venus_kallipygos_naples

Aphrodite Kallipygos, National Archaelogical Museum, Naples, Italy

«ήν καλλιπύγων ζεύγος εν Συρακούσαις»

Ήταν στις Συρακούσες ένα ζευγάρι κοπελιές μ’ ωραία πισινά»

«There was in Syracuse a pair of girls with beautiful buttocks»

Athinaeos, Deipnosophistae, 554d, Vol. 12

Athinaeos wrote a wonderful story about culture and dining in the Greco-Roman world of the 3rd century AD. His masterpiece is considered to be the first cookbook, but it is a lot more.

He tells a story about two girls with beautiful buttocks and concludes by referring to a temple in Syracuse, dedicated to Aphrodite Kallipygos.

Kallipygos is a composite Greek word, meaning the one who has beautiful buttocks.

Kalos = beauty

pygos = buttock, or behind, or arse

Aphrodite Kallipygos, National Archaelogical Museum, Naples, Italy

Aphrodite Kallipygos, National Archaelogical Museum, Naples, Italy

The statue of Aphrodite Kallipygos in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples is a Roman copy of the Greek original, dating back to the 1st century BC (1).

The woman lifts her dress and turns to see her buttocks reflected in the water of a pond or something like that.

She may be one of the two sisters mentioned by Athinaeos, but we will never know.

The original sculpture is attributed to 2nd century BC, and thus belongs to the Hellenistic period.

The attribution of a work to a period (Classical Greek or Hellenistic) is indicative. A lot of the information on the original sculpture is questionable, and the resemblance of the copy to the original is also subject to scrutiny. It is well known that the Roman copiers had quite an eclectic attitude towards making copies.

Aphrodite Cnidus, Glyptothek, Munich

Aphrodite Braschi, Glyptothek, Munich (Photo by Panathinaeos)

The works included in the post contain a representation of the female nude.

I use the word «nude» rather than «naked», in reference to a distinction that originated in Kenneth Clark’s «The Nude» (2).

According to Clark, the «nude» is an invention of the Greeks, an «idealization». The «naked» is the ordinary, the mundane.

I will use the term «nude» differently, to imply a multiplicity of layers of sense and representation, compared and contrasted to the «naked» that has a single layer, the physical / instinctual.

The first Greek sculpture depicting a female in full nudity was most likely Praxiteles’ Aphrodite.

It was the middle of 4th century BC when the Greek sculptor Praxiteles was commissioned by the island of Kos to produce a sculpture of goddess Aphrodite.

He produced two, one fully clothed, and another fully nude.

The citizens of Kos were too conservative to accept the nude sculpture, and it was purchased by the city of Knidos, on the Minor Asia peninsula just south of Kos.

Aphrodite Braschi, back, Glyptothek Munich

Aphrodite Braschi, back, Glyptothek Munich. (Photo by Panathinaeos)

The Aphrodite of the Glyptothek in Munich is one of the many copies of Praxiteles’ Knidian Aphrodite, made in the Roman period.(3)

It shows Aphrodite placing her drape on top of a «hydria» (water jar), as she is ready to take her bath. Her right hand (broken) covers her pubic area.

Until the depiction of the fully nude female by Praxiteles, Greek Art was only depicting full male nudity.

Even after the Aphrodite of Knidos, the dominant theme in nudity was male, be it athletes, warriors, gods, deities, and so on.

The Three Graces Roman copy of a Greek work of the second century B.C. Marble. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The Three Graces
Roman copy of a Greek work of the second century B.C.
Marble. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The impact of the Knidian Aphrodite on the Greek world was huge.

The three graces, surviving today as a Roman copy of the 2nd century B.C. Greek original, is a good example of the impact. The original belongs to the «Hellenistic» period. Its distinctive feature is that instead of one female figure we have a group of three in harmony.

The Hellenistic period was a «lighter» period compared to the «classical», during which the artists celebrated the joy of life and emphasized earthly, hedonistic aspects of the human existence. They also depicted vices (e.g. The Drunken Woman) It is as if the classical period landed on earth.

The Three Graces Roman copy of a Greek work of the second century B.C. Marble. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The Three Graces
Roman copy of a Greek work of the second century B.C.
Marble. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

We have three female figures, more relaxed compared to the rather uncomfortable Aphrodite of Knidos, ready to take their baths, as their towels indicate, enjoying the moment.

Notice that they do not attempt to cover their body. Their hands rest elegantly on the other graces’ shoulders.

The Roman copy sculpture was placed in a garden or  a public building like a bath.

The Broghese Hermaphrodite, Louvre, PAris, France.

