An orange sky

Any Greeks still doubtful about climate change are becoming more convinced as yet another cloud of dust from the Sahara hits Greek skies.
Athens, known for the pure blue of its Attic sky, is covered in a yellow haze, and people are going around coughing or hiding their mouths behind handkerchiefs.

 

Source:Google

 

Things have been even worse in Crete, because its proximity to Africa means the dust is denser, turning the atmosphere bright orange.

 

Source:Google

 

We have always had this phenomenon when certain climatic conditions prevailed, but it would occur only occasionally. In the last few years it is becoming more common and happens several times per year. According to scientists, it will probably continue increasing with time, as climate warming becomes more intense.

The dust cloud is not toxic, but it is extremely unpleasant and can cause breathing problems in people suffering from lung conditions such as asthma.

This is what the sky should look like at this time of year!

Almond blossom

‘Estia’ means hearth

In Ancient Greek religion, Estia or Hestia (/ˈhɛstiə/; Greek: Ἑστία, “hearth” or “fireside”) is a virgin goddess of the hearth, architecture, and the right ordering of domesticity, the family, the home, and the state.

It was a difficult start to my road trip to the seaside town of Galaxidi. The rain poured down, washing out the view on all sides. A few bare branches were the only things visible as I tried to keep the car from aqua-planing on the turns. A two hour trip took a while longer but, as we emerged on the top of the mountains above Itea the sky cleared and a few rays of brilliant sunshine pierced the clouds.

 

 

The view towards Galaxidi

 

The charm of Galaxidi was restored, and so was my mood, over a cup of mountain tea taken at the hotel with some of the other visitors. We were all here for the annual cutting of the traditional vasilopitta at the Estia Agios Nikolaos, (https://www.estia-agios-nikolaos.org), a community where adults with special needs live, work and share their free time together with those caring for them. In this, Estia Agios Nikolaos is quite unique, and not only in Greece. It is also one of the few such communities worldwide which is not affiliated to one particular religious faith, and this inclusiveness is the main point of attraction for people all over the world who come to live and work here, making Estia a vibrant and exciting place.

 

Our b&b, the Hotel Nostos

Everyone had dinner together at a wonderful seaside taverna. I sat next to Clara (German, speaking fluent Greek) and Maxime (French, having just signed up for his second year, rapidly improving Greek), two vivacious and inspiring young people, who talked about their work with enthusiasm. Also present were numerous locals, such as the pharmacist who donates all meds for the community, and a lady who provides fish from her fish farm once a week. And, making a star appearance, was Estia’s first baby, Mia, born to a couple who work as carers – a source of endless fascination and delight for all.

Next morning, after a delicious breakfast of home-made delicacies and a walk in the port, we drove to Estia, where everyone was gathered in the assembly hall.

Music and songs. The man playing the trumpet is the Estia gardener.

The festivities started with a couple of songs  (this video might look as if it’s facing sideways, but it will right itself once you click it. The mysteries of technology…)

Then the cutting and sharing of the vasilopitta.

 

 

We visited the ceramics shop, where colorful creations were on offer.

 

The wonderful vegetable garden,

 

complete with scarecrow,

 

and free-range chickens.

 

And finally one of the four residences, which in total cater for 45 people, of whom 22 have special needs (at the moment there is space for two more.) In ‘Estia Agios Nikolaos’ all the members live in small family structures, which comprise 6-9 special needs guests, 2 to 3 professional caregivers and 2 to 3 volunteers.

 

 

The entrance with its cats and box of fresh home-grown veggies.

 

A cozy living area

 

Complete with music corner

 

Fireplace

 

A large dining table for communal meals

 

A lovely kitchen

 

And a well-stocked larder.

 

We went on to visit another building which is used for various activities, fronted by a shady terrace for barbecues and ad hoc concerts. This doubles as the Kafeneion (café), a gathering place for Sunday coffee with the locals and evening parties.

 

A brand new kitchen, designed by an architect friend and donated by IKEA (the floor had been freshly washed), will be used for the new bakery and pastry workshop.

 

And there is a loom for weaving

 

Maren, who is German, is responsible for one of the houses and took us on tour, while explaining that the residents really look forward to their activities each morning after breakfast: either working in the garden or in the pottery and jewelry workshops.

