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About the Mediterranean diet July 1, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Greece.
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Mediterranean diet > Recipe for a long and healthy life

When you come to Greece chances are you will eat Greek food and, thus, immerse yourself in what doctors, in the last 40 years, proclaim to be the key to a long and healthy life: the Mediterranean diet.

What is known as the Mediterranean diet first came to public attention in the 1960s, when doctors and public health officials from Europe and the US started studying the likely factors that contribute to the populations around the Mediterranean basin having considerable better health records and longer life expectancies than the populations of richer countries in the North.

This interest was sparked from the observation that the people of Crete exhibited low incidence of chronic disease, including heart disease and cancer, and had perhaps the highest life expectancy rates in the world. Those studies concluded that dietary habits were the factor that made the difference in heart disease, cancer, and mortality rates. (more…)


About Greece > Selected readings July 1, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Books Life.
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Below, we present a partial and incomplete but long list of readings on Greece, Greeks and the experience of travelers to the country. Most of those books can be had at online bookstores or at English language bookstores in Athens.

George Seferis, Waiting for the Angel, A Biography, Beaton, Roderick, Yale University Press, 2003.

Fugitive Pieces, Michaels, Ann, Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.

The Colossus of Maroussi, Miller, Henry; (New Directions)

Bitter Lemons, Durrell, Lawrence; (Marlowe & Company) (more…)

Ancient Greece > Mythology July 1, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece, Culture History Mythology.
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Below is a partial list of some of the more important figures and characters, both mythical and real, that played a significant role in the history of Greece (The Roman counterpart is found in parenthesis).

The Olympian Gods and Goddesses:

Aphrodite (Venus) – goddess of love and beauty.
Apollo (Apollo) – god of the arts, archery, and divination; in some myths god of the sun.
Ares (Mars) – god of war.
Artemis (Diana) – goddess of the hunt and protector of children.
Athena (Minerva) – goddess of wisdom, war, and crafts; patron of Athens.
Demeter (Ceres) – goddess of agriculture and fertility.
Dionysos (Bacchus) – god of wine, mysteries, and the theatre.
Hephaistos (Vulcan) – god of smiths and metal-workers.
Hera (Juno) – goddess of marriage; wife of Zeus.
Hermes (Mercury) – god of merchants; messenger of Zeus.
Poseidon (Neptune) – god of the sea and earthquakes.
Zeus (Jupiter) – god of the sky; ruler of Olympus.

Cities, Shrines, and Sacred Sites: (more…)

Thessaloniki > The metamorphosis of a city July 1, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Greece.
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Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece. It was founded in 316 BC by Macedonian King Cassandros on the site of a prehistoric settlement that dated from 2300 BC. The city was named after Cassandros’ wife, who was the sister of Alexander the Great, and became the capital of the kingdom. During the Roman era, Thessaloniki boasted the largest port of the area and stood at the intersection of the east-west Egnatia way and the north-south road that linked the southern Greek cities to the Balkans and Europe. The city was the second most important population center, after Constantinople, during both the Byzantine and the Ottoman Empires.

The architectural face of Thessaloniki was always an interesting and special case because it was in constant flux due to the city’s position at the center of all historical developments in the Balkans. Besides its commercial importance, Thessaloniki was, for many centuries, the military and administrative hub of the region, and also the transportation link between Europe and the Levante.

The city layout changed after 1870, when the seaside fortifications gave way to extensive piers. During the following 47 years, a period of great economic growth, the city’s population exploded by 70%, reaching 135 thousand in 1917. The city became a commercial attraction for economic refugees, businessmen and traders from across Europe, including many Jews. The authorities tore down part of the city’s Byzantine fortifications to allow it to expand, which it did, to the east and the west, along the coast.

The need for commercial and public buildings in that new era of prosperity led to a marked shift in architectural direction and led to the construction of large edifices in the city center in lots formerly occupied by small, shabby one-family homes. During this time, Thessaloniki saw the building of banks, large hotels, theaters, warehouses, and factories.

The expansion of Eleftherias Square (today’s Venizelou Square) to the sea completed the new commercial center of the city. The rest of the city’s neighborhoods, within the old fortifications, remained unchanged. The western districts were the working class section, near the factories, and Thessalonikis’ new industrial activity. The middle and upper classes moved east of the city and built a new suburb, then known as “Exohes”, or “country retreats”. The new district soon acquired schools, public buildings and also some manufacturing plants. Today, the city’s most important public buildings are to be found between the historic center and those eastern suburbs, next to the White Tower.

The most important year in the city’s history was 1917, a landmark year that shaped Thessaloniki into its present form. The devastating fire that swept through the city that year and burned uncontrollably for 32 hours, destroyed the city’s historic center and a large part of its architectural heritage. Many buildings of rare beauty were completely demolished.

