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Crafts on their last legs November 20, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Fashion & Style, Greek Culture Heritage.
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As Cyprus society modernises, traditional craftsmen are harder to find. Undoubtedly some products will never be made again. We present four practisers of dying traditions.

George Orphanos and Niki Tzioni > Makers of traditional clothes

Fashion is a multi-million pound industry. Clothes hold a very high position in people’s lives, even men’s, and shopping can, in some circles, even be considered a job. Streets and avenues become famous for the stores that are on them and Nicosia’s Ledra Street is a perfect example of that. But among the fabulous, cheap and sometimes ridiculously expensive boutiques and shops, one is tucked away. This shop does not stock ravishing garments; it isn’t packed with customers and it certainly isn’t popular. But it is host to a dying profession and tradition most of us didn’t even know existed. George Orphanos and Niki Tzioni specialise in making traditional Cypriot clothing.

More than 100, men and women in Cyprus had very distinctive clothes, including simple cottons and silks with little variation from village to village. The outer garments were made from alatzia, a durable cotton cloth like ticking, usually with fine vertical or crossed stripes in deep red, blue, yellow, orange or green on a white ground. The Cypriot female costume was an outer garment, the chemise and the distinctive long pantaloons caught around the ankle. The male costume was the pleated baggy trousers, or vraka, a waistcoat and jacket. The women would sometimes make and even repair their own clothes while never revealing too much. The saya, a kind of frock open at the front and sides was common in most urban and rural regions of Cyprus until the 19th century.

In the 1950s, Orphanos owned a textile factory in Kyrenia. He had several employees and loved working on clothes and other material. He also owned a factory in Strovolos making leather attire. “The traditional clothes were just one section of the business and after I lost everything to the invasion, I decided to focus on it and have managed to maintain it until this day,” he said. Although people stopped wearing traditional clothing, there has been a continuous demand from tourists and Cypriot immigrants abroad who loved the idea of owning a traditional costume as a souvenir. Orphanos catered for them and later on for students who were in need of a traditional Cypriot costume for national holiday dance celebrations. “The schools always have annual celebrations and dances, where the students dress up in the traditional costumes and dance the traditional dances.”

However, what Orphanos was doing wasn’t as simple as it sounds and neither was it as commercial. He was given the right to copy the original design and cut of a traditional costume on display at a Nicosia museum. “My dedication and enthusiasm didn’t go unnoticed and I was given the chance to carry on a tradition in the proper and original way.” Orphanos trained six girls, invested in a specific, embroidery machine and began making the costumes.

Although the style of material he uses is no longer made in Cyprus, as the last textile factory owner closed his down, the handmade, embroidered clothes are cut, sown and put together in exactly the same way as they were in the past. Niki is the last woman in Cyprus who has been trained by Orphanos. “Sewing is not my speciality but the cutting of the clothes is my responsibility and my job and it’s not an easy one. We want to be true to the original design and there’s pressure because you’re doing something that has a very short lifespan.”

Orphanos Traditional Costumes > Tel: 22 676326 or 22 675519

Kyriaki Kyratzi > Silk growing

If there was ever a dying tradition, unfortunately, this is it. One of the most beautiful yet complicated and rare traditions ever in Cyprus is that of silk growing and it has reached its last thread. In the past, it was one of the main money-making, private sector businesses as men and women depended on it for their finest dresses and shirts and sometimes curtains, tablecloths and handkerchiefs. There was a time when there was no other way to obtain silk but to watch it grow and be skilfully weaved into a magnificent material. Kyriaki Kyratzi and others in her situation worked behind the scenes patiently practicing this time-consuming trade. She is the last silk grower in Cyprus.

In a small, old house near the Larnaca marina, Kyriaki Kyratzi is seated at her loom, weaving away, busy at making her new curtains. She’s been doing this since she was a young girl, following in her grandmother’s and mother’s footsteps. However, she wasn’t just learning how to make clothes, she was also being trained to grow silk; a tiring and delicate job. “Even if it wasn’t a dead profession, I don’t think the younger generation has the drive for something like this. It’s not an easy thing,” Kyriaki says.