The afternoons are devoted to music, exercising, walking, and in the summertime, swimming in the sea nearby. Besides the staff, there are professionals (most of them on a volunteering basis) providing specific therapeutical activities such as art therapy, physiotherapy, gymnastics and music therapy.

During the weekends, individuals can choose the activities they would like to participate in. There are various artistic and spiritual pursuits on offer, in connection to the local communities, such as outings to musical events, theater and cinema, church attendance and participation in local celebrations. Every Sunday late afternoon, the entire community gathers in the Kafeneion for cake, music and games, often hosting visitors from the local community.

Each new resident is taken in for a month’s trial, to see how well he or she will fit in. Most adapt well, some don’t. After the extensive mutual screening there is a mandatory period of at least one month when the potential resident returns to his/ her home so that each side, resident, family and the Estia team can calmly make up its mind. Sometimes parents find they miss their child too much, and prefer to keep them at home.

Residents join in on outings and trips whenever possible and have even been abroad, which I found impressive, due to the logistic problems needing to be solved.

The cornerstone principle of ‘Estia Agios Nikolaos’ is that “each person is unique and can be helped to develop his or her unique capabilities in a nurturing environment via creative work, artistic stimuli and direct interaction with nature.” Efforts are made to treat each person as an individual – the girl who made a friend in town goes for sleepovers to her house and is allowed to invite her in turn, those who don’t like to sleep after lunch are not made to have a siesta, and so on. Such an anthropocentric approach is quite revolutionary in what remains, in essence, an institution.

 

The view from the entrance

Giovanna Kampouri, the president of the foundation which supervises the organizers, explained the community’s vision:

For our residents with special needs, Estia Agios Nikolaos is often their only family and home. Many of them do not have a family that can care for them, and very sadly, most will face the trauma of losing their parents. It is our mission to be able to provide them with a lifelong, stable and loving home. The biggest challenge will come when the first residents will age (in the case of those with Down Syndrome, with dementia). We are now starting to study what it will take to build our 5th home, with special facilities for this group. We need to solve many issues for this, in addition to money, and particularly Greek legal requirements and infrastructure.

On a day to day basis, in the middle of the crisis, Estia has not only survived but managed to thrive, thanks to the love and generosity of an ever widening circle of supporters in Greece and abroad. I believe that this is thanks to its message of inclusiveness, which is filling a growing need in all our societies (to balance the opposite trend of nationalism and xenophobia) We are thankful for this, as we need to continue and to expand our possibility to provide life-long care for our residents. Due to the crisis, the ability of many of our residents to compensate for the patchy payments by EOPYY(social security) been reduced, and we have been able to fully cover this and to even offer full ‘scholarships’ to new residents from every part of Greece.”

And of course, the work is never done. There are plans for acquiring more animals, such as bees and a donkey, building a wood-fired oven, planting olive trees.

I left feeling invigorated and inspired – some truly remarkable work is being done here. If you want to know more, and meet the principals of this story, watch the wonderful video made by Marianna Economou.

 

Old Athens

Today Athens is a large, bustling city with a population – suburbs included – of over three million. It has its own particular Greek flavor, of course, but it also has many common characteristics with other European capitals: a lot of traffic, pollution, the usual ubiquitous shops, restaurants, cafés, museums, opera houses, theatres, squares and parks.

Athens, however, is a relatively new city, which evolved, in the 19th century, from a regional town of the Ottoman Empire to the capital of the new Kingdom of Greece. After the liberation from the Turks, it was a ruined and semi-abandoned town. But King Otto, the young Bavarian prince sent over by the Allies, declared it a capital, and in 1834 its reconstruction began, under architects Stamatis Kleanthis, Edouard Shaunert and Leo von Klenze, the king’s counsel.

It was then that the neo-classical buildings which even now give the city distinction were erected, starting with the Royal Palace, which was paid for by King Otto’s father, the king of Bavaria, as a personal loan to his son. In 1934, after extensive renovation following two fires (the royal family had meanwhile moved to a new palace), the building became the House of Parliament.

 

 

The University of Athens was designed by the Danish architect Hans Christian Hansen and built with financial support from the king, the king of Serbia and various prominent Greeks.

 

The Athens Cathedral was also initially designed by Hansen, but finished by Greek architect Dimitris Zezos, who added Byzantine aspects. The church was partly built using material from abandoned Byzantine churches.

 

There were many other public buildings built at that time, as well as private residences.

Fast forward to circa 1917, after the first war, when the following photos were taken by our French Allies.

