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Photo: Tom Blackie via Flickr
The Avenue of Sphinxes on the Al-Kabbash road in Luxor. Recently, a previously unknown sphinx was discovered by construction workers.

Every day new discoveries. Today I have a story about a recent discovery in Egypt. But first, to refresh your classical memory, the mythological creature called a sphinx has the body of a lion and the head of a human. Although the most famous sphinx story — the one that involved Oedipus — took place in Greece, all the statues of sphinxes are in Egypt.

Naomi Rea writes at artnet news, “A previously unknown statue of a sphinx has been discovered in Egypt, the general director of Luxor Antiquities, Mohamed Abdel Aziz, announced [in August].

“Construction workers upgrading the historic Al-Kabbash Road between the famous Luxor and Karnak temples stumbled upon the find, the English-language Egypt Today reports. …

“The Ministry of Egyptian Antiquities is developing a way to lift the newfound statue from its resting place. … In the meantime, construction work has been paused on the road and the Minister of Antiquities, Khaled al-Anani, is encouraging tourists to visit the site to see the statue.

“A researcher in Egyptology, Bassam al-Shamma, told Egyptian media that the find is not altogether surprising as many similar sphinx statues have been found across Luxor. Several new discoveries have been found in recent years, and the road is already lined with many other small stone versions of the mythical creatures dating from around 1400 BC. …

“The mythical creature of the sphinx has the head of a human and the body of a lion. In ancient Greek tradition, the sphinx’s head is often a merciless female. … For the Egyptians, though, the guardian creature was seen as benevolent, and the heads of the statues were often carved in the likeness of pharaohs. This is the case with the famous Great Sphinx; the monumental statue is thought to have been sculpted in likeness of the pharaoh Khafra.

“Other famous Egyptian sphinxes include a granite example with the head of the pharaoh Hatshepsut, which is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The Great Sphinx of Tanis in the Louvre is one of the largest sphinxes outside of Egypt.”

More at artnet, here

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Photo: Breeder gallery
The Breeder gallery in Athens has helped bring international attention to contemporary Greek artists. With all sorts of people thinking more creatively in the economic crisis, Greece is showing signs of revitalization.

My high school classmate Pat posted lovely vacation pictures this spring that reminded me of a long-ago tour of the wonders of ancient Greek art. Those wonders are still there to enjoy, and now, it seems, contemporary artists are adding a modern vibe that is bringing energy back to a country that was recently in danger of collapse.

Charly Wilder reports at the New York Times, “There are places we live and places we visit, and then there are the other places. Places we return to, where we put down roots, but not strong enough roots to hold us — places that change us, that we haunt and are haunted by. Nowhere embodies this for me more than Athens, a city I’ve watched shift and evolve, endure crisis and chaos and economic collapse, and yet emerge from the wreckage as one of the continent’s most vibrant and significant cultural capitals, more popular than ever as a tourist destination….

“Neighborhoods that were rundown and neglected have become seed beds for the arts, like Metaxougio, which not long ago was best known for its junk stores and Asian groceries, but now hosts the thriving multispace Bios and one of the city’s most important contemporary galleries, The Breeder, which has helped bring international attention to Greek talent like the painter Sofia Stevi and Stelios Faitakis, a street artist whose murals evoke Albrecht Dürer and Diego Rivera. …

” ‘It’s been interesting and hellish,’ said Theodosis Michos. … Back in 2006, he was a staff writer for Esquire Greece, but like almost all the Greeks I know, the crisis left Theodosis out of work. …

“‘We all got fired or we quit because we weren’t getting paid,’ he said. And yet in 2013, arguably the lowest point of the crisis, Theodosis was part of a collective that launched Popaganda, an online magazine that covers culture and city life through an Athenian lens. ‘The first thing we did to resist the crisis psychologically was to tell ourselves again and again: O.K., we are artists, we are writers, this is the best time for us, because when artists have nothing, they can do anything,’ he said, adding that this isn’t actually true. ‘We told ourselves this so many times, that we started to believe it.’ …

” ‘It’s like the whole world is coming on vacation to Greece [now],” said Fotis Vallatos, the travel editor of Blue Magazine, the in-flight publication of Greece’s largest airline, Aegean Airlines. …

“As tourism has increased, Aegean Airlines expanded from 18 mostly Greek destinations in 2001 to 145 all over the world today. Fotis is now often on the road, exploring those destinations and the many inventive restaurants and visitor attractions that have emerged in Greece since the crisis, from a wave of young chefs using Nordic, French and East Asian cooking techniques on local ingredients, to a multitude of ‘second-act producers,’ people left unemployed or underemployed who returned to the villages where they grew up and began to sell homemade, organic, artisanal Greek products — to phenomenal results.

“ ‘I think everybody became more creative after the crisis, more cooperative,’ he said.”

Read more about this renaissance at the New York Times, here.

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I’ve been meaning to share a charmingly illustrated 1986 publication called The Book of Holidays around the World. The author is Alice van Straaten.

Her entry for January 1 mentions the Rose Bowl Parade, of all things, and how it was launched in 1890 in imitation of the Festival of Flowers in Nice, France.

She also describes a celebration in Greece honoring St. Basil: “Children go from door to door, carrying an apple, a paper ship — or a paper star — and receive coins for singing calends, carols of good wishes for the year.”

