Erasing history

The news these days are full of stories of social unrest. Something that has been brewing for a while, as society divides become greater, rather than narrower.
However, I find myself perplexed by the practice of tearing down statues of people who were slave traders or racists, along with their other attributes, for which they were celebrated.

 


History is built in shades of grey: unfortunately human nature is such that the strong often prey on the weak.
Alexander the Great built wondrous libraries in his glorious conquest of the ‘known world’, but also massacred plenty of ‘barbarians’ along the way. In the democracy of classical Athens, there were slaves, who did not have a vote—and neither did women, or foreigners.
The men who hauled blocks of marble to build the Parthenon were not blessed with paid holidays and health care. Should we tear down the Pyramids, because they were built in sweat and blood?
Religions and sects have persecuted, burnt, and tortured people who did not share their beliefs. Should we tear down the churches and temples?
Some of the slave traders were black themselves, preying upon their own kind. And racism is not confined to blacks—many others have borne the brunt of it. Native Americans, Maoris, Armenians, Jews, Tutus, the list is long—anyone who found themselves in the minority in the place they lived in. Human nature.


Here is an anecdote: I recall, when visiting one of the Balkan countries during Communism—I think Bulgaria—being shown around a monument by a local guide. It consisted of a large circle dug into the ground, two stories below. It was open to the sky and, all around the perimeter, stood a row of larger-than-life bronze statues representing workers: one held a scythe, another a plow, a third a hammer, and so on. The whole thing was rather ghastly but, was was weirder still, was that when I asked the guide who was the sculptor who made them, she answered, ‘We don’t know.’
‘How can you not know? This is not antique, it’s recent.’
She hemmed and hawed, then she said: ‘He fell out with the regime, and his name was erased from the books.’
Such a narrow minded way of looking at things.


Things that happened, happened. Should we try to erase the past? I think it’s better to reserve our energies for improving the present—with more efficient laws, and with reform, not destruction. Thousands of people are slaves still, in the 21st century—and they’re not all black. There’s a huge immigration crisis, worldwide. There are people now, today, who have made fortunes exploiting others, but everyone sucks up to them, because their money gives them power, and they also take good care to make large donations to charities and universities. There are huge corporations operating on the returns of sweatshops and the like.

Is it a solution to stop reading Rudyard Kipling, or showing Gone With The Wind?

I’m curious to know what everyone thinks about all this.

Day trip to Mycenae

Greece is now opening up its borders to travelers, so if any of you are thinking of taking the plunge, here’s another wonderful place to visit. For the rest, a little more armchair traveling on a ThrowbackThursday, from a trip taken in 2016

Letters from Athens

In the Iliad, Homer described Mycenae as ‘a city rich in gold.’ It was the legendary home of King Agamemnon, leader of the Greeks who went to Troy to fight the Trojan War. The Greeks of classical antiquity idealized the Mycenaean period as a glorious period of heroes, closeness of the gods and material wealth, as described in the Trojan Epic cycle.
In 1876, amateur archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann set out to prove the historical accuracy of the Iliad by identifying the places described by Homer. Using the text of Pausanias, the second-century A.D. traveller, as his guide, he excavated the site at Mycenae, discovering the deep shaft graves where bodies were buried dressed in lavishly decorated shrouds adorned with gold items and diadems and with their faces covered by masks of gold or electrum (such as the Mask of Agamemnon, below).

Copy of the mask of Agamemenon Copy of the mask of Agamemenon

However…

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All Lives Matter

On this last day of May I am shocked and saddened by the events in America. Living through a worldwide pandemic was supposed to make us kinder to one another. But, sadly, human nature does not change.



George Floyd was killed by a man who did not even mind being filmed while doing it. He has two kids at home. He was not armed, and there was no proof he’d done something wrong.

 



I remember reading a post on the blog of a virtual friend who has an autistic son. He’s doing well, but what happens when he’s old enough to start going out on his own? Where she lives in America autistic people carry a medical card, which explains why sometimes their behavior can seem unpredictable, or even aggressive—especially when challenged, or scared. Well, her fear is, that if her son is stopped by the police and he puts his hand in his pocket to get his card, he could be shot. Just because he’s black.



To me, this beggars belief. I am so lucky to have lived, and live, in places where you can walk the streets more or less safely.
We do take a lot for granted. And we must take a stand against this kind of cruelty.

All the pictures are imaginary portraits by the wonderful British artist Lynette Yadom-Boakye.

 

Road trip to Metéora

Throwback Thursday and time for some armchair traveling, for want of the real thing. I thought some of the newer readers would enjoy an account of this road trip taken in 2015, to the magical site of Meteora.

