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A portrait of the modern man November 9, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Events Greece, Stage & Theater.
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Playwright Simon Stephens discusses his ‘Motortown,’ now being staged at the Neos Cosmos Theater

Danny is a 27-year-old Briton who returns to the industrial hometown in which he grew up after serving a tour of duty in Iraq. The war has addled his mind. Behind him, he has left a dirty, nonsensical war only to find himself in an even dirtier and crazier battlefield. The battle here is fought between the forces of family and love, between social and existentialist angst.

The town in which he grew up has become a suffocating place, where the enemy could be anyone and anywhere. It doesn’t take long for the young man to boil over and erupt and, after a certain point, his life becomes a tragedy with no hope of resolution.

That is the outline of British playwright Simon Stephens’s “Motortown” which is currently being staged at the Neos Cosmos Theater. It is a modern play written in a minimalist yet dense language and conveys a dynamic that one rarely comes across. Though it does contain certain scenes that may be shocking to some audiences, it is above all else a play that creates a feeling of constant tension, as performed by a tightly knit group of young actors in a minimal setting.

The ensemble is discreetly yet actively guided by director Vangelis Theodoropoulos. The atmosphere is defined by Stavros Gasparatos’s emotive music and the movement has been carefully guided by Angeliki Stellatou. Giorgos Gallos, who plays young Danny, and his co-stars all offer very powerful performances.

Playwright Stephens, who was in the Greek capital for the official premiere, spoke to the local press about his play. He stood in the middle of the “Motortown” set. Stephens is an unassuming and approachable man. He is well-read and fully conscious of his ideas, and has no trace of arrogance. At the age of 36 he has already penned more than 10 plays, has received awards and distinctions and has also found the time to raise three children. When asked how he can combine writing with family life, he answered that a writer’s job is people. “There is no better way to study a human being than to create one,” says Stephens. Having in mind authors like John Osborne and films like “Taxi Driver” and Mike Leigh’s “Naked”, Stephens has written a requiem for the modern young man. His young man is universal; he could be living in the United Kingdom, or anywhere else for that matter.

While writing the play, Stephens visited a military unit and talked to veterans of the Iraq war. “The soldiers spoke openly to me and came to the premiere.” They were not angry, says Stephens. “They felt embarrassed because of the topic, but they were clever people.”

Despite his obvious condemnation of the war, Stephens is also somewhat skeptical of the anti-war campaign. “I received an angry letter but I don’t think that anything is black and white nowadays. Hypocrisy is something we can see not just in George W. Bush and Tony Blair, but also in the supporters of the anti-war campaign. They have a holier-than-thou attitude and a childish view of things. They talk about Bush and Blair in the same terms that Bush and Blair talked about Saddam Hussein. And I don’t see anything positive in Bush. It would be good for him to stop drinking. With Blair things are a little bit different, because I believe that in time the British people will begin to appreciate his domestic policies,” says Stephens.

Minimalism serves as one of the play’s great advantages. As the playwright explains, as soon as he finishes the first stages of writing a play, he begins paring it down. “It is like scaffolding. You need it to construct a building, but as soon as the building is ready, you get rid of the scaffolds. In general, I am very interested in the use of language, in pauses, in silences.” According to the playwright, writing cannot offer answers, it can just pose the right questions, even if it is necessary to shock the viewers.

One of the most important relationships examined in the play is that between Danny and his autistic brother. Danny’s world is one dominated by cynicism and nihilism. His brother is the only living proof of sensitivity that he can reach out to. “It is very difficult for an actor to play an autistic person, because autistic people have their feelings locked up. The irony is that the autistic brother says the only true thing about morality. And he is supposed to be the one bereft of feelings.”

Apart from Giorgos Gallos, the play also features Yiannis Tsortsekis, Efthymios Papadimitriou, Katerina Lypiridou, Pantelis Dentakis and others. The sets and costumes have been designed by Margarita Hadziioannou.

At The Neos Cosmos Theater, 7 Antisthenous and Tharypou Street, Neos Cosmos, Athens, tel 210 9212900. “Motortown” is being staged at the theater loft Wednesdays to Saturdays at 9.15 p.m. as well as Sundays at 7.30 p.m.


Larissa’s prospects take tumble November 9, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Football.
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Larissa suffered a second consecutive defeat in the UEFA Cup’s Group A, going down 3-2 at home against Zenit, the Russian league’s front-runner, with a round of play remaining.

The Greek soccer team, now unlikely to make the next stage, recovered from a 1-0 deficit late in the first half to take a 2-1 lead with two goals in four minutes, the first coming in the 58th minute. But the St Petersburg club reacted with a double move of its own, on 70 and 78 minutes.

