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A kaleidoscope of sights and sounds March 19, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Greece, Greece Athens, Lifestyle.
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Crossing the “border” into one of the oldest districts of Athens is like stepping into the past > Historic Kolonos neighborhood in Athens

18-03-08_kolonos1.jpg  Time stands still in courtyards such as this one on the corner of Kallipoleos and Isminis streets (above center), with its lemon trees and vines. It often appears that many residents of Kolonos simultaneously decided that there was no longer a place for them in the historic neighborhood, packed up and left, abandoning business premises and residences.

It must be some time since I last visited Kolonos. In fact I had been once to see an old school that had been converted into the now-well-established Epi Kolono theater on Nafpliou Street. All I had was an image of a quiet neighborhood of low houses, which looked ready to be renovated. I didn’t know much about the neighborhood except that it was one of the city’s oldest, that it used to be a residential area, and is now part of the city’s underbelly.

They told me to start from Petroula Square and radiate out from there, but I decided to do whatever took my fancy. Equipped with map and camera, I felt as if I were crossing a border, a feeling that intensified as I crossed the metal bridge between Larissis and Peloponnisou train stations.

The glare, worsened by the lack of trees, and an otherworldly sense, heightened by the sight of modernization work on the railroad below, made me feel as if I was in a film. On the bridge, I saw a priest who looked Ethiopian, coming in the other direction, his robes fluttering in the breeze. We walked past each other, suspended above the two faces of Athens.

Not knowing what to expect lent the enterprise an element of adventure. It was a holiday morning so the roads were empty and the cafes, one after another, were full, old-fashioned coffee shops named after small towns where men were playing backgammon, on the ground floor of 1970s-80s apartment blocks.

18-03-08_kolonos2.jpg  A tourist in my own city, map in hand, I wandered around streets that seemed mysterious because they were unfamiliar. It may have been because of the holiday, but I was struck by the lack of traffic, entire roads without cars. I photographed a single-story stone house, marked by time but very beautiful against the greenery of nearby Hippeio Hill.

Tall new apartment blocks, some the color of terracotta, others with exaggerated designs on facades painted blue like the provincial houses in the 1960s cast a little shadow on narrow streets. But no matter how aggressive the post-2005 buildings are, they seem better than their predecessors of the 1970s, as if they introduce an air of something new.

There are many sides to Kolonos. I realized this as I went toward Lenorman Street, through narrow lanes and alleyways, where unfamiliar songs and cooking smells wafted out of windows. The suds from cars being washed formed muddy puddles on the ground, children were riding bicycles, families of Gypsies and Pakistanis sat on their stoops. Housewives opened windows, and an elderly gentleman appeared with a hat and cane. Kolonos was proving to be a mosaic.

Many houses have been demolished, many more are sealed up or for sale. I saw lots of pink and yellow walls, all that was left of old houses, at the edge of grassy plots. Some two-story houses still had shiny doors, curtains in the windows, but many 1930s and 1950s houses were vacant.

On the small sidewalk of Distomou Street I stopped in my tracks. On one corner was a newly built two-story house, and opposite was another, almost finished. Both had been designed with architecture and decor magazines in mind. One had incorporated concrete and post-industrial elements into a facade that had something to say. The other was quieter, but with attitude as well, painted salmon with brown windows and a little garden. Might this be the Kolonaki of Kolonos. It didn’t matter, because the rest of the area was living at a different pace.

I found block after block that were purely residential, growing denser toward Lenorman Street. What moved me was encountering entire areas with small houses, 1970s electricity poles, and even older cars parked here and there. It was a journey into the past, as if I was in a 1960s Greek film. The light was so bright and the roads seemed so large because of the low houses and few cars, that it gave me a taste of a past that I never knew.

18-03-08_kolonos3.jpg  On the corner of Kallipoleos and Isminis streets, time had stood still. I glanced into some courtyards surrounded by walls, with their lemon trees and vines. It was all there, the canary in the cage, a plastic basin, walnuts spread out on an oilcloth, In one semi-ruined house on Astrous Street in the heart of Kolonos, I managed to get a rusted gate partially open, squeezed in and entered the living room. Bare of furniture, but with plaster decorations on the ceiling, planks coming away from the floor, a door ajar. Opposite, washing flapped on lines and everywhere brightly colored synthetic blankets were hung out to air on balconies.

A neighborhood is what you choose to see. I noted the endless, colorless blocks of apartment buildings put up by contractors, but I paid more attention to the old sidewalks. In parts of Kolonos the marble sidewalks installed by the City of Athens before the war have survived, elsewhere in Athens they are being ripped out and replaced with concrete. They show that Kolonos has been part of the city for a very long time, though now it looks forgotten beside the railways tracks.

