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Inner gateways October 15, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Exhibitions Cyprus.
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Cyprus-inspired paintings give a view into something akin to a wonderland

A naked woman with long dark hair lies foetus like deep under the ground. Above her grows a tree that reaches out towards the sun. The woman, covered in earth, is protected from the outside world, almost like an embryo cushioned within the womb. This is Rodica Lomnasan’s ‘Inner Gateway’. It’s her world, told through her personal vision.

The painting named ‘Nature’, which the artist declares as her “personal favourite” now hangs on the wall at Kallepia Gallery next to a series of her other works. They are all characterised by vibrant colour, where the everyday world is portrayed in anything but an everyday manner. “Everything I create comes from deep inside me,” Rodica explained. “I could sit for hours explaining the feelings that go into each piece but I don’t want to do that. I’d prefer for the public to tell me how it makes them feel.”

Born in Romania, Rodica is an artist and lithographer highly regarded both for her technical expertise and the complex imagery she brings to life. In a small trip down memory lane, she told me that as a child she would sit and paint continually while other kids played with their toys. She remembers that one day when she was only about nine, the teacher called her mother into the school and it wasn’t because she had done something wrong. Pointing a finger towards Rodica she said, “this girl has great talent.” From that day on, her path was clear.

Since graduating from the University of Fine Art in Bucharest in 1994, Rodica has been repeatedly selected by international jury panels and judges to participate in exhibitions in various galleries across Europe. From the Lageland Gallery in Holland, to the ENZO Gallery in Belgium and Simeza Art Gallery in Bucharest, this artist has certainly been around. She has also been awarded a number of prizes back home for her work.

Sensing a need to change her environment and recharge herself, Rodica moved to Cyprus two years ago, taking employment as a computer graphics artist. Since then she has continued to create and she claims that this exhibition will reflect that learning experience. “For me, Cyprus it is a quiet, orthodox place where I would like to continue to find myself, my soul and other ways to express my art,” she said.

“What really inspires me in Cyprus is the fascinating forms of nature, old Byzantine architecture, the feeling of stability and a rich history. I’m still processing everything and I do actually believe that in every place you go you are still yourself. So my art is a mirror of all my inside feelings with a touch of humour at times.”

Some of her paintings have a comic book feel as characters take on an unusual dimension reminiscent of a surreal wonderland. Others feel like they have popped straight out of a children’s novel, while some are far more twisted with a darker story to tell. In one, a cat appears with an almost human looking head, somewhat obscure as oversized and unequal eyes stare back at you. In another the world appears pink, as hidden characters in a fantasy town peep out through walls and tiny windows.

“I take all my elements from nature and my surroundings but I’m not talking about landscapes and portraits. I choose to show things in another way, sometimes from the inside out”. Although this at first may not make much sense, even just a quick glimpse at her work will explain that nothing is taken at its surface value in Rodica’s world. One painting sees a man crying over a city as tears become rain, another sees a black and white house standing alone that seems human as the walls have ears and the wide open door lets us in on unspoken truths. Examining it more closely, a figure appears to be looking out from the attic, perhaps trapped or secluded from the rest of the world.

“It’s really important for me that people receive their own message through my art. I can sit down and paint with certain thoughts, but people can interpret it in their own way. Sometimes I have people come up to me telling me how they view one piece or another, and it may be something I haven’t even thought about. This is what I adore about art, behind each piece there can be hundreds of hidden realities.” If you love art that really encourages you to dig a little deeper than the surface, a wander down to Kallepia Gallery this month should have a few surprises in store.

Inner Gateways > Solo exhibition by Romanian artist Rodica Lomnasan. Until November 5. Kallepia Gallery, Kallepia village, Paphos district. Friday, Saturday and Sunday 3-6pm. Tel: 99-752687.

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A history of stamps October 15, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus Nicosia.
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Tucked away in a corner of Nicosia is Cyprus’ postal museum

When we were very young (to paraphrase A.A.Milne) there wasn’t a child I knew who didn’t own a stamp album, who didn’t aspire to the best philatelic collection that money could buy or friends could provide. In my case, previously unknown relatives were dredged from address books, and postcards were sent in the hope that return correspondence, and thus exotic stamps, might find their way into my album.

