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Ancient Greece or Modern Greece? > Part II August 13, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Athens 2004 Olympics.
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Nine ways to savour Greece now

There is a vividness about Greece, in the food piled colourfully on blue and white tablecloths, in the innkeepers who belt rembetika ballads into the salty night air, in the British orgies and, above all else, in the art that such vividness inspires. Classic, modern, beautiful, hideous, in person or on your couch next week, the only question: Where to begin devouring?

1) ‘In August, we go to the islands’

In the islands, you should find a cave. Bring a pocket knife, eat tomato, cucumber and tangy feta by the slab. Spend an entire afternoon in a kafeneio watching old men play tavli (backgammon). Fill a bottle from a barrel of village wine. Drink from it liberally. Pick wild mountain flowers. Give them to an old lady clad in black. Light candles and poke around little churches that overlook the sea. Sleep on the deck of a big ferry when the moon is full.

2) In feast

August 15 is Assumption of The Blessed Virgin Mary and there will be infinite opportunities to catch regional festivals and special taverna menus.

3) In cyberspace

Part oral history, part scrapbook, part postmodern atlas, kythera-family.net is crammed with a motley mix of stories, photographs, maps, oral histories, biographies, archives, songs, poems, recipes and home remedies. If only the physical Kythera was this real.

4) On DVD

Voyage to Kythera is the 1984 Theo Angelopoulos film about the destination Greeks never quite reach. Also: Z (Costas Gravas, 1969) and Jules Dassin’s Never On Sunday (1960). And Kato Apo ta Asteria (Under the Stars) won Christos Georgiou the “Best New Feature Film” award at the Montreal World Film Festival. It’s a deeply conceived and visually stunning examination of the Cyprus problem, which has shared front-page space alongside the Olympic countdown for most of this year.

5) In a little village on the sea

Filoxenia Apartments in the Kytherian port of Agia Pelagia are as Greek as the beaten path gets. For more information, visit http://www.filoxenia-apartments.gr or call 27360 33800. Down the street, don’t miss a meal at Kaleris (27360 33461) where talented young chef Giani Prineas has returned from Athens to update traditional Kytherian dishes.

6) In orgy

Malia Holidays Hotel is in the heart of Crete’s gin belt. Leave the play foam in your suitcase, and spend a night watching one of Greece’s most compelling scenes. Call 2810 811004 or visit maliaholidays.net/main.htm.

7) In the mind of a maniac

The Nikos Kazantzakis Museum is 20 kilometres south of Crete’s capital Iraklion in the village of Myrtia. It’s an homage to the author of Zorba the Greek (1946), Christ Recrucified (1948) and Report to Greco (published posthumously in 1961).

8) In your stereo

Leonard Cohen’s second album, Songs From A Room, was written on Hydra. Ideal background music as you peruse the essays in Travelers’ Tales new Greece edition (travelerstales.com).

9) In your hometown

Pay a visit to the little Greek shop on the corner. Pick up a kilo of kalamata olives, a bag of stuffed vine leaves and a slice of baklava for the opening ceremonies. (If the olives are not kalamata, find another little Greek shop on the corner.)


Ancient Greece or Modern Greece? > Part I August 13, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Athens 2004 Olympics.
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As the world’s spotlight tilts toward Greece, let’s explore a country of contrasts, from its scorching capital to its smallest, windblown island. Here, subway digs uncover thousands of artifacts. An island community is reborn on the web. And polytheists worship the gods of Olympus while billboards feature athletes flogging credit cards and colas.

“Would we moderns, I wondered, ever in our turn achieve the balance and the serene, heroic vision of the ancient Greeks? Every pilgrim, after he disengages himself from this Olympic dream, after he emerges through the museum door and faces the sun of our own day, surely, and with anguish, must pose this basic question to himself.”

