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Saturday, 12 November 2011

<Μόνο αν κερδίσουμε την κοινωνία.>

The sovereignty of Europe stands opposed to the sovereignty of Greece and of every other European country sustained by European credit. Every expression of support for Papademos among Greeks is a vote for Europe. Today's poll by MRB (who are they? what's the sample?) - says 68% of the Greek population view a unity coalition as 'the government best suited to solving the country's huge problems with debt, budget deficits and economic competitiveness'. I suspect this 'support' is made up of resigned stoicism, apprehension and dismay at the absence of alternatives.  Anti-austerity comes fragmented and incoherent via the competing rhetoric of a fragmented left. No-one speaks coherently about alternatives to austerity. Among those opposed to - rather than disliking - austerity policies, there is no narrative; no discernible manifesto or guidance on "what is to be done`'

[Angela Merkel's speech of 14 Nov in Leipzig is already written - "Europe is in one of its toughest, perhaps the toughest hour since World War Two." Lucas Papademos' first speech to the Hellenic Parliament - Οι προγραμματικές δηλώσεις της κυβέρνησης Παπαδήμου - on the same day is already prepared - "I assume the premiership in the toughest moment in the country’s recent history...Remaining in the euro is the only choice.”And we - the UK - outside the Eurozone are not disconnected as David Cameron emphasised in his speech at the Mansion House on 14 Nov "European countries account for 50% of our trade and much of our inward investment - "Leaving the EU is not in our national interest. Outside, we would end up like Norway, subject to every rule for the Single Market made in Brussels but unable to shape those rules."]

Pavlos Yeroulanos who continues as Greece's Minister of Tourism asks on Twitter
"More parties, more hope for the country? Only if we win the society" &lt;Περισσότερα κόμματα, περισσότερη ελπίδα για τη χώρα; Μόνο αν κερδίσουμε την κοινωνία.>
The new PM says there will be a general election in the middle of February next year. Sworn-in today...

.., his new government must pass through Parliament a second EC-ECB-IMF bailout package for Greece, following the EU summit on Oct 26. This 'transitional' unity Government of Greece comprises PASOK members, keeping their former posts, but also a few representatives of the other two coalition partners - conservative New Democracy but not its leader, Antonis Samaras, and, far right, Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.O.S) but not its leader, Yiorgos Karatzaferis. Dora Bakoyannis' Democratic Alliance party promises to support the new government. Alexis Tsipras Parliamentary Group president oif Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) called the formation of Papademos' government "a crude distortion of popular sovereignty" - unelected Papademos heading a government "trying on to implement a policy that lacks democratic legitimacy." Secretary General of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), Aleka Papariga, called for the "immediate reaction" of the people, stressing that "not even a day must be lost...even before the government regroups, before it takes the first actions, it must find the people mobilised."

Prime Minister - Lucas Papademos, Non-party

First Deputy Prime Minister - Theodoros Pangalos, PASOK

Second Deputy Prime Minister - Evangelos Venizelos (also Finance Minister), PASOK

Administrative Reform and E-Governance Minister - Dimitris Reppas, PASOK

Deputy Minister - Dinos Rovlias, PASOK

Deputy Minister - Pantelis Tzortzakis, PASOK

Citizen Protection Minister - Christos Papoutsis, PASOK

Deputy Minister - Manolis Othonas, PASOK

Culture and Tourism Minister - Pavlos Yeroulanos, PASOK

Deputy Minister (Tourism) - Yiorgos Nikitiadis, PASOK

Deputy Minister - Petros Alivizatos, ND

Defence Minister - Dimitris Avramopoulos, ND

Alternate Minister - Yiannis Ragousis, PASOK

Alternate Minister - Georgios Georgiou, LA.O.S

Deputy Minister - Kostas Spiliopoulos, PASOK

Development, Competitiveness & Shipping Minister - Michalis Chrysochoidis, PASOK

Alternate Minister - Sokratis Xynidis, PASOK

Deputy Minister (Shipping) - Adonis Georgiadis, LA.O.S

Deputy Minister - Thanos Moraitis, PASOK

Education, Lifelong Learning and Religious Affairs Minister - Anna Diamantopoulou, PASOK

