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Downtown Athens in a state of flux September 5, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Greece, Greece Athens.
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Rapid changes to inner-city areas > Change. A neighborhood in the process of change, Gazi, home to many nightclubs, is becoming a residential option but some worry about the effect on the old neighborhood of five-story apartment blocks looming over neoclassical houses. Six new apartment blocks and two new studio complexes nearby are currently under construction. 

Ten years ago, you couldn’t find a bar in Gazi that played Madonna or the Pet Shop Boys; Thiseion had an alternative style; bars were unheard of in Kerameikos and Metaxourgeio, and Gazi was a home for the homeless, still fenced in by the old gas works. Then the first taverna opened on Persephone Street, then unknown and now so crowded you can barely walk along it.

An evening stroll in Kolonaki shows how much Athens has changed. There’s no comparison between the quiet pace of Tsakalof Street in Kolonaki and the nightly hubbub in the square behind Technopolis Municipal Arts Complex in Gazi with the oversized new metro station.

It’s not just the extended metro that is reshaping Athens but also changes in lifestyle, the family, the way we see ourselves in relation to the city, as well as the influence of new technologies on how we work.

It was the most enthusiastic reception for a new station in short history of the Attiki Metro. The grandiose construction, overly ambitious for its humble location, will be seen as a milestone in an urban change that had already begun.

What’s different in Gazi is not the 20-30 new businesses that have sprung up in the square and the surrounding streets, but the apartment blocks that have mushroomed. Of average height, high-tech modernist in style, and 70-90 square meters at the most, they are ready for their new inhabitants. For the first time since the local Muslim population was encouraged to leave before the 2004 Olympic Games, Gazi will see a major influx of a very different population.

Six new apartment blocks and two new studio complexes nearby are currently under construction. Some worry about five-story buildings looming over dilapidated neoclassical houses. The problem is more complex: Nothing can hold back demand, but the issue is how the state and the municipality prepare for change. Not much has been done in that direction, save the metro station and the residential zoning.

Metaxourgeio joined the entertainment business two or three years ago. At first it looked like a mass version of Psyrri, though a bit more sophisticated, a bit more chic, with gourmet restaurants and fancy bars. But an evening stroll reveals more: lots of rock-style cafes, cheap eateries and a Leftish atmosphere. It’s too soon to label a neighborhood that hasn’t even got a worthwhile bookshop, but something new is happening in Metaxourgeio.

Kolonaki > In the late 1990s, some locals complained about Kolonaki’s irresistible appeal. They couldn’t stand the crowds in the streets and the fact that Athenians from areas they didn’t know (or pretended not to know) flooded “their” bars and restaurants. Now they can sit comfortably in the square, since Kolonaki is no longer prime choice for the “barbarians” of the northern suburbs. Those hordes now take the metro to Monastiraki, Thiseion and Gazi. Kolonaki, more residential than ever, hasn’t acquired a new look. Its admirers will continue to love it for what it truly is. Skoufa Street continues to thrive, and the bars on Ploutarchou Street are jammed night and day with young lawyers, advertising executives, media people and hard rock fans.

Aeolou Street & Co > It was only a matter of time. Once Psyrri got overcrowded, somewhere had to meet the demand. Now the so-called historic triangle bounded by Syntagma, Omonia and Monastiraki Squares is the fastest growing district downtown. It has pretty streets, excellent transport, pedestrian zones and atmosphere, and it’s quiet. But it has few apartments ready to be lived in, unluckily for those who’d like to live here but find only offices and warehouses. Aeolou Street has already got to the point of no return. The stores selling cashmere, trousseau ware and linen are under pressure. Some have become cafes, bars and clothes stores catering to those who frequent bars. Places like Booze, Kinky and Magaze create an alternative, artistic air that is light years from the jumble of styles in Psyrri.

