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The avenues of Athens 80 years ago March 27, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Books Life Greek, Greece Athens.
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Travel guides to Greece, first published in 1930 by Eleftheroudakis, now reissued in a collector’s set.

27-03-08_travel_guides.jpg  Views of Athens change rapidly, as travel guides published since 2000 demonstrate.

I enjoy reading what people say about my city. Some visitors, like Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek, like what he sees as the city’s “confusion,” while others, like American composer Jonathan Nossiter, who loved the old Zonar’s cafe, see it as a “treasury of aesthetic pleasures.”

Let’s go back to 1930: I’m looking at fresh reprints of the little travel guides that Eleftheroudakis published then. A collector’s set in a handsome box, it could furnish ample material for 10 dissertations.

Tourism had begun in the mid-19 century during the reign of King Otto. But given the lack of infrastructure, Athens remained an exotic destination until the 1960s. However, these guides are written in Greek. Travelers used to come from Alexandria and Istanbul, and other urban centers with Greek communities.

An image comes to mind, the sole aerial photograph in “Neoklassiki architektoniki stin Ellada” (Neoclassical Architecture in Greece), a volume published by Emporiki Bank in 1967. Taken in 1932, the photograph reveals harmony and European style in the tiled roofs of Panepistimiou, Stadiou and Academias streets. That’s the sight that greeted travelers who visited with this guide in hand.

They probably would have dropped in at the Eleftheroudakis bookstore on the corner of Stadiou and Karageorgi Servias streets. Had it not been demolished in 1962, it would have appeared in new guidebooks as a remnant of glorious old urban Europe.

Was it a beautiful city then? Some parts must have been, but the atmosphere in 1930 was unique. Athens not only boasted antiquities and clear air, but also the first sparks of modernism, which Henry Miller noted in “The Colossus of Maroussi.”

As Kevin Andrews pointed out in his perceptive work “Athens” (1967), the harder the city tries to look modern, the more primitive it looks in its essential truth. It’s all relative, of course – the periodical Diaplasi ton Paidon referred on March 18, 1906, to “mediocre neighborhood houses,” which we later idealized – and a guide book is simply a tool.

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It’s poetry day all week in Athens March 17, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Events Greece, Arts Exhibitions Greece, Arts Museums, Books Life Greek, Music Life Greek.
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The international celebration is marked with events, discussions, lectures, readings and more

Singer Maria Farandouri, joined by Zacharias Karounis and accompanied by an eight-piece orchestra, will sing at the Athens Concert Hall on Thursday, while actors Eva Kotamanidou and Nikos Bousdoukos will read excerpts at an evening of Greek political poetry set to music. International Poetry Day falls this Friday, March 21, but the celebrations start today.

Stoa tou Vivliou [Books Arcade] and PoeticaNet have put together a lively mix of discussion, poetry set to music and a video, curated by poet Iosif Ventouras. First up are Professors Dimitris Dimiroulos and Elisavet Arseniou, exploring the subject of poetry in the information age. Then the hip-hop group Enemy will present songs from their latest album and collide with living poems. Participants include poet and media artist Dimosthenis Agrafiotis and American poet Heather Raikes, who will talk about her work in a video made for the event. That’s at 8 p.m. today, at the Stoa tou Vivliou, 5 Pesmazoglou Street, Athens, tel 210 3253989.

The European Translation Center (EKEMEL), Ikaros Publishers and Patakis bookstore are saluting International Poetry Day with a presentation of Alexandros Issaris’s book “Kato apo tosa vlefara: Simeioseis gia ton Rilke” (Under So Many Eyelids: Notes on Rilke), published last year by Ikaros. The speakers are literary critic Vangelis Hatzivassileiou, writer Yiannis Efstathiadis and the author, who is also a poet and translator. Actress Mayia Lyberopoulou will read extracts from the book. Tomorrow, Patakis bookstore, 65 Academias Street, Athens, tel 210 3811850, at 7 p.m.

Poems will liven up time spent at bus and tram stops and metro stations and on board public transport as of Wednesday and until April 22. It’s the latest edition of a successful promotion by the National Book Center of Greece (EKEBI). Poet and academic Nasos Vagenas chose the poems and six young students and graduates of the Athens School of Fine Arts produced the colorful posters.

Verses by Nobel laureate Odysseas Elytis feature on a phone card to be issued on International Poetry Day. In a follow-up to another campaign by EKEBI and telecoms provider OTE, there will be a new phone card with different verses every month till December. This year’s selections will be from political poems.