The Borghese Hermaphrodite – front, Louvre, Paris, France.

Hermaphroditus was the son of Aphrodite and Hermes.

The marble sculpture that reclines on a marble mattress sculpted by Bernini in 1620 was discovered in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. It is an early Roman Empire copy of a bronze sculpture created by Greek sculptor Polycles around the middle of the 2nd century BC.

The sculpture was sold to Napoleon and thus it found itself in the Louvre.

Another copy is displayed today in Villa Borghese of Rome.

hermaphrodite_back_750

The Borghese Hermaphrodite – back, Louvre, Paris, France.

This is a highly sensual sculpture.

The hermaphrodite is seemingly asleep, but there is expectation all over.

The breasts and male genitals are visible, leaving no doubt as to the hybrid nature of the creature, man and woman bound together.

A 18th century visitor commented: «This is the only happy couple that I have seen».

Sources

1. The National Archaeological Museum of Naples. Electa Napoli, 1996.

2. Kenneth Clark. The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form.

3. Raimund Wuensche. Glyptothek, Munich.  C.H. Beck. Verlag, Munich 2007.

A lamb offal dish for daring souls

Κυριακή, 3 Μαΐου, 2015

Spring time is a good time to cook dishes with lamb offal.

I buy lamb which less than one year old, and weigh no more than 12 kilograms.

Of course you can buy offal separately if you wish.

The most typical dish we cook is a lamb offal soup the night before Easter. I like this dish, but I wanted to try something new this time.

 

Lamb offal - marinated and ready to cook

Lamb offal – marinated and ready to cook

So  I marinated the offal (liver, lung, heart, sweetbreads) in red wine and oregano just to moderate the strong odor of the material, and then diced it finely.

I prepared a mix of fresh onion, fresh garlic, parsley, dill, fresh oregano, pickled hot peppers and placed it in a big pan with olive oil, salt and pepper. If you like, you can add some sultana raisins for sweetness and pine kernels for texture. After the greens started sweating, I threw in the diced offal and let it cook for about five minutes. After that I took the offal out of the pan, added the juice of one lemon to the mix (it needs the acidity to counter the intensity of the offal) and slowly reduced the liquids of the greens so that the mix is juicy with being runny.

In parallel, in a pot I prepared sticky rice with salt and added at the last minute of big dollop of butter.

Lamb offal with sticky rice and yogurt

Lamb offal with sticky rice and yogurt

I served the rice and offal in separate partitions of the plate, and added some strained yogurt because it adds a feeling of smoothness which I enjoy after the encounter with the intensity of the offal. The red bits that you see on the plate are chili pepper flakes.

Lamb offal - detail

Lamb offal – detail

The rice and yogurt work well together to enhance and promote the offal, which dressed in its green glory is hot, aromatic and powerful. The tricky part of the dish is the offal – greens ratio. Too little offal and you have a warm funny tasting green salad. Too little, and you are over powered by the offal.

Monemvassios 2006

Monemvassios 2006

I served the dish with a red wine from the area of Monemvasia on the Peloponnese, called «Monemvassios 2006«. It is a blend of St. George’s red and Mavroudi. I liked its balance and moderate intensity.

 

 

 

Greece, April 2015: What are SYRIZA going to do?

Δευτέρα, 27 Απριλίου, 2015

A group of refugees leave the Samanli-Dag Peninsula, on a boat they boarded with the help of the Turkish Red Crescent. © ICRC

A group of refugees leave the Samanli-Dag Peninsula, on a boat they boarded with the help of the Turkish Red Crescent.
© ICRC

The issues

I look outside my balcony and I see flowers, I see greens of all sorts, Spring is finally coming to Marathon and it is beautiful. This symphony of colors and smells however, does not take my mind away from the current political and economic situation in Greece.  Since SYRIZA became the leading party in the new Greek Government in January 2015, we have not seen any results in the negotiations with Greece’s creditors. Uncertainty rules the situation of Greece.

SYRIZA won the January 2015 parliamentary elections and formed a government with the ANEL extreme-right nationalist party. Since then they have started negotiations with Greece’s creditors, that have not been concluded to date and have not progressed much thus far. There are two major issues to consider.

The first issue is the conclusion of the current (second) memorandum between Greece and her creditors. The current agreement expires at the end of June 2015. A final payment of Euro 7.2 billion is pending.

The second issue has to do with reaching a new agreement for the future of Greece. The future needs of Greece have been – moderately – estimated at Euro 30 billions. The new agreement must be approved by the Greek Parliament.

Alexis Tsipras

Alexis Tsipras. the Prime Minister of Greece

The ongoing negotiations testify that there still is a gap between the creditors and SYRIZA. There are two potential outcomes.