The age of email has since caught up with me, and philately went by the board. Until this summer, when an aimless stroll through the backstreets of old Nicosia led me to a small door displaying a most intriguing sign: Cyprus Postal Museum. The weather was hot, the inside seemed dim and cool, and my philatelic interests, surpressed for years by the age of technology, began to resurface. And, how, I wondered, could such a small door be the entrance to a museum? I went in.

And that’s how I met Ploutis Loizou, Cyprus’ philatelic answer to King George V, who said of his stamps: “I wish to have the best collection, not just one of the best collections.” Set up in 1981, the museum was renovated in 2003, and fell under the auspices of the dedicated Mr. Loizou in 2004. “I worked from six in the morning until midnight, seven days a week,” he said, “to get the museum organised.”

Clearly it was a labour of love, as every stamp is beautifully displayed, every first edition labelled meticulously, and there is even a life size postman with a bright yellow bicycle standing next to a desk of paraphernalia from post offices in ages past. Genuine post boxes from the Victorian era leap to the eye, with the embossed VR standing out against the scarlet background.

Why, I wondered, are our post boxes now yellow? “Originally all our post boxes were red, the same as in England,” said Loizou. “But then it was decided that since post office insignia all over the world is in yellow, the colour should be changed.” And he was away, gently guiding me towards a roomful of stamps, anecdotes at the ready.

The stamps themselves are immaculate first editions, presented in upright glass cases, with notes as to the date of issue and the commemorative event. Loizou was a mine of information as he took me through the years, starting with a little background information.

Apparently Cyprus philatelic history began in 1343, with the first known letter from Famagusta to Constantinople. Over the years mail was carried on trading ships, and inland by privately hired muleteers. Then, in 1837, the Austrian branch of Lloyds opened an agency in Larnaca and the first Cypriot post office was born. In 1871, the capital opened its own post office, under the auspices of the Turks, but both closed down with the arrival of the British in 1878. At this point in the tour I was thrilled to be shown an exhibit of ‘Penny Reds’, among the first British stamps to be used on the island. From 1881 until 1960, stamps portrayed only the British monarchs, albeit overprinted with the word Cyprus, and the value of the stamp in piastres.

On August 16, 1960 Cyprus gained its independence from British rule, and Cyprus philately came into its own. That same year, a definitive set of three stamps depicting the island of Cyprus was issued, valued at 10 mils, 30 mils and 100 mils, giving Cyprus its very own stamps for the first time.

Over the years, stamps have been issued to commemorate many important events: 1963 saw the Jamboree celebrating 50 years of Scouting in Cyprus; stamps from 1965 celebrate John F Kennedy’s visit to Cyprus, and every four years an issue marks the passing of another Olympic Games.

In recent years, many of the issues have depicted the flora and fauna of the island: there are stamps showing moufflon, the turtles of Lara bay, indigenous crabs and a beautiful set depicting the wild flowers of Cyprus from 1990. The 2003 issue is a tribute to birds of prey, and is most unique, in that the stamps are all triangular.

Each of the issues is comprehensively labelled, but the joy isn’t in simply trawling the aisles admiring stamps, the real experience is in absorbing the curator’s wisdom. For Loizou, every issue is a story in itself, a miniature pictoral history of the island. His pride and joy is in fact the room of cancellation stamps, the mark that is added over the stamps to ensure they are not reused. He has spent years of his life travelling the island, collecting cancellation stamps from each and every post office, from the Monastery of Bellapais to the village of Trimithias. The same room houses scales and weights, from the gargantuan to the minute (used for checking the weight of gold coins), as well as sticks of the original brick-red wax used in sealing packages, and some of the first aerogrammes and letters to be sent to and from Cyprus.

To end a fascinating visit, Loizou brought out the visitors’ book, of which he is rightly proud. School groups and tours have delighted in his comprehensive tours of the museum, individuals who have popped in with five minutes to spare have left hours later, recording their awe and enjoyment that such a national treasure exists.

“Some of these visitors now write to me regularly,” beamed Loizou, flipping through a file to prove his point. “This man came here once, then we corresponded several times. Now we call each other,” he said, proudly showing me a letter from one Graham Little, President of the Eastbourne and South Downs Philatelic Society.

Perhaps it’s time I looked out that old stamp album and started writing to far flung Uncles again.

The Cyprus Postal Museum, 3b Ayiou Savva Street, Nicosia. Tel: 22 760522. Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9-3 and Saturday 9-1. 