Cattle at the temple of Hephaestus.

 


Cooking with a view of the Acropolis.

 

A neighborhood near the center.

 

A shopping street with a mosque in the background.

 

 

Buying grapes. Some men still wore traditional clothing.

 

Children playing in the streets of Plaka, beneath the Acropolis.

 

Coffee in the garden of Zappeion. In the early twentieth century, Athens was still a provincial town of circa 180.000 people.

 

Constitution Square: The large white building on the right was built in 1842 and since 1874 houses the Grande Bretagne Hotel, where history has been written many times over and  which is still  today one of the  great luxury hotels in the world. In 1888 it was one of the first buildings in Athens to have electricity installed.

 

One of the main commercial thoroughfares, Stadiou Avenue, in 1935.

 

During WWII, Athens came under German occupation.

 

German tanks in Athen.

The city suffered great destruction and famine, exacerbated by the civil war which exploded following liberation from the Germans, and which raged until 1949 (my parents always told us this was much worse than the German occupation).

 

A British soldier in Athens during the civil war.

 

Children singing carols in the early 1950s. Ill-fitting coats, heads shaven against lice, but at least these two have shoes on.

 

The ice-cream man. Many years later, a man on a bike pushing an icebox still came into the park where we played when I was a child. I vividly remember our excitement, and the smell of the ice as the heavy lid was lifted, and we bent over the box to make our choice: vanilla or chocolate, on a stick or in a cup. It was a real treat.

This is far from pretending to be a comprehensive overview of the long and complicated history of Athens. I just happened upon these old pictures and thought they gave off a charming aroma of time passing.

Syntagma  (Constitution Square) then…

And now…

All images are from Google. Since most are old, it was difficult to attribute credit.

A black day, a black tide

As if Greece was not plagued by enough problems, it is now the site of an unprecedented ecological disaster, following the sinking of an oil tanker near the port of Piraeus.

The Agia Zoni II sank on September 10 while anchored in calm seas and carrying 2,200 tons of fuel oil and 370 tons of marine gas oil. The ship’s cargo spilled into waters where dolphins, turtles, seals and a variety of fish and sea birds feed and live. Oil slicks have extended from the island of Salamina, near where the tanker went down, to the entire length of the Athens coast.

 

Image from naharnet.com

 

The Greek government is being accused (as usual) of a slow and inadequate response to the crisis, which it (obviously) is denying.

Meanwhile, the World Wildlife Fund has filed a lawsuit over extensive pollution to the coastline around Athens. The environmental group’s Greek branch filed the lawsuit in the port city of Piraeus against “anyone found responsible,” a common practice when a party that could be held legally accountable has not been identified formally. Mayors of affected coastal areas are also threatening to take legal action.

Environmental and wildlife organizations have been posting instructions on social media on how members of the public should handle any stricken wildlife they come across, as well as phone numbers to call for help. As for the members of said public, they have been denied one of the great benefits – or saving graces – of living in Athens, that is, access to sandy beaches with clear water. The end of this season is shot, and who knows what the long-term consequences will be? This will also affect another Athenian pleasure, eating locally caught fish in little tavernas by the sea.

This disaster comes at the end of a summer beset, as usual, by wildfires which consumed another chunk of precious forest around Greece and the islands. There again, the authorities were criticized for being more disorganized than ever. At the moment they are engaged in heaping blame on each other – the opposition has asked for the resignation of Ministers concerned, etc – while spouting various inanities, such as, ‘In a month the beaches will be cleaner than before.’ Nobody is amused or convinced by this. Greece’s greatest assets are its natural beauties, and it is very sad to watch these being destroyed.

Below is a video taken by a drone, which shows the impact on usually pristine beaches

 

It is still unclear why the ship sank. Its owners insist it was seaworthy and that its documents were in order.

Medical tourism

There were storks strolling on the runway as my plane taxied to the terminal in the airport of Kavala, a town in Northern Greece to which I flew in order to catch the ferry to the lovely island of Thasos.

Seagulls accompanied the boat on the 35-minute crossing, and a gaggle of kids on a school outing ran around screeching, while I had my coffee sitting in the sunshine.

 

Arriving in Thasos

 

I came here to visit my doctor, Athina Mavromati (she was one of my Q&A subjects, read about her here) who, with her husband, decided to quit the rat race and move to this lovely spot. They took their sailing boat and their dog, and have never looked back. Athina’s family come from this island, so it was an obvious choice.