Nikos Kazantzakis, Report to Greco

It’s almost midnight, and the breeze is gone. It’s five flights of stairs to the rooftop, out into the soft glow of Athens, where Christos has spent two hours doing the meat. The charcoal from the end of the bag won’t catch. Christos, a filmmaker, is lost in a dream. He is stripped to his waist, sitting on the ledge, the Acropolis lit over his shoulder.

Back in April, he wasn’t planning to be anywhere near Athens come August. But as preparations for the Olympics peaked, and despite the exorbitant rent he was told he could squeeze from his apartment next week, the filmmaker in Christos developed a fascination with the stage he’d seen so frantically constructed.

What intrigued him most was the idea that people might actually be in loud, dusty, scorching Athens, in August.

“We’re supposed to be known for our hospitality,” he says, “but you wouldn’t inflict an Athens August on your worst enemy. “In August, we go to the islands.”

This week, as athletes, media and tourists take over the capital in advance of next Friday’s opening ceremonies, they will find a country attempting to sell the world two dreams: 1) the Old Greece, birthplace of the Games, with its iconic ruins and faraway islands, and 2) a jazzed-up 21st-century European player.

Incorporating what “was” into what “is” has long been the country’s great challenge. After the International Olympic Committee’s threat to move the Games elsewhere four years ago, mistaking Greek idleness for indifference, stadiums, highways, trams and an international airport were flung together in the equivalent of one day in Greek years. But the old Greece clings stubbornly to its modern incarnation at every step.

Take the new Syntagma Metro station in Athens’ heart: It plunges three storeys into the earth, every step an homage to its own apotheosis; layers representing the 5,000 years of history unearthed in the dig have been left exposed through gigantic glass windows; artifacts ranging from vases to tombstones to the clay remnants of a sixth-century BC water pipe are woven with unusual elegance around the platforms and escalators. The Athens Metro turned out to be the biggest excavation in history with approximately 32,000 finds registered over four years. “Not another bloody fresco!” Christos would shout, imitating the public’s reaction to yet another delay in construction. “We already have temples.”

But there’s an excitement about what the Olympics are bringing too. “The first week the Metro was running, none of us could take our eyes off our watches,” he says as the subway expanded beyond a solitary line. The advertisements were true. You could suddenly make it from Syntagma to the new Syngrou-Fix station in less than six minutes.

With this excitement, however, there is a Trojan horse-like sense that something hideous is returning, hiding inside what was once among the most important religious festivals of the ancient world. There are still 100,000 or more polytheists sprinkled throughout Greece, who covertly worship the 12 gods of Olympus. But more prominently are the six-storey billboards that tower over Athens, featuring sprinters in blocks and swimmers at the edge of pools, flogging credit cards, colas and cars. The daily Kathimerini reports the latest drug scandal. Soldiers and police drill at all hours in the streets, for every situation that can be dreamed.

Ticket sales were initially slow in Greece. Over coffee, a professional ballerina named Ava struggles to find the words between Greek and English. “These Olympics make me sad. There’s no . . . purity. It’s only about selling now. In August, I will be on my island.”

“What’s your island?” She smiles, as if she is already there. “Karpathos.”

But even going to the islands, the oldest, purest, most untouchable of Greek dreams, has become complicated, fret with the realities of August, 2004. And as travellers who venture into Greece beyond Olympic-riddled Attica this month will find, it is not so seamless as the Syntagma Metro station.

In the islands, it is difficult to find the Greece of Odysseus or Henry Miller or Leonard Cohen who foretold the changes in Bird on a Wire, a ballad about the power lines being erected outside his home in 1960s Hydra. Around that time, John Stathatos sat down and composed a list of islands he felt least likely to succumb to the fate of Mykonos, his home, which even then was being erased by concrete. Kythera won. It is a 30-kilometre-long speck where the Aegean, Mediterranean and Ionian seas converge.

In its kafeneio (small village cafés), they debate the population, which ranges from 1,800 to 3,000. “The population in February,” Stathatos, who curates international exhibitions of Greek photography, likes to remind me, “that’s what counts.” And even though he tells me this as we drink Belgian beer in a crêperie in Kythera, his choice has been good otherwise.