Alternate Minister - Konstantinos Arvanitopoulos, ND

Deputy Minister - Evi Christofilopoulou, PASOK

Environment, Energy & Climate Change Minister - Yiorgos Papakonstantinou, PASOK

Alternate Minister - Nikos Sifounakis, PASOK

Deputy Minister - Yiannis Maniatis, PASOK

Finance Minister - Evangelos Venizelos (also Deputy PM), PASOK

Alternate Minister - Filippos Sachinidis, PASOK

Alternate Minister - Pantelis Economou, PASOK

Deputy Minister - Yiannis Mourmouras, ND

Foreign MinisterStavros Dimas, ND

Alternate Minister - Mariliza Xenoyiannakopoulou, PASOK

Deputy Minister Dimitris Dollis, PASOK

Interior Minister - Tassos Giannitsis Former, PASOK

Alternate Minister - Fofi Yennimata, PASOK

Deputy Minister - Paris Koukoulopoulos, PASOK

Health and Social Solidarity Minister - Andreas Loverdos, PASOK

Deputy Minister - Dimitris Vartzopoulos, ND

Deputy Minister - Markos Bolaris, PASOK

Deputy Minister - Michalis Timosidis, PASOK

Infrastructure, Transport and Networks Minister - Makis Voridis, LA.O.S

Deputy Minister - Yiannis Magriotis, PASOK

Justice, Transparency and Human Rights Minister - Miltiadis Papaioannou, PASOK

Deputy Minister - Yiorgos Petalotis, PASOK

Labour and Social Security Minister - Yiorgos Koutroumanis, PASOK

Deputy Minister - Yiannis Koutsoukos, PASOK

Rural Development and Food Minister Kostas Skandalidis, PASOK

Deputy Minister - Yiannis Drivelegas, PASOK

Deputy Minister - Asteris Rontoulis, LA.O.S

State Minister - Yiorgos Stavropoulos, PASOK
**** ****
HELEN AND TONY SCOVILLE'S OCTOBER TOUR OF GREECE
With Helen and Tony Scoville in Theotoki Street, Corfu (photo: Linda Baddeley)
Last Friday Tony Scoville sent me his keenly awaited account of his and Helen's visit this October to Αγαπητοί Ελλάδα, beloved Greece, including their stay with us in Corfu:
Strolling to Zissimos on the Liston
...Alas it is ages since we were all together at Ano Koriakiana, and each day the age gets one day longer. By now we are home, and you both are back in Birmingham. However, there is a consolation: with each day the time to our next meeting gets one day shorter. (In America if you and Lin come over to see Bay?)
What a wonderful week with you and Lin, culminating in that salubrious garden party you, along with Effie and Adoni, gave us...
The Greeks
The Brits
It was such fun to meet them and all your friends that evening, even though we often could only communicate with smiles and a raised glass. Please thank them for us for giving us such a welcome to Greece. Every one (outside of Athens) so friendly. Although I adore France, especially the southwest and Dordogne, one would never get such a reception in France. So great to meet Lin at last. Both Helen and I fell in love with her quiet smile - that peeks out while the rest of us are blustering on so full of ourselves. What a lovely house you have. The view of the straits across to Albania is even more dramatic than the photo on your website.
I see from a new blog picture that you have finished painting the shutters. You must be glad to be done. Shutters are such a fussy job to paint....
Of course it is ok to mention our visit and the book on your blog.  The only thing is that I don't recognize myself because you paint such a flattering portrait.  In any case glad you enjoyed the book and CD of my music compositions. I had fun writing the book and the Passage variations and waltz. Speaking of books, have you ordered David Deutsch's Beginning of Infinity yet? I have just about finished since we discussed it on Corfu. Am planning to order you one from Amazon-UK but didn't want to do so if you already have it. Deutsch has one of the best discussions of social choice and decision making that I have ever read; also an excellent chapter on 'Optimism' by which he does not mean Pollyanna. Rather he refers to the belief that one can always ask questions to resolve whatever issues arise, but the answer will often involve inventing a completely new paradigm.
'From the smallest scale in our individual lives to the scale of civilisation as a whole, the growth of knowledge is profoundly unpredictable. We cannot even predict most of the problems that we shall encounter, nor most of the opportunities to solve them, let alone the solutions and attempted solutions that will be thought of and how they will affect events. Nor can we predict the probabilities of any of those things. In the light of this inescapable limitation, what is the rational attitude towards the future? How can we plan for the unknown?' David Deutsch 20 March 2011
We arrived back exhausted exactly a week ago at 3am NY time after a 10 hour delay, in part caused by a slowdown on the part of the air traffic controllers. Have spent the week recuperating as well as participating in a memorial service for Helen's brother Whitney.
