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Athens-Sparta divide central in NY exhibit December 8, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Hellenic Light Americas.
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leonidashoplite.jpg The statue of a hoplite, commemorating Leonidas, the Spartan king who died with his troops at Thermopylae, made from Parian marble from 480-470 BC, is part of the exhibit ‘Athens-Sparta.’ 

“Athens-Sparta,” which opened earlier this week at the Onassis Cultural Center in New York, presents 289 archaeological artifacts from the paramount city-states of ancient Greece to illustrate their very different social and artistic legacies.

Athens lavishly encouraged artistic creativity, which became the fountainhead of Western civilization. Laconic, militarist Sparta spent sparingly on the arts, yet managed to produce its own notable works, as shown by the celebrated objects on display.

Mounted strikingly in the compact gallery in midtown Manhattan, the survey encompasses some of the rarest relics ever to travel outside Greece, dating from 800 BC to about 350 BC. Admission is free for the one-time show, on view through May 12, 2007.

Artifacts from centuries of conflicts include spear points and javelin tips from the 480 BC battlefield of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans fought to the last man against Xerxes’ overwhelming forces; a large marble bust commemorating Leonidas, the Spartan king who died with his troops at Thermopylae; a marble relief of an Athenian trireme warship in action; and a bronze Assyrian helmet from the 490 BC Battle of Marathon, Athens’s war booty offering at the shrine to Zeus at Olympia.

Objects from the domestic and religious life of both cities include intricately painted pottery and drinking vessels, metallic sculptures of athletes and votive figurines, coins and decorative pins, gravestones carved from marble, and busts and statues of Athena, the patron of Athens, and other gods.

Greece’s greatest museums in Athens, Sparta, Marathon, Olympia and Rhodes loaned priceless objects for the show. A lavishly illustrated catalog includes essays by Greece’s top antiquities scholars, including Nikolaos Kaltsas, director of the National Archaeological Museum, who curated the show.

Wallboards and labels on the artifacts trace a history of shifting alliances and hostilities rooted in radically different social organizations and cultural ideals in Athens and Sparta.

Sparta, militant and highly regimented, bred the best soldiers of the Hellenic world by making its residents subservient to the state. Humanist Athens produced the greatest philosophers and builders by encouraging free thinking of its citizens. Sparta thrived as an oligarchy, Athens as a democracy, and slavery was part of both societies.

Athens’s artists and its sea-borne commerce dominated the Mediterranean region, generating wealth and underwriting intellectual achievements such as the Parthenon and theatrical tragedy. Spartan traders and craftsmen also brought prosperity to their society, although military preparedness was always uppermost and artistic creativity a lesser concern.

Mutually antagonistic for centuries, the two powers and their allies set aside enmities and formed a common front when Persian invaders on land and sea threatened to overrun Greece in the early 5th century.

In 490 BC, 10,000 Athenian troops turned the tide at Marathon, routing twice as many Persians. When a larger force of Persian invaded again in 480 BC, the Spartans galvanized Panhellenic resistance with their heroic, three-day stand at Thermopylae.

The Athenian naval victory at Salamis later in the year, and the Spartan-led battlefield triumph at Plataeae in 479 BC, all but ended serious Persian designs on the Greek mainland. But Hellenic animosities rooted in clashing ideals eventually led to the Peloponnesian War, 431 BC to 404 BC, climaxed by Sparta’s defeat of Athens.

One of the clearest examples of their stark difference in world views is reflected in steles, or gravestones. The Spartan leader Lycurgus banned inscriptions of names on graves except for “those who died in war” and women who died in childbirth.

In contrast, Athenian gravestones commissioned by the wealthy were artistically carved reliefs depicting the deceased, often based on works at the Parthenon or other great monuments. The expenses led to legislative efforts against such extravagant memorials, the exhibition notes.

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Conserving those quality seeds December 8, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Greece.
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Innovative group in Northern Greece works to keep traditional food varieties alive through exchanges

Peliti, an alternative community, hosts a seed exchange festival every April for producers and the public. Its goal is to collect, distribute and rescue traditional seed varieties. The Peliti volunteer network is based at the village of Mesohori, in the region of Paranesti, Drama, Northern Greece.

Food grown on small farms where crops are rotated according to the seasons tastes good not just because of the TLC they receive and the eco-friendly methods used on them. It might also be because the seeds from which they were grown have come down through the decades from an original crop grown by the farmer’s ancestors.

These traditional seed varieties are the basis of a major effort by a non-governmental organization in Northern Greece whose main objective, since it was founded in 1995, has been to collect, distribute and rescue traditional varieties. It is a loose association of volunteers all involved in some way in conserving the country’s agricultural heritage as a response to an encroaching global economy.