1. SYRIZA and the creditors agree on a plan to continue the funding of the Greek State and formalize it as a new agreement.

If SYRIZA agree with Greece’s creditors, they must submit it to the Greek Parliament for approval. This means that it must be an agreement that is compatible with the electoral platform of SYRIZA, or is presented to the public to be so.

2. SYRIZA and the creditors do not reach an agreement.

If on the other hand SYRIZA were to choose not to reach an agreement with the creditors, they run the risk of the country entering into a twilight zone.

It seems to me that one way or another SYRIZA will need to agree with the creditors and either present the agreement to the Greek Parliament and People as compatible with their political platform, or seek another means to legitimize it.

What is going to happen?

Time is running out for SYRIZA and for Greece. The end of June is the latest an agreement must be reached. Otherwise, Greece will face bankruptcy.

In order to understand how SYRIZA are negotiating it is important to revisit the primary political objective.

The end of the Greek Civil War, Summer of 1949

The end of the Greek Civil War, Summer of 1949

The primary objective in politics

At this point it is necessary to remind ourselves what politics is all about. We hear from SYRIZA and ANEL all sorts of things these days, most of them populist nonsense.

Some examples will help the reader understand what I am talking about.

«We are restoring Greek pride»

«We will save the country»

«We will rescue the poor»

Let us return to reality.

The number one objective in politics has been and will always be to have power and to govern.

Defence Minister KAmmenos and the Greek Church Archbishop during the Greek Easter celebrations in Athens

Defence Minister KAmmenos and the Greek Church Archbishop during the Greek Easter celebrations in Athens

By definition, the pragmatists in SYRIZA have this prime objective, no matter what they say to the public and to Greece’s creditors. Recall that the definition of a pragmatist is:  «a politician who accepts that her primary objective in politics is to acquire, enhance and maintain power». Mr. Tsipras, the Prime Minister, is a pragmatist.

But there are not only pragmatists SYRIZA.

There are idealists, the so-called «left wing» of the party, led by Mr. Lafazanis. Recall that an idealist in politics is primarily interested in maintaining the purity of their political ideas, regardless of what the implications are. To understand «the idealism of the left» in Greece, it is useful to remind the reader that the left in Greece have suffered a humiliating sweeping defeat in 1946-1949.

Greek Communist Party Headquarters, December 1944

Greek Communist Party Headquarters, December 1944

It would be wrong though, to restrict the discussion to SYRIZA, as the block of power today in Greece is much more complex.

The vote of the Greek people in January 2015 was not necessarily a vote in favor of the left.

It was a vote against the creditors and the political parties that have supported the agreements with the creditors.

It is interesting to note that a big percentage of  the extreme right is now supporting SYRIZA. It is not an accident that ANEL, an extreme-right party is in the governing alliance.

To summarize, SYRIZA have been elected by a heterogeneous political base which may have difficulty accepting a «honorable» compromise with the creditors.

Given the difficult position of SYRIZA in the context of the negotiations, the question that arises is what will SYRIZA eventually do in order to retain political power.

Nicolo Machiavelli

Nicolo Machiavelli

How is SYRIZA going to retain its political power?

One of the cardinal rules  of political power and legitimization is that in order to maintain power you need to build and sustain alliances.

In doing so, you must dominate the internal front of your party.

Another rule is that legitimization is a key requirement when a political community is going through a difficult period.

A third rule requires that you weaken the opposition, so that there is no clear and strong alternative to you.

If we apply these rules to today’s SYRIZA, we need to discuss the following:

  • The alliances that SYRIZA is building in Greece
  • What is happening and will happen in the political opposition in Greece
  • What is happening internally in SYRIZA
  • The mechanisms of legitimization that are available
Mr Kostas Karamanlis with Mr Prokopis Pavlopoulos when Mr Karamanlis was Prime Minister

Mr Kostas Karamanlis with Mr Prokopis Pavlopoulos when Mr Karamanlis was Prime Minister

The SYRIZA alliances in Greece

The first alliance that SYRIZA have built is the one with ANEL. One can safely assume that this alliance was built before the January 2015 elections, and was formalized with the formation of the new government. The leader of ANEL, Mr Kammenos, is the Minister of Armed Forces.

The second alliance of SYRIZA is with Mr Kostas Karamanlis, who served as Prime Minister from 2004 to 2009 and was succeeded by Mr George Papandreou in 2009. Mr Pavlopoulos, one of the closest politicians to Mr Karamanlis has been elected as the new President of the Hellenic Republic. This is not just an opening to the «right». In my view it signifies the intention of SYRIZA to strengthen its alliance with Mr Kostas Karamanlis, thus also weakening Mr Samaras, the Prime Minister who lost the January 2015 elections to SYRIZA.