Kythera is Greece at its most withered; lashed by winds that are known under a hundred different local names, its harsh ravines, once terraced with olives and almonds and grape vines, are derelict. Villages are described as “haunted,” crumbling houses are made from the ruins of crumbled houses. The earth is a cracked mirror of its inhabitants’ faces. I shout “Na ta ekatostisees” (may you live to be 100) to a 92 year-old lady. Her eyes flash with the anger of decades of island life, then fill with tears, and she cries “Oh-he, oh-he, oh-he” (no, no, no).

This is the problem with a small island. Nobody wants to live to be 100. I spent a month in Kythera, where I used to go walking with one of those mad Swedish ladies who adore such places, four kilometres up and down each way from Agia Pelagia to a Karavas spring to fill a water bottle. She used to photograph old people in the north, widows in black ankle-length wool dresses, black stockings, black shoes, black scarves, and on the hottest day no less than three layers of (black) sweater. The men have a squareness to their movements. Walking is painful. Working painful. Unless there’s a backgammon board and coffee, nothing looks comfortable. And, in fact, most have died, or gone to Australia, so now she photographs donkeys.

Kythera’s population has fallen steadily since the civil war. (Aphrodite herself had long since left for Cyprus.) “It’s one of the few places on Earth where the diaspora outnumber the resident population by some 40 to one,” James Prineas writes me in an e-mail. Prineas, who now lives in Berlin, spent his 20s, his “second childhood,” on the island, after his first in Sydney, and was devastated by what was vanishing. Last year, he organized a virtual island; part oral history, part scrapbook, part postmodern atlas, all community. It is one of the most extraordinary sites on the Web, inhabited almost entirely by digital neophytes. In many cases, kythera-family.net is its descendants’ first exposure to the Internet, and the only contact they have with their island. In other words, as Kythera dwindles to pseudo-extinction, Kythera is simultaneously being born from its own memories.

I stay with Prineas on my way through Berlin (such is the Greek hospitality that a stranger who stumbles onto your virtual island is invited to your physical home). One night, he comes out of the kitchen after a frustrating day with the same dreamy look I’d seen on Christos’s face. “If I’m sad, I start imagining individual houses in the village. I go from house to house in my mind, and picture the wonderful people who live in them,” he tells me.

“When you are there it is hard to imagine a Greek island being any other way. But then you go to Crete or Chios, 30,000 inhabitants, a university, rich, thriving . . . you realize that Kythera has been left behind.”

In the stiff afternoon heat, when everyone is on siesta, a sledgehammer is being swung relentlessly against the asphalt in Athens. It’s a classic swing, from the back of the thigh all the way to the front; it’s how Hercules would swing a sledgehammer. Neos Kosmos means “new world.” It is the name of the growing “Russian” quarter of Athens where Christos lives, the stop after Syngrou-Fix on the new Metro. On the weekend, you can peruse the Russian street market. Dine at Bulgarian cafés. Watch Polish buskers. Listen to Romanian gypsy music.

The man who swings the sledgehammer with the Herculean force is Albanian. It’s estimated that 1.5 million Albanians now live in Greece. They arrived to untended fields, empty stone houses and an endless need for the type of hard labour Greeks are no longer willing to perform. Without this new working class, the Olympics would probably be in Sydney this month.

My friend Armando came to Greece after the Communist government’s fall, and is still scrambling to get papers. “I work more than 60 hours a week, plus spend hundreds of [euros] trying to keep my papers in order. Now that all the work for the Olympics is done, they’re going to start sending us back.”

As Greece absorbs Eastern Europe’s overflow, it is simultaneously being devoured by the European Union. Despite a history seeking independence from one empire after another, Greeks are astonishingly proud to “be European.” The euro, which replaced the drachma in 2002, has been a catastrophe. Overnight, for a nation that invented island-hopping, travelling within the country became prohibitively expensive and prices for modest accommodation has increased.

