More 1821 Revolution art

At the Benaki Museum, in parallel with the huge exhibition for the Greek Revolution, there is a smaller show of similarly-themed works by Greek artist Jannis Psychopedis. It consists of a series of portraits of the fighters and heroes of the conflict, as well as an homage to Lord Byron.

 

The portraits are made using various techniques—from severe monochrome Lino cuts to colourful interpretations of his subjects.

They manage to bring out the personalities of the heroes of the Revolution in a fresh and original manner.

 

Jannis Psychopedis was born in Athens in 1945 and studied in Athens and Munich. He is one of the main Greek exponents of artistic Critical Realism, an art movement that developed in Europe after the political and social upheavals of 1968.


He lived in Berlin and Brussels and returned to Greece in 1992, where he still lives and works.

I tried to video the series on the wall to give you an idea of the overall impression, but I’m afraid the result is mediocre.

Psychopedis used lockdown to complete a lot of these works. Seen as a whole, I found them quite impressive.

Down memory lane: Sports Day

Since our school didn’t possess the necessary facilities, our annual sports day was held at the Athens Tennis Club, on one of the clay courts, which had a ‘grandstand’ from which the parents could admire their offspring.

For this occasion we wore white shorts and a white T-shirt, on which the letter of our class—Α, Β, Γ, Δ, and so on—had to be sewn by the mothers using blue ribbon. Every year we were issued with detailed instructions regarding the dimensions of this letter: the exact width of the ribbon, the height and width of the letter and its position in the middle of our chest. Each year most parents totally disregarded these instructions, so that some kids had a tiny letter attached to their left shoulder, some had a huge one going from neck to waist, and so on. No two T-shirts looked the same! My mother, needless to say, obeyed the instructions to the letter, and we were the proud wearers of the perfect specimen.

First there was a display of Greek folk dancing—for girls only—for which we pulled a blue skirt on over our shorts. Each class formed a circle, supposedly led by the best dancer. In our case, however, since both my sister and I were very tall for our age, and it would have looked strange to place us in the middle of the circle, we were made to lead our respective class, despite our evident lack grace and talent.

My mother, stifling laughter, once overheard the following conversation, between two ladies sitting in the row in front of her.

‘Why are classes Α and Γ led by older girls?’

‘They can’t be older, they have the same letter on their T-shirts as the others.’

‘Actually, I’ve heard there are two sisters in the school who are huge. It must be them.’

After the dancing, we pulled our skirts off and were joined by the boys to do basic gymnastics. Some of the exercises meant our backs came into contact with the clay court, so that when we stood up our back view was covered in red clay.

 

After the show was over, we were all treated to sour cherry ice lollies dispensed by a little man with an icebox on the front of his bike. These rapidly melted in the heat and dripped down our front—so that a little later, in the streets around the Tennis Club, groups of parents could be spotted going home with children who were plastered with red clay down the back, and stained red down the front.

Fire…

A terrible catastrophe is taking place in Greece, where a large number of wildfires, caused by the worst heatwave in years, are destroying the natural environment to an unprecedented extent, while also causing untold damage to personal and state property.

The fires are raging in the suburbs of Athens, where they have destroyed the pine forests of Varibobi and Tatoi, up the slopes of Mount Parnitha,  on the island of Euboea and elsewhere.

Photo Reuters

The situation is still at this moment far from being brought under control. Our neighbouring Turks are also fighting serious fires, so we are unable to come to each other’s assistance as we would normally do. Both countries have even been obliged to enlist the help of civilians. However, we have had assistance from Cyprus, France, Roumania, Sweden, Croatia and others, who have sent planes, helicopters and firefighters.

I will not go into details, which can be read in any newspaper. I would just like to express my gratitude to the firefighters; it is a real hero’s job in the worst possible conditions, especially since there are strong winds making everything inconceivably harder.

Wildfires have got much worse worldwide in recent years, which should certainly give us cause for thought. It is lamentable that governmental reaction to obvious phenomena is so slow, and always led by political and financial considerations rather than public benefit. The destruction of nature is really the saddest thing.

Mystras, a Byzantine city

A silver lining of the pandemic has been the lack of visitors in historic sites, and May is a perfect month for exploring Greece, since it’s not too hot yet.

The view of the fortified town from the road

A recent road trip to the Byzantine city of Mystras involved a hike up to the fortress during which we only met a handful of other visitors.

