Κυριακή, 28 Αυγούστου, 2016
As 2016 approaches its end, the ruling coalition of SYRIZA – ANEL are completing two years in power. I think this is a good time to make an assessment of these two years and ask what are the prospects of Greece in this context. For the reader who is not familiar with contemporary Greek politics, SYRIZA is a self-professed party of the left, led by Alexis Tsipras – the Prime Minister of Greece – and ANEL is a splinter group of the traditional right which under the leadership of Panos Kammenos – the Minister of National Defence – was voted in Parliament and secured a deal with SYRIZA in order to jointly govern the country.
Let me start by saying that the politics of SYRIZA – ANEL are not my cup of tea. With very few exceptions, I do not like what I hear from them and I do not support it. Having cleared this, I am not of the opinion that they are useless or a disaster, or that their rule is going to bring the country to its demise.
SYRIZA – ANEL quite simply are very similar in their policies to the previous governments and cannot thus make any significant difference. There are differences, but in the overall context of the country’s problems, these are not significant. As an Greek politician of the left used to say, «there is no big difference between broccoli and cabbage». On the ideological front there is a lot of talk about the Greek State and what a Modernization Program should do to it, but this is a lot of noise for very little.
As SYRIZA – ANEL are now solidifying their power base, the main opposition party, New Democracy, have elected a new leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, to lead the party to new victories and power again. The issue here is that a new leader has not made the difference needed to regain power. Almost eight months after the election, New Democracy continues to be a tired, aged, boring party that has no new policies, faces, and initiatives to attract the voters.Even more importantly, the shadow of the previous Prime Minister, Kostas Karamanlis, the nephew of the founder of the New Democracy Party Konstantinos Karamanlis, continues to be visible form all places and angles inside and outside the party, the best place being the Presidential Building, where its current inhabitant used to be one of the key friends and supporters of Kostas Karamanlis.
SYRIZA – ANEL may not be very good, or even they may be bad, but it appears that New Democracy in the eyes of many voters continues to be worse than the ruling coalition.
New Democracy continuously alleges that SYRIZA – ANEL lied to people about their political program and are now following a program that is more or less a continuation of the previous plan to repay the country’s debt and restart the economy. But its argument is very weak, because in politics the issue is how to gain and retain power. If you do that by allegedly lying to the voters, but the voters continue to support you, you have achieved your objective. It may not be the best of ways, but it is a way. New Democracy must realize that we all have had enough with accusations, allegations, about who is a liar, who deceived the people, and so on, and focus instead on creating a pragmatic agenda for the country. So far this has not happened.
We have arrived at the major problem in Greek politics today.
The political field is barren, devoid of the much needed change and new direction, and the voters are so desperate with the crisis, the ever increasing taxes and cost of life, that they are prone to believe what SYRIZA – ANEL are promising to them, even if these promises are obviously ridiculous, not to say lies, rather than lose all hope and resort to the New Democracy platform which is simply unappealing, weak and boring.
The significant weaknesses of New Democracy, the lack of any change of personnel in key positions, the lack of appeal to the electorate, provide SYRIZA – ANEL with the best opportunity to regroup and strengthen their positions, which is not hard to do given that the main opposition is so unbelievably weak.
In a nutshell, Greek politics is entering a period of stagnation, thanks primarily to the non-existent main opposition and the fact that some shrewd political operators in SYRIZA – ANEL are now focusing on and discovering ways to maintain power.
It is indicative of the situation that although three months ago there was intensive talk of new elections, as SYRIZA – ANEL were afraid of the rebirth of New Democracy under new leadership and popular discontent brought about by new hopes raised by a «reborn» party, all of this has today disappeared. SYRIZA – ANEL have realized that the giant of the opposition has legs made of glass and that the opposition have not been able to increase significantly their appeal to the electorate. In two words, there is no reason for SYRIZA – ANEL to worry about losing their power base. All they have to do is keep the boat steady and avoid a major hick up in their relationships with Greece’s creditors.
The main risk factor for SYRIZA – ANEL maintaining their power until the end of their term (September 2019) is the economy. Any miss-happening in the economy may destabilize the agreements with Greece’s creditors and create serious problems for the Government. It appears that nothing else can come close to having the capacity to create a crisis and lead the country to premature elections.
It is interesting to note that both on the SYRIZA – ANEL camp and the New Democracy side, the parties are supposedly unable to face reality and make some comments that might – to say the least – tempt even the most good willing voter to distance themselves. For SYRIZA – ANEL the government is fighting the good cause of Greece and this is basically it. They are also cleaning up the horrible mess of illegal transactions that characterized the previous regime. They bring an end to favoritism in public life.
For New Democracy they situation is similar. They are running a campaign to rid the country of a failed government. The problem for them is that SYRIZA – ANEL are in power, and New Democracy are not. And unless we have early elections, the «failed» government will continue to be in power.