Exarchia > Don’t let the news reports mislead you. Exarchia is more mainstream than ever. Almost all of the eastern side of the square is given over to the well-known Greek concept of frappe-sports paper-lounge music. Needless to say, you don’t need to be politicized to go to Exarchia. Try the new promenade on Benaki Street with modern tavernas that are doing good business, and deservedly. The problem with Exarchia is that the liveliest spot downtown is also off-putting with its confused network of streets and side streets.

Thiseion > Once upon a time, everyone wanted a house in Thiseion. That was in the days of bohemian hangouts like Stavlos. Thiseion had the insubordinate air of Exarchia, without the dirt and the claustrophobic streets. Then came the much-vaunted Megalos Peripatos, the long pedestrian street of Dionysiou Aeropagitou and Apostolou Pavlou. Indeed, it was a striking walk (except during book exhibitions) but we all knew what would happen with the cafes and the view of the Acropolis. Five cafes became 20 and the stroll is more like a parade of marriageable daughters in some provincial town. Thiseion will never cease to be an attractive alternative to the city center, as demand and prices show. The lookalike style of the businesses is disconcerting, with exceptions like the Lemoni bookstore on Irakleidon Street merely proving the rule. But it’s not the end of the world; it’s walking distance to Gazi and Metaxourgeio.

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Art on the flipside of innocence September 5, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Exhibitions Greece.
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Curated by artist Dimitris Antonitsis, the Hydra School Project continues its provocative proposals

The malignant, dark side of human nature is the underlying theme behind GRUPS (an acronym for grown-ups), the title of this year’s Hydra School Project, the established, contemporary art exhibition curated each year in Hydra by artist Dimitris Antonitsis and organized in collaboration with Dimie Athanassopoulou. An episode of the Star Trek TV series, in which a spacecraft lands on a planet whose inhabitants are all children but behave like mean adults, inspired Antonitsis to design an exhibition around the flip, or distorted, side of innocence and the ills of contemporary society.

As with most of his curatorial projects, Antonitsis makes his concept broad enough for different works to fit in, even when the relationship of the artworks with the initial concept seems distant. The concept is general and the connection with the works loose, something which gives freedom to the artists and flexibility to the exhibition but can also be criticized as lacking a sense of strong focus. Nevertheless, GRUPS, and the Hydra Project in general, is where one can see works by some of the trendiest and most up-and-coming artists in the international art market. The venture, which has attracted people from the international crowd, has introduced the Greek public to the work of foreign artists and has presented site-specific projects and original works made especially for each exhibition.

In this year’s show, the works by Antonitsis, who besides being the curator is also one of the participating artists, are among the most relevant to the exhibition’s concept. One of his digital prints shows the late Leona Helmsley (she passed away in late August) posing as a queen on the staircase of the Helmsley Palace hotel in Manhattan. The picture is from a spread in Architectural Digest and includes a caption taken from the article. Using irony and the aesthetics of kitschy glamor, the work alludes to the corrupt underside of glitter and wealth (the Helmsleys were prosecuted for tax evasion and fraud), and a harsh reality that is disguised as a fairy-tale, almost a childhood fantasy, of living like a princess.

Another of the artist’s works features Brown Sugar, a real ex-convict who makes a living in the USA working as a stripper. Antonitsis, who often refers to popular and celebrity culture in his work, met and photographed Brown Sugar and showed the frail, vulnerable side of him. As with the Leona Helmsley series, his work suggests that innocence and vulnerability along with violence and corruption can both be aspects of a person’s life. Where does one meet the other? Is innocence an alibi for violence? Or does each of us carry a certain childhood naivete that remains pure? The work of Antonitsis leaves the question open.

Motifs that allude to a sinister reality and exploitation but have a decorative effect at a first glance define the work of Tillman Kaiser, one of the participating artists. In “Prayers”, one of the most engaging works on display, a small photograph showing African slaves with amputated hands appears below a slickly designed modern tray. The work is a sad reminder of affluence at the expense of peoples’ freedom in the Third World.

