The White Tower of Thessaloniki

Beautiful as she may be, Thessaloniki wouldn’t be half as charming without her 5 km long waterfront promenade. This is where the city lives and breathes, works out and cools down, goes for a walk, falls in or out of love, wines and dines, gets inspired, goes fishing and pet walking, argues about politics and football (two absolute favourites among my compatriots).

And in the midst of all this vibrant energy stands prominently the city’s most recognizable and photographed landmark, the White Tower.

It is thought that the present tower was built in the 15th century on the ruins of an older 12th century Byzantine fortification, and was part of the walls – demolished in 1966 – of the old city of Thessaloniki.

During the Ottoman occupation, the tower was used as a fort, a garrison and a prison where numerous tortures and executions gave it the name ”Tower of Blood” or ”Red Tower” (Turkish: Kanli Kule, a name it kept until the end of the 19th century).

When Thessaloniki was annexed from the Ottoman Empire to the Hellenic State in 1912, the tower was whitewashed as a symbolic gesture of cleansing, hence becoming the ”White Tower” (Greek: Lefkos Pyrgos – Λευκός Πύργος).

I guess that was the only time it had ever been whitewashed, I have no recollection of it ever being actually white but rather an earthy light brown, a patina acquired naturally over time.

Neither had I any recollection – until my last visit in September – of its interior ever having been so well maintained, its features properly highlighted as befits a monument of such value.

I hadn’t realised how large its core rooms actually are, for in modern times – from the First World War onwards – the Tower was used to house successively, an operations centre of the Allied Forces, a storage space for antiquities, the city’s air defense centre, a University meteorological laboratory and a Sea Scout unit. This meant that the only part of the Tower open to public was the turret, reached via a gentle stone-step spiral ramp, offering some of the city’s most splendid views.

Today it is part of the Museum of Byzantine Culture and hosts a permanent exhibition on the history and culture of Thessaloniki. I was delighted to discover that multimedia and modern technology was applied with care, respecting the physiognomy of the monument. There are still a couple of shortcomings, notably the fact that there is no elevator, making it inaccessible to people with mobility difficulties, nor air-conditioning (although this is largely taken care of by the tower’s thick walls and natural ventilation).

A brief photo-essay to give you an idea:

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360° views of the city and Thermaikos Gulf from the turret:

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For a video tour please visit the White Tower website. For opening hours check here.

Shared photo credits (Konstantinos & Lia)

Thessaloniki, 8 – 15 September 2014

 

HOME

DSC04294iThessaloniki.

A city. A legend. A daughter. A wife. An original, idiosyncratic beauty.

Daughter of Philip II, powerful King of Macedonia from 359 BC until his assassination in 336 BC by Pausanias – one of his bodyguards. Philip II was the originator of the principle of ”divide and rule”, from the Greek ”διαίρει καὶ βασίλευε” – (diaírei kaì basíleue), a rule that has been consistently put to effect with great results, from the Roman Ceasar to the French Emperor Napoleon, then passed down through generations of European settlers, to be applied cunningly in their colonies all over the world.

Wife of Cassander, who married her thus securing his position into the Argead Dynasty, ruling House of Macedonia, a first step to becoming later a King himself. When, during his reign, Cassander decided to strengthen his Kingdom by founding a city, he named it in honour of his wife. It was to be his most significant and lasting deed.

Thus 315 BC marked the beginning of a long, turbulent but uninterrupted life of Thessaloniki, carrying her legacy through the centuries, growing to be a modern city that today expands from the foothills of Mount Chortiatis to the seemingly endless coastline that embraces the Gulf of Thermaikos.

A true crossroads where Europe meets Anatolia, the Balkans dip into the cool deep blue waters of the Aegean, still showing traces of her glorious multi -ethnic -religious  and -cultural past; a melting pot and a city of contrasts.

Major, yet always coming second: formely ”co-reigning” city of the Byzantine Empire, alongside Constantinople – συμβασιλεύουσα (Symvasilévousa), now “co-capital” alongside Athens – συμπρωτεύουσα (Symprotévousa).

A natural beauty, cultivated, cosmopolitan, her charm somewhat dampened by years of abuse, urbanization and total absence of city planning – so typical of modern Greece – yet still utterly alluring, forever young despite her 2.330 years of tempestuous history.

Balancing on a tightrope that connects East and West, flirting with the North but dependent on the South. A port city: stylish, relaxed and welcoming, with a quirky attitude, wild parties and nightlife, so typical of seabound cities.

A university city, home among others to Aristotle University, the largest of its kind in Greece and the Balkans, welcoming every year thousands of students – a constant flow of life, energy and fresh ideas, a regenerative infusion of youth.

The city I left thirty years ago aiming for northerner climates; first the golden cage that is called Switzerland, then the cooler and more convivial Belgium.