Another publicly visible alliance SYRIZA are building is with the Greek Orthodox Church. Contrary to initial impressions, the relationships between SYRIZA and the Church are excellent.

Prominent leaders of the Church are publicly praising the new Government, and Mr Tsipras has frequent meetings with the Archbishop, Ieronymos. The Church appeals to the most conservative part of Greek society, which basically is positioned to the right and the extreme right of the political spectrum.

From the above one can conclude that SYRIZA’s alliance with the extreme right is very strong, through ANEL and the Church, while their alliance with the center-right are developing, through the alliance with Mr Kostas Karamanlis. The gap that currently exists is in the center – left of the political spectrum. This is where SYRIZA is relatively weak.

Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville

The political opposition in Greece

When it comes to the opposition, SYRIZA is openly trying to undermine the unity of New Democracy, by strengthening their alliance with Mr Kostas Karamanlis. They aim to reduce New Democracy to a party of the hard-core right.

There are movements inside New Democracy to challenge the leadership of Mr Samaras, who is charged as having led the party to the hard-core right,but they are rather subdued. A catalyst is missing, and New Democracy is trailing SYRIZA by more than 10% in recent polls.

All indicators point to a weak, heavy political body that does not have the vitality and strength to respond to the defeat of January 2015.

PASOK has almost disappeared from the political map following the January 2015 elections. Recent polls give less than 4% to a party that governed Greece for most of the period from 1981 to 2014. It is no accident therefore, that SYRIZA do not consider PASOK a force worth dealing with.

The new centrist cocktail party POTAMI, led by journalist Mr Theodorakis, is a different story. Recent polls give it 7%, which is slightly above what they received in the January 2015 elections. POTAMI (The River) are a vibrant political force, but it is too early to say whether they will survive or not. Their existence is due to the political dead ends that have occurred in the political middle ground of Greece, with the majority of the PASOK electorate moving to SYRIZA, but a significant component remaining unconvinced.

SYRIZA are hostile to POTAMI, which they consider a clear threat. Until now POTAMI are afloat and may play a significant role in the immediate future. This role may determine whether they will survive in the long term or not.

The ice pick that killed Leo Trotsky

The ice pick that killed Leo Trotsky

The internal SYRIZA front 

In the internal front, SYRIZA are playing a safe game: propaganda coupled with damage limitation, laced with fireworks.

First of all, they do not reveal anything about their true negotiating with the creditors. This enables them to appear that until today they stand firm by their electoral commitments.

The references they make to a «honorable» compromise and a «plan for economic development» are generalities that lighten the load for the SYRIZA die hearts.

Unfortunately it is not only propaganda that SYRIZA deploys in the internal front.

In order to appease the SYRIZA extreme factions, the Government have passed a law allowing a jailed terrorist who has severe health problems to be at home. This shows how they plan to continue dealing with the internal front and opposition. This is a risky approach, as already USA have expressed their concern for the release from prison of a convicted terrorist and multiple murderer.

Historical Compromise in Italy: Enrico Berlinguer and Aldo Moro

Historical Compromise in Italy: Enrico Berlinguer and Aldo Moro

Legitimization

Anything in politics is as good as its acceptance by the public.

Any agreement with the creditors has to be approved by the Greek Parliament. Is this enough to make it politically legitimate? For simplicity, in what follows I refer to «agreement» as the «new» agreement that will be in effect after June 2015.

Given the severity of the situation, it is not.

SYRIZA must consider two additional legitimization options.

1. Referendum. The agreement will be the topic of a public referendum. If the Greek people approve the agreement, the government is legitimized to proceed with its implementation. If they do not, the government can go back to the creditors and ask for modifications. One has to be careful here, because the risk involved is significant. If the new agreement is rejected, and a precedent is created with the referendum, the process may end up in a vicious spiral, with new agreements being continuously rejected by the Greek Public in a «decathlon» of referenda, without a solution in sight. I assume that this was the reason that Mrs. Merkel and Mr Sarkozy asked Mr Papandreou to withdraw his recommendation to hold a referendum back in 2010.

2. General Elections. The Greeks will be asked to vote again in order to elect a new Parliament and Government. The elections are even more complicated than the referendum, and in a country that is almost bankrupt, there is no time allowance for this type of experimentation.

It appears that SYRIZA are now in a corner.

The best option for them is to present the new agreement as fulfilling their political promises. Hard to do, but they are good in propaganda.