The city that was designed between 1917 and 1950 was a modern and functional urban center whose layout and feel had little in common with what preceded it. The team of architects and urban planners that designed the new Thessaloniki was led by Ernesr Hebrard, a french architect. The team chose the Byzantine era as the basis for their designs of the buildings that would adorn the new city. The new city plan included axes, diagonal streets and monumental squares, with a street grid that would channel traffic smoothly.

The plan of 1917 included provisions for the future population explosion and and an adequate street and road network that would have been sufficient even today. It contained sites for public and important buildings, the restoration of important Byzantine churches and landmarks and Ottoman mosques, whereas the whole of the Upper City, near the fortifications, was declared a heritage site. The plan also included a site for the campus of the future University of Thessaloniki, which was never realized, although today’s University campus incorporates some of Hebrard’s ideas.

An important element of the plan was to achieve a fine balance between contemporary urban planning and architectural ideas and the city’s rich tradition and history. The main feature of all proposed buildings was the perfect symmetry of all sides and the emphasis on the center of each.

The plan also included provisions for the building of an administrative center with the city hall, the courts building and a series of secondary buildings to house all other civic functions. Unfortunately, those plans were never implemented and the city lacks an administrative district to this day. Nevertheless, this part of the plan influenced a lot of building and planning decisions throughout the 20th century, with the inevitable adaptations to service the population explosion of the last 50 years.

Although Thessaloniki is one of the most attractive cities in Greece and quite interesting for the student of architecture, today it bursts at the seams and presents its residents with a full menu of modern urban inconveniences. Traffic is the most important problem, with new car registrations increasing by about 20 thousand annually, and the volume of cars quintupling in the last 15 years. Thessaloniki is the only urban center in Europe that is served by only one mode of public transportation; buses. In addition, the city center has almost no public parking.

The city’s look today is almost completely removed from its traditional past and the advent of new popular districts, e.g. for nighlife and shopping, make moving through the city a nightmare.The city center is dominated by nondescript, and even ugly, apartment blocks, public parks and spaces are few and far in-between and the few pedestrian ways often serve as parking lots and garbage dumping points. The city is currently planning a subway line and new roads and avenues, in an effort to decongest the city center.

Thessaloniki is not a problem-free city. Nevertheless, its history, traditions and traces of its architectural past make it a vibrant and interesting city.

Related picture from our Flickr photo Gallery: Thessaloniki Architecture > An elegant, early 20th century Thessaloniki building that still survives amid the modern city’s glass and cement maze.

Greece in the movies July 1, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Movies Life Greek.
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From Sophia Loren to Robert de Niro.
Anthony Quinn will always be remembered as Zorba.

Greece must be one of the most filmed countries of the world outside the United States. Athens and the Greek islands have been the subject for many Hollywood movies and the country is next to France, Britain and Italy in the number of appearances on major motion pictures. From Zorba to the final scene of The Bourne Identity, Greece has provided dramatic backdrops and fascinating culture for the Hollywood studios.

Holywood came to Greece in the early 1960s, with Zorba, The Boy on a Dolphin, Never on Sunday, and The Guns of Navarone.

In Zorba, based on Nikos Kazantzakis’ book, British writer Basil, played by Alan Bates, comes to Crete to revive a mine his father owned. There, he meets a Greek character named Zorba, immortalized by Anthony Quinn, and hires him to help, little suspecting that Zorba’s exuberance will lead him to some dark and troubling places. Although the movie, as the book, paints an alien and disturbing portrait of life in a Greek village, it also celebrates the zest for life and its gifts. On top of that, gorgeous cinematography and one of the greatest film scores ever give this movie almost demonic energy.

In Never on Sunday, director Jules Dassin plays an American scholar in Greece who is infatuated with a prostitute. He tries to improve her and pull her from her wayward ways, much to the dismay of his family and friends. Late Melina Mercouri, Greece’s world-famous actress and cultural minister and ambassador, won Best Actress awards from the Cannes Film Festival and New York Film Critics Circle. The film won an Oscar for Best Song, composed by Manos Hadjidakis and sung by Merkouri.

In the Boy on a Dolphin, Sophia Loren plays a peasant girl from the island of Hydra who works as a sponge diver. When, in one of her dives, she discovers a golden statue of a boy riding a bronze dolphin, chained to the body framework of an ancient wrecked ship, she tries to look for a rich American sponsor for the raising of the sunken statue. Her two alternatives are US archeologist Jim Calder (Alan Ladd), devoted to return lost artifacts of great value to their home countries, and Victor Parmalee (Clifton Webb), an ambitious art collector, prepared to pay a high price to cool his insatiable desire for ancient treasures.