“We never used to think about prices when we went out to the islands,” Christos says, “but in the last two years, it seems like all the places that were 35 are now 55. There’s something about 55.”

The British can still afford to go to the islands. The arrival boards in Iraklion and Hania are filled with charter flights from odd English-sounding airports. Buses wait to take them to places like Malia on the island of Crete, where Irish bartenders pour cheap booze down their throats, they vomit, they shag, they engage in vague acts of hooliganism. (I’m not sure if this qualifies as Dionysian.)

In Malia, the Cretan resistance to the latest occupation has long black hair and beautiful olive skin, her every gesture a certainty. “You would not believe the things, the things! they do.” There is a poster in every room. Under the heading “useful information for your accommodation” is a list of 25 items, a broken door costs 400 euros, for example; chairs are 75 each, 50 for a lost key, 45 a toilet seat. Discharging play foam runs from 100 to 400.

“They sell these packages in Britain, and tell them they can do anything in Malia. This is my village,” she says. Until she says this, I had not realized that Malia had ever been a village.

I watch a man watching Greece, a 100-to-1 shot, play Russia on TV in a taverna in Rhodes Town. They lose; he is dejected. But minutes later, the street erupts outside, Spain has lost! In the convoluted rules of round-robins, Greece is into the next round. Eventually, and nobody is more shocked by this than Greeks, they are the European champions. Only in a medieval city where the Colossus once existed do you win by losing.

People keep telling me that “it’s the biggest thing that’s ever happened to us.” Rediscovering national pride weeks before your coming out party could work in several ways. I imagine Christos, dreamy one moment, larger than life the next, draped in a flag, leading the Athens crowd, Nikos Kazantzakis’s serene heroic vision incarnate.

Kazantzakis, Greece’s great writer, carried a clump of dirt in his pocket, which he squeezed for comfort on his many travels. If you visit the Kazantzakis museum in Myrtia, you will learn that this dirt from his island Crete was moulded by blood, tears, sweat and, likely, some lint. The crucible of all Greece is in this pocket, it is in the dreamy look on the roof, the island on-line, a kitchen in Berlin, the eyes of a wild woman from Malia. It is an evolving shape composed of old matter.

For good or bad, the Games they don’t even want next week will be theirs. There will be surly widows in black and taxi drivers on the gouge. Lamb burnt on rooftops. Old men in kafeneia oblivious to their existence. There will be an Albanian putting the finishing touches on a podium moments before a national anthem is played. And afterward, some of them will go to the islands.

Flashback > Athens Wins a Laurel August 13, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Athens 2004 Olympics.
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August 31, 2004
By Zeus, Greece did it! With the Olympic flame now snuffed out after burning brightly for two weeks, the 28th Summer Games should be remembered for those amazing Greeks who pulled together at the last minute to finish the sports venue, spiff up their capital, and genially host a multitude of visitors.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge heaped praise on Greece’s Olympic organizers, terming the Games “splendid.”

That victory, however, wasn’t cheap. Unlike most previous host nations, Greece is a small country of modest wealth. It spent $8.5 billion to get everything ready, including $1.5 billion on unprecedented security. (Athletes were outnumbered by guards 7 to 1.) The government now must pay some hefty bills.

Still, holding the Games in the land where they originated (and were revived in 1896) added to the drama as highly skilled athletes competed with patriotic pride. These Games were watched by 15 percent more global viewers than those in Sydney four years ago.

The Olympics weren’t without controversy, such as the judging snafu in men’s gymnastics that gave the gold to US gymnast Paul Hamm. And too many athletes were caught up with performance-enhancing drugs. In fact, 24 athletes were caught for drug violations in Athens. That figure nearly doubles the previous record for athletes cited for drugs at the 1984 Games. It’s enough to make enforcement a top priority at the next Games.

These Olympics also should be remembered for the remarkable ascendency of the Chinese to third place in the overall global medal count, behind the US and Russia. All told, athletes from Asia increased their gold medal count by 50 percent since 2000, an astonishing achievement.