Greek political poetry set to music is the theme of an evening at the Athens Concert Hall on Thursday. Maria Farandouri and Zacharias Karounis, accompanied by an eight-piece orchestra, will sing, and actors Eva Kotamanidou and Nikos Bousdoukos will read. Giorgos Papadakis has selected and orchestrated excerpts from Euripides, as well as pieces by Yiannis Ritsos, Odysseas Elytis, Nikos Gatsos and Iakovos Kambanellis and others, with music by composers such Eleni Karaindrou, Manos Hadjidakis, Mikis Theodorakis and Thanos Mikroutsikos. Vassilis Nikolaidis will conduct.

Poet Nikiforos Vrettakos is the subject of a tribute starting 5.30 p.m. at the Benaki Museum on International Poetry Day. Academics Eratosthennis Kapsomenou, Vincenzo Rotolo, Vangelis Athanassopoulos, poet Titos Patrikios and Vrettakos Archive director Eleni Tzinieri-Tzanetakou will speak, followed by the first public screening of Athanasia Drakopoulou’s film “Periousaka Stihiea” at 8.30 p.m. at the Benaki Museum Pireos Annex, 138 Pireos Street and Andronikou Street, Athens, tel 210 3453111.

An exhibition of first editions, and documents for the Nikiforos Vrettakos Archive opens Friday and runs to April 20 at the main branch of the Benaki Museum, 1 Koumbari Street, Kolonaki, Athens, tel 210 3671000.

Modern Greek Art publication November 12, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Museums, Books Life Greek.
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The Foundation of Thracian Arts and Tradition and the Benaki Museum presents today the publication “Modern Greek Art: 1974-2004”, at 1 p.m. at the Museum. 

Culture Minister Michalis Liapis to speak.

The Benaki Museum, 1 Koumbari Street, Athens, tel 210 3671000.

Lord Byron and the John Murray Archive November 12, 2007

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lord_byron_notebook.jpg  A page from Lord Byron’s notebook from his first visit to Greece in 1809. In his speech on Wednesday Pispinis underlined the decisive role that Lord Byron played in shaping European opinion of post-revolutionary Greece.

A very special evening took place at the Greek Embassy in London on Wednesday, at a private viewing of the “Lord Byron and the John Murray Archive” collection. Jointly organized by Greek Ambassador Vassilis Pispinis and Lady Balfour of Burleigh, trustee of the National Library of Scotland and Chairman of the Campaign for the John Murray Archive, the event featured manuscripts written by the hand of, or related to Lord Byron.

The documents are part of the John Murray Archive which has now been acquired by the National Library of Scotland. In his address, Ambassador Pispinis noted: “Lord Byron’s passionate association with Greece is one of the pivotal links which bring together our two countries. The treasures on show this evening bear witness to the poet’s love for Greece, its culture, its language and, especially, its people. These documents also attest to the fact that Byron established a pattern in the relationship between Greece and Britain, which has endured, in peace and war. Through his personality, his genuine interest and his poetry, he also shaped the way his continental contemporaries saw Greece. Before Byron, Europeans looked at Greece almost uniquely from a classical perspective, as an object of antiquity. Byron radically changed that perception. Through his verses he wrote while in Greece, he revealed to the world a picture of a country full of passion and color, still very much alive, a country peopled by contemporary living beings deserving better than the fate which was theirs.”

The private viewing included a notebook belonging to Lord Byron with words and phrases written in Greek, his last diary, “Cephalonia Journal, 1823-1824” as well as an excerpt from his unfinished poem, “Aristomenes, Canto First.”

The birth of Greek style in the Sixties November 7, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Exhibitions Greece, Arts Museums, Books Life Greek, Media Radio TV.
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The golden era of graphic design as seen in the work of Michalis Katzourakis, Freddy Karabot and Agni Katzouraki > The GNTO’s albums and leaflets bore the unmistakable style of the three designers. In one of their photographs, a piggy bank takes the place of the globe in one of Citibank’s first advertisements in Greece.   

Once upon a time there were three friends. Actually there were two friends and a couple. Michalis Katzourakis, Freddy Karabot and Agni Katzouraki met in Athens in the late 1950s and left their mark on the golden era of Greek graphic design.

Their posters, for the nascent Greek tourist industry, logos, and advertisements ushered in sweeping changes in the field. Fans of modernism, they introduced a fresh minimalist look that was also very Greek. With direct and indirect allusions to antiquity, the Byzantine tradition and folk art, suffused with humor, they created an internationally recognizable Greek look and were the forerunners of an attractive, modern Greek style.

