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!

 

Athens Anniversary

Exactly 185 years ago today, Athens was proclaimed the capital of Greece. I found this very interesting article by Greek journalist Philip Chrysopoulos in the GREEK REPORTER. As it was possible to reblog onto Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, but not to WP, I copied it verbatim, including the photos.

 

September 18, 1834: Athens Becomes the Capital of Greece
By Philip Chrysopoulos -Sep 18, 2018

 

When Athens was officially declared the capital of the newly established Greek State on September 18, 1834, it was a small village of 7,000 residents living around the Acropolis Hill.

Following the assassination of Governor Ioannis Kapodistrias in the Peloponnesian city in 1831, Greece’s first politicians had to decide where the new government and first parliament would be established. At the time, Athens was an area of ancient, Byzantine and medieval ruins with makeshift houses around them, all around the Acropolis Hill.

The decision was far from easy. Personalities of the time, politicians, as well as architects and city planners took part in the debate, trying to influence developments and the final decision. The cities proposed were, among others, Corinth, Megara, Piraeus, Argos, as well as Nafplio again.

Eventually, Athens won the race and in September 18, 1834 it was officially proclaimed “Royal Seat and Capital”. The main reason was the city’s glorious history as the cradle of Hellenic Civilization. According to historians King of Bavaria Ludwig I was influential to the decision as he was a great admirer of ancient Greece.

Athens circa 1890

However, the city was not prepared to carry the weight of the capital of the new state. It was more of a town than a city, with 7,000 residents and 170 regular houses, as the remaining Athenians were living in huts. Furthermore, the battles that took place in Athens had left many ruins. By comparison, at the time, the population of Patras amounted to 15,000 thousand, while Thessaloniki had 60,000.

Athens stretched around the Acropolis (from Psiri to Makrygianni), having as its center the area of ​​Plaka (the Old Town). One of the major problems of the new capital was the lack of a water supply system, as well as the absence of public lighting and transport, while there was a complete lack of social services.

Greece’s first king, Otto of Bavaria, commissioned the reconstruction of the devastated city to Greek architect Stamatis Kleanthis and the Bavarian Leo von Klenze with a strict order not to damage the archaeological sites. For the protection of antiquities, Otto issued a decree prohibiting the construction of limestone at a distance of 2,500 meters from ancient Greek ruins, so that antiquities could not be damaged.

Within four years, about 1,000 houses were built in Athens, many of them makeshift, with no architectural or street plan. Otto banned quarrying in the hills of Nymphs, Achanthos (Strefi), Philopappou and Lycabettus and issued decrees with the strict order to immediately demolish every house built near archaeological sites and everything built on the outskirts of the Acropolis Hill.

The strict measures regarding building houses made Otto lose his popularity with the poor masses, but he insisted on issuing other decrees.

In the years to come, Athens became the pole of attraction for Greeks, who arrived in the capital from all parts of the country. In 1896, Greece hosted the first modern Olympic Games. By that time, the picture of the capital was radically changed. It had expanded and now was a city of 140,000 residents with great buildings and important archeological sites, and the commercial and cultural intellectual center of the country. A true capital.

Nice art – pity about the venue

There is plenty of art on show in Athens these days. As well as the Documenta project, which is spread all over town, from May 26 to 28 there was also Art Athina, a three-day fair open to the public.
Fifty eight galleries, mostly from Greece but quite a few from abroad (Paris, Istambul, Vienna, Zurich, and even as far away as Dubai, Australia and Mexico) offered modern art for sale in a wide range of prices.

 

Art Athina venue: the Olympic Tae Kwon Do stadium (photo from Google)

 

The fair was held at the Tae Kwon Do Stadium in Faliro, on the coast not far from the center of Athens, a venue built especially for the 2004 Athens Olympics. It is a modern and spacious structure benefiting from a wonderful location next to a marina full of yachts. Nowadays it is used for various purposes, such as concerts, and even provided shelter to refugees at the worst of the crisis.

Inside, the galleries had set up their booths, and it was fun wandering around looking at the art on offer.