That clearly puts China in a winning position as it prepares to host the Games in 2008. May it, too, like Greece, use the Olympics to help bring forward its full potential.

Flashback > Rogge hails Athens success August 13, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Athens 2004 Olympics.
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Rogge hails Athens success
Olympics chief Jacques Rogge heaped praise on Greek organisers and declared the Athens Games an all-round success.

Television ratings are 15% up from the 2000 Games in Sydney, while ticket sales have topped figures from the Seoul and Barcelona Olympics.

“The organisation was outstanding and we had competitions in state-of-the-art venues,” said Rogge, who described the security precautions as “flawless”.

“They really did a fantastic job. I am very, very happy about the Games.

“We have discovered a new Greece. Greece was great for the Games.

“These have been unforgettable dream Games. These Games were held in peace and brotherhood. These were the Games where it became increasingly difficult to cheat and where clean athletes were better protected.”

Rogge’s predecessor Juan Antonio Samaranch had hailed the 2000 Games in Sydney as the greatest Olympiad ever.

But Rogge gave a diplomatic response when asked whether the Athens Games were better.

The people, the city, the history, the volunteers and the ancient, pure, athletic spirit made these Olympics the best ever
From William 

He said: “You cannot compare Games that are held at different times and in different countries.”

But despite all the praise, Rogge sent a chilling warning there could be more positive drug tests than the 22 recorded so far in Athens.

“The list is probably not over,” said the Belgian. “You have 10,500 athletes in the Olympic village, you do not have 10,500 saints. You will always have cheats.”

The combined performances of China, Japan and South Korea also impressed Rogge, who described their efforts as the “awakening of Asia” and an ominous sign for the rest of the world ahead of the 2008 Games in Beijing.

Source: BBC SPORT:
Published: 2004/08/29 14:45:04 GMT

Flashback > Full marks to Athens August 13, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Athens 2004 Olympics.
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Full marks to Athens
By Phil Gordos
BBC Sport in Athens 

Athens may have been a little rough around the edges but, like an uncut diamond, its beauty shone through in the end.

Looking back, it is difficult to fathom why everyone got so worked up. The swimming pool may have been minus its roof, and certain areas of the Olympic complex bore more resemblance to the Arizona Desert than a European capital city. But everything was fully functional.

The stadiums were fantastic without exception, though barely half full at times, while the transport links left London’s antiquated system in the shade.

Security was always going to be an issue given the state of the world in the wake of the events of 11 September 2001 but it was subtle rather than intrusive.

And for that we must give a large chunk of thanks to the 70,000 volunteers who worked morning, noon and night, always willing to please even when faced with many an irate journalist who had lost his cool in the Athens heat.

As for the locals, those that opted to remain rather than flee to the coast proved enthusiastic and hospitable hosts. In short, these were an Olympics to be proud of.

There were setbacks, notably the drugs scandal that erupted on the eve of the Games involving national heroes Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou. But none of that brought shame on the Greek organisers, to whom we owe a big debt of thanks.

There was plenty of talk of the Olympics returning to the origin of their birth before the action got under way.

And while there was no chariot racing scheduled, the drama that unfolded in the many and varied arenas was often enchanting and engrossing.

If there was one grumble, it would be that sports like tennis and football devalued the Games rather than enhanced them.

They both struggled to attract decent crowds, probably because the competition in Athens was just a watered-down version of the fare that gets served up week in, week out all around the world.

Let’s face it, the Olympics is not the be all and end all for such star names as Roger Federer and Cristiano Ronaldo.

But for the likes of modern pentathlete Georgina Harland and canoeist Ian Wynne, the Games still represent the pinnacle of achievement. And long may that continue.

After a few scares, Athens won its race to be ready for the 28th Olympiad. And, having run a marathon at a sprinter’s pace, it was able to put its feet up and enjoy the show.

Don’t expect such a panic in 2008, as Beijing is already closing in fast on the finishing line.