 

 

This is the picturesque old port.  Under a huge, ancient plane tree, a fisherman was mending his nets.

 

 

The island is large and green, with pine, olive and plane trees coming all the way down to the crystal clear sea. The beaches are of fine, white sand.

 

 

It was a good time of the year to come, since the season has only just started, so it was not too busy – and also not too hot yet, although the weather was beautiful. However, there were plenty of tourists already, most of them Russian.

This tiny island looked like something in a Japanese painting

 

There is one street with ‘tourist-trap’ shops selling local produce such as honey, olives and oil, sponges; as well as clothes, straw hats, and hideous articrafts made of sea-shells. The rest of the town is quiet and full of cafés and little restaurants – there’s even a shop selling frozen Greek yogurt!

Greek salad and stuffed vine leaves at a shady spot in town

There are many places to visit along the road going all around the island – lovely monasteries, and ancients ruins scattered everywhere, since Thasos was famous for its white marble and olive oil and thrived both in Ancient Greek and Roman times. There are also lovely little mountain villages and hiking trails in the forest. All this was explained to me by Athina and Yannis, who very kindly took me out to eat in a little taverna by the sea, where we had the most amazing fish, accompanied by various local delicacies. Unfortunately, I did not have much time, so I only managed to swim in the sea. But I will definitely be back!

 

 

New Q&A – The food blogger

Eleni Vonissakou’s blog, The Foodie Corner, is full of delicious recipes and mouth-watering photographs (she’s a girl of many talents!). In both English and Greek. Plus our dogs are friends and we organize play-dates. So,  how could I resist introducing her to all of you. Do go on her blog and be tempted!  http://www.thefoodiecorner.gr/en/

Tell us a little about yourself

Hmm, where to start. Well, my mum is English and my dad is Greek, I grew up in Athens, studied in northern England and now live just outside Athens near the sea. I studied social work but caught the tourism bug early on, so that’s the industry I worked in for the first part of my professional life. I have now made a complete change and managed to turn my love of food and cooking into a job. I am a full time food blogger, creating recipes, cooking, taking photos and publishing everything on my blog. And then eating it all. I live with my partner and our golden retriever Westley, who takes up most of my limited free time! I love reading about dog training and other canine science articles, and always have a crime novel at my bedside (the only way to switch my brain off).

 

 

What were the major difficulties you’ve faced in the last five years?

The most challenging experience was going from a very structured, office working environment in a huge organisation, and living in the city, to starting my own business, working from home and living in a small seaside town. That all happened at once, and it was a bit of a shock to the system!

Did anyone in particular inspire you or help you?

I had a lot of support from my partner, and still do. In Greece when you start a business there is no financial help from banks etc (it is super difficult to get funding or loans, especially nowadays and especially for something as weird as food blogging) so I had both practical help and of course moral support from him. In fact it was his idea for me to start blogging professionally. Until then it was just a hobby and I had never dreamed it could be more than that. My mum has also been there every step of the way, and she’s the first phone call when a recipe is not working out!

What are your hopes/plans for the future?

I hope to continue with successful collaborations with large brands from the food industry, but I also hope to build the other aspects of my business, like for example the food photography side of things which I really love. I recently organised a food photography workshop on Crete, and this is something I would definitely enjoy doing again since it combines my current work with my background in tourism and event planning.

 

 

What are your hopes for Greece? What changes do you hope to see happen?

Oh goodness, there is so much I would like to see change here. First of all, the all-round unfairness. Too many people get away with things they shouldn’t. And too many others put up with things they shouldn’t have to. I would love to see procedures work like they are supposed to, in all sectors. And most of all, I would like to see an attitude change in the people of this country. To put it plainly (and sorry for the bleakness) I am hoping for less selfishness in the generations to come. It’s not looking good though.

Have you considered leaving? If so, where would you like to go, and why?

I consider it every single day. When I am out walking in the street with my dog and I have to battle the rubbish out of his jaws (golden retrievers will eat anything and everything), when I am driving and have to keep calm with all the inconsiderate and dangerous drivers around me, when my accountant tells me just how much tax I have to pay now, on invoices for which I myself will receive payment in 4 months if I am lucky. The easiest choice would be to move to the UK, since I have family there and have lived there in the past. I would also consider Germany or Holland, even though I don’t really know what life is like in those countries. To be honest, I just want somewhere with nice clean parks where Westley can roam happily and safely! But it’s not an easy decision to up and leave.