Lebanese Arabesque in Nicosia October 15, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus Nicosia.
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New Arabic restaurant in Nicosia that actually shows some promise

Leaving the city and travelling along Strovolos Avenue, fork left at the traffic lights situated at the junction with the new Strovolos Theatre and take the Tseri Road. About 500m on the left, is a Laiki bank, turn left and the restaurant is the second building on the right.

The standard for Lebanese food in Cyprus is set by Abu Faysal and long may it continue; there have been many challengers, but all have fallen short in my opinion; Ghazi reigns supreme. But, tucked away in a side-street off the Tseri road is a little gem. Established a few months ago, it offers traditional Arabian dishes in an intimate setting, served by a young, attentive and charming staff. We arrived on a Friday night at 8:30pm and had a choice of sitting in the main room or on the veranda. On being informed that we would not be able to see the belly dancer if we sat outside, my companion immediately opted for the veranda, it’s not that she has anything against the dancing, but thinks that I might be distracted from my task of reviewing; very thoughtful. How we finished up sitting inside I can’t remember, but we did.

Normally our aperitif is ouzo, but ‘when in Rome’ we go for arak, this is served with a small bucket of ice and a pitcher of water. Menus are produced and we go to work, ‘what is this’, ‘what is that’ all met with a smile and an explanation. In the interest of thorough research we eschewed the meze, and attacked the full card.

Our selection started with Tabbouli, a traditional salad that includes very finely chopped parsley, tomatoes, bulgar wheat, lemon juice and olive oil, the important thing is the fine chopping. Next up, the wine list; a good selection of local and foreign wines, but we selected a dry white Ksara from Lebanon; it seemed appropriate. We then chose a number of dishes from the cold meze list: Houmous, followed by Taket matet, a dip made from pomegranate syrup, red peppers, walnuts and breadcrumbs; followed by Labneh bel thoum, which for the uninitiated is strained yoghurt with garlic, and then my particular favourite, Patata bel thoum, yes you’ve guessed it, mashed potatoes, drizzled with olive oil and laced with crushed garlic; superb. All these dishes are served on a silver salver, and cost £l.25 and were accompanied by those delicate Lebanese pitas.

Next, the hot section. Four small pieces of Sfeha Balbakia, home-made pita topped with minced lamb, fresh tomato and parsley. Then the Falafel, which verified a very light touch in the kitchen, as did the Harah, deep fried potatoes in a traditional sauce.

For the main course I went for Shukaf Orfaly, small pieces of charcoaled grilled lamb, and the companion selected Farrouj Mashwi, grilled boneless chicken breasts. These are served, in a huge pita, on a silver platter, and proved the undoing of us. It would have taken the National Guard to finish the meal; portions are generous.

Did I mention a dancer? Of course I did. This girl danced to a frenetic percussion rhythm and generated enough kinetic energy to light up Strovolos, and surprise upon surprise, she is Cypriot, seventeen and of course, accompanied by her mother; so there.

We were served with Mahalabi and Arabic coffee, which contains cardamoms, not cloves, all courtesy of the house. Thank you very much.

Every aspect of this establishment pleased me, from the seamless service to the high-backed wooden chairs. Give it a go, it opens for lunch and has a take-away service.

Vital Statistics
SPECIALITY Arabic food
WHERE 4 Phythagorus St. Strovolos (off Tseri Road)
CONTACT 22 317839
PRICE Dinner for two including spirits, wine and water, £33.

Wines > The real Cypriot deal October 15, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Wine And Spirits.
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A small winery in the mountains is turning out some fantastic wines

It was a hard but a pleasurable task to taste Lambouri wines. This new winery has already had its grand opening but wine aficionados would be best prepared to take these notes when visiting Platres, the only place you can be certain to find the Lambouri collection. These are interesting wines, with their own character and individuality. The owners makes good use of oak in an effort to portray the new style of Cyprus wine.

2005 Lambouri Dry White, Lemesos Region, Alcohol Volume 11%
If this was a blind tasting I might have been fooled this Xinisteri varietal with a Sauvignon Blanc. However, this is the indigenous Xinisteri grape variety grown at an altitude of 1,200m in some of the highest vineyards in the Limassol region. The winemaker ensures that grapes slowly mature and are hand picked in autumn. Destemmed and partially crushed, the fermentation occurs in a stainless steel tank at 17 degr. C. The result is a yellow-greenish wine with intense aromas of grapefruit, lime, green apple and passion fruit mixed with almonds and some mineral hints. The palate bursts with citrus fruit, has great concentration and a fresh lingering finish. Served at 10 degr. C, it is best enjoyed with grilled squid, lemon, garlic and cumin, fried red mullet with Mediterranean greens or light pastas.