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Athens conference told of artifacts looted March 19, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece, Arts Museums, Shows & Conferences.
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Antiquities smuggling is helping to finance terror > Athens conference told of artifacts looted in war-torn regions

19-03-08_entrance_new_acropolis_museum.jpg  The entrance of the new Acropolis Museum, which this week hosted a UNESCO-organized conference on the return of antiquities to their country of origin. The fate of antiquities looted from Iraq was in the spotlight yesterday at a UNESCO-sponsored conference in Athens on the return of cultural property.

When Baghdad fell to the US-led coalition that toppled Saddam Hussein, the world watched in horror as looters ransacked the museum that housed some of the nation’s most prized treasures. Today, trafficking of stolen Iraqi antiquities is helping to finance al-Qaida in Iraq and Shiite militias, according to the US investigator who led the probe into the looting of the National Museum.

United States Marine Reserve Colonel Matthew Bogdanos, a New York assistant district attorney called up to duty shortly after 9/11, said that while kidnappings and extortion remain insurgents’ main source of funds, the link between terrorism and antiquities smuggling has become “undeniable.”

“The Taliban are using opium to finance their activities in Afghanistan,” Bogdanos told The Associated Press in an interview on the sidelines of the conference. “Well, they don’t have opium in Iraq. What they have is an almost limitless supply of antiquities. And so they’re using antiquities.”

The murky world of antiquities trafficking extends across the globe and is immensely lucrative, private collectors can pay tens of millions of dollars for the most valuable artifacts. It’s almost impossible to put an authoritative monetary value on Iraqi antiquities. But as an indication, the colonel said one piece looted from the National Museum – an 8th-century-BC Assyrian ivory carving of a lioness attacking a Nubian boy, overlaid with gold and inlaid with lapis lazuli – could sell for $100 million.

Bogdanos, 51, an amateur boxer with a master’s degree in classics who won the Bronze Star fighting in Afghanistan, said it was not until late 2004 “that we saw the use of antiquities in funding initially the Sunnis and al-Qaida in Iraq, and now the Shiite militias.”

Although security has improved dramatically in Iraq since mid-2007, the country is still violence-ridden, and it is all but impossible for Iraq’s 1,500 archaeological guards to protect the country’s more than 12,000 archaeological sites.

“Unauthorized excavations are proliferating throughout the world, especially in conflict zones,” Francoise Riviere, the assistant director-general of UNESCO’s cultural branch, said at the conference. She said UNESCO was deeply concerned about the “decimation” of Iraq’s cultural heritage. “The damage inflicted on the National Museum in Baghdad, the increasingly precarious state and the systematic pillage of sites are alarming facts which are a great challenge to the international community,” Riviere said.

Bahaa Mayah, an adviser to Iraq’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, told the conference that looters sometimes use heavy machinery to dig up artifacts – destroying the site while they loot. He decried a lack of cooperation among some European countries, which he refused to name, in returning trafficked goods seized from smugglers. “We are facing now, especially in Europe, tremendous difficulties in recovering our objects that are seized,” he said.

Bogdanos said smuggling networks did not appear with or after the war. “It’s a pre-existing infrastructure; looting’s been going on forever.”

But it was in the days after the fall of Baghdad in March 2003 that the National Museum was looted. The United States came under intense criticism for not protecting the museum, a treasure trove of antiquities. Bogdanos said that according to the latest inventories, a total of about 15,000 artifacts were stolen. Of those, about 4,000 have been returned to the museum, and a total of about 6,000 have been recovered.

Much of the museum’s looting was carried out by insiders and senior government officials of the time, said Bogdanos, who co-authored a book about the investigation, “Thieves of Baghdad” with William Patrick. Royalties from the book are donated to the museum. Bogdanos said not enough is being done by organizations such as UNESCO to protect Iraq’s heritage. “There’s no other way to say it. There’s a vacuum at the top,” he said.

Greek Army officers killed in helicopter crash March 19, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece News.
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19-03-08_helicopter.jpg  Greek military personnel sift through the wreckage of an army helicopter that crashed near Thessaloniki yesterday. Three officers, aged 24, 28 and 33, died in the accident which, according to initial estimates, is believed to have been the result of mechanical failure.

A military helicopter crashed in northern Greece close to Thessaloniki yesterday, killing three officers on board, in an accident authorities are attributing to mechanical failure. The helicopter, a single-engine Huey, crashed in a wheat field around 30 kilometers east of Thessaloniki, close to the village of Vassiloudi. The helicopter was on a flight to the military base of Rentina some and had nearly reached its destination, police said.

Firefighters found the bodies of the three officers, aged 24, 28 and 33, in the charred remains of the helicopter. The men had not been named by last night.

The Mayor of the nearby village of Koroneia, Pavlos Papageridis, said he was driving past the area where the crash took place, when he came across a “terrifying” sight. “Thick smoke had covered the area. The lake of Aghios Vassileios had turned black and we could only see a helicopter wing,” he said.