Two more Greek qualifiers for the UEFA Cup group stage were due to play later last night. Panathinaikos, Group B’s leader, played Copenhagen away. Aris, last in Group F, was due to host Red Star Belgrade in Thessaloniki in a game preceded by violence earlier in the day that hospitalized three visiting Serb fans after they were stabbed in the legs by unknown assailants.

Panathinaikos, Aris win again November 9, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Basketball.
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Both lead Euroleague Basketball groups unbeaten > Panathinaikos’s Andrija Zizic battled at Partizan Belgrade Wednesday. The Euro Champions held on for a 94-90 win to co-lead Group C with Real Madrid.

European Champions Panathinaikos and Aris both overcame tough challenges Wednesday night to remain unbeaten in the Euroleague after three rounds of play. Panathinaikos, whose squad needed to recover from an irritating travel ordeal that caused them to take about six hours to journey from Athens to Belgrade as a result of bad weather, held on for a 94-90 win at Partizan Belgrade in a Group C game. Thessaloniki team Aris responded to a seven-point deficit going into the final quarter to defeat visiting Cibona 77-73 in Group B.

Both clubs share the leads in their groups. Aris is Group B’s joint leader with Lietuvos Rytas and Panathinaikos shares Group C’s lead with Real Madrid. “It was a great game. At the end, we were lucky to win after we missed making the win much easier,” said Panathinaikos coach Zelimir Obradovic.

Panathinaikos’s Dimitris Diamantidis made two clutch free-throws at the end and Novica Velickovic missed a potentially game-winning three-pointer. Aris staged a final-quarter comeback, out-scoring Zagreb side Cibona 23-12, for its 77-73 home win. Jeremiah Massey was in superb form for a 28-point performance.

Late last night, Greece’s other Euroleague representative, Olympiakos, was at home to Virtus Bologna in Group A. Both teams went into the game with 1-1 records.

EU nations endorse expansion of the borderless travel zone November 9, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Living, Tourism.
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Citizens from nine new EU member nations, most in Eastern Europe, will be able to travel passport-free to most other countries in the bloc as of December 21, after EU Justice and Interior Ministers yesterday endorsed landmark plans to lift border checks.

The decision follows through on a longstanding commitment to the nine EU countries that joined in 2004 that their citizens be allowed to take up full EU rights of free movement across the European Union without having to show identity papers at national borders.

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaueble said the decision also fulfills the dream of establishing a united Europe after the 1989 fall of the Iron Curtain. “It is of great importance to the new member states that the Iron Curtain is gone and that controls are abolished,” Schaueble said before the EU Ministers talks.

EU officials said the opening of the borders with the nine countries, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic and Malta, will be marked with ceremonies at various old border crossings one minute after midnight on December 21. The so-called Schengen borderless travel zone is one of the most popular EU policies, directly benefiting Europeans by allowing them to travel without having to stop at national borders.

Preparations have been under way for years for each of the nine nations that joined the bloc in 2004, to ensure their customs and border checks with non-European Union countries are in line with EU standards. The EU Ministers agreed that all nine applicants had met all EU conditions to join the zone. Border checks at airports would be dropped in March.

Several older members, including Austria, had insisted on keeping checks along its border with an area that extends from the Czech Republic in the north to Slovenia in the south, fearing the zone’s new eastern frontier will not meet EU standards in time. Joining the borderless travel area is important to the new EU members, most of them former communist nations, which see the freedom of movement within the Union as one of the basic liberties stemming from EU membership.

Cyprus, the 10th nation to join the EU, in 2004, has opted to keep some border checks and will stay out of the zone, along with the island nations of Britain and Ireland.

To expand the passport-free zone, the EU has had to revamp its border security system, which is run through a common EU computer database that allows participating states to share passport data on non-EU citizens who enter the Schengen zone.

The current Schengen countries are EU-members Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden and non-EU members Iceland and Norway. Switzerland, which remains outside the EU bloc, is also set to join Schengen next year.

Greek firms progress slowly in IT investment November 9, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Business & Economy, Internet & Web, Telecoms.
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Greek firms have only slightly increased their spending on telecoms and information technology this year compared to 2006, according to a survey prepared by the Information Society Monitor.

The study, conducted on 1,600 companies in 10 different sectors, found that 57.9 percent of them invested up to 5 percent of their budgets on IT and telecoms.

Based on data presented at the CEO Forum of the Digital Technology Expo, the Information Society Monitor (ISM) estimates that despite the small rise in spending on IT this year, the intended investment of Greek firms in such technologies in coming years appears to be above trends elsewhere in Europe. This is considered an indication that IT investment in Greece lags compared to the rest of Europe and there is more room for growth.