 

Mystras is a fortified town in the Peloponnese, built in 1248 by Guillaume II de Villehardouin, ruler of the Frankish Principality of Achaea. In 1259, William of Villehardouin was defeated and captured, along with many of his nobles, at the Battle of Pelagonia, by the forces of the Nicaean Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos. Two years later, the Nicaeans recaptured Constantinople, putting an end to the Roman Empire and establishing the Byzantine Empire. At this point, the emperor concluded an agreement with the captive prince: William and his men would be set free in exchange for an oath of fealty, and for the cession of Monemvasia, Grand Magne, and Mystras. Thus henceforth Mystras served as the capital of the Byzantine Despotate of the Morea in the 14th and 15th centuries, during which period the city prospered, culturally as well as practically, producing silk, citrus fruit and olive oil which were exported to Western Europe.

 

The view of the church of Pantanassa  from above

Wild flowers and butterflies were abundant, and the only sounds  were the chirping of birds and the buzzing of bees.

 

The view of the Palace complex from the top

It is a magical site, like so many others in Greece.

 

The Palace complex is being restored

The city contains a number of beautiful churches, in different states of preservation.

Icons in the small but beautiful church of Aghia Sofia

Looking out

And a view of the lovely Monastery of Pantanassa

Photo: Wiki commons

An old map of the city

Photo: Wiki commons

The hike made us hot and thirsty, so we descended to the village. After ice cold drinks under the shade of mulberry trees in the village square, we repaired for lunch to the village of Kastori. A small taverna with a garden full of roses at the back provided us with an excellent Greek salad and a simple meal followed by a bowl of cherries from their tree. This fortified us for another, this time shady, hike by a stream in the forest at the feet of the majestic Taygetos mountain.

 

The start of the Greek summer

May is a beautiful season in Greece. Not too hot yet, brilliant sunny days interspersed with the occasional shower, a pure transparent sky.

 

The sea is still a little chilly but, once you’ve warmed up in the sun, the initial shock only lasts a few seconds. And the sense of well-being afterwards lasts for hours.

 

The sun is good for replenishing Vitamin D, and the heat seeps happily into the old bones.

Below, fishermen mending their nets

Athens, too, is showing its best side. Cafés have opened their terraces, although people are still wearing masks in the street. And the bougainvillea is out in all its glory.

 

I’ve been volunteering to teach Greek online to a bunch of boys (unaccompanied minors in a refugee shelter belonging to the Home project, about which I posted a while ago) and we finally got a chance to meet in person, which was lovely.

Philopappos monument. Photo: Wikipedia commons


We went for a hike on Philopappos hill. This large park, which is known for the beautiful landscaping and stone pathways created by architect Dimitris Pikionis, is the home of many indigenous bird and a great variety of plants and trees. It is a favorite promenade of Athenians and presents the visitor with great views of the Acropolis, the whole city of Athens and the Aegean Sea that surrounds Attica. In 115 AD, a monument dedicated to the exiled Roman Prince Gaius Julius Antichus Philopappos of Commagene (a region in ancient Armenia) was erected on top of the hill. 
After his exile, Philopappos settled in Athens, became an Athenian citizen and held religious and civil offices. He was considered a great benefactor and was highly esteemed by the residents.


Best of all, the backdrop: the Parthenon, under a  brilliant Attic sky. 

A figure from the past

Recently I came upon an article about the ”pizzardone”, as traffic policemen in Rome are known (due to the shape of their helmets, nothing to do with pizza!) They elegantly direct traffic while perched on a pedestal in central spots, such as the Piazza Venezia.

This brought back amusing memories, since we also used to have traffic policemen in Greece, at most major crossroads in the cities. In the very beginning they stood in the road, which must have been terrifying, given Greek driving habits. Then they were put on a dais, which eventually evolved into the cylindrical so-called ‘Barrel’.

They were a respected presence in their area, in their white gloves and white diagonal sash; some even acquired a measure of fame, like Mr. Nikos Kostakis, who for many years was a cult figure on Vassilissis Sofias Avenue. He was known for his impeccable manners, stern but unfailingly polite approach and perfect control of the flow of traffic. Impervious to weather conditions, in later years he was offered a desk job, but declined, preferring the outdoors and his daily contact with the public.

Mr. Kostakis, known as ‘the man with the moustache’

Later came the tradition of gifts deposited around the barrels by an appreciative public at Christmas and Easter. This tradition was inadvertently started in 1936 by the king, King George II, who stopped his car in front of the palace to wish the traffic policeman a Happy Christmas and left a gift of wine. This was copied by the public and became a custom. People gave what they could, sometimes just sacks of potatoes and baskets of eggs.

 

Bad photo, but I couldn’t resist the live turkeys!

Along with wine there were seasonal sweets such as kourabiedes, and toys for the policeman’s kids. As the years went by and Greeks became more affluent, the gifts became more valuable. Local shops joined in and donated household goods such as mattresses, boilers, or even refrigerators! The gifts would be taken to the police station and balloted out to all.