Letters from Athens

Taking advantage of the brilliant weather, we headed out for an overnight excursion. Our destination: Metéora, the largest complex of Orthodox monasteries in Greece, outside of Mount Athos.
The monasteries are built atop almost inaccessible sandstone peaks, at the northwestern edge of the Plain of Thessaly near the Pineios River and Pindos Mountain, in central Greece.

image

Monks settled on these ‘columns of the sky‘ from the 11th century onwards. Twenty-four monasteries were built, despite incredible difficulties, at the time of the great revival of the eremitic ideal in the 15th century. Today there are six left.

To break up the four-hour journey, we stopped for a snack in the town of Domokos. The crisis is apparent here as well, with a lot of empty shops in the central street. An abrasive woman in a red pickup honked as we tried to park the car. The taverna…

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Weird Fish

It seems the Mediterranean is now full of ‘alien’ fish, which decided to emigrate to better seas, and so swam there from the Indian Ocean via the Suez Canal.

They have thrived to the extent they are now threatening the eco-system, being both prolific breeders and aggressive towards native species; but they are already too numerous to eradicate.
So, what is the next best solution? Why, eating them of course, and thus killing two birds (fish?) with one stone: hopefully equilibrium will be established, while at the same time we can complement our calamari with rabbitfish, trumpetfish and lionfish.

 

Lionfish



At least this is the original idea of Greek conservationists, who have come up with a cookbook of recipes, so that tourists can be encouraged to try these new species. ‘Recipes for Edible Alien Species’ is published by two conservation organizations, the Cyclades Preservation Fund and iSea.

In the book, written in both Greek and English, Greek chefs have paired these species with classic Mediterranean ingredients like olive oil, garlic, tomatoes and parsley. While it doesn’t have the glamour of a Nigella cookbook, the recipes sound delicious: it would probably be a good idea to take some good photos of the finished dishes and post them on Instagram. You can find the cookbook here

 

Rabbitfish


Tempting locals and tourists to eat the invaders will help the environment, but also fishermen to make a living. A campaign called Pick the Alien, launched in a few islands such as Santorini, Amorgos, and Zakynthos, aims to encourage people to choose these fish on the menu of their favorite fish taverna.

Would I try them? Of course. I’m always in favour of new tastes, as long as it’s not fried insects or monkey brains, even if the former are also touted as a help for the environment.

MarySmith’sPlace -The Buddha of Bamiyan Afghanistan Adventures#33

Staying on the armchair traveling theme, I’ve been avidly following Mary Smith’s adventures in Afghanistan. Take a look at her blog, her posts are also full of wonderful photos.

Mary Smith's Place

Bamiyan, Autumn 1989

IMG_0011 (Custom) The view from my window

A murmur of male voices penetrated my subconscious in the morning. A row of men wearing expressions of ill-concealed curiosity gazed in the direction of my sleeping bag. A ferocious glare from Khudadad had them gathering up their belongings and murmuring goodbyes as they hurriedly left the room. The cook, in a grease spattered apron, was busy at his stove, for some reason situated on the veranda overlooking the street. Breakfast smelt good.

Through an inch deep layer of oil I recognised a fried egg, under which was a kind of meat stew layered with slices of fried tomatoes. Scooping up some of this mess with a piece of fresh, warm nan I tasted cautiously. It was delicious. Cholesterol and calorie laden as any cooked breakfast should be, by the time I had mopped clean the dish with a final piece of…

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Bits and bobs

Greek Easter has gone already, isn’t it weird how time seems to drag on and fly at the same time? I couldn’t get hold of bread flour, so there was no tsoureki this year, neither could we find egg coloring, but we dyed the eggs using onions skins, turmeric and paprika. They came out quite pale—they were brown eggs—so the children enhanced them with Tombow markers. Behold the result:




Greece has managed to keep the number of deaths from coronavirus low—around 100 at latest count—leading to the macabre joke that the virus at Easter was actually saving lives, since every year the mass exodus to the countryside results in multiple traffic deaths. This year people were forced to stay home.

Someone who seems to be having a great time at home is the street artist Banksy, who has released his latest painting, titled My wife hates it when I work from home.

 


Credit: Banksy



He’s put in a lot of rats, RAT being his anagram for ART.  I can’t say I’d like to share his confinement!

While trying to copy Banksy, ie drawing or painting, I’ve been listening to some interesting podcasts, which I thought I’d mention:
For crime readers or writers, Listening to the Dead, a podcast about forensics with Lynda La Plante. Some fascinating stuff in there.
The Worldwide Tribe podcasts with Jaz O’Hara, which documents some very interesting life histories. I loved the one she did with her mother, who is fostering no less than four teenage boys from four different countries, while managing to keep her sense of humor intact.
And of course, the New Yorker podcasts, The Writer’s Voice and Fiction from the New Yorker, featuring some great short stories.
Finally, I’m planning to try The Great Women Artists, with Katy Hessel.