If you have already decided to leave what would make you stay?

I think if I got to the point where I’ve said “I’m going”, nothing would make me stay. Unless for some reason I couldn’t take Westley. That would be different.

 

 

Are you actively doing anything to help with the situation? Is there something you would like to do?

The things that bother me are very deeply rooted in the mentality of this country, and that makes one feel very helpless. I can’t even imagine what I could do to help change things. As for the general state of the country, the fact that I haven’t moved my business out of it, and I don’t cheat on my taxes (which is sooo tempting) must count for something. In terms of supporting those more unfortunate than myself, I am a founding member of a team of food bloggers who have raised considerable amounts of money for charity through events. We cook yummy food and people pay a nominal fee to come and enjoy it with us. We haven’t been active for a while since our everyday lives have got in the way, but I really want to do another event soon. I might get onto that actually, thanks for the reminder!

How do you see Greece in 5, 10 years?

Truthfully? Exactly the same as it is now. With less young scientists and professionals, since they will have all moved away.

How do you cope with obstacles and frustrations in your everyday life?

Mostly I rant in group internet chats with my friends! I live too far to just pop over to any of them for a coffee, which is what I would like to be able to do. If my partner is home early enough from work we go to our local café by the sea and talk about stuff. Otherwise, I try to take Westley to his favourite park (one of the very few decent ones in Athens), where he can run free and I can feel happy with his happiness. Oh and ice cream.

 

 

What are the positive sides of living in Greece? Have you had any good experiences lately?

This is a difficult question and depends on the day you ask it. As you will have surmised from all the above, things are looking bleak these days. I will try and find a bright side. A recent amazing experience was my food photography workshop. We held it at Milia, (www.milia.gr) a retreat hidden away in the mountains of Chania on Crete. Stone buildings lovingly restored by the two owners, solar electricity with limited availability (no charging phones in the rooms!), good local food with home grown veggies and herbs, fantastic people. And our group was a mix of talented people from Europe, the US and Canada. I was proud to show off the amazing landscapes and beautiful beaches, the gorgeous meals, and the hospitality of the local team. We also put together some fabulous goodie bags, with good quality products made here by young entrepreneurs with great taste. It felt good to see how much we have to offer. Then I had to come back to reality.

When will there be good news?

I’ve been offline for a while, having been rather busy, but also because there’s been nothing I particularly wanted to write about. I had planned to go and visit another part of the Documenta Art Fair, but a general strike put a stop to that. To top it all, the weather has been foul; a hot wind dumping packets of dust upon us straight from Africa and, since yesterday, rain. We’re usually glad of a bit of rain at this time of the year, since everything is drying up fast, but today it’s like a monsoon, pouring down from a grey sky. The dog is refusing to go out, and I’m dreading a pile of poop will materialize next to the kitchen door…
Aaargghh.

 

Looking out on a watery world

 

Catching up on the news is doing nothing to improve my mood. The endless political bickering is intolerable. I wish they’d buckle down and do some work, instead of spending their time blaming each other for the ills that are besetting us.

As the endless negotiations between the Greek Authorities and our European controllers are winding towards a resolution, things continue to look grim. The constant quest for more money is centred on two things – raising taxes again (they are already sky-high) and cutting pensions further. Of course, there doesn’t seem to be any intention of cost-cutting in the public sector.

Consider the following figures:

Against a population of  3.5 million people in full employment, there are 1.4 million unemployed and more than 2.5 million pensioners. Nearly half of those are getting a pension below the poverty level. An average net salary is around 815 euro while around half a million people work part time for less than half that amount. Many are getting paid with a delay of three to five months.

Meanwhile, over 400.000 people have emigrated in search of better opportunities, mostly those with high qualifications.

Even if my figures are a little off (it’s hard to know which articles are credible), they paint a bleak picture of the future. The professional classes have been decimated and there is a real danger that a large part of the population will slip into permanent poverty. The collapse of the productive and technological framework also seems impending.

It beggars belief how the powers-that-be can think that a country can be resurrected by selling off the national assets and impoverishing the population. They’re in a mad hunt for cash in total disregard of any other consideration. The cash will disappear into the usual black holes and then what? And who will benefit from all this? – because, surely, as always, someone will.