Both of us loved Greece - except for Athens, which seems a sprawling blob expanding to the surrounding mountains like those plastic splatter balls pedalled everywhere by young Indian street children. And the omnipresent graffiti make the New York subway cars seem models of decorum and tidy neighborliness by comparison. The Parthenon and the wonderful new Acropolis museum with its simple archaic Korai and the famous Calf-Bearer make up for the rest of Athens. I could see what Scully was talking about in his diagonal approach to the Parthenon which drives the eye to Mt. Immetos. It was somewhat difficult to see this because the Parthenon is currently covered with scaffolding, but H and I have plans already to come back when the repairs are completed.
But once away from Athens the country is glorious and fascinating. Extremely rugged and dramatic and changing constantly. We went everywhere up tiny little roads far into the backcountry that people in our hotels said we shouldn't attempt. At times I really had to navigate by the sun to check that we were going in the right general direction and then hope that the road we were on actually led somewhere! Which it always did, thanks in part to Helen's intuitive sense of which turn to take. I swear she must have magnetic filings in her head like a migratory bird! 
After we left you, we stayed at the Porphyrion B & B in Ano Pedhina in the Zagori. Lovely, and a beautiful little town with buildings of the grey stone characteristic of the region - except for Porphyrion which is brick. Probably the most attractive place we stayed although the food good but not quite up to the lodgings. We gave them your giant cucumber.  ... The Vikos Gorge is amazing.
We visited the tiny town of Vikos perched high above the gorge and completely quiet. A must to go see. Then descended about 1500 feet to the river which was crystal clear and shaded by oaks and what looked like beech trees to me. Then back up the other side to Mikro Papigo where we ran into an outpost of the World Wildlife Foundation. The obviously-glad-to-see-us young Director gave us a briefing on all the endangered wildlife in the Canyon, including the rare chamois. (I sensed he had not had many visitors - especially ones who knew a bit about endangered species.)
A bit of an aside: When we were with you I don't think H & I mentioned our visit to the Monastery of Osios Loukas near Stirio, about 30km east from Delphi. Built in the 10th century, this was one of the most beautiful Byzantine churches we saw. Radiant frescoes and the scale just right for the subjects, about which Helen knew far more than I. Not all jammed together as at the Great Meteora.
Another aside: On the way to the Zagori via Ioannina (a dull strip city best by-passed) we stopped off at Dodona. A lovely theatre there along with scattered remains of temples (and of course the Jovian oak tree) set in long valley surrounded by high hills that gradually flared apart in the distance. One of the prettiest classical sites; it was not overwhelmed by tourists. It was easier to feel the landscape here, and what made it spiritual, than it was to do so at Olympia.
Next Kalambakia and the Meteora. Almost missed the Elena Guest house that you recommended (excellent by the way), as the street name signs in Kalambakia were terrible. I finally spotted a placard on the side of a building that said 'Guest house Elena 300 meters' and we knew we were home. But it was sheer luck...Incidentally, for lunch we had the best tzatziki at the taverna of an old crone who reeled us in with her toothy smile as we stopped for a moment to get our bearings in Kastraki...
Kastraki, north west of Kalambaka, at Meteora
...very finely shredded cucumber, smooth rich yogurt (no low fat here!) and not too much garlic. Will try to duplicate soon.
Those sandstone pillars with the Monasteries perched atop are quite amazing. I climbed all the way to the top of the Great Meteora. A trek, but the church was not as moving as the little monastery of Osios Loukas I mentioned earlier. The sandstone pillars very dramatic, but I found the wild country of the Zagori more mysterious and awesome. There was something about that northern Greece terrain that grabbed Helen and me.
On Friday 9/30 a long drive (5.5 hrs) via Trikala, Larissa, and Corinth to Nafplion on the Peloponnese for 3 days. Made a mistake of leaving the autostrada at Thiva (Thebes) as a shortcut to Elfina just west of Athens. Thiva very dull; the road ugly and slow. As a general rule, unless going on the real back roads, stay on the autostrada. The autostrada are beautiful roads and avoid the ugly sprawl of so many modern Greek cities including Athens. But back on track just west of Athens to Corinth where we stopped briefly to see the Temple of Apollo dominating the landscape. In good enough shape and not surrounded by modern clutter so that one can appreciate what a site it must have been to a pilgrim in the 5th cent BC. 
feather Lin, I & Amy found at the Pieirian Spring in the Temple of Apollo