Their contribution, little known outside their field, is now coming to the attention of a broader public, thanks to a new book «Design Routes» in progress, and an exhibition that will be held at the Benaki Museum early next year.

In 1957, National Technical University of Athens professor Panos Moliotis introduced Karabot, a graduate of Chelsea and St Martin’s School of Art in London, to Katzourakis, a graduate of Paul Colin’s school of graphic arts in Paris, who had also done a brief stint at Greka, a leading advertising firm. A year later, Karabot recommended Katzourakis to the publicity office of the Greek Tourism Organization (GNTO), where the former was already working.

In 1961, Katzourakis won the second prize at the International Advertising Poster Exhibition in Leghorn in Italy. In July the following year, he rang Karabot and said: «K and K.» This time they had won the first and second prize at Leghorn, among 1,300 posters from 40 countries. Katzourakis took first prize for his poster «Daktyliolithos» and Karabot second for «Greece: Reflections of an Island» both published by GNTO. That year Picasso won a prize in the same exhibition for his poster, «Cote d’Azur».

Soon afterward the pair founded their own promotion and advertising firm, K & K. «Our logo had one K in black and the other in red, so we got along well with everyone,» recalls Karabot. They brought in two more friends as colleagues, Dimitris Tsopelas with vast experience in publishing and graphic arts, and Panayis Kanavos for exhibition and indoor and outdoor installations.

«Our endeavor,» explains Katzourakis, «was to take posters beyond detailed illustration to acquire a vital visual function by linking a spare visual element with a clear message.» They introduced concept to Greek advertising.

At that time terracotta and blue dominated posters on the subject of Greece. «We designed posters with photographs of ancient sculptures in clear, bright colors, using a lot of red which was very daring at the time.»

Also at the time, he explained, there was a lot of personal contact with firms. «We spoke directly to employers, presidents and managers. They had chosen us, they trusted us and we could work with complete freedom. Now, to get a proposal through, it has to go past dozens of people, marketing…»

The initiative for the book came from designer Dimitris Arvanitis, a fervent admirer of the two Greek design gurus. «My involvement in the book was a debt to my roots, our roots. For more than a year I gained experience by observing their approach to every problem of visual communication they had to solve.»

It wasn’t easy. Arvanitis had to scour archives for newspaper cuttings, and logos stowed away in files. They look «as fresh as if they had been drawn yesterday,» he notes. «Posters that take your breath away. Difficult work in its simplicity, which remind you that simple isn’t easy. I admire their work, much of it done 40 years ago. And I’m amazed at their daring, innovative ideas and designs.» He sees their emergence in the early 1960s as signaling the beginning of the development of design into a new art.

Among the discoveries was Agni Katzouraki: «What I hadn’t realized was her talent and separate existence in design. Now that the files and the signatures on the work are being classified, what has been revealed to me is her extraordinary illustrative maturity. Logos, illustrations, books, full of freshness and brilliance, are the maestro’s legacy to young graphic artists who must, and I am sure will, soon discover them.»

The venture lasted 13 years. In 1975, Katzourakis bowed out. «By the end, we were signing a packet of letters a day, marketing came into our lives in a big way, and what came out was, after much analysis, often not right» Katzourakis concludes: «We lost our zeal, because up until then we’d been a group of friends who did creative work while having fun». That group left Greece a characteristic trademark that is still recognizable half a century later.

Harry Potter novel launched in Greek language November 5, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Books Life Greek.
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harry_potter_book.jpg  A makeup artist puts the finishing touches on a young girl’s witch ensemble in a central Athens bookstore on Saturday as part of a campaign to promote the release of J.K. Rowling’s latest Harry Potter novel.

The seventh, and final, volume of the British schoolboy’s adventures, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”, is now available in a Greek translation three months after the release of the original in English. An Ancient Greek translation of the first Harry Potter book was released in 2004 in the UK.

Greek writer wins French book prize October 27, 2007

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Greek author Vassilis Alexakis has been awarded one of France’s top fiction awards, the Grand Prix du Roman de l’Academie Francaise, for his novel “Ap. J.C,” the academy said Thursday.

Alexakis, 63, was born in Athens and came to France at the age of 17. He writes in both Greek and French. In 1995 he won another prize, the Prix Medicis, for his novel “La Langue Maternelle” (Mother Tongue).

“Ap. J.C” tells the story of a young researcher looking into the history of the monks of Mount Athos in northern Greece.