Greek cops can sing


Here’s a little news story that brought a smile to our faces today, amid all the depressing articles about the economy, the refugee situation, Brexit, the wars going on everywhere and the usual spate of crimes: A young policeman in uniform in the Monastiraki quarter of Athens joined a busker playing guitar in the street, taking the microphone and belting out ‘Stand by me,’ – in English – to the delight of passers by. The video of his performance has gone viral.

See below:

 

Disclaimer: I didn’t mean that ALL Greek cops can sing, nor was I suggesting they take music lessons in working hours!

 

Archaeological detective work

While some people’s job is to look for burglars or murderers, forensic archaeologists Christos Tsirogiannis spends his time searching for looted antiquities.
He has identified 1,100 such artefacts in 13 years, and accuses the major auction houses, such as Christie’s, Sotheby’s or Bonham’s, of failing to properly check the provenance of antiquities in their catalogues. He asserts that they don’t take the necessary steps in due diligence by contacting the authorities before buying or selling antiquities.
Of course, the auction houses deny this, and insist they do work with authorities in order to establish due diligence, but that they don’t have access to the databases of seized objects, something which Tsirogiannis contests.

 

Photo: Google

 

Be that as it may, Bonham’s has recently withdrawn an ancient Greek drinking vessel from sale amid accusations that it was illegally excavated. Tsirogiannis alerted Interpol after producing evidence linking the Bonhams antiquity to convicted traffickers in stolen artefacts. He recognised lot 95, an ­ancient Greek vessel from 375-350 BC, in Bonhams’ catalogue for its July 3 ­antiquities auction at its flagship London salesroom. The 8in-high Apulian red-figure kantharos or drinking cup was estimated to fetch ­between £20,000 and £30,000.
Dr Tsirogiannis has access to images confiscated in police raids and he found a picture of the vessel, still with soil on it, in ­archives seized from ­Gianfranco Becchina, convicted in Italy and Greece of illegally dealing in antiquities.

 

Example of kantharos vase. Photo:Google

 

Cambridge-based Tsirogiannis also works for the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow. He is determined to draw public attention to the irreparable damage done by looters of antiquities from archaeological sites.
Christos studied archaeology and history of art at the University of Athens, and received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, on the international illicit antiquities network.
He has worked for the Greek Ministries of Culture and Justice, excavating throughout Greece and recording antiquities in private hands, and has voluntarily cooperated with the Greek police Art Squad. He was also a member of the Greek Task Force Team that repatriated looted, smuggled and stolen antiquities from the Getty Museum, the Shelby White/Leon Levy collection, the Jean-David Cahn AG galleries, and others. In 2013, he won the annual Award for Art Protection and Security from the Association for Research into Crimes against Art.

Tsirogiannis believes that to loot and trade in stolen goods is a crime against humanity, because it is the cause of a major catastrophe: the irreparable loss of knowledge about our past. He has built a secret archive of tens of thousands of photos from the antiquities underground traffic, where illicitly dug artefacts pass from tomb raiders to smugglers to dealers and then on to museums, collectors, and auction houses. He has been given most of his images from prosecutors in Greece and Italy who have obtained them from police raids; he matches the photos with objects that surface at auctions or museums and then works to repatriate the pieces.

 

 

Tsirogiannis is somewhat of a thorn in the side of auction houses, but his work has forced them, and other dealers, take due diligence much more seriously. Nevertheless, the auction houses contend that the industry’s due diligence would benefit if the archives, which are technically owned by the Greek and Italian states, were to be made public, which so far they have declined to do. As for Tsirogiannis, he says that publishing the records could alert bad actors and push the market for illicit antiquities further underground.

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.

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.

I.M.Pei dies

The most widely known of architect I. M. Pei’s designs has to be the metal-and glass pyramid dominating the main courtyard of the Louvre Museum in Paris. When completed in 1989 it was widely criticized, but today it is as much a symbol and an icon as the Eiffel Tower.

 

 

I. M. Pei has died, aged 102. He is widely considered to be one of the most influential architects of all times, and during his career won nearly every major award in his field.

 

(Photo by Michael N. Todaro/FilmMagic)

 

I.M. Pei was born in Guangzhou, China, in 1917 to a banker father and artistic mother. He grew up in Hong Kong and Shanghai before moving to the United States at age 17 to enroll in architecture school. After graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Pei attended Harvard’s famed Graduate School of Design, where he studied with Bauhaus master Walter Gropius.

Pei loved to research his projects thoroughly, and to allow himself the freedom to experiment with different ideas and materials. He did not like his work to be stylistically ‘stamped’, although he did focus on simplicity, transparency, geometry and light.

 

The Bank of China Tower in Central Hong Kong.. (Photo by Gerhard Joren/LightRocket via Getty Images)

 

Even after retiring from his full-time architectural practice, Pei continued to work into his 80s, creating some of his most memorable projects in that time, such as the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, below, which was completed in 2008.

 

Via his spectacular buildings, he leaves behind a rich legacy in modern design.

 

A Greek director at the BAFTAS

I must confess I have seen none of Yorgos Lanthimos’s films so far,
because they are dark and bleak and I never seem to be in the right mood for them. However, he has been going from strength to strength, and I am now rather tempted by his latest offering, which was a huge success at the BAFTAS.

Lanthimos was born in Athens in 1973, and went to film school in Greece, hoping to make commercials—the prospect of making films in Greece in the 80s and 90s was dim, to say the least.

 

 

Through the 1990s he directed a series of videos for Greek dance-theater companies, moving on to TV commercials, music videos, short films and experimental theater plays. He was also a member of the creative team which designed the opening and closingceremonies of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.

Lanthimos, realizing his youthful ambitions, then went on to make feature films—and, just under a decade ago, released Dogtooth, a grim tale of a father keeping his family in total isolation.  It was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, but was booed and hissed by voters during a committee screening, and lost to Susanne Bier’s In a Better World. After that, Lanthimos became notorious for his wild imagination and bleak inscrutability.

However, his first English-language film, The Lobster (2015), proved a significant art-house hit, being set in a world where single people must find partners or be transformed into animals. Its follow-up, The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), is a bloody revenge drama infused with classical mythology—while his characters keep having absurdly mundane conversations.

He became a leading member of the ‘weird wave’, Greek film makers who were anti-commercial and aimed to provoke, if not to shock. Nevertheless, over the course of his six films, he managed to escape his image as a European oddity, acquire global recognition and achieve significant box-office success, attracting top actors such as Nicole Kidman.

 

 

His latest film, The Favourite, is an opulent period drama set in the court of Queen Anne and featuring stellar performances by Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz.

Based on fact, it is the story of two women vying for the attention of Queen Anne, who, plagued by gout and haunted by the 17 children she’s lost over the years, has basically given up governing her country.

 

 

According to reviews, it is supposed to be less disturbing than his other films, although still dark, and features a witty script spiked with anachronisms, and lavish costumes and scenery.

The film won seven awards at the BAFTAs (British Academy of Film and Television Arts), including outstanding British film, original screenplay, leading actress for Olivia Colman and best supporting actress for Rachel Weisz.

 

 

Next stop, the Oscars? Not bad for a Greek boy who wanted to make commercials.

Perhaps it’s time to reconsider and give The Favourite a chance.

 

All photos from Google