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Landmark’s rebirth gives boost to central Athens December 14, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Greece, Books Life Greek.
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Glamour returns to key city block as a historic building rebounds

The Army Pension Fund’s Building in Athens, Greece.  The Army Pension Fund building after all phases of construction were completed in 1939.

The recent reopening of the Pallas Theater has brought new life to Voukourestiou Street, where the Clemente, replacing the old Brazilian cafe, has become a society watering hole from morning to night. Even as the refurbished Spyromiliou Arcade awaits its new tenants, it is obvious what a difference one building can make to city life.

Voukourestiou Street is awash in an atmosphere of prosperity. Near the intersection with Stadiou Street, Athens has never seen such luxury, not only because of the expensive stores but also because of the building itself, its arcades and hallways that link streets and city blocks in an exciting way. The Army Pension Fund building has reclaimed its pre-war place as the flagship of city life in Athens.

Winding staircases, sidewalk benches, elegance, art deco ceilings and society parties are the reference points for a building that has been the setting for many of the city’s stories since 1940, when the legendary Zonar’s cafe opened.

Plans for the massive building were drawn up in 1926 when the Army Pension Fund, which owned the land on which the Royal stables were sited, announced an architectural competition. The stench from the horse stalls was replaced by urban culture, the concept of progress and the incarnation of an ambition.

Architect Vassilis Kolonas has told the story in a book that is a journey through the city’s changing idea of itself, with the birth of a building that in the eyes of Athenians of the time reflected the good life, both material and abstract, and European prosperity.

Kolonas’s “The Army Pension Fund Building,” published by the Piraeus Bank Group Cultural Foundation (PIOP) richly illustrates that journey and the author’s research into this chapter of Athenian history.

Greece does not have strong archives, particularly because the country has been through several wars. Yet everything that could be researched has found a place in this book, which parallels the history of the building with that of 20th century Athens and its people, who dreamed of a better life.

The building itself was designed to reflect a certain urban ethos. It is no coincidence that Zonar’s and its neighboring cafe Floca, both of which opened just before the outbreak of World War II, became the focal point for celebrities ranging from politicians to socialites. The building’s hulking size alone was a symbol of development; its impressive dimensions in a city of small properties and one or two story structures as well as its innovative style was a radical yet non-threatening modernization of classicism. The building was also put to good use, heralding a new role for structures of this kind.

It was a great leap forward for the city, considering what Athens looked like in the 1920s, judging from photographs and other sources. Originally conceived of as a large luxury hotel, it was designed to house stores, offices, restaurants, cinemas and theaters as well as an arcade in the style of a modern European arcade, all decorated with expensive, colored marble and ceiling lights, and rows of plate-glass windows looking out onto the city’s main avenues. Filling this open space in the heart of Athens opposite Heinrich Schliemann’s Iliou Melathron, near the Academy and other neoclassical public buildings, was a step towards urban integration. Just down the road, the Bank of Greece erected its own building, giving central Athens a more contemporary urban style.

Yet the Army Pension Fund building was, above all, a concept. Apart from the size of the investment, the building was a theme park of its time, a mall, a plaza, a city within a city and a model and rallying point for the Europeanization of the Athenian bourgeoisie.

But for most Athenians living today, the building represents the thirst for life that swept Athens after the end of the civil war in 1948-1950, when the capital was seeking its place among modern cities. Premieres at the Pallas Theater, often in the presence of the Royal Family, were social events and in that pre-television age, cinema premieres attracted all the city’s glitzy people.

After its period of glory in the 1950s and 1960s, the building began to fall into a state of decline, particularly after 1980, along with the rest of the city center. Just 10 years ago, very few people would have been able to predict the building’s current renaissance, which was brought about by the Piraeus Group and Yiannis Kizis’s architectural firm, part of a new dynamic in Athens at the beginning of the 21st century.

Greek voice sings to the world December 14, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Books Life Greek, Music Life Greek.
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Nana Mouskouri shares her life and experiences in new biography published by Livanis

nanamouskouri.jpg  From the book. Nana Mouskouri outside a Broadway theater during a tour.

Long before globalization became part of daily life, Nana Mouskouri was a truly international singer whose fan club included all continents, and that’s just half the story. The real success in her unparalleled career, as reflected in more than 300 million albums sold worldwide, is that it spans something like 50 years.

The life of Ioanna Mouskouri, born in Crete on October 13, 1934, is the subject of “To onoma mou einai Nana” (“My Name Is Nana”), a biography recently published by Livanis Publishers. In the book, the artist narrates her life to journalist Fotis Apergis.

