On Mondays I attend an art workshop, where, appart from the creativity, there is good conversation to be had, in a congenial atmosphere. Art is soothing, it distracts from the harsher realities of life (i.e. the news).
Lately we have been doing pencil drawing, which is interesting since it obliges you to look closely at the subject, whether live, or taken from a photo or a painting—and notice multiple intriguing details of light, volume and texture.
We started with studies of hands, from Renaissance paintings. It is amazing what beautiful hands these men had—I prefer men’s hands to women’s, because they have more character. Women’s hands in paintings of this era are softer and more bland, I suppose to denote their owners had no need to do manual work.
The study below is from a photo of a 17th century sculpture by Bernini, The rape of Proserpina, which depicts the abduction of Proserpina by the god Pluto . I can never get my mind around the way these sculptors managed, out of a block of marble, to produce something so closely resembling human flesh. Again, his hands are beautiful, at odds with the violence of the scene (he was dragging her to the underworld).
The photo below is different from the one I used, which was black and white and taken from another angle, but it shows the likeness of stone to flesh even better.
We progressed to a human figure, and I chose the Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta, who I’ve had the privilege to watch live, in the magical setting of the ancient Herodotus Atticus theater in Athens,under a rising moon (here). He really could defy gravity, like Nureyev and Baryshnikov.
Then a still life, trying to reproduce volume as well as shape.
Now we are onto portraits, and my first is of the pre-Raphaelite artist Marie Spartali Stillman. She was the daughter of a wealthy Greek merchant who was the Greek Consul-General in London. Her mother was also Greek and she was early on introduced to an artistic milieu. She studied with Ford Maddox Brown but, due to her beauty, also sat for many famous artists, including her mentor and Dante Gabriel Rosetti. She produced an oeuvre of 150 works.
Next on my list are the writer Margaret Atwood and the actor Tilda Swinton. Both have, in my opinion, very interesting faces, which defy mere beauty. Stay tuned.
The papers these days make for grim reading. The war in Ukraine is raging, with scenes familiar to us from WWII films. Rubble everywhere, dead bodies, crowds of civilians trying to flee. Endless talk of sanctions, strategies, freezing of assets…
Beyond all this, there already are huge collateral damages. Family left behind: the grandparents who are unwilling, or unable, to travel—and in such conditions. Do you stay, or prioritise your children? Animals left behind: we keep seeing people clutching a dog or a cat, but what do you do with a large dog, who does not fit in the car with four adults and their suitcases? Turn him out in the street? What do you do if you have horses? Or goats and cows?
Large European companies with offices in Moscow were warned by their governments to close them within days. Some had hundreds of employees, who have been fired at a moment’s notice. Even the oligarchs’ super-yatchs that were seized had crews, who will now perhaps not be paid. And there is a long supply chain of businesses who will take a hit.
I even read an article of people who were finally picking up a child they had adopted, only to be stranded in a war zone.
European countries are proudly talking about increasing their defence budget. So more of our taxes will go to guns and missiles instead of food and housing for the poor, or improving the roads…
And another kind of collateral damage: the refugees from non-european countries have now found themselves at the back of the queue again. Someone else has stolen the limelight, dim as it was in the first place.
I haven’t written a post in a while, because all I had to write about was the marvelous art exhibitions I’ve seen, and I didn’t want to have an overload of those (in case you all started rolling your eyes!)
And now, everything is overshadowed by the situation in the Ukraine. It beggars belief that this is happening so close to us. Children in schools are talking of a third world war.
However, one must not forget that this is one more war in a series of wars. Syria or Afghanistan might seem further to us, but people are people, all over the world. When my Afghan student said to me, ‘I can’t concentrate today, because the Taliban are in my village and there’s fighting in the streets,’ he was no different than any of us would be in the same situation. A few days later his mum, dad and two little brothers moved to safety in Kabul—then Kabul fell. I still live in dread of bad news every time I talk to him.
The Bosnian wars, if anyone remembers them, only ended in 1995.At the time I knew various people in Greece, both Serbs and Croats, whose relatives at home were watching bridges being bombed from their kitchen windows. Who knows how many friends and relatives they lost.
What is it about men and guns? And why is always some megalomaniac allowed to rule?
This is already resulting in more population movement, more refugees, more children who suffer.
