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GREECE AND CHINA TIGHTEN TIES
GREECE CONGRATULATES PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA
THE ECONOMY: COPING WITH THE CRISIS
CYPRUS PRESIDENT IN ATHENS
GREEK PRESIDENCY OF THE OSCE: “A CHALLENGE WE ARE DETERMINED TO MEET”
CLASSICAL GREEK POLITICAL VALUES
HELLENIC AID TO DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
FIGHTING PIRACY: GREEK COMMANDER IN CHARGE OF EU SOMALIA OPERATION “ATALANTA”
ANTIQUITIES RETURN HOME
Chinese President’s Historic Visit to Athens
GREECE AND CHINA TIGHTEN TIES
An important step forward in relations between Greece and China was marked by the three-day state visit to Athens, November 24-26, by Hu Jintao, president of the People’s Republic of China. The visit, described as a “historic event,” followed the close collaboration between the two countries when, as China prepared for the 2008 Olympic Games, Greece provided Beijing with the experience and expertise it gained in mounting the previous Athens Games in 2004.
President Hu Jintao, who arrived with a large delegation of officials, was greeted at Athens airport by his host President Karolos Papoulias and Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis. A brief private discussion with his guest later in the day was followed by a longer meeting, attended by the foreign and merchant marine ministers, who discussed bilateral and international issues: the global economic crisis, the Middle East situation, Balkan developments, and the international role of the European Union. After the meeting, the Greek president said that relations between the two countries are more than just friendly and cooperative. They are, he said, “strategic.” On his part, the Chinese president described ways to develop bilateral relations, including, in addition to those in the economic sector and tourism, the enlargement of cultural exchanges and the utilization of cultural resources to enable “friendship to take root in the hearts of people.”
In addition to protocols signed on a number of issues in the course of the visit, three bilateral agreements were also signed, the main one being the 35-year contract, worth €3.3 billion, awarding the Piraeus port container terminal’s management to COSCO Pacific Ltd, transforming the Greek port into an EU hub for Chinese goods. Mr. Karamanlis spoke of China’s important role in global economic developments. He referred also to the agreement signed with COSCO which, he said, will help Greece to evolve as a transit hub for the whole of southern Europe. The shipping sector, he said, is a “strategic field of cooperation,” noting the significant part played by Greek-owned shipping in the transport of goods from China and in its collaboration with Chinese shipyards. Cooperation in other fields is moving ahead. The Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE) sealed its cooperation with the Chinese Telecommunications Company (HUAWEI), while the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) agreed to exchange television programs with the China Central Television (CCTV).
The Chinese president’s visit to Greece concluded with a visit to Heraklion, the largest town on the island of Crete, where he was greeted at a luncheon in his honor by Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis. President Hu’s group visited the Knossos archaeological site and the museum of the city as well as a number of the island’s installations for the production of premium olive oil. They were greeted warmly by children waving Greek and Chinese flags. Expressing the pleasure of his group, President Hu said: “From the moment we set foot on the island’s soil, we were enchanted by its long history and we felt the love and friendship bestowed on us by the people of Crete . . . The ancient civilizations of the east and the west cross each other here and have left valuable cultural heritages.” On her part, the Greek FM in an interview with the Chinese news agency Xinhua said: “Our countries represent two great civilizations that developed concurrently and exerted a very significant influence on eastern and western philosophical and scientific thought.”
On a Landmark Victory
GREECE CONGRATULATES PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA
The victory of Barack Obama in the November elections for the US presidency was warmly greeted by Greece’s political leaders. In his message to the President-elect, Greek President Karolos Papoulias said that Senator Obama’s victory “has already produced a breath of fresh air.” He said also that “the large Greek American community has shown its appreciation of your position on issues of Greek interest and I hope that during your term in office, Greek-US relations will become stronger and thrive even more.”
