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The isolation of quiet winters on Amorgos December 7, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.
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Few ferries and lack of healthcare, jobs and entertainment weigh on island’s 1,700 residents, but most prefer this life to hassles of city

Amorgos may be a summer paradise but the Aegean island can be a lonely place in the winter. Still, the place can have charms of a different kind when the weather is cold and the tourists are gone. Cut off from the mainland most of the week, some of the 1,700 residents manage to find ways to pass the time. Phillippos Skoularopoulos, a technical high school instructor, teaches economic theory to his single pupil, Maria, who would rather not be the sole focus of the lesson.

This year the Saturday ferry schedule from Amorgos to Piraeus has been canceled, now there are just three passenger ferries a week to Piraeus, two of them the time-worn Romilda, taking up to 15 hours. Only the once-weekly Blue Star ferry, every Tuesday, is slightly shorter (just nine hours) and more comfortable.

On board the Romilda, passengers Popi and Francoise, both permanent residents of the island, warned us that we wouldn’t find many shops open on the island at this time of year. Francoise, who left her native Switzerland a few years ago to live in Greece, is happy with that, but Popi has gotten fed up with this life. A supermarket employee on the island, she is planning to move to Athens. “You love Amorgos more if you live somewhere else,” she said.

As the ship docks in the port of Katapola, the atmosphere is peaceful. At the Town Hall in Hora, the capital, Mayor Nikos Fostieris is waiting for us with a list of the difficulties the islanders face, the lack of ship connections, local transport, healthcare, or even a hospital.

“If there is an emergency, the only solution in winter is a helicopter, but that isn’t always easy. Sometimes we need to make a fuss before they send us one,” he said.

In winter, Amorgos appears to be hibernating, conserving its energy for the summer. But that is only partly true, although most of the shops and eateries that make up the summer tourism ambience are closed, particularly in Hora. Strolling along its cobbled lanes, one would expect to meet a local or two, but one is more likely to meet a teacher.

The island has one of the liveliest regional teachers’ associations in the country. The young teachers, most of whom are new, are determined to do their job well and enjoy life. Philippos Skoularopoulos, known in the Aegean islands as a “wandering teacher,” has set up an amateur theatrical group. “The initial idea was for the children to take part but that was impossible as the children can’t move around for rehearsals,” Philippos said. “So we decided to act ourselves.”

There is no bus service on the island, just a school bus for the children. Summer buses are private and are stored in garages in winter. The teachers rehearse plays in a classroom. “Here on Amorgos we get a feel for the passing seasons; we live close to nature. We organize our time as best we can, and our days are full,” they say.

Still, they know it is no paradise, they are frustrated by the ship schedules, they are aware of the problems the islanders face and at times feel isolated themselves. “It’s not only the fear of an emergency and not having a way off the island. It is the feeling that even if you feel the need to go away, you can’t,” one teacher said. “We are lucky as we happen to get along well with each other. If there hadn’t been that chemistry, you can imagine what sort of time we would be having.”

The island’s trademark structure is the monastery of Panaghia Hozoviotissa, which clings to a rock face. “It’s a unique place, as is the monastery,” explained Father Spyridon, the abbot and one of the two sole monks living there. “Winters are lovely here. We have a lot of work to do and we lack for nothing. In summer it’s different. We have over 600 visitors daily. People go to the beach and then on the way up they pass by here. That’s not how it should be. The monastery is not a beach or a tourist spot. It’s a place for reflection and prayer.”

Further down the road from the monastery is the district of Kato Meria, where things are as quiet as they must have been across the island before the age of tourism. The medical center in the village of Arkesini is in front of a playground that also serves as the primary school yard. Costas Petsas has been the duty doctor here for the past few months. “People here really look up to the teacher and the doctor. We are treated very well, nothing like in the cities. Here they don’t take us for granted; they haven’t always had a doctor and they know what it means not to have one,” he explained.

In Vourtsi, another village in Kato Meria, we were in for a surprise. A poster for the film “Goodbye, Lenin” was plastered to a wall, advertising the village’s cinema club. Last week it was “The Da Vinci Code.” Every week a different movie plays, the highlight of the week for many people on a grim winter evening. Movies are a luxury in this village, which is not one of the most modern on the island. There is no DVD rental store on Amorgos.

Vourtsi is the home of Rita, an American from Los Angeles who first came here on holiday many years ago and eventually decided, after many a summer on the island, to settle permanently. “I wasn’t accepted at first. There was some fear and a few questions,” she said. “But of course I am not talking about the majority.” Rita now has a crafts shop, the Rodi, and enjoys the quiet life in Kato Meria with her children Thomas and Isabella.

In July and August, life on the island is centered on the beach at Aigiali. Now everything is locked and barred, tables and chairs stacked up and put away. There is not a soul in sight. The fishermen don’t go out in bad weather, and local residents like Nikos and Vangelis are out picking olives. “A few months ago there was grape picking, and we have a few livestock animals,” they told us later. “Life is very expensive here, especially food and fuel. Only those who rent out rooms in summer have it easy.”

