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Coming of age in Greece December 12, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Books Life.
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“The Last Day of Paradise” By Kiki Denis (Gival Press)

Kiki Denis’ debut novel, “The Last Day of Paradise,” is a family saga that highlights the magic of language and the cycle of generations.

Sunday, 15, abruptly discovers that her “baba” may not be her biological father. She narrates the events that led to her birth in a small Greek town and takes the reader back in time to understand her present situation.

The story unfolds as Sunday zips blithely from one end of the timeline to the other, from the bawdiness of ancient times to the raw sexual nonchalance of today’s youth, although she sometimes gets ahead of her storytelling.

Sections are helpfully labelled “current era” and “ancient era” to keep the reader from becoming confused by the multigenerational cast. There’s Olga, the feminine feminist; Kyra Vana, her lesbian mother; and wicked Yiayia, who has only one breast. And there’s Bo, Sunday’s friend in the U.S., who tells them all about the wonders of America, such as 24-hour help lines for domestic violence.

“It’s a public service. Amazing stuff, eh?” he says. “It sounds like the first part of a science fiction sequel.”

Most striking is Sunday’s language. She uses English, a “second-hand” tongue, as a way to keep her enemies, who speak only Greek, from understanding her. Her English is a little odd and a little brash, and some of her translations from Greek lead to hilarious hyperbole.

Sunday and her friends keep a tally of how many lovers they’ve had, or “jumped,” as they call it. It’s a very modern novel, but the writer’s style is reminiscent of much older works,  a little bit like Dodie Smith in “I Capture the Castle” and Miles Franklin in “My Brilliant Career.”  Spunky. Sassy.

By the end, it becomes clear that the Paradise of the title isn’t the great hereafter, but a small bar in the ancient era, which is referred to as Loos in the current one.

Thus the story comes full circle. Past and present are united and Sunday matures emotionally as she crosses a threshold where adult themes such as the ambiguity of truth lurk. 

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Musical past transformed for the present December 12, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Music Life Live Gigs.
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Nouvelle Vague, Heavy Trash in town

Nouvelle Vague’s radically reworked versions of new wave-era songs have proven to be a surprise hit for both the band itself and the industry. The French act plays Thessaloniki’s Principle Club theater this Thursday and the capital’s Gagarin Club the following evening. In Greece, Nouvelle Vague’s reputation grew mostly through hand-to-hand music sharing.

Nouvelle Vague and Heavy Trash, two groups currently touring and set to play in Greece this week, share an overt interest in music from the past, as is made all too obvious by their work. But, to their credit, both revisit the past with creativity and innovation.

Highlighting their level of musical freshness, France’s Nouvelle Vague have managed to turn covering the songs of others into a career of their own. Focusing on well-known yet rarely touched punk, post-punk and new-wave songs of the early 80s, Nouvelle Vague put out a self-titled debut in 2004 which went on to become a surprise hit that has sold over 200,000 copies around the world.

In Greece, Nouvelle Vague’s reputation grew mostly through word-of-mouth publicity, or, hand-to-hand music sharing by delighted listeners, to be more exact. No local label or distributor apparently saw enough reason to market an album of covers by an unknown new French band. Yet this did not stop the music from getting around, mostly in the form of burnt CDs.

Formed by core members Marc Collin and Olivier Libaux, both prolific musicians and producers in France, the project was based on the pair’s fascination with enduring songs from the late 70s and early 80s. The debut album included covers by acts such as the Dead Kennedys, XTC, the Cure, the Clash, Joy Division, Tuxedomoon, Depeche Mode and Public Image Limited. Most were deeply immersed in gloom and doom but this French act managed to add new light, literally, to those heavy hearted styles. The fundamental melodies remained unchanged, but the arrangements could not have been more different. Collin and Libaux favored a sparser, acoustic sound reminiscent of the bossa nova sound, 50s-era jazz, or 60s pop.

“After the unanticipated worldwide success… it seemed obvious that we had to continue the project,” says the band in a posting on its website. “Keeping to the original concept, re-arranging the greatest but rarely covered early 80s post-punk numbers in an original and personal way, we tried to once again re-evaluate music that was seldom considered in terms of ‘real’ songs,” the band added, commenting on its follow-up album, “Bande a Part,” which was released last summer. Bands covered here include the Cramps, Echo and the Bunnymen, Blondie, and U2 early period.