Lambouri Rose, Lemesos Region, Alcohol Volume 12%
Lazy, hot summer days, weekend family outings and al-fresco lunches outdoors all call for rose wines. Lambouri uses Grenache Noir grapes grown in high mountain slopes at 1,200m. It has an intense pink colour, pomegranate to be precise with salmon hue, brimming with fresh flavours of red fruit, strawberry and raspberry along with a touch of citrus. Refreshing zippiness on the palate, there is a kick of spice on an astringent finish. Serious red fruits grace the palate and melt into a delicious blend of jammy juices. This rose is capable of handling summer’s best fare, from grilled veggies to Asian spice and grilled fish at 11 degr. C.

2001 Lambouri Chardonnay fume, Lemesos Region, Alcohol Volume 13%
Oak, new French oak. This Chardonnay varietal is fermented in new French oak barrels and matured for six months in the lees. Yellow with some greenish hints, it is nicely flavoured with distinctive Chardonnay fruit overlaid with butterscotch flavours from the oak. Vigorous and youthful nose with perfumes of night blooming jasmine that hang rich and heavy. Fresh golden apples and waxy lemons over the palate with some creamy oak. Racy acidity, full and round, approachable, balanced and fresh. One of the best and most interesting oaked Chardonnays that I have tried and served at 12 degr. C is perfect with smoked salmon, crab cakes, oysters and stuffed clams as well as chicken, pork and king prawns served with cream sauce. This wine is recommended for all Chardonnay lovers that enthuse over oak.

Lambouri Dry Red, Lemesos Region, Alcohol Volume 13%
A blend of three grape varieties: Rhone Valley’s Mourvodre, the indigenous Mavro and the famous Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes were fermented at a controlled temperature of 25 degr. C, resulting in a wine with light red intensity in colour with pronounced aromas of dry cherry and raspberries and scents of Mediterranean herbs rising from the nose. The palate is medium, soft, ripe and peppery, round with warm spice, sour cherry and plum fruit. Served at 18 degr. C with grills or stews of red meat, goat cheese and meat pasta.

2000 Lambouri Cabernet Sauvignon, Lemesos Region, Alcohol volume 13%
The Cabernet Sauvignon is grown at an altitude of more than 1,000m in the Platres area and harvested between late August and early September. This dry red has a ruby red colour, with a distinctive hue. On the nose there is ripe cassis, plum, cherry and fruitcake. The palate shows the same fruit, with tea leaf feeling and sensual tannins. This is a medium to full-body wine. The winemaker has used malolactic fermentation with maturation in French and American oak barrels to produce a fresh, multi-layered wine with a fine balance of acidity, fruit and body with hints of oak. Serve with meat casseroles, medium and hard cheese, roast pheasant or partridge, Asian spicy chicken and with grills. Drink now.

2003 Lambouri Sweet red, Lemesos Region, Alcohol Volume 14%
And now for something completely different. A sweet red, an old truism in the wine business is that people talk dry but drink sweet. This is more like Port than Commandaria. Pale ruby red colour, the fruit is the real deal. Clean and soft with pleasant plum and red berry flavours. A little chilling would set it off. It is light-bodied, warm spice on the palate with silky smooth tannins and a lingering aftertaste. For food pairings try it with roast pork or gammon.

Dimosthenis Tampakos does not make it October 15, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Athletics.
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Aarhus, Denmark > Germany were the only team to make an impact during the second day of men’s qualifying at the gymnastics world championships on Sunday.

With all the other leading contenders having competed on the opening day, Germany joined pace-setters China, Japan, Russia, Romania, Canada, surprise finalists Switzerland and 2001 world champions Belarus in the eight-team showdown on Tuesday.

Among those missing the cut were 2004 Olympic silver medallists, the United States, and South Korea (11th).

DIMOSTHENIS TAMPAKOS OUT

Greece’s Dimosthenis Tampakos brought the Athens crowd to its feet when he captured Olympic gold on the rings during the 2004 Athens Olympic Games two years ago but in his performance in Aarhus he failed to make the final.