Aigiali is the island’s second-largest port after Katapola, which is the only place where a restaurant is sure to be open this time of year. Antonis Despotidis, an organic farmer, served us wine in his courtyard. His complaint, apart from the ship schedules, was the fact that a power pylon stands right next to Hora’s school.

Next door is another organic vegetable garden cultivated by Nondas Gavalas, who gave up a law career in Athens to move to the island 14 years ago. “As the years go by and summer tourist traffic increases, the winters seem even quieter. I realized that when I went to Paros one winter and found it deserted. The same applies here,” he said.

All the islanders opened their doors wide to us. Thodoros, the proprietor of the Hyma, the only restaurant open at lunchtime in Hora, told us stories of his voyages to Latin America, and why he settled on Amorgos. At the Mouragio, which serves the best lobster spaghetti on the island, Dimitris invited us to return again one day. Vangelis, whom we met on the road to Hora, where he was going to shop, stopped and told us his life story going back to 1962, when he was the first person to bring a car to the island.

Amorgos in winter is a quieter version of its summer self. It doesn’t hibernate entirely, but retains its charm and hospitality.


Emblematic building honored with book December 7, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Greece, Books Life Greek.
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armypensionfundbuilding.jpg  The grand Army Pension Fund building as seen from Syntagma Square and looking toward Stadiou Street, shortly after construction on the structure was completed in 1950.

The Army Pension Fund building in the heart of Athens once represented an entire world. Built after the Second World War, it has since become linked, in one way or another, to the lives of thousands of Athenians.

Architects Leonidas Bonis and Vassilis Kassandras won a 1926 architectural competition for the building, the largest in Athens, which was erected on the site of the former Royal stables, on a block bounded by Panepistimiou, Amerikis, Stadiou and Voukourestiou streets.

In “The Army Pension Fund Building,” a lavishly illustrated volume just out from the Piraeus Cultural Foundation Group (PIOP), architect Vassilis Kolonas explores the historical and social context of this emblematic building. The book was launched in the building itself, in the new foyer of the Pallas Theater.

Yiannis Kizis, who was in charge the radical refurbishment of the building, spoke of how in some cases, such as the awning on Stadiou and the floor of the Spyromiliou Arcade, Kolonas’s research contributed ideas for the new shape of the building.

Architect Maro Kardamitsa-Adam focused on her personal experience with the building and its associations, while lawyer Stratis Stratigis noted its importance as the last great postwar project of the middle class. It has housed many Athenian landmarks, including Zonar’s, Floca and the Brazilian Cafe and the Pallas Theater.

Sofia Staikou, PIOP’s president, said the book was related to the rebirth of the building as a part of Athenian life. The building today is housing one of the largest departmental stores of Athens, after it has gone a total refurbishment and restoration.

Brazilian jazz from US duo December 7, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Music Life Live Gigs.
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Ross and Kettner play today

Clay Ross and Scott Kettner, two emerging jazz musicians and composers who first performed in Athens last February as US government-selected jazz ambassadors, are returning to the capital, this time to play Brazilian jazz.

Ross, a guitarist, and Kettner, a drummer and percussionist, boast lengthy careers in the field and have also collaborated extensively. Ross’s first album, last year’s «The Random Puller,» was described as «sly, subtle… playful and humorous but deeply complex» by Jammed Online. The guitarist, who turned down a scholarship from the Berklee College of Music to begin a professional career in jazz, has collaborated with acts such as Fred Wesley, Derek Trucks, Quentin Baxter, Maceo Parker, and John Scofield. More recently, he joined forces with the percussion group Beat the Donkey.

Kettner, whose musical education includes intensive training in Brazil, more recently became a member of one of the oldest existing traditional maracatu groups. Kettner has also played alongside the world-renowned Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista and Klezmer Brass All-Stars trumpeter Frank London.

Tonight, 8.30 p.m. at the Hellenic American Union’s Auditorium, 22 Massalias Street, Kolonaki, Athens. Free admission.

Music collective tunes into the Catalan vibe December 7, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Music Life Live Gigs.
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Ojos de Brujo will play two shows in Greece

Ojos de Brujo is a radical, Barcelona-based musicians’ collective. The act’s music, which Greek audiences will have the opportunity to enjoy live for the first time very soon (in Thessaloniki tomorrow and in Athens on Saturday), takes traditional flamenco down the paths of funk, hip-hop, rock and electronica.

The band was founded in 1990 by guitarist Ramon Gimenez and bassist Javi Martin. Gradually, it added seven more members to comprise its current makeup and has climbed to the top of the Spanish-speaking music scene.

The name means “the eyes of the sorcerer.” The collective’s first album, “Vengue,” made them well-known in Spain, but it was the second album, “Bari,” and mostly their latest one, “Techari,” which took their music from Latin America to Europe and Asia.