In the same vein, Greece’s Prime Minister, Kostas Karamanlis, offered his sincere congratulations on Obama’s “landmark victory” and looked forward to a meeting in the near future. He joined President Papoulias in thanking the president-elect for his “dear and steadfast” position on issues of Greek interest. “We will be looking forward,” he said, “to working closely with your administration … and in developing and enhancing our relations, in all fields.” Contact between Mr. Karamanlis and the president-elect was more personal in a telephone conversation on December 3 when the Greek prime minister renewed his congratulations, with the assurance that “Greece will provide its full support for the fulfillment of the great hopes that his election has created.” On his part, the president-elect spoke of the fruitful role of Greek-Americans, among whom he has good friends. He further spoke of his appreciation of Greece’s role in Europe and in its wider region. He hoped for an early opportunity to visit Greece for the first time. The Greek PM has also sent his warm congratulations to Vice President-elect Joe Biden.
In her comment on Obama’s election, Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said that Greece now looked forward to an era of great changes and of good cooperation with the US. The Greek government, she said, hoped for meetings as soon as possible with the President-elect and his aides, particularly in view of Greece’s assumption of the presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) from January 1st, 2009.
Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis called on the phone to congratulate Vice-President-elect Joe Biden and to wish him success in the work ahead. From his long career in the US Senate and Foreign Affairs Committee, Biden has a deep knowledge of the issues of particular interest and concern to Greece.
COPING WITH THE CRISIS
The state budget for 2009, presented at the end of November by Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis, envisages a 2.7 % growth of the economy, only moderately down from an estimated 3.2 % growth this year. This, the minister said, is an indication of strong resistance to the pressures of the global economic crisis and of the successful reforms implemented by the government since 2004.The budget foresees a reduction of the inflation rate from 4.3 percent this year to 3.0 percent in 2009, with a very slight decline in private consumption. Most of these forecasts are reflected also in the latest semi-annual report of the OECD.
According to the latest figures released by the Greek National Statistical Service, Gross Domestic Product increased by 3.1% in the third quarter of 2008 as against the same quarter of 2007.
Stimulating the Real Economy
An important step in support of the real economy was taken by the government’s supply of 28 billion euro in a program to ensure the liquidity of the banking system. The program was approved by the European Commission on November 19 as consistent with its rules on state subsidies. Subsequently, the plan was voted by the Greek Parliament. PM Costas Karamanlis said that “while the banks’ participation in the government’s package in support of market liquidity is voluntary, no one can recklessly say no to the common effort.” The government, he stressed, will not allow banks to require conditions or interest rates worse than those of the EU countries. They have an obligation to display social sensitivity.
At the same time Mr. Karamanlis in visits around the country has announced a series of concerted financial measures to supporting the most vulnerable sections of society (farmers, pensioners, the unemployed, low income groups, etc.,) under duress due to global financial crisis.
CYPRUS PRESIDENT IN ATHENS
During a three-day state visit to Athens, November 26-28, the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Demetris Christofias, found complete agreement with the Greek leadership on the aims of his government in its current negotiations with the leaders of the island republic’s Turkish Cypriot minority.
After his meeting with Mr. Christofias, Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis said that the negotiations must continue until agreement is reached, compatible with UN resolutions, international law and the principles of the EU. That resolution, Mr. Karamanlis said, should comprise a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, providing for a single federal state with a single sovereignty, nationality and international identity. Any departure from these requirements, he added, would be counter to UN resolutions and previous agreements. The prime minister said also that Turkey’s policies on Cyprus and in the Aegean, as revealed in recent incidents (see below), give rise to serious concerns
A similar review of the issue was conducted in the meeting between the Cypriot and Greek presidents. Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots, the president of Cyprus said, do not share the objective of a federal solution. Greece’s president, Karolos Papoulias, observed that “Turkey’s position until now and its practices in the Eastern Mediterranean do not allow for much optimism.” A solution to the Cyprus issue, he added, “presupposes a change in Turkey’s strategic outlook.” It is a pity, he observed, that “the benefits of Cyprus’s accession to the EU and the eurozone cannot be fully enjoyed by all its residents.”
Meanwhile, in letters to the UN secretary-general, the president of Cyprus has made strong protests against the harassment by Turkish warships of research vessels operating within the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus, forcing them into dangerous maneuvers and changes of location. Providing detailed accounts of three such incidents, Mr. Christofias expresses his dismay at the “aggressive actions” and says: “The continuation of these incidents, I am sad to observe, unavoidably impacts negatively on our efforts to reach a negotiated solution to the Cyprus problem.” A similar complaint was entered by the UN representative of Cyprus, observing that, despite complaints to the relevant international authorities, “the harassment of vessels by Turkish warships within the exclusive economic zone of the Republic of Cyprus has continued unabated.”