Alternatively, they might proceed with a referendum, taking the risk, but at the same time «engineering» it in a way that almost ensures a positive result, i.e. the approval of the new agreement.

People queuing for food in modern Greece

People queuing for food in modern Greece

Conclusion

SYRIZA need to retain their political power. To loose it after a few months in office would be a disaster for them.

If this is their primary objective, and I believe it is, they will eventually reach an agreement with the creditors but may proceed to legitimize it with a public referendum.

Alternatively, they may decide to avoid the risks of the referendum, and take it on the chin.

Two major political factors are in their favor. Their alliances and the weakness of the opposition.

They can rely on the strong alliances they have built inside Greece to absorb any shocks after the agreement.

They may also take advantage of the fact that their opposition is at the moment very weak.

What remains open is the future of Greece.

I am afraid that even if an agreement is reached with the creditors, the damage to the Greek economy and society is so big that it will take a lot more than a creditors’ agreement to recover.

Interestingly enough, this recovery is not on the agenda in a pragmatic way.

 

 

 

<a href=»//www.pinterest.com/pin/create/button/» data-pin-do=»buttonBookmark» data-pin-color=»red» data-pin-height=»28″><img src=»//assets.pinterest.com/images/pidgets/pinit_fg_en_rect_red_28.png» /></a>
<!– Please call pinit.js only once per page –>
<script type=»text/javascript» async defer src=»//assets.pinterest.com/js/pinit.js»></script>

I shall begin by trying to answer the question «Who is the Barberini Faun»? And I will do so by breaking it up in two pieces.

Pope Urban VIII, by Pietro da Cortona

Pope Urban VIII, by Pietro da Cortona

Who was Cardinal Francesco Barberini?

Maffeo Barberini  was a Florentine nobleman, who became Pope Urban VIII at the age of 56.

A patron of the arts, he commissioned many works to Bernini.

His nephew, Cardinal Francesco Barberini owned the statue that is the topic of this post.

Castel Sant' Angelo, Rome

Castel Sant’ Angelo, Rome

What is a Faun?

According to Wikipedia, the Faun is a rustic forest god or goddess, often associated with enchanted woods and the Greek god Pan and his satyrs.

The Wesleyan University webpage informs us that a Faun is the Roman equivalent of a Greek satyr. In Greek mythology, satyrs were human-like male woodland creatures with animal features including a goat-like tail, hooves, ears, or horns.

Cardinal Francesco Barberini, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England

Cardinal Francesco Barberini, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England

Who is the Barberini Faun?

The Barberini Faun is a Hellenistic marble statue, dated 3rd century BC.

The statue was sold to King Ludwig of Bavaria at the beginning of the 19th century and was placed in the Gluptothek, the museum that was created in order to house King Ludwig’s sculpture collection. The Barberini Faun is the first major sculpture you see when you visit the Munich Glyptothek. In what follows, I will try to express what I saw in this sculpture.

King Ludwig of Bavaria, Walhalla

King Ludwig of Bavaria, Walhalla

So, what is this all about?

From a distance, it looks like a young man who has fallen asleep in a rather relaxed position. His legs are spread apart, his genitals are in full view, and he does not appear to give a damn, because he is exhausted.

Barberini Faun, Glyptothek, Munich

Barberini Faun, Glyptothek, Munich

A faun asleep

The unknown sculptor scores big right from the beginning. A faun is supposed to be going all over, full of energy, seeking pleasure in all forms. But this one is asleep!

Barberini Faun - detail. Glyptothek, Munich

Barberini Faun – detail. Glyptothek, Munich

Or appears to be.

If we look more carefully, the body is not fully relaxed and loose.

Barberini Faun - detail. Glyptothek, Munich

Barberini Faun – detail. Glyptothek, Munich

Look at these latissimus dorsi muscles!

How could anyone be asleep and at the same time flex his muscles?

I therefore claim that the faun is not asleep, he is half-asleep. The word «half» is important, as in my view it denotes the boundary condition that defines the sculpture.  Having said that, it is better to say that the faun is on the boundary between being awake and asleep.

barberini_faun4

Barberini Faun – detail. Glyptothek, Munich

Is it a faun?

We usually take for granted that a faun is a faun, and do not seek any proof. In this case, there is proof, although the spectator needs to discover it. Yet again, the sculptor makes things interesting and exciting. From a distance there is no indication of the faun being a faun. He could be any young man. But as you close in, you realize that there is a tiny tail sticking out of his back. The faun is a faun!

Barberini Faun - detail. Glyptothek, Munich

Barberini Faun – detail. Glyptothek, Munich

The face

One of the «boundary conditions» of this sculpture is the face of the faun.