Meanwhile, I was shocked by photos of people being denied access to trains going to Poland because—unbelievable—they are black. Are we still in the 21st century?
There is some consolation to be found in poetry:
“What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust. ”
Well, this has certainly been a strange year. Life goes on, but in a rather surreal way. Are we getting used to going around in masks? Personally, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it—not to be able to see people’s expression is just weird. Are we getting to the end of this? It doesn’t look like it at the moment. Are we learning to live with it? In a way, we are. And we must.
But it’s not just the pandemic. Wars are either going on or are threatening to start in many places. Catastrophes brought on by climate change are causing untold damage and unprecedented population movements. Humanitarian crises are happening all around us, and governments are becoming increasingly tough in their handling of them.
But this is still a beautiful world, and this year I’ve witnessed many wonderful acts of kindness. All things considered, I felt very thankful to be able to spend the holidays with my family around me. There was a lot of cooking, art workshops, board games and beach walks. And the inevitable screen time, obviously.
When I looked through this year’s work, I realised I’ve drawn a lot of birds lately. Birds=flight? But they are mostly birds of prey. I wonder what that means.
To conclude, let me wish everyone a very Happy New Year, and may all your troubles last only as long as your New Year resolutions!
I am aware I have been less than prolific with my posts lately. I have been kept very busy with various mundane things such as work and holiday preparations and other, less mundane, such as seeing friends before everything is locked down again. I attended a very cozy and festive lunch with old school friends; and a party for refugees organised by the NGO METAdrasi which was the most fun I’ve had for a while. People were so happy to be there and spend a few hours just enjoying themselves. There was so much talent on offer—young people singing, playing the guitar and violin, kids singing carols and thanking their teachers for their Greek lessons, and a play.
What strange times we live in—I still cannot get used to seeing half of everyone’s face covered with a mask. It has lasted so long, and it’s not over yet. I am just thankful to be able to be with my family for the festivities—let alone for something most of us take for granted, having a roof over my head! Looking forward to plenty of cooking, family art workshops, card games and walks with the dogs.
I wish all of you, my bloggy friends, a lovely time over the holidays, health, happiness and hopes of a better year ahead!
Since our school didn’t possess the necessary facilities, our annual sports day was held at the Athens Tennis Club, on one of the clay courts, which had a ‘grandstand’ from which the parents could admire their offspring.
For this occasion we wore white shorts and a white T-shirt, on which the letter of our class—Α, Β, Γ, Δ, and so on—had to be sewn by the mothers using blue ribbon. Every year we were issued with detailed instructions regarding the dimensions of this letter: the exact width of the ribbon, the height and width of the letter and its position in the middle of our chest. Each year most parents totally disregarded these instructions, so that some kids had a tiny letter attached to their left shoulder, some had a huge one going from neck to waist, and so on. No two T-shirts looked the same! My mother, needless to say, obeyed the instructions to the letter, and we were the proud wearers of the perfect specimen.
First there was a display of Greek folk dancing—for girls only—for which we pulled a blue skirt on over our shorts. Each class formed a circle, supposedly led by the best dancer. In our case, however, since both my sister and I were very tall for our age, and it would have looked strange to place us in the middle of the circle, we were made to lead our respective class, despite our evident lack grace and talent.
My mother, stifling laughter, once overheard the following conversation, between two ladies sitting in the row in front of her.
‘Why are classes Α and Γ led by older girls?’
‘They can’t be older, they have the same letter on their T-shirts as the others.’
‘Actually, I’ve heard there are two sisters in the school who are huge. It must be them.’
After the dancing, we pulled our skirts off and were joined by the boys to do basic gymnastics. Some of the exercises meant our backs came into contact with the clay court, so that when we stood up our back view was covered in red clay.
After the show was over, we were all treated to sour cherry ice lollies dispensed by a little man with an icebox on the front of his bike. These rapidly melted in the heat and dripped down our front—so that a little later, in the streets around the Tennis Club, groups of parents could be spotted going home with children who were plastered with red clay down the back, and stained red down the front.
A terrible catastrophe is taking place in Greece, where a large number of wildfires, caused by the worst heatwave in years, are destroying the natural environment to an unprecedented extent, while also causing untold damage to personal and state property.
