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Landfall on Mykonos > memories of the Seventies July 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Testimonials.
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The crush at the Piraeus ferry port took your breath away. Not just because of the 38-degree-Celsius heat, nor the toxic pong of Athenian lunch debris decanted straight from restaurant bin into harbour.

No, what was shocking was the fact that everyone doing the pushing and jostling for position looked just like us: students in long hair and blue jeans, with pasty white cheeks and sand-coloured shorts, all carrying Greece on £5 a Day and copies of John Fowles’s Hellenic phantasmagoria, The Magus. It was like boarding a ferry with 399 clones of yourself.

It was 1973, and my first holiday to Greece; also my first holiday (at 19) without my parents and sister: my first leap into freedom. I knew the Greek word for it: eleutheria. But all I knew of the islands was second-hand. The back cover of Leonard Cohen’s Songs from a Room, with a grainy photo from the old groaner’s Hydra love nest, with his beloved Marianne sitting in a towel before his typewriter. The mysterious island where Nicholas Urfe gets a sentimental education in The Magus. Dim memories of Zorba the Greek, with the Englishman Alan Bates becoming de-stiffed by Anthony Quinn’s noisy island hedonist. And the speeded-up bouzouki dance we used to perform with the neighbours every New Year’s Eve, at the end of which we collapsed in a heap. That was all I knew of Greece. It was enough.

Just look, I thought distastefully, at all the clones (the clowns) thronging the SS Aegean ferry, the weekend groovers, the suburban hippies with their bleached-blonde hair (both sexes) and naked white shoulders under dungarees. As the boat surged through the grey choppy water, leaving the baked wasteland of Athens behind, one of them swigged from a bottle of Teachers, and handed it round. His every gesture said: “Christ, I am so Bohemian”. Another strummed a bashed-up Yamaha to some birdbrained London girls (he sang “Starman”, it was all David Bowie that summer).

I muttered to my girlfriend, Gail, how I couldn’t stand being among these “terrestrials”. “Don’t be such a snob,” she said. “They’re probably thinking, ‘What an Oxbridge prat in his bellbottoms and sandals’.”

The journey took hours. Spiky rocks stuck out of the water like broken milestones, failing to tell us how far we’d come. The Scotch-swigger was violently sick over the side. The strummer switched to Cat Stevens’ gloopy “Moonshadow”. Gail and I ate the last of our sandwiches. Night came down, and she slept on my shoulder. It was too dark to read, so I dozed off as well and …

Suddenly we were jolted awake. Lights were shining in my eyes, hurtfully bright, like Klieg lights at a film studio. “Mykonos!” shouted voices. “Mykonos tickets, you are here!” I don’t remember how we got to the beach, some rowing boats must have come out to meet us, but it too seemed floodlit. All the studenty clones on the ferry seemed to have melted away. I was flooded with a sensory joy I’ve seldom encountered, like a returned exile, as if, like Ulysses, I were arriving home to Ithaca: the white breakers in the dark night, the frond-strewn path from the jetty, the way the whitewashed walls curved at the bottom to become pathways, as if made of the same material like white silk drapery, pulling you further into town, wide-eyed and dreamy like cattle in the dusk. In the distance was music, the cries of dancers. “It’s a film set,” breathed Gail. ” It’s completely unreal. All these whitewashed houses and streets.” But it was real. A whiff of roadside souvlaki hit my nostrils. I was starving, just two minutes away from trying the first of a hundred of the world’s most delicious savoury snack …

It was a fab holiday. I could tell you about a thousand things: meeting university friends (everyone went to Mykonos that summer, before it became almost exclusively gay), acquiring a taste for Ouzo-and-Coke, marvelling at how my friend Rob could bisect wasps in mid-air with his breakfast knife, reading Tristram Shandy (the worst-ever beach read) on the rocks, finding new tavernas, learning to snorkel, spinning round, shockingly drunk, under the stars, travelling to Ios and other islands.

