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Water April 11, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Culture History Mythology.
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Water is also the essential component in what is possibly civilisation’s oldest form of medical treatment.

The ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans turned to water to heal and soothe; the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, wrote about it as a lifesaver and healer.

How olive oil stacks up April 11, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Recipes, Greek Food Culture.
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“Eat olive oil and come visit me at night”

That’s what Greek cookbook author and chef Diane Kochilas often heard her grandmother say. I don’t know what that means, but the Greeks obviously do because they consume about 20 liters of olive oil a year per person. According to Kochilas, “olive oil defines Greek cuisine.”

Research confirms that good health and great taste are not mutually exclusive. A presentation at the American College of Cardiology conference in New Orleans last month confirmed that a Mediterranean-style diet, full of olive oil, was as effective as the American Heart Association’s low-fat diet in preventing a repeat heart attack. That’s good news for the taste buds.

Since many countries border the Mediterranean, there is no single Mediterranean diet, but rather a pattern of food intake. The Oldways Preservation, a nonprofit specializing in food and nutrition education, put together a Mediterranean Pyramid in the early 1990s. The first step is whole grains, including couscous and polenta. Fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts are next on this pyramid. I hope everyone now understands that when you sprinkle almonds or walnuts on a dish you have upped the nutrient density of your meal. Olive oil lands in the middle. Olive oil, with its monounsaturated fat and antioxidants, helps lower the bad cholesterol (LDL) and boost the good (HDL). Further up is cheese, fish and poultry. Then there’s wine. How can you not love a food plan that gives the OK to drink wine? To see the complete pyramid go to www.oldwayspt.org/images/pyramid_med.pdf.

The following is a classic Greek recipe from Classic Iconoclastic Kerasma! More than 75 Traditional and Innovative Greek Dishes compiled and edited by Diane Kochilas.

Classic Fava
Ingredients >
1/2 pound yellow split peas rinsed
5 cups of water
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1-2 red onions, coarsely chopped
1-2 lemons, cut

Method >
Sort split peas and rinse. Place split peas in a medium size pot with cold water or stock. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, over low to medium heat for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until peas are so soft, they have disintegrated to a puree. Add water during cooking, if necessary. Stir occasionally to keep peas from sticking to bottom of pot. Remove pot from heat, season with salt and pepper, and cover with a cloth for 15-20 minutes.
Before serving, mix in 2 cups extra virgin olive oil (more if desired) and top with chopped scallions or raw red onion. Serve on small plates with lemon wedges. Serves 6-8.

Pilot run for Proastiakos suburban to Piraeus April 11, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Transport Air Sea Land.
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proastiakos.jpg  Transport Minister Mihalis Liapis was on board the Proastiakos suburban railway’s first pilot run from Athens’ Larisis Station to Piraeus, which took place on Wednesday morning. The new service, which will link Greece’s largest port directly with Athens International airport, is expected to begin operating properly by the end of May.

The train departed from the station at 10:10 precisely, while it stopped along the way so that the minister could inspect the work still underway at the intervening stations in Lefka, Rendi and Rouf. Liapis expressed satisfaction with the progress made so far, while noting that the extension of the Proastiakos railway to Piraeus was an “important and multi-faceted” project that would provide rapid access to Greek islands for Greek citizens and foreign visitors.

“Some people doubted whether this project would ever finish, but in a month and a half it will begin operating and by the end of June the extension of the Proastiakos to Kiato will also be up and running,” he said.

The Minister also stressed that fares would not increase this year, even though fares on Greek public transport were the lowest in Europe, underlining that the government’s goal was to ensure safe and cheap transport for the public.

The new line is due to be extended to Kiato to the southwest this summer and later to Halkida in the north.

The journey from Piraeus to the airport will take roughly 50 minutes and, at first, there will be two trains running each hour, one toward Corinth and one to the airport. Initially the trains will travel at an average speed of 80km per hour between Piraeus and the airport but average speeds are expected to increase dramatically when work to build an underground line is completed.

The management of Proastiakos SA predicts that the new line will double the number of passengers using the suburban railway, increasing it from 15,000 passengers daily to 30,000 passengers a day. The fare from Larisis Station to the airport will be the current flat fare for urban transport, which is 0.70 euros per journey.

