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Reflections on a trip to Greece July 27, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Testimonials.
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Sometimes it takes a trip outside this country to get a better, fuller perspective of what it truly means to be an American.

Recently, my fiance and I had an opportunity to travel to Greece for 10 days. The trip entailed stops on the islands of Crete and Santorini, as well as three days to explore that ancient, gritty and wonderful place, Athens.

Perhaps the first and most searing sensation I can report on was the heat. Though the country is always hot at this time of year, we had the misfortune of experiencing Greece during the middle of a heat wave. The temperatures in Athens topped out at 46 degrees Celsius (that’s 115 degrees Fahrenheit). I can honestly say that before hiking and traipsing around the mountains, gorges and ancient ruins of Greece in those conditions, I never truly understood how unbelievably exhilarating and satisfying (and life-supporting) drinking cold fresh water or swimming in a clear blue sea could be. Ice will never have so much value for me as it did for those 10 days.

One of the most wonderful and convenient things we found as we traveled about was how much the Greeks go out of their way to make communicating with people from other countries less difficult. Unlike most Americans, the Greeks obviously don’t feel threatened by making speakers of other languages feel at home. Almost all the signage is bi-lingual, and serviceable English is spoken by just about everyone who lives in the cities, and even by many in the countryside. Watching their desire to make tourists from the United States and other countries feel comfortable makes me embarrassed to observe how so many here in America think it’s a sign of weakness, or worse, to offer bi or multi-lingual opportunities to non-English speaking people.

Another of the great experiences of visiting Greece was the opportunity we had to explore and experience Greek food. While I had not previously been a big fan of Greek food, my preference has always been Italian, I was amazed at how delicious and simply prepared the food was. Walking around the markets of Athinas Street in Athens, we could readily see why. Everywhere one looked there was fresh and locally grown produce. Never a bland or pulpy piece of fruit or vegetable; each item sampled off the stands was juicy and flavorful. Unlike here in the States, the produce of Greece isn’t genetically altered, nor designed/engineered to stay “fresh” for the great distances that must be traveled to bring the produce from where it is grown to where it will be consumed.

Each of the three places we visited was wonderful and distinct, but Crete was the most rugged, and most like what it has always been. An island approximately 150 miles long by 50 miles wide, it has mountains rising 8,000 feet that drop right down to the sea. There are numerous gorges that bisect the mountains and which are ideal for hiking, though don’t do as we did and attempt to hike through one on the hottest day of the season. Here the wildness of the countryside is only a short distance from the energy and activity of the cities that are mainly located along the coasts. It was not unusual to have to stop on the side of a steep mountain road as hundreds of goats would pass with the only sounds being their bleating cries, clanging bells and the calling voice of the goat herder.

While politics and thoughts of war and peace were purposely put aside for our trip, it was impossible not to be reminded of the negative effects Bush’s war in Iraq is having on how Europeans view the United States. Fortunately, and to a person, we found that the Greeks, and the many others who have immigrated there, loved Americans, but hated the war. Remarkably, we talked with some Americans that were so embarrassed by Bush’s policies that they actually claimed to be Canadians. And one Iraqi immigrant, a waiter at a restaurant in Chania, Crete, felt compelled to inform us in great detail how so many Iraqis, at first happy about having Saddam removed, now are worse off than before the invasion.

Perhaps the most unexpected sight we came upon occurred while driving up through a mountain pass in western Crete. In some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever gazed upon, rounding a sharp corner, an array of nine huge wind turbines stood majestic along the ridgeline of the mountaintop. How ironic it was to be in the home of the 3,500-year-old ancient Minoan civilization, one of the sources of modern western civilization, only to see a more advanced technology than some Cape Codders seem even willing to consider.

Wonderful as our experience in Greece was, the country and its great monuments and ruins suffer from much stress. The monuments, always a target for destruction by invading marauding armies and Christians looking for marble and stones to build their churches and monasteries, today are suffering from the toxic effects of environmental pollution.

As so many Greeks were keen to observe, even when compared to only a couple of decades ago, the country has lost some of its unique distinctness. Like so many of the major international tourist destinations, Greece is becoming more internationalized, homogenized, and yes, even more Anglicized. Unavoidably, the world is becoming smaller and more interconnected. While in many ways this is a good thing, showing that we humans have more similarities than differences, it does tend to create a sameness about each location with the intrusion of all the worldwide corporate images and products.

Inexorably time moves on, and obviously nothing can stay the same. But still it is sad to think that as modern high-speed and accessible transportation and communications make the world an ever-smaller place, there will be fewer and fewer locations like Greece to explore that are so completely different than what we know and are used to here at home.

Source and Copyright > Article By Richard Elrick, Publication Date 07/27/07 at > From the Left – Reflections on a trip to Greece


Book review > “Forgery” July 27, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Books Life.
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Artifacts and artifice vie for attention in “Forgery,” a stylish new novel from Sabina Murray. Winner of the PEN/Faulkner award in 2003 for a World War II-era story collection titled “The Caprices,” Murray sets her latest tale in sun-drenched Greece in 1963.

In “Forgery,” Cold War paranoia throws fleet shadows across a backdrop of glorious ancient ruins and pragmatic modern concrete. But ruthless ambition and terrible personal loss lurk deeper in the shadows of this story.