Finally reached Nafplia about 17:00. Nearly couldn't find our hotel (the Leto which was high up with an excellent view of the harbor). Lots of walking up and down in Nafplia! Nafplia's a lovely town sort of like Corfu town, but filled with Athenian sophisticates and their stores. Great small streets strung with good outdoor tavernas and restaurants and a raucous central square that was fun to sit in. The harbor lovely. It too reminds me of Corfu but with more restaurants by the quai and a bigger bay. Saturday to Epidaurus with its amazing theatre in excellent condition and set in a dramatic bowl of hills opening onto the sea about 10 km away. The theatre has amazing reverb (rather like our living room) which must be the reason for its proverbial acoustics. The museum was not up to the theatre and site, however its collection may not have been helped by having lost treasures to the Acropolis Museum in Athens (shades of the Elgin Marbles - see later diatribe) but it just didn't seem imaginatively organized. On Sunday up to Mycene which is a magnificent mountain surrounded citadel of cyclopean stonework at the head of a long valley.
How they hauled and manoeuvred all that stone I don't know. The magnificent 'Lion Gate' whose single keystone with the engraved Lions weighs 20 tons. This in the mid 13th century BC when Atreus was king! The nearby so-called Tholos (Tomb) of Agamemnon really feels like the entrance would open on the pathway to death. Boring to one's sense of mortality but without the sense of the ability to question and create a human abode in the cosmos. (Yet it was created by humans and so contradicts its foreboding.) Stopped by Tiryns on the way back to Nafplia. Smaller and with cyclopean stonework as at Mycene, but it didn't quite match my college classroom conception of its massiveness - in part this may be because it seems overwhelmed by the outlying suburbs of Argos, and in part because the underground passages for which Tiryns is famous were closed owing to earthquake damage.
On Monday 10/3 down the coast where we stopped briefly at the small fascinating Mycenean ruin of Lerna (hard to find but well worth seeing) on our way (eventually!) to Mystras Μυστράς. At Leonidio we turned inland to ascend the wild incredibly precipitous Parnonas mountains. Back and forth around endless switchbacks on a very small road clawed into the mountainside over very deep gorges. We emerged after about an hour and a half on top in the cozy little town of Cosmas. Lovely small scale. Had lunch in the kitchen of the taverna in the square, as it was too cold to sit out. We were definitely the only non-Greeks. Excellent sautéed meat balls along with a Greek salad that had the sweetest tomatoes I have ever tasted. (When I asked the proprietor where they came from he proudly said "Cosmas".) Also an excellent rosé wine with more body than usual and a slight very unusual musty taste a little like an Alsatian Gewurtz but not as overbearing as a Gewurtz. We bought a bottle for our travels. After lunch we got off the 'main road' at Geraki and took the 'yellow' road via Agio Dimitrios to Molai, where we joined the main highway to Monemvasia. Got totally lost several times and at one point ended up in a farmer's backyard. Several times I literally had to navigate by the sun to know whether we were going in the right direction. We went to Monemvasia on the spur of the moment because it was nearer than we thought and Helen's brother Whitney had recommended it. A bit touristy now, but quite amazing extremely compact medieval town on a spit of land - a Greek Mont St Michel. Well worth the detour but don't go in the summer!
After tea at a cafe overlooking the sea in Monemvasia, we headed back north to Sparta and Mystras - a quick trip on the main drag, but we got lost in the Sparta suburbs when the road signs for Mystras petered out after a couple of turns. (Greek roads do that to you.) Eventually made it just at dusk. Thank heavens because I began to lose my solar 'bearings' when the sun set. Mystras, set under the enormous Taygetos mountains is quite fascinating. The only way I can describe it is as a colony of cliff swallow nests constructed of thin bricks interlaced with mortar climbing up a precipice surmounted by an eagle's nest (the fort) perched on the top. It comes in two stages: the monasteries about halfway up and the fortress. Except for one short stretch we walked all the way to the top where the view is magnificent. I didn't venture too close to the edge because of my acrophobia! It was amazing to learn that at one point (late 12th and 13th centuries I believe) Mystras was the second largest Byzantine city after Constantinople. It has a view all the way to Monemvasia, which served as its port city. The Vrontokion monastery with its church, the Hodegetria, very beautiful almost rivaled (to my mind) the Monastery of Hosia Loukas - mentioned earlier. Wonderful repeating domes for a roof. Bought some lovely hand embroidered table napkins from an old nun (one of the very small colony still inhabiting the nunnery).