 

 



Having finished a number of books I had on the go, I’m tempted to re read A suitable boy, by Vikram Seth. Although it’s a huge slab, I loved it when I first read it years ago, and maybe it would be fun to at least dip into it again before the eagerly awaited TV adaptation comes out.


On the viewing front, another thing I’m eagerly awaiting is the new Wes Anderson film, called The French Dispatch, which is inspired by the New Yorker magazine. I loved The Grand Budapest Hotel, and this seems to be in the same vein, and features a stellar cast. Here’s a trailer below:


 



With all the daily applause going on, I thought I’d mention Captain Tom Moore, in case anyone has missed the story. This feisty 99-year-old has managed, by today’s count, to raise a stunning £26 million pounds for NHS charities, by the simple expedient of walking 100 times around his garden in celebration of his 100th birthday later this month. His initial target was £1000!

And finally, I would like to put in a good word for the Word Press Hapiness Engineers, about whom I’ve been endlessly griping. Having experienced a few glitches with my new theme, I went on the WP Live Chat and, despite a warning saying they were experiencing delays, each time I got an immediate response. They were friendly and extremely helpful, and my problems were solved in no time. So, a heartfelt thanks.

Tulips in the garden. Nobody can cancel spring!

 

Celebrating Greek Easter

Tomorrow is Greek Easter. This usually entails large and joyous gatherings of family and friends, which of course this year are prohibited. Easter is the most important religious holiday of the year in Greece, so here is a reblog of a post I wrote a few years ago, describing the traditions of a normal year.

Letters from Athens

Celebrated by even the most secular of Greeks, Easter is for us the biggest holiday of the year. Yes, even bigger than Christmas. Everyone joins in the church rituals and there are lots of other traditions as well. To top it all, this year Greek Easter falls on the first of May, which is, in itself, another popular holiday.

I thought I’d begin by explaining why Easter is a ‘mobile’ holiday: the determination of the date of Easter is governed by a computation based on the vernal equinox (the point at which the ecliptic and the celestial equators intersect) and the phase of the moon. According to the ruling of the First Ecumenical Synod in 325, Easter should fall on the Sunday which follows the first full moon after the vernal equinox (invariably, March 21). If the full moon happens to fall on a Sunday, Easter is observed the…

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One day at a time



This morning when I woke up there was a perfect half moon hanging upright in the lightening sky, like a slice of lemon with a bright rind.
At the moment, going to a café seems as unattainable  as going to the moon, which just proves how relative things always are.
In a survey asking people what was the first thing they would do when lockdown was lifted, a surprisingly large percentage answered ‘Go to the hairdresser’ — conjuring up images of hordes of bushy heads, grey or dark roots, split ends and pudding bowl cuts.



In another article, what the writer missed most was going out to eat. She could not face another day of staring at two potatoes, a can of chickpeas and a mouldy piece of cheddar, wondering what to make for lunch. She dreamt of restaurants with white tablecloths, pub lunches, or even a kebab wrapped in a piece of paper.


Amazing how much we are appreciating little things we used to take for granted—a walk on the beach, having a coffee with a friend, hugging kids. Pet owners have got a lot to be thankful for.
We have found ourselves in a weird, astonishing limbo where normal life has been all but suspended—except for those who, on the contrary, are on the front lines, tasked with keeping the most important, basic services going. The rest of us are very grateful to them now, but let’s hope we will continue to value them afterwards.

The thing that is most frustrating is the lack of proper information, rendering it impossible to make any kind of plan. 
However, even if we can’t plan yet, we can dream and we must always keep a glimmer of hope—a big part of happiness resides in anticipation.

Santorini, a dream destination



For those dreaming of their next holiday, please put Greece on your list. Towards the end of summer, supposing things have eased up and before the next wave of virus(es) hits in October, would be a perfect time, both for the beach and for the sights. Not too crowded, not too hot. So much to enjoy, and so helpful for the economy. Greece was struggling to emerge from the crisis, only to get a serious kick in the teeth. And so many people are dependent upon tourism to make a living…

It remains to be seen how affordable air travel will be in the future. Or how practicable.

Santorini with cruise ships. Less dreamy


I will end by mentioning the weirdest thing I’ve read all week. Apparently cruise bookings for 2021 are up by 40%! And here I was thinking that at least the coronavirus would be the end of those ginormous petri dishes going around the world defacing beautiful places like Venice and Santorini. But no, even after dozens of passengers were infected and many died, after they were shut inside hellish cabins for weeks, there is still demand for this kind of specialized torture. I rest my case.

 

All photos: Google