The view from the top floor

 

Sadly, I was extremely dismayed, if not disgusted, by the state of the building’s interior. I decided not to post any photos, thinking it too depressing. But I was aghast at  the unpainted, stained walls, the dirty floor, the missing or broken fixtures… I don’t understand how some funds could not be raised to at least freshen it up a little.

 

Whimsical pen and ink drawing by Greek artist Leonidas Giannakopoulos

 

The whole issue of the Olympic venues is shameful. Most have been left to rot – and when I think of what Greek taxpayers forked out for them (they were grossly overpriced) it makes me grind my teeth. What’s more, the labyrinthine governmental system means that any attempt at exploiting them is resisted. Apparently the National Shooting Federation wanted to take on the Olympic Shooting complex and keep it functioning and upkept, but their offer was refused. The racetrack and equestrian centre have become totally decrepit, despite racing being a potentially profitable business. Etc, etc. – and we are talking about state-of-the-art, modern installations that could benefit Greek athletes who usually have to train in less than ideal conditions. It beggars belief.

 

Another by the same artist, called Sky Adventures

 

I can only console myself with the thought that, thanks to the Olympics, we have at least got a new, very functional airport, a good subway and a much improved road system. These had been planned for over twenty years (!) but had never materialized and would not have been finished but for the games. Part of the problem being that, wherever you dig, you find antiquities, and work has to stop until the Archaeological Society decrees what is to be done. A couple of museums were filled with what was found on these sites – but that is another story!

 

Outside, a band was tuning up for one of the performances on offer

 

If you are interested in more detail about Art Athina, pop over to the Art in Athens blog, there is a very interesting article here.

 

An altered book by a Greek artist whose name, unfortunately, I did not note. I loved his work, though

 

A walk in the park

On a chilly, overcast morning we set out to visit the new jewel in the crown of Athens: the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Park and Cultural Centre. Athens, having grown exponentially and without proper planning in the last decades (a plan was made, but was ignored by successive governments for reasons I shall not go into here) is a city with the lowest per capita green space in Europe. The only relief is the easy access to the sea on all sides – otherwise it is drowning in urban concrete.
When the racecourse was moved from the bay of Phaliron to the town of Markopoulo on the occasion of the Athens Olympics, a large area was liberated. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation stepped in with a project, designed by the architectural firm Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW), that includes the new facilities of the National Library of Greece, and of the Greek National Opera, as well as the Stavros Niarchos Park.

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation (www.SNF.org) is one of the world’s leading private international philanthropic organizations, making grants in the areas of arts and culture, education, health and sports, and social welfare.The SNF Cultural Center is the Foundation’s largest single gift, for a total budget of $867mil (€630mil). This huge investment is a testament and a commitment to the country’s future, and also hopes to be an engine of economic stimulus in the short and middle term.

 

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Although this is not the best season to visit gardens, it was immediately apparent that the whole park has been beautifully planted in a way that celebrates Greece’s horticultural tradition: the open, sunlit Mediterranean Garden.

 

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Each month is meant to bring a new color, and each season to introduce a different combination of flowers or foliage. Each visit should be a sensual pleasure, with the proliferation of evergreen and other endemic plants such as boxwood, coronilla, cistus, and lentisc, salvia, oregano, thyme, lavender, rosemary, roses and euphorbias.

 

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From the Mediterranean Garden, curving landscaped pathways wend their way up a gentle grade to the 32 m high summit of an artificial hill.  Beneath the earth is the building that houses the Library and Opera House, making the hill the green roof for the structure. One of the largest in Europe, the green roof significantly reduces air-conditioning requirements.

 

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Architect Renzo Piano envisaged the SNFCC rising out of the ground like a dislodged piece of the earth’s crust. Soaring 14 m above the summit, a 100m x 100m photovoltaic canopy extends outward from its perimeter. A marvel of engineering and construction, supported by 40 sinewy metal pillars, it will meet the buildings’ energetic needs, as well as making a fascinating addition to the city skyline.

 

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The summit offers spectacular 360-degree views of the sea to the west, the Acropolis to the east, and the cultural and educational park below. It certainly is breathtaking, although it did strike me how loud the traffic noise was, even up here!

 

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Berneath the green roof is the enormous Library, built on several levels around an open atrium.

