Benaki museum: Folk Constantine the Great

By: | Post date: July 3, 2023 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Culture, Greece

A take from Siphnos, early 19th century, on what Constantine the Great in the hippodrome of Constantinople must surely have looked like, complete with the True Cross and the serpents column originally from Delphi, and still to be seen there.
Notice of course that no 19th century Greek could imagine Constantine the Great clean shaven, unlike how the colossal contemporary statue in Rome depicts him. I doubt many Greeks even now can think of St Constantine clean shaven…

Benaki museum: clothwork

By: | Post date: July 3, 2023 | Comments: No Comments
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The Benaki Museum has a few ancient bits and pieces, and a quite decent Byzantine collection, a large part of it, to my surprise, originating as family heirlooms of refugees from Turkey.
But the real point of the museum is its folk art exhibit, upstairs. Rather early on, this tapestry, whose geometry I recognized even before I read the label saying it was from Sitia, late 18th century.
There is clothing and cloth work here dating back to the 16th century, and I was astonished how well preserved it all is.
No photo description available.
The highlight of the museum is its vast collection of regional dress, and though there is an overwhelming amount of it from a very wide range of regions, you do quickly realize that they are not actually that different. Up close, the recurring details are a lot more obvious. Men’s vests on the islands, for example, are pretty much the same.
The picture of women’s clothing was distorted by the fact that bridal dresses were the likeliest to have been preserved, and were thus over represented. They were heavy and rich, and would have immobilized anyone wearing them.
I singled out these two to photograph is a shout out to my good friend George
Baloglou. Two dresses from Cappadocia. The left from Niğde, the right from his father’s town of Sille, near Konya.

Benaki Museum: icons

By: | Post date: July 3, 2023 | Comments: No Comments
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I did manage to sneak in to the Benaki Museum before the concert on my last night in Athens. (Free after 6 pm? Open to midnight? Sign me up!)
The Benaki Museum, like many such museums, feels at times like a cliche simply because so many of the paintings it houses have attained meme status. That famous portrait of Lord Byron in Greek garb for example.
On the other hand, I was pretty fatigued, and my curiosity has been ebbing low after 3 months. So I might not have gone as ballistic this visit as I might have when I was feeling more fresh.
I made a big deal while in the Ionian islands of the gradual transition from Byzantine to Weston techniques in icon painting. The transition was on the way in the Crete earlier on, something I was only vaguely aware of, and it was far more subtle. The icon of the military saints looking up into the heavens is one of the more drastic ones for the time. The technique and the faces are still completely byzantine, but people doing anything other than staring straight at the viewer is quite a novelty for Greek painting.
Another late Veneto-Cretan icon, by Tzanes in 1657. Again, the technique and the face is all Byzantium, the body posture is all action-packed Western.

Digital nomads, scourge of downtowns

By: | Post date: July 2, 2023 | Comments: No Comments
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A sign I’ve come to recognise, that Here Be an AirBnB Rental. A key safe, this one in Athens.
May be an image of light switch, phone and text
Ubiquitous in both Athens and Salonica, just as I’d been warned. As I’ve been told, it is noticeable that there are a lot fewer locals around in downtown Salonica than there used to be, as they rent out their flats to digital nomads and tourists.
In Central Athens? I’m not sure you would notice the shift at all. The place already gets a lot of traffic, and a lot of people speaking English instead of Greek.

Karamanlis and their food

By: | Post date: July 2, 2023 | Comments: 2 Comments
Posted in categories: Culture, Greece