Related Links > http://www.proastiakos.gr/index.php

PM inaugurates museum exhibition focusing on Asia Minor Greeks April 11, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Exhibitions Greece.
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Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Monday inaugurated the renewed exhibition of the Filio Haidemenou Museum of Asia Minor Hellenism, which is contained within the Andreas G. Papandreou World Cultural Foundation of Diaspora Hellenism in the historic Nea Philadelphia district of west Athens.

Exhibited in the museum are 500 of the 1,500 objects and photographs belonging to a fraction of the multitudes of ethnic Greeks expelled from Asia Minor after 1922, collected by 108-year-old Filio Haidemenou, who was unable to attend Monday’s ceremony due to ill health.

In his speech, the prime minister stressed that the opening honoured Haidemenou, noting that she was a woman that symbolised Asia Minor’s Greeks, while he wished her a speedy recovery. He said the museum was a place to remember and learn the story of Asia Minor Greeks and that the artifacts on display were a testimony to the folklore and history of the millennia-old presence of Greeks in that region of the world.

“It bears witness to the sacrifices of Greek men and women that lost their lives in the horror of war. It bears witness to the struggle of the refugees that managed to rise out of the ashes, to take root and prosper in new countries and to make a decisive contribution to the prosperity of our country and our society,” he added.

Preserving and studying historical truth was the only way to learn from the past and avoid continually repeating the same mistakes, Karamanlis noted.

“We want our country to be a factor for peace and stability, democracy and prosperity for all the surrounding region. We seek to establish relations of close cooperation with all our neighbours and support their European course. We want all nations and all peoples in the region to enjoy the privileges that come from European Union membership,” Karamanlis told the gathering.

At the same time, he stressed that its was absolutely clear that being a part of Europe meant having rights as well as obligations and demanded absolute respect for human rights, international law and treaties.

After the opening, the prime minister was given a guided tour of the exhibition and later visited Haidemenou at a nearby hospital where she is currently being treated.

At the Filio Haidemenou Museum of Asia Minor Hellenism in Athens.

Imperial Nights in Tunisia, With Mythology Underfoot April 11, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Hellenic Light Americas.
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Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, sits gazing languorously at herself in the river after a musical solo on an aulos, an ancient double-reed pipe. The river itself is symbolized by an elderly yet muscular man sitting across from her.

Athena looks vaguely unhappy, perhaps because the constant playing, which involved using her mouth as a kind of bagpipe, has distorted the shape of her lips. Today she might opt for Restylane or Botox injections, but in the ancient mythological tale, she threw the instrument on the ground in anger. The satyr Marsyas, depicted in the right-hand corner of this mosaic, picked it up and challenged Apollo to a competition. Infuriated by his arrogance, Apollo had Marsyas flayed.

The narrative in this mosaic, discovered in 1974, traverses Greek and Roman mythology and would have been familiar to citizens of fourth-century Kelibia (now in northeastern Tunisia). It is among 26 mosaics, among the finest in Tunisian museum collections, that the J. Paul Getty Museum, with the Institut National du Patrimoine in Tunisia, have brought to the United States for the first time. The exhibition runs through April 30 at the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, Calif., home to the museum’s sprawling collection of Greek, Roman and Etruscan artifacts.

Muscular gods ride chariots drawn by superb sea horses; voluptuous, half-nude women pour jugs of water down their own backs. Rabbits eagerly nibble grapes, and ferocious lions devour their prey. The panoply of tales told in stone sheds some light on how a wealthy Roman elite lived in North Africa between the second and sixth centuries.

“The exhibition came about from a longstanding relationship with our colleagues in Tunisia,” the Getty’s associate curator of antiquities, Janet Grossman, said in an interview. Over the last decade the Getty Conservation Institute has worked with the Tunisian institute to train technicians to restore mosaics that remain in situ, sometimes buried beneath the rubble of ancient Roman villas and public buildings.

All of the mosaics on view at the Getty Villa were unearthed over the last 200 years and carefully preserved in Tunisia’s museums.

By the second and third centuries, the North African region that is now Tunisia was one of the crown jewels of the Roman Empire. Rich in olives and grain, it had become a wealthy outpost of Rome, and Carthage, its sprawling port, was fast growing into a cultural and economic hub.