Photo Dimitris Harisiadis (from the Benaki Museum Archives)

 

This is all history, but I remember well our own barrel, and my mother wrapping a crate of wine in red crepe paper with a big bow. Like everyone else, we’d stop the car right in the middle of the junction, and she’d get out to deposit the crate at the base of the barrel, and wish the man on duty a Happy Christmas or Easter.

 

Most hilarious, though, was that at Easter the police saw fit to turn the barrel into a giant Easter egg, from which the poor man would emerge like a newly hatched chick.

 

So sad all this has been replaced with mere traffic lights.

 

Snow on ancient stones

While people who live in northern countries are getting heartily sick of snowy conditions, in Athens deep snow is so rare and lasts so little that it’s a cause for celebration. Schools stay shut since anyway many of the roads are closed, and everyone just makes the most of it.

 


A friend who is fortunate enough to live downtown, close to the Acropolis and the ruins of the Parthenon sent me these wonderful photos.

 

 

The Parthenon

The entrance to the Odeon of Herodotus Atticus

 

Did the Ancient Greeks make snowmen? It’s very probable.

The Tower of the Winds was built around 100 – 50 BC by  Andronicus of Cyrrhus for measuring time.

 

At the foot of the rock

 

Flying the flag on the walls

 

 

An overview

 

Lemon sorbet: this one was taken by my sister in her garden

All other photos by Eugenia Kokkala-Mela, owner of the wonderful HEROES shop at the foot of the Acropolis. 


And the best of it? Tomorrow there will probably be brilliant sunshine, and all traces of slush will vanish.

Athens turns up another treasure

Aiolou Street is named after Aeolus, God of the Winds, and is the first street to have been paved in Athens in the 19th century. It it to this day a major shopping street in downtown Athens, and it is in its sewage system—which has been undergoing a maintenance overhaul—that workers discovered a bust of Hermes, herald of the gods.

 

The marble head is bearded and with his hair in strictly arranged curls. In good condition, it was found a mere 1.3 meters under the road surface.

The bust dates from around 300 BC, and is believed to have been part of a stone pillar serving as a street marker. These pillars were called Hermae, and were used as markers and also to impart good luck to travellers, and ward off harm or evil. They were placed at crossings, country borders, in front of temples or public buildings such as libraries, gymnasia, and palestrae, and also in front of houses. They were quadrangular and plain, with the head sitting on top; sometimes male genitalia were carved at the appropriate height. They were called Hermae because the head of Hermes was the most common, since he was the protector of merchants and travelers. However, the heads of other gods and heroes, and sometimes distinguished mortals, were also frequent.

 

Photos from Google

Music will not be stilled

Not to be cowed by the pandemic, the Greek National Opera turned to the Internet to present its Online Festival, curated by Giorgos Koumendakis, and under the aegis of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. The Festival was a big success: each of its video performances attracted tens of thousands of viewers and many positive comments from across the globe.

 

Source: GNO/Andreas Simopoulos

The first part, entitled Exit: Spring,  streamed from 17th May to 30th June 2020, and offered eleven new music, opera, operetta and music theatre video-performances created during the pandemic, as well as one recorded dance performance.

Below, a video of ‘When will, when will summer come’, by the GNO children’s chorus concert, conducted by Chorus Mistress Konstantinos Pitsiakou.



The 2nd part, titled Counterpoints, was streamed online from 27 September to 31 October, and its aim was to shed light upon the relationship between Greek music and architecture. Emblematic buildings of Athens were connected to great works from the historical repository of Greek music, from the Cretan Renaissance to the present day.

The Festival was filmed at some of the greatest buildings of Athens, such as the Church of the Holy Apostles at the Ancient Agora, the Gennadius Library, and the Athens Conservatoire, amongst others.

 

Photo Credit: G. Domenikos

In one example, three of the most celebrated works of Greek art music written during the interwar period were performed at the Gennadius Library by mezzo-soprano Margarita Syngeniotou, accompanied on the piano by Apostolos Palios. These were:
• Yannis Konstantinidis’ Songs of Anticipation
• Manolis Kalomiris’ Should I Speak? set to poetry by Kostis Palamas
• Dimitri Mitropoulos’ 10 Inventions set to poetry by Constantine Cavafy

The closing act, Zeitgeist, written for string quartet by distinguished Greek modern composer Christos Hatzis was performed by musicians of the Greek National Opera Orchestra, under the baton of Miltos Logiadis, at the Athens International Airport “Eleftherios Venizelos”.

 

Some of the  videos of the performances are available on YouTube.