The story is one of talent and determination, without discarding language skills, in postwar Athens, where the family moved when Nana was a child and where the humble Mouskouri household saw happy and less happy times, due to Nana’s father’s destructive passion for gambling.

Hiding behind her glasses and a few extra kilos, Mouskouri’s career took off through radio and nightclub appearances. One night at the Asteria Club, she was given the advice of a lifetime when Maria Callas shared with her the following thought: it is preferable to become a top popular music singer than an average opera soloist. Waiting round the corner were the golden years with composer Manos Hadjidakis and lyricist and poet Nikos Gatsos, Mouskouri’s great friends and mentors, though in the case of Hadjidakis, a fallout would result in a 20-year silence.

Going global > As Mouskouri’s career spilled beyond Greece, the singer shared a late-night bottle of whisky with Serge Gainsbourg and Rod Stewart, toured the United States with Harry Belafonte in the racially tense 1960s, recorded jazz with Quincy Jones, met Bob Dylan and became close friends with Leonard Cohen, while the power of television took her image around the globe through a BBC special, “Nana and Guests.”

Her artistic identity established, she resisted when producers tried to get her to change her name and hair color, while constant traveling resulted in her adopting local time zones as her own. Besides singing, Mouskouri was elected to the European Parliament and has long been a Unicef Ambassador.

For this citizen of the world, Greece is never out of the picture, though, says the artist, her native country has never officially recognized her contribution. And she does register one major complaint, that of not participating in the Athens 2004 Olympic Games ceremonies, though she did ask to be included.

“People think that a popular singer lives a glamorous life. It’s nothing like that. I never spend the day at the hairdresser or taking care of my nails. I was always grateful to God for giving me my voice, but I have also faced great difficulties, both in terms of my family as well as emotional ones,” she says.

Far apart from today’s short-lived, television stardom on reality shows, “My Name is Nana” is an easily read reflection on a unique career, a highly disciplined life and a passion for music, and the need to share it with the world.

Athens Christmas Tree and Christmas shopping December 14, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Culture, Shopping.
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Athens Christmas Tree

Athens Mayor Theodoros Behrakis is due to switch on the lights of the Christmas tree in Syntagma Square at 6.30 p.m. today.

The square will be the center of the 1.5-million euro celebration in Athens this festive season as it will be home to Santa’s Neighborhood, with fairy-tale characters, sweet stands and a 120-year-old carousel to keep children amused.

There will also be a carousel in Kotzia Square, which will host the Land of Wishes that opens on Saturday at 1 p.m. The City of Athens said that details of the holiday season program can be found on to www.christmasinathens.gr or calling 195.

Christmas shopping

Chain stores, shopping malls and department stores will open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays during the festive period, the Hellenic Retail Business Association (SELPE) said yesterday. The same shops will be open between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays and from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays, SELPE added.

Period instruments at Goethe December 14, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Events Greece.
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Festival that features Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque music organized by local website

How would you like the idea of a Christmas Early Music Festival in the very heart of Athens? Old musical instruments, such as the viola da gamba, the theorbe or the harpsichord, will revive Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque compositions in the hands of skillful soloists. Very slowly yet steadily, Greece is opening its doors to this early music, or the music written before the end of the 18th century, a very long period which has been recently enjoying great popularity on an international level.

Athens’s Christmas Early Music Festival, which will take place tomorrow through Monday at the Goethe Institute, is organized by the Greek classical music website www.classicalmusic.gr, a silent engine which was created in 2003 and has been growing day by day and serves as a forum for all classical music fans who want news and information. The festival now has its own website (www.christmasearlymusic.gr), highlighting the interest that exists in Greece for this kind of music, which so far had found no outlet.

“It is the beginning. We have many dreams and ambitions, but we are going ahead realistically, step by step,” said Thanassis Hadzitheodoridis, the man behind www.classicalmusic.gr. He was designing it for six years, before finally launching it. For Hadzitheodoridis and for all those who are hoping for greater promotion of classical music in Greece, this festival is a move forward in a series of cautious steps. The first cycle of classical music, which had consisted of six concerts, took place in early 2005 at the Benaki Museum and in the German Church. “We didn’t manage to get any sponsorship for the festival,” said Hadzitheodoridis, who has dedicated himself to classical music out of love and personal interest, and devotes as much of his free time as his professional obligations allow. “But the festival went ahead, because the musicians themselves wanted it to. They wanted to start something, finally.”