Heavy Trash, the other visiting act strongly fixated on the past, is a new project launched by Jon Spencer, a rockabilly deconstructionist-reconstructionist. He led his considerably successful Jon Spencer Blues Explosion over the past 14 years after the demise of his previous band, Pussy Galore, which blended old-school rock’n’roll with the no-wave style of the 80s. For his latest project, Spencer, a scintillating performer, has teamed up with Canada’s Matt Verta-Ray, a former double bassist, on electric guitar.

Nouvelle Vague: Thursday, Thessaloniki, Principal Club; Friday, Athens, Gagarin 205 Club. Heavy Trash: Thursday, Athens, Bios Club. 

Lively, youthful dance show with global outlook December 12, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Events Greece.
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Costas Tsioukas’s ‘Dance of the Dance’ is being staged at the Peroke Theater tonight as well as on December 18 and 19.

Choreographer Costas Tsioukas and his ensemble are staging “Dance of the Dance,” a lively music and dance show with influences that range from New York to the Thessaly Plain, which opened yesterday at the Peroke Theater (2 Odysseos Street, Metaxourgeio, Athens, tel 210 5240040). It will be on stage again tonight as well as December 18 and 19.

Rehearsals last week revealed a well-structured performance of 21 dances from different parts of the world that touches on different themes. “I want the body to talk about things, about how it experiences death, romanticism… I cannot do abstract dance,” said the young choreographer. The comic element goes hand-in-hand with the tragic as the dancers, five women and three men, perform continuously, hardly taking a moment to rest.

“I have loved traditional dances ever since I was a child,” said Tsioukas. “I grew up in the Thessaly Plain, so this work is somewhat autobiographical. I studied at the National Ballet School and at Athens University’s computing department because that was the only way for me to come to Athens, being a boy who loved to dance. I took my entrance exams for the National Ballet School without telling my family.”

Until very recently Tsioukas was too shy to introduce his work to the public. “I feel more secure now,” he said.

If he had to choose between dance and choreography, he would opt for the latter. “I think I could make the sacrifice and not dance. In this case it was impossible to sit out because most of the male dancers are part of Dimitris Papaioannou’s dance ensemble as well and are performing with him.”

New stadium plan presented December 12, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Greece, Sports & Games.
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Panathinaikos unveils details of what will be its ultra-modern, 40,000-capacity soccer arena

Club boss Yiannis Vardinoyiannis said yesterday that he expects the stadium to be ready in 2008, on time for Panathinaikos’s centennial.

Panathinaikos’s administration yesterday unveiled detailed plans for the historic Greek club’s prospective new soccer stadium in downtown Athens, whose construction is expected to start early in the new year.

Club officials hope the stadium, to be located in the downtown district of Votanikos, about a kilometer from Omonia Square, will be ready on time for Panathinaikos’s centennial year in 2008.

Yiannis Vardinoyiannis, the club’s boss, told yesterday’s presentation that he expected all pre-construction details to be ready by the end of February. A timetable for the project’s construction and delivery will then be finalized, he said.

“I’m not a specialist, but, technically speaking, I consider a year-and-a-half to be sufficient once actual work begins,” Vardinoyiannis said.

The soccer stadium, a 40,000-capacity, fully-sheltered facility with double and triple layer stands, will be part of a complex that will also house the club’s basketball and volleyball divisions. Club officials said it will stand as Greece’s best stadium and one of the top in Europe.

At yesterday’s presentation, the projected costs for the soccer stadium were slated at 83 million. Panathinaikos will be expected to pay 3.3 million to the City of Athens over a 20-year period. The entire complex has been budgeted at 127 million.

The town hall’s board voted almost unanimously yesterday for the purchase of a 7.3 hectare plot of land for the project from the National Bank of Greece at the cost of 20 million euros, sources said. Earlier this month, the Finance Ministry pledged to provide the City of Athens with the project’s entire amount.

Work also entails the transformation of Panathinaikos’s traditional base, the Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium, into a park. It is situated in downtown Ambelokipi, one of the capital’s most congested neighborhoods. 

Cyprus seeks answers about missing islanders December 12, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus Occupied.
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A skeleton lying on a white sheet, identified only by a serial number on the wall above, is a stark reminder of years of conflict in divided Cyprus and the legacy of bitterness that remains.

Nobody knows who this man was: all they know is that he wore dark gray trousers, a pale shirt, probably lace-up shoes and pale brown socks, which remained surprisingly intact during years buried in the damp earth. It’s not much to go on.