Sure, I could tell you about it all, as if I were showing you holiday snaps. But nothing bettered that first moment when I stepped on to the beach at Mykonos, miles from home, family, university, all the baggage of being 19, English, bourgeois and uptight; and discovering, beyond the beach, the kebab-scented paradise of the Cyclades, the music on the night air, a sense of infinite possibilities at the end of the white path. A whiff of true freedom. Nothing bettered it when I was 19. In a way, nothing ever has.

Article by John Walsh. Copyright The Independent > Sunshine, swimming costumes and the Seventies: Three writers share their seaside memories

Epigraphical Museum > more than 13,000 inscriptions July 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Exhibitions Greece, Arts Museums.
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The Epigraphical Museum relates the past to the present in a series of engaging exhibitions

epigraphical_museum.jpg  Detail of a stele relating to the Acropolis of Athens (485-4 BC). The inscriptions in the Museum record resolutions, laws, letters, tax lists and financial information, such as the account of expenses for the construction of the Parthenon.

The Epigraphical Museum in Athens, the only one of its kind, has a rich collection of inscriptions ranging from the early historic to the Early Christian era: 13,510 inscriptions, most of them written in Greek. They record resolutions, laws, letters, tax lists and financial accounts that indicate organization and planning, such as the account of expenses for the construction of the chryselephantine statue of Athena by Pheidias.

The Museum in downtown Athens is little known to the general public, but is highly valued by specialists and researchers, as well as schoolchildren and fans of deciphering. The Epigraphical Museum would like to attract more visitors. Maria Lagoyianni, the Museum’s new Director, believes it is time to be more outgoing. The first effort is an exhibition being held in November at the Parliament, while some changes have already begun at the Museum itself in the form of temporary exhibitions, “a good way of getting people to come.”

Three monuments and four tableaux in the main hall are part of an exhibition that will appeal to people in a hurry, as well as to regular visitors who know that every six months a new arrangement of inscriptions will be on display. For people interested in law, or the machinations of politics, there’s plenty of interest here. And when you want a break, the Museum has a cafe. Just as a democratic regime today publishes its laws in a government gazette, so in the past laws were recorded, mostly on papyrus or wood, before being filed away in the Metroon, a special building in the Athens Agora.

Decisions were temporarily published on wooden panels covered in plaster, which were suspended for a certain period in a public place. Wooden stele set up in prominent places around the city were a more permanent solution. The Museum makes use of such information about the past and the present in a small permanent exhibition.

The most ancient resolution, concerning the landholders of Salamis (510 BC), a resolution by the Athenian polity in honor of Oiniades of Palaiskiathos and his services to the city (408-7 BC), and another concerning the fencing off of the sanctuaries of Kodros, Nileos and Vassilis and the leasing of their temples are the three principal exhibits.

Visitors learn where and how these details were recorded, but without being bombarded by detail. Each inscription is accompanied by a translation and some helpful comments. The resolution concerning the landholders of Salamis is of great significance, as it is the “oldest political resolution by a democratic regime in the world,” as Lagoyianni explained while showing us around the Museum.

The latest exhibition is about dividing in order to rule. The purpose, explained the Director, is to highlight the types of political union of the four cities of Kea: Ioulis, Karthaia, Korissi and Poiiessa, in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, and their efforts to bolster their presence and prevent or get free of the domination of the great powers of the time.

“The great power in that case was all-powerful Athens, the great ally and rival of Kea. It tried to impose its power, while the smaller city tried to retain its autonomy,” Lagoyianni noted.

Kea came under pressure due to its strategic position close to Athens, but also for economic reasons. Miltos, a naturally occurring red iron oxide which was used primarily to dye marble and waterproof ships was a prized source of mineral wealth, and Athens did everything it could to secure a monopoly.

The exhibition shows the tactics of Athens and the reactions of Kea. Shortly before the mid-4th century BC, the Athenians passed a resolution which forced the cities of Kea to rule separately so that Athens had more control over them. Surgical implements and planes that use ultrasound remove cement additions, a neutral soap on paper pulp cleans away encrustations, and a dentist’s drill performs wonders in the hands of the experts who revamp the inscriptions before they emerge from storage. All that goes on in the busy conservation workshop under the direction of Museum sculptor Stergios Tzenekas.