Indeed, the silk growing procedure is not only tricky; it’s also a very long one. First, there’s the 40 day-wait. “Just when the weather starts warming up, around late March early April, that’s when the silk worms are ready to form and produce the silk.” Microscopic seeds living off old cocoons grow into worms, which then begin to feed on sycamore leaves left by Kyriaki. “You leave the small pieces of leaves further away from the cocoon so they can find their way towards it and feed on that, growing as big as a man’s finger.” Once the worms have changed colour to white, as opposed to yellow when they were smaller, they’re then rounded in a container and placed in a warm room with dry bushes. “The worms need the bushes and you can tell when they’re ready because they lift their heads up looking to climb onto something and that’s when they begin weaving. If the worms were left unattended they would just climb onto anything and anywhere. Imagine having hundreds of silk growing huts each containing millions of worms.” The bushes act as a secure way to pick the cocoon off each twig without damaging it; and although it looks like a cocoon it is indeed a ball of unprocessed silk. “It stays on the twig for a week and then it’s taken to the silk-mercer to be boiled in hot water. The threads come undone and it’s gathered on a stick.”

It’s a job that requires many skilful people grouping their knowledge and expertise in order to have an end result. “Right now, there aren’t even any silk-mercers. Our guy died recently and despite there being a couple more people who do this, it’s too expensive and frankly, there’s just no point to it. The traditional process of silk- growing has died.”

Costas Eleftheriou > Potter

Although pottery is not really considered a dying tradition, with places like the Handicraft Centre in Nicosia maintaining it’s vitality, aspects of this trade have not only changed throughout times but are also gone forever. Costas Eleftheriou is one the few commercial potters remaining in Cyprus and has witnessed the industry change. He has been a potter since the 1950s, when raw materials had to be gathered and distribution wasn’t as simple as it is today.

Eleftheriou started experimenting with clay when he was 15-years-old and merely interested in earning some extra money. “My godfather was a potter and one summer I went to work with him. But I enjoyed it so much, I just kept on going and eventually stopped when I was 65,” he says laughing. From then on, Eleftheriou decided he would make a living by spinning the wheel of clay, even opening his own workshop in Kyrenia in 1969. He had met his wife a few years earlier and she would help by painting decorative yet traditional designs on each piece of work produced by her husband.

However, five years after sales were up in Kyrenia and the couple was making more than enough to maintain a household and family, the Turks invaded the island and all was lost. “We didn’t even get the chance to take one single piece of work with us and ran into some difficulties with the government when we asked to be given a new workshop,” Eleftheriou explains. Being unable to work without the basic necessities, Eleftheriou worked in mosaics for four years trying to scrape up enough money to buy some land and build his new workshop. He eventually succeeded and quickly began crafting pots and plates, tea and coffee sets, cups and various ornaments while his wife was beside him beautifying his work every step of the way. Meanwhile, work was picking up as tourists were flocking to the island and showing a keen interest in traditional pottery; Eleftheriou and his wife would drive around the island with a van full of clay memorabilia distributing their hard work and “loving every minute of it”.

“In 1981, the Handicraft Centre in Nicosia asked me to go and work for them, teaching and training youngsters at the same time. But I couldn’t give up on my own work and I ended up leaving the centre in the afternoon and working at my workshop throughout the evening.” This was when Eleftheriou realised the pottery business had changed and the younger generation needn’t worry about the basics old potters once required. “Clay powder is now available in packages, so all they have to do is mix it with water and they’re ready to work. It was completely different when I was working in the 50s and 60s because we had to go and find the ideal soil and put together all the raw materials before actually making something. More work, time and labour went into pottery in the old days.” Eleftheriou’s hard work and dedication finally paid off when he was awarded for his efforts by the Ministry of Interior in September.