In line with their European peers, the Greek firms themselves said investment in IT was beneficial in terms of both efficiency and customer service. “Nevertheless,” said ISM President Nikos Christodoulou, “it has to be noted that the most important reasons for the non-utilization of IT is the small size of firms and the perception that new technologies are costly.”

ISM data showed that there has been an increase in employment of people with skills in the IT and telecoms specializations. Additionally, about one in two firms employs such specialized personel, with printing and publishing performing best and tourism lagging in relation to the other sectors of the economy.

It is also worth noting that Greek firms do not seem to be anxious to invest in upgrading the skills of their staff, as only 27.5 percent pay for them to attend training seminars.

Shipowners eye property ashore November 9, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Business & Economy.
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Increasing investment moves by shipowners, including takeovers and plans for takeovers, tend to be regarded as opportunistic, rather than strategic, by the Greek domestic market.

With few exceptions, those shipowners who have in the past proven that “they are here to stay”, the specific industry is believed not to have any particular strategy but to be desperately in search of opportunities in which to place their capital due to the high liquidity produced by maritime operations in recent years.

“Scenarios that are being discussed on the market about shipowners entry into banking groups, for instance, should be treated as merely speculative and that is why they are not likely to be fruitful,” a telecoms market official, who recently had the experience of negotiations with a major shipping group wishing to enter the telecoms market, said. “It is no accident that a large portion of shipowners’ funds are invested in the real estate market, since it gives them security, wherever they hail from,” he added.

According to a major real estate firm, it has been recently calculated that about one  percent of Greek land has come under the control of shipping firms in recent years. The liquidity generated by maritime operations has been and still is of such volume that it necessarily had to be invested somewhere, somehow. However, new alternatives are now being sought, as it seems that conditions in the real estate market have changed. Such alternatives include the acquisition of large shares, but not majority shares, in listed companies of small and medium capitalization.

Shipowners “are often driven by instinct to such placements. Securing surplus returns is their primary target, and this no harm, since that is what all investors are after,” said a banking sector official who does business with shipping firms on a daily basis. The official added that since it is shipowners who now hold most of the cash, they are attracting all sorts of proposals. However, the official had his own reservations. “I don’t believe that a scenario of shipowners wishing to buy the majority shares of Geniki Bank is true. To run a bank, you need specialized management, and maritime businesses simply do not have it,” he said.

Greeks in Russia for energy talks November 9, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Energy.
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Minister in Moscow discussing oil pipeline and natural gas supply, ahead of PM Karamanlis’s visit

Development Minister Christos Folias has been in Moscow since yesterday to pave the way for an official visit by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis next month and to revive the recently stagnated process for the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline.

The agenda of the Minister’s two-day visit includes meetings with his Russian counterpart and representatives of the country’s oil and natural gas industries and to discuss all issues related to the course of the construction of the oil pipeline and the transmission of natural gas from Russia to Western Europe through Greece.

There are significant delays in the implementation of the construction of the oil pipeline linking the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Burgas with the Greek port of Alexandroupolis on the Aegean Sea. The delays are mostly attributed to the Russian side.

The project gained momentum in the last few years when it secured the backing of the Russian government, as expressed by the presence of President Vladimir Putin in Athens for the signature ceremony of the three-party interstate agreement. However, there are now obstacles that have been created by the attitude of the Russian oil industry. Russian company representatives who participate in the project told their Greek and Bulgarian partners at their last meeting that they should secure their own oil supply corresponding to their percentage of ownership of the pipeline.

The attitude of the Russians left the other two sides astounded and disappointed; they argue that this was not provided by the interstate agreement in which the three countries have been committed to the project on political level.

In Moscow, the Greek Minister will also discuss the issue of extending the interstate agreement for the supply of natural gas from Russia to the Public Gas Corporation (DEPA). The agreement expires in 2016 and the two sides are discussing a possible extension until 2040, as well as an increase in annual quantities by about 80 percent.

Discussions will also focus on the new pipelines for the transmission of natural gas from Russia to Western Europe, passing through Greece. Of particular interest for the Russian side is the new pipeline linking Turkey and Greece that is to be inaugurated by the two countries’ Prime Ministers on Sunday, November 18. The ceremony on the Evros River, on the Greek-Turkish border, will include the first transmission of natural gas from Turkey to Greece.

The 285-kilometer pipeline forms part of the so-called horizontal axis for the supply of Europe with 11 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year from the rich reserves of the Caspian Sea. The pipeline links Karacabey in Turkey with Komotini in Greece.