Michelangelo: Bacchus, detail, Museo del Bargello, Firenze

Michelangelo: Bacchus, detail, Museo del Bargello, Firenze

If we look at the face of Michelangelo’s David in Bargello, we see a soft, almost feminine face.

In contrast to this, the faun is masculine and rough.

The beauty of masculinity in Hellenistic times does not require to dress it with a feminine touch.

AV001628

Michelangelo, David. Academia, Firenze.

The age

Another interesting feature of the faun is that the man is not very young, or mature.

He is a young man at the height of his youth. Contrast this with Michelangelo’s David in Florence.

Barberini Faun - detail. Glyptothek, Munich

Barberini Faun – detail. Glyptothek, Munich

Another interesting contrast is with Rodin’s St. John.

A mature man, a body full of masculinity, but no sensuality.

Auguste Rodin, St. John the Baptist, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Auguste Rodin, St. John the Baptist, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Rodin seems to be so much preoccupied with the perfection of the muscle complex that he sanitizes the body, and makes it a spectacle, but not an object of desire.

The Sensual Body

The faun is a sensual being.

His body radiates raw sensuality, and dominates everything else.

In a way the sculpture is an exploration of male and human sensuality, as it emanates from the body.

Francis Bacon, Portrait of George Dyer Talking.

Francis Bacon, Portrait of George Dyer Talking.

I would also like to point out that the artist does not need to disfigure the body in order to appreciate it, like Francis Bacon did.

Bacon needs to destroy the body in order to enjoy and appreciate it.

barberini_faun9

The body is the undisputed protagonist of the Barberini Faun sculpture, and it does not need to be softened by the face, and/or the age, the instruments which the Renaissance artists used to express themselves, and the post impressionist giants deployed in their attempt to master the subject.

The predominance of the body of the Barberini Faun, makes it totally unnecessary to pay any particular attention to the genitals. as a spectator, you get the whole package, not just a part of it.

A Hellenistic Porno?

Is the Barberini Faun a pornographic sculpture?

I do no think so. On the contrary, I could argue that it is a naturalistic sculpture. If you like male bodies, you like it. If not, you like it because it gives you an appreciation of the whole body, every inch of it.

Pornography is fragmentation and disassociation. A situation where the parts do not belong anywhere, where the parts are the whole thing.

A stroll in Petralona, Athens, Greece

Κυριακή, 22 Μαρτίου, 2015

Petralona is a neighborhood in Athens, Greece. It is near the Acropolis area, and easily accessible.

I have not been there for years. Two of my father’s sisters used to live in Petralona many many years ago. I remember going there by train (overground). The train divides the neighborhood in two parts: Ano (Upper) and Kato (Lower) Petralona.

The train that divides Petralona in two parts

Petralona: The train that divides Petralona in two parts

The houses were small, one or two floors only, there were no multistories like in the centre of Athens.

An obligation brought me recently back to Petralona early in the morning of a nice day. Before starting with my meeting I had a chance to take some photos and walk around.

What you will see in this post is the result of this early morning stroll.

Neoclassical style in ruins

Petralona: Neoclassical style in ruins

The houses of the well-to-do middle class in old Athens used to follow the neoclassical style. There are still some ruins in the area. But not many, for two reasons. The neighborhood was never rich. Therefore, the neoclassical style houses were rather few to begin with. Even so, in the 60s and 70s most of them were demolished, and multistory monstrosities took their place.

Dry Cleaning "Happiness"

Dry Cleaning «Happiness»

But even today, there are single story houses in Petralona,  The building craze did not cover the whole area with multistory apartment complexes. There were – and still are – some shops in the single or double story buildings, serving the neighborhood. The shop in the photo above is today closed. It used to be a dry cleaning shop with the catchy name «Happiness». It has been closed for many years, as I can tell from the telephone number which is in the very old 6-digit format.

Hybrid urban space in Petralona

Hybrid urban space in Petralona

As is always the case, between the multistory buildings and the single or double story ones, there are some hybrids. Hybrids are forms that simply take up any empty space that has been left out of the «normal» urban development.

Petralona PAO Gate 13

Petralona PAO Gate 13

Petralona is a neighborhood in Athens, and as such it supports the Athens football team, Panathinaikos, or PAO for short.

PAO graffiti in Petralona

PAO graffiti in Petralona

PAO is my team, and it has not been doing well in the last 15 years.   Watching the graffiti on the walls in Petralona, somehow helped me recover some of my wounded PAO pride.

gavroi3

Inevitably, cursing on the opponents, the supporters of the arch rival Olympiakos is a necessity like oxygen.

wall

The nickname of the hated opponents is «anchovies» and they are rumoured to also be anorgasmic whores, or so says the writing on the wall.