Julius Caesar had assured Rome’s dominion over North Africa in the battle at Thapsus of 47 B.C., where troops vanquished forces led by his archrival Pompey. In the following centuries, upwardly mobile citizens across Tunisia vied to imitate the Romans, their gods, their culture, their clothes and their lifestyles. And like conspicuous consumers everywhere, wealthy Tunisians wanted impressive homes: some of these villas were as large as 21,000 square feet.

Americans who amass new fortunes today race to cover their walls with art that proclaims their status, but the status symbols of ancient North Africa’s megawealthy lay literally at their feet. And aside from the prestige value, mosaic floors helped cool interior temperatures in an area of the globe that could be relentlessly hot.

Archaeologists have found mosaics not just in villa reception rooms, but also in dining rooms and bedrooms. Only the floors of the servants’ quarters were left bare. Although mosaics were occasionally created on walls, “the medium was really viewed as an efficient floor covering, waterproofed, durable and easy to walk on,” said another expert, Christine Kondoleon, a senior curator of Greek and Roman art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Despite the obsessive focus on Rome, experts say, the mosaics were also molded by the African experience. They were more colorful and exuberant than other mosaics of that period because of the stones in the area, Ms. Kondoleon said.

If North Africans were eager to show off their knowledge of Rome, there was a highly practical incentive. Aicha Ben Abed, a scholar at the Tunisian institute, writes in the book “Tunisian Mosaics: Treasures From Roman Africa” that a legal statute compensated citizens on the basis of how well they adhered to the values of Roman civilization. Cities that complied most admirably were treated as colonies, which meant that their denizens had the same rights as Roman citizens.

A third-century mosaic depicting two lions ferociously tearing apart a boar was found in the dining room of a home in El Jem, inland in southern Tunisia. That same room also revealed a nine-foot-long floor portrait of a procession with Bacchus as its centerpiece. (Although the Getty had planned to include the larger piece in its show, experts decided that possible damage made it too risky to remove from the wall of the El Jem Museum in northeast Tunisia, which has one of the world’s richest collections of Roman mosaics.)

In Roman mythology, Bacchus, the god of wine and fertility, was thought capable of subduing the forces of nature and wild animals. The lions devouring the boar have fierce paws but somewhat human faces, characteristic of animals in mosaics from that part of the world.

Kris Kelly, a senior curator at the Getty, said that North African mosaics tended to be more colorful than those from other parts of the Roman Empire because the terrain yielded a wider variety of colored stones and glass. The works also reflect the region’s focus on sea fishing along the coast, and hunting and agriculture further inland.

A 5-by-7-foot mosaic of Neptune driving two horses while holding his trident was found in 1904 in the coastal city of Sousse; an imposing head of Oceanus, with lobster claws darting from his hair and dolphins swimming out of his beard, was discovered in 1953 in the baths of Chott Merien, another Mediterranean port.

Although scholars are well versed in the ancient myths animating the mosaics, they are unsure how much of the actual work was done on site. Ms. Ben Abed says that only a single bas-relief from ancient Roman culture, found in ancient Ostia, depicts a mosaic workshop. In Thuborbo Majus archaeologists found a trove of stone chips and tesserae that made it clear that mosaics were laid on site there.

Archaeological work began in Tunisia in the early 1800s, when the first excavations in Carthage were carried out by a Dutch military engineer, Jean Emile Humbert. After Tunisia became a French protectorate in 1881, the French government underwrote annual archaeological investigations.

In 1921 legislation made the Tunisian protectorate the owner of all newly discovered antiquities, with the goal of discouraging private foraging by foreigners.

Organizing and shipping the mosaics to the Getty was a challenge. They were taken to Carthage, then shipped by boat to Marseille. From there, they were taken by truck to an airport and flown to Los Angeles. Upon arrival at the Getty Villa in Malibu, which reopened in January 2006 after an expansion and redesign, the mosaics were cleaned.

Archaeologists emphasize the importance of leaving mosaics in situ so that scholars can consider the role each played in the society where it existed. In the exhibition and catalog, the Getty has gone to great pains to explain that it is collaborating with Tunisia to teach workers and experts how to conserve the works where they are found. (The show coincides with negotiations by the Getty with the governments of Greece and Italy, which argue that some Greek and Etruscan items in the museum’s collection were looted from their soil.)

Maintaining Tunisian mosaics in situ is hardly an easy task, given that so many are exposed to the elements in largely undeveloped areas. In some cases workers have had to rebury mosaics to protect them from the elements until conservation is possible.

