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blog Blog 2019

Festival Internacional de Mediometrajes (short films) 2019 in Valencia

Screenshot from 2019-12-24 15:30:26

The Festival Internacional de Mediometrajes (Short Films) is an annual event in Valencia. This year the venue was the historical Centre Cultural de la Nau on the campus of the Universidad de Valencia and at the Filomteca. The former is an impressive building with a large courtyard where they seated hundreds and it where we were this evening. Spoiler alert- I go though the plot of Notre Dame de la Zad.

The film was introduced in person by the French director. He told is that Our Lady of the Zad is a comedy about a fictitious group’s effort to block highway construction through a forested area containing an endangered species, a huge escargot. Well, you know how the French love snails.

A priest visits the site. He is met by a young woman who spins a tale, obviously made up as she goes. It is about the appearance of the Virgin Mary, who tells her that the highway must not be built as this is now a holy place.

The priest is not convinced by the story but is a supporter of the protest so tells her he will report to the bishop. He convinces the bishop that it’s worth a visit to the site to determine the veracity of the claim. The bishop brings his laptop so he can fill in the app, which asks questions about the predominant colors, rosey or pale pink. She says black, so the priest asks if the Mary was an immigrant (no), then concludes is was a black Madonna. There are statues of such, by the way. During the exchange the priest interrupts by banging the table as the young woman tries to bring up the highway protest in connection with the apparition, the banging causing the lights to fail. Protecting endangered species does not appear as an option in the app, noted in the tongue in cheek dialogue.

Once the app gives him the positive result, the bishop leaves to spread the word of the appearance of Mary. Later, as the police are about to arrest the protesters, pilgrims looking for Mary’s assistance appear with walkers and canes. The police chase the protesters, who circle around, bringing the police back to the supplicants. The police think they are all in it together at first, wading into the pilgrims with clumsily wielded batons, before they distinguish the groups from one another, not at all difficult unless you are really into batoning people. The cops finally arrest just the protesters. Instructions then come from the Prefect, the priest’s sister, say to arrest the priest as well. However, the officer says, the orders are to arrest the Protestants, misreading protesters for Protestants, and the priest is clearly a Catholic, so must not be arrested. They sort that confusion out finally. The priest is thrown in with the woman, the two alone at first. They kiss, but not before she asks, “What about God.” The priest replies, “He already knows.”

The protesters are then packed in with the couple. The van shortly has a flat yet again – a running gag (pun intended) – and it is suddenly dark (part of another running gag), but there is no jack and they are still in the middle of the forest. The rest of the police force is nowhere to be seen. As they ponder the problem, a woman in robes appears out of the fog. They stare, look at each other, and when they look back she is holding a jack. One of the officers approaches with pointed pistol – imagine approaching someone you think is Mary with a gun for protecton – retrieving the jack. In the meantime the protesters have escaped unnoticed – how could that happen? – running off into the woods. The two officers drive on without a glance back.

No one died laughing but most enjoyed the cleverness of the farce. If you get the chance, check it out!

 

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blog Blog 2019

St Nicolas Church of Piraeus

The lovely St Nicolas Church of Piraeus was finished around 1900.  It stands near the main harbor in Piraeus, the port city next to Athens from which many ferries depart for the multitude of Greek islands.   Of the Greek Orthodox churches we have seen, it comes closest to the magnificent Orthodox churches we saw in St Petersburg.  There are good examples of the religious art typical of these churches.  The Mary icon you see below, in gold, was kissed by multiple visitors during our visit, behavior that is common to the Orthodox, as is the sign of the cross which includes touching the floor. 

 

 

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blog Blog 2019

On Greek cuisine

 

I am impressed with what’s on offer in Greece, both the raw ingredients and prepared foods either in restaurants or in the grocery stores.   Commonly used spices  include allspice, cardamon, cloves, coriander, mahlab, mastic (also an after dinner drink), nutmeg, saffron, and sumac.  I suggest you forget about ordering mintroduced by Nikolaos Tselementes, a Greek chef who worked in the St. Moritz Hotel in New York.    Greek salad is everywhere and not as good as I have had in Greek restaurants abroad, lacking the dressing that gives the salad its zing,  also lacking the spicy jarred peppers.  There is a slice of feta atop, which is quite good but I find it lacks integration, and would be better if cubed.  I suggest skipping it and trying some of the other salads or even the cooked vegetable side dishes. 

