Thursday, August 6, 2015

Parting thoughts: eternal Greece..

Poseidon...or is it Zeus?
 I have just watched my last sunset in Greece on this trip (or at least I think I have...) from my cousin's wonderful apartment in  Halandri, Athens. I thought I should find a few "representative" images from the last few days. Since we spent most of yesterday at the National Museum, I might as well begin with the ultimate masterpiece there--the stunning bronze that was recovered from a shipwreck near Artemision. There were undoubtedly hundreds, if not thousands such masterpieces--most of which were undoubtedly melted and turned into arms of some sort in subsequent millennia. Most scholars are tending towards Zeus. I think it's Poseidon....

Bronze jockey on a bronze horse
 Another amazing piece from the same shipwreck...the jockey always reminds me of the "Boy on a Dolphin"--the first of a series of movies that began the craze for things Greek, way back in 1957: I remember seeing it back then. The boy on the dolphin was upstaged by Sophia Loren's constantly wet-blouse presence on the screen...a film that's probably worth seeing again for a whole lot of reasons (although I'm sure it's pretty mediocre story wise). Greece could use another movie blockbuster like that (or Never on Sunday or Zorba) to raise the  touristic profile right now.) It's strange that people are spooked by travel to Greece: the crime-rate in Greece is essentially nil: I'm amazed that we Americans (where school and theater shootings seem to be as commonplace as right-wing congressmen being busted for unwelcome homosexual overtures to aides)....but I digress...
Archaic bronze votive horses
 I was enamored of little toy creatures as a child. So were my distant ancestors!

Autumn (Saffron) crocus (C. hadriaticus) painted ca. 3700 years ago on Thera (Santorini)
 There is an amazing new hall at the museum featuring a treasure trove of 2nd Millenium B.C. art from Akrotiri on Thera (Santorini) uncovered in recent decades: like Pompeii, the ancient city was preserved almost intact, although no people were found (they were apparently aware of the imminent "Atlantis" explosion of the volcano and vacated--probably to become the proto Phoenicians/Philistines and modern day Palestinians of the near East (at least that's what I've read in National Geographic, so it must be true!)
"Hey! Long Live Anarchism" it says...
 There is a lot of graffiti in certain areas--especially around the Polytechnic institute where we also saw strange performance art/filming with a sort of apocalyptic tone. 60% unemployment among the young can lead to this. What amazes me is how utterly clean and efficient most of Greece still is under the circumstances. There is a huge exodus of the young--but then there has been again and again in Hellenic history. That's why my father left over a century ago.

Telling Graffito
 There's a lot of somewhat paranoid (and possibly real) sentiment in Greece: a country that is overwhelmingly small-scale capitalist in its economy:  the current crisis has the potential of crushing much of this small private industry and having it swept into the maws of Globalization and the huge Corporations that utterly possess most large industrialized economies. Was Greece hoodwinked into her current position by these same colossal economic forces?

Let's hope not. Schedule a trip to Greece soon: almost all the money you will spend at the incredibly inexpensive hotels and restaurants goes straight into private, small scale capitalist hands.  Not so in Northern Europe or North America, where hotels and many restaurants are corporate communist in management. I mean corporate fascist...(much the same thing) But I digress...
The Acropolis from our restaurant perch: best spot in town...
 Part of the view from our perch at the best restaurant table in Athens last night at dusk...
My cousin Manoli Kelaidis (right) and his Slovakian wife crowned by the Acropolis at dinner last night...
 An short while later we're on the appetiser course. Dinner was scrumptious--lasting well after midnight! The beaches are awesome, the flora is colossal, the museums and antiquities are terrific. But Greeks are what make Greece so special. Visit and you'll see what I mean!

Marble Byzantine capitals with acanthus lobes
 Today we had a late start (obviously) and the middle of the day was spent at the Byzantine Museum of Athens--one of the most wonderfully curated museums I have ever visited. It's in an old mansion (almost 200 years old) donated to the city by a French duchess--and I suspect she would be amazed at how the huge space has been magically transformed. Surprisingly few tourists--but for anyone who really loves Greece and things Greek--this is the window that illuminates the last two millennia. And it does so with style. Next door is the War Museum (which I've never been to, but I'm told it's amazing). The Benaki and Cycladic art museums are nearby as well--and much much more, all in the shadow of Lycabettos--Athens intra--urban pyramidal peak well worth visiting too: it takes several days to do this stretch properly. I love Byzantine columns.

Two lions and the Tree of life
 Astonishing how the Christian marble relief echoes the ancient Mycenean leitmotif on the Lion gates!
14th Century Constantinopolitan masterpiece
 The Renaissance never really transcends Byzantium when it comes to the power of portraying the spirit. These icons from late Imperial times simply glow.

15th Century masterpieces by Zografos (left) and Damaskinos (right)
 With the Fall of Constantinople, the torch passed on to Crete: during the Venetian renaissance of that island, an enormous flowering of late Byzantine art flourished--what a joy to see art by two of the greatest iconographers. The fall of Crete finally led Domenico Theotocopulos to Toledo--to become El Greco: blending Byzantine and Renaissance art in an amazing new transformation.

19th Century Judgment day (Karamanli artwork)

The text on this amazing painting is in Turkish, written with Greek letters: the Karamanlis were Ottoman era Christians who lived in many parts of present day Turkey and who spoke only Turkish but were nevertheless still devout Orthodox. Despite the fact they spoke no Greek, they were made to move to Greece by the Lausanne Treaty in 1922. The tragedy of the exchange of populations (on both sides) still resonates.

Subway stop for Omonia square ("Concord" square)
I refuse to end with a Last Judgement. Instead, let's end with "Concord" I have been told the Moscow subway is lovely. And Istanbul is quite impresssive. But one of the many surprises of Athens is how beautiful the subway is--much of it gleaming Pentelic marble. Several of the stops include ruins beautifully incorporated within the modern spaces--left in situ (discovered while the subway was created).  Clean and incredibly efficient and timely and inexpensive. The subway epitomizes Greece in a way: people accuse the Southern Europeans of inefficiency and sloth: meanwhile, they lead the most rewarding of lives, constantly celebrate and honor their past, and welcome the world with open arms and much too inexpensive of hospitality. The Greece I saw this week has progressed light years ahead of the Greece I once knew: I admire and respect Greece all the more: they are confronting their current challenges with enormous courage,  thoughtfulness and "Ομόνοια": I'll place my bets on them any day.


  1. Thank you for sharing your trip to Greece with us. I truly inspiring place I have waited to long to return to.

    1. Now is the time! It will make a difference to visit Greece in the next year or two. The Media has lied about the status of the country: it's never been better for tourism.

  2. It makes me sadder that I didn't have more time away this summer, a trip over to Greece would have been great.


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