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Greece: the really big picture

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A giant Kodak photo montage titled "The Whole of Greece In One Smile" and made with 16,609 individual pictures of Greeks, takes up more than 5,000 square feet of space at Syntagma Square in Athens. The photo montage sets a new Guiness Book of World Records benchmark and broke the previous record, also held by Kodak, for a 12,012 photo montage in St. Petersburg, Russia. This massive picture of pictures also won a gold award for Kodak at the recent Hellas Effie 2004 Awards which are presented annually by the New York American Marketing Association.

Kodak issued a press release stating that it created the montage to honor the citizens of Greece in keeping with the company's historic association with the Olympics. George Eastman who founded Kodak, began the company's association with the Games in 1896 - when he placed an advertisement for the Athens Games.

Kodak Near East GM Lazaros Piatopoulos made the following remarks about the photomontage.

"We decided to create something that would give all visitors to Athens the chance to share in the spirit of the Olympic Games. The people of Greece were invited to send a picture and be part of history in the largest-ever photographic montage. The photos of the 16,609 Greeks that responded made up the face of a child whose smile looks at the future with hope and awaits the Athens 2004 Olympic Games with pride."

Posted on March 29, 2004 in Business | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Apollo, come and light my fire

040325_torch.jpgMore than 10,000 spectators, including athletes, officials and the media, gathered at Olympia today to witness the lighting of the Olympic flame. In a recreation of the ancient Olympic ceremony, Thalia Prokopiou, a Greek actress playing the high priestess, used a steel mirror and summoned the ancient god of light Apollo to do his bit and bring the flame to life at the Temple of Hera.

The lighting of the flame marks the start of the Olympic Torch Relay. The Olympic flame, in the hands of 3,600 torchbearers, will be taken to 34 cities around the world and will include, for the first time, stops in Africa and South America. You can follow the progress of the Olympic Torch Relay and learn more about the places it stops at along the way on the Athens 2004 website.

The day of the this ceremony was chosen to coinside with the date the first modern Olympics opened in Athens in 1896. It also falls on the same day as Greek Independence Day and the Feast of the Annunication. Which means that parades and parties will take place today, in Greece and around the world.

Posted on March 25, 2004 in Culture, Olympics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Greek cuisine: start with starters

040322_mezes.jpgMeze (or mezethes) are Greek appetizers or meal starters. somewhat equivalent to Spanish tapas, French hors d'oeuveurs, Italian antipasti and similar small dishes found throughout the mediterranean region. In Greece, nibbling on meze is an essential prelude to big meals and sometimes becomes the whole meal during daytime dining. The simplest type of meze usually consist of a plate of olives, cheese (usually feta or kefalotyri), tomato, cucumber and maybe a hardboiled egg. More elaborate meze include dips like tzatziki (yogurt, cucumber and garlic), taramo-salata (fish roe paste and bread), melitzano-salata (eggplant, green pepper, garlic, similar to babaganoush), revythosalata (chick peas, garlic, olive oil, lemon, similar to humous) and skordalia (potato or bread, garlic, oil and lemon).

Filo or flaky pastry meze are served cold or hot and include tyropita (feta cheese pie), spanakopita (spinach pie) or spanakotyropita, a combination of the two. Vegetables meze include horiatiki salata (village salad with tomatoes, cucumber, onions, herbs, olives and feta cheese), melitzanes tiganites (fried eggplant), kolokythakia (cooked string beans) and horta (boiled wild greens, served cold with olive oil).

Dolmades (vine leaves stuffed with rice and meat), keftedes (meat balls with egg, breadcrumbs, tomatoes, onions, herbs and mint, fried in olive oil) and souvlaki (pork chunks flavored with olive oil, lemon and herbs, grilled on on skewers) are popular meat-based meze. Seafood meze include marides , garides (fried shrimp), kalamarakia (small squids, fried whole, they're eaten ink, guts and all) and kalamari (squid, filleted, sliced into rings and fried).

040322_meze_book.jpgDiane Kochilas, the doyenne of Greek cusine authors, has written the definitive book on meze called Meze : Small Plates to Savor and Share from the Mediterranean. Here's a description of what's in the book, from the editorial review on Amazon.com:

Early on in Meze Diane Kochilas, award-winning author of The Glorious Foods of Greece, sets the prototypic meze stage: two village codgers holding down either side of a small table; two glasses and a carafe of raki between them; a plate with some bread, olives, air-dried anchovies, cucumber sticks, and cheese. They do not sit at the table so much as beside the table, the better to take in the world.