(Kind of makes me think of going door-to-door at day camp on Fire Island with a list of scavenger-hunt needs. Of course, in that case, you’d be asking for a paper ship or an apple, not carrying items to the houses. Summer renters were very tolerant of scavenger hunts. Today, you’d probably want to do a scavenger hunt only where you knew the neighbors.)

I’ll conclude with one more tradition, highlighted on the website Watching the Swedes.

“Almost every New Year’s Eve since 1896, a well-known person has stood on the stage at a Swedish open-air museum and recited the poem ‘Ring out Wild Bells’ by Lord Alfred Tennyson written in 1850. This may seem weird, but nowadays, the event is televised and attracts a large public. Translated into Swedish, the poem is called ‘Ring Klocka Ring’ and it has a very meaningful and deep content as we leave one year and enter into another.

“Various famous people, mostly actors, have had the honour of delivering this rousing poem throughout the years. Of the 20 narrators so far, only one has been a woman. However, this year the second female narrator – popular opera singer Malena Ehrman – will take the stage.”

Art: Edmund Dulac
Father Time, featured in The Book of Holidays around the World.

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Swedish friends of ours have a home on the Greek island of Samos, where boatloads of refugees are landing every day. The family is collecting donations, buying bread, water bottles, diapers, and such, and delivering them to exhausted but grateful families. I will paste here the Facebook translation of the Swedish post, which may not be quite accurate, but you get the picture.

My Mom wrote yesterday:
It has blown hard in the last few days. Looking from the terrace, you can see the coast guard boat coming with inflatable boats on a trailer full of refugees. In the night 200 came, many families with children. Got together with J– and shared out approximately 100 bagettes without meat (Bedun Lachum) but with potatoes, eggs and mayonnaise, croissants, biscuits — also gave out diapers and wipes. The kids have priority always. The next delivery is 50 packages of diapers and 120 packages biscuits. Another 2000 Bottles of water were ordered.”

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The blogger at A Musical Life on Planet Earth — who has been healing from an injury suffered when he nearly tripped on an eager toddler in a music class — doesn’t need to be told that music is healing.

But for the rest of us, a new study from Greece on music and heart health might be enlightening. Tom Jacobs writes at Pacific Standard, “There are many ways of reducing your risk of a heart attack. A healthy diet. Regular exercise. And don’t forget your daily dose of Dylan or Debussy.

“A newly published, small-scale study from Greece finds listening to either classical or rock music positively impacts two important predictors of cardiovascular risk. The effects are particularly pronounced for classical music fans, who, in the study, had a more robust physiological response to music of either genre.

“ ‘These findings may have important implications, extending the spectrum of lifestyle modifications that can ameliorate arterial function,’ a research team led by cardiologist Charalambos Vlachopoulos of Athens Medical School writes in the journal Atherosclerosis. ‘Listening to music should be encouraged in everyday activities.’

“The pulse waves of one’s circulatory system and the rigidity of one’s arteries are related but independent predictors of morbidity and mortality. Essentially, the stiffer one’s blood vessel walls become, the greater the pulse pressure, and the harder the heart has to work to pump blood into the arteries. This can lead to higher blood pressure and an increased strain on the heart. …

“The participants, described as ’20 healthy individuals,’ visited the lab three times. On each occasion, baseline measurements of aortic stiffness and pulse wave reflections were taken following a half-hour rest period.

“They then either listened to a half-hour of classical music (primarily excerpts from J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suites); a half-hour of rock (including tracks by Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Green Day); or a similar period of silence. …

“The key result: both indicators were lower after participants listened to either genre of music. … More at Pacific Standard here.

And you can listen to to Will McMillan’s healing singing at A Musical Life on Planet Earth, here.

Will McMillan

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Back in the day, I was a great fan of Mary Renault. I took her every word as gospel, down to the conversations Theseus had with Ariadne, because the stories generally meshed with what I knew from studying ancient Greek.

The Bull from the Sea was about the sea god Poseidon, who also is the god of earthquakes. I remember Renault’s description of the eerie stillness in the air before an earthquake and the strange behavior of the creatures.

So I am not at all surprised to read in the Washington Post that animals at the National Zoo knew before this week’s earthquake actually quaked that something was about to happen.

“The zoo documented a broad range of animal behavior before, during and after the tremor … . For example, a gorilla, Mandara, shrieked and grabbed her baby, Kibibi, racing to the top of a climbing structure just seconds before the ground began to shake dramatically. Two other apes — an orangutan, Kyle, and a gorilla, Kojo — already had dropped their food and skedaddled to higher turf. The 64 flamingos seemed to sense the tumult a number of seconds in advance as well, clustering together in a nervous huddle before the quake hit. One of the zoo’s elephants made a low-pitched noise as if to communicate with two other elephants. And red-ruffed lemurs emitted an alarm cry a full 15 minutes before the temblor, the zoo said.

“During the quake, the zoo grounds were filled with howls and cries. The snakes, normally inert in the middle of the day, writhed and slithered. Beavers stood on their hind legs and then jumped into a pond. Murphy the Komodo dragon ran for cover. Lions resting outside suddenly stood up and stared at their building as the walls shook. Damai, a Sumatran tiger, leaped as if startled but quickly settled down. Some animals remained agitated for the rest of the day, wouldn’t eat and didn’t go to sleep on their usual schedule.” Read the full story.

And while we’re on the subject, please read about 96 percent of a certain kind of male toad abandoning their breeding ground five days before the 2009 L’Aquila, Italy, earthquake! (That lead came via Andrew Sullivan’s blog.)

 

 

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