Sunday 11/6: After an hiatus of a week, at last time to return to this account. As you may have read, on Saturday 10/29 all of New England was hit with a freak snow storm that dumped 16" of heavy wet snow on Connecticut. Trees and heavy branches broken down everywhere from the weight of the snow. We were without power, telephone and internet for four days until Thursday. Here in CT there are still (Sunday) well over 100k families who are without power and, I learned today that some towns don't expect to get power until Thanksgiving, two weeks from now. Inexcusable on the part of the power company farming out their risk to thousands of individuals and businesses. Luckily, I was able to connect our old generator to my tractor and provide power to the house for heat, some lights, and the fridge, but no internet or phone. I wasn't sure the generator would work because I had never used it before but it worked without a hitch. Next time we will be better prepared as I have left the generator mounted on the tractor! Hence the delay in getting this off to you.
11/7: To continue. On Tuesday 10/4, afternoon after our hike through Mystras, we headed down to Gytheio then down the east coast of the Mani via Katronas. Precipitous cliffs that plunged into the sea. At Lagia about halfway along the peninsula we headed inland across high rugged mountains laced with very small roads to a very romantic hotel (the Kirimai) situated on the little cove of Gerolimenas. Beautiful hotel with very good food (but not cheap unfortunately!). We dined on the terrace looking out on the cove. The half moon shone down on the cove, a nymph dancing on the water. About 10pm the hotel lit the opposite cliff shore with very dramatic lights. The reflection from waves in the water made the lights appear to move along the cliffs. (Germans staying there and throughout Greece like locusts. Obviously, Germany is riding high these days!)
Wed 10/4: We drove 30 km down the west coast of the Mani peninsula to the very end at Cape Tenaro. Rocks, rocks, rocks. Everywhere rocks! Amazing, beautiful, desolate countryside. How they survived I cannot imagine. Still Porto Kagia which we dropped in on managed to export 6,000 quails a month to Venice in the sixteenth century.
In fact, however, most Maniots didn't survive very well. The hills are practically paved with tiny terraces (miles of them), laboriously built with stone picked from the fields and still there are more than I have ever seen in New England. I can attest from farming in Vermont in the 1960's that New England has a rock problem. Each small plot I was told delimits the water/land rights of a family or clan.
And the Maniots fought each other over every drop of water. About halfway down our drive we stopped at the small towered town of Vatheia. It consists entirely of square stone towers about 3 stories high separated by small streets. No house has a window on the street floor because the Maniots were engaged in perpetual feuds over water rights and shot at their neighbors other across the street well into the 19th century. Some of this is described in PLF's book The Mani - a must read.
In fact the whole area is a must visit if you and Lin haven't done so. Wednesday evening we drove through a thunderstorm to a very simple but excellent taverna (the Katoi) on a tiny square in the center of Aeropoli about 30 km north of Gerolimenas. Almost impossible to find but serving delicious chicken. Totally Greek.
Speaking of Fermor there was an very good appreciation of him in the New York Review of Books in early July. An amazing character but the last of his type. I gather from the review that the final volume of his diary about his walk in the 1930's from Amsterdam to Istanbul will be published next year. It was nearly complete when he died. Amazingly for such a prolix writer he was constantly plagued by writer's block. If you can't find the article let me know and I will email it to you.
Thurs 10/5: Headed north to Olympia via Ancient Messene (known as Ithomi on some maps) which one approaches by way of the massive Arcadian gate. It is so big - almost Cyclopean - that one wonders how they built it, beginning in the 6th century BC. A large site in very good condition and not plagued by tourists. Lots of restoration work going on, but it is not disturbing as at other sites. After our usual lunch of Greek salad on a taverna terrace overlooking Messene (from this vantage point one could clearly see the lay of the land and surrounding mountains (unlike Olympia - see later)) we resumed our journey taking back-roads (in some places unpaved) by way of Malthi and Aetos. Near Aetos we came across a Mycenean Tholos tomb that had been beautifully excavated. Very like the famed Treasury of Atreus at Mycenae, but to my mind more fascinating because it was quiet and one could imagine some small kingdom burying their king in this quiet far-away valley. As we were traveling on this road we came around a corner and there in middle of the road was an old toothy goatherd with his flock of about 100 goats.
Helen and I will never forget the startled expression on his face when he saw us appear in our rented Mercedes mini-SUV. Then he uttered the expression "oh, oh!". He knew what the road ahead was like but we didn't. I am sure he expected us to reappear shortly on foot seeking help. About 1/2 km further on we came to a short stretch that was washed out. After canvassing the situation we picked out way across the shallow ditch and proceeded on to the main road to Kalo Nero and up the coast to Krestena and Olympia.