And thus it is with meze. It's not about sitting down to eat as much as being present to exchange ideas, enjoy a glass of wine or spirits, and snack on taste treats that enliven the palate and pull all the threads of the whole into one. Kochilas divides Meze into "Dips, Spreads, and Relishes"; "Savory Salads"; "Small Egg Dishes"; "Phyllo Pies"; "Finger Foods and Fried Treats"; "Vegetable and Bean Mezethes"; "A Sea's Bounty"; "From Meatballs to Kebabs"; and, the "Meze Pantry."

On a health-related note, Kafeneo would like to point out that meze are not the place to start if you are looking to adopt mediterrean cusine to lower your colesterol levels. As much as we love 'em, meze are full of yogurt, cheeses, eggs, meat, shellfish and lots and lots of olive oil, which means that they taste great but are hard for your arteries. Although we can't help but notice that those old codgers mentioned in Kochilas' book feast on mezes, wine and ouzo on a daily basis and live to be a hundred. What's their secret, the weather?

Posted on March 22, 2004 in Food & Drink | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Pack a hardhat this summer

040318_karaiskaki.jpgSteve Woodward of ESPN visits Athens to report on Olympic preperations and decides to annoit the construction "hardhat as the official must-have item for Olympic fans this summer."

This summer, in traffic-snarled, punctuality-challenged Athens -- where the new cinematic box office smash is "Three Men and a Shovel" -- I promise the hardhat will be the accessory that has us all queuing up at the official merchandise kiosks.

Woodward thinks that among other things, Athens' legendary traffic woes, blistering heat and falling stadium roof panels --not terrorists-- will be more likely sources of concern for visitors this summer.

Athens deserves to host the Games. It is a special place with a unique bond to the Olympic ideal. Plus, when one adds up the traffic gridlocks, the erratic driving, the heavy machinery, the tight construction deadlines (and what this implies for quality and safety), the anticipated seasonal (90-plus degree) heat, the billows of second-hand smoke, and the unavoidable fact that, as far as I can tell, there is only one Starbucks in all of Athens ... the only intelligent conclusion is that the terrorists are likely to summer in Afghanistan.

But just in case, I'm packing that hardhat. What style-conscious infidel would be without one?

Posted on March 18, 2004 in Athens, Humor | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Colossus of Maroussi

040315_colossus.jpgIn 1939, the controversial American writer Henry Miller decided to leave Paris and pay his friend Laurence Durell a visit in Corfu. Laurence had written to Miller many times inviting him to come to Corfu but it took the outbreak of World War II for Miller to get moving. In Miller's own words:

War is not just war: it is a universe which each one explores to a different end. Myself, I am terrified of it… As long as I have two legs to run with I shall run from it, and if necessary, crawl away on all fours… Even if what I see about me is Hell, it is Life just the same, and I prefer this life of hell to the gamble of war. I love life above truth, above honor, above friends, country, God or anything.

While in Greece Miller went on a pre-war romp through Athens, Crete. the Saronic islands and the Peleponnese. The Colosus of Maroussi is the book Miller wrote to chronicle his adventures in Greece. The Colossus that Miller immortalized in his book was George Katsimbalis, a Greek poet that he met, travelled with and was inspired by while in Greece. The book, now regarded as a modern travel classic, crackles with Miller's manic energy and feverish enthusiasm about the people, places and spirit of Greece at the time.

. . . to move from place to place in Greece is to become aware of the stirring fateful drama of the race as it circles from paradise to paradise. Each half is a stepping stone along a path market by the gods.

Miller's Colossus of Maroussi along with Laurence Durell's Prospero's Cell (about Corfu) and Reflections of a Marine Venus (about Rhodes), Gerald Durell's My family and Other Animals, Partrick Leigh Fermor's Roumeli and Mani books helped to shape the post-war image of Greece as an earthly paradise in western popular imagination that in turn fueled the tourism boom that has transformed the country since the sixties.

Posted on March 15, 2004 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More than 190 185 people killed in Madrid

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Powerful explosions ripped through three Madrid train stations during the morning rush hour today, killing scores of people. No group has admitted responsibility but Spain's government blames the Basque seperatist group ETA for the attacks. More at the Guardian website, including pictures at the scene.