The surprise in this may come from a significant change in the leadership style of Kyriakos Mitsotakis, that would make New Democracy appealing to the voters and might change the party. This is a long shot and rather unlikely.
Assuming the situation continues as it is today, the 2019 elections will be a political battle where all means and weapons will be used. The issue is that this will only answer the question of who is going to be in power. Most likely, unfortunately for the Greek electorate, the huge problems the country is facing will continue to exist, if not become even more urgent and pressing. And the horrible thing for Greece is that the political parties that can gain power will continue to have no clue as to what needs to be done. The reasons for this will be examined in another post.
Σάββατο, 27 Αυγούστου, 2016
This post is a short tour of Spanish still life paintings. It is inevitable that I am biased by my preferences and so we will only visit some of my favorite Spanish still life paintings. This of course does not mean that there are not many more. The presentation sequence has a time orientation, from older to younger, albeit a soft one.
But why Spanish still life? Because it is special. Spanish still life is «rough» and «intense» compared to the still life of the Dutch, the Flemish, the French, or the Italians. One might also call it «austere», and in some cases «brutal». Spanish still life has no bells and whistles, it goes for the «essence» of things.
Bodegon in Spanish is a cheap eating-house, a tavern. It is also the area of the house near the kitchen, where the servants and ordinary people can lay out the food and drinks and munch while cooking, drink, and be happy.
This duality in the meaning of the word has resulted in a duality of the meaning of the term in painting. Bodegones can thus be still life painting,s but also paintings portraying servants and ordinary people in the house’s bodega, or in a tavern.
A still life typically contains objects like vessels, flowers, dead animals, food, a skull, human or animal, a clock.
Juan Sanchez Cotan: Bodegón de caza, hortalizas y frutas (Still Life with Game, Vegetables and Fruit), Prado Museum, Madrid
1602. Oil on canvas, 68 x 88.2 cm.
Juan Sánchez Cotán puts the food items on a display window, most of them hanging. There is simplicity and austerity in the picture, and a clear disposition to play with curves contrasting the straight lines and 90 degree angles. A contemporary of El Greco, Sánchez Cotán is almost materialistic.
Now lets turn to the other type of bodegon, the one depicting a scene from a home’s interior. I start with a Flemish painting and continue with a Spanish one.
Joachim Beuckelaer: Christ at home with Martha and Mary, Prado Museum, Madrid
1568. Oil on panel, 126 x 243 cm.
This is the preparation of a feast. The two women are proud, they practically show off while they display all the food that is can feed an army.This is obviously a rich house, life has a positive outlook, the light is bright, life is good!
Diego Velazquez: Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, National Gallery, London, UK
Probably 1618. Oil on canvas. Dimensions: 60 x 103.5 cm.
The two women in the foreground are Mary and Martha at a later date, compared to the date of the scene in the background. The concept to combine biblical subjects with kitchen scenes was invented by the Flemish (see previous picture) and influenced Velazquez. But what a different depiction of the scene has he put together!
Gone are the opulence and glory of the Flemish picture. The house is an ordinary – if not poor – house, the food essential, and the colors are earthy and restrained. There is no exuberance here. Only the beat of everyday life.
Velazquez used the same color palette on other paintings like the water seller and Aesop.
Francisco de Zurbaran: Bodegón con cacharros (Still life with vessels), Prado Museum, Madrid
Ca. 1650. Oil on canvas, 46 x 84 cm.
Zurbaran, still life with vessels uses a color palette similar to Velazquez’ s but he is emphasizing the shape of the vessels and the light-shadow contrast more than anything else. Another difference is that judging from the quality of the vessels, Zurbaran’s still life is «upper class» compared to Velazquez’s.
Luis Egidio Meléndez: Bodegón con arenques, cebolletas, pan y utensilios de cocina (Still life with herrings, spring onions, bread, and kitchen utensils), Prado Museum, Madrid
1760 – 1770. Oil on canvas, 50,3 x 36,7 cm
Melendez, a late 18th century Spanish painter is almost unknown outside of Spain. Most of his works are today in the Prado. His still life with herrings, bread and various kitchen utensils is so direct that I feel I am in the room. A naturalist with embedded Spirit. Like Velazquez, Melendez’s household is on the everyday people’s side.
Francisco Goya: Aves muertas (Dead Birds), Prado Museum, Madrid
1808 – 1812. Oil on canvas, 45.5 x 62.5 cm.
Goya continues the tradition with his stunning dead birds.
This picture is like an elegy. It is intense, it is sad, it makes you to want to mourn for the birds, for the loss of life, even for a brief moment before their feathers are plucked and they are prepared to be cooked. Goya emphasizes Death. Even it it leads to a good meal, or even better, because of it. Nothing reduces the dramatic nature of the phenomenon. Creatures of nature have to die for man to live.
Francisco Goya: Still Life Of Sheep’s Ribs And Head – The Butcher’s Counter. Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
1810 – 1812. Oil on canvas, dimensions 62 x 45 cm.