It was this bleak mood which tempted me into ‘borrowing’ today’s title from Kate Atkinson’s marvellous crime novel. For those of you who haven’t read it, I highly recommend it (it’s the third of a trilogy).

As I’m writing this, my chair has been jolted by an earthquake. A single tremor. Could it be an omen? But of what?

To vent my frustrations I will now go and slosh some paint around.

 

The last days of spring


Summer comes to Greece quickly, and everything dries up. Wild flowers and weeds get overblown, and dried grasses have to be cleared because of fire risk. We live in fear of forest fires, which is a big downside of our lovely summers. Pine trees are especially at risk, because of the resin in their sap. They can spontaneously combust just from the heat of a forest fire, and the cones can fly as far as 500 meters, thus accelerating the spread of the fire.

 

 

We have had a little welcome rain lately, which has kept things green, and so we can still enjoy wild flowers and the blossom on trees. Of course in the mountains spring will last a while longer, but around Athens summer has a habit of establishing itself quite early. People are already heading to the beach – in fact, we had our first swim in the sea on April 14. The water was freezing, but invigorating! Then it turned cold again for a few days.

 

 

I don’t know what these flowers are called, but they were so pretty growing amongst the rocks, that I felt inspired to make a sketch in my journal.

 

 

Tortoises are coming out of hibernation, to the great interest of some! This one came to visit. It’s amazing how much faster they move than what you’d expect. I went into the kitchen to get it some lettuce, and by the time I came out again, it was gone. In the countryside, sometimes they decide to cross the road, stopping all traffic.

 

 

Nature at its best!

 

 

 

 

Documenta comes to Athens

In a surprising move, Adam Szymczyk, Documenta’s Artistic Director, transplanted half this year’s exhibition to Athens, where it is sprawled over 40 venues, showing 160-odd artists, with the working title ‘Learning from Athens’. Documenta is an exhibition of contemporary art which takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany. It was founded by artist, teacher and curator Arnold Bode in 1955, in an attempt to bring Germany up to speed with modern art.

Here in Athens, the heart of the exhibition resides in the large available spaces—the Athens School of Fine Arts, Benaki Museum Pireos Street Annexe, the former Athens Conservatoire, and the EMST Contemporary Art Museum which, due to government mismanagement, has only just opened after years of delays. But the rest of it is spread around the many small galleries about town.
The program also includes a radio station that broadcasts 28 commissioned sound pieces in multiple formats, art films screened on Greek television, a vibrant education program, and a jam-packed schedule of live performances.

 

 

It was difficult to know what to tackle first, so we decided to start with the National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST), which is a converted beer factory, and thus an interesting space in itself.

 

 

The building does not disappoint – it has been beautifully converted, provides an amazing background to showcase art, and has stunning views on the Acropolis, Mount Lycabettus, and the Philopappos hill.

 

 

The art itself, however, and although it did include some stunning pieces, left me somewhat underwhelmed. There were a number of very plain sketches which would have been better placed on Instagram, and installations which, while being creative and sometimes original, inevitably brought to mind the question: This is clever/imaginative/fun, but is it art?

 

Lois Weinsberger, installation for Documenta 14 in Athens

Austrian artist Lois Weinberger had packed old objects  ‘excavated’ from under  the Weinberger family’s old farmhouse floorboards – animal skulls, broken crockery,  bits of torn paper, scraps of wood – into cardboard boxed with plexiglass tops. There was even a line of old shoes.

 

Lois Weinberger, Installation for documenta 14 in Athens

 

Strangely, the labels for the whole exhibition were located on the floor – they were just work titles on paper and handwritten artist’ names on small, rectangular blocks of marble that looked like paperweight (apparently a number have already disappeared – perhaps purloined as souvenirs).

 

 

Another installation comprised a few desks strewn haphazardly in an empty space, as if an office had been abandoned in a hurry. On them were objects described on a list: i.e.  ‘a piece of A4 paper.’

 

Art is very subjective and encompasses a wide range of creativity, yet there are still some some things I don’t get – but perhaps there is nothing to get. Just sayin’. The most creative part here, it seems to me, has been getting people to believe this is worthy of a place in Documenta.