Another eyewitness said an explosion had taken place in midair, indicating there may have been a problem with the helicopter’s fuel supply. Firefighters said they reached the crash site quickly to extinguish the blaze.

In 2006, four Greek army staff died when their Bell Iroquois UH-1H Huey crashed in a field in the north of the country while on a training flight. Multipurpose helicopters, Hueys are among the oldest aircraft used by Greek forces. The model first saw action with the US armed forces during the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

Olympic Torch security at Ancient Olympia March 19, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Olympic Games.
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The police said yesterday that they would adopt strict security measures at Ancient Olympia for the lighting of the Olympic Torch on Monday 24 March, amid fears of protests by Tibetans.

Officers will line the route of the torch relay, from Olympia to Athens, to prevent the event from being disrupted by campaigners protesting against the treatment of Tibetans by Chinese forces during several days of unrest recently. Police had to intervene earlier this month when a group of some 10 Tibetans attempted to hold their own torch-lighting ceremony at Ancient Olympia.

Greek swims world’s fastest time this year March 19, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Aquatics.
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Aristidis Grigoriadis cruises into today’s men’s 100-meter backstroke final at Europeans with new national record, 54.33 seconds

Aristidis Grigoriadis goes into this afternoon’s final in the men’s 100-meter backstroke at the European Swimming Championships in Eindhoven as a prime candidate for the gold medal after winning his semifinal yesterday in 54.33 seconds, the year’s fastest time in the world and a new National record.

The Thessaloniki-based swimmer, who won the bronze medal in this event at the Europeans two years ago, went to the Championships with a year-best performance of 54.75 seconds. He won his first heat earlier in the day yesterday with a time of 54.81 seconds.

Also yesterday, which was the event’s opening day, Irini Kavarnou smashed her own national record of 27.30 seconds in the women’s 50-meter butterfly with a time of 26.88 seconds to end fifth in her morning heat. Swimming in her semifinal heat later in the evening, Kavarnou failed to repeat the performance. She clocked 27.03 seconds to rank 10th overall and narrowly miss out on securing one of the final’s eight lanes.

Aspasia Petradaki, still in her mid-teens, displayed promise in the women’s 200-meter backstroke by reaching the semifinals. The youngster, however, ended last in her semifinal with a time of 2.19.56.

Romanos Alyfantis failed to live up to bigger expectations in the men’s 100-meter breaststroke. He went into competition with the year’s second-best time in Europe, 1:00.39, but ended 33rd overall with a time of 1:02.98.

Vassilis Demetis clocked 3:53.64 in the 400-meter freestyle to end 21st overall, his ranking ahead of the event.

Traffic prompts toll thoughts March 19, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Transport Air Sea Land.
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A metro and Kifissia-Piraeus electric railway strike yesterday added between 200,000 and 300,000 cars to Athens’s streets as Transport Minister Costis Hatzidakis suggested that the government is considering introducing congestion charging in the city center.

Almost 3 million passenger journeys are made on the public transport network in Athens each day but 4.5 million trips are carried out by car. This number shot up yesterday as thousands of Athenians had little choice but to use their cars, since a sizable chunk of the public transport system was out of operation. With up to 300,000 more cars on the road, traffic in the city center, on main arteries in and outside Athens and side streets normally used as short cuts was particularly heavy.

“It makes you realize how important public transport is, especially the trains and tram, for the smooth functioning of the city, even though the proportion of journeys made via these modes remains low,” Yiannis Handanos, the head of the Greek Institute of Transport Engineers, said.

The government has flirted with the idea of introducing a toll system in central Athens, similar to the congestion charging schemes applied in other European cities such as London, Stockholm, Berlin and Cologne, to curb traffic on a regular basis, not just when there are public transport strikes.

Hatzidakis said yesterday that he could not rule out such a system being introduced. “The Transport Ministry… wrote to the European Commission yesterday with regard to this particular matter, saying that it could not be ruled out as a thought,” said the Minister. “Before we reach that point, though, we will have to do our research. We will certainly have to strengthen and modernize the fleet of trains.”

Hatzidakis said that transport engineers argue that a city such as Athens should have some 150 train and metro stations. Athens currently has 58 and the Minister said congestion charging could not be introduced before this figure increases.

Coastal shipping fares to rise March 19, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Tourism, Transport Air Sea Land.
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Coastal shipping fares to rise by 8 percent on regulated routes

Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis announced an 8 percent increase in fares on regulated coastal shipping routes, those subsidized by the state and those where fare liberalization does not apply for lack of competition.

The increase, based on inflation, will be effective from May 1 and is the first hike since May 27, 2005, when it was 6.8 percent. From now on fares will be adjusted every year on May 1, based on the consumer price index of the previous January-December period, the Minister has decided.