In “Hydra Tree Snake” an etching by Scott Campbell, the decorative aspect of the motif is counterbalanced by an ominous subject-matter. A similar idea underlies the vertiginous landscapes of Torben Giehler’s paintings. The colorful, abstract compositions that Giehler paints resemble virtual spaces of the digital, computer age. They feel alien but visually are pleasing to the eye.

Tension and an underlying sense of threat also exist in Lisa Ruyter’s large-scale paintings of crowds. The works are based on photographs of crowds that the artist takes and then abstracts into paintings.

Kon Trubkovich makes drawings and silkscreens of the so-called “Vanity Plates” which are what customized car plates are known as in the USA. The plates are made by inmates as part of a work rehabilitation program in prisons. Again, behind the decorative surface lies a reality associated with violence.

Rallou Panayiotou, the only other Greek artist participating in the exhibition apart from of Antonitsis, has constructed a sculpture inspired by the famous painting “The Island of the Dead” by the late 19th-century symbolist artist Arnold Bocklin. Like a giant toy, the sculpture replicates the dreamy, gloomy landscape of the original painting.

The most violent images are those in the videos of Aaron Young. One of them shows an American pit-bull dog in the process of its training to become an attack-dog and another shows a motorcyclist driving around in circles in a closed, confined space. As the same image keeps repeating itself, one gets the sense of pent-up frustration, of violence that is building up and becoming increasingly dangerous.

How do violence and innocence relate to one another and how do they shape human behavior? The concept behind GRUPS touches on complex issues related to human nature. Although the exhibition’s theoretical context is not communicated as forcefully by each of the works shown, this is still an exhibition that can be enjoyed for the actual art and the arrangement of the works. The eighth in a row of exhibitions that are known as the Hydra School Project, it continues a significant venture that has invigorated the Greek visual arts scene and has developed a broader reputation.

GRUPS at the former secondary school of Hydra, through September 29.

A rich agenda at Megaron Plus September 5, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Events Greece, Arts Exhibitions Greece.
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Highly successful series of events kicks off with Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka exhibition in October

A 1907 painting by Egon Schiele, will be displayed alongside more of his works and paintings by Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka at the Athens Concert Hall from October 23 through the end of the year.

The highly successful Megaron Plus series of events, organized by the Athens Concert Hall, has a rich agenda for the new season, which kicks off in October.

The season’s highlight will be an exhibition of works by Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka which will open on October 23. Paintings by the three artists will go on display for the first time in Greece, alongside works by other prominent contemporaries. The exhibition will run to December 30 and most of the works are on loan from Vienna’s Leopold Museum.

October will also see a variety of lectures covering a wide range of topics. “A Great Adventure in Space”, a discussion about humanity’s future in space, will be held on October 5, in collaboration with the Eugenides Foundation. American astronaut Charlie Duke, who was the tenth person to walk on the moon, will be among the participants. More space-related matters will be discussed on October 9, with the lecture of French astrophysicist Jean-Pierre Luminet.

On October 8, distinguished architect Bernard Tschumi will discuss his work. There is more science to come, with a lecture titled “Science as an International Productive Undertaking” on October 12. Nobel-prize winner Harold E. Varmus, President of New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, as well as Fotis Kafatos, professor at London’s Imperial College and President of the European Research Council’s autonomous body, the Scientific Council, will give the lecture.

Five authors of Greek descent who enjoy a career abroad, Vassilis Alexakis (France), Aris Fioretos (Sweden), Theodor Kallifatides (Sweden), Panos Karnezis (UK) and Perikles Monioudis (Germany), will discuss their work, and their views on Greece and literature in general on October 23.

The focus on literature will continue with well-known and controversial French author Michel Houellebecq, who will talk about his work on October 25 and then with acclaimed Greek poet Kiki Dimoula who will present her work as part of the “Greek Poetry Today” cycle on October 29.

