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…
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 preservedbecause 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Spring is finally coming to New York, with an exhibition in the Botanical Garden guaranteed to cheer up the grumpiest souls.
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.
Trees wrapped in polka dots lead the public from one work to the next
Her iconic pumpkin has broken out legs and is dancing.
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.
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 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.
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.
🇬🇷 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.
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.
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).
The limerick packs laughs anatomical Into space that is quite economical. But the good ones I’ve seen So seldom are clean And the clean ones so seldom are comical.
But limericks were not always bawdy. In fact the form was made popular in the 19th century by Edward Lear, a great believer in pure silliness. In 1846 he published ABook of Nonsense, which went through three editions and made limericks so popular that many people started using them to amuse, scandalise or satirise.
We used to have the Lear books and other collections of limericks, and as a child I read them so many times that I still remember my favorites. Here are some of them, interspersed with illustrations from the Lear books:
There was an old man from Blackeath Who sat on his set of false teeth Said he with a start, Oh lord, bless my heart I’ve bitten myself underneath!!
I sat next to the duchess at tea Distressed as a person could be Her rumblings abdominal We’re simply phenomenal And everyone thought it was me!
A feisty young girl from St. Paul Wore a newspaper dress to a ball The dress caught on fire And burnt her entire Front page, sporting section and all.
The wonderful artist Edward Gorey also liked witty and sometimes unsettling verse, and joined the party with gusto:
He illustrated the verse with his detailed ink drawings
British wordplay and recreational mathematics expert Leigh Mercer (1893–1977) even devised the following mathematical limerick:
This is read as follows:
A dozen, a gross, and a score Plus three times the square root of four Divided by seven Plus five times eleven Is nine squared and not a bit more
Quite clever, don’t you think?
Not to be outdone, I’ve produced a few limericks of my own over the years, some of which you might have seen, since I made illustrations to go with them for Inktober 2019. (Posted Here )
And so, dear readers, hoping I have sufficiently inspired you by now, I would like to urge you to send me your own efforts. We’re not talking about a competition here, just a fun thing to do. No prizes to be had, but if I get enough, I will do a post on them and make a few illustrations, too! So come on, people, put your humorous thinking caps on!
While people who live in northern countries are getting heartily sick of snowy conditions, in Athens deep snow is so rare and lasts so little that it’s a cause for celebration. Schools stay shut since anyway many of the roads are closed, and everyone just makes the most of it.
A friend who is fortunate enough to live downtown, close to the Acropolis and the ruins of the Parthenon sent me these wonderful photos.
The entrance to the Odeon of Herodotus Atticus
Did the Ancient Greeks make snowmen? It’s very probable.
The Tower of the Winds was built around 100 – 50 BC by Andronicus of Cyrrhus for measuring time.
At the foot of the rock
Flying the flag on the walls
Lemon sorbet: this one was taken by my sister in her garden
All other photos by Eugenia Kokkala-Mela, owner of the wonderful HEROES shop at the foot of the Acropolis.
And the best of it? Tomorrow there will probably be brilliant sunshine, and all traces of slush will vanish.