated on a system whereby each member of the crew owned part of the ship or its cargo – this fostered a spirit of active entrepreneurship, but also cultivated economy, frugality and common sense. The crews’ daily diet was dry bread, olives, salt fish and a little wine, and they were known for their endurance in adversity.

 

 

The captains of Galaxidi contributed greatly to the War of Independence of 1821 and, after liberation from the Ottoman Empire, the fleet was quickly rebuilt.
After 1840, there was a rapid rise in prosperity, with the shipowners of Galaxidi founding their own insurance companies, and shipyards which built around twenty vessels a year. In the 1870s, more than 350 sailing ships crisscrossed the Mediterranean, travelled to the Black Sea and as far away as the Atlantic.

 

Yachts are moored where the sailing ships used to be.

 

Sadly, by the end of the 19th century there came a steady decline , since the shipowners of Galaxidi insisted in staying true to their sailing vessels, and refused to covert to steam. They lost their competitive edge, and the town began to dwindle, while some families moved to Pireus. The coup de grace came with the German occupation.

 

 

Why did the traditional captains of Galaxidi fail to become modern cosmopolitan shipowners, like so many other Greeks did? It’s difficult to say. Maybe it was their insistence to cling to tradition, maybe it was their sense of independence which stopped them from forging the alliances needed to secure the necessary funds for converting the fleet. Be that as it may, their houses still stand as a reminder of their past glory. Neoclassical in style, they boast wonderful painted ceilings decorated by Italian artists the captains invited back with them, along with pieces of furniture and decorative objects bought on their voyages.

 

Urban Riders

There’s a unique exhibition on at the moment at the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris: it’s called ‘Urban Riders’, and it’s the work of Franco-Algerian artist Mohamed Bourouissa.

 

 

This is Bourouissa’s first solo exhibition in a French museum, although he has caught the critics’ eye many times before. In fact Bourouissa, who was born in Blida in 1979, is considered by many to be one of the major figures of his generation.

This particular project, which revolves around his film called ‘Horse Day’, was born when he became interested in the Fletcher Street community stables – based in the disadvantaged North Philadelphia neighbourhood of Strawberry Mansion – which he discovered thanks to the images of American photographer Martha Camarillo. Founded by African-American horsemen, the stables are a place of healing and support for local children and young adults and a refuge for abandoned horses (or horses destined for slaughter). Bourouissa addresses daily life at the stables, together with the myth and history of black cowboys and the conquest of wide open spaces, without, however, taking a documentary approach.

 

 

During an eight-month residency, he worked at making contact and sharing with the local community. As a result, the film offers a powerful account of an urban utopia.

 

 

For what Bourouissa called a  ‘horse tuning’, riders teamed up with local artists to ‘customize’ their equine vehicles, lavishly outfitting them for a festive riding competition that serves as the climax to Horse Day.  Below see some excerpts of the film (if the videos appear to be on their sides, just click on them, and for some mysterious reason they will right themselves).

 

 

 

Apart from the film, the exhibition presents many different items: on-the-spot sketches, preliminary drawings, storyboard, collages, ink roughs and watercolours which fill out the project’s origins and development; portraits of riders and of costumed horses and the actual costumes used on the day, as well as sculptural installations where images from the film are printed onto sections of car bodies.

 

 

Along with the seductive combination of horses and art, I do believe in the therapeutic effect of horses on the soul. So, after the exhibition, I was inspired to look up the site of the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club, a place where local children (some from difficult backgrounds) can go to feel safe, empowered and free, even for a short while.

This is part of what’s on their page:

In the heart of downtown Philadelphia, among abandoned buildings and impoverishes neighborhoods where drugs and unemployment pervade, is a place called Fletcher Street. A block that upon first glance looks just like all the others, that is, until you see the horses and hear their hoof beats.

Horses? In the middle of the ghetto? Surprisingly, yes. They have been here for years, when the African American community thrived in Philadelphia, before drugs and unemployment steadily encompassed healthy neighborhoods and they disintegrated into urban war zones.

Despite it all, the horses have stayed, and they have because of the small, passionate, dedicated group of men determined to reclaim their neighborhood and their children. In this fight, they use the one thing that they know, love and trust, the horses.

Unsurprisingly, it hasn’t all been plain sailing for the non-profit organization. In 2008, clashes with animal-protection agencies led the city government (many say wrongly) to demolish the buildings that served as stables and a clubhouse on a patch of land called Fletcher Field. Despite this, the initiative survived thanks to the dedication of the horse enthusiasts. See it explained in the video below:

 

 

There is a similar setup of urban riding in Dublin, Ireland, I believe. There is fantastic work being done with horses and autistic kids, there is Riding for the Disabled, and there is a program for lifers working with mustangs in a prison in Nevada (and elsewhere, I think). All of this has to do with the restorative powers of nature and animals.

 

 

For any of you near Paris, the exhibition is on until April 22. Information about it here.