SIGHT: Anthony Gormley on Delos

In the centre of the Cyclades archipelago, near the famous island of Mykonos, a small, uninhabited island rises out of the turquoise sea. This is Delos, barely 5km long by 1.5km wide, treeless and bare, and so small that in the heat of summer it almost vanishes in the haze. Amazingly, it is one of the most important mythological, historical, and archaeological sites in Greece.

 

It was on this island that, according to myth, Apollo, the god of light, and his twin sister Artemis, the moon goddess, were born. And it was here that, in the 9th century BC, one of the greatest sanctuaries evolved. Later still, the Cycladic island became a commercial centre, teeming with merchants and slaves.

Because the island is frequented only by archaeologists and guards, the magnificent ruins have not had to bear the brunt of millions of visitors’ feet. This summer, this idyllic site has become the setting for an ambitious and exciting project, connecting the ancient with the contemporary. Besides the Greek authorities, the main players in this experiment are NEON, a nonprofit organization that works to bring contemporary culture closer to the public, and the British sculptor Sir Anthony Gormley.

 

 

Anthony Gormley, born in 1950, has won the Turner prize amongst many other awards, and is best know for his statue Angel of the North.

For Delos, the artist created 29 iron “bodyforms”, several cast from his own body, that are the first artworks to be installed on Delos since the outpost was inhabited more than 5,000 years ago.

 

 

 

One of these sculptures  greets visitors before they even alight from the ferries that shuttle daily from Mykonos—a lone, eerie figure, standing on a rock at the water’s edge, gazing at the horizon.

 

 

 

I hope I can manage to visit the installation sometime this summer but, since I cannot yet report on it personally, I include a small extract from the NEON catalogue:

Two more works from the same series – also looking towards the distant horizon – stand on Plakes Peak and on Mount Kynthos, and another similar work stands in the waters of the harbour. Further sculptures are integrated with archaeological sites across the island, from the Stadium to the Τheatre district and from the merchant stores to the Museum site.
Visitors to Delos are invited to connect with time, space and nature, which inevitably link to our shared future.
SIGHT is organized and commissioned by NEON and presented in collaboration with the Ephorate of Antiquities of Cyclades.’

 

 

 

Definitely worth a visit, if anyone is near the area.

Photos: Google

Greek Storm

One of the best things about living in Greece has always been its climate. Mild, sunny and dry, with a short winter and an absence of violent weather. Unfortunately, this has been gradually changing over the last few years, with more rain in the spring months, warm winds and a muggy atmosphere. Sand storms blowing in from the Sahara have also multiplied (I wrote about it in my post, An Orange Sky  – https://athensletters.com/2018/04/11/an-orange-sky/), as have summer wildfires.

 

Photo:Google

The latest manifestation of this phenomenon was a terrible storm that hit the northern province of Halkidiki a few days ago, killing six people and causing a lot of damage. At least 100 others were injured, with 23 people hospitalised. A state of emergency has been declared, with dozens of rescue workers dispatched to help.

   

A study conducted by the Crowther Lab at ETH Zurich university, anticipates that by 2050 global temperatures will have risen by 2C from pre-industrial levels. Under these conditions, three quarters of the world’s 500 largest cities will experience dramatic changes in climate (a lot of large cities are near water, who’s level keeps rising.) The worst hit, among them Singapore and Jakarta, will develop weather patterns so extreme that they don’t currently exist anywhere on earth.

Weather patterns have always been cyclical, and are not only affected by the  antics of mankind. However, this is getting rather scary…

GREECE GOES TO THE POLLS

Greeks have voted for the change in government that had been widely anticipated before the elections. A lot of the people who had voted for Alexis Tsipras, hoping he would get the country out of the mess previous governments had brought it to, turned their backs on him to punish him for broken promises.

 

The Greek Parliament (Photo:Kathimerini)
Tsipras’s detractors refer to him by the unflattering nickname ‘kolotoumbas’, which means backtracker. This started with the 2015 referendum, when he led the vote to leave Europe, having convinced  Greeks to reject another international bailout and the onerous austerity that came with it — then acquiesced and fell into line  with the demands of the Troika. (Thus Grexit never happened—reminds you of something?)
Twitter feeds have been going wild with lists of his broken promises. Along with the chronic financial grievances, mainly from Greece’s shrinking middle class, Tsipras’s government has also been criticized for mismanaging the response to a devastating fire near Athens last summer that killed 102 people, and for brokering a widely unpopular deal to resolve a never-ending dispute over the name of neighbouring North Macedonia. Also, he never came through with a pledge to allow Greeks living abroad to vote.
However, he cannot be held responsible for all the woes that have befallen the country, many of which were the fault of previous administrations.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis (Photo:Google)
The centre-right New Democracy party, led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Harvard-educated, 51-year-old scion of one the most powerful political families in Greece, has won nearly 40% of the vote, guaranteeing him a comfortable majority. Mitsotakis has been painting a bright(er) picture of the future, promising growth-oriented policies, including lower taxes to encourage investment. However, it remains to be seen how feasible these are, because fiscal restrains still remain.
Let’s hope at least some of these plans will come to pass.

The Greek Freak wins again

For those of you who read my post, From Sepolia to the NBA (here), the Greek basketball player Giannis Antetokounmpo has won NBA Most Valuable Player of 2019. Someone whose parents were Nigerian immigrants and who, as a child, helped his family out by hawking stuff on street corners, has gone from strength to strength through talent, willpower and hard work. At the age of 24, he helped his team, the Milwaukee Bucks, win 60 games this season. He is the second Bucks player, after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to win this supreme accolade, and only the third non-American to do so. Watch his emotional acceptance speech below.

