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The village of Lefkara April 22, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus Larnaca.
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The village of Lefkara, west of Larnaca, is famous for its lace. It is said that Leonardo de Vinci bought lace here in 1481 for an altar-cloth in Milan Cathedral.

Lefkara is 8km from Skarinou, off the Nicosia-Limassol road, 40km from Larnaca. It is a picturesque village famous for its local lace, known as “lefkaritika” and for its silverware.

The Lefkara lace is hand-made by local women using linen. Many of the women sit in their doorways where you can watch them practicing their trade.

The beautiful House of Patsalos houses the Lace and Silverware Museum of Lefkara. The Church of Archangelos Michail in Kato Lefkara is of the single-aisled domed type and has wall paintings of the late 12th century.

At Pano Lefkara there is the Church of the Holy Cross, with beautiful 18th century and 13th century artifacts. A religious fair takes place September 13-14, in celebration of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

The village has a traumatic history, as it was the sight of two major battles. The first was between Richard I and Comnenos in the 12th century and one in 1426 between Arabs and King Janus. It was then sacked by the Venetians and many of its inhabitants were massacred.

Restoring Lefkara to its former glory April 22, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Cyprus, Cyprus Larnaca.
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The village of Lefkara is well known for its lace. It has also recently been the focus of a project to restore old houses to their traditional character. 

The village of Lefkara, known for its lace and silver crafts, is situated in the semi-mountainous region of Larnaca and is characterised by the white of its silica and limestone from which it takes its name; Lefkara is derived from the Greek words lefka and ori, meaning White Mountains. The village is steeped in history, that goes back to the Frankish and Venetian period and stretches as far as the Neolithic era. The first historical mention of the existence of Lefkara with its present-day name is found in the testament of Saint Neophyte, born in 1134 in Lefkara, when Cyprus was part of the Byzantine Empire. Most of the houses conserved today in the village date from the Ottoman Empire and display the typical characteristics of the time, stone facades with few openings and rooms laid out around an inner courtyard.

Lefkara is now at the heart of a project by Rehabimed, an organisation that deals with the traditional architecture of the Mediterranean and its rehabilitation, as part of four pilot operations on different aspects of rehabilitation. The project ‘Rehabilitation of the Urban Landscape in Lefkara Village, Cyprus’ was inaugurated in February. Similar projects are underway in Medina of Marrakech; in Kairouan, Tunisia and in Cairo, Egypt.

The project in Lefkara looks at the rehabilitation of traditional architecture and its promotion as a factor in sustainable development. “The aim is to preserve the rich heritage of traditional architecture, a key component of Mediterranean culture and landscape, and to improve the living conditions of the population, increase social cohesion but also to contribute to economic development at the same time,” said Vasilis Ierides in charge of the project. “It was in collaboration with the Department of Antiquities and Lefkara Council. The people of the village proved a great help as photographic material was provided and memories were shared, which, together with other scientific essays and historical works, formed the background for our study.”

The development of tourism in the 1960s has had both positive and negative consequences for traditional architecture. The economic relief brought by tourism has allowed the inhabitants to rehabilitate their homes but in the 1960s and 70s, as a result of economic growth, some old houses were demolished and replaced by modern constructions. The use of new materials chosen for reasons of comfort and fashion has changed the facades and interiors of traditional dwellings. But a number of them were closed up and abandoned for many years and are now on the verge of collapse.

Lefkara high street leads to a small square in front of the main church and is the area chosen to carry out the pilot operation. It represents a run-down urban environment where original facades required restoration and altered facades needed recovery or rehabilitation. The electrical installations, outdated lighting systems, poor paving and unauthorised commercial and urban signposting signalled the immediate need for change. The small square of the Holy Cross was used for parking and the objective of the project was to give it back to locals by redesigning it and making it once again a meeting place, recreating neighbourhood scenes.

Ierides and his associates are no novices on matters of rehabilitation of traditional buildings. “I have been in this business since 1980. I am currently dealing with a project involving the villages of Pelendri, Arsos and Alona and it is frightening and sad when you witness the deterioration of villages once full of life.” Photographic, historical documentation had been of a great help in the research and later for project decision making. Oral documentation by owners and other inhabitants gave useful information regarding lost elements. In the absence of direct evidence “the careful observation of the traditional elements in buildings of similar style visited all over the town was very useful for the preparation of the project,” said Ierides. After many on-the-spot visits alone and with Spanish architect Castrillo, part of the team, work began.