Soprano Maria Georgarakou, theorbe player Nikos Panayiotidis, the Lyrae Cantis ensemble, which will play secular music from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Baroque violinist Simos Papanas, viola da gamba player Angelos Repapis, harpsichordists Katerina Ktona and Katerina Michopoulou, viola player Andreas Georgotas, the Sinfonia baroque ensemble, with 16th and 17th century English compositions, Dimoklis Goudaroulis who plays an authentic old cello and the Concerto Ellenico under Costis Papazoglou with a dolce flute, with the support of the Austrian Embassy, will create the very special atmosphere this kind of music requires.

The venue > The Goethe Institute, where chamber music concerts often take place, is not an ideal venue but it suits this type of music. “It is extremely difficult to find venues suitable to host early music concerts in Athens,” explained Hadzitheodoridis.

For instance, the Anglican Church is small, the St Dennis Catholic Church is not available for concerts, Orthodox churches do not provide their premises for concerts and there are no castles or palaces in Athens, he said. “There are, nonetheless, certain venues outside Athens, in Corfu, Crete and even in the Cyclades,” he added.

The festival will feature two concerts daily, so as to facilitate those traveling from out of town to attend it. Fans of early music are scattered all over Greece and there is a vivid interest for the old instruments of the pre-classical period. The Koukourigou brothers from Macedonia, for instance, who make their own guitars, exact replicas of those used in Baroque times, will also be coming to the festival to exhibit some of their creations at the foyer of the Goethe Institute.

“Despite the meagre means of promotion at our disposal,” added Hadzitheodoridis, “we gain from the power of word-of-mouth. It is the most important thing. That is how a community of people who love music was gradually formed. But we have the feeling that we are not even at the beginning yet; we have a lot to do. What is important is that we are moving ahead and we have a lot of ideas for next year.”

The friends of the festival (www.friends.christmasearlymusic.gr) are highly active and there are plans for future lectures, presentations and small-scale recitals.

The Christmas Early Music Festival will take place tomorrow to Monday at Athens’s Goethe Institute, 14-16 Omirou street, Kolonaki, Athens, tel 210 3661000. Tickets are available at the Ianos bookstore, 24 Stadiou street, tel 210 3217917. General admission costs 15 euros, 10 euros with a discount. An 85-euro ticket is available for those wishing to attend all concerts.

Landmark Catholic-Orthodox talks December 14, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Religion & Faith.
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The head of the Greek Orthodox Church, Archbishop Christodoulos, has met the Pope in Rome as part of efforts to bring their two churches together.

It was the first official meeting at the Vatican between Greece’s most senior cleric and the leader of the world’s Roman Catholics. Their talks focused on attempts to end the Great Schism that dates from 1054. They also appealed for an end to religious violence, and pledged to defend Christianity in Europe.

Relations between the Greek Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church have improved in recent years. The visit by Pope John Paul II to Greece in 2001 played an important part in that process. It was the first visit by the head of the Catholic Church to Greece since the Churches split in 1054, into what some have described as the Eastern and Western Churches. On that trip Pope John Paul asked for forgiveness for past wrongs by Catholics towards the Orthodox Church.

Thursday’s meeting looked to build on his good work and comes at an interesting time. Pope Benedict seems to be reaching out to other Christian leaders. He has recently held meetings with the head of the Anglican Church, Dr Rowan Williams, and the main purpose of his recent trip to Turkey was to meet Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the Orthodox Christian movement.

The Vatican is also trying to set up a meeting between Pope Benedict and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. It is clear that the Pope wishes to bring the different Christian denominations closer together. That is not an easy process, but Archbishop Christodoulos appears to share his views. He has described the division of Christians as a “scandal”.

Greek regulator fines Vodafone Greece December 14, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Telecoms.
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The Greek Telecommunications regulator has fined Vodafone Greece, a subsidiary of UK mobile operator Vodafone Group, for its role in a wiretapping scandal earlier this year.

The fine was imposed by the Authority for Communications Security and Secrecy (ADAE), according to a statement. The body met earlier Thursday to consider penalties against the company.

Greek press reports stated that Vodafone Greece was fined an amount totalling EUR170 millions. No fines were stated concerning Ericsson’s involvement. 

Earlier this year, the Greek government disclosed the existence of a secret wiretapping operation which had tracked the cellphone calls of more than 100 prominent politicians, journalists and businessmen, including that of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis.

The highly sophisticated operation used the Vodafone network to tap into the cellphone calls. No suspects have been identified or arrested in connection with the scandal.

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