Not to worry about losing these three dishes!  There is a great deal to enjoy as you explore this complex, sophisticated cuisine. The Greeks love grilled meats.  These they generally call souvlaki, served on a skewer sometimes with grilled vegetables.  The meat is very tender, often marinated.  Throw it on a pita bread and you have an inexpensive lunch, about 2.5 euros.  A gyro is the equivalent of the kebab, which is the meat grilled on a vertical spit then shaved.  You will find beef, chicken, pork and to a lesser extent lamb.  Sandwiches may have fries inside.  They are limp, as are those ordered separately or included in quantity.  Fries in Greece do not rank with those of France, Belgium and Nederlands in my book, where they know how to fry them:  a second time to make them crispy.

 

Saganaki is a fried cheese, the name coming from the pan in which the cheese is fried.  The cheese is usually graviera, kefalograviera, halloumi, kasseri, kefalotyri, or sheep’s milk feta.  Mussels or shrimp saganaki are served in a superb tomato base.  The mussels I tried were heavenly at a small place near the port.  The shrimp was in one case superb and in the other the sauce tasted like an Italian was in the kitchen, very good but not it did not seem Greek to me.

 

 

Cheese saganaki

 

 

We have had several stews that were outstanding and which cost no more than 8 euros at a non-tourist restaurant.  One near us called their dish “pork bites.”  I have no idea what it is made from but a very rich flavor and amazingly tender pork.  There are probably hundreds of recipes.   The meat in general has been very tender and juicy, a matter of good igredients and technique. 

 

There is a variety of cheese pies, in addition to spanakopita.  Tiropita (or tyropita) is  made from the usual layers of filo dough filled with a cheese and egg mixture.   There are dozens of versions of these pies, served as main dishes or as snacks from the bakeries.

 

I have tried several main course vegetable dishes.  The eggplant at our local restaurant called the Olýmpion (

 

okra!
okra!

 

 

Bakeries offer a wide selection of crusty bread, not as crunchy a crust as the bread that you get in Italy (the stuff you get in the US called Italian bread is a pale imitation).  I was surprised to find a huge variety of bread sticks, much better than the tasteless crostini you sometimes find in Italy and the US.  In Rome and other Italian cities you can find an excellent bread stick, a thick crusty one with sesame seeds, that are still my favorite even after tasting many of the Greek varieties.  The Greek versions are nearly as good but there are many more varieties to choose from and they are widely available, although they do not serve them in restaurants.  The restaurant bread is generally of high quality bakery bread. 

 

An excellent olive bread

 

bread sticks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The desserts are amazing.  They are primarily made with honey, nuts, cream and fruit. There is the usual baklava, large servings rather than the tiny diamonds one finds in the US.  Bougatsa is also made with filo then filled with a creamy custard.  Diples are fried turnovers.  Halva is made with with semolina flour or sesame with raisins and cinnamon.   Melomakarona are soft cookies dipped in honey or syrup then covered with walnuts.  At the Acropolis museum I had a kind of nut cake.  I think there was nutmeg. I did not taste any honey.   Kataifi is made with a dough that lookes like shredded wheat.  You add walnuts and perhaps other nuts),  clove and cinnamon,  and covered with a lemon scented syrup.  Wow!   

 

The dessert possibilities are nearly endless.   Writing this is making me hungry so I am stopping here.   

 

The market near our house is top notch.  Olives, melons, figs.  Greens!   The Greeks love greens.  There are several varieties of cicoria like in Italy.  They sell beet greens, and various forms of endive and a variety of lettuces.  And reasonable prices, if not sometimes dirt cheap.  

 

figs!

eggplant, peppers and more

greens!

   Nuts in bulk

 

Wine.  The white is very good, even the inexpensive ones.  You can get a half liter of the house white for 4 to 6 euros and not be disappointed.  We have only found one good red house wine and have spent as much as 13 euros for a bottle and still not found anything worth mentioning.  Per one commentary, ” For fans of lively whites like Sauvignon Blanc and Albariño, Greek white wines offer astounding quality for a reasonable cost. While Greek reds are not as uniformly compelling, the best bottlings are terrific.”  Stick with the white or spend a lot.   