“A Challenge We Are Determined to Meet”
GREEK PRESIDENCY OF THE OSCE
The assumption by Greece on January 1st of the presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was described by Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis as assuming the role of an “honest broker.” Speaking in Athens on November 13, she said that the task ahead is to strengthen the organization’s role in early warning, crisis prevention and management. Succeeding Finland in the presidency of the organization, she said that Athens will focus its efforts on the Caucasus and Central Asia, especially on the situation after the crisis in Georgia. This, she said, she had discussed in a recent meeting in Athens with the Georgian foreign minister. She had also had the opportunity to discuss the matter with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
The Greek FM also said that Greece is prepared to host a summit sometime next year on a new security architecture of Europe if it is given a clear mandate by the Organization’s 56-members. In an interview with Reuters on December 2, Ms. Bakoyannis said that OSCE observers in Georgia must be able to return. “We must be able to have a complete realistic picture of what’s really happening,” she stressed.
Moreover, during the OSCE’s ministerial conference in Helsinki (December 4-5) Ms. Bakoyannis briefing the press announced that the first Greek initiative will be to organize “a conference on women and terrorism in Athens —the birthplace of human rights which developed to the democracy we cherish to this day—under the Acropolis this coming spring to bring together community and leaders, scholars and victims.” The conference will take place in Athens in the spring of 2009.
Greece and Pakistan will co-chair the Board of Directors of this initiative, which has the support of the United States and is part of the framework of the Women Leaders Labor Group that was created in 2006.
CLASSICAL GREEK POLITICAL VALUES
On November 14, the Huffington Post website posted an article by the Greek Ambassador Alexandros Mallias titled: “A New Beginning and the Wisdom of the Past: Why the Greek Classics Are Still Relevant.”
Taking cue from Barack Obama’s victory speech, Ambassador Mallias refers to the timeless value of ancient Greek writings, particularly those of Isocrates (his oration “On Peace”) and Thucydides (“History of the Peloponnesian War”) from which “one can draw lessons on how to treat allies, how to prepare for war, on the value of good advisors, warnings as to the arrogance, as well as the limits of power.” He then refers to the Founding Fathers and the Federalist Papers drawing inspiration from the classics, and concludes as follows:
“Restoring the Politics of Measure (Metron): Ancient Greeks recognized that man is but a small part of a greater whole, of an interrelated system of checks and balances, which they knew they must tread with moderation, paying the price when they didn’t… Today, we must remind ourselves that the safety of the world rests upon the realization that our fates are intertwined in a relation that requires balance and equilibrium, a blend of harmony, based on the essence of measure, of metron…But with few exceptions, thinkers and leaders have always considered the classics a basic tool of analysis, of understanding the sound criteria for decision-making in politics, diplomacy and geostrategy.”
Read the entire article at: www.huffingtonpost.com/amb-alexandros-p-mallias/a-new-beginning-and-the-w_b_143933.html
HELLENIC AID TO DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
Greece is a UN “Millennium Development Goals” contributor and grants $501million annually in foreign aid to third world countries, which amounts to 0.17% of its Gross National Income (2007), thus ranking 21st worldwide in Official Development Assistance (ODA), while aiming at the 2010 EU target of 0.51%.
Within the new strategy launched by the Foreign Affairs Ministry aiming at achieving Millennium Development Goals, Hellenic Aid (www.hellenicaid.gr) promotes humanitarian and food aid programs provided by NGOs and volunteerism, as well as co-operation among national NGO’s taking action in developing countries. Hellenic Aid is going to co-operate with USAID on several projects including renewable energy sources, as well as on Western Balkans (know-how, sustained development, property rights).
GREEK COMMANDER IN CHARGE OF EU SOMALIA OPERATION “ATALANTA”
Commodore Antonios Papaioannou has been appointed as the EU Force Commander of the first maritime operation called EU NAVFOR Somalia operation “Atalanta,” in order to contribute to the deterrence, the prevention and the repression of acts of piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast. The decision was taken by the EU on November 10, 2008.