The forthcoming Parliament exhibition, “Praise the Boule and the Deme: The Athenian Democracy Talks about its Inscriptions” is being jointly organized by the Parliament and Athens University.

The theme is the birth of democracy and its resolutions, the time prior to Cleisthenes, his reforms and first decrees, the operation of democracy through resolutions, organization, responsibilities of the leaders of the Athenian state, publication of the resolutions, foreign policy, honors bestowed by the Athenian democracy on citizens and foreigners, and the adventure of the Athenian democracy.

Nineteen inscriptions from the Museum will be moved to the Parliament’s exhibition space at 1 Mitropoleos and Fillellinon streets, Syntagma Square, Athens, and the Museum will put on a special program at its premises at Tositsa Street.

There’s no need to see all the Museum at once, but don’t miss the ballot machine which was used for elections in ancient Athens. Other highlights include the financial accounts for the construction of the Parthenon, evidence of how Athens was supplied with water, Themistocles’ resolution to vacate Athens during the Persian invasion, and the vote of the deme of Axionos, now Glyfada, honoring two theatrical sponsors.

The Museum runs tours for people with special needs and other groups. The Epigraphical Museum, founded in 1885, comprises a collection of Attic inscriptions and a collection of inscriptions from other districts of Greece.

1, Tositsa Street, Athens, tel 210 8217637 and 8232950, fax 8225733. Open Tuesday to Sunday 8:30 a.m. to 15:00 p.m. Closed on Mondays. Admission is free. Nearest Metro Station > Victoria station.

Sikinos island opts for a different way to develop July 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean, Lifestyle.
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Sikinos is still a friendly and unspoiled by mass tourism island 

sikinos.jpg  A view of Hora, with the Monastery of Zoodochou Pigis in the background at the top of the hill. In the past the islanders used to take refuge there from pirate attacks.

Sikinos is no tiny, forgotten island, but one where tourism is being developed with an intelligent approach. Its few beaches are small, a factor that has served to protect it from summer hordes.

Local residents are still hospitable, and the mania for large-scale development that has swept much of the country is nowhere to be seen. The new Mayor, Yiannis Syrigos, and his associates are seeking hydroplane links with Athens and ways to boost local professions that will keep the islanders from leaving. Many former residents are returning to their vineyards, setting up beekeeping cooperatives, organizing the school library and holding cultural events. They are applying for funds from the Egnatia program for small islands and are operating recycling programs in the hope they will set an example for other islands.

The town of Hora was formed by three older settlements, Vounio, Kastro and Horio. Greeks and foreigners who have bought homes on the island have respected the local architecture as if by informal agreement. Horio in particular is a model of aesthetic harmony. Among the new settlers is Costas Kyriazis, originally from Santorini but whose home was on Ios, an island he visits now only to see friends and relatives. “It costs twice as much to build a house here as it does in Athens, so anyone who comes here is not about to spoil things,” he said.

In Hora, cars simply can’t fit in the narrow cobbled streets. Transport around the island is an interesting exercise. We met French hikers that were thrilled with the island paths. Donkeys carry locals to otherwise inaccessible areas where they have their beehives and other work.

The veteran passenger ferry Romilda slowly plies the route to and from Piraeus throughout the year. There is a fast link via Ios on the High Speed 5 then the local Arsinoe, a journey that can take three hours to reach Ios and another 40 minutes to Sikinos at best. At worst, passengers from Sikinos arrive in Ios harbor on the Arsinoe only to watch the High Speed 5 leaving for Piraeus, the two ships whistling as they pass each other. Nevertheless, Sikinos’s harbor has been approved for seaplanes and so quite soon the island will be closer.

The square in Kastro, the monastery of Pantanassa, the impressive northwestern side of the island with its endless dry stone walls, the archaeological areas of Aghia Marina and Episkopi, and the residents of Sikinos themselves are the island’s main attractions.

“Agapoula” or Little Love, “Antartis” or Guerrilla and “Garbis” the hot, dry southwest wind, are just a few of the typical nicknames. Father Theodoros, a passionate violinist and beekeeper, remembers his wife’s initial refusal to give her approval, wives must sign their agreement, to his becoming a priest at the age of 31. We met him in Hora and followed him to Kastro’s church, Pantanassa, to talk in peace.