 

After almost a month here I have barely begun to know the Greek kitchen.  I certainly have a new appreciation for it.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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blog Blog 2019

A bit of the history of the Acropolis

 

The Acropolis overlooks Athens on a limestone outcropping providing great views of the city and  inspiring views of the temples from below, the Parthenon being the most prominent.   Its defensive properties no doubt appealed to early inhabitants.  Evidence of their interest dates to the 4th millennium BCE.  The Mycenaean Megaron palace was probably built here during the late bronze age.  The temple to Athena Polias came circa 550 BCE, a bit after the Old Temple of Athena.  A structure called the Older Parthenon was started circa 500 BCE but sacked by the Persians, who destroyed and looted the city.  Elements of that structure were used to build the curtain wall still visible today.    Pericles (circa 495–429 BCE) built the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike.   

 

Parthenon at Dusk, pen and ink, 15 x 21 cm/ 6 x 8 “

 
During the Hellenistic and Roman periods there were significant repairs to the temples.  The Parthenon was used as a church during the Byzantine period.  During the Duchy of Athens, founded by Crusaders, the Acropolis was the administrative center.  The Propylaia,  the monumental entrance to the Acropolis, was part of the Ducal palace.  A large tower was added to the Propylaia but later demolished. 

 

 

The Propylaia

 
It was the Venetians who most seriously damaged the Parthenon.   In 1687 it was largely intact until gunpowder stored in the Parthenon exploded after it was struck by a cannonball.   Columns fell, the roof collapsed.   This accounts for its appearance before the renovations began in the 1990’s.  

 

 

The Parthenon

Temple of Erechtheion or Erechtheum

Caryatid at Temple of Erechtheion, pen and ink, at the Museum

 
In 1801 Thomas Bruce, the Earl of Elgin, transported sculptures to England with permission of the Ottomans.  These were later sold to the British Museum where they remain to this day, much to the chagrin of the Greeks, who call it a theft.  After the Greeks became independent from the Ottoman Empire in 1830, anything from the Byzantine, Duchy (124-1500) and Ottoman periods were removed.  
 
The columns of the Parthenon are now being restored and put in place.   Some of the 19th century restorations to the columns are being redone as the columns were incorrectly assembled.  Over 2000 tons of marble elements have been restored to date using new Pentelic, the same marble the ancients used.  It is white so you can distinguish it from the older marble, which has a yellow tint.  This marble comes from the region northeast of Athens. 
 
For further information visit the Acropolis Museum to watch the excellent videos.  Also click the links below. 

 

Ancient-greece.org

Acropolis in Greek literally means “the highest point of the town”

Great timeline history of Greece  Timeline

Acropolis Museum

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blog Blog 2019

Photos from the National Archaeological Museum in Athens

The National Archaeological Museum in Athens is one of the world’s finest of its type and competes with the best of any type.  The collection is stupendous and the display and organization are top notch.  Here are some of the photos we took during our visit.  

 

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blog Blog 2019

The Acropolis

Oct 7, 2019 

 

We boarded the train for Athens in Thessaloniki a week ago for the 4 hour journey, waving to the gods as we passed Mount Olympus, ducking a lighting bolt chucked our way.  These gods dislike non-believers, apparently.   

 

Mount Olympus

 

The dry land between us and the gods supports cotton fields and olive groves.  White stucco houses populate the small villages sitting in the bright sun under cerulean blue skies.
 
From Athens surprisingly small central train station we took a taxi to our apartment, from whence it is a short walk to a lovely view of the Acropolis, with the Olympic stadium at our feet and at its original site.  Here terminated the run from a town called Marathon when, in 490 BCE,  a vastly outnumbered Athenian army defeated the Persians.  

 

The next day we walked the 2 kilometers to the Acropolis – acro meaning high point, polis meaning city.  The temples there evoke both vast appreciation for the skills of the ancient Greeks and a sadness for all that has been lost, much of it in fairly recent times with the explosion of stockpiled weapons and the removal  if not theft of sculptures and more by the British, whose impressive collection resides in the British Museum. 