For now, Americans have the chance to savor fully restored specimens at the Getty.

“Stories in Stone: Conserving Mosaics of Roman Africa” runs through April 30 at the Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades, Calif; (310) 440-7300 or www.getty.edu.

Greek trilogy almost more than cast and crew can chew April 11, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Hellenic Light Americas.
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Some family histories are so complex, twisted and dramatic that they require years in the retelling. Sometimes a trio of plays will do. The accursed House of Atreus is the subject of the only surviving trilogy of ancient Greek plays, “The Oresteia,” written by Aeschylus in the fifth century B.C.

But trying to collapse all that family history, betrayal, torment and revenge into a single work, as it is presented at 6th @ Penn Theatre in a new translation by Marianne McDonald, is bound to feel hasty. Each play in the trilogy is worth an evening of compelling and character-driven storytelling. Instead, the production as directed by Douglas Lay, clocking in around 2½ hours, is a muddle of incongruity.

The first act of this “Oresteia” comprises the first play in the series, “Agamemnon,” which recounts the return and murder of King Agamemnon (Donal Pugh) following victory in the Trojan War. Wife Clytemnestra (Sylvia Enrique) has been plotting revenge against Agamemnon for the sacrifice of their daughter, Iphigenia.

A chorus of crippled veterans (Fred Harlow, Steve Jensen and Doug Hoehn) is natural and enjoyable to watch. But their lengthy explanation of Iphigenia’s sacrifice is indicative of a fundamental problem with the work and some would say Greek drama in general: It relies too much on exposition, which tends to weigh down the action.

Lay does make good use of the small space, filling every inch of the theater and constructing creative entrances. In his triumphant return home, Agamemnon enters from behind the audience to a blaze of fanfare and paparazzi, riding atop an iron steed.

Pugh lends a restrained, regal bearing to the king who sacrificed his own daughter to succeed in war. As Clytemnestra, Enrique seethes with anger but lacks the mother’s pain that underscores her revenge. The murder of her husband feels almost gratuitous, instead of long-suffering vengeance in the name of Iphigenia.

The second act encompasses “The Libation Bearers” and “The Eumenides.” Agamemnon’s children Orestes (Joshua Zar) and Electra (Tiffany Jane) are reunited and plot to murder their mother and her new lover (Chris Fonseca) to avenge their father’s death.

The shift in tone, it suddenly becomes a Goth musical, at the start of the act is jarring. Jane, made up like a junior Elvira, bursts into a few numbers, backed by the chorus of “libation bearers” (Leti Carranza, Jamie Bock, Christine Hillman, Katie Sapper and Sarah Knapp), also clad in black and veiled.

Leigh Scarritt’s compositions, which worked so well in last year’s McDonald-Lay pairing for “Iphigenia at Aulis,” aren’t right for this tragedy. Jane has a strong, lovely voice as do many in the chorus, but her treacly pop songs feel more “American Idol” than Greek tragedy. In its final scenes, the play becomes a courtroom drama. The goddess Athena (Monique Gaffney) and a jury of humans decide whether Orestes should be punished for the matricide he has committed.

Orestes uses the old “the gods made me do it” defense, with the god Apollo (Pugh) standing in as his lawyer and witness. The Furies, snarling, feral and reptilian, represent the dead Clytemnestra. Apollo argues that a father is more important than a mother, and therefore the revenge-murder of a mother is more forgivable than that of a father. Gaffney’s reaction to this argument is a brilliantly subtle, irksome acknowledgment of pervasive misogyny, and demonstrates the wide gulf in acting abilities among the cast.

The story of this family’s downfall, and its final redemption, needs time to flesh out. Lay has provided some memorable images, Pugh atop a metal horse, Gaffney caged below, Iphigenia’s ghost floating among the proceedings, but has difficulty reining in all the disparate pieces of this unwieldy production. The result wavers between drama, musical and horror, with a cast ranging from admirable to amateurish, and is at times unintentionally funny.

In this cluttered production, Aeschylus’ message of temperance, mercy and learning through suffering gets lost. Shame, because the world could use the reminder.

