A strange pet

Octopus makes a frequent appearance on the menu in a Greek diet, either simply boiled and served with vinegar, or grilled over charcoal. It’s offered in fish tavernas as part of the starters, and tentacles hanging on a line to dry in the sun can be seen in seaside villages and on the islands. It is delicious. 

My taste for it, however, was somewhat diminished after watching a fascinating documentary called An Octopus in my House. Marine biologist Professor Scheel of Anchorage, Alaska, finding himself with an empty living room after his ex had absconded with most of the furniture, brings in a huge saltwater tank into which he installs a large blue octopus, which is treated as a pet by him and his 16-year-old daughter, Lauren. They proceed to observe its behavior and, basically, make friends with it.

 

 

 

The film does not try to be strictly scientific, although it is interspersed with footage from studies of octopuses in Sidney and Indonesia. It marvels at the amazing properties of an astonishing animal, which has three hearts, blue blood and no skeleton. Heidi, as Scheel and his daughter name their pet because she spends the first few days hiding in her den, soon joins in the fun and seems to enjoy their company, glueing herself to the glass wall of her tank while they watch television, wrapping her tentacles round Lauren’s hands and sending sprays of water up her sleeves, as well as playing with various objects they introduce her to, such as the LEGO house below. Being a day octopus means she is active in the daytime, and she entertains her hosts with dramatic shifts of form, color and even texture. Watching her change colors while she sleeps, they even guess she might be dreaming.

 

 

I watched the film with two 12-year-old boys who  found it as riveting as I did (it also made a change from anime!). One question, however, was not addressed in the film: how they cleaned the tank, which always looked pristine, with crystal clear water. Also they never seemed to worry about being bitten, although octopuses are fearsome predators with venomous beaks. 

Should you come upon this BBC Two documentary, I highly recommend it. Here is a taste below. 

 

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.

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!