The operation is launched in support of relevant UN Security Council Resolutions in order to contribute to protection of vessels of the WFP (World Food Program) delivering food aid to displaced persons in Somalia, and protection of vulnerable vessels cruising off the Somali coast, and the deterrence, prevention and repression of acts of piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast. The operation will be conducted in the framework of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP).
Atalanta, according to Greek mythology, was the only woman who took part in the Voyage of the Argonauts in search of the Golden Fleece. The operation is planned for a period of 12 months.
More information at: www.consilium.europa.eu/eu-navco
- As president of the Socialist International, Greece’s opposition leader George Papandreou urged “green growth” measures to achieve sustainable development and environmental protection. He spoke at a meeting in Vienna of the SI Commission headed by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, former vice-president of the World Bank, to consider measures to confront the global economic crisis.
- Greece signed a document of cooperation with the organizing committee of the Special Olympics World Games to be held in Athens in 2011. The event is expected to bring some 7,500 athletes and 2,500 coaches to the Greek capital, in addition to some 40,000 family members, 25,000 volunteers, and 3,000 journalists.
- As from January 2009, Athens is about to acquire one of the most modem bus fleets in Europe by taking delivery of 320 diesel-powered buses equipped with the latest and cleanest new technology. The new buses will bring the total fleet of natural gas-powered buses to 614—the largest in Europe.
- Development Minister Mr. Christos Folias, speaking in an Athens seminar on energy conservation, November 21, said that Greece is planning for more than 300 investments, totaling €1.2 billion, in photovoltaic systems that will nearly double Greece’s current capacity, adding 919 megawatts to its existing 1,100 megawatt system.
- According to Commitment to Development Index (CDI) Greece ranks 19th overall in 2008. The Index ranks 22 of the word’s richest countries based on their dedication to policies that benefit poor countries.
- The American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce held the “Greek Economy Conference, a two-day event (24-25.11.2008), in Athens. The annual event, under the auspices of the Ministry of Economy and Finance has taken place for the 19th successive year.
-Stavros Dimas, European Commissioner for the Environment, was voted “Commissioner of the Year” for this year’s European Voice awards. The Greek commissioner won recognition for his work in steering Community policy against climate change.
- The City of Athens is now on line in English (www.cityofathens.gr). It provides information on a multitude of topics, including children, women, senior citizens, volunteerism, environment, and offers a glimpse at activities in the city via an interactive events calendar, and much more.
- LIFE Magazine’s historic Photographic archive is now available on line through Google’s Image Search function. Out of 10 million photographs, Life Magazine (www.life.com) has already digitized 20%. Photographs which revolve around Greece’s political, cultural and social life stretch through the period 1948-1968.
- Record breaking Greeks: the largest pie ever baked received its due in the Guinness Book of Records. It was a giant “Bougatsa”, the delicious concoction of flaky pastry and custard cream which originated in Macedonia and is primarily to be found—and consumed- in the northern city of Thessaloniki. The record specimen, baked in a specially-built oven in the northern town of Serres, measured 20 meters long, 60 centimeters wide and weighed 182 kilos. Another entry into the Book, was made for the eighth time by retired postman Dimitris Pistiolas who owns the world’s largest collection of movie cameras-937 vintage models and projectors.
GREECE ON THE WEB
For further information and news regarding Greece visit:
Greek News Agenda, a daily online bulletin issued by the General Secretariat for Information (GSI) in Athens, Greece: www.greeknewsagenda.gr
The English edition of the SGI website: www.minpress.gr/en
The Embassy of Greece website at: www.greekembassy.org
The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs website at www.mfa.gr/ or the English edition at www.mfa.gr/en-US
The Athens News Agency (ANA)–Macedonian Press Agency site at: www.ana-mpa.gr
ANTIQUITIES RETURN HOME
The recent return (November 5) to Greece by the Vatican of a fragment of the Parthenon frieze is another example of a growing international sentiment favoring the eventual display, in the new state-of-the-art Acropolis Museum in Athens, of as many as possible remains of the ancient temple—foremost among them, the major sculptures removed from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin early in the 19th century and sold to the British Museum, where they are still displayed.