With the exception of two or three facades, most of the later alterations were not irreversible and the majority could be restored without great difficulty or cost. “Special care was taken of the original doors, windows and iron works that were still in place. They were carefully repaired and maintained, since it was important to conserve all the original elements that could be repaired,” said Castrillo. An old photograph provided the information for the original door of one of the buildings in the high street. “The new door was made according to the image on the photograph and was soon substituting the aluminium one. The works followed the RehabiMed method for the rehabilitation of buildings, based on previous research and on detailed drawings of the existing facades.

Great pains were also taken regarding the colours to be used. The village was once as famous for its characteristic blue washed walls as for its lace. Various shades of the traditional blue are still obvious in abandoned houses, which escaped modern interventions. The blue mineral powder, locally called loulaki, was mixed in water and lime and applied either directly onto the stone walls or over a smooth gypsum rendering. Personal preferences of the owners regarding the shade of loulaki were taken also into consideration on the various meetings held with them during the works. Ochre, reddish, pink and white were also used, thus bringing back the variety in colours and shades that prevailed in Lefkara not so long ago.

“This project ensured immediate benefits for the inhabitants and it was reassuring to hear that they want to carry on with the restoration and rehabilitation of their properties on a personal level,” said Ierides. “With the results obtained from the pilot scheme it must serve as an incentive for the recovery of not only the facades but also the interior of the buildings.”

Better to be a mortal than a Greek god April 22, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Books Life, Culture History Mythology.
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Women’s voices have not survived from the past as well as we might like, and this is more true in ancient history than in modern. In worlds where most of the writing was done by and for men, the few literate women whose writings were did not always survive. But there are a few wonderful exceptions, and one of these is Praxilla of Sicyon, who flourished some time around 450 B.C.

She was an accomplished poet who wrote hymns to the Greek gods, wedding choruses and possibly some drinking songs. But, while sadly only fragments of her work survive, there is at least one sweet poem which comes down to us intact.

It is worth quoting and reflecting on for a brief moment. The poem is entitled “Adonis in the Underworld,” and I quote from Sherod Santos’ delightful book, “Greek Lyric Poetry” published by Norton Press, which is certainly worth the price of its purchase. Praxilla places her words in the mouth of a god confined to Hades and they are deceptive in their simplicity.

Of all the pleasures in the upper world
what I miss most is sunlight
after that the stars, a full moon
summer’s late season harvest of fruits
cucumber, apple, pomegranate, pear.

Adonis was the name given by the Greeks to a number of fertility gods who died and rose in Middle Eastern salvation cults. In one Greek version of the myth, Adonis was a beautiful youth born from a questionable union with a foreigner, and whose beauty attracted the affection of Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and sexual love. To keep her hands on the beautiful lad, she shut him in a chest and entrusted him to Persephone, the unfortunate goddess married to Hades, lord of the dead. But forlorn Persephone also fell in love with beautiful Adonis and refused to let him go back to the goddess of love and the light of the upper world. When the case was submitted to Zeus, the king of the gods, he ruled that the young hunk had to spend four months with Persephone, four with Aphrodite and four with the goddess of his choosing. Adonis chose Aphrodite, giving him eight months of life, but he was still consigned to four months among the dead, and so Praxilla gives us his words there.

Annual festivals, which involved sacrifices attended by large numbers of weeping women, commemorated in historical times, ritually mourned the annual departure of the gorgeous young lover to the dead. Adonis was associated not only with sexuality but with fertility in general, and his cult was well known not only to Praxilla, but also to most of the people in antiquity.

Although Praxilla appears to have been well thought of in antiquity, it was a criticism of her that caused her poem to survive. The second century A.D. Roman writer Zenobius mocked her work as he quoted it and referred to a proverb which referred to something completely preposterous as “sillier than Praxilla’s Adonis.” How could anything as important as a dying and rising god have anything to do with matters as mundane as cucumbers and pears and sunshine?

But clever Zenobius misses some very important points. First in Greek, the word “cucumber” is “sikyos” and is probably a pun on the home of Praxilla, the city of Sicyon. Perhaps the god misses Praxilla, or at least her home? The pomegranate is the food of the dead, whose blood-red seed had in an earlier myth condemned Persephone herself to her dismal home when she ate its forbidden seed. Perhaps the condemned god misses the actual pomegranates of the living as opposed to the fare of the dead? Some modern feminist scholars have suggested that the cucumber may itself be a fertility symbol, suggesting that the young god misses the living affection of people on earth as opposed to the cold hands of the dead. Such arguments, while colorful, elude another more basic point to the poem.