The Peliti alternative community, based in the village of Mesohori in the district of Paranesti, Drama, was founded by Panayiotis Sainatoudis, the current coordinator. Not a farmer himself, Sainatoudis was born in a village but grew up in Thessaloniki.

“I first got involved in seed preservation in 1991 while a student, when I became interested in organic farming. Two years later, I left Thessaloniki to go back to the country, and in 1995 I made this work my top priority,” Sainatoudis said. “I don’t have a farm myself but Peliti’s goal is to start one up soon. So far we have not yet applied for funds from the European Union nor do we have sponsors. We would like to have sponsorship but on our terms,” he said.

At the moment Peliti is run on donations. A non-profit organization, it has five founding members and about 20 volunteers working in shifts. There is also input from about 100 schoolchildren.

Pupils at a high school in Lehaio, Corinthia, who collect and grow traditional seed varieties have an open-house day every Palm Sunday when they give away their seeds. In 1999, Peliti launched what has become an annual festival of seed exchanges held every April at the Monastery of Timios Prodromos at Anatoli, Kissavos, in the prefecture of Larissa.

Peliti (“oak tree” in the Pontic Greek dialect) was named after a tree in the Dasoto district of Kato Nevrokopi, in the prefecture of Drama, where Sainatoudis grew up. The group’s philosophical background is that of personal responsibility, focusing not on what others may or may not do but what each person can do as an individual, with a strong focus on a barter economy.

The seed exchange program has expanded to include all kinds of products that are listed in a catalog according to geographical area. The catalog, published every September, contains information on suppliers of seeds for everything from tomatoes and aubergines from the Evros prefecture, mulberries and pumpkins from Thessaloniki, okra from Ileia, pistachios and garlic from Aegina and a variety of carrot called pastanagla from Hania.

The catalog of plant varieties also includes a register of people who offer an exchange of goods and services on a cash-free basis. About 1,300 copies of the directory are published every year and are usually sold out before the year is up.

It includes names and addresses of producers and organizations, such as the official Greek Gene Bank at the National Institute for Agricultural Research (ETHIAGE), which collects traditional seeds for research purposes, as well as diverse groups who either supply seeds directly to the public or are active in conservation in other ways.

One of the latter is a group set up under the Federation of Environmental Organizations of Cyprus to fight against the introduction of genetically modified seeds in Cyprus.

“Just like our ancient monuments, traditional seed varieties are part of our culture,” the group’s coordinator Spyros Argyridis said. “If we don’t preserve them, we will soon be held hostage to major corporations with monopolies on certain crops.” He also emphasized that these traditional varieties are healthier than commercially available ones, being handed down from generation to generation.

Peliti members, all volunteers, have collected about 1,500 varieties of vegetables, cereals and other foods from around the country and distributed them to approximately 20,000 amateur and professional farmers. Some of the varieties collected in expeditions around the country are given to the Greek Gene Bank.

On an international level, Peliti is collecting signatures for a manifesto issued at the second Terra Madre, the world meeting of food communities, that brought together almost 9,000 people in Turin at the end of October. The manifesto outlines principles on how to “safeguard biodiversity, the freedom of farmers, and respect for life.”

Find out more about these issues at www.peliti.gr, www.terramadre.org and www.slowfood.com.

Good time for bubbly? All the time December 8, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Taste Local, Wine And Spirits.
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It’s the epitome of luxury drinking, the great companion during a moment to remember, the signal that the holiday season has arrived.

Sparkling wine takes center stage this weekend with an exciting, by Greek standards, event scheduled for tomorrow. “Afros kai fyssalides” (Bubbles), organized by highly active Vinetum, promises to be an absolutely sparkling event that will take place at the King George Palace Hotel in downtown Athens.

With a Riedel flute in hand, visitors at the King George will have plenty of bubbly choice, on display will be more than 100 kinds of wines of local and international provenance. The wide range will include champagne, but also a number of popular sparkling wines such as Moscato d’Asti and Prosecco, among many more. Visitors will also be able to purchase labels including rare bottles that are hard to find in the Greek market.

The event is also promoting the idea that sparkling wines should not be reserved for holidays or special occasions, but for everyday celebrations. Wine specialists point out that these days, sparkling drinks have become a trend, with global sales steadily going up. Bubbly drinks are great for the aperitif hour, for instance, while more Greek winemakers are preparing to add sparkling choices to their lines.

King George Palace Hotel, Syntagma Square. For more information, log on to www.vinetum.gr.

Greek designers unite to raise charity funds December 8, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Fashion & Style, Health & Fitness.
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Designers participating at the bazaar are all members of the Hellenic Fashion Designers Association (HFD), namely the organizers of the increasingly popular and successful Diners Athens Collections InStyle.