Going back always feels strange yet familiar; melancholy yet uplifting – I can’t be called a resident, neither am I a tourist. Walking, seeing, smelling, touching, brings back pieces of my childhood and memories of my rebellious adolescence and this is when I know; no matter how much it evolves and changes, Thessaloniki is still the place I was born and grew up in, the one place I will always call home.

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Views from the waterfront in all its colourful splendour and diversity, my extended neighbourhood and the city centre:

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From a trip in September, still very hot – enough to give me a sunburn – but mellower than the main summer months, which made walking really pleasant. More from home, coming up!

Photos (mostly) by Konstantinos Implikian

Thessaloniki,  8 – 15 September 2014

 

Vénus.Not.Valentine

Meet Liédo the giant wanderer who, one mild autumnal night, made a stop to Wolubilis to tell the world the story of Venus.

Venus is the journey of one man lasting several decades. We follow him on his path to exile when he had to leave his country in the brink of war; upon returning thirty years later he retraces his past, revisiting his origins. The two paths will collide and the shock will be violent; the fall inevitable.

Venus evokes the paths we traverse throughout our lives; paths marked by inner conflict, escapism, errant paths: how does it feel  to be a total stranger – even to oneself? A stowaway, hiding from your own life?

It is the story of a man walking, stumbling, kneeling, rising. Liédo is the straw giant with the kind heart and helps us see further, far beyond the horizon, far beyond ourselves; his gaze is a guideline to the scrupulous, fragile, life-long learning process that is Love.

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Vénus is a dreamlike creation by Compagnie l’Homme debout, written and directed by BeNoît Mousserion. Check their website for news because, who knows where Liédo – or one of his fellow gentle giants – will come to next…

Part of the Fêtes RomanesFestival des Arts de la Rue, on 27 & 28 September 2014
Wolubilis, Woluwe Saint Lambert
Brussels

Esio trot, esio trot, emoc no esio trot…

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In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer
Albert Camus (November 7 1913 – January 4 1960)

There is no way you can escape the charm of  this film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s ”Esio Trot” by Richard Curtis and Paul Mayhew-Archer, directed by Dearbhla Walsh, briskly narrated by James Corden and starring Judi Dench and Dustin Hoffman.

The two living legends meet on-screen and you instantly know they were meant for each other. It isn’t so much their brilliant, effortless performances -this has become second nature for them by now- but their obvious rapport, a bond they share that seems to go deeper and beyond the set; and the fact that they seem to enjoy themselves immensely in doing what they do best: acting.

Judi Dench and Dustin Hoffman is one of the most endearing, charming, loving couples you’ve ever seen on-screen. Such a perfect match it will have you wonder why on earth did they have to wait so long to start working together.

All the while, they’re being supported by ”Mr Potato-Head-Pringle”, Richard Cordery who gives a perfectly irritating performance, ranging from mildly annoying to downright malicious, the lively narration by James Corden and about a hundred tortoises of various sizes, from small to large to enormous, this touching, feel-good story is your instant pick-me-up when everything else fails.

For Esio Trot is a story about love, an ode to life and a reminder that there is neither age limit nor expiration date to happiness.

It goes like this:

Mr Hoppy is a quite, shy man who lives alone in a nice flat in an apartment block in London

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Besides jazz and fishing, there are two loves in his life: one is his flowers, the other is a secret love he keeps all to himself

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Mr Hoppy is in love with the girl downstairs

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- I’m Mrs Silver. Lavinia. Facebook status – Widowed.
– Ah, my Facebook status is ”I’m not in the Facebook”

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Mr Hoppy is so shy he doesn’t dare ask Mrs Silver out. Fortunately, there are those brief encounters in the lift. Days, months, whole seasons go by and Mr Hoppy loves Lavinia every day a little more… Well, wouldn’t you?

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Yes you would…  And if you found out that the love of your life was raising money for charity at the Dance Marathon, you’d sponsor her for ”a pound-a-minute” too! Mrs Silver danced her socks of for four hours fifty minutes – a true dancing queen

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But there is something that bothers Mr Hoppy: Mrs Silver doesn’t live alone. She did for many years until she decided to do something about it. Now, Mrs Silver lives with Alfie

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She nurtures him, cuddles him, talks to him, reads him stories… she has only one concern: no matter how hard she tries, Alfie refuses to grow

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- One day I’ll find the right food, and the right exercise regime, and the right vitamin supplement…. Then at last we’ll both be happy, wont’ we darling?

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So Mr Hoppy sets about to make Lavinia happy. Because he thought, if he could maker her happy then maybe, just maybe he might be worthy of winning her heart

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Mr Hoppy suddenly ”remembered” an extraordinary tortoise-size-related secret from a Bedouin tribesman: a Bedouin tortoise chant!