The Karamanlides/Karamanlar were a Turkish-speaking Greek Orthodox people living in Anatolia. The term was generalised to all Turkish-speaking Greek Orthodox. Since the Karamanlides were Greek Orthodox, and since alphabet went with creed in much of the world, the Karamanlides read Turkish in Greek script, which is accordingly called Karamanlidika.
Karamanlidika is the name of ANYTHING associated with Greek Orthodox Turkish-speakers. Their food, for example.
So when the Karamanlides arrived as refugees in Greece in 1924, they brought their food with them. Food Balkan Greeks were unfamiliar with, and sneered at as Turkish stuff. To this day, half of Greece loves pastırma, and the other half thinks it’s a joke—the only food Turks ever eat. (Yes, pastırma is in fact the word that pastrami comes from, but pastırma is smokier, pastrami more peppery.)
The descendants of the Karamanlides don’t speak Turkish any more; I’ve written of how the dialectologist Nicolas Contossopoulos dedicated his life to Crete and its dialect—and had to, because he could hardly dedicate it in Greece to the Turkish of his parents.
But at least some of them still take pride in what they left behind, and what they brought with them. Including their food. And those books with the funny-looking Greek letters.
So when I wrote an article on Karamanlidika writing a few years ago, Karamanlidika orthography, I benefitted not so much from the academic publications of Evangelia Balta, the world expert on it, as on the scans of books uploaded on the website of “Fanis’ Karamanlidika”, a Karamanlides restaurant and deli in Plaka, Socrates St. (Sadly the scans are no longer up.)
Mr Fanis Theodoropoulos wasn’t around for me to thank in person for preserving his ancestors’ culture, online, and on plates.
So I did the next best thing. I paid to buy his food.
It should not come as a surprise that Karamanlidika food is Anatolian food is Turkish food. Suits me, because Turkish food is awesome.
I did notice that at least one sign in the shop spoke of the food on offer as being Politika (from Istanbul) as opposed to Karamanlidika (properly Cappadocia). I surmise that fine details of regional diversity in Turkish cuisine won’t be well reflected here.
No matter. Pictured, the very convivial insides of the deli (there was even a “no cigar smoking allowed” sign), and Yet Another bottle of Radler.
Not pictured: the wonderful and yummy beef kavurma, sucuk menamen, and künefe I had, coz I ate it all. Ooh baby.
See? All because I wrote a blog article on the use of the Greek alphabet to write Turkish. Who said erudition is useless?

We interrupt to bring you this electoral advertorial…

By: | Post date: July 2, 2023 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Culture, Greece

In the wee hours of 23 June, just before the second round of Greek parliamentary elections, I was staying up to finish off a work task, and instead of Law and Order Criminal Intent, I’m watching the electoral speech of Zoe Konstantinopoulou: daughter of the president of SYRIZA’s predecessor party, former unsmiling SYRIZA speaker of parliament, and during her tenure, simultaneously target of sexist abuse, and parliamentarian terror. (Australians: think Bronwyn Bishop, but with the Greens. In a country where the Greens won the elections.)

She was now at the edge of getting voted in with her own party Course of Freedom (and was in fact elected), with a new, incongruously smiling softie image, complete with heart hands…


… and she’s still promising to be a terror. She is outright promising to abuse her privileges as a former Speaker of Parliament, to push her agenda. “I am allowed to introduce new agenda items to any political leaders’ meeting, even if they’ve declared the agenda closed.” That was one of a dozen undertakings.

I don’t know why the founding fathers of the Hellenic Republic allowed such privileges to former speakers of parliament, but I assume they did not anticipate former speakers were also going to be firebrand minor party leaders. They must have thought they’d be docile elder statesperson types.

Thing about the Greek constitution: you don’t need a big old referendum or a constitutional convention to change the constitution. If Konstantinopoulou does abuse a bunch of constitutional loopholes like she’s promising (“an opposition such as has never been exercised before!!!”), well, loopholes can be closed.

…. She’s getting more and more unhinged as she goes.





She also was saying how unacceptable it is that Greek politicians yell at each other in front of the cameras, and then backslap behind the cameras. As she saw to her disgust, during her time as speaker and terror of parliament. Heaven forbid that anybody in parliament actually get anything done together behind the scenes. There shall be yelling at each other behind the scenes too. She’ll make sure of it, in all those closed-door meetings she’s allowed to barge into, as former speaker of parliament.

Yeah, not everything in this country makes me smile….

She was followed by the political statement of Breath of Freedom, the anti-vaxxer party. I switched them off: there are limits, and the party president (a prof of medicine at Salonica U, no less) had just declared pollution fake news.

Ed Conway shuddered at the possibilities of the Former Speaker Barging In principle as applied to the US, and I could only concur:

Seriously, it is so insane a notion, I’m hoping she was wrong, and I’m pretty sure she wasn’t. She got elected btw. So we got Tories, not-chastened-enough-Syriza, increasingly centrist Socialists, the unreconstructed Stalinists of the communist party, Golden Dawn with the serial numbers filed off, a far right populist party, a far right religious party, and Madam Speaker.

In Round 2, you’re allowed to overrule the list of individually elected candidates from Round 1 with your own choices. Demonstrating how well she is going to use her new found powers, she bumped a top elected MP, replacing him with her husband.