Local fashion talent is joining forces once again for a good cause. Following the first edition of the Athens Collections bazaar which took place in June, and was deemed a success, a group of fashion designers will come together and present various goods next weekend, December 16 and 17, at the downtown Bacaro complex.

The designers participating in the event are all members of the Hellenic Fashion Designers Association (HFD), namely the organizers of the increasingly popular and successful Diners Athens Collections InStyle.

Participating at next week’s style bazaar are the following HFD members: Angelos Bratis, Aslanis, Celia D, Chara Lebessi, Christos Costarellos, Christos Mailis, Dimitris Dassios, Erifilli, Katerinalexandraki, Kathy Heyndels, Konstantinos, Lena Katsanidou, Liana Camba, Loukia, Maria Mastori, Nikos-Takis, Parthenis, Pavlos Kyriakides, Smaragdi, Yiorgos Eleftheriades and Veloudakis.

Once more, the event is organized under the auspices of the City of Athens, with the free press weekly Athens Voice acting as communications sponsor. Proceeds from the sale of garments and accessories will go toward the capital’s homeless shelter. Expect heavy discounts as well as drinks and music.

Charity and fashion are also linking up in the Greek leg of global campaign Fashion Targets Breast Cancer, which continues its many fruitful activities.

For the Christmas season, the campaign is promoting a special edition, created by four Greek fashion houses: Erifilli working in tandem with accessories designer Aris Geldis, Makis Tselios, duo Mi-Ro and Thessaloniki-based Simeoni. The special-edition clothing items will be available at the Attica department store as well as other outlets for a month. Proceeds from the campaign’s sales benefit the To Spiti tou Stochou Center for Cancer Prevention.

Bacaro, 1 Sophocleous Street, Athens, (opposite the Athens Stock Exchange).

The language of color December 8, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Books Life Greek.
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In her watercolors, artist Florica P. Kyriacopoulos narrates the passage of time

In his treatise “On the Spiritual in Art,” written in 1911, Wassily Kandinsky writes of the color blue as a heavenly color that symbolizes the infinite and the pure. For the German early 20th century expressionist painter Franz Marc, the cool hues of blue and violet expressed masculinity, while yellow denotes the feminine and sensual. Roughly around the same time, the artists linked with Theosophy associated color with sound. Since Goethe’s seminal color theory, colors in art have acquired a language of their own and become symbolic of ideas and moods.

The work of contemporary artist Florica P. Kyriacopoulos is rooted in that tradition. In her work, a single color and its tonal gradations, or combinations of two different colors, suffice to convey with vigor and finesse thoughts and emotions or narrate stories.

In “Watercolors I-IV,” a series of beautiful, small works on paper that are bound together in a limited-edition artist’s book published by Rodakio, the drawings were presented several weeks ago at the artist’s solo show at the Nees Morfes gallery, Kyriacopoulos uses color to convey a voyage in time and through the different stages of life and consciousness.

Like the notes of a musical score or the lines of a poem, each of the 58 drawings has the diaphanous, glowing quality of watercolors and brings to mind Mark Rothko’s large expanses of fugitive colors, their healing and immaterial aspect. Kyriacopoulos made the drawings a few years ago during a monthlong summer stay on the island of Sikinos. She grouped the works in four different themes, each matched with a separate color: “Memory” unfolds in hues of blue and grays; “Tokens” are variations of black; “Whispers” moves in earthy tones of pink, and “Return” is in colors of beige and sand.

In each of the drawings, a minimal, archetypal shape, for example that of a cross or an egg, is sketched against an area of diluted color. The series is a musing on the cycle of life and man’s passage on earth. Conceptually, the drawings end where they began: The “Memory” series refers to our roots, which is where “Return” ends. Placed between the beginning and the end, the black in the “Tokens” series refers to life’s trials and tribulations. They are what lead us to maturity and help us to become more giving and receptive, a stage symbolized by the more happy pink hues in “Whispers.”

With just a few lines and small patches of color, Kyriacopoulos has made haiku-like drawings that have a strong, magnetizing effect.

Once a journalist in the USA and in Greece, she was a correspondent for The Guardian, Kyriacopoulos began to practice art about 15 years ago. Based in Nafplion where she has also founded The Art Shop, Kyriacopoulos usually works in series of drawings or paintings and explores color as a visual language. She has developed a distinctive, signature style of which “Watercolors I-IV” is one of the most eloquent examples.

Tall apartment block to obstruct view of Byzantine church December 8, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Greece.
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Local residents fear loss of antiquities found on construction site around Aghioi Pantes (All Saints)

Ambelokipi residents are infuriated by a decision that has given the green light to construction of a multistory building behind the Panathinaikos soccer ground. They object because the new building will completely overshadow the little Church of Aghioi Pantes (All Saints). Local residents complain that antiquities found on the construction site will be sacrificed to expediency.

