Wall art ~ Lighting ~ Patterns ~ Stripes

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Images of street art in Plaka under dim yellow lights. Athens is covered in graffiti, now more than ever, and the historical centre is no exception. While most graffiti tagging is just crap and degrading – especially where listed buildings and monuments are involved – there is some really elaborate and interesting stuff to be found.

The patterns, stripes and fake palm tree are from Faust, a music bar we just happened to walk by. I was attracted by its vintage, kitsch burlesque theatrical decor, but we only stayed long enough to look around and steal some snapshots.

Athens, 15-19 June 2015

Athens ambience

We got off to a awkward start; I felt it the moment the Metro door in front of me got stuck, opening just enough to let people squeeze out. A moment of hesitation. Before I could move to the next door, a well-built, strong woman I had never seen before, tried to get my suitcase. She was very decisive but I resisted. To my perplexed and alarmed ”What are you doing…?” she whined innocently: ”I’m only trying to help you…”

Why she thought I needed ”help”, I shall never know.

I manage to squeeze out, suitcase in hand, and proceed to change lines. The next train leaves from a different platform. On our way, I spot the woman walking towards the same direction together with a man, whom I hadn’t noticed before –  rather surprisingly because he is also very big. We all get on the same train.

Not too crowded; still we have to stand and it’s hot and sticky. No matter, I think to myself, a few more stops and we are home. Suddenly, the man decides to open the window. Rather than going past us or ask someone else to open it, he pushes, knocks and squeezes people out of his way. We are cornered. That’s when I feel something – a jostle, then another. I look at my purse and see a small, delicate hand working clumsily to unzip it. It is a woman’s hand. I grab it firmly and check that my wallet is still in place – it is.

I  let go of the hand and look at her. ”Was that you…?” I snapped. She looks at me startled, then angry. ”Absolutely not, how dare you…?” she speaks Greek with a foreign accent. She looks appropriately offended. So much so that she decides to get off at the next stop, giving me more offended looks all the while. The big couple follow her.

I wish them, in their next attempt, to break a leg. Literally.

***

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Beware of pickpockets in public transit. A common menace, they seem to multiply, invent new tricks and thrive in peak season. In most cases they are clever, feather-finger professionals, not in the least like the clumsy trio I encountered. Split cash, cards and ID into different pocket, leave your wallet behind and go out and make the most of your visit, hassle-free.

Shared photo credits (Lia & Konstantinos)

Athens, 15-19 June 2015

TERRAPOLIS

June was a difficult month for Athens. It came packed with tensions. There were stalled negotiations and fears of an imminent default. There was a government that five months since the elections, were reluctant to shake off their longstanding attitude of  ”the opposition” and do what they were elected to do – lead. There were demonstrations, large cash withdrawals, anxiety, speculation and a trending hashtag: grexit.

And then, there was Art. In a lush secluded garden, hidden behind a tall wall that surrounds the grounds of EFA (École française d’Athènes/French School of Athens), the oldest foreign institute in the capital.

It was the institute’s magnificent and elusive hortus conclusus that NEON, a Greek non-profit organization and the Whitechapel Gallery of London, both working to make contemporary art accessible to everyone, chose as a backdrop for their joint exhibition TERRAPOLIS.

How come I had never visited this beautiful garden before?” I wondered out loud.

– ”That’s because it has never been open to the public”, said the helpful assistant, ”until now, on the occasion of hosting TERRAPOLIS. The garden remained off-limits ever since it was planted”.

That was in 1872!

I thanked her kindly and walked reluctantly away, blessing my lucky star…

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Ugo Rondinone – SUNRISE. east. october, 2005. Cast bronze, silver car paint, concrete plinth

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Angus Fairhurst – The Birth of Consistency, 2004. Bronze, polished stainless steel

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Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla – Hope Hippo, 2005/2015. A slumbering hippopotamus created from mud has emerged from the earth. Sitting on the back of this sleepy Leviathan is a performer* reading the daily newspaper. Every time they come across a story of social injustice they blow a whistle.

*When the picture was taken, the young volunteer performer – most likely an EFA student – was giving her and the hippo’s back a break. We found her seating with a group of other student volunteers, chatting away in the cool shade – who could blame them in such heat?

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Practicing my Medusa gaze above Tue Greenfort’s MEDUSA, Murano glass, 2007/14. Sometimes I wish it worked.

From guidebook: These elegant sculptures of the Pelagia Noctiluca were commissioned by Tue Greenfort from the glass workshops of Murano, Venice. Despite their delicate pink and mauve hues and floating, ribbon-like tentacles, these creatures are dangerously toxic, hence being named after the sea monster Medusa whose gaze could turn men to stone.

Greenfort makes site specific works about our impact on the environment. In 2007 at the Sharjah Art Museum he turned down the air conditioning and used the cost savings to acquire and protect part of the Ecuadorian rain forest. With rising sea temperatures and the extinction of predators through overfishing, the poisonous ‘mauve stinger’ is proliferating in the Mediterranean. While its beauty belies the sting of the jellyfish, the delicacy of the glass also symbolises the fragility of the whole ecosystem.