Welcoming the Vatican’s gesture at a special ceremony at the new Acropolis Museum attended by the Vatican’s ambassador to Greece, Greek Culture Minister Michalis Liapis remarked that the return “sets an example for others to follow and to eventually restore the unity of the Parthenon Marbles.” It is expected that at least one of the two remaining Parthenon fragments still displayed at the Vatican museum will be returned to Athens soon. And on September 23, during a state visit to Greece, Italy’s President, Giorgio Napolitano, handed to his Greek counterpart and host, President Karolos Papoulias, a fragment from the East Frieze of the Parthenon, until then displayed in a museum in Palermo, Sicily, noting that the gesture was part of the worldwide campaign to restore artifacts “torn from their context.” Similar gestures have been made with the return (September, 2006) by Heidelberg University in Germany of a piece of the Parthenon, a tiny sculpture of a foot, as well as by private collectors in Sweden (Birgit Wiger-Angner in November, 2006, and the Dahlgren family on Dec 2, 2008).
Among voices recently heard favoring the restitution to Athens of the Marbles was that of Ginny McGrath (Times Online, October 14), who writes of the “must see” new Museum which “quashes” the arguments against the return of the Marbles. She notes also the result of a Mori opinion poll of 2,100 people, of whom 69 percent of those familiar with the issue favored the return of the Marbles to Greece. Cable News Network (CNN) published (November 3) on its website an article by Eleni Gage titled “New Acropolis Museum Ready for Marbles,” quoting the museum’s architect Bernard Tschumi that the real proof of its success will be “to convince the world that the Elgin Marbles should come back and I believe it will.” And Financial Times columnist Peter Aspden, (“A manifesto for the Parthenon Marbles” FT, November 29, 2008) argues that the New Acropolis Museum, like the successful Athens 2004 Olympic Games, symbolizes modern Greece’s journey to self-confident maturity, and is therefore “worthy of celebration” with a public offer of a three-year “loan from the British Museum, of an important section of the Parthenon Marbles,” such as pieces removed “from the two pediments that dominated either end of the monument … They are magnificent pieces of storytelling, and those stories should be told, for once, in one place,” after which period they “should come to London for the opening of the Olympic Games of 2012 and remain there for four years.” By that time “there will be so much goodwill flowing from one country to the other that there will be regular meetings between the two institutions to discuss constructive strategies of co-operation.”
The recovery of Greek antiquities was further marked by the repatriation to Greece of two artifacts from the private collection of the American collector and philanthropist Shelby White. The two objects — a fragment of a funerary stele dating to 410-400 BC, and a bronze silver-inlaid krater dating to 340-320 BC — described as “rare and important,” were removed in illegal excavations and smuggled out of Greece. The Greek authorities agreed that White and her late husband acquired the objects in good faith. They will be on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, before being returned next year to their original sites.
A 14th century Byzantine icon, stolen in 1978 by smugglers from a Greek monastery in Serres, northern Greece, came home after the Greek embassy in London negotiated an arrangement with the agent for a private collector. The icon is one of the two sides, separated by the thieves to make it easier to smuggle out of the country. After restoration work, it will be returned to the monastery.
The ambassadors of Greece and Egypt hosted on November 12, at the Greek Embassy in Washington DC, a presentation by award-winning journalist Sharon Waxman of her recently published book Loot: The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World. The author traces the stories of pillaged heritage treasures like the Parthenon Marbles, the dubious means by which European and American museums acquired many antiquities, and the arguments concerning repatriation to countries of origin. A review of the book, published in the New York Times (November 7), was titled “Art of the Steal: Do Museums Own the Artifacts They Buy From Tomb Robbers?”
Restoring the Acropolis
Restoration work on the monuments of the Athens Acropolis are making rapid progress, said Culture Minister Mihalis Liapis after a recent tour of inspection. “The work to preserve and highlight the monuments,” he said, “provides a unique experience for visitors to the sacred rock, since a more comprehensive image of the Acropolis is formed that allows the monuments to be better recognized and understood.” Some 1,000 pieces of marble have been restored to their proper places since the restoration project began in the year 2000.