Praxilla’s view of Adonis focuses not on the sufferings of the ladies on earth who will miss his attentions, but on his own sufferings as he is imprisoned. As anyone who has been locked up could tell us, the loss of sun, stars, fresh air and fresh foods would be a loss to the imprisoned young god. Her words bring a break with the religious tradition of the dying god, and consider him an incarcerated man who pines for the skies, fresh food and daily experiences of the free.

For Praxilla’s Adonis, salvation lies in the mundane, the ordinary and the simple rather than the loud ritualistic cults which filled his earthly temples. Perhaps Praxilla has a lesson for us 24 centuries after her death. If we pause to take pleasure in our daily possession of fresh air, the beauty of nature, the stars and sun and the taste of good food when we are hungry, we should learn to be content with what we have rather than pining for things more costly and elaborate. Even the immortal gods, she suggests, would like to be as fortunate as we.

‘Zigzag Through the Bitter-Orange Trees’ by Ersi Sotiropoulos April 22, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Books Life, Books Life Greek.
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A quartet of Greeks confronts death much too young

This novel doesn’t have much of a plot, it’s disconnected in a consciously Modernist way, and yet it grabs the reader immediately. We hardly know the four protagonists, but they come to life and stick in the mind. And then there’s the writing, beautiful, evocative, deeply moving:

“Late that night it began to rain: a cleansing downpour that fell with a steady roar from the burst clouds. Sid didn’t hear the rain. In his sleep he sensed the unexpected coolness stealing into the room and spreading out like a cold compress over the baking walls. He felt an airy sprite approach and stroke his forehead. He didn’t hear the mynah bird frantically beating its wings inside its cage. He didn’t hear the shutters banging, or the rush of water in the storm drains. It rained and rained. The city flushed itself out.”

The fifth novel by distinguished Greek writer Ersi Sotiropoulos, “Zigzag Through the Bitter-Orange Trees” has been brilliantly translated by a distinguished American professor emeritus of classics. Modern Greek is quite different from its antecedent, but clearly Peter Green has an affinity for the contemporary language. The translation pulsates with vigor and is full of nuance. Sotiropoulos played a considerable part, Green writes, in transforming her “highly idiomatic Greek” into equally colloquial English prose. The reader is always lucky when there is this kind of input from the author, think of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s role in translating his work from Yiddish into marvelous English after decades in America.

“Zigzag Through the Bitter-Orange Trees” presents its particular Athens approaching the millennium through the eyes of Lia, a young woman dying of a mysterious disease in a hospital very different from a modern American one; her ne’er-do-well brother Sid; her nurse Sotiris; and a rebellious 12-year-old girl, Nina. Lia is the heart of the novel, by far the most arresting. It’s not just the poignancy of a brave young woman facing her premature death, it’s the quality of her insights that sets her apart:

“Physical decay starts in an odd fashion. With no warning. The way Scandinavians get drunk. One minute they’re talking to you quite normally, the next they’re throwing up on you. The way your body quits is much the same. One day you’re fine, well, more or less fine. The next, one after another your organs begin to go on the blink…. A familiar noise reaches you, muffled in cottonwool and transformed into something terrifying. The ticking of a clock grows thick in the air, dominating the entire room.”

Two things mar this admirable novel. One is an occasional coarseness that intrudes into this otherwise sensitive piece of work: Need there be quite so much of spitting contests and need they be described quite so disgustingly? The other is the footnotes explaining cultural and mythological references. Some of us really do know what hydra-headed means. Despite these flaws, “Zigzag” is a delightful read.

TazWood dancers go Greek April 22, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Hellenic Light Americas.
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Anniversary show dedicated to the muse of lyric poetry and dancing

TazWood Dance Company will draw on its repertoire of the last quarter century for its 25th anniversary concert next weekend at Illinois Central College.

Performances will be Friday, Saturday and April 29 in the ICC Performing Arts Center, where the dance company has been in residence since 1989. Shortened performances for groups from schools, day-care centers and senior citizens organizations will be offered Thursday morning.

The show’s title, “A Terpsichorean Spring,” refers to Terpsichore, one of the nine muses in Greek mythology, the one who is the patron of lyric poetry and dancing.