 

 

Moving on, among the video installations was one I found engrossing, from the collaboration of artists Nashashib and Skaer – a group of women and children in a house and courtyard, complete with dogs and chickens – which revisited Gaugin’s images of Tahitian women. Another, called ’15 hours’, by Chinese filmmaker Wang Bing, showed the repetitive work in a Chinese sweatshop – and there was an unbearable one, by Iranian director Forough Ferrokhzad. Called ‘The House is Black’, it documented life in a leper colony. I could only watch a tiny bit – in fact, I’ve noticed that visitors seldom have the patience to watch the whole of a video installation, which, in some instances, is probable a shame.

One aspect of the exhibition I liked was the variety of artists represented, from all over the world. Many from Eastern Europe, and some from unusual destinations – artists from as far away as Mongolia, or belonging to the Sami people from the Arctic regions of Norway. On the other hand, who wants to see a series of portraits of Hitler, even if they do have socio-political connotations? (paintings by McDermott & McGough from their series ‘Hitler and the Homosexuals’.)

 

 

Installation by Cecilia Vicuña for Documenta Athens
Cecilia Vicuña ‘Quipu Womb’ The Story Of The Red Thread, dyed wool

At the end of our tour, we came upon two impressive installations, especially since our first glimpse of them was from above.

A circle of masks made of woven vines by Khvay Samnang.

 

 

And I loved Quipu Womb (Story Of The Red Thread) by Cecilia Vicuña. The ancient art of Quipu is a pre-Colombian form of writing involving intricate knotting patterns. Here, untreated wool was sourced from a local Greek provider and dyed red.

 

Installation by Cecilia Vicuña for Documenta Athens
It is made of wool, and it’s hard to stop oneself from touching it or sneaking inside the strands

 

Art is rampant all over town, and one of the positive effects of Documenta  is that it has attracted a lot of visitors from abroad. Documenta has been called a ‘cultural peace offering‘ from Germany to Greece by some, a ‘Trojan horse’ by others. It so vast and diverse that it is intimidating: one has to make up one’s own mind in the end. The dialogue continues.

 

Mask by Beau Dick. Documenta 14 Athens
A set of twenty ‘tribal’ masks, by the late British Colombian artist Beau Dick

Documenta is on for 100 days, so I will certainly be seeing more of it. For anyone interested in more detail, however, or for those of you living in Greece, I recommend browsing Art Scene Athens, a blog I have often referred to before. There are several detailed posts on the subject, a lot more erudite and objective than my own biased view!

 

They must have been fun to make!

For Sale

In 2008, residential property prices in Greece were through the roof, boosted by the success of the Olympics, and the denial syndrome that made people refuse to acknowledge the approaching crisis. Today, they are down by 42% (-45.3% in real terms). And everybody wants to sell – or rather, needs to sell.
People can’t afford to keep the summer villa on the islands, or the large house in the suburbs which they built with such pride and is now costing them an arm and a leg.

To revive the housing market, the Greek government recently offered residence to non-EU investors purchasing or renting property worth over €250,000. This is known as the “Golden Visa” program and has resulted in a spike in the demand for property by foreigners – especially houses – according to research published  by “spitogatos.gr”,  a website focusing on property investment in Greece. The rise in interest has been particularly evident in January and February 2017 by nationals from Arab states, China, Germany and Turkey.

This might come as a welcome respite for some Greeks; it might also be the perfect opportunity for foreigners to acquire the house of their dreams on a Greek island. And we do want foreigners to keep coming, dont get me wrong – tourism is very important to us. But there is a very dark downside to be considered.

 

The ancient theatre at Argos

At the same time, the Greek government has been implementing a selling-out of public assets in an unprecedented scale and in ways that are mostly suspect, if not downright illegal.

Ports, airports, huge pieces of public real estate including beaches, land and wetlands, dozens of properties abroad, dozens of listed and non-listed monuments, Olympic facilities, national roads, military installations, natural gas, the defense and oil industries, railways, post offices, and profit-making enterprises – all have been sold, or are for sale.

The European Union has a hand – and, of course, an interest – in this (and some countries more than others!) Reading articles about it makes my head ache – the politics and shenanigans involved are surreal. The complications and different opinions are impossible to unravel.

 

Loutsa beach near Athens

History repeats itself – we are a small country coveted by many, because of our climate, natural beauty and geographical position. We are preyed upon, while being in some way complicit in our own destruction.

In twenty years, will Greece still belong to the Greeks? Or will we be the servants of higher powers, in a country where others live in our houses and profit from our natural wealth? Thinking about it makes me scared, and sad.