The Temple of Apollo at Bassae by Edward Lear
Fri 10/6: We decided to head over to Bassae and the Temple of Apollo Epikourios via Andritsena rather than explore Olympia, because the weather was supposed to turn. A longish drive, because the road wound around a lot through rugged but beautiful country. The road get higher and higher after Andritsena as we passed (what looked like) several round stone sheep pens. Sounds of sheep and goat bells in the high pastures whenever one stopped. Suddenly one rounds a corner and there it is, the Temple now clothed in a large tent for repairs that reminds me of the Corbusier Philips Pavilion at the '58 Brussels World's Fair...
...While one wished that the temple were exposed, even the tent, on that isolated mountain ridge surrounded by deep gorges, is impressive. When one enters the tent and sees the nearly complete temple with its rows of Doric columns, one can understand why the Greeks built them as they did: they are truly moving-- the structure somehow suggesting an existence and order beyond man but still conceived and built by man. (I think I mentioned this in my book on 36 Taconic Road.) The paradoxical pagan intimacy between the human and the beyond, moves me in a way that no church (save possibly Chartres) does. I hope I shall still be alive when they remove the tent. If so Helen and I have resolved to be over in an instant. The same applies to the Parthenon when they remove the present scabrous scaffolding.
Walking around the Bassae site we surveyed the breathtaking landscape with its deep gorges immediately giving to the next ridge of mountains - a theme repeated as far as the eye could see - one grasped how much more mysterious and awe inspiring it is to have just a single temple rather than other sites such Delphi where there is a jumble of temples like a modern outdoor mall. Highly commercial the others seem - the business of religion dominates. As I saw many sites and their rendered modern reconstructions I became convinced that the visual and psychological view we have of Greek architecture - consisting of austere grey or white columns silently supporting the sky - is highly romantic. However, I like it that way! And it fits with the austere ethos of Greek tragedy.
We continued southward over rugged beautiful country - often getting lost - for a bit through one small village after another until we eventually joined the road to Kalo Nero and the coast that we had been on the day before. Upon returning to Olympia we walked around the archaeological site - very peaceful Helen thought - but for both of us not as moving as some others - especially Bassae which had just that morning spoiled us. Three problems proved a hindrance to me: first they had the major temples roped off so that one could not walk among (the few) remaining columns (particularly those of the Temple of Zeus) and feel their presence; second, I could not find a place to go and see the whole peaceful site in the context of the valley formed by the confluence of the Alphios and Kladeos rivers set among the low surrounding hills; third, the site is such a jumble of fallen broken columns that it is hard to visualize what the standing structures might have looked and felt like - too much the ravages of time prove a distraction!
Sat 10/6: Olympia having proved a bit of a disappointment, we decided to head to Athens a day early, after going to the Archaeological Museum in the morning. The Museum rather than the site was the highlight of our time in Olympia: the Nike of Paionios...
...the Hermes of Praxiteles and especially the severe style battle of Lapiths and Centaurs, originally on a pediment of the Temple of Zeus, are wonderful - to me more moving than some of the more ornate figures from the Parthenon. 
Sunday 10/7-Friday 10/14(3AM Eastern US time): There are five reasons to visit Athens which, as I remarked earlier, is a rather unattractive city lacking any charm:
Edward Lear: Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athens 1850
A photo I took on my first visit to Greece in 1957
1: The Parthenon. Unparalleled even in its damaged state! And as one first sees it on emerging from the Propylaia one's eye immediately hits the northwest corner and travels along the procession of columns to Mount Hymmetos, just as I learned so long ago in Scully's class. Compelling! And by far the most subtle of all the temples we saw: the entasis, the slight tilt of the columns toward the center of the building, and the barely noticeable arching curve rising slightly in the center of the front steps of the Parthenon. All this was hard to see through the gaggle of tourists and spider webbing of scaffolding but one could just make it out and most of all one felt it.
2. The Archaeological Museum with its treasures like the gold mask of 'Agamemnon'
3. The new Acropolis Museum - a superb state of the art attractively designed museum housing glorious works from all periods such as the marvellous Korai...