 

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The shelves are still empty of books, but imagine when they are full! I loved the mobile suspended from the vertiginous ceiling.

 

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Cosy reading corners abound, and there are stands stacked with daily papers and magazines in different languages.

 

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Enormous windows flood the library with light.

 

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Walking out of the library, one comes out into the Agora, with its impressive water feature.

 

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This is a huge space, where a multitude of events can be staged.

 

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We did not visit the National Opera, because you can only go in if you join the guided tour, and they were fully booked. It is not totally operational, and has only staged a few experimental performances so far.

This is a huge undertaking and it is not entirely completed yet. One can only imagine how impressive it will be when it is functioning on all levels – mature gardens, well-stocked library shelves, a program of performances of all types. The only thing that worries me is that there is a plan for the complex to be donated to the Greek state in 2017 – in the present climate of disintegration, i wonder if it will be upkept and used to its full potential?

It remains to be seen. Meanwhile, for any of you planning a trip to Athens, be sure to add it to your list, together with the Acropolis Museum. Well worth a visit.

City break: Athens in the winter

Most people think of Greece as a summer destination. The sea, the islands, guaranteed sunshine. But in the summer one is too hot and lazy to do much. You get into a routine of late breakfast, swim, lunch, siesta, swim, dinner. You can’t be bothered to move.

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In the winter, you still get plenty of sunny days. Athens is a lively, bustling city, and it is easily accessible from most European countries. So, if you have a free weekend, book a flight.

 

There are plenty of things to do, even if the weather is bad (we do have a winter, and you might just be unlucky). Here are some ideas:

 

Walk in the streets. Window shop, sit in cafés and people watch, sample street food. Plaka, the old town beneath the Acropolis, is stunning. Wander around the stalls in Monastiraki market.
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Visit. The Parthenon and the Acropolis Museum should be on everyone’s bucket list. But the city is full of antiquities, beautiful museums, Byzantine churches and art galleries.
Eat. There’s something for every taste, from luxurious gourmet restaurants to neighborhood tavernas. Great fish, in many places with a view of the sea. And ethnic: sushi, Chinese, Thai, Indian, Mexican…
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Take in a show. Films are not dubbed in Greece, and sometimes there are plays in English. Concerts, classical music, jazz, rock… Dance, classical and modern.

Athens is famous for its nightlife. Bars, discos, Greek bouzouki music.
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If you like sports, you can indulge: Sailing, windsurf, golf courses. A lot of people don’t know this, but you can ski on Parnassos, two hours out of Athens. The trails are not huge, and on the weekend there are queues, but if you go midweek on a sunny day, it’s brilliant. The mountain is beautiful, the ski instructors are great. You can ski until two, then go down the mountain and have a late lunch in Arachova. Or you can stay in Arachova and visit the temple of Apollo at Delphi the next day. In the spring, you can ski in the morning, then drive down the mountain and through a lovely olive grove to swim in Galaxidi.

 

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If you can stay more than a few days:

Rent a car and get out of town (or join a bus tour) for a day trip or overnight stay. The are so many stunning places to visit: Delphi, the Metéora, Nafplion, Korinth, Epidaurus, Olympia.
On a sunny day you can take a day trip to one of the nearby islands. Within an hour or two, you’re in another world. The islands are different in the winter, green and covered in wild flowers. It’s calm, the locals go about their business. At lunch in one of the tavernas, you’re likely to come upon the local policeman eating with the village priest. The owner’s kids will run in after school, and sit at a nearby table to have their lunch and then do their homework. The pace of life is slow and relaxing.

So, take a look at the weather report, and book a flight!

A boat to nowhere

Picture this:

imageThe Pedion tou Areos (Field of Mars), at 25 hectares the biggest park in the center of Athens, built to commemorate the heroes of the 1821 revolution. It was refurbished some years ago at a cost of more than nine million euros, but has since gone slightly to seed, like much else in Athens. Drug users lurk in shady corners. And now a new dimension has been added to this landscape: rows of small, colorful tents line the Avenue of Heroes, clotheslines are strung between trees. Afghan refugees started this camp a couple of weeks ago and their numbers are swelling by the day. Amongst them are small children and pregnant women.

imageThis scenario is repeated in squares and on pavements throughout the city. Shopkeepers around offer the refugees food, but they don’t want them there. It’s bad for business, and business is bad anyway. Charitable organizations do the best they can. There is little help from the state.