Rupert Brigg is a 30-year-old American, sent by his doting uncle to Europe after the drowning death of Rupert’s 2-year-old son and the resulting disintegration of his marriage. Rupert is to spend the summer looking for additions to his uncle’s classical art collection. As a seasoned New York auction-house employee, he has a good eye for what’s authentic and what’s fake.

But art is one thing, and relationships are another. How can he distinguish between the con men and the legitimate dealers? And when he travels to an island off the beaten tourist track and finds himself drawn into a circle of dazzling and hedonistic tourists, it’s even harder to figure out whom to trust. It becomes clear that this is not an idle concern when one of the party turns up murdered.

With assurance and style, Murray plumbs issues of identity and provenance. She plays with notions of deceit and of rebellion on levels ranging from personal to political. Despite the seductive narrative and compelling themes, this story has a hollow core. The fault is in the character of Rupert. Murray has dutifully invested her leading man with all sorts of tragic secrets, but he repeatedly evinces himself in a lightweight manner.

This may well prevent the reader from completely capitulating to the fascinating world Murray has fabricated in “Forgery.”

“Forgery”, by Sabina Murray, Grove Press, 248 pp., $24.

Ecumenical Patriarch’s plot July 27, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Religion & Faith.
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The Foreign Ministry yesterday described as “positive” reports from Turkey that authorities had arrested a group of far-right ex-army officers allegedly planning the murder of Istanbul-based His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, the Head of the world’s Orthodox Church.

“We are carefully monitoring and evaluating any developments and information that has to do with the smooth functioning of the Ecumenical Patriarchate,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos.

The group was broken up last month after police discovered guns and explosives in a shed in Istanbul. Foreign Ministry sources said that Greece will wait for more information to be revealed before assessing how serious the plot was.

Internet police avert girl’s suicide plans July 27, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Internet & Web, Police & Crime.
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An 11-year-old schoolgirl who told Internet chat-room visitors that she was planning to kill herself was traced by Attica electronic crime squad officers who informed her parents, it was revealed yesterday.

Working on tipoffs, police traced the messages to the girl’s home and informed her parents that the girl had expressed her intention to commit suicide, citing personal problems. The parents said they had not been aware that their daughter was unhappy.

The girl has been placed under the supervision of a psychiatrist and is already feeling better, according to police.

It is the seventh such case to be tackled by electronic crime squad officers in the past two-and-a-half years. In February, an 18-year-old boy who had told chat-room acquaintances he was planning to kill himself was traced by police.

Bank of Cyprus plans Ukraine acquisition July 27, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Business & Economy.
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Bank of Cyprus expects to buy a bank in Ukraine in the next three months as part of its expansion drive into Eastern Europe, its Deputy Chief Executive said yesterday.

Bank of Cyprus is the Mediterranean island’s largest lender with about 29 percent of the banking market. It also holds 3.7 percent of the Greek market, both in terms of deposits and advances. It opened fully fledged banking operations in Romania and Russia this year and, under a three-year business plan, expects overseas activities to account for about 70 percent of its operations.

“We are evaluating four or five Ukrainian banks which have certain key features which are of preliminary interest to us,” Bank of Cyprus Group Deputy Chief Executive Officer Harilaos Stavrakis told Reuters in an interview. “Ukraine is a hugely expanding market. We don’t want to miss the train for too long, so we would want to acquire a small bank to use as a vehicle to enter the market,” Stavrakis said. “We are very confident that within three months we will be able to make an announcement of the acquisition of a Ukrainian bank… obviously this would be subject to the approval of the Central Banks of Cyprus and Ukraine,” he added.

Some preliminary contacts had been made, Stavrakis said. Asked what he was looking for, Stavrakis replied, “A bank with a reasonable branch network, ideally more than 20 or 30 outlets at the minimum and a clean track record in the market.”

Cyprus has strong business links with Eastern Europe and already has Ukrainian clients on its books. The bank also has a team of people in Ukraine covering the local market, Stavrakis said. “Ukraine is a huge market with a population of close to 50 million and it is still grossly underbanked,” he said.

In Romania and Russia, Bank of Cyprus expects to set up at least “10 to 20 branches” within the next three years, he said. In Russia, Stavrakis said the bank would put emphasis on growth in Moscow and St Petersburg.

Tellas future July 27, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Telecoms.
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The Public Power Corporation said in a letter to the Athens bourse yesterday that it was still in negotiations with Egyptian magnate Naguib Sawiris over the sale of its remaining stake in alternative telecoms firm Tellas, after Sawiris had submitted “improved proposals.”

Greek electricity utility Public Power Corp (PPC) said in a statement that it is currently in negotiations with Naguip Sawiris unit Weather Investments to sell its stake in alternative telecom company Tellas. PPC explained that it was currently examining an improved proposal.

The Greek utility controls 50 percent minus one share of Tellas and earlier today there were press reports that it was selling its stake for 17 million euro. Egyptian investor and owner of Weather Investments, Naguip Sawiris, currently holds a 50.1 percent majority stake in Tellas and has repeatedly said that he has made ‘a generous offer’ to PPC for the remaining shares of Tellas.

Deductible receipts for consumers July 27, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Business & Economy.
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Consumers who wish to take advantage of sale receipts deductible from taxable income, up to a total of 8,000 euros, may start collecting them from August 1, the Finance Ministry said yesterday.

Expenses approved as 40 percent deductible include those for weddings and baptisms, restaurant meals, a wide range of personal services, repair of air-conditioning and ventilation units and all kinds of house repairs.