Goya created another painting along similar lines, after a visit to the market in Bordeaux where he lived at the time. The theme of death permeates the painting. Starting from the expression on the face of the sheep, to the naked bloodless ribs.
Pablo Picasso: Still Life with Sheep’s Skull, Collection of Vicky and Marcos Micha
1939. Oil on canvas, 50.2 x 61 cm
Picasso picked up Goya’s theme and gave his own interpretation. The head is black and white, announcing Guernica in a sense. The ribs are faithful to Goya’s picture, to firmly establish the link.
Pablo Picasso, Le Pichet noir et la tête de mort (Black Jug and Skull)
1946. Lithograph on paper. Dimensions 322 x 440 mm
It is inevitable that we will finish this tour with vanitas, and when it comes from a master of earthly pleasures like Picasso, it becomes even more important.
Vanitas became common in Spain in the second half of the seventeenth century, and whose evidently moralizing purpose was to emphasize on the one hand the unreliability of sensual pleasure, and on the other the fatality of death, evidenced in the corruptibility of organic nature.
Picasso obviously did not believe in vanitas per se, but being immersed in the tradition of painting and at the same time jumping out of it, knew that he had to acknowledge it and incorporate it in his still life painting, both as a visual and as a cultural component.
Δευτέρα, 22 Αυγούστου, 2016
I define diplomacy as the art of protecting a polity’s interests. A polity is here a politically organized unit.
This unit has clearly established interests, like the protection of its territorial integrity.
Craft is the middle ground between art and science, and is grounded on experience.
In this respect diplomacy has a clear objective, to protect the polity’s interests, and a multitude of means. The means are determined on the go, as the threats to the polity’s interests develop and evolve.
Once the threats become substantial and large scale conflict is inevitable, diplomacy gives its position to armed conflict.
Κυριακή, 7 Αυγούστου, 2016
Today the focus of my attention is a dancing Cupid who managed to find his way from Italy’s Foggia to London’s British Museum. The bronze sculpture dates back to 10 – 100 AD. But before we meet the dancing Cupid of Roman times, let us have a look at a picture with Cupids from the early 19th century.
The picture shows the dance of eight cupids, and is made after Albani.
There is so much happening in this picture, so many forms and movements.
Comparing and contrasting this to the Roman Cupid we see that the sculpture is almost minimalist. Cupid is naked, and he carries no accessories like his famous bow – with or without arrows.
If there is an area where the unknown artist has gone overboard is the hair.
All this Cupid features is his dance. He has no wings, and no blindfold.
The dance motion is light and simple.
Observe the way the right foot lifts while is touches the ground.
The boy’s nakedness is restrained, as shown by the right hand that curls behind the back.
True to its Hellenistic inheritance, the Roman sculptor portrays Cupid as a chubby boy.
Δευτέρα, 25 Ιουλίου, 2016
Ευχαριστώ την «άτακτη» που μου γνώρισε τον Γιώργο Μακρή.
Ω ! η αρχή και το τέλος του ανθρώπινου σπόρου καταργώντας μέσα μου την έννοια της φυλής και του καιρού (αν εξαιρέσεις τα των ενδυμασιών). Έτσι πεθαίνοντας εγώ με διάφορους τρόπους όταν εκάστοτε έρχεται το πλήρωμα του χρόνου στην Παλαιστίνη από βαθιά γεράματα όταν ήμουνα ανάμεσα στους πρόδρομους του νέου φωτός στο Βύρτσμπουρκ μεσήλικας αστός […]
Σάββατο, 23 Ιουλίου, 2016
It was one of these hot summer days. But in Jerusalem a hot summer day begins with freshness. The night’s chill always transfers into the early morning pockets of fresh air that break through the rising heat.
The light is strong, but not blinding as it is around noon.
I was walking on a narrow street in the Christina Quarter, near the Greek School «Aghios Demetrios», when I saw the house.
The first thing that was embedded in my eyesight was the Greek flag. What impressed me was how well the colors of the flag blended with the colors of the wooden frame and the steel rods of the balcony.
The second was the little tilted black rectangle above the balcony. It shows the twin-headed eagle of Byzantium in black and white, which is the sign of the Greek Football team PAOK of Thessaloniki (or Salonica). Usually these go together with a «fans’ gate» , in the case 15. I have no idea what this gate signifies. The hard core PAOK fans are in Gate 4.
Then came the camera. There are hundreds of these all over the Old City of Jerusalem. The locals told me that they have been there since the Pope’s visit in 2014.
Finally, the through rods attracted my attention. These steel rods run through the stones of the masonry to the other side of the building and they provide support to the masonry by «holding it together». There is no trace of concrete on this structure.
Κυριακή, 29 Μαΐου, 2016
This is a photo journal of a quick visit to the Muslim Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem.
It covers the triangle Via Dolorosa, Suq Khan Ez-Zeit, and El – Wad.