Kyriakos Mouttaras > Cotton quilt maker

With the weather getting colder, we’re preparing for winter by curling up in bed, pulling our quilts closer and turning on the heating. Years ago, when central heating was non-existent, people would depend on cotton quilts to keep the cold at bay. Handmade by cotton quilt makers, they were the ultimate method of keeping warm. Hundreds of quilt makers catered for the whole island and women would rush to them when their pillows, mattresses and quilts needed repairing. But today, a completely different picture is being painted and in Nicosia alone, there are two cotton quilt makers left. We spoke to the oldest one, Kyriakos Mouttaras.

“I’ve been doing this since I was 13 years old,” he says. “In those days, parents would send their kids out to learn any trade that would earn their keep so I was sent to learn how to make quilts although I never actually liked it.” For 54 years, Mouttaras has been spreading cotton and stuffing it into various designed materials, needling it and producing a heavy yet cold-proof quilt for his customers.

However, tucked away in a small shop in old Nicosia, Mouttaras is now a practically forgotten soul, hard at work on something that will soon die out. “I remember a time when I had so much work, there was a 15-day wait for a quilt. Now, I can do two or three in one day because business has slowed down so much.”

Interestingly enough though, Mouttaras doesn’t believe it’s a dying tradition because it’s not required anymore and therefore not productive; on the contrary, it’s a money-making job that does have a future. “I have rich, upper-class clients who insist on buying my cotton quilts because they know that they’re not a health hazard and are so much better than the commercial ones.” But the problem is that no one is interested in carrying the tradition on despite Mouttaras’ attempts to train youngsters and promising them his shop, tools and knowledge. “It is thought to be a very degrading and humiliating job,” he says. “No one wants to be doing this, they all think they’re worth a lot more but they don’t understand that they can make money. I raised three kids, sent them off to university and still have money to live off but no-one, including my kids, is interested.”

Unfortunately, Mouttaras will be retiring and closing down his shop in a few years but his hopes of this tradition living on remain.

Kyriakos Mouttaras > Tel: 22 664897

The Nation’s favourite > Helena Paparizou November 20, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Music Life Greek.
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She’s the Eurovision winner who once modelled swimsuits with Victoria Silvstedt. But is that Elena or Helena? Who is she and why is she famous?

Helena Paparizou is a Swedish-born singer who has twice represented Greece in the Eurovision Song Contest. First time round was 2001, when she achieved a creditable third place as part of the duo Antique. Then last year she entered as a solo artist and actually won the thing with the song My Number One.

With two Greek albums already behind her, Paparizou has just released her first full-length English-language offering, The Game of Love. Meanwhile, the song that won her the Eurovision was released in the USA in August, reaching number 8 on the dance club charts.

Would I have heard this My Number One song? The title sounds familiar.

You would. It was what Swedes call a radio plague, clogging up the airwaves for months on end.

And now the plague has spread stateside?

Yes, but it’s not life-threatening or anything. Which is more than can be said for Paparizou’s bout of childhood pneumonia. Twice she was pronounced a goner but a lengthy spell in Greece, far from her drizzle-ridden Gothenburg home, did her the world of good.

Pneumonia is a Greek word, isn’t it?

Yes, many of the words we use in our everyday lives, such as ‘melodramatic’ and ‘Euro-music’, stem from the Greek.

How very Hellenic. But is Paparizou well-known in Sweden?

Yes, very. But her fame here is as nothing compared to the reverence in which she is held in southern Europe, where she is a veritable superstar. A siren if you will.

I will.

And, by the way, she is more Ellenic than Hellenic.

How so?

It all has to do with the disappearance of the Greek language’s aspirant ‘H’ apparently. Helena is the Swedified and anglicised version, and she’s happy to use it for the sake of international convenience. But her friends call her Elena.

Right, got it. And where does Jelena lay her hat these days?

She moved to Athens with her boyfriend earlier this year. But in many ways she is as Swedish as electric advent candles, and she has already hinted that she would like to represent the land of her youth in the Eurovision Song Contest.

How thrilling. Any idea if her new album is any good?

Don’t know, but her new promotional website is enough to make you reach for your revolver. Every move of the mouse causes a flight of doves to flutter across the screen. It’s very irritating.