The fires are raging in the suburbs of Athens, where they have destroyed the pine forests of Varibobi and Tatoi, up the slopes of Mount Parnitha,on the island of Euboea and elsewhere.
The situation is still at this moment far from being brought under control. Our neighbouring Turks are also fighting serious fires, so we are unable to come to each other’s assistance as we would normally do. Both countries have even been obliged to enlist the help of civilians. However, we have had assistance from Cyprus, France, Roumania, Sweden, Croatia and others, who have sent planes, helicopters and firefighters.
I will not go into details, which can be read in any newspaper. I would just like to express my gratitude to the firefighters; it is a real hero’s job in the worst possible conditions, especially since there are strong winds making everything inconceivably harder.
Wildfires have got much worse worldwide in recent years, which should certainly give us cause for thought. It is lamentable that governmental reaction to obvious phenomena is so slow, and always led by political and financial considerations rather than public benefit. The destruction of nature is really the saddest thing.
ITolis Voskopoulos (Τόλης Βοσκόπουλος) who has passed away aged 81, was one of the legends of modern Greek music.
Born to immigrant parents from Asia Minor, he was the 12th child and first boy in his family. His father, a well-known and popular greengrocer in the working-class neighborhood of Kokkinia, was so overjoyed to get a boy after so many attempts that he immediately changed the sign on his shop to ‘Haralambos Voskopoulos & Son.’
Tolis grew up following his father everywhere: in the street markets, at the shop, and observing his business dealings. However, he felt early on that the job was not for him and, aged 15, found the courage to tell his father that he wanted to be an actor. He expected to be ‘slaughtered,’ but his father just said, ‘Let’s go.’ He took him to be enrolled in the National Odeon of Manolis Kalomiris, which taught music and drama. It was the first time Tolis had left his neighbourhood and he was awestruck to see Athens.
He learned to play the bouzouki, got married at 20 for the first time and quickly found tremendous fame because of his looks, empathy with his public and attractive voice. He was called The Prince by his many admirers.
He wrote songs (both the lyrics and music) that he included in his personal albums but that were also performed by other artists, most famously his duet with Marinella “Me and you” in 1974 which made record sales and is still sung today. He collaborated with a wide range of the best Greek artists of his time, including George Zabetas, Akis Panou, Mimis Plessas and many others.
As an actor, he starred in multiple films including the 1974 hit ‘Oi Erastes tou Oneirou’ (Dream Lovers) opposite Zoe Laskari, with whom he had a torrid affair, and who remained close to him thereafter.
Among his admirers he counted people from all walks of life, from the world of working-class neighborhoods to the financial elite of shipowners and industrialists, and of course the late Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou.
Tolis Voskopoulos was adored and surrounded by women—he married four times, his last wife being Angela Gerekou, an actress and politician. They had one daughter, Maria.
The pandemic has had a lot of unpleasant side effects, one of which is the amount of plastic that is being discarded on a daily basis.
Over the last few years, supermarkets and many other shops abolished plastic bags, and people have started using bamboo straws and other recyclable objects.
Sadly this trend has suffered a reversal: at the moment one can hardly go for a walk without spotting a mask or two embedded in the bushes, or lying in the gutter.
Hospitals also are consuming veritable mountains of protective equipment: a friend who works as a doctor in a covid ward tells me she has to wear no less than three pairs of disposable gloves daily (as well as the mask, whole body suit etc.) When I visited the dentist, both she and her assistant looked like astronauts, covered from head to foot, including plastic bootees. I too was asked to don a pair, which went in the trash when I left.
We have also gone back to disposable cups, plates and cutlery, not all of which are recyclable. I find all this very depressing, because big efforts were being made to get people and companies to reduce plastic use, efforts which now seem to be partly wasted.
Beaches, and even the ocean floor to a great depth, are littered with plastic; and we are already consuming micro particles which have been found in the flesh of fish, so the future looks grim.
What could be a solution to this problem?
Scientists have discovered a kind of bacteria which eats plastic (anyone interested can read about it here), but I think the results are still quite modest. It’s a sad fact that humans litter wherever they go: the pristine beauty of Everest is nowadays marred by discarded oxygen bottles and other rubbish (even abandoned corpses) and even space is now getting to be full of trash.
Let us hope that human ingenuity can find some answers before the natural environment is destroyed for ever.