The women begin their qualifying programme on Monday, with favourites the U.S., Olympic champions Romania and surprise European gold medallists Italy all in action.

Related Links > http://www.vm2006gym.dk
(Note > the site is available in Danish only)

Why not Greece? October 15, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Basketball.
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With NBA commissioner David Stern saying last week that the NBA likely would return to Europe next season for another round of training camps and preseason games, Rockets guard Vassilis Spanoulis said Athens would be a good choice for an NBA training camp.

“In Greece, basketball is very (popular) right now,” Spanoulis said. “People would love it. They wait for this. We see it is happening in other countries and we wait for it to happen for our country.”

Olympic Sports Hall, the home court for Spanoulis’ Greek league team Panathinaikos, is considered one of the top basketball venues in Europe.

Recipe for success October 15, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Taste World.
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In a region flooded with well-known chains, what kind of person does it take to make two independent restaurants thrive? It takes someone as hard working as George Sklavounos, who drew 4,000 people to his newest venture within five days of opening.

The 32-year-old went from making and selling plaster decorative molds at age 7 to having two jobs in eighth grade to working at his family’s pizza place in Milford at age 20. That was all before transforming a former Merrimack Friendly’s into Giorgio’s Ristorante & Martini Bar, a chic Italian-Greek eatery, when he was 27.

On Sept. 29, he opened his second restaurant, Giorgio’s Ristorante & Meze Bar, at 524 Nashua St. in Milford, the former location of the White Horse Tavern. And it’s evident that his success in Merrimack has already transferred to his new eatery: His restaurant was jam packed Wednesday night at 6.

The new Giorgio’s has 85 employees, and George still needs a few more. While the place is a bit more upscale looking and has a larger menu, the prices are just as affordable as the Merrimack Giorgio’s. He has added more Greek fare at the new Giorgios, as well as a “meze” menu. Meze are small dishes, or appetizers, designed to go with a beverage and encourage guests to linger and enjoy.

Walking into the 7,600-square-foot building, guests spy an eye-popping octagonal rotonda, white sculptures, intricate ironwork and colorful ancient murals, all of which the restaurateur brought back from recent trips to Athens, Greece, where his family is from. Simply put, the restaurant resembles a small Mediterranean palace. Contemporary Greek music adds to the unique-to-the-area atmosphere.

Custom-made, contemporary, Saturn-shaped fusion glass light fixtures hang from the ceiling, water trickles through a handmade waterfall and an Austrian granite bar with mahogany trim serves as the bar’s centerpiece. White marble porcelain tile floors look like something seen in the Parthenon. The building, which has handsome stonework on the exterior and was a year in the making, was designed by Mike Cheever, an architect and design builder, who has been in the business for 28 years.

Cheever, vice president of design and construction at Stenbak Design Associates of Londonderry, even met with Sklavounos in Greece one summer to pick out the decorations for the new restaurant. “He took me to a couple Athenian restaurants,” Cheever said. “It just had an ambiance that was unlike anything I had experienced in the States.” George said Cheever worked 12-hour days, putting his heart into the project.

“He gave me something that matches my personality,” George said. “If it wasn’t for Mike, I wouldn’t be where I am today.” And the Sklavounos family, George; his brother, Costas; mother, Maria; and father, Alexander, put their personalities into the building, too. “We pretty much hand-built the restaurant,” said Costas Sklavounos, 27, who manages the Merrimack Giorgio’s. “My dad built the waterfall. I helped him.”

Today, Alex does the maintenance on the building and prep work in the kitchen, while Maria focuses her efforts on take-out. George said he’s glad his parents are working more normal schedules and are less stressed.

The Sklavounos family bought the 1.8-acre property in 1999 and spent years trying to decide what to build there. The property is known as the site of a 19th-century farm that was turned into the White Horse Inn, popular for its sourdough bread and live bands. The last building on the site, a large historic barn, was destroyed by arson in 2002. Meantime, George built the 100-seat Giorgio’s in Merrimack’s Pennichuck Square when the former Friendly’s 2,700-square-foot space became available.

This newest Giorgio’s seats 239, including outside seating and a large bar. When George opened the Merrimack Giorgio’s five years ago, he remembers one specific evening working behind the bar. “Someone asked me to make a margarita,” he recalled, not knowing what to do. He knows how to make one now, he said.