‘Irritating’? Is that derived from the Greek?

No, it comes from the Latin, as do ‘avian’ and ‘platitudes’.

Speaking of birds, has Jelena ever modelled swimsuits for Panos Emporio?

Good question. And yes, she did once pose for a collection by that other mercurial Greek in Sweden Panos Papadopoulos. She appeared in a catalogue alongside Victoria Silvstedt.

Victoria who?

Oh, don’t start that again. Anyway, a few months ago, Panos, a self-proclaimed modern-day Odyseuss, had a computer stolen from his office containing unpublished topless pictures of stars such as Paparizou and Victoria Silvstedt.

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts! Are they available online?

That’s the thing. Papadopoulos says he got a call a couple of months later from somebody demanding payment, or else… But nothing has happened since.

Hm, couldn’t Papadopoulos just be making it all up for the sake of deliciously titillating headlines?

What a despicable suggestion! Only a ‘misanthropic idiot’ would insinuate such a thing.

Dimitris Papaioannou says ‘Relax’ November 20, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Stage & Theater.
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Acclaimed Olympic Ceremonies art director presents new choreography on rift between genders

The title, ‘2,’ refers to ‘the yearning for unity. For one to become two. It is also about reconciling our two different natures: the hard with the soft, the masculine with the feminine, the material with the spiritual,’ explains Papaioannou.

The time for Dimitris Papaioannou’s first show since the Athens 2004 Olympic Games is almost upon us, as the artistic director of the successful opening and closing ceremonies presents «2» at the newly renovated Palace Theater in central Athens on Friday. The performance is riveting and unrivaled by anything  Greek or foreign we have seen recently.

The choreographer opened his rehearsals to the press last week and though he said that the production was not completely ready, in terms of lighting, coordination of certain parts and pace, the essence was very much there. The signs all prove that Greek dance theater has nothing to be ashamed of on an international level.

The new work is evidently Papaioannou’s best and most mature so far and it has absolutely nothing in common with the Olympic Ceremonies, if anyone is wondering, other than the fact that the production has brought together the same collaborators: Angelos Mendis as artistic director and costume designer along with Maria Ilia; Lilly Pezanou as set designer, Constantinos Vita composed the music, Athina Tsangari on the videos and Alekos Yiannaros behind the lights. Papaioannou also has 22 wonderful young actors working wonders on his stage.

Do you also feel that this is your best effort yet?

I certainly hope it is. It is definitely the most straightforward.

In what sense?

Straight generally; it is cleaner. Less gay too. It’s not flouncy or soft, which normally comes naturally to me. But here, I don’t know what happened… What happened with the Games, the distance I had to take from my own work, made me look at everything I had done until then with a much more critical eye. This has helped me dispense with all superfluous emotion. I am not against evoking feeling from the audience, but a piece of work should not be sentimental.

What does the title, «2» allude to?

The yearning for unity. For one to become two. It is also about reconciling our two different natures: the hard with the soft, the masculine with the feminine, the material with the spiritual, and so forth. At the same time, it is also about a game played with the dancers’ bodies, since all the action is in pairs.

If it is about unity, why did you exclude the female from the performance?

She has not been at all excluded from the existential angst conveyed. It’s just that when addressing the adventure of life, the main theme of «2», we decided to do it from a male perspective.

You say that men are oppressed while being dynasts at the same time. Who oppresses them?

They oppress themselves. Their environment does too. A boy is oppressed into «becoming a man.» In every boy’s education, there is a moment of rupture, according to experts, with his human nature, a moment when the environment begins reminding him constantly that everything that cannot be defined as male, is female. This means that a part of his nature, what people call «sensitivity,» has to be severed so that he cannot be accused of being too female. That doesn’t happen with women. The environment may cut them off from certain social possibilities, but nothing interferes with their nature. Boys are terribly oppressed in comparison.

One of the most striking scenes in the performance is that with people seated at desks who either don’t have a head at all or have a screen for a head. What is it trying to convey?