«How many men were wearing gray trousers back then?» a researcher asked as he picked up a small piece of linen and examined it. «About two-thirds of the population.» The nameless man, and scores of others like him who disappeared decades ago, offer a poignant reminder of the disputes keeping Turkish and Greek communities apart on this east Mediterranean island.

The island has defied repeated reunification attempts: the latest plan by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan was approved by residents of the Turkish-occupied north of the island eager for international recognition but rejected by wealthier Greek Cypriots in a 2004 referendum. The tensions are a key obstacle to Turkey’s ambitions of joining the European Union.

The political reunification process appears blocked for now, but for the first time in at least three decades, Cypriots on both sides of the island’s dividing line are working together to resolve one issue nagging at their collective consciousness: the island’s 2,000 missing people.

Since September, local scientists from both sides working under the direction of an Argentina-based forensics group, Equipo Argentino de Antropologia Forense (EAAF), have been exhuming remains from unmarked graves across the island.

«There is a new climate in and around Cyprus,» said Christophe Girod, a Swiss diplomat on the United Nations-backed Committee of Missing Persons (CMP), which was tasked this year with overseeing exhumations of suspected mass graves. «It’s made it possible for the issue of missing to be tackled and kept outside of political recriminations.»

The missing persons issue is a highly charged one which has added to decades of mistrust between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Some 1,500 Greek Cypriots and some 500 Turkish Cypriots went missing during the 1974 invasion or during clashes between both communities in the 1960s.

To find the bodies, the CMP and the anthropologists and archaeologists are using data collected by investigators working with both communities. Remains are painstakingly reassembled in a laboratory for DNA testing. The first concrete identifications may be possible in the first half of 2007. But not everyone will get the answers they dearly want.

«It is important for us not to raise false expectations among families. Science is not like ‘CSI Miami’,» said EAAF’s Luis Fondebrider, a forensic anthropologist, referring to a US television series about forensic pathology. «In some cases it’s going to be very difficult, impossible to find remains, or to identify some of them.» Since September, some 70 human remains have been discovered. Sixty are close to being identified, but concluding the whole process could take years, said Girod, who has had experience with missing persons in the Balkans and in the Middle East.

As work progresses, it is awakening long-buried memories, with more people coming forward with information.

«You will often see that when people start believing in a process, they will come forward with additional information,» said Jennifer Wright, another member of the forensic team.

Fondebrider said it was important that people on both sides had faith in the scientists. «It is important that the families know that it is a bicommunal team, it is not foreigners coming to do this on their own. They need to believe in us, and we have tried to build up a relationship of trust,» he said.

The lab records where the body was found, the clothing and any old injuries which could give clues about the person’s identification, gathering as much information as possible before DNA testing. The man with the gray trousers, for instance, had an old injury to a rib bone. Some exhumed remains were recovered with rings and watches. Even buttons can yield clues. «It’s like a puzzle, and we are trying to get as clear a picture as possible,» said Oran Finnegan, an Irish scientist on the project.

Getty Museum to return another two artifacts December 12, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece.
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A golden funerary wreath from Macedonia, dating to the 4th century BC, is one of two artifacts that the Los Angeles Getty Museum yesterday agreed to return to Greece. The date of their return was not specified.

The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles has agreed to give back two ancient artifacts whose return Greece has sought for more than a decade, Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis said yesterday.

The pieces, a gold wreath dating to the 4th century BC and a marble statue of a young woman dating to the 6th century BC, are the final two in a list of four objects owned by the Getty which, Greece has long claimed, had been smuggled out of the country before the museum acquired them.

“We have agreed in principle on the return of two ancient objects from the Getty Museum’s collection… that the Greek Culture Ministry has been seeking,” said a joint declaration from the ministry and the LA museum.

The official agreement, to be signed soon, will give details about the date of the handover and include plans for future cooperation between the ministry and the museum, the statement said.

The announcement added that a “collaborative, analytical approach” had also led to the return of two other antiquities from the Getty over the summer and was “the appropriate way to resolve complex ownership claims involving ancient works of art.”

The other two pieces sought by Greece, a 4th-century-BC funeral stele and a 5th-century-BC engraved sculpture, were returned by the Getty in August.

“The way we got the objects back from the Getty is a very good example of how we can reclaim such artifacts,” Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis told a press conference yesterday.

“Athens will now seek to cooperate with the museum in the form of long-term leases of artifacts or joint exhibitions,” Voulgarakis said. “We are not interested in raiding museums but do not want to have antiquities leaving Greece illegally,” he said.