He and Father Spyros talked about the island and its people, who rarely go to church. They showed us old icons and wonderful carved screens that they often try to restore themselves, rubbing them with a little wax. The residents of Sikinos might not be regular church-goers, but they never miss a Saint’s day festival or panegyri in Greek, and keep up the custom of panegyrades who undertake to pay for the festival that includes buying 80 kilos of fish, and who take the Saint’s icon into their home for a year.

“The old priest registered me when I was 6 years old, and I got the icon when I was 42,” said Father Theodoros abut the Pantanassa icon and the long list of candidate panegyrades. He told us more stories about miracle-working icons and about magical waters, about the small olives that produce excellent oil but which are not harvested much anymore, about pirates and people exiled to the island.

Many people from the island have spent time away from Sikinos. “I left when I was 17,” said Katerina Margeti, who was sitting crocheting in her courtyard. “I don’t regret it, as life was very hard then. After the occupation, around 1950, people started leaving.”

This year the primary school had just four pupils and locals worry about the school’s fate until the latest batch of babies are old enough to attend.

At the medical center, the dentist Costas Habipis, who is also a member of the Municipal Council, talked about the lack of incentives provided by the state. The lack of medical attention is perhaps the most serious problem faced on all islands. Their economy has been boosted, however, by tourism and European Union programs that encourage investment. In contrast to other small islands, Sikinos has benefited from opportunities.

Giorgos Manalis opened his own wine bar with the help of subsidies. New vineyards are appearing on some terraced hillsides. The well-traveled Anna Venieri, “Agapoula”, returned to her childhood home bringing with her knowledge acquired in the city, along with funding, to set up a cooperative with 17 other beekeepers whose produce has boosted the island’s economy.

In the six months since they took office, Syrigos and his associates have secured funding for various sectors. If all of the proposed projects are carried out and the population increases, then Sikinos will certainly have set an example for other islands.

“We have turned our attention to primary production, that is livestock breeding, beekeeping, agriculture,” he said. “We hope that only the positive aspects of the drastic changes that have occurred over the past 20 years in the name of tourism development will find their way to our small community, where they will be welcome.”

44th International Aegean Sailing Rally July 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Aquatics.
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44th International Aegean Sailing Rally sets sail

aegean_sailing_rally.jpg  Sailing boats taking part in the 44th International Aegean Sailing Rally set sail near the port of Piraeus yesterday.

The rally, organized by the Hellenic Offshore Racing Club (HORC), is the oldest and most important open-sea race in Greece. Forty-four crews are taking part this year, including two from Australia and three from Ukraine. This year’s race covers some 450 nautical miles and is widely expected to be tougher than the previous ones. The route is Faliron – Rethymnon – Aghios Nikolaos – Ios – Vouliagmeni.

The International Aegean Sailing Rally, Greece’s premier sailing event, runs from July 13th to July 22nd, attracting top Greek sailing teams and international participants. The event has been put on by the Hellenic Offshore Racing Club since 1964. 

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Greeks abroad to get vote July 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Diaspora, Politics.
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Greek PM says law to be passed in October 

A law will be passed by Parliament in October that will enable Greeks living abroad to vote in the country’s general elections, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said yesterday.

Karamanlis said that it was a “democratic duty” to allow Greeks all over the world to vote in the elections. Under the government’s proposals, Greeks abroad will be able to vote for candidates in the Greek electoral districts in which they are registered.

The proposed law, however, will not affect the next general election, which is due to take place by next March, as the legislation will come into effect at a later date.

Greek ice cream market to extend July 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Business & Economy, Food Greece.
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Ice-cream makers looking to extend seasonal appetites to all year round

Many dairy firms are drawing on the extension of the traditional ice-cream consumption season as a move to boost their profits. A painstaking task in recent years has been to change domestic mentality, as Greeks, unlike other Europeans, traditionally link ice-cream consumption exclusively with summer months.