It is a Kafkaesque look at the world of bureaucracy. It’s everything I experienced in the runup to the Olympic Ceremonies. It’s also about the sense of panic that grabs me every time I have to deal with a public service. The public service is also a male-dominated system, of course.

There is also the amusing scene in the men’s room, where the men seem to be having sex with their urinals…

It’s a sex school. Men pee the same way they f***. As much as things have changed, girls don’t pay to learn about sex. They don’t go to brothels. Boys do. Boys are taught from a very young age to differentiate between making love and having sex. And therein lies the great divide between the sexes.

There is another telling scene, toward the end, where it ends in war.

Don’t forget that men are the fodder of war. This scene is also a conclusion on the acceptance of defeat. They can run, but they’ll keep going backward. They can climb, but they’ll keep slipping down. They will be consumed. They can’t find «the other», can’t overcome their natures.

What about the other, more light-hearted scene, with the theme of «Love Story»?

The music works on the most banal emotional level. In another scene, it comes across in a constrained manner, just like love stories themselves are constrained, like in the scene where two people try get into the same outfit of clothes and fail. It’s like marriage. It’s about the difficulty of unity in general and this is apparent in many scenes, as well as in the last one. One is in the air and other on the ground, trying to find him.

And when he reaches him, the door doesn’t open…

But he says, «You don’t need strength, just push it.» That’s the answer to many scenes of the performance: «Stop, guys, no pushing. Take it easy.» That’s the only way to open the door. Nothing can be achieved with too much strength, too much pressure. Don’t compromise your relationship, don’t compromise your career, don’t go after profit that way. Chill out. Try and be a calm force in the midst of different moments, because moments are fleeting. I am also at a place where I’m saying: «Hold on a minute. Let’s look at it a bit differently.» I don’t know. I haven’t got an answer.

Violence brought to the stage November 20, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Events Greece.
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New Theater welcomes new season with powerful plays that casts a critical look upon humanity > Kerasia Samara and Maria Zorba star in ‘Five Kinds of Silence’

Harsh, violent plays are on the agenda for the New Theater of the Greek National Theater this season, inviting audiences into an intense and hardly painless understanding of the world and the human condition.

Ranging from Shelagh Stephenson’s “Five Kinds of Silence” which addresses domestic violence, to Albert Camus’s “Caligula” and a Shakespearian anthology lightly titled “Much Ado and Nothing” the New Theater’s artistic director Dimitris Lignadis argues that the company is redefining words such as “research,” “experiment” and “exercise.”

The season at the Hora Theater in Kypseli, where the New Theater company is currently housed, opened with “Milk” a play by Greece’s Vassilis Katsikonouris that received rave reviews last year. With “Five Kinds of Silence” premiering last Friday, the performances of “Milk” have been restricted to Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays until January 4.

“Our ambition is to live up to the name of our ensemble,” said Lignadis at a recent press conference, where he sat surrounded by a populous and especially young team of actors and crew. “We want to be a theater, a scene, and, in the broader sense of the name, innovative and youthful. If we didn’t succeed in reaching our goal last year, we can certainly get nearer to it,” he added. Lignadis also insisted on noting the commercial aspect of the experiment: “We achieved an artistic and financial success. And, yes, we do want to see people coming to our plays, otherwise we could just perform them in the bathroom at home.”

“Five Kinds of Silence” scored critical success in the mid-1990s when the original BBC Radio series was adapted for the stage after having won a Writers’ Guild Award for Best Original Radio Play. Its success was due to its subject, argues the Athenian production’s director, Aspa Tompouli. “Despite the public awareness that has been raised in recent years, domestic abuse continues to be one of the most covered-up crimes of our time.”

In the drama, Susan and Janet kill their sexually abusive father. Stephenson shed light on both worlds, that of the abuser and the abused, using, according to Tompouli, different means to understand both sides better. “Scenes of intense realism take place next to dense monologues that are extremely poetic,” she says.