...and 'Calf Bearer' mentioned earlier. On the second floor the designers have set up an eye height replica of the metopes and pediments of the Parthenon showing the placement of the columns. Gaps pointedly left in the metopes and pediments where the 'missing' Elgin marbles would go if returned.
Here I cannot resist a comment. As part of the exhibit there is an excellent video of the history of the Parthenon, showing its design and subsequent 'care' by succeeding generations of Athenians (including Christians, Turks, and modern Greeks since independence in 1832). Of course the video shows Lord Elgin removing the marbles. One has to ask whether the Greeks were exemplary custodians of this treasure. The answer is clearly "no".  First, there was a fire in about 500 AD which no one took care to put out. Greek Christians defaced the sculptures because they were 'pagan' then they built a church inside the temple; the succeeding Mosque was no better and only very late did Elgin come along and take many of the marbles to another place where they would at least be cared for and not dissolved (like the Caryatids) by automobile pollution. Then, too, notice that many of the Acropolis Museum's exhibits are purloined treasures from around Greece which the museum decided to take 'custody' of. Why is this any better than what Lord Elgin did? Why not leave them on location and provide care for them on site by locals? In short, while one can understand the desire of the Greeks for the return of the marbles I am not convinced that the Greeks make a good case for their return. They neither cared for them while they had custody from the 5th century BC until the mid 19th century. Further, given the first opportunity, Athens has purloined antiquities from around Greece, Macedonia and Ionian Greece (now Turkey). As in so many cases, it just depends on who is wearing the shoe to see where they walk! So I don't blame the Brits for hanging on to the Marbles, at least until Greece recognizes that they are world treasures and not just the property of Greece. Of course the latter conclusion should be applicable to all ancient artifacts held or claimed by whatever country.
4. The Central Market: This is a small scale version of Les Halles where, I gather, all the restaurant chefs as well as savvy individuals go. Endless trays of every conceivable kind of fish, shellfish, skinned lambs and pigs as well as vegetables and fruit are laid out looking very fresh. Plenty of big octopii here but none frozen so far as I could tell! H and I have always loved visiting open markets under their corrugated metal roofs but seldom have access to them. A riot of colors, textures and smells manned by very down-to-earth characters. I found myself wishing I had a kitchen to do some cooking, while looking at it all, but had to settle for a jar of Greek thyme honey that I love and which now resides in our conserves cabinet.
5. The Taverna Kuzina on the pedestrian Adriannou quai in the Psirri, across the rail line from the Ancient Agora. In good weather it has roof top dining with a view over the Areopagus to the Acropolis. Sophisticated, imaginative contemporary Greek cooking with pleasant service and good wines all at a moderate price. We went there twice. I had wonderful grilled octopus; Helen had a superb fish mousse as a starter. We learned about this place from a young Greek shipping manager who had been to Tufts University and his gorgeous Bulgarian girl friend with whom we fell into conversation while having tea in a small tree-covered square just off the Ancient Agora.
We walked up to the Parthenon on our first afternoon in Athens and had planned to go back just before closing on our last afternoon (Wednesday). We had hoped to take some photos in the late afternoon when the Acropolis would be less crowded and the light better, so one could see the effects described earlier. However, after the long walk up we arrived to find the gates closed. Apparently the Acropolis guards had decided to go on strike one day earlier than announced and simply closed the place! What a disappointment. Made one wonder whether the travails afflicting the Greek economy these days aren't largely self-inflicted - even though my economic prejudices are strongly Keynesian and firmly against blind austerity as resolution to the credit crisis facing Greece and so many other nations (including the US)...Poor Greece (a para' from Tony's letter I quoted on 9 Nov)...Fond best wishes and love to you both, Tony
Simon and Tony in Ano Korakiana
PS. One lesson about traveling we learned from our trip: ditch your computer and cell-phone at the airport security check! For three blissful weeks we cut our umbilicals to the frenetic pumping heart of contemporary existence. Once every three or four days Helen and I would suddenly remark to each other how relaxed our trip was and how we hadn't thought about home at all during the interim. What a relief! Existence is all that our hyperconnected societies provide; not life together!

1 comment:

  1. Your first sentence is memorable, suitably provocative and should be twitted widely!
    An important contribution to the debate.

    ReplyDelete

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