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Hundreds of immigrants are arriving every day on the islands across from Turkey. More than 48.000 have come in the first semester of 2015, compared with 43.000 for the whole of 2014.

Exhausted, scared and lost, they are forced to wait for days in difficult conditions before being ‘processed’ by overworked officials in understaffed and underfunded local authority offices. Sometimes fights break out between nationalities: if the Afghans believe the Syrians are receiving better treatment, for example. When cleared, they make their way to Athens. But they don’t want to stay in Greece, where people are already struggling under an unbearable burden. Their dream is to end up in Germany, or get to England via France. Some have relatives there. There is chaos at the Larisa train station, chaos at Patras port, where they try to stow aboard lorries going to Italy.

And  we are talking about those that have actually made it across. In the old days, slavers had to make sure the merchandise at least arrived in a fit state to be sold. Modern traffickers – or ‘brokers’ as they like to call themselves – demand to be paid in advance. Then they just pile the human cargo into boats made for a tenth of their number, if that, and set them loose upon the seas – sometimes with not even enough fuel to make land. Boats are left to the care of teenage captains, the tanks empty, people locked in the hold.

Many drown. The rest are rescued by the coastguard. Unfortunately, more rescue missions have resulted in increased traffic, as was seen with the Mare Nostrum operation in Italy. The traffickers are on a constant search for new routes, new methods of transport.

imageHow can Europe deal with such a massive transfer of populations, on a scale never seen before in history?

In the twenty-first century, in a society where the accumulation of material goods is a given, these people have NOTHING. It’s a concept difficult to comprehend. No clothes, no food, no papers, no home. Nothing. It is impossible to put oneself in the place of humans so desperate they are willing to leave behind everything they know, to risk life and limb, and who then arrive in a country where they are destitute, do not speak the language, and are repelled by all available means.

In an article entitled ‘You’re Better Than This, Europe’,  Nils MUIZNIEKS writes:

Europe needs to take a long, hard look at itself — and at the reality of the refugee issue. The European Union could start by overhauling its laws governing asylum and migration. By increasing legal avenues for migrants to reach Europe, with measures like eased humanitarian visas and family reunification rules, it would reduce the number of migrants taking perilous routes. That would help cut the ground from beneath the feet of smugglers, who grow richer when migration restrictions are harsh. (International New York Times, JUNE 28, 2015)

imageEurope, however, seems far from up to the task. Horrifying scenes are taking place on each side of the Channel. Meanwhile, the Hungarians are building a fence with Serbia to keep them out. Police and army are used to ‘secure’ borders. And each country, if you read the press, is mostly concerned with its own problems, while trying to foist the blame and the responsibility onto everyone else.

There is no doubt that the situation needs to be brought under control, especially since rumors abound that the boats are used to bring over ISIS militants from Libya amongst the refugees. There are no obvious or easy solutions, but the only way forward is for all countries to work together. Europe has to realize there is a huge, potentially explosive problem staring it in the face; a problem which must be dealt with quickly, decisively and, above all, humanely. 

We must never forget we are dealing with people here, people who today are mostly perceived as a threat. But a lot of them have escaped conditions so horrific it would be inhuman to send them back. And immigration, if properly managed, can enrich societies in many ways.

Greece had to deal with a major wave of immigrants in the years 1990-2011, after the fall of communism. These were mostly from Rumania, Bugaria and Albania, but also eventually from all over the world. Although there have been problems – notably a rise in criminality as gangs infiltrated the country – a lot of these immigrant integrated successfully. They learnt Greek, made friends, blended in, set up businesses. And if some report instances of racism in their work or social environment, a recent study showed that this does not extend to their children attending Greek school. A new law is in the process of being passed, which will ease the acquiring of Greek nationality for these children. Ironically, quite a few of these immigrants have now gone back to their countries, where conditions have improved compared to the deteriorating ones in Greece.

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