Posts from the ‘Culture’ Category

Greece: Good news for a change

On Sunday, 2 November, 18 small Athenian Museums will be open to the public free of charge. The museums are situated in central Athens and will be open from 11 to 16.00.

The initiative is called Open Walk Athens 4 and is organized by the Atenistas group (you can find them at …http://atenistas.org/2014/10/27/owa4/)

tzisdarakis-mosque

The Popular art Museum

I have to admit that I was unaware of at least half of these museums and have visited only one!!  They cover a wide variety of subjects but are within easy reach of each other making visiting more than one easy and comfortable. A map of all the participating museums can be collected either in the Athens Jewish Museum (Nikis 39, Syntagma Square area) or the Popular art Museum in the Monastiraki area.

In addition to the two mentioned above you can visit a Museum that houses a collection of the characters of the Greek shadow theater as used by Haridimos, one of the most famous players, painter Vassiliou’s studio under the Acropolis,  the History of the Athens University Museum, a Museum dedicated to  children and my favourite: the folk music instruments Museum. This last one is situated in the Plaka region, the old Athens, and has a minute garden, often used for performances during summer.

Culture cannot cure everything but it opens a window to hope…

Fasolada: the “secret” Greek national dish

The horticulturists among you already know that fasiolus is the scientific name for the bean family. Fasolada is a soup made of white, dry, medium-sized beans, vegetables and herbs.

fasolada

While it is the Greeks’ favourite winter soup it is rarely found in the menu of a Greek restaurant abroad or of stylish restaurants at home. After puzzling over it for some time I have reached the conclusion that we are, silently, ashamed of fasolada: it reminds us of the time we were much poorer, when fasolia (beans) were the crop that kept us healthy and away from malnutrition. Beans grow easily on our mountainous areas, the mild Greek climate favours their growth and, after dried, they can be stored for months.

We find fasolada mentioned a lot by Karaghiozi, the miserable, hunchbacked hero of the Greek shadow theater. During the German occupation beans and other legumes saved a lot of people from starvation. Fasolada is also the subject of quite a few jokes: Being cheap and nutritious it is very often served to our soldiers during their military service. Now, during the financial crisis, fasolada is taking its revenge. It is one of the main dishes in all collective kitchens. Restaurants are slower at adapting even though they serve all sorts of legumes fasolada is still taboo. Maybe due to its reputation of producing unpleasant effects during digestion..

Fasolada’s assets:

  1. Easy to make

Soak the beans overnight in cold water. Count about half a coffee mug per person.

Dice 2 large carrots, chop 2 red onions and cut four sticks of celery into strips.

Mix all ingredients in a large pot, add chopped ripe tomatoes or if not available a can of skinned and seeded tomatoes.

Add pepper now and salt half an hour later. Before serving add a spoonful of virgin olive oil per person.

Boil until the beans soften and the soup is thick.

Serve with olives and a lot of fresh bread.

Fasolada’s qualities

  1. Versatile

The original fasolada is a vegetarian meal but you can adapt it to non-vegan friends by adding some sort of sausage or by using chicken or beef stock instead of water.   There is also the “white” variation in which you do not use tomatoes but add oregano and lemon before serving. For colder climates add some chili peppers.

  1. Nutritional value

Fasolada is an excellent source of protein, vitamins and minerals. It improves stamina and energy.

 

Finally, in support of fasolada, I want torefer you to Umberto Eco’s article “It was the Bean that set the Pulses racing”, edited and translated by William Weaver from the Italian New York Times Syndicate.

Midsummer night concert

Haris Alexiou sings in solidarity to the cleaners’ struggle

Yesterday night Syntagma Square was once more flooded with protesters but with a difference: last night was a singing protest! Haris Alexiou, one of the most popular and respected singers in Greece gave an open air concert in support of the cleaners’ struggle*. Wearing cleaning gloves she waved her hands in return to the audience clapping and singing along.  The Concert was organised and supported by the radio station “Sto kokkino” – it means “on red” , a left-wing radio. Haris sang old and new ballads and managed to refresh our souls despite the heat!

Haris Alexiou's solidarity concert

Haris Alexiou’s solidarity concert

*The cleaners’struggle has received great publicity and attracted much sympathy worldwide because in their case the injustice is blatant. They were found “redundant” and fired. They took the government to court and were justified but the government has appealed the court decision and they are still out of a job.  They belonged to the Economics Ministry employees – all 600 of them. The Ministry has had to replace them with private cleaning agencies which cost them as much as the full time cleaners.

The cleaning ladies  have been camping outside the Finances Ministry for the last two months. They have become a focal point for many other public sector employees who have been summarily fired in order to satisfy the Troika demand for a smaller public sector.

Tax evaders get gifts we get fired - The cleaners'banner

Tax evaders get gifts we get fired – The cleaners’banner

 

Belated Christmas and New Year thoughts ….

This Christmas is the second one I am spending away from home. In our times people travel a lot, either for business or pleasure, either by choice or due to need. My trip had traces of all the above.

Bucharest Romania is one hour and 20 minutes away. I arrived before realising I had left Athens.

I stayed with a Greek family (both our hosts’parents were born in Egypt and our hosts have lived and studied in South Africa) and spent Christmas with a mixture of Greek and Romanian friends. What is  impressive is that this multi culti company carries its traditions with it while traveling, intermarrying, changing continents, etc.