But Ojos de Brujo is not just about music; the act embraces all aspects of Catalan creativity. An entire group of artists, photographers, street artists and video directors and producers are centered on the band and publish the comic “Rumba Contra el Mundo” (Rumba Against the World), in an attempt to convey messages about freedom and respect of people’s differences through different kinds of art.

In its forthcoming Greek shows, Ojos de Brujo promises to create a thrilling and irresistible celebration of rhythm with songs from all of the collective’s albums.

Ojos de Brujo will play at Thessaloniki’s Ydrogeios Club tomorrow (33, 26th Octovriou Street, Sfageia, Thessaloniki, tel 2310 516515) and at Athens’s Hellenic World Cultural Center (254 Pireos Street, Athens). Tickets available at all Metropolis music stores.

Athens 5th International Animation Film Festival December 7, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Movies Life Greek.
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The Athens International Animation Film Festival is been realized since 2002 and takes place in December every year since then. During its presence the Festival has become a major attraction for artists and public and has contributed considerably to the cultural life of Greece and more specifically to the promotion of animation in Greece.

During the Festival an extensive tribute is organised for one country’s animation productions, with special audiovisual projections of feature films for the public. Moreover, each year a special feature on a well known animation artist of each country is been organised as well.

Already in the 1st Athens International Animation Film Festival (2002) was made a tribute to the Japanese animation productions and the Japanese artist Jimmy Murakami with the cooperation of the International Animation Festival of Hiroshima, and in the 2nd Festival (2003) for the French animation productions, with great success. The 3rd Festival (2004) was dedicated in Spain. The choice of films was coordinated by our collaborators in Spain (Spanish faculties animation) and the Spanish Embassy in Athens, while the 4th Athens International Animation Film Festival (2005) was dedicated in Japan and was realised with the collaboration of Greek-Japanese Chamber. Moreover we had an extensive feature on the Canadian producers in close collaboration with the Canadian embassy.

The 5th Athens International Animation Film Festival is going to take place at the multiplex Cinemas ODEON StarCity during the 7th-10th of December 2006.

In the frame of this year’s 5th Athens International Animation Film Festival, the organisational committee of the Festival will organise a tribute to the internationally recognized and important industry of American animation. There going to be screenings of well known, as well as experimental film creations.

Moreover, there going to be organized workshops for children, Student Film Competition and a Forum on Character Animation. At the Festival is invited the Academy Award nominated director John R. Dilworth.

Last but not least, parties and happenings are part of the agenda!

Related Links >


John R. Dilworth tribute at Athens animation festival December 7, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Movies Life Greek.
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Four-day event showcases American artists and presents Greek talent

Even though the varied character of animated films cater to all audiences, the majority of the films being screened at the 5th Athens International Animation Festival will appeal mostly to children.

The 5th Athens International Animation Festival, starting today and running to Sunday at the Odeon Starcity cinema on Syngrou Avenue, is dedicated to the inventive and rich language of the animation genre, a style of film that reaches out to audiences of all ages and preferences.

Organized by the Union of Greek Animators, the festival brings together talent from around the world, highlighting the ever-developing field and the effect of modern, cutting-edge technologies on the evolution of the genre, which was recently boosted by the success of films such as “Finding Nemo” and “The Incredibles,” productions created by pioneers Pixar.

The breadth of themes showcased at the festival proves that animation is not just for children and the film industry is sitting up and taking note. Indeed, star animator and director John R. Dilworth was nominated for an Oscar in 1995 for his “Chicken from Outer Space.”

Dilworth, who has shown his work on numerous American television stations, such as CBS, Showtime, MTV, HBO and the Cartoon Network, and who has held exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim in New York, is the central figure of the Athens International Animation Festival.

Another important animator whose work will be shown is Bill Plympton, an artist whose work is distinguished by a certain fuzziness of movement and dark, melancholy characters. Though popular with television stations, Plympton’s work is more familiar to the broader public through music videos, such as Madonna’s “Who’s That Girl” or the animated version of Kanye West’s “Heard ‘Em Say.”

The festival also includes a competition section featuring artists from Greece and abroad who have studied at animation schools throughout Europe, as well as a conference today on designing animated characters.

The Athens International Animation Festival is funded by the Ministry of Culture and the General Secretariat for Youth, while it takes place under the auspices of the City of Athens and the American Embassy.

Related Links > http://www.athensiaf.gr

Poseidon cruising the Greek islands December 7, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in News Cruises.
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The Greek holiday cruise industry can attract as many as 5 million visitors but the development of destinations requires proper attention at all levels, from oceangoing ships to small yachts, said Yiannis Evangelou, the head of the Hellenic Association of Tourism and Travel Agencies (HATTA).

Speaking at the recent «70 Golden Greek Cruising Destinations» event in the context of the International Tourism Salon Athens 2006, he estimated that the number of the country’s cruise destinations could rise as high as 70, through a process of select moves and with the cooperation of local authorities, the state and entrepreneurs.

The event also heard that in 2006 there were 140 cruise ships in the Mediterranean, to which another 43 will be added next year.