As Vangelis Lolos has been saying to me: this Greek parliament is going to be a god-damned rodeo.

As Vangelis Lolos corrected me (something he often ends up having to do):

Those are not constitutional loopholes though, they’re just part of the Parliamentary ruleset that is amended very easily.

Some commentators speculate that Mitsotakis is going to request a strict enforcement of the agreed rules and – at least initially – follow them to the letter to set an example.

By the way, there are some who consider her party a far-right party. It’s a stretch but the left-right axis is so meaningless nowadays that if you squint she looks like Velopoulos (no, not Dany Trejo, those jokes are sexist).

Also, I assume that you’ve heard about her “promoting” her boyfriend to MP

Indeed, see above.

Tzisdarakis Mosque

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The Tzisdarakis Mosque, towering over Monastiraki, the Athens flea market district.
The mosque now houses the Greek folk art museum. It was built by Ottoman governor Dizdar Mustafa Ağa in 1759. The story goes that he ground down one of the columns of Olympian Zeus for limestone for it, and that the Ottoman authorities, as fearful of the strange antiquities around them as the townsfolk, dismissed him for impiety shortly afterwards.
Mustafa Aga in any case had a more plausible site to pillage for limestone than the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Emperor Hadrian’s library was just next door to the mosque he was building.
As a friend commented, noting my expenses with book purchases in Greece:

Mustafa couldn’t afford the postage to get all the books back home

Yes, my friends do in fact pay attention.

Our Lady of the Chimney Officer

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Smack in the middle of Ermou St Mall, the Church of Panagia Kapnikarea, Our Lady of the Chimney Officer. (A Chimney Officer, kapnikarios, was a building tax collector, who worked out which buildings to tax from which buildings had their chimneys working.) Thank you Byzantine
This 11th century church is now used by the theology department of Athens University. And by a whole lot of weary and not particularly reverent shoppers sitting around in front of it.
Ermou St Mall, and looking back, the House of the Winds in the Roman Forum.

Athens Cathedral

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Athens Cathedral (“the metropolis”). Tucked in the corner, the cathedral’s Mini Me, the far older Church of Panagia Gorgoepikoos (Our Lady of Granting Requests Promptly), aka The Little Metropolis.

Facing down the cathedral, the statue of archbishop Damaskinos.
The inscription I caught sight of commemorates in Ancient Greek the fact that he was briefly vice regent and prime minister of Greece after WWII. From Digital Glypotheque, I learn that the other inscriptions I didn’t look around to see, in modern Greek and English, commemorate what he is now more famous for: his role in saving the Jews of Athens from the Holocaust.
A story that does the rounds of the internet a lot, but names an interlocutor who was not in Athens at the time, is that when the archbishop protested the beginning of the death trains out of Salonica, the Nazi authorities threatened to shoot him. As the back of the statue says, his response, alluding to Patriarch Gregory V, was:

Greek religious leaders are not shot, they are hanged. Kindly respect that tradition.

The other statue in the Square outside Athens Cathedral is quite famous, but surprisingly inconspicuous in real life: Constantine XI, last emperor of the Romans.
The inscription is Constantine’s final response to Mehmed the Conqueror, as recorded by the chronicler Sphranzes:

As to surrendering the city to you, it is not for me to decide or for anyone else of its citizens; for all of us have reached the mutual decision to die of our own free will, without any regard for our lives.

A soirée in Dafni

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There are in fact plenty of nicer bits of Athens, all of them characterized by the fact that they are nowhere near the city center. My relatives and friends have taken me to several of them, including Kifisia and Palio Faliro and Glyfada.

And so it was that I ended up at Souare bar in Dafni, owned by relatives of my relatives. (To be precise: cousin’s godfather’s daughter.) Once again, a street between the band and the punters, but at least no cars crawling in between this time.

As the singer put it:

Music brings people together..

… Admittedly there is a street between us right now.

Balmy night, cool takes on the last 20 years’ pop (my cousin’s bf on drums).

And me feeling every one of my 51 years as I was standing up all night, and had been walking all day. Which is what a town with adequate public transport does to you.

The singer is under 30. OF COURSE her name is Iphigenia.

… This comment occasioned several queries among my Facebook followers, including Ed Conway’s inevitable:

Does she moonlight during the daytime in maritime logistical problem solving? ????

That aside:

Did Greece ever have the saints names law like France?

They had something better, the full moral force of the Orthodox Church.

Can you say a bit more about this change in Greek names, please?

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