Work on the Propylaia entrance to the Acropolis, and on the roof of the Erectheion temple supported by the Caryatid figures, used a new laser technique which combines the use of ultraviolet and infra-red light; a network of seismic sensors and fibre optics are also used in the restoration work. The placement of some 200 missing stones is expected to be completed early next year. The restoration project also includes the installation at the new Acropolis Museum of a “virtual reality” room giving 3D tours—the first of its kind digital display in an archaeological museum—depicting the history and restoration of the buildings.
A worker at the archaeological site of Vergina in northern Greece shouted “Bomb!” as he uncovered a huge cylindrical copper vessel deep in the rubble of the archaeological digs at the site. He was wrong. The object turned out to be the most fascinating find to date at the site: an immense cylindrical copper vessel containing a similar slightly smaller one, untouched by time and itself containing a gold wreath of oak leaves covering human bones in water and plant roots. Archaeologists are excited by the unique find and, in their studies, will attempt to explain why, since it was worthy of a tomb, it was unearthed outside the extensive limits of the royal necropolis.
Another important archaeological discovery in northern Greece was made at an ancient cemetery in northern Greece, at Pella, where 43 graves dating from 650-279 BC have been uncovered. In the past eight years, a total of 915 such graves have been unearthed at an extensive burial ground at this birthplace of Alexander the Great. Some of the remains are of soldiers still with their helmets and swords and sheathed in elaborately illustrated gold foil. Other discoveries at the site, which supports the view that Pella was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Macedonia, include the elaborately adorned graves of 11 women.
Deciphering The Past: The Case of the Archimedes Palimpsest
Dr. William Noel, Curator of Manuscripts and Rare Books at the Walters Art Museum, at a lecture he delivered on December 3 at the Embassy of Greece, provided a fascinating look at the 13th-century prayer book known to conceal the texts of two treaties by Archimedes. Loaned to the museum by a private collector, the hidden texts are retrieved by conservators and deciphered by scientists and textual scholars.
The event was held in collaboration with the Harvard Center for Hellenic Studies, and Dr. Gregory Nagy, the Center’s Director, provided the introductory remarks.
At 2 p.m. on October 29th, 1997, at Christie’s auction house in New York, a very special old book was sold to an anonymous collector for $2 million. This collector deposited the manuscript at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore in order to conserve it, image it, and study it. This book contains seven treatises by the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes, two of which, “The Stomachion” and “The Method,” exist nowhere else in the world. This book is also the unique source for Archimedes’ treatise “On Floating Bodies” in its original Greek. The Archimedes Palimpsest, as this book is called, is the earliest surviving Archimedes manuscript by about 400 years, and it is the most important source for the diagrams that Archimedes drew in the sand in Syracuse, in the third century BC.
Image courtesy of the Walters Art Museum. A detailed description of the restoration efforts can be found at www.archimedespalimpsest.org/
Cretan Artists Exhibit
On October 22, an exhibition of Cretan artists, hosted at the Greek Embassy by Ambassador Mallias and the “Nikos Kazantzakis” Cretan Association of Greater Washington DC, was inaugurated by Greece’s Deputy Defense Minister Ioannis Plakiotakis. The exhibition included works by ten artists of Cretan ancestry, several of whom were either born or working in Washington, DC.
Ancient Greek Treasures from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore
Opening an exhibition of photographs of the Walters Art Museum Greek Art collection on November 19 at the Embassy of Greece, Ambassador Alexandros Mallias noted that this was a forerunner to a major exhibition of ancient Greek art, “Heroes! Morals and Myths in Ancient Greece,” due to open next autumn at the Walters.
Opening remarks were delivered by the Museum Director Dr. Gary Vican, as well as Dr. Sabine Albersmeier, Associate Curator of Ancient Art at the Walters, which has one of the largest and finest collections of ancient art in the country, including Egyptian, Near Eastern, Greek, Etruscan and Roman art.
Maria Callas Commemoration
On December 2nd 2008, and on the occasion of the 85 years since the birth of Maria Callas, a marble plaque was unveiled in her honor at the Terence Cardinal Cooke Hospital of Manhattan— the place of birth of the opera legend. The plaque, which will be on permanent display at the music hall of the hospital, was engraved by the Italian sculptor Luciano Massari, and it reads: “Callas, was born in this hospital on December 2, 1923. These halls heard for the first time the musical notes of her voice, a voice which has conquered the world. To this great interpreter of universal language of music, with gratitude.”