With overall annual turnover at 250 million euros, the domestic ice-cream market appears to have little room for growth. According to estimates by Business Research and Consultancy Firm ICAP, average annual growth in 2008 will range between 1.0 percent and 3.0 percent.

Historically, some say that it was Marco Polo who brought back from China a recipe for ice cream made from water, while Nero, the emperor of Rome, used snow to make fruit juices icy, and a French chef, De Mirco, who worked for King Charles I, at a special feast served an extraordinary desert that was like an «iced cream.» But the first ice cream as we know it today, on a stick, is proven to have been made in 1903 by Harry Bust.

Today, more that one hundred years later, it is estimated that the global ice-cream market posts overall revenues of more than $50 billion, led by the US. Annual per capita consumption in the US amounts to 18.7 liters, followed by Finland with 13.3 liters, Sweden (11.8 l), Denmark (8.9 l) and Germany (8.5 l). Greece lags way behind with 4.3 liters.

The largest share of the global ice-cream market is divided among Unilever, Nestle, Haagen Dazs, Dreyers, Lotte, McDonalds and some smaller private label companies. The main trends in the market are toward the creation of new, exotic tastes, as well as products offering higher nutritional value. Another development in the domestic market has been the further consolidation of a number of multinationals.

Ice cream has been studied extensively and results have shown that its consumption can improve people’s mood. In the US, Vermont University studies concluded that ice cream has a positive impact on concentration and helps relieve tiredness.

The seasonal consumption of ice cream in Greece begins in March and reaches a peak during summer months, with the numbers of foreign visitors in the country and weather conditions being among the main factors playing a role in sales. For instance, this year’s hotter weather has so far boosted ice-cream consumption, according to data.

Ready-made ice cream, both personal and family sizes, account for most sales at 76 percent, with ice cream sold in bulk accounting for the remaining 24 percent. Consumers generally prefer personal size ice creams (51 percent) of which a very popular type is what is known as an ice-cream stick (39 percent). With regard to place of consumption, as much as 71 percent of ice cream is eaten at home, with the remaining percentage consumed in shops, public places and on outdoor strolls.

According to ICAP data, private label companies have been seeing their market shares rise in recent years, as ice cream has grown in popularity among consumers. Nevertheless, with a large number of companies operating in the specific market, things are still controlled to a large extent by the major players. The main difficulties faced by small and medium-sized companies are connected wtih the development of an extensive distribution network that is required in order to supply local markets across the country.

Nestle Hellas Ice Cream, EVGA, Unilever (Algida) and Kri Kri share almost 80 percent of the market in terms of volume and 92 percent in terms of value. The market is led by Nestle with sales of 21.2 million liters and annual revenues of 120.8 million euros, its parent company is among the world’s ice cream leaders, with turnover at 4.2 billion.

EVGA, established 73 years ago and the first company to produce ready-made ice cream in Greece, now posts consolidated income of 85 million euros. The third-biggest domestic player is Algida (Unilever), a world ice cream leader.

Skiathos fire razes big tract of forest July 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece News.
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A large fire on Skiathos, which has ravaged some 2,000 hectares of forestland and burnt homes on the island since it broke out on Thursday morning, was partly under control last night. Firemen remained on standby as high winds fueled fears that the blaze would rekindle.

Municipal authorities on the island, which yesterday remained on high alert, said the blaze was the work of arsonists. Residents said it had started at an illegal landfill.

Several other fires broke out in other parts of the country. Two blazes on Mount Athos were contained before they could threaten the monastic community located on the mountain’s slopes. The two fires, and another blaze in Halkidiki, are believed to have been caused by lightning. Another fire on the island of Lesvos was curbed before it caused widespread damage.

A huge blaze in the region of Agia near Larissa at the end of last month, in which two men were killed, wreaked damaged totaling some 5.5 million euros, according to preliminary estimates by local officials. The Ministry has pledged 300,000 euros to local authorities so far.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis yesterday expressed the government’s gratitude to the country’s firefighters, “risking their lives in extremely adverse conditions as we unfortunately saw in Crete”, during a speech before New Democracy’s central committee.