 

 

 

Giannis is hugely popular in Greece, where fans stay up at night to watch his matches from across the world. He is proudly referred to as Greek in the press, and has represented his country on several occasions. He is constantly lauding Greece and saying how grateful he is for the chances he got, although he did not get official papers until he was 18. It makes you wonder, what would have become of him, if he’d been stuck in one of those infamous refugee camps…

Athens Open Air Film Festival

When we were kids, we couldn’t wait for summer to come so we could frequent the local θερινό, or open air cinema. We were allowed to go on our bikes, we bought paper cones of passatembos (pumpkin seeds) to munch on, and watched old movies—faded Louis de Funés  comedies, old Greek films in black and white—while sitting on rickety canvas chairs, surrounded by jasmin and bougainvillea. If our parents came along, we could hope for ice cream or a late dinner of souvlakia (kebabs) at the neighborhood taverna.

Nowadays, this summer outing is as popular as ever, but with added levels of comfort. Better chairs, little tables where you can set your drink, a proper canteen dispensing cold beer and soft drinks, popcorn, nachos, hot dogs and the like. And all the latest films.

 

AOAFF20 Romaiki Agora / Thalia Galanopoulou

 

Not many countries have open air cinemas, either because the weather cannot be relied upon, or because it doesn’t get dark until too late. In Greece, there’s one in most neighborhoods (islands included) with an affordable ticket price. As an activity for a warm summer’s night, it doesn’t get much better than this.

For the past nine years, Athens has gone one better, and organizes an Open Air Film Festival, that aims to link the discovery of films with that of different, possibly unknown, corners of the city. Big screens are erected in well known locations as well as unexpected places in the urban landscape, such as archaeological sites, squares, parks and pedestrian areas. The list of films includes timeless classics, indies and blockbusters, but there will also be concerts, short film premieres and other events.

 

 

The festival is aimed at both locals and tourists, and the events are free of charge. This year it started on June 5th with a screening of Fellini’s AMARCORD at the Roman Agora, and will end on August 28 with Terry Gillian’s BRAZIL at the Kolonos Theatre. For those of you in Greece, the program can easily be found online. Enjoy!

 

New elections in store

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras suffered a severe defeat in the European Parliament elections last Sunday, his party Syriza trailing the opposition New Democracy party by about ten points.

Syriza stormed the Greek political scene on an anti-austerity platform six years ago, then suffered a backlash after imposing cut-backs as part of a third bailout in 2015. This month the government introduced more than one billion worth of handouts in the form of tax cuts and pension payouts, unwinding some of the austerity measures—but it proved to be too late in the day, although the handouts may have averted an even steeper defeat.
Let us not forget that Greece lost a quarter of its economic output during an eight-year depression, which economists record as the worst contraction of any developed economy since World War II. Unemployment peaked at 28 percent in 2013 and remains at 19 percent.

 

Prime minister Alexis Tsipras

Voters punished the ruling Syriza party for broken promises but also for a deeply unpopular agreement signed by Tsipras to resolve a long-running name dispute with North Macedonia.

Tsipras has now announced a snap election, to take place in the coming month or so. The government’s current term was due to expire in October.

The high score of 33.2 percent of the vote won by the opposition party New Democracy suggests it might manage to energise a greater voter base in the coming month. It would need about 40 percent to rule outright, without a coalition partner.

New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis has promised a restart of the economy. He says he will lower tax on businesses from 29 percent to 20 percent in two years and lower income tax on farmers from 22 percent to 10 percent.
He also says he will seek to create 700,000 new jobs in five years and has pledged to bring home at least half a million of the 860,000 skilled workers who, according to the Hellenic Statistical Service, have left the country since 2009.

 

New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis

 

Of course, such promises are founded on the assumption that the economy will achieve an annual growth rate of around four percent per year, a goal which might not be so easy to achieve. The economic plan mostly hinges on a key promise to negotiate a new deal with Greece’s creditors, which would allow the government to spend less on repaying external debt and keep more money in the economy for reinvestment.

In his talks, Mitsotakis sounds optimistic if not bullish—but we’ve heard it all before. We just have to keep our fingers crossed.

A Greek filmmaker wins at Cannes

At the Cannes Festival on Saturday, Greek filmmaker Vasilis Kekatos won the Palme d’Or for the best short film with “The Distance Between Heaven and Us.”
He is the first Greek director to ever win a Palme d’Or in this category.
The film was selected out of a short list of 11, from 4.240 worldwide submissions for the coveted prize. It is about two strangers meeting late at night in a deserted gas station on the old Greek National Road. One has stopped to fill up his motorbike, while the other is stranded there, lacking the 22.50 euros he needs to get home. A sum that equals the distance separating them from the sky.

 

 

Born on the island of Kefalonia in 1991, Vasilis Kekatos is a graduate student of the film department of Brunel University’s School of Arts, in London.
In 2016, he won Sundance Ignite “What’s Next?” Short Film Challenge and received a mentorship from Sundance Institute, with his short “Zero Star Hotel.”
In 2017, he participated in Euro Connection in Clermont-Ferrand ISFF, as well as in Nisi Masa ESP, with the script of his short, “The Silence of the Dying Fish.”
“The Distance Between Heaven and Us” had its world premiere at the Locarno Film Festival 2018. It has also been selected in other international film festivals, such as ZINEBI and Aix-En-Provence, and has won several awards.

 

 

Kekatos got his inspiration for the film on a road trip he took in America, when he went to attend the Sundance Festival. The endless highways, the gas stations in the middle of nowhere, made an ‘almost metaphysical’ impression upon him. Looking to the future, he feels he’s ready to tackle full length films now, although he’s still only 28. The Palme D’or has given him the confidence to do so. You can watch a trailer here