The special commemorative event was hosted by the Italian Cultural Association Maria Callas, the Consulates General of Greece and Italy in New York, the Italian Cultural Institute and the Athenaeum ICC-Grand Prix Maria Callas. The event, held in the presence of his Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, concluded with a performance of Ave Maria by young and talented soprano Jeanette Vecchione.
There is a continuous flow of exciting new books about Greece — the country and the people, history and culture, ancient and modern; we note some of these below:
Women Writing Greece: Essays on Hellenism, Orientalism and Travel, edited by Vassiliki Kolocotroni and Efterpi Mitsi (2008). The book is described by the publishers as an exploration of “images of modem Greece, by women who experienced the country as travelers, writers and scholars, or who journeyed there through the imagination. The essays assembled here consider women’s travel narratives, memoirs and novels, ranging from the eighteenth to the late twentieth century, focusing on the role of gender in travel and cross-cultural mediation and challenging stereotypical views of “the Greek journey,” traditionally seen as an antiquarian or Byronic pursuit. This collection aims to cast new light on women’s participation in the discourses of Hellenism and Orientalism, examining their ideological rendering of Greece as at once a luminous land and a site crossed by contradictory cultural memories. Arranged chronologically, the essays discuss encounters with Greece by, among others, Lady Elizabeth Craven, Lady Hester Stanhope, Lady Montagu, Lady Morgan, Mary Shelley, Felicia Skene, Emily Pfeiffer, Eva Palmer, Jane Ellen Harrison, Virginia Woolf, Ethel Smyth, Christa Wolf, Penelope Storace and Gillian Bouras, and analyze them through a variety of critical, historical, contextual and theoretical frames. ”
The Boundless Garden, selected short stories by Alexandras Papadiamandis, edited by Denise Harvey (2008). As reviewer Julian Evans notes in his essay An aesthetic of fatality in the Times Literary Supplement July 25, 2008) Alexandros Papadiamandis (1851- 1911), who has rarely been published in English, is by many Greeks considered to be “the saint of modern Greek storytelling, its Dickens or its Chekhov.” Papadiamandis explored themes of hardship, pain and loss — emigration, displacement and exile, lost innocence, paganism and the power of evil, urban solitude, the hazards of the sea, the shattering of a homogeneous past by the momentum of modernity — themes which, according to British scholar Phillip Sherrard, needed the restorative synthesis of poetry to be made bearable. The Boundless Garden is the first of a new three-volume English edition of Papadiamandis’s stories, initiated by Sherrard in the early 1990s (and co-edited by his widow, Denise Harvey).
The Lure of Greece: Irish Involvement in Greek Culture, Literature, History and Politics, edited by John Victor Luce, Christine Morris and Christina Souyoudzoglou-Haywood, was published (2008) on behalf of the Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies in Athens. The book’s 12 chapters derive from an IIHSA conference held in Galway on September 2003, examining the multi-faceted, intimate relationship between Greece and Ireland. For instance, in the opening chapter, Patrick Comerford tells the stories of Irish Philhellenes, including that of Sir Richard Church, who argued for the Independence of Greece at the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815, and was later Commander-in-Chief of the Greek army in the War of Independence.
Ancient Athens on 5 Drachmas a Day; Where to eat, drink and meet a philosopher - your guide to the cradle of Western culture (2008), is an entertaining guidebook by British writer Philip Matyszak, which travels readers back in time to 431 BC Athens, giving them a sense of what everyday life must have been like in the ancient city during the pinnacle of its glory. According to the New York Times “Armchair Traveler” (September 28), the book is “aimed at a modern audience but imagined as though for tourists back in the day, when the agora and Trajan’s market were as jumping as Times Square and Whole Foods. The result is clever, worldly and instructive. The double focus allows Mr. Matyszak to explain daily routines of the ancients, from afternoons at the theater to rituals of bathing, that today’s travel guides to sites in these cities usually skip.” The breezy commentary not only revivifies the ancient world “that longer-winded authors have encrusted with piety and pedantry, his unorthodox approach also sharpens our sense that the present, too, will soon be history. The travel guides we consult to find a trattoria near Piazza Navova may one day seem as foreign — and as revealing of an era marked by overwhelming plenty — as these fictional vade mecums.”