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Esio trot, esio trot, teg reggib reggib, emoc no esio trot. Worg pu, ffup pu, toohs pu…
Gnirps pu, wolb pu…

Mrs Silver is to whisper it to Alfie three times a day before meals, without fail. With these magic words Alfie will grow bigger and bigger. Actually, the words are reversed: Tortoise, tortoise, get bigger bigger! Come on, tortoise, grow up, puff up, shoot up! Spring up, blow up… but it ”must be read backwards because tortoises are very backwards creatures. So they would only understand words that are spoken backwards”.

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Mrs Silver: … Gnirps pu, wolb pu… (Well, thank goodness I’m not asking you to sip up anything)…
There’s a lot of pu’s in it…

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So Mr Hoppy puts his cunning plan into action: it involves several trips to local pet shops, frequent dipping into his savings box and the invasion of his apartment by hundreds of Alfie’s cousins that come in all sizes 

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Meanwhile, downstairs…

Esio trot, esio trot, teg reggib reggib, emoc no esio trot…

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By the way, did you know that tortoises love strawberries?

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And once Mrs Silver leaves her apartment, Mr Hoppy springs into action – up goes Alfie 1, down goes Alfie 2. Over the next eight weeks, Mr Hoppy goes on switching ”Alfie” with a slightly larger one, so that Mrs Silver won’t notice:

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Until one day…:

- Mr Hoppy! Something very extraordinary has happened! And quite marvelous! Alfie can’t get through his door! He must have got bigger! Oh you did it Mr Hoppy! You’re my miracle man!

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Mrs Silver invites Hoppy downstairs to see for himself how Alfie has doubled in size:

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Hoppy: I’d quite forgotten it was Christmas!
Mrs Silver: Oh, it isn’t. I just like to get my tree up on the first day of August. What’s the point in getting old if you can’t break the rules?

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Mrs Silver: Can I ask you a question? Would it be alright if I came up later and had another look at your balcony? I think it’s one the Seven Wonders of the World.

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Mr Hoppy: Oh I’d be delighted. Can I ask you a question too Mrs Silver?
- Yes of course.
- Will you marry me?

But before Mrs Silver could answer off went the doorbell, and:

Mr Pringle: Might this little chap belong to you?

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The doubt… the realisation…

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The confrontation… the sadness…

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The forgiveness…

Because:

A man that would go to such trouble to make a woman’s dreams come true, must be very exceptional indeed

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Mrs Silver: The answer to your earlier question is yes. I will marry you. Thank you very much for asking!

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You can read more about The Story Behind The Making, in an interview with Richard Curtis here.
Roald Dahl’s books are adorned by Quentin Blake’s distinctive illustrations. More about the artist and his work can be found here.

Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot (2015)

Viewed on 25 January 2015

The House of Future

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The Futuro House

 

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Pop furniture by Verner Panton

 

Originally designed by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen for a friend who wanted a mobile holiday chalet. It is made of Polykerm fibreglass and is a rare example of Pop culture architecture from the heroic Space Age, encapsulating the utopian themes of the 60s and 70s, when advances in technique fired the inventiveness of uninhibited creators. With some 60 m² of living space, 8 m in diameter under a 3,35 m-high roof, its design remains revolutionary today. Stream-lined, sound-proof, sustainable, it resists temperatures ranging from pole to equator and can be put up in just 36 hours!

Only about a hundred of these sci-fi earth-designed UFO’s were constructed between end of 1960s – beginning of 1970s. As we can observe from the plan, they come fully equipped and despite their small surface they can actually sleep eight people. Combining futuristic design, practicality and mobility, this could be the house of my dreams:

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From 1968 to 1986, the Futuro house stood on the esplanade at Paris-La Défense where it felt at home sitting in front of the Centre of New Industries & Technologies (CNIT) and the futuristic highrise buildings that were springing up around it. It served as a café, the ”Resto Bulle”:

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Re-discovered by art dealer Benoît Ramognino in 2007, it was refurbished and landed anew inside the enclosed marché Dauphine at the renowned Saint-Ouen Flea Market, where it can be seen on week-ends and Mondays.  Now, instead of modern glass towers and office complexes its neighbours are second-hand bookstores, vintage clothes, antique and bric-a-brac shops where one man’s junk is another man’s treasure:

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What a pity the future those designers envisioned did not turn out to be what we know today as present! Imagine being a nomad and never have to worry about digs. Just pack up the Futuro and ship it to next destination. All you need is 36 hours, a 3m height x 8m diameter and you could call any place on planet Earth your home!

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According to French press, it will remain at the Saint-Ouen Flea Market – at least – until October 2016.

If you’d like to know more about the houses, their history and whereabouts please check The Futuro House website. Although many more articles and websites can be found on-line, this one seems to be kept constantly updated. The Futuro here is not merely an object of design – it is a passion.

Photos by Konstantinos Implikian

Paris, 17 August 2014