 

Parthenon at Dusk, pen and ink, 15 x 21 cm/ 6 x 8 “

 

The Parthenon is the largest of the structures atop the outcropping. It dates to 447 BC when  Athens was at its zenith.  The temple is a superb example of Doric style that I speculate came from the invading Doric tribe who settled in a place called Sparta.  The temple gave home to a 13 meter, 40 foot wooden sculpture of Athena, clad with precious metals and accompanied by her snake and shield.  The goddess who gave her name to this city is no longer is with us, so I was spared the lightning bolt.  Per the video we know what she looked like and how she was adorned, an altogether impressive sight to greet those who climbed the steep hill to pay their respects.  

 

The sculptures and friezes that adorned the temples were legion. There were 92 elements to the frieze atop the Parthenon alone. An impressive number survive to this day.    Here a few examples: 

 

Multiple busts in the museum

 

 
My pen and ink sketch of one of the statues in the Acropoli Museum.  I was particularly impressed with the flowing robes.

 

 

 

 

 

The Parthenon as of the day we visited. There is one crane in operation currently.

 

My favorite temple is this small one, for the caryatids that support the roof.   Another fabulous view beyond.

 

 

 

The originals are in the museum:

 

 

These are the actual caryatids, in the museum

 
The reconstruction of the Parthenon continues, as well documented in the films shown in the Museum, located near the base of the outcropping upon which the temples rest.   In the films workers chisel on marble, showing also the templates they use to match the ancient designs.  The old stone has a yellow tinge compared to the bright white of the new so you can see what changes have been made. 

 

view of Acropolis from its museum

 
Modern cranes effortlessly lift the repaired columns with their older bits now joined with new stone.  There is a model of an ancient crane, hand cranked yet capable of raising the original columns as well.
 
Perhaps the most gorgeous piece in the museum is the floral decor that was on the pediment of the Parthenon:

 

floral decor on the pediment of the Parthenon

 
Below the temples is the Odeon Theater, still in use.  It is next to the Theater of Dionysus.  The black bags in the photo contain seat cushions wrapped for protection from the elements.  The acoustics are excellent.  I could hear Peg despite the noise of the crowd as I sat about half way up.   We wonder if the sound was even better in the days of Euripides and Sophocles when it was at its peak of completion.    Great views abound.  

 

== The Odeon

 

Dionysus Theater

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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blog Blog 2019

Churches of Thessaloniki: Panagia Archiropiitos

September 2019
Panagia (Mary) Archiropiitos might be named after a icon of Panagia Hodegetria said to have miraculously appeared.  Archiropiitos means ‘not made by hands.’   The church dates from the 5th century.   It is a basilica, meaning it has a center aisle flanked by a side aisle on each side (some basilicas have two side aisles on each side).   The current entrance has three arches.  The ionian capitals are exquisite as are the green marbles.  Fire damaged frescoes depict the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste.

 

Photo from wikipedia

 

 

Photo from wikipedia

 

Photos by Peg: 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Avove: mosaics in the arches between the church’s 24 columns

 

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Art blog Blog 2019

Churches of Thessaloniki: Agia Sofia

 

The Agia Sophia dates from the 8th century and is modeled after the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (4th century), also still standing. Photos by Peg.   

 

 

 

 

The Ascension is shown in the dome.

 

The church was converted into a mosque after the city’s absorption into the Ottoman Empire in 1440.  Here you can see the remains of the minaret.  You can see the arch in the Islamic style versus the Roman style which is rounded.

 

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blog Blog 2019

Thessaloniki, co-capitol of Greece, 315 BCE

October 2, 2019

 

Thessaloniki is the capitol of the Macedonian region of Greece (not the country called North Macedonia),  the second-largest city in Greece.  In Greek it is referred to as the co-capitol of the country, a position it also occupied in the Byzantine Empire alongside Constantinople.   Founded in 315 BCE, it was named after the half sister of Alexander the Great.  It was once home to a large Jewish community, some of whom came when expelled from Spain.  It was devastated by the Nazis.  Of the 49,000 shipped to death camps, only 2000 returned.   
Also of historical import: the Apostle Paul preached in the Upper City and developed contacts that led to his letters to the Thessalonians that constitute two of the Bible’s 27 books.  The city was part of the Ottoman Empire until 1912, almost 100 years after the Greeks successfully fought to escape Ottoman control. 
 