The program will highlight the company’s vaudeville tap, jazz, ballet dancers, as well as children from the community

Mary Dexter, the company’s founder and director, calls the anniversary “truly a show not to be missed.” It runs the gamut from George Balanchine’s ballet “Serenade” to the “Barnum” circus act and segments from the musical “Cats.” Dexter has adapted Balanchine’s original choreography for the performance of “Serenade.”

There’s also a jazzy vaudeville tap section paying tribute to such famous acts as the Purcella Brothers, George M. Cohan, Ann Miller and USO performances. Children from the central Illinois community will dance and tumble to the music from “Barnum,” complete with clown costumes, clown props and a clown car. Act Two will open with “Rags to Riches,” a dance centered around street people who are happy with what they have. The piece features a variety of dance types and music.

Two longtime signature pieces for TazWood Dance Company, the ever-popular Bob Fosse’s “Bye Bye Blackbird” and the “42nd Street Audition”, will conclude the program. Friday night’s audience is invited to a reception in the Performing Arts Center dance studio following the performance.

What: Twenty-fifth anniverary performance by TazWood Dance Company. Mary Dexter is artistic director. 
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2:30 p.m. April 29. Special shortened matinee performances for group sales only will be presented at 9:15 and 10:45 a.m. Thursday. 
Where: Illinois Central College Performing Arts Center, East Peoria. 
Tickets: $7/adults; $5/seniors and students. Group-rate tickets for the shortened matinees are $3 for adults and $2 for students and seniors. Call 694-5136.

Variety is a specialty at cozy new Greek restaurant April 22, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Taste World.
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With the addition of Brothers Kouzina, the Greek spot by Bertucci’s in Peabody, and Restaurant Mediterranean, the new Greek restaurant in the ship next to the Christmas Tree Shops in Lynnfield, there is no shortage of feta and olives on Route 1.

And after sampling pita plates at Restaurant Mediterranean a few months ago, my dining partner and I decided to drop in at Brothers to compare the fare. Brothers opened a little over a year ago and is owned by the folks who run the Brothers Deli restaurant chain. The restaurant is a warm, square spot that looks like an upscale diner. The walls are painted with soft, reddish hues. The lighting is relaxing, and it’s an ideal spot to take kids, thanks to the big tables and reasonable prices.

But since we came to Brothers to go Greek, we decided to stick with the restaurant’s specialties. We started with the Greek deluxe plate for two, said to be a house favorite, which was a dish of souvlaki, gyro meat, and spanakopita. The souvlaki skewers were somewhat dry, yet they were filling.

We were more interested in the gyro meat, which was served in a hearty pile prime for picking. We were most interested in the spanakopita, and we probably should have ordered more. It was simple, nothing out of this world, but certainly tasty, with crust flaky enough to make it a treat.

We also split a salad, the horiatiki, which was described as a traditional Greek favorite with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, peppers, and feta topped with olive oil and oregano. We adored the dish and picked at it throughout the night. The oil was light, the tomatoes were perfectly sweet, the cheese was tasty once it became mushy with the dressing, and the salad was served with pita bread that soaked up the juices. 

I was in the mood for seafood but didn’t want anything fried or breaded, so our friendly waitress, the owner’s daughter, recommended the scallop casserole prepared in olive oil without the breading. The scallops were fresh and soaked in oil and lemon. 

For dessert, we went for the classics, baklava and galaktoboureko. The baklava was honey-drenched, nutty, flaky, obviously homemade. The galaktoboureko, which we had also sampled at Restaurant Mediterranean, also was delicious, like Greek tiramisu with sweet crust and custard.

Like its competitor down the street, Brothers had us promising we’d be back for more. Route 1 should be big enough for both of these comforting and quality Greek spots.

Brothers Kouzina, 25 Newbury St., Peabody, 978-535-9297,  www.greekfoodboston.com

Rise of the Argonauts Announced for PS3, X360, and PC April 22, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Games & Gadgets.
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Coming in 2008

Codemasters has announced another game for its 2008 portfolio with the announcement that Rise of the Argonauts, an epic scale action-RPG, is now in development at Liquid Entertainment for leading console platforms and PC.

Rise of the Argonauts will immerse gamers in a gladiatorial adventure, set in ancient Greece. With deep exploration and epic quests, players will live a life of brutal combat as they lead a team of iconic warriors, including Jason, Hercules and Atalanta, through a world ruled by mythological gods.