Under the heading “As Good as Great Poetry Gets,” the November 20 issue of The New York Review of Books published a long study by Daniel Mendelsohn (author, reporter, and literary critic, whose translations, with commentary, of Constantine Cavafy’s Unfinished Poems and the Collected Poems will be published in the spring of 2009) on the work of Greek poet Constantine Cavafy, on the 75th anniversary of his death. Noting that the poet was a member of “the fervid if declining peripheries of the cosmopolitan Greek Diaspora (Alexandria: always; never Athens),” which had a lasting influence on Cavafy’s themes, “particularly his lifelong penchant for exploring the margins, the obscurer realms of Greek history and geography . . . and, of course, the obscurer realms of erotic experience as well.” Mendelsohn comments that “being on the margins” was the key to Cavafy’s work — both “historical” and “sensual.” Cavafy’s poetry, “with its haunted memories of seethingly passionate encounters in the present and its astoundingly rich imagination of the remote Greek past, from Homer to Byzantium, from Alexandria and Rome to barely Hellenized provincial cities in the Punjab,” is timeless in the way we like to think that “great literature can be, alchemizing the particulars of a poet’s life, times, and obsessions into something relevant to a wide public over years and even centuries,” Mendelsohn writes.
A Thesaurus of the Greek Language
In her lifelong quest “to immortalize the Greek language,” Marianne McDonald, Professor of Theatre and Classics at the University of California, San Diego, and member of the Royal Irish Academy, founded the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, which she describes as “a data base for preserving and making accessible all the ancient Greek texts from Homer up to 600 AD, and now expanding into the Byzantine and modem eras.”
Ms. McDonald, who is best known for her work on ancient Greek drama, mythology, and modern versions of ancient classics in film, plays and opera, has been supervising two or three productions of her translations of Greek plays every year since 2000, and is also active in writing new translations, praised as “the most accessible for English speakers in the world today.” Her version of the “Trojan Women” is scheduled for performances in San Diego next January. Also planned for 2009 are performances of her translations of the “Bacchae” and of Euripides’ “Phoenician Women.” Her best-selling translation of “Antigone” was presented at the Delphi Festival, after its staging in Ireland, under the direction of South African playwright Athol Fugard (who placed his play “The Island” on a performance of “Antigone” in a South African prison to protest apartheid). For her work, McDonald has received, amongst other awards, Greece’s Order of the Phoenix and Italy’s Golden Aeschylus awards.
A Greek Wine Museum
Two thousand bottle-openers and corkscrews dating from the Middle Ages until today are among the exhibits at a show opened by President Karolos Papoulias in Thessaloniki, inaugurating the Gerovassiliou Wine Museum at the family vineyard . The museum displays the story of wine production in all its stages, from ancient times to the present, and provides information on the social, economic and symbolic significance of wine through the ages. Other displays concern the storage and preservation of wine, as well as its presentation and marketing.
The New York Times of November 3 published a long and appreciative obituary of the Greek-American director and famed Hollywood acting teacher Milton Katselas, who died on October 24, 2008, in Los Angeles, aged 75. He taught at one of LA’s oldest and most respected acting schools, The Beverly Hills Playhouse. His 30 years in Hollywood “raised him to guru status in the eyes of hundreds of actors, many of them famous.” The students at his “high-caliber Hollywood salon,” which included stars such as Gene Hackman, Tom Selleck, Michelle Pfeiffer, Alex Baldwin, Burt Reynolds, George Clooney, Kate Hudson, and Patrick Swayze, “remained deeply loyal, partly because the criticism Mr. Katselas offered was specific and pointed and partly because he spoke not only about the craft, but also about the profession of the actor, offering ideas on audition preparation and role selection.”
Katselas was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Greek immigrant parents, who had a tiny restaurant right outside the gates of a Westinghouse Electric plant. When Katselas was 14 years old, his father went into the movie theater business and ran a local theater company of Greek actors, and Milton himself would sing. He served as an apprentice to, among others, renowned fellow Greek-American director Elia Kazan.
Source: Press Office of the Embassy of Greece