Food is the perfect example to understand how this occurs. The first restaurant we visited was Sudanese with Egyptian influences and we had (or some of us had) molohia soup, a typical Egyptian dish, unknown to those who have never lived in Egypt. Those of us hailing from Egypt enjoyed it while the rest of the company hated it!

For New Year’s eve I had the opportunity to try xerotygana!

Dusted with sugar this snowy, puffy sweet is irresistible!

Dusted with sugar this snowy, puffy sweet is irresistible!

The mother of the hostess -before immigrating to Egypt –  hails from the island of Chios, in the northern Aegean. This special sweet, one that is repeated in various forms all over Greece, traveled as far as Egypt and landed in Romania without changing its shape while enriching its taste.. Simple but delicious it looks festive enough to be used as a decoration on any special dinner table

Mix flour, water and one egg until you have a thin gruel. In a deep pan heat oil until a drop of gruel starts frying when you drop it in the pan. Then you attach the star -shaped form to the handle on the right and dip it first in the flour gruel and then into the frying pan. You keep it into the very hot oil for a couple of minutes and gently remove it from the mould with a fork.

xerotiganatoolThe xerotigana tool is the original inherited by the mother of our hostess from her mother and to be bestowed to the daughter who now lives abroad married to a Scott!!

Globalisation at its best with traditions and roots carried along!

Happy New Year!

 

Cultural resistance in Greece

December 20 – Christmas round the corner – and I realized how long I have been away from my blog!!

Events and developments in my country are fast, unpredictable and contradictory: Greek citizens watch in horror as the public health system is torn to pieces, universities do not operate, Golden Dawn, the extreme right, fascist party, whose MPs have been accused of forming a criminal organization still enjoys 7% of the popular vote (!), rumours of financial scandals involving politicians and institutions break out every other day and taxes are announced and taken back daily!!

university administrative employees on strike

university administrative employees on strike

Mass media unfortunately play a major part in this horror movie Greek citizens are watching, feeling absolutely defenseless, confused and insecure!!

Civil servants suffer salary cuts, pensioners see their pensions shrinking. The result is that the people’s buying power is lessening and the problems snowball: small tradesmen are forced into bankruptcy and the big international stores are firing people every day, taking advantage of the lax labor laws.

 

The only ray of hope comes – as it should – from the world of culture and the arts.

mikraanglia“Little England”, Pantelis Voulgaris latest movie, is an impeccable film. It has a strong story line, the photography is impressive  and the acting is almost Spartan in its precision and denial of easy emotionalism. All this directed in the background of Andros island, home to many a ship-owner for a long time, thence the title of “Little England” associated to the then Queen of the seas.

While actors’salaries have dipped to a 3.25 Euro per hour rate (rehearsals are not paid!) new experimental groups spring up offering free shows to unemployment card holders! Dario Fo’s play “the accidental death of an anarchist” is now on its fourth year and still plays to full capacity.spyros_620

So, during the season of hope I believe that salvation – if this is the right term – for Greece will come from the people of the arts and culture. They are the ones leading the real resistance.

 

Come September

My pc decided to take its annual vacation during August this year, together with every e-shop in my area. I ended up answering my e-mails from a billiard room, smoky, noisy, conducive to nothing more intelligent or intelligible than hellos and jokes and posting nothing!

But September is here, the month of duties, of income tax returns, of school opening, of my birthday.

The latest from us here in beautiful Greece: 

a. Heat – the month has started with higher temperatures than August and the humidity rocketing.

b. The only people with a good income this month are the bookkeepers and tax specialists.  This is the first time that everyone submits his income tax return electronically. Every child and grandchild has been commissioned to help the elderly but they are not enough. Rules and regulations change daily, the tax offices are not sufficiently manned, mistakes are a daily occurrence and a long cues to correct them have become an everyday event!

c. Schools opened yesterday, September 11 (NOT the best of dates as omens go…). The students were given books but found fewer teachers than last year.

d. Tsohatzopoulos’trial continues to claim air time but people are largely uninterested.

e. Athenians spend the best time of the week looking for friends or acquaintances with a summer house who can accommodate them for the week end..

But the best part of September is that all performers who were touring Greece during the summer are now back in Athens. Concerts and plays, film festivals and art performances are at their peak and at low prices.

I wish you all a good  autumn/fall!

Alinda Demetriou, the grand lady of the Greek documentary scene bows out

 

Ten years ago, more or less, I had the opportunity to watch the first of the trilogy directed by Alinda Demetriou and dedicated to the women of the Greek World War 2 Resistance movement.

Till then I had always wondered what had happened to these women. We all knew they existed, from photographs and biographies signed by their male co-warriors, but the women remained nameless, practically non-existent. And then came Alinda. A documentary director who had worked for the state TV for many years Alinda decided to give up her job, take one camera, organize a group of volunteers and tape the stories of the women resistance veterans. Wonderful stories, full of humor, passion, sensitivity, humble bravery, patience and a thirst of life. Somehow, all these women seemed so very young! Alinda’s no frills approach helped depict their personalities, their motives then and today, their attitude to life, their humanity.

Ms Demetriou went on to direct “Life on the rocks” for the women in the Democratic army during the civil war and their lives in exile. Her criteria for choosing the particular women, in the creator’s words from an interview to Avgi newspaper : “What makes them special is their ethos, their dignity, their endurance and stubbornness”. “The rain girls” was to be her swan song. Alinda Demetriou died right in the middle of the Greek summer. She was 80 years young…