November will feature more poetry and a lecture by Greek poet Dinos Christianopoulos on November 2. Two lectures on psychoanalysis with historian and professor emeritus at Yale University Peter Gay and professor of psychiatry at Cornell University Otto Kernberg, will be held on November 6. A symposium in memory of Greek writer Angelos Terzakis will take place on November 23, with the participation of Yiannis Varveris, Menis Koumandareas, Spyros Evangelatos, Costas Georgoussopoulos, Elissavet Kotzia and others, and the month will end with a lecture on Mao by writer Jung Chang and historian Jon Halliday.

The year will round off with a discussion and a lecture. On December 3 there will be a discussion on “Museums in the 21st Century” jointly organized with the French Embassy and the French Institute in Athens. Participants will include Michel Colardelle, director of the Musee National des Arts et Traditions Populaires, Jean-Pierre Mohen, director of the Musee du quai Branly, Greek National Gallery Director Marina Lambraki-Plaka, Museum of Cycladic Art Director Nikolaos Stambolidis and others.

Related Links > www.megaron.gr

Dasgupta > an Indian voice outside Bollywood September 5, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Movies Life Greek.
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The upcoming Premiere Nights Athens International Film Festival will feature seven films by Buddhadev Dasgupta.

Distinguished Bengali filmmaker Buddhadev Dasgupta will visit Athens to reveal a different side of Indian cinema, other than the well-known Bollywood musicals and action adventures. The Indian film industry ranks first in the world in terms of production, but only with regard to a very specific genre. Dasgupta, who is considered the successor of the legendary Satyajit Ray, moves in an entirely different sphere.

Dasgupta has been invited by the 13th Premiere Nights Athens International Film Festival for a retrospective of his films. Running from September 19 to September 30, the event will feature seven acclaimed Dasgupta films, including his most recent production, “The Voyeurs.” In Athens, the director will also discuss the art of cinema with local film aficionados.

The director received the Special Director’s Award at the Venice Film Festival in 2000 for his film “The Wrestlers” and has frequently taken part in the Berlin and Toronto Film Festivals. The 63-year-old’s films focus on journeys, often in a metaphorical sense. A gifted poet, Dasgupta embellishes social issues with touches of lyricism while using a straightforward style.

Born in Anara in 1944, Dasgupta studied economics, a subject in which he started his career as a University lecturer. Nonetheless, he felt drawn to cinema from an early age. While teaching, he made the acquaintance of the then assistant of Satyajit Ray, who inspired him to express what he had in mind on the silver screen and embark on a film career.

Akward start in defense of title September 5, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Basketball.
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European Champion Greece struggled for a 76-66 win in its Eurobasket opener against Israel in a Group A game played in Granada, Spain, late Monday night.

Greece, looking to defend its title won in Belgrade two years ago, was led by Vassilis Spanoulis and Costas Tsartaris through the encounter’s tighter than expected finale. In Group A’s other game earlier on Monday, Russia led throughout to overcome Serbia 73-65 with Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko pulling down 12 rebounds and notching 24 points.

Greece’s second Group A game, against Serbia, was in progress last night. Earlier yesterday, Russia defeated Israel 90-56 to lead the group with two wins from as many games.

The top three sides from the competition’s four groups advance to the next phase, which comprises two groups of six, in Madrid.

Leaders of divided Cyprus to hold talks on peace process September 5, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus Occupied, Politics.
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The leaders of Cyprus’s divided Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot communities will hold their first meeting in more than a year today to seek ways of restarting stalled peace talks.

President Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat agreed in July 2006 to launch talks intended to pave the way to comprehensive negotiations on reunification. But the deal was never implemented. Both leaders voiced goodwill ahead of the meeting, to be held at the official residence in Nicosia of Michael Moller, the UN secretary general’s special representative on Cyprus.

Cypriot Hellenic Bank received permit September 5, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Business & Economy.
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Cyprus based Hellenic Bank said yesterday it had received the consent of the Central Bank of Cyprus to apply to Russian authorities for an operating licence in Russia.

The bank said it planned to develop organically in Russia, based in Moscow.