The Guns of Navarone remains one of the landmark war movies of all time. Based on Alistair MacLean’s thrilling novel, the 1961 movie features Gregory Peck as the head of a star-studded cast charged with a near impossible mission: destroy a pair of German guns nestled in a protective cave on the strategic Mediterranean island of Navarone, from where they can control a vital sea passage. Navarone is the island of Rhodes. Also starring in this action-packed drama, that featured some breakthrough special effects, were David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Stanley Bakes, James Darren, and Irene Papas.

In the comedy High Season, Jacqueline Bisset plays a photographer who lives in the exotic Greek islands with her sculptor husband Patrick (James Fox). The film lampoons tourists, contains beautiful scenery, and focuses on the relationship and eventual reconciliation of Katherine and Patrick.

Summer Lovers and Shirley Valentine, from the 1980s, are both filmed in Greek islands and play off the theme of love and sexy adenture under the Aegean sun. Shirley Valentine made a bit of a splash in the mid 1980s with its depiction of a tired, bored, ignored British wife who goes to Greece on vacation and falls for a Greek fisherman, who proves to be as unreliable as her British husband.

Luc Besson’s The Big Blue is one of the most loved underwater movies of all time. Filmed off the Greek islands of Amorgos and Koufonissia and in the Italian resort of Taormina, the 1988 movie, starring Rosanna Arquette and Jean Reno, is the story of two extremely able divers and their rivalry for the world diving championship title.

15 Minutes takes place in New York City and stars Robert de Niro and Edward Burns. De Niro is a star cop who is chasing two Eastern European psychotic serial killers who film the murders they commit and send them to TV stations to be broadcast. The Greek connection in this harrowing film is de Niro’s Greek American girlfriend, played by Greek American actress Melina Kanakaredes. When de Niro plans to propose to her, he goes to the restaurant bathroom and rehearses telling her that he loves her in Greek in front of the mirror. “Se latrevo, se agapo” says de Niro, “I adore you, I love you”, in front of the mirror, in a touching scene that Greek audiences will never forget.

Then came My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the Greek-American Moonstruck. Starring Nia Vardalos and John Corbett, the movie was produced by Tom Hanks at the suggestion of his Greek-American wife Rita Wilson, and made more than $100 million in the US box office, the highest-grossing independent movie of all time. A Greek-American girl falls for a WASP, in Chicago, and ends up marrying him despite the hillarious cultural difficulties that threaten to derail the romance.

Last, but not least, The Bourne Identity, starring Matt Damon, Franca Potente and Chris Cooper, ends spectacularly at the Sea Satin seafood restaurant, in Mykonos, which was converted, for the purposes of this scene, to a bike renting store. The zoom out, just before the end titles, with the aerial view of the arid sides of Mykonos, will remain unforgettable.

PS > Let’s not forget about “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” filmed at the Ionian island of Cephallonia!

WiFi in Patmos: Wireless Apocalypse now! July 1, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Internet & Web.
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Patmos became the first Greek island with a WiFi hotspot network.

At the eastern end of the Aegean, in the Dodecanese, small and pious Patmos, the island where St. John was inspired and wrote the Book of the Apocalypse, has become the country’s high tech pioneer. The island is host to the country’s first wireless hotspot network for fast access to the internet.

The network of Patmos was financed and organized by the world famous Greek founder of the Massachussetts Institute of Technology Media Lab Nicholas Negroponte, through his 2B1 foundation. The installation involved a team of MIT educators and technicians.

The network is based on the 802.11, or WiFi, technology. Conventional 802.11 networks transmit up to a range of 300 ft (100 m) but the Patmos installation, using a network of antennas and special software, covers more than 11 miles (18 km).

Patmians and visitors today access the internet at speeds up to 100 times faster than through usual modems. During the 2004-05 school year, professors and students of the local high school, as well as the hospital and public offices of surrounding islands have been surfing the web at no cost.

To access the Patmos wireless network you need only a WiFi-ready laptop. No extra security software is required beyond what is available through the MS Windows 2000 or XP operating systems, or the MacOS 10.2 and above.

Your laptop should be able to identify the local wireless network. If not, then set the SSID network locator at “hotspot” (no quotation marks), as described in your wireless card manual. When you “see” the network, just sign in using the username and password obtained through the local network office and surf the internet for free.

The first opera on Syros in over a century July 1, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Events Greece, Greece Islands Aegean.
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Greek chorus

Maria Callas apart, Greece can’t claim to have a great reputation in the world of opera. 
A visit to the Cycladic island of Syros this summer, however, should soon disabuse you of this impression. Here, from July 14-16, you’ll find the Opera Aegean Festival, so if you’re planning to go island hopping, pack a little evening wear with your beachwear and you could add a refined night at the opera to those endless days on the beach.

Now in its third year, the festival was founded by the conductor and musical impresario Peter Tiboris. A second-generation Greek-American, Tiboris has made a name for himself as a conductor at Carnegie Hall in New York, and produced over 750 concerts around the world, working with some of the best orchestras.