Playwright: Aeschylus. Translation: Marianne McDonald, J. Michael Walton. Director: Douglas Lay. Set: Vincent Sneddon. Composer: Leigh Scarritt. Lighting: Mitchell Simkovsky. Sound: Eusevio Cordoba. Cast: Dirk Stanger, Fred Harlow, Steve Jensen, Doug Hoehn, Sylvia Enrique, Chris Fonseca, Donal Pugh, Monique Gaffney, Joshua Zar, Tiffany Jane, Melissa Hamilton, Leti Carranza, Jamie Bock, Christine Hillman, Katie Saper, Sarah Knapp.

“Oresteia” > 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through May 13; 6th @ Penn Theatre, 3704 Sixth Ave., Hillcrest; $20-$23; (619) 688-9210 or www.sixthatpenn.com

These jokesters inhabit the comedic penthouse suite April 11, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Hellenic Light Americas.
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Maybe it’s a function of this country’s splendid multiculturalism. Or just maybe audiences have become real bored with what passes for mainstream comedy. But there can be no doubt that the hottest comedy tickets in town and across much of Canada are for wits who spring from the cultural communities.

Short of a Jerry Seinfeld, there is only one comic who could sell out a room as big as Toronto’s Air Canada Centre in just a few hours, then sell out the recently added second show at the same venue. That would be Russell Peters, who may have been raised in Toronto but whose South Asian roots are responsible for comedy stylings that have catapulted him to superstardom around the planet.

Same thing happened in Montreal. Tickets were gobbled up so quickly when they went on sale last week for Peters’s July 19 Just for Laughs show at Theatre Maisonneuve in Place des Arts that a second show has been added July 20. Similarly, tickets for Peters sold out quickly in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, where a fourth show had to be added to meet the huge demand.

This is not just some aberration, either. Ticket sales were so brisk for the Ethnic Heroes of Comedy Tour show, that a second and third had to be added this weekend at Theatre Maisonneuve. Only a few ducats remain for Friday’s 8 p.m. and Saturday’s 7 and 9:30 p.m. shows.

This tour, headlining Montrealers Angelo Tsarouchas and Sugar Sammy as well as T.O.’s Frank Spadone and L.A.’s Jo Koy, will hit 10 cities in Canada before wrapping at the end of April.

This fascination with ethnic comedy comes as no surprise to Tsarouchas, who has spent much of the last year opening for Peters on tour around the world. The prevailing view has always been that Greeks give good tragedy, but Tsarouchas, along with Nia Vardalos of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame, proved years ago that Greeks can also give great comedy.

A decade back, Tsarouchas was making waves here and around the continent with his one-man show, It’s All Greek to Me. Then the jolly Greek giant, how else to describe a wit who weighs 370 pounds and stands close to 7 feet tall, had the brainwave to team up with Spadone for a multi-pronged ethnic comedy assault. The two had starred in Just for Laughs’s Wiseguys series two years ago. Tsarouchas has no Italian blood, Angelo is abbreviated from Evangelos, but who is going to try to push him off the stage at the Italian-flavoured Wiseguys shows?

“We were a great Greco-Roman act, and I’m not talking wrestling on stage, either,” he says. “Reaction from audiences, not just ethnic crowds, was so overwhelming that we decided to go whole hog with some South Asian humour from Sugar Sammy and Jo Koy. Now we’re getting calls from all over the world. “The world is so rapidly changing and people are becoming ever more interested about what’s happening in other communities. Comedy may be the tool, but if it helps to get people to co-exist, so much the better.”

Tsarouchas claims that he honed his comedy skills mimicking customers while flipping burgers as a teen at his dad’s restaurant in Park Ex. Actually, he credits his dad , who has since passed away. “He was a real philosopher,” Tsarouchas says. “He would tell me that three things in life were inevitable: death, taxes and that Greek music will always speed up, particularly at Greek weddings.”

Curiously, Tsarouchas was turned down for a role in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. “Despite the fact I fulfilled three of the four requirements in the title,” he cracks. “More insulting, they said I didn’t look Greek enough.”

More curiously, after this rejection Tsarouchas had to settle for a role as an Italian mobster in a Sylvester Stallone flick.

“Maybe the reason I didn’t get My Big Fat Greek Wedding was that I was going through My Big Fat Greek Divorce at the time,” he says. “But that’s ancient history. Now I’m in My Skinny Little WASP Co-Habitation phase.”

The Ethnic Heroes of Comedy Tour comes to Theatre Maisonneuve of Place des Arts on Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Russell Peters plays the same venue July 19 and 20. For tickets, call 514-842-2112 or 514-790-1245.