The City of Athens, whose town-planning offices issued the permit, claims that the Culture Ministry has given its consent.

The Church of Aghioi Pantes belongs to the Petraki Monastery and is one of the few Byzantine monuments in the area. It was built on the ruins of the ancient temple of Ourania Aphrodite, around the 11th century, the same period as the churches of Kapnikarea, Aghioi Theodoroi in Klafthmonos Square and Omorfokklisia in Galatsi. The Aghioi Omologites Monastery grew up around the church. In 1957, the chapel was restored, but it was gradually surrounded by apartment blocks. The new block almost embraces the Byzantine church, leaving no space around it at all, local residents protest, who also fear that the antiquities found on the site will be cemented over.

According to the City of Athens, the Culture Ministry’s Directorate of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage approved the construction of the apartment block. The same source stated that the antiquities will be protected.

Homegrown fast food of cheese pies, souvlaki widens waistlines December 8, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Greece, Health & Fitness.
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Research shows that once-healthy Greeks are supersizing themselves with sugary, high-fat fare

The massive popularity of fast food, and its downside, have inspired films such as Morgan Spurlock’s award-winning documentary “Super Size Me” and, more recently, Richard Linklater’s “Fast Food Nation.”

Recent research shows that fast food has also changed Greek eating habits.

A homemade hamburger can be a complete meal, albeit a high-calorie one, and it can also be nutritious, since, at its best, it would contain ingredients from all basic food groups. But nobody prefers homemade hamburgers, and there’s a reason: The worse they are for our health, the better they taste.

Fast-food burgers usually contain a high-calorie sauce, tasteless vegetables, practically synthetic bread and more than a little fried bacon, cheese and even an extra burger patty. The burger itself also comprises several servings, instead of just one. That’s the way things are in the fast-food world.

A survey conducted by the Greek Quality of Life Consumer Union (EKPOIZO) five years ago showed that, depending on the ingredients and the amount of fat it contains, a hamburger may provide between 295 to 904 calories. The latter figure is half of the daily calorie requirement for an adult female. People rarely eat a hamburger without a side dish of fried potatoes or at least a soda. That’s how a supposedly light meal at a fast-food outlet can easily furnish as much as 1,500 calories.

Even so, people who have just scarfed down such a high-calorie meal will soon feel hungry again because the high-fat, high-carb foods quickly raise blood-sugar levels.

As for quality, hamburger ingredients are often of undisclosed origin and composition, sometimes soya is substituted for meat, for instance, the potatoes are often fried in oil that has been reused far too often, and the ketchup is not just tomato puree but a sugar-filled concoction.

Souvlaki Nation > Greeks seem to be resisting some fast food but not sandwiches, cheese pies (tyropittas) and snacks. We may not be mad about hamburgers, but what Greek can resist a kebab with pita and lashings of tzatziki?

The Greeks most likely to go for fast food are under the age of 24, while children and adolescents have the worst eating habits.

A study carried out by the Consumers’ Protection Center (KEPKA) shows that the number of Greeks who eat at fast-food outlets has decreased by 18 percent since 2003, but they do eat souvlaki. The Greek fast-food outlets, souvlaki shops, are a perennial favorite.

A study by the Aristides Daskalopoulos Foundation shows that when it comes to fast food, more than seven out of 10 Greeks prefer souvlaki, with sandwiches and hamburgers the next most popular. When we order food to be delivered to our homes, the majority of Greeks (68.3 percent) choose pizza, with souvlaki the second preference.

Another survey, conducted throughout Greece by VPRC in 2005, showed that, despite a changing lifestyle and heavy workloads, a significant proportion of Greeks do not go for fast food. Asked how many times a week they got takeout food for home or the office, 68 percent of those in the sample replied “never,” 14 percent “once a week” and 9 percent “twice a week.” Three percent of them responded “every day.” In contrast, 44 percent of those aged 18-24 said they eat fast food twice a week.

The overwhelming majority of those in the sample (84 percent) said they ate home-cooked food every day. This does not, of course, mean that they have a healthy diet. According to the same survey, 46 percent of those questioned said they had changed their eating habits in the past few years, while 72 percent believe they adhere to a healthy diet.

This does not exactly jibe with the impression we get of Greek dietary habits, judging by the growing rate of obesity in this country. Greek children are the fattest in the European Union, putting them at risk of suffering serious health disorders in adulthood.

The culprit, in part, is fast food, which contains very high amounts of calories, sugar and fats. Worst of all, it gets youngsters addicted to consuming large quantities of salt and sugar, making healthy, home-cooked food taste insipid by contrast.