There are many Byzantine and Paleochristian monuments, Roman and ancient Greek agora just two minutes from our place, the churches Hagia Sophia of Thessaloniki, Acheiropoietos, Panagia Chalkeon, all UNESCO World Heritage Sites, as well as Ottoman and  Sephardic Jewish structures.  You can see the fine equestrian statues of Alexander the Great and Constantine.  The Archaeological and Byzantine Culture Museums are major attractions.    The latter is a purpose designed building that flows smoothly between exhibits.  There are paintings dating from the 1500-1600’s whose vivid colors jump off the wall.  The bright red lips, as if lipstick were applied, attracted my attention immediately.  It was not just one painting but many with this characteristic.  I finally found a way to get my new mobile phone to get a good image in the dim lighting, which I then brought out further with GNU photo editor, which I use for all of the editing I do.  The red on the lips was even more pronounced than what I have been able to produce.

 

 

 

 
The Archaeological Museum has many of the fine examples I have seen of pottery, gold, silver and paintings.  

 

 

Scenes from the Old Testament of Joseph, 1687

 

 

Earrings 500 BCE

The White Tower, a symbol of the city, has 6 floors with a gallery dissecting the city’s long history in each one.  It also affords great views of the huge bay and the city’s hills.  The Thessaloniki Concert Hall is home to the opera.  There are two symphony orchestras.  There is an annual International Film Festival.  The city reportedly has the highest concentration of cafes and bars in Europe.  Judging by my experience so far, this is not an exaggeration.  Coffee shops, bakeries, gyros (kebab) places, traditional Greek as well as a wide variety of other restaurants all abound.  People walk about eating or sit outside in the mild and pleasant late September weather.  The waterfront has 12 thematic gardens and parks.

 

View from the White Tower. The boat offers a tour of the harbor for the price of drinks

 

Retsina, the pitch flavored white wine

 

 
 

 

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blog Blog 2019

Zwolle

September 18, 2019
 
There is evidence of inhabitation in Zwolle (meaning ‘hill,’ a cognate of ‘swollen’) during the Bronze Age, circa 6000 bce.  The Franks occupied the area during Roman times.  The city dates from 800 CE.   In the area around the hill upon which the city there are four rivers,  IJssel, Vecht, Aa and Zwarte Water.  The city center still shows its octagonal defensive formation.  Zwolle joined the Hanseatic League in 1294.  In the 15th century its wealth grew exponentially from trade.  Thomas à Kempis, noted religious author, spent most of his life at the Augustan monastery that once stood here. 

 

The city’s center of 125,000 is a superbly crafted mixture of the old and new.   There is new construction that blends in well with the older brick structures.  It is a shopping zone with residential areas nearer the edge.  It is surrounded by the moat, where we sit on our boat just a moment away from the scene below, where there is much of the construction in brick to match the old.  

 

 

Zwolle at night, followed by a day shot of the same general area:

 

 

 

 
 

 

Then there is the really old: 

 

 

The old gate

 

 

 

Another example of the new but this is outside the old center.

 

 

Theater de Spiegel

 

Like everywhere we have been, there is a friendly and often festive atmosphere, the festiveness pronounced in the summer when people more readily enjoy socializing outdoors.  The restaurants are busy, with lots of outdoor seating.  Few people use tobacco so one is not bothered.  Bikes galore run up and down the streets except in pedestrian only zones, which most bikers respect.  The young, the old, the in between, the infant, all come to town on one type of bike or another. 
 
There is easy banter with the people you meet.  The Dutch not only understand American humor they gave serve it on their own terms.  A waiter came to ask if we needed help with the Dutch –  we have become fairly well versed on the menus – and I said I could translate into English for him.  I pointed to something labeled “Mixed Platter” and I said, “Now in English we would say “Mixed Platter.”    That’s a subtle joke (I am not claiming it is a good one), but he got it.  Peg ordered that very thing.  I commented, “You will need help with that,”  referring to what looked like a large order.  He climbed in next to me and said, “I’ll be glad to help.”  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The port area