The play has been translated into Greek by Christina Babou-Pagoureli, the sets were designed by Maria Konomi, the costumes by Claire Bracewell, the music by Platonas Andritsakis and the lighting by Ilias Constantakopoulos. The play stars Giorgos Kentros, Kerasia Samara, Maria Zorba and Katia Gerou. A new director, Giorgos Sachinis, is behind Camus’s “Caligula”, which is due to premiere on January 30, 2007.

“It is a play with many different levels and the challenge is to choose which level you want to focus on,” said the director. “In this production, the tough coming-of-age process of Camus’s hero takes place in the narrow hallway of a deserted swimming pool. The original play is transformed into the initiation ritual of five hydrophobic people, conducted by a sixth person who has been in water just once before,” explains Sachinis.

The third production, “Much Ado and Nothing” which will open in February, is a dance musical based on Shakespeare and other playwrights of his time. Lignadis, who is the production’s director, describes it as a “dancing restaurant” and promises many surprises.

At the Hora Theater, 20 Amorgou street, Kypseli, Athens, tel 210 8673945.

National Opera displays modern streak November 20, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Ballet Dance Opera.
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National Opera displays modern streak with works from the 20th century

The National Opera presents the first real signs of the so-called new era it has embarked upon with the appointment of Stefanos Lazaridis as the new artistic director, with its latest production which opened at the Olympia Theater yesterday.

Manuel de Falla’s “La vida breve” (The Short Life) and Luigi Dallapiccola’s “The Prisoner” both one-act operas written in the 20th century, are being staged as one production. Both works are about freedom and are directed by American Christopher Alden, who gives a distinctive touch of modern opera.

“The Prisoner” is the portrait of a tortured man who, according to Alden, “could be any one of us. He is a man being punished for his desire to rid himself of repression.” De Falla makes his own commentary on social structures through his female leading character in “La vida breve”, Salud, who dares to utter her yearning to free herself from her repressive daily routine. The opera is about Salud’s unlucky love affair with the rich charmer Paco, who eventually chooses Carmela, a girl from his own class, as his wife. Unable to live with this injustice, Salud dies. The opera, a woman’s personal tragedy, brings out powerful feelings through Spanish melodies. De Falla used elements from Spanish folk music as a starting point and did not hesitate to adapt well-known Andalusian songs.

The remaining performances have been scheduled for Wednesday, Friday, Sunday, November 29 and December 1.

At the Olympia Theater, 59-61 Academias Street, Athens, tel 210 3612461.

Elytis letters published after court wrangle November 20, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Books Life Greek.
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A last-minute decision by a court on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos allowed the the local prefecture to release on Saturday a book containing 12 previously unpublished letters by the late Nobel Laureate Odysseus Elytis.

The beneficiary of the poet’s intellectual rights, Ioulita Iliopoulo, lodged an appeal asking for the book “My Dear Teriade” not to be released, but the court said the publication of the book was protected by the freedom of the press law.

Elytis had written the letters to his friend Stratis Eleftheriadis-Teriade and Teriade’s widow gave them to the poet, who compiled the book on behalf of the Lesvos Prefecture, the Athens News Agency reported. Local Prefect Pavlos Voyiatzis said all 5,000 copies of the book were being given away to libraries and book lovers to mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Elytis, whose family was from Lesvos.

Parking no longer free in Athens November 20, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Transport Air Sea Land.
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A pay system for parking in central Athens will go into operation today in an attempt by city council officials to tame the city’s chaotic traffic conditions.

At an initial stage, 5,494 places will be color-coded, of which 2,538 will be assigned to residents for 10 euros per year.

Visitors to the city center will be designated 1,956 spaces, while another 1,000 have been set aside for special use, which includes parking areas for embassies and ministries. The cost for the first half-hour will be 50 euro cents, which will then rise by 50 cents for each additional 30-minute increment. Drivers can pay the fee by purchasing a card from a kiosk or through a mobile phone system.

A three-hour limit will apply and the parking charges will apply on weekdays (9 a.m. to 9 p.m.) and Saturdays (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.). According to sources, only 400 residents have obtained the annual 10 pass needed to avoid being fined. Residents have accused the city council of only awarding one parking spot for every four apartments.