The annual festival takes place at the Apollo Musical Theatre, aka La Piccola Scala (it was modelled on the Milanese landmark), in the main town of Hermoupolis. The building itself has a suitably operatic history; first opened in 1864, it was to become a target for the military junta who took power in Greece a century later. With philistine zeal, they determined to eradicate any foreign influence, removing paintings, original boxes and galleries, leaving the theatre in a sorry state. Reconstruction work began in the 1980s and it was reopened in July 2000: the velvet seats are back, and with them a sense of grandeur has returned.

Tiboris was keen to make the most of the renovated theatre, and this year sees Opera Aegean putting on its first full-scale opera, The Barber Of Seville; indeed, it will be the first opera on Syros in over a century.

“We’ve done scenes before, so this is a big step [but] I’ve got some wonderful, first-class Italian singers coming from Rome, Brescia, Paloma and Milan,” says Tiboris. There will be two nights for full performances, with a night of aria highlights in between.

In New York, Tiboris has a reputation for putting on avant-garde work, but he wants to establish Opera Aegean’s reputation with a few well-known classics (next year he’s planning Don Giovanni) before trying anything more challenging.

The Barber Of Seville has “lots of great melodies and arias. A Russian opera wouldn’t work in Syros now, though once you get a following and people trust you, you can start to expand,” he says.

Syros is probably not the first Greek island you would think of visiting; the administrative capital of the Cyclades, it is a working island and doesn’t have the immediate attractions of Rhodes, Crete or Corfu. But that almost increases its appeal, for it is one of the most Greek, and the least tourist-centred of the islands.

Hermoupolis (named after Hermes, god of commerce) was Greece’s key port in the 19th century and you get a real sense of its former glory as you pull into the old harbour by ferry, while the neoclassical mansions provide evidence of the money that was once made in shipping. Colonised by the Franks in 1207, Syros was a Catholic island until the arrival of Orthodox refugees from the Greek war of independence. The two communities still live in their respective quarters, with the Catholic settlement of Ano Syros and the Orthodox Vrodado occupying two hills overlooking Hermoupolis. This Latin-Greek mix gives Syros its own character and cultural heritage, and it is fitting that it will be the Rome Philharmonic Orchestra that accompanies Tiboris as he brings opera back to the island.

Hermoupolis can also claim to be one of the homes of Rembetika, the Greek underground music that was popular in the early 20th century and has recently been championed by Alex Kapranos, lead singer of Franz Ferdinand. Markos Vamvakaris, the undisputed “father of Rembetika”, was born in Ano Syros and his classic song Frankosyrianni is about a beautiful Catholic girl from the island.

There’s a vibrancy throughout the town – within easy walking distance of the palm tree-lined main square, Plateia Miaouli, are numerous cafes, bars and ouzeries. Some have a less than salubrious appearance, appropriate given that Vamvakaris’s songs were all about smoking hash, drinking and looking for love.

Around the island, you’ll find that occasionally surreal but typically Greek mix of beaches, churches, traditional housing and bad modern development; the old and the new sit side by side, but aren’t always the best of neighbours. For those planning to stay on the island a few days, try Galissas on the west coast – once an agricultural village, it is now a resort/campsite with an array of places to sleep, and one of the best beaches. Or just grab a bike and head off to any one of the small beaches or villages – and remember to pick up some Syriana loukoumia, as Syros is famed for the sugar-powdered sweets, and there are factories across the island.

But for the truly classical Greek experience this summer, don’t forget your opera glasses.

Way to go

Getting there: Olympic Airlines, www.olympicairlines.com) flies Syros via Athens.

There are daily catamaran and ferry services from Piraeus (Athens) for €31/€19, and catamaran services Rafina (€25). Syros also has daily connections to neighbouring islands Tinos, Mykonos, Paros and Naxos, and less regular services to Salonika, Skiathos, Crete and the Dodecanese. Harbour Master’s Office, Syros: +22810 88888.

Where to stay: Hotel Aktaion, Hermoupolis (+22810 82675) doubles €45.

Opera tickets: Apollo Municipal Theatre, Hermoupolis, July 14-16. Tickets are €8-€12 and may be reserved up to four days prior to the performance by calling the theatre (+22810 85192) or at any time by walk up visitors.

Further information: Greek National Tourist Organisation, www.gnto.gr

Flight time: Athens-Syros: 30mins.

Sailing time Piraeus-Syros: 2hrs by catamaran, 4hrs by ferry. Rafina-Syros: 1hrs.

Related Picture at our Flickr Photo Gallery:
Syros Island: The ceiling of the Apollo Musical Theatre is decorated with images of famous musicians.  Mozart is bottom right.