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Posted on March 11, 2004 in Breaking News, Europe | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Not your ordinary bouzouki music

040310_rgcdgreece.jpgWhen you think of Greek music its hard to get past the bouzouki licks popularized in movies like Zorba the Greek in the late sixties. Yet the diverse cultural forces of east and west that collide in Greece have spawned a very wide range of unique Greek musical styles that were rarely heard outside the country and the Greek diaspora. They include mainland demotika, nisiotika island music, popular laika, folksy entechna and the blues-like rembetika as well as pop and rock styles that incorporate traditional elements.

The Rough Guide to Music of Greece is a good starting point to sample this wide range of Greek music. This compilation CD will reward adventurous listeners with a 21 songs from some of the best-known Greek musical artists including Stelios Kazantzidis, Sotiria Bellou, Eleftheria Arvanitaki, Mikis Theodoakis and Glykeria (listen to an MP3 clip from Glykeria's Piga Se Magisses).

This disc is also an enhanced CD that can be viewed on PC and Mac computers and includes information on Greek music and travel from the Rough Guide books. Here is a snippet from the Rough Guide to World Music on the music of Greece that's included on the Rough Guide to Music of Greece:

Greek music, like most aspects of the country, is a fortuitous mix of east and west. The older songs of the folk (or dhimotiká) tradition are invariably in Eastern-flavoured minor scales, with antecedents both in Byzantine religious chant or secular song, and in Turkish and Iranian music through the centuries of Ottoman rule. The flavour of the Orient is even more immediately evident in the blues-like rembétika music, which had its heyday in the 1920s and '30s, and has been revived at various intervals since.

The discography from The Rough Guide to World Music for the music of Greece is also available online.

Posted on March 10, 2004 in Entertainment, Music | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Athens transformed

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In Athens: An Olympian Metamorphosis, New York Times writer Michael Mewshaw visits the capital city and looks at it's transformation in the runup to the 2004 summer Olympics.

In the past, whatever Athens's shortcomings, it remained resolutely Greek. Now, critics claim, it's becoming just another European city, with a McDonald's across from Parliament and designer boutiques surrounding the 11th-century church of Kapnikarea. The celebrated Cafe Zonars, for a century a hangout for writers and intellectuals, recently shut down to make way for a mall; streets are clotted with S.U.V.'s; sushi and feng shui knickknacks have put in implausible appearances; and men have quit letting their pinkie fingernails grow long to prove that they're city folks, not country people who work with their hands.

All wrong! Athens's defenders argue. Such faultfinding is simple-minded Zorba-ism, a mindless misreading of reality. With a boost from the Olympics, Athens is becoming a fusion city, a bridge between Europe and the Middle East. When the Games begin this August in front of tens of thousands of visitors and millions of television viewers, Greece will showcase its entrepreneurial spirit, contemporary arts and surprising culinary sophistication.

When Mewshaw asks about the city's notorious pollution and blistering heat one Athenian offers this piece of irrefutable Greek logic.

When I asked a Greek how people would weather the heat and nefos this summer, he laughed and said the athletes are already polluted with pills and performance-enhancing drugs. ''A few exhaust fumes shouldn't hurt them.''

Posted on March 9, 2004 in Athens, Modern Life | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

New party in the house

040308_newparty.jpgThe center-right New Democracy party, led by Costas Karamanlis, will form the next government in Greece after a decisive win in Sunday's general elections. Shortly after the polls closed, Socialist leader George Papandreou conceded defeat and the country erupted into street parties, with car horns blaring, flags waving and fireworks bursting in the sky overhead. Karamanlis, 47, becomes the youngest prime minister in modern Greek history.

Posted on March 8, 2004 in Current Affairs, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Celebrity Olympics

Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie is the first high-profile celebrity to accept an invitation to be a torchbearer of the Olympic Flame in the final stage of its international relay around five continents. In her acceptance letter to organizers Jolie wrote that "I would consider it an honour to run with the Olympic torch as a gesture of hope for refugees and to express my active support for sport and world peace" and noted that "the preferred time for me to run would be 1800 or 1900 hours."

Jolie starred as Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider action movies, the second of which was partially filmed on the Greek island of Santorini. In the fall she will be seen in Oliver Stone's swords-and-sandals epic Alexander.

Posted on March 5, 2004 in Entertainment, Olympics | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

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