Football graffiti in Petralona

Football graffiti in Petralona

There is another team in the greater metropolitan area, AEK, which is today playing in a lower league. Remnants of the days of glory can be seen in Petralona, which somehow belong to the old times.

I am being tortured

«I am being tortured»

What I have shown of the graffiti so far is the rather regular hate graffiti, with the football team’s insignia and a lot of hate words. But in Petralona there is a lot more!

Football hate graffitti

Football hate graffitti

The huge walls supporting the elevated train lines provided the ample needed space. The master artist creates the big picture, and the minor artists or not add and embellish. It is truly the work of a community.

Petralona Club graffitti

Petralona graffitti

Equally, the walls around the high school of the neighborhood are canvases for the young artists.

Petralona graffitti

Petralona graffitti

In a sense we have the peaceful co-existence of the «traditionalists» and the «modernists».

This is my favourite work, especially the rose.

Petralona Dark Rose

Petralona Dark Rose

It is a dark, Gothic rose that even the traditionalists have left untouched.

I enjoyed my stroll, because I discovered the anonymous modernist graffitti artists of Petralona.

This post does not have many words

The protagonists of the post speak for themselves.

I will introduce them and pay my respects.

The rest belongs to the senses.

It all started with a bet, which I lost (unfortunately, the implications of this loss are much much more important).

Having lost the bet, I had to offer to the winner lunch.

Knowing fully well the horrible implications of the lost bet, not the lunch, but the real ones, I decided to make the lunch a festive occasion, that even for a split millisecond counterbalances the horrendous implications of the event that led to the loss of the bet.

My menu was simple.

Foies Gras de Canard

Foies Gras de Canard

We started with foies gras de canard, accompanied by caramelised pears.

Foies Gras de Canard

Foies Gras de Canard

I served it medium sliced, with the fat on it.

Caramelised Pears

Caramelised Pears

The second dish was the divine boudin noir of  Christian Parra.

Boudin Noir

Boudin Noir

I tasted it for the first time in London, and was mesmerised by its flavours and texture.

Boudin Noir - Sliced

Boudin Noir – Sliced

I wanted to accompany it with something light, but at the same time tasty.

Beetroot with celery

Beetroot with celery

The first obvious choice was mashed potatoes.

Boudin Noir Served

Boudin Noir Served

The second was my original recipe of lightly steamed beetroot, mixed with butter flavoured celery. It really worked!

Some apples with butter and honey added the finishing touch.

The boudin was enjoyed with a bottle of 2001 Patrimo di Feudi San Gregorio, an outstanding merlot!

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

(Humpty Dumpty, English nursery rhyme)

Denslow's Humpty Dumpty

Denslow’s Humpty Dumpty

Is it an egg, or is it a man?

This is a reasonable question when it comes to Humpty Dumpty.

Bill Woodrow is an English sculptor who gave his own answer to the question, by creating in 1987 the work «English Heritage – Humpty Fucking Dumpty».

I saw Woodrow’s work at London’s London Royal Academy of Arts in January 2014. I was impressed by his ability to play with and transform everyday life objects into a contemplative story. This is why I write this note to present and discuss «Humpty Fucking Dumpty». In what follows I have drawn heavily form the Tate curator’s notes (1).

 

Humpty Fucking Dumpty 1987 Bill Woodrow born 1948 Purchased 1987

Humpty Fucking Dumpty 1987 Bill Woodrow born 1948 Tate Gallery, London Purchased 1987

Woodrow attended St Martin’s School of Art (1968-71) and Chelsea School of Art (1971-2) in London where he rebelled against the formalist abstraction prevalent in sculpture at that time. At the end of the 1970s he began working with discarded household furniture and other objects to create incongruous juxtapositions often giving rise to allegorical or metaphorical readings. (1)

The sculpture should be seen in the context of the elevation of history and ‘heritage’ as a political value in Britain. (2)

Bill Woodrow

Bill Woodrow

This work consists of a wooden vaulting box that has been pulled apart like a concertina. Each constituent piece of wood is propped open at alternate ends by the insertion of a small object, most of which were made by the artist. The objects are intended to symbolize human progress, creating what Woodrow calls ‘a section through history’. (1)

 

Plough

Plough

Starting from the bottom, the lowest object represents a wheeled plough which denotes both the invention of the wheel and the early importance of agriculture. In conversation with a Tate curator in March 1992, Woodrow explained that, although ‘farming was probably invented a long time before the wheel; the two together seemed to be a very significant starting point for the development of the human race’. (1)

 

Book

Book

 

The second object used to wedge open the vaulting box is the representation of a book. (1)

The artist has described this as a leap forward in history, signifying ‘the dissemination of knowledge or development of the intellect … It was the beginning of some network of communication and knowledge’ (quoted in Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, Tate Gallery, London 1996, p.517). (1)

Woodrow is very keen to use books in his works. The book I recall most vividly is the bench in «Sitting on History».

