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. 

September light

The world around us feels extremely weird at the moment: people wandering around in masks, unreliable information buzzing about our ears, uncertainty about the future. Political leadership is underwhelming, to say the least, and crime has increased, sometimes taking on strange manifestations: all over France, horses are being maimed and killed in their fields, for no discernible reason; in Canada, a cable was cut, sending numerous gondolas plunging into the forest below. What can possibly possess people to think of doing such things? 

The news in general makes for uncomfortable reading.


Due to the circumstances, I have not been gadding about to art shows or going on road trips—thus I have been uninspired to write. I took a break and just enjoyed other people’s posts; lazy, I know—but, after all, it’s not homework!


My refuge, as always, is nature. In Greece the light has subtly changed, heralding the coming of autumn, although the temperature is still high: it’s yellow and mellow. The pomegranates are ripening on the trees, so are the olives. The bougainvillea is blazing.  The house is full of baby geckos. I will try to capture some of this with paint and paper
; meanwhile, enjoy these few photos.

 

Listening to bees buzzing around I thought what fascinating creatures they are: I recently read an article describing how scientists are “scent training” honeybees like search dogs. They believe establishing long-term memory scents in bees could help boost crops like almonds, pears and apples.

Honeybees were given food scented with odours that mimicked sunflowers which then altered their choices about which plants to visit. Isn’t that amazing?


Also, I find the scent of jasmine irresistible—so subtle but bewitching. I’m digressing, I know, but I just wanted to reconnect: a few people have told me off for the radio silence. I’ve got a couple more interesting posts on the boil, so stay tuned! 

A wonderful discovery

Yesterday we celebrated the Epiphany in Greece (new followers can read about it here), so it seemed like a good time to mention a wonderful discovery made at a church in the village of Tsivaras, 17 kilometers east of the town of Chania, in Crete.

The finding concerns a religious icon, which is believed to be an early work of master painter El Greco.
El Greco, whose real name was Domenikos Theotokopoulos, was born on October 1, 1541 in Heraklion, Crete. However, the artist spent the bulk of his life in Italy and in Spain, where he created his best-known works.

Photo:Google


 

The finding was announced by Byzantine history expert Michalis Andrianakis at a recent archaeology conference. It concerns a double icon, of the Virgin and Saint Catherine, and Byzantine experts have been studying it for many years.

According to Andrianakis, “The icon was located at the apron of the temple of the church which was built in the 1880s. It was cut in half so it would fit on the temple and the bottom part where the signature of the artist would have been was discarded.”

He thinks that several elements in the icon are specific of the El Greco style, one of which are the pigments that were used.

Autumn Light

 

I’ve been too busy to write much lately (only one post in August—shame on me!) and the news this summer has been depressing again, with multiple forest fires and droves of immigrants arriving on the islands. However, the change in government has brought a measure of optimism to the country. The general consensus seems to be that they are at least trying hard to make a difference, and the reaction to events is faster and more organized. So fingers crossed.

 

 

Also, the last few days have been like a mini holiday where I’m taking the opportunity to enjoy the end of the summer. It’s a lovely time of the year, still warm but with a breeze and a hint of chill in the evenings. The light is mellow, the sea is silky and the sun does not scorch.

 

 

This is Schoinias Beach near Athens. Children went back to school yesterday, so it’s nearly empty.

 

 

The beach is edged by these wonderful pine trees called koukounaries

 

 

Beyond the sea, lavender colored mountains.

 

 

Elsewhere, tree branches are bowing under the weight of ripening olives,

 

 

And pistachios.

 

 

 

A magical time of the year in Greece.

 

 

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!

 

Happy New Year!

What better way to ring in the new year than watching fireworks explode over the Acropolis?

 

Photo credit Kathimerini

 

Athenians braved the rainy weather, forgot their woes, and came out with their umbrellas to celebrate.

 

Photo credit Kathimerini

 

The photographs are from the daily paper Kathimerini, and provided some distraction from the otherwise continuing dismal news. What do we have to look forward to in 2019? Yet more rising taxes, elections, and a continuing and unmanageable refugee crisis.

However, a brand new year always brings with it a glimmer of hope. And the feeling that here we are, alive and kicking—we made it through another year!

 

Photo credit Kathimerini

 

A big thank you to all who follow, read my rants, and especially those who take the time to comment. I greatly appreciate it. All by best wishes for a wonderful 2019!

Stormy days

The Carlos Acosta interlude proved to be short. We were lucky the performance was not cancelled, since the next day Xenophon, our local cyclone, struck in earnest, with gale-force winds and intermittent showers. Schools were shut for a day, and the fire brigade has been busy cutting branches that threatened to crush all beneath them. Plus Xenophon is now scheduled to meet with a buddy, Zorba, and they will no doubt be dancing a syrtaki in the skies.

 

The port of Rafina (source: Google )

 

Meanwhile, in a report published in the daily KATHIMERINI, it appears that the Greek state is holding back tax returns of 1.83 billion euros which it owes to taxpayers and businesses. This tactic is aggravating  the cash flow problems in the market and in households. To add insult to injury, taxpayers are not allowed to offset what they are owed with what they owe, but are still required to pay their own taxes on time or incur hefty fines. The law requires the state to return sums owed together with interest if the delay is over 90 days but, according to accounting firms, this has in fact never happened.

By the end of this year, Greeks will have been working for the government for a total of 198 days. Greek taxation is equal to that of Germans, but higher than in Sweden or Finland. However, Greeks feel they are getting a lot less bang for their buck, as the saying goes. At least, in the aforementioned countries, the roads are not full of potholes, nor are the pavement slabs cracked, and the streets often strewn with rubbish. Greek pensions are tiny and threatened by further cuts, and hospitals and schools in dire need of improvement.

No cause for celebration

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras hailed it as a ‘day of liberation ‘ and the ‘end of a modern day Odyssey’: after about nine years of unbearable austerity, Greece has exited the bailout program.

“Greece has managed to stand on her feet again,” the prime minister’s office announced last week, describing receipt of a final €15bn bailout loan as “The last act in the drama. Now a new page of progress, justice and growth can be turned.”

However, celebrations are premature: not only in my opinion, but according to several experts, the bailout was a disaster for Greece, since the loans were designed to help Northern European banks, not the Greek government, nor the Greek people.

 

Photo from Benaki Museum Archives

 

If their purpose was to support the Greek economy, the emergency loans must be considered a failure. Greece is now the fourth poorest country in the EU behind Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania. In an economy that has contracted by 26%, a fifth of the working population – two-fifths of young people – have been left unemployed, while about 500,000 people have fled, mostly to EU member states in Europe’s wealthier north.

Although Greece might be now able, after many years, to borrow again at market rates, and Tsipras is at pains to play down outside supervision, we will still be subject to a regime of enhanced surveillance. Further pension cuts are in store.

Also, a return to borrowing has been made much more difficult because of market turbulence caused by financial problems in both Italy and Turkey. In the midst of his triumphant pronouncements, Tsipras has nevertheless warned of “fresh battles ahead” as the country prepares its first budget measures following the end of its international bailout.

The country faces decades of austerity since, contrary to widely held beliefs, less than €10 billion or a fraction of less than 5% of the overall programme went to the Greek fiscal budget. In contrast, the vast majority of the money went to existing creditors in the form of debt repayments and interest payments. Athens will be repaying a €322bn debt mountain for next 42 years.

Scary? If you talk to Greeks who’ve had to sell their house, whose kids have left for a better life abroad, whose businesses have gone bankrupt, who have zero faith in their leaders, I can assure you not many of them will be opening the champagne just yet.