But after what we’ve seen over the last fortnight, the Chinese capital has a lot to live up to.

Source: BBC SPORT:
Published: 2004/08/29 22:39:28 GMT

Flashback > Medals list Athens 2004 Olympics August 13, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Athens 2004 Olympics.
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Medals: Overall 21:06 on Sunday 29 August 2004

Rank Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 United States 35 39 29 103 
2 China 32 17 14 63 
3 Russia 27 27 38 92 
4 Australia 17 16 16 49 
5 Japan 16 9 12 37 
6 Germany 14 16 18 48 
7 France 11 9 13 33 
8 Italy 10 11 11 32 
9 South Korea 9 12 9 30 
10 Great Britain 9 9 12 30 
11 Cuba 9 7 11 27 
12 Ukraine 9 5 9 23 
13 Hungary 8 6 3 17 
14 Romania 8 5 6 19 
15 Greece 6 6 4 16 
16 Norway 5 0 1 6 
17 Netherlands 4 9 9 22 
18 Brazil 4 3 3 10 
19 Sweden 4 1 2 7 
20 Spain 3 11 5 19 
21 Canada 3 6 3 12 
22 Turkey 3 3 4 10 
23 Poland 3 2 5 10 
24 New Zealand 3 2 0 5 
25 Thailand 3 1 4 8 
26 Belarus 2 6 7 15 
27 Austria 2 4 1 7 
28 Ethiopia 2 3 2 7 
29 Iran 2 2 2 6 
29 Slovakia 2 2 2 6 
31 Taiwan 2 2 1 5 
32 Georgia 2 2 0 4 
33 Bulgaria 2 1 9 12 
34 Jamaica 2 1 2 5 
34 Uzbekistan 2 1 2 5 
36 Morocco 2 1 0 3 
37 Denmark 2 0 6 8 
38 Argentina 2 0 4 6 
39 Chile 2 0 1 3 
40 Kazakhstan 1 4 3 8 
41 Kenya 1 4 2 7 
42 Czech Republic 1 3 4 8 
43 South Africa 1 3 2 6 
44 Croatia 1 2 2 5 
45 Lithuania 1 2 0 3 
46 Egypt 1 1 3 5 
46 Switzerland 1 1 3 5 
48 Indonesia 1 1 2 4 
49 Zimbabwe 1 1 1 3 
50 Azerbaijan 1 0 4 5 
51 Belgium 1 0 2 3 
52 Bahamas 1 0 1 2 
52 Israel 1 0 1 2 
54 Cameroon 1 0 0 1 
54 Dominican Republic 1 0 0 1 
54 Ireland 1 0 0 1 
54 United Arab Emirates 1 0 0 1 
58 North Korea 0 4 1 5 
59 Latvia 0 4 0 4 
60 Mexico 0 3 1 4 
61 Portugal 0 2 1 3 
62 Finland 0 2 0 2 
62 Serbia and Montenegro 0 2 0 2 
64 Slovenia 0 1 3 4 
65 Estonia 0 1 2 3 
66 Hong Kong 0 1 0 1 
66 India 0 1 0 1 
66 Paraguay 0 1 0 1 
69 Nigeria 0 0 2 2 
69 Venezuela 0 0 2 2 
71 Colombia 0 0 1 1 
71 Eritrea 0 0 1 1 
71 Mongolia 0 0 1 1 
71 Syrian Arab Republic 0 0 1 1 
71 Trinidad and Tobago 0 0 1 1 

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Source: BBC

Annual Greek festival August 13, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Diaspora Festivals.
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A taste of Greek food and Greek folk dance will be offered during the St. George Greek Orthodox Church’s Annual Greek Festival August 19 and August 20.

A Greek Bazaar selling ethnic jewelry and arts/crafts, and church tours also are part of the program, which runs from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. August 19, and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. August 20. Free admission. Part of the proceeds will go to support church programs.

The church is at 1111 Summit Ave. For more information, call 651-222-6220 or visit www.stgeorgegoc.org/.