Bill Woodrow: Sitting on History

Bill Woodrow: Sitting on History

‘Sitting on History,’ with its ball and chain, refers to the book as a receptacle of information. History is filtered through millions of pages of writing, making the book the major vehicle for research and study. Woodrow proposes that although one absorbs knowledge, one appears to have great difficulty in changing one’s behaviour as a result. (3)

Clocking-in machine

Clocking-in machine

The third motif is a clocking-in machine which is intended to invoke the industrial revolution. (1)

Bill Woodrow, Elephant, 1984, Tate Galley

Bill Woodrow, Elephant, 1984, Tate Galley

Woodrow is not soft on industrialisation. In his 1984 «Elephant», we can see the relics of industrialisation forming a deadly circle around the gun carrying elephant.

Radiation box

Radiation box

The fourth object, and the only one not made by the artist, is a box which he painted yellow and black with radiation hazard markings to ‘signify the nuclear era’, which makes reference to both nuclear power and nuclear war. Woodrow has commented that he was also thinking about the damage to the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, then part of the Soviet Union, which occurred the year before in 1986. (1)

This radiation box is the agent of instability and destruction. What up to this level has been benign, stable, and controllable, now assumes uncontrollable dimensions and has a clear touch of evil.

The Iran P5+1 negotiations on Iran’s nuclear weapons program testify to the evil factor that has been unleashed by the WWII victors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Bill Woodrow: Endeavour: Cannon dredged from the first wreck of the Ship of Fools, 1995

Bill Woodrow: Endeavour: Cannon dredged from the first wreck of the Ship of Fools, 1995

Weapons of destruction appear often in Woodrow’s work. In 1995 Woodrow sculpted a cannon dredged from the first wreck of the ship of fools.

This is the tenth sculpture in Woodrow’s series devoted to the theme of the ‘Ship of Fools’, a commentary on the foolishness of mankind, wrapped in wry humour. ‘Endeavour’ comprises uncomfortably penetrating insights into human nature, particularly, mankind’s seeming inability to learn from experience. (4) 

Bill Woodrow, The Swallow, 1984

Bill Woodrow, The Swallow, 1984

Back in 1984, Woodrow sculpted «The Swallow», a rather ambivalent work, in the sense that there may still be the possibility of escape from the inevitability of massive destruction.

 

Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty

 

The figure of Humpty Dumpty was placed on top of the structure to further add to the sense of its precariousness. With this addition of Humpty Dumpty, Woodrow accepted that the sculpture had specifically English connotations. For him, it ‘seemed to signify, or to be a very appropriate symbol in a way for my notions about this country and the western world in general and its idea of progress, getting better and better and yet being very unstable’ (quoted in Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, p.518). (1)

 Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

Woodrow seems to contemplate this great fall, and anticipates it. But he is not a doom and gloom prophet, he is simply a realist.

It is in this context that «English Heritage» comes into play.

Woodrow sounds sarcastic when he uses the word «fucking» in the title. Making a play with words, he appears to denigrate Humpty Dumpty, when in fact he does so to the prevalent notion of «English Heritage».

Moreover, by using the words ‘English Heritage’ in the title, Woodrow refers not to the institution of the same name, but to the concept of his own heritage. He has commented on the way in which references to ‘Britain’s glorious past are used to take your mind off present difficulties and hardships. It is an escapist device and there seemed to be a lot of it around at the time’ (quoted in Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, p.518). Woodrow felt that nostalgic jingoism was particularly prevalent in the 1980s, prompted in part by the Falklands War in 1982. By employing the word ‘fucking’ in the title, the artist is being openly critical of this attitude. The word is used to denote a sense of anger and despair at the state of the nation. It was also a reaction against what he saw as the moralistic atmosphere of the period. (1)

Bill Woodrow at the RA in London

Bill Woodrow at the RA in London

Sources

(1) English Heritage – Humpty Fucking Dumpty 1987, Tate Gallery 

(2) The Oxford Index

(3) Bill Woodrow: Sitting on History

(4) Endeavour: Cannon dredged from the first wreck of the Ship of Fools

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 88 other followers