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

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.

 

Far from completed

Regular readers might remember my October 2015 post , ‘A Greek Church near Ground Zero’, about the project to build a new St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in New York, after the old church was destroyed in the 9/11 terror attacks.

 

 

 

The shrine, which like the Oculus transit hub was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, was supposed to glow at night and provide “a spiritual beacon of hope and rebirth,” as you can see in the picture above.
However, sixteen years after its destruction, the church is still far from finished. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, despite receiving $37 million in donations for the shrine, was unable to pay its bills, and the construction company stopped work a year ago.

 

 

The project’s price tag had meanwhile soared from $30 to $80 million, and apparently some of the donations were used to shore up the church’s dismal finances. The project is now being investigated by the US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. Sadly, what was deemed to be the new face of the Greek Orthodox church in America has turned into a national embarrassment.

Last Saturday, 90-year old Archbishop Demetrios of America finally submitted his resignation to Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, having resisted resigning  for a while, although urged to do so.

 

 

A sad turn of events indeed. Hopefully, some solution can be found for the project’s completion.

Natalia Mela, a grande dame of Greek sculpture

Greek sculptor Natalia Mela, or Nata as she was known, has died peacefully, aged 96. Nata Mela was a force of nature, zipping around her beloved island of Spetses on a motorized tricycle, puffing away on cigarillos and enjoying life to the full. She has left behind a body of work which adorns multiple collections, as well as various public places in Greece. For those who read my post about the naval commander Bouboulina,  it was Natalia who made her statue, which looks over the port on the island she loved for ‘its crystal light and transparent sea.’
Natalia Mela was born in 1923 to an illustrious Greek family, her ancestors being important figures of Modern Greek history. She was a tomboy, and defied convention, escaping the future her parents had planned for her, which she scornfully described as being ‘a housewife in pearls.’  She was Greek tennis champion in 1940, a nurse during the war, a student at a time few Greek girls went to university. She attended the Fine Arts School in Athens, where she studied under important artists, such as the sculptor Tombros. She also worked with famous architect Dimitrios Pikionis, and made sets for the theatre of Karolos Koun.
Nata made her studio in an old stable in an Athens courtyard, and obtained  a welder’s licence in order to work with metal. Her main inspirations were nature and mythology, and she used materials such as metal sheets and parts, chains, or even coins, to make her sculptures. She often made animals such as roosters, goats, bulls and doves, and she also loved working with marble and stone.
Her chaotic studio was a meeting point for the Athenian intelligentsia of the time, such as artistsTsarouchis and Moralis, and poets Embiricos and Elytis. She met and married architect Aris Konstandinidis in 1952; they had two children, to whom she devoted her time for a number of years, only to take up her work with a vengeance after they were grown, keeping at it until a very advanced age.
Nata loved life, and Spetses, where she first went with her parents as a child. She and her husband built a house there, to which she returned every year for long summers of relaxation and creativity. She liked to swim for a couple of hours every day, a habit she kept until old age.
I had the pleasure of meeting her on a couple of occasions, and she was a formidable presence. She will be much missed.