Sad news

Some of you might remember an older post entitled “4.1 miles”, (read it here),  about ‘The hero of the Aegean’, captain Kyriakos Papadopoulos, who risked his life nightly in Lesvos rescuing refugees arriving on the island in unseaworthy boats. I am sad to report that he has suddenly passed away of a heart attack, at the age of 44, leaving behind a wife and two children. 

A man who worked tirelessly for months on end to save thousands of lives was stuck down in the prime of life. I do not know his medical history, but I have no doubt the stress of those long nights, his despair when he failed to save everyone, the awfulness of dragging out bodies, many of whom were children, had something to do with his demise. 

 

Papadopoulos was of refugee stock himself, his family  having come from Nikomedia, Turkey, in 1922. His father was an ironmonger and he grew up in a working class neighborhood, joining the merchant marine for a few years before moving to the coastguard. Due to his work, he became the face of the Greek Coastguard, was awarded medals for his exploits, and starred in the multi-garlanded documentary 4.1 miles. However, he remained a simple man, never forgetting that lives were constantly in danger on his watch. 

Papadopoulos did not like to talk about his experiences, but others on his boat have described the unbearable scenes of saving people who were severely handicapped, having lost all their limbs to bombs, along with heavily pregnant women, and others who were very ill. 

It is so unfair and cruel that his family was robbed too soon of someone who had saved so many other lives. And worst of all, it appears his efforts were but a drop in the ocean of misery that is the refugee crisis.

 

 

Greece made the New York Times front page (October 12, 2018) with a photo entitled Epidemic of misery. It shows Afghan refugees at Camp Moria, on the island of Lesvos. I quote from the caption: ‘Trauma, psychosis and suicide attempts have become common at Moria, which has around 9,000 people living in a space designed for 3,100. There are 80 people for each shower, 70 per toilet.’

It beggars belief that our presumably civilized western society can tolerate this. Refugee camps have existed since ever, for example in Sudan, but there it was possible to turn a blind eye. This is at our feet. Most Europeans dream of a vacation in the Greek islands, and many go there each year. 

I have no doubt the Greek authorities are not managing the situation or the funds available in the best possible way. But this cannot be only the fault of the Greeks, nor can it be their sole responsibility. Everyone should be pulling together. I know individual people, from many different countries, are doing whatever they can—donating money and time, taking in people, some even upending their whole lives to go and help. I find, however, that the authorities, people in power, governments, call it what you will, have woefully mismanaged the whole issue. 

And that is just one camp. 

 

(Photos from Google).

 

Mystery in Greece: follow six Greek detectives and discover amazing holiday destinations

Here’s a post full of goodies for avid readers of mystery and crime. Enjoy!

Lina Syriopoulou

This is my favourite article from the time I wrote for the Greek News Agenda public diplomacy magazine. It combines my two big loves: travelling in Greece and crime litterature. Here, I am proposing six mystery novels that will inspire you to discover three Athenian neighborhoods and will guide you to another three breathtaking holiday destinations. The article had many unique visits but  the most wonderful part for me was that it was descovered and promoted by the authors themselves through their social media. 

Crime_in_Athens

Athens

In Kifissia with Commissioner George Békas – Dangerous Spring

Follow the “patriarch” of the Greek crime literature and descover the secrets of the Athenian high society. Yannis Maris is the author who established the crime novel genre in Greece in the ‘50s. His main character, Commissar Békas is depicted as an everyday man who nevertheless is not afraid to defy the rich and powerful in…

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Old photos

The first photo below was sent to me by my friend Anna, with the sole information that it came from the archive of Agnes Baldwin Brett. 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 American School of Classical Studies 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, Odos Ermou, 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…

 

Here, There & Everywhere IMK Post

Is anyone hungry? Here’s another of the good sides of Greece—food! Local specialities and more…

An Evolving Life

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…

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Stormy days

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.

 

The port of Rafina (source: Google )

 

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.

Dance with Carlos Acosta

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.

 

People still trickling in

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.

Awed by the abstract

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.

 

Hommage à Claude Monet

 

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.

 

Le vent pousse la mer

 

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.

 

In memory of May

 

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.

 

The temple of the Han

Exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la ville de Paris.