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Yayoi Kusama – Pumpkin (M), 2014. Bronze

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William Cobbing – Remake Remodel 4, 2014. Oil clay

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TERRAPOLIS
27 MAY – 26 JULY 2015

From guidebook: Echoing the satyrs, sphinxes and centaurs of Greek statuary, contemporary sculptures, installations and films draw on myth, drama and the animal kingdom to suggest a ‘bioethics’ for the 21st century. TERRAPOLIS, a term proposed by science philosopher Donna Haraway, combines the Latin ‘terra’ for earth, with the Greek ‘polis’ for city or citizens. This show asks ‘should we regard animals as citizens’? How do processes of nature, such as metamorphoses relate to the creation of art? How do mythic narratives resonate in contemporary society? And can we recalibrate our relationship with other species?

Athens, 17 June 2015

All photos by Konstantinos Implikian

Happy National Day Belgium!

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Thank you for being my welcoming adopted home for (most of) the past 20 years!

21 July commemorates the day on which Leopold I took the constitutional oath as the first King of Belgium, in 1831 …

… but not before he turned down another royal job offer: to rule as the Monarch of Greece! 

After the Greek War of Independence (1821-32), Leopold had been offered the throne of Greece. But the country was volatile and divided, with the Turks hoping to gain back the lost ground, on the one  hand, and the European powers refusing to grant conditions that would assure the stability and welfare of his new Kingdom, on the other. Leopold gracefully declined.

On 21 July 1831, the German Prince of Saxe-Coburg took the oath at the Place Royale in Brussels and became the first King of the Belgians. Considering the short-lived monarchy in Greece, Leopold chose wisely, n’est–ce pas?

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Lithograph from the Archives of the City of Brussels

A Village called Eratyra

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Postcard from Eratyra

Leave behind the concrete monster, let go, get some space, breathe… A Greek Urbanite’s Summer Dream. Two thirds of the Greek population live tightly packed into matchbox-size flats in big cities. In a traditionally agricultural country with no heavy industry – other than tourism – how did this come to be?

It goes back to the aftermath of WWII when Europeans, as indeed most of the world, started picking up the pieces and rebuilding what was left of their lives. In Northern Europe, heavily industrialised despite – or because of – the war, reconstruction and development saw rapid growth. Faced with shortages in native workforce, they turned to the poorer South for cheap labour reinforcements; and the South was only too happy to oblige.

This created a wave of migration from the rural South to the industrialized North, or even farther away, the U.S, Canada, South America and Australia. Greece was among the countries facing mass exodus, doubly suffering by the Civil War that followed WWII. It was mainly young people from poor, rural areas that decided to emigrate. And those who couldn’t go very far or weren’t willing to live in a foreign country, moved to large urban centres within Greece – mainly Athens and Thessaloniki.

Thus the urban areas grew disproportionately dense while the rural ones kept shrinking. In the course of 15 years, between the 50’s and 70’s, around 1,5 million people quit their farmland for the big city, either in Greece or abroad.

Not surprisingly, every family tree in Greece is sure to include branches that, somewhere down the line, follow a provincial route. Responding to ”Where do you come from?”, a question commonly asked among Greeks, absolutely every naturalized urbanite, will point away from their place of residence and towards the province – if not further abroad.

Take, for example, my family: the only members born in Thessaloniki were my father, my sister and I. My mother was brought there as a baby from a tiny village in Central Macedonia. All my grandparents hail from small villages in various regions of Northern Greece. Some roots can be traced as far as Central Anatolia, in the region of Karaman.

For the record, the Karamanlis (Greek: Καραμανλήδες) were Greek-Orthodox Christians that had adopted Turkish as their native language. They lived in Central Anatolia until the 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey, another sorry story involving the uprooting of about 2 million people because of their religious beliefs. 

My partner too: born in Athens to an Armenian father whose family had emigrated to Greece following the Armenian Genocide, and a Greek mother hailing from the mountainous West Macedonian region, whose rebellious spirit had brought her to Athens at a very young age.

It was this village in West Macedonia that we visited last year in September, during our trip to Thessaloniki.

Eratyra (Greek: Εράτυρα), built at 700-800m above sea level, about an hour’s drive from Thessaloniki. Its 1000 residents (double the number in summer) are mainly sheep & goat breeders or well-off pensioners returning from abroad. A lively village with a long history dating back to 700 b.c.

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Not a lot has changed since 1958, save for modern electricity cables and solar panels


It was a very short visit, but within a day we saw wonderful old houses built of stone and wood, met hospitable people – curious as ever to meet new visitors, woke up to crisp mountain air, spied the lady tending her bees in the garden across from ours; we paid respects to our ancestors, got soaked in a torrential summer rain and admired the unique wooden temple in the Church of St. George, built in 1844 in the centre of the village.

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Seems like an oddity but, actually, a common sight in many a Greek village: modern villas built by pensioners returning from abroad – the reverse immigration phenomenon

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Spot the bee keeper

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Reconnecting with one’s roots is refreshing but only if it comes in small amounts. Clearly an urbanite, I wouldn’t last very long away from the soothing anonymity of the big city.

Eratyra is easily reached by car or public transportation (bus). If you are curious, you may find more info about Eratyra, its history and culture, on this website: www.eratyra.gr, complete with many more photos. What’s more, it is fully translated